Man of Steel Review

I’ll be blunt, Superman was never one of my favorite characters, even at a young age I thought Batman, Spiderman, the Ninja Turtles and the X-men were infinitely cooler. With that said I do acknowledge his major contribution to the comic book industry as well as pop culture as a whole and respect him for that. With that said when I heard about this movie I was somewhat intrigued since the project is helmed by the team behind the Dark Knight and directed by the man who made Watchmen. So I decided to give it a fair chance.

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Personally I thought it was lame, not that there weren’t a few good things in it but as a whole it fell flat. For example I liked was the parts in the beginning with Krypton’s downfall; the effects were nice and the stakes felt high, the shaky cam was pretty annoying though, and the action towards the end was pretty good too for mainly the same reasons. Both scenes are done pretty well, Zod & Faora were EASILY the best characters and best part in the movie. I also liked Perry White but mainly because he was played by Laurence Fishburne. All the positives end there.

 The thing that brings down the movie unfortunately is the titular character. Henry Cavill who played Superman just sleep walks through the movie and relies on everything else around him to carry the weight of the movie from the other characters to the action.

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Henry Cavill’s extent of emotional range right there. That’s right, put on your srs business face to make people believe that this is a “serious” movie. 

To be honest that has always been the case with the character where his surroundings carried the story rather than the character himself, whether it is the bad guys, the rest of the Justice League or Dini & Timm’s writing & animation in the animated series. The only exception was the Donner films where Christopher Reeve managed to portray him as someone actually likeable & relatable as well as charismatic. What Reeve lacked in bulk, he more than made up for with his charm and personality.

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Reeve may not be as big as Cavill, but his charisma definitely gave him more presence and gave the Donner films an epic feel that overcame the limitations of the time.  

I don’t necessarily want to blame Cavill entirely as the writing & direction does not do him much service, the movie was never able to extract much presence out of him, he came off as bland and never showed any real personality or much emotion. All he did was sort of smirk to the camera while looking pretty. This drags down the movie so much because a movie that’s meant to make Superman “cool” again, so when the main character, who is also the titular character, comes off as boring, your attachment to the movie deteriorates significantly.

The rest of the cast do not fare any better and come of just as bland. Russel Crowe and Kevin Costner are their usual bland selves, given that they’re Clark’s fathers that explains why our main character has the personality of wet cardboard. Amy Adams as Lois Lane comes off as very bland as well; both their bland performances result in weak chemistry that is in the shadow of Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder’s chemistry in the old films. The latter film knows that you have to give your characters a personality in order to be interesting. Not only was Lois Lane bland in this movie, her role is largely inconsequential to the events of the movie; her only purpose as a character was to discover the mystery of the superpowered alien from Kansas, something the audience already knows. We’ve already seen flashbacks of Superman’s childhood so why do we need Lois to come around and uncover it? her on screen chemistry with Cavill seems extremely forced like it was added in after a good part of the movie was filmed, yet somehow the audience is supposed to see them as a couple when neither the actors’ chemistry nor the script really justify them getting back together. The sole basis of their relationship is based entire on the already established mythos.

Diane Lane & Laurence Fishburne are two of the few human characters who actually act like human beings rather than walking pieces of styrophome whose only purpose is to provide exposition. I mentioned that Zod & Faora were the best characters in the movie, and that’s because the type of acting the direction called for were most appropriate for their characters. In the movie, Kryptonians are essentially the same as ants in the sense that they are selected to be bred to fulfill a certain role in society. So basically Kryptonians don’t have much of a free will, the actors who played Zod & Faora did a good job of portraying a robotic, no nonsense race of people. Seriously, how is it that the aliens who are bred to be their own people have more charisma than the people of Earth?

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You wanna know why I liked Zod, because in that part after Superman stopped the doomsday machine, in just 3 sentences, Zod managed to get across his motivation, personality and backstory, making him more likeable, sympathetic and developed than our hero did throughout the whole movie. You can bet that I was pissed off when he got killed, along with the lovely Faora, all the good characters are gone. That’s why I liked the opening and ending action sequence, because those 2 characters were at the center of it.

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Perhaps the biggest problem with the character and the movie as a whole is the origin story. Sure we all know the origin story, but I don’t mind it being told again if it adds something that would give a new outlook on the character like Batman Begins and Amazing Spiderman did, but I don’t think it did anything new other than expand Jor El’s role which didn’t serve the purpose of adding anything to the movie or Superman’s lore. There are actually some interesting things they bring up; like with him being picked on by bullies and how he really wants to let loose on them but he has to hold back, there’s also the idea of him struggling to keep his powers under control like his super hearing and X-ray vision which is scarring him as a result.

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Those are both really good ideas, sadly neither of these are expanded upon beyond the one or 2 scenes they’re in, I’m dead serious, I mean I could understand him getting over the bullies but when did he learn to keep his powers in check? What happened? How did he do it? How did it affect him? To what degree does it affect him as a character? Did a ninja clan help him develop control? Did he practice in wrestling matches against Macho Man Randy Savage? Never explained or explored throughout the movie. This is the movie’s biggest mistake in my book, these two scenes could’ve added a whole new depth to the character, it could’ve made Superman vulnerable without sacrificing the powers that make him Superman (and without forcing him to navigate rings with crippled controls). That could’ve solved the problem that lots of people have had with Superman for years, with him being invulnerable, it could have had the same effect as Hulk or Phoenix where he’s trying to keep his powers in check and avoid using it in a destructive manner in order to uphold his morals. So much for a new take on Superman. :/ If you want a movie where the character actually deals with this I recommend The Wolverine.

One thing I wish the movie took advantage of is the thing where the bully that became his friend after saving him in the bus crash scene, they should’ve used that character to help shape Clark’s outlook and morality, because you had this bully who picked on him but is now a good guy as a result of Clark’s kindness. That could’ve been used as a way to motivate him to do good to bring out the goodness in others as well as present a conflict in that he doesn’t want to hurt people, just reform them, this could have been used to up the stakes in his fight against Zod. While I enjoyed the action sequence which was thankfully a sizeable chunk of the running time, I feel like these conflicts could’ve been much better had any attachment been developed. From looking at the film most people on Earth are just obnoxious douchebags who pick on Clark because that’s what poorly written characters do. Any time spent on actually analyzing the story of Superman’s moral code would’ve made for a much stronger narrative; all we get from this movie is young Clark being told by his father that maybe he should’ve let the kids on the bus die.

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You heard me right folks, the main male figure of the world’s biggest Boy Scout suggested that maybe he should let kids die. Father of the year ladies and gentlemen! (More on that later)

This is where the movie tremendously disappointed me, remember when I said how intrigued I was when I heard that the team behind Batman Begins and the Dark Knight were working on a Superman movie? That’s because I was hoping the same way Batman Begins added a whole new depth to the character by going into detail about all the things that make him who he is; from his ninja training, to his moral code, and to the theme of his get up, this movie would follow in their wake. Man of Steel did no such thing, rather than go into detail about his morals and his powers, they pretty much gloss over that the same way X-Men Origins: Wolverine just glossed over interesting chapters in Wolverine’s life such as his involvement in the wars and time in Team X. Considering the movie is over 2 hours long this is inexcusable, they waste a lot of time on scenes that they either aren’t developed like they should have (as I’ve mentioned) or worthless scenes with Lois Lane’s escapades of providing dialogue that sounds like exposition and not something an actual human being would say courtesy of David Goyer’s script.

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Perhaps the scene that exemplifies all the issues of the movie is the tornado scene where Pa Kent meets his demise. I heard about the scene before going in the movie thinking that it was a young Clark Kent who’ll be indecisive about how to use his powers which would justify making an irrational decision based on his father’s word, however it turns out that Clark was an adult in that scene which means by that point he should understand full well what he is capable of.

It felt completely unnecessary and convoluted. So you’re telling me they couldn’t see glimpses of the tornado or detect the high winds from a distance? Superman does have super senses does he not? They even pulled the save the dog trope just so Pa Kent could himself in a situation where he could die. There’s no reason for Pa Kent to forbid Clark from saving him, it was just the typical Nolan “noble death” where it’s just there to be “cool”.

The whole point of the scene was to pull an Uncle Ben and make Superman’s story more “tragic”, while not understanding the significance of Uncle Ben’s death; how Peter’s carelessness led to the demise of his loved one which motivate Peter to use his great power in a responsible manner to prevent more people from meeting the same fate. (Which unfortunately still happens)

It’s an example of how the filmmakers don’t understand Superman, because if anything Pa Kent’s regular death is far more powerful and impactful to Clark because it teaches him that maybe Superman can’t save everybody and he’ll have to cope with that. See guys? You can get across that point without making your character out to be a sociopath.

It’s also an example of how Snyder, Goyer & Nolan are simply trying to mimic other stories and characters without understanding if they would work for what they’re doing and why they work for those stories. Given Superman’s status as an “old timer” in the midst of “younger, hipper” superheroes, it just comes off as an old man wearing baggy clothing trying to fit in with 18 year olds.

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The biggest example of the movie’s awful writing and directing is the Jesus Christ “symbolism”, I put that in quotations because it was so unsubtle to the point of insulting. I mean as if it wasn’t obvious enough with him being 33 years of age and raised by poor farmers, they literally had a stained glass image of Christ right behind him. Newsflash guys, you don’t have to explain everything to the audience like they’re idiots.

An example of GOOD symbolism is the scene in Iron Man 3 where Tony Stark is dragging his heavy armor after a crushing defeat. This is reminiscent of the experience of soldiers in the army in which their training helps them in combat but becomes a burden upon returning to civilian life after the harsh environment of battle. If the same adrenaline that saves your life in combat kicks in every time a car backfires, it’s become a burden much like Tony’s armor has.

The reason that symbolism worked because it gets across the parallels, the characterization, the narrative and the conflict in one shot without the need for direct exposition, film is a visual medium like paintings, images can speak to audiences louder than exposition. I’m surprised someone as lauded as Nolan doesn’t understand this.

A lot of people had a problem with how it ended with Superman killing Zod, mainly because they felt that the scene wasn’t followed with him grieving to sell the tragedy, with me it’s the preceding events that took away from that scene. I don’t think there was even one scene where it established that Superman does not kill like they did in the Dark Knight movies. Had Superman’s code of justice been given any form of development it might have resonated, but as is it just comes off as business as usual, I mean his own dad told him that maybe he should let kids die even though he has the power to save them and then Superman himself allowed his father to die, so snapping the neck of a guy who caused countless amounts of damage should be right up his alley as far as I’m concerned.

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Superman reacts to the reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. 

The movie has David Goyer’s signature all over it; good ideas and interesting themes hampered by his habit of never taking advantage of them through development. Dark Knight Rises had the same issues, but at least that film had talented actors able to carry a weak script, the actors in Man of Steel aren’t as gifted which is unfortunate for us.  

I know people give Zack Snyder a lot of shit but I give him the credit for the scenes I liked because he is very good at visuals and action sequences, though some shots were stupid, shaky cam in places not need and a dull, desaturated color scheme were annoying. He’s clearly under the thumb of Nolan, Goyer, and Warner Bros. executives so I think they deserve more of the blame for this one.

The movie takes absolutely no risks; there’s nothing new regarding Superman’s mythology, no new approach to how we perceive the character or his respective universe. What do you know about the character? That he’s an alien who gains powers from our sun and protects the Earth, that is all the movie tells us. It’s basically a remake of the first 2 films; it showed Krypton exploding, Superman’s origin and his fight with Zod. It helped that over two movies it had time to develop Superman’s attachment to Earth so when aliens threaten it there’s heartbreaking tension on his part. That doesn’t need to be a bad thing but considering how high the bar was raised for super-hero movies in the past few years and how this is supposed to be a long awaited reboot to a movie franchise that as far as most movie goers were concerned was dead for 30+ years since Superman II.

To the movie’s credit it exceeded my expectations at the box office (which admittedly was pretty low) and seems to have enough fanfare, though the latter feels very questionable to me since I wonder if they truly do like it, or are simply supporting it based on the brand alone. Even Phantom Menace and Transformers were liked by audiences until years later realized how crap they were.

Amazing writing? Dragonball Z level action? Yeah, none of that’s there. I’m not fond of Superman, I tried being as unbiased as possible but a crap movie is still a crap movie. Sorry fanboys, it takes more than Superman throwing a few punches to make a good movie. Calling it edgy because it toned the color down and has the characters put on their “srs business” face is like the little kid that’s trying WAY too hard to be “growed up” in the most superficial ways possible. By listening to “grown up” music with cuss words in it, and wearing darker/muted color clothes more, and having this “mysterious brooder” affect about themselves and making up some trite backstory about how the reason his antisocial ass doesn’t talk to anyone is because “never understood” and “doesn’t trust people anymore” because Blahedy Blahedy Humanity Are Stupid Evil Jerkfaces Wah Wah Cry Cry.

4/10, pretty subpar, a few good action scenes that are hampered with no emotional attachment.

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