A Special Look at “Man of Steel”
I was real excited about a new Superman movie. Then The Man of Steel came out. I have never seen a movie so poliarizing! People either love it, or hate it! I heard enough about it to decide not to see it. Since then I have heard all the comments. I have seen all the reviews from Nostalgia Critic to Confused Matthew to Cinema Sins. And I am happy to say, I finally sat through the movie. So, do I agree withÂ the criticism or think this movie was great?
Well, let’s say that it’s not as bad as Superman Returns. But it has problems. And so today I wanted to take a look at them. What I wanted to do was to go over eight topics about the movie, and discuss whether or not the criticisms are valid. To help me with this I asked my good friend Les, who loved the movie, if he would share his thoughts.
As you might imagine, spoilers!!! Les, welcome to the blog my friend!
LES: Â Hi richb. Â Thanks for having me aboard for this discussion.Â
RichB:My Pleasure! Let’s drive right in :
RichB:So let’s talk about the opening. Well, chronologically anyway. More on that in a bit. Anyway, as usual we get a different take on Krypton and Jor-El. This is the one aspect of Superman’s history that is always changing. Seems every version, comic, TV, or movie, has their own take. And as a result, I can’t really find fault with it. We also meet Zod and again I have no gripes with it. It set up the story and had enough action. We all know this is just set up and the movie treats it as just that.
LES:You are correct that every Superman incarnation has a different structure/mythology for Krypton and how it met its end. Â And, I must say, I find this one the most fascinating and creative takes on it.Â
In this version, Kryptonians had ceded natural childbirth for cloning/pre-programmed destinial beings who are born from a design with their purposes decided for them.
In other words, General Zod was destined to defend Krypton from the time he was born-which makes his actions and motivations easier to comprehend as circumstances force him towards violence and insurrection against the governing body of Krypton, since their poor decisions doomed the world to destruction.
Jor-El, and his wife, Mara change it all by having the first natural childbirth on Krypton in over a century(Kal-El). Â To save the essence of Krypton’s heritage, Jor-El stole the Codex(Genetic blueprint) for all of Krypton and inserted it in the cells of his son before sending him to Earth. Â This way, he not only gave his son the gift of choosing his own destiny, but a way for his people to live on after their extinction.
I liked the designs and delivery of the visuals for Krypton in this film.
Â RichB:True, andÂ I really had no problem with the Krypton stuff except maybe that Lara and Jor-El should have been together at the end. But that’s nitpicking Now the good stuff
2.Jonathan Kent/Tornado Scene
Kevin Costner played a decent Jonathan Kent, though I thought he was a bit paranoid. Jonathan is supposed to be supportive of Clark not trying to hide him. It’s the upbringing by the Kent’s that make Clark human, and I just don’t see that in this version. There are two major controversies here. One is the scene where Jonathan tells Clark he should not have saved the bus of kids and let them die. Well, not quite. I actually have no problem with that scene, Jonathan doesn’t say Clark should have let the kids die he just isn’t sure. The scene does a great job showing the weight of the situation, he wants Clark to be safe but he also knows that these gifts would be used. But how?Â It may have been better if he said I Don’t Know than Maybe, but it’s cool. The other scene is the tornado scene, and this was a bad choice! Normally in the comics Jonathan dies from a heart attack or some illness which Clark can’t possibly stop. Leading to the line “Even with all my powers, I couldn’t save him” (or words to that effect). Here? It would have been so easy to save Jonathan! I know Jonathan is worried about Clark revealing himself, but c’mon! And why does Jonathan 0just stand there as the tornado hits? DUMB!
The whole scene feels forced, just before the tornado we see and argument between Clark and Jonathan which is so lame. I think they were trying forÂ a Spider-Man moment, but it just doesn’t work. And how easy would have been for Jonathan to run? Sorry but the scene is just a big can of fail.
LES: Â Well…he couldn’t run, since his leg had just been broken….but, yeah, I’ll concede that the tornado scene was ill thought out. Â I’m more in favor of the Glen Ford approach of a heart attack to kill off Jonathan Kent to be the growing up in a hurry catalyst for Clark to influence his whole life. Â Otherwise, I thought Kevin Costner wasn’t bad in the role…just not great in it. Â All in all, he could have been done better with better writing, but this aspect of the film didn’t ruin the story for me like it has for some others.
RichB:Ok so he couldn’t run.Â No it doesn’t ruin the movie but it’s a bad scene
3.Non Linear Story telling and Shaky Cam
A lot of people have trouble with the shaky cam and the way they use flashbacks in the narrative. As for the shaky cam, It’s the kind of thing I may not even have noticed if it hasn’t been mentioned. But I did notice it and it was really annoying in some scenes. Awful. However, the flashbacks pissed me off! What is up with Chris Nolan? Does every movie have to be Memento? Yeah the flashbacks were annoying and it made it much harder to connect wit this guy. Don’t get me wrong, the flashback scenes have some decent stuff in them. The problem is we hadn’t had enough time to know Clark so the flashbacks just don’t have the right impact.
LES: Yeah, shaky cam and lens flares are the new norm, it seems. Â Directors are striving for a more “realistic” approach like found footage film where the shots are done like a reporter was there attempting to cover a story and puts in cameraman errors that couldn’t be edited from a live shot.
As for the non linear story telling. Â It was ok, until he did it the 4th or 5th time, and then it got old for me. Â STILL not annoying enough to ruin the story for me LOL!
RichB:Yeah I can’t give that one a pass. It did spoil the story the way they did it and ruined what were otherwise powerful moments.
4.Action Scene/Product Placement
Maybe it’s just me, but I never got the big deal about product placement in movies. Ok, I guess if it is totally out of nowhere I can see the irritation but in this case it seems plausible. Having real locations ads a touch of reality to the movie. However, the action scene is another story. WHY DOES EVERY MOVIE HAVE TO BE THE TRANSFORMERS?? I am so sick of this CGIÂ crap in every action movie. Besides that, it was boring. The Avengers worked because we had six heroes to watch. Bored watching Captain America? Let’s see what Iron Man is doing. That’s getting old? Let’s check in on Hawkeye. And so on. In this movie it’s Superman and Zod pounding each other..and it gets boring! I’ll get to the destruction caused in the next category. But one last question, why the hell was the military involved in the fight? I HATED THAT! I mean really, what the hell did we need that for? I mean, I can’t tell you how many Superman comics I read where I was wondering when the military was going to get involved! Argh!
but Les what did you think?
LES: Â Well….I thought the involvement of the US Military was pretty well done from a standpoint of nobody yet knew that facing opposition of Kryptonians was a losing fight. Â They saw invaders and did their best to defend against them. Â In the same instance, the military didn’t really know if Kal-El was a friend or foe in the ensuing fight sequences. Â This was a part of the film I really liked-that Superman earned the trust of the military in his efforts to fight the Kryptonian criminals while attempting to safeguard the US Military and the civilians(At least in the Smallville battles).
As for product placement….yeah, blame the Christopher Reeve Superman films for that….Cheerios, Coca Cola…etc. Â It’s a way to get production capital for your films anymore, so get used to them, my friend. Â Besides…haven’t you always wanted to see an IHOP get demolished? Â I SURE DID LOL!!
RichB:LOL! Hell yeah! As for the military stuff, maybe it just reminded me of Transformer to much, I mean it was used the same way there for the most part. But that’s just me and as you know I prefer story over action.
5.Zod arrives & Superman Turning Himself IN
I actually can accept that part where Superman surrenders. That has been done before, for different reason, like in an episode of Lois & Clark. So what do I have a problem with? After all this build up about how Clark has to hide himself from the world or everyone will freak out…and nothing really happens after Zod appears. At least not enough to justify Jonathan’s concerns. This just seems to fly in the face of the first hour of the movie. As for the church scene, that has been covered to death and I have no opinion on the blatant symbolism. Oh, and the big question-why did Zod take Lois along with Clark?? Plot device much? The scene where Jor-El helps Lois escape was cool. This is where the plot finally gets going, but it just feels…off.
LES: Â I guess I can see the comparison to Transformers, but TBH that film did the same thing: Â Represent what our modern military reaction to an overwhelming alien opposition would be like, so in both instances, I feel they work.
And, yeah….Superman has always been likened to Biblical characters from Moses to Jesus, so the SYMBOLISM!OMFG1! didn’t seem that off to me-they just showed it in a new way.
I think that Zod’s forces taking Lois prisoner with Kal-El was an insurance policy to keep him in check if he decided not to join them in their bid to recreate Krypton on the ashes of Humanity.
6.The Destruction of Metropolis
I was prepared to go easy on this. After all, if you’ve read as many comic books as I have you know that Superman battling a villain and wrecking part of the city is not new. However, the destruction gets a little to much in this movie. I mean, Metropolis is almost obliterated! Now if the movie were about this then we’d have something, instead it’s in the background and, yes, Superman shows no regard for the loss of life. This scene really bugged me, it almost felt like it belonged in some other movie and got dumped here. It’s Superman, it’s not supposed to be that real. I think it also fails because we aren’t given NEARLY enough time to get to know the city or its residents. There is no emotional connection at all which causes the scene to fail.
LES: Â Well, to be fair….90% of the city’s destruction was done by Zod’s gravity machine attempting to terraform Earth into new Krypton. Â As for the disregard for collateral damage during the final fight with Zod, I feel like this is the final catalyst that makes Superman into the “protect the bystanders” hero he is. Â Remember, this is Supes’ first world crisis and his first reveal to the world that he’s here. Â As a newbie, he was bound to make some mistakes in the effort. Â I think the final death(Zod) was the catalyst that made him want to protect all living things and it’s a powerful scene. Â After all, with great power comes great responsibility……oh, wait…wrong franchise…um….They can be a great people, Kal-El, if they wish to be….they only need the light to show the way…..hmmmmm, that doesn’t fit either, does it? Â Well, the stakes were higher in this film with the entire planet in danger of extinction, so the fight had to be harder and grittier. Â
As for Perry White, Jimmy Olsen substitute, Jenny, and whatever that other guy’s name was….I agree with you. Â There’s no emotional connection with the characters in harm’s way in that scene. Â I related more to the millitary men and women who were given better development in the film.
RichB:Yep, while I complained about the military at least I cared a bit for them. And why did they use Steve Lombard? Anyway, lets get to to the big one!
7.Superman Killing Zod
Oh man, here we go. This is the big one. Back in the 80’s, John Byrne ended his run on Superman by creating a story where Superman decides killing Zod is the only option. He does, via Kryptonite, and the decision tortures our hero and causes him to have a major crisis. The crisis is only resolved when Superman accepts his decision (it’s a LONG story arc) and realizes he can never do that again. Superman does not kill. What do we get in this movie? Superman in a situation where he could have avoided the decision to kill Zod, but despite the anguish he breaks his neck. The scene, quite simply, DOES NOT WORK. The idea is OK, and hard as it tries (and it does try) the scene fails. I mean, why didn’t the idiots in the way just run? This might have worked better in a format where we could know what Superman was thinking, but here It feels like the director was out to shock the audience with no regard of how much sense it made. The worst part? The scene ends and that’s it. You can do this in a TV series because you have episodes to explore the issues. In a movie, you can’t just brush that under the rug like that. I think the other thing is that it was so brutal, in Superman II Superman used wits and cunning to out think Zod. Here he just snaps his neck? And that comic book story I mentioned? I HATED IT. In fact I nearly dropped the book after that.SUPERMAN..DOES…NOT…KILL!!!
I sense disagreement coming Les…Â
LES: Â HEE! HEE!…yeah, you sense right. Â Now, to be fair, that scene DID shock me when I first saw it, and I had a WTF reaction to it. Â Later, after thinking it over, I saw the film again and came to the following conclusions:
1. Â The family was trapped by fallen rubble and couldn’t just “get out of the way.”
2. Â The Richard Donner death of Zod wasn’t as “Clean” as you claim. Â Sure, he outwits Zod, but then what? Â First, he breaks every bone in Zod’s hand, then, tosses him 60 feet across the room to crash into the wall(Which probably broke more bones) where he then slid into a frozen chasm to land(reasonably presumed) in freezing water to perish by hypothermia…..THAT, my friend, was far more brutal a death than Supes’ breaking his neck in MOS. Â And that’s not considering the Donner Cut, which was better but still full of continuity and plot holes, but I digress….
3. Â Superman gave Zod every opportunity to stop his attack before deciding there was no other way to stop him than by killing him.
4. Â His reaction right after was quite appropriate and realistic IMHO, where he breaks down by the horror of what he had to do.
As I mentioned before, I think this one event becomes the reason that Superman doesn’t kill, and it works perfectly in that context, my friend.
RichB:I just wish it had been fleshed out better. Maybe a good scene earlier where Clark says he will never kill, so we understand the anguish of that moment. And no follow up?
Finally, let’s talk for a minute about how Superman is played. I was afraid we were going to get the moping Superman. Superman is not Batman, he can’t be grim and brooding. And, for a few scene he is just that. But Cavill does a good job at keeping the chartacter from being totally emo. Overall I admit Cavill did a decent job as Superman. A lot better than Brandon Routh, that’s for sure. Yes, the scene where he first put on the suit is really cool. Amy Adams as Lois Lane? No problems here. In fact if there is one thing I really liked it was the Clark/Lois stuff. I always wanted to see Lois like she is here. Knowing Clark is Superman and actively helping him. So much better than being the damsel in distress who has no clue Superman and Clark are the same. I already talked about Kevin Costner. Russell Crowe did a fine job as Jor-El. And the others…wel as you implied really don’t get enough to do. Lawrence Fishburne surprised me as Perry White, I liked him
LES: Â Well, we pretty much agree, except that I thought Henry Cavill was amazingly good as Superman. Â In many ways, I felt he was even better than Christopher Reeve(And he’s THE definitive Superman)….but it’s not yet a fair comparisson, as Henry Cavill still has to do the role of Daily Planet Clark Kent(The half of the role that Reeve set the standard for)….I’m waiting to see how he does in the next film to decide if he takes the crown away overall, but so far, he convinced me that he’s Superman(And you couldn’t be more right about Brandon Routh..GOOD GOD WHAT WAS BRYAN SINGER THINKING!?!?!?!?)
Amy Adams is phenomenal as Lois Lane. Â FINALLY we’ve got a Lois with the spirit of some of the early portrayals(Noel Neil, particularly) where Lois is actually a smart reporter who’s resourceful and able to take care of herself…who doesn’t need Superman to save her all the time, so when she’s really in peril, it’s the sort of trouble that only Superman COULD save her-which makes her a much better character.
Kevin Costner/Diane Lane as Clark’s adoptive parents, Jonathan and Martha Kent were pretty good(Costner could’ve been written better, but we already discussed that) and Diane Lane was great bringing a strong motherly presence to her portrayal of Martha.
Lawrence Fishburne as Perry White……too soon to tell, unfortunately, as he hasn’t had the “Get the story about Superman” motive to show what he can do as a newspaper editor like they did with Jackie Cooper, and wasn’t in the story enough to make a clear character development. Â My impression, however wasn’t very favorable, but I’ll wait and see how he does in the next film before I decide if he was a good casting decision.
Russel Crowe as Jor-El
BEST CHARACTER IN THE FILM! Â After his criminally miscast turn in Les Miserables as Inspector Javert, this film redeemed him as an actor with me.
Michael Shannon as General Zod was powerfully believable in his intensity and his frightening utter belief in his mission to kill humanity to bring back Krypton.
RichB:I didn’t care for the way he played Clark Kent but since it was only for 30 seconds I will reserve judgement. Maybe my opinion of Fishburne as White was so low he couldn’t do a bad job, time will tell. And I failed to mention Zod (or Michael Shannon) who was good. I never doubted his evil or strength and he made a decent adverisary. Not sure why so many make fun of his performance, I had no problem with it.
So final thoughts, I still do not love this movie. But…it’s not Superman Returns either. I wouldn’t mind watching it again, despite its flaws. And it does have flaws and plot holes. Maybe tighter writing and a narrative that didn’t jump around might have made a big difference. Everything else aside we just dont get to know these characters enough and the over emphasis on action scenes over charcter development really hurts the final product. This is, in the end, an origin story. So what will the sequel bring us? Only time will tell but I do have high hopes.
Final Thoughts Les?
LES: Â After the debacle that was Superman Returns, I was pretty happy with this film as a reboot of the franchise. Â I see great potential in the series, so let’s see what they do with it. Thanks for having me over for the discussion, my friend.
RichB:I am glad that I finally saw it, and I hope the next gets better. Thanks to you for helping me out with this, hope we can do it again soon!
That’s it folks, one of the most controversial movies of the year. What did you think, does it elevate Superman’s legacy or squash it?