I’ve been looking forward to Man of Steel for a long time. I seem to be one of the few people that like Superman more than Batman, which I think boils down to the fact that I’d rather be Superman than Batman. Batman is always getting beat up and stabbed and shit. Yeah he has a cool car and a bunch of gadgets and he’s rich, but I’d love to be able to shoot heat out of my eyes, fly, or use a city bus like a baseball bat. And while many dislike the character because they think he’s an out dated goody two shoes, I say that in the hands of a capable writer, Superman can be great.
(FYI: This is mostly spoiler free until the clearly marked spoiler section)
This leads us to the latest outing of Superman in Man of Steel. 2005s Superman Returns left such a bad taste in the public’s mouth that “Superman” isn’t even in the title. Hell, Superman is sort of only called that twice.
The movie starts out just prior to the destruction of Krypton. I was most weary about seeing another origin story for Superman. Over the years it’s been done so many times that I’m fairly bored with it. However, when the origin story is explained it is mostly the parts that have been changed or those times in Clark’s life that most impacted the man that he became. The Krypton stuff is certainly over the top, but it held my interest enough and Jor El, as played by Russell Crowe, is the most kick ass Jor El I’ve ever seen.
Man of Steel is about as opposite to Superman Returns as you can get. It is much more over the top and action orientated. At times it felt like it was a little too much. Still, the only other Superman film I’ve ever seen that was remotely satisfying in action department before this was Superman II and non-coincidentally, Man of Steel features the same main bad guy, General Zod. For me the joy of Superman is when he’s fighting a super powered bad guy, not some scheme by Lex Luthor or a hunk of Kryptonite. That being said, there are several times you see a LexCorp logo throughout the film and… it kind of made me a little sad that Lex wasn’t in Man of Steel. Strange.
Clark is a bit more morose than he’s ever been in a movie, but I didn’t find him too dark as many people complain. I find it entirely realistic that a person who is forced to hide who he is due to fear that the world will turn on him. It was a bit odd though that he was wandering up north as it felt a bit cribbed from Wolverine’s story.
Michael Shannon’s General Zod is… eh.. okay I guess. He’s certainly menacing, albeit a bit over the top at times. His top soldier, Faora-Ul (played by Antje Traue) is actually the more compelling of Superman’s enemies in Man of Steel and Traue pretty much steals the limelight from Zod in this outing.
The non-superhuman characters were much more interesting that I had expected. I have always extremely disliked Lois, however Amy Adams does a great job. And Lois is not only useful, but she isn’t a huge jerk to Clark (mainly for plot reasons, which I won’t spoil). The other character that stands out is Elliot from Law and Order: SVU. I don’t know how he got to be a military commander, but he’s pretty cool and effective.
Man of Steel isn’t perfect, I certainly don’t think it’s as bad as it’s detractors are saying. The major non-spoilery problems that I had were more nit picks than anything else. For instance in the very beginning of the film a Coast Guard dude says, “Forget it, they’re already dead” or something along those lines. I’m pretty sure that’s not what the Coast Guard acts like. Also, there’s a lot of product placement in the film that’s really blatant. Okay, so Pete works at the IHOP. Okay fine, but do we need glory shots of the IHOP sign during battle? No.
One area I had a bit more of a problem with was religious symbolism. Of course, Superman is right for religions overtones, after all his origin is basically the story of Moses. However, I don’t need it to be shoved in my face with a sledgehammer. It’s like Zack Snyder was screaming at me, “HE’S JESUS!” when Clark was in the church and the picture of Jesus was behind him.
The next biggest complaint goes into a bit of spoiler territory along with the very biggest one, so more of this kind of talk after the warning. Basically, I really enjoyed Man of Steel despite any of it’s flaws. I don’t understand the utter hatred for it.
Okay so let’s address the idea of the destruction of both Smallville and Metropolis. I don’t even understand how this is a huge issue for two reasons:
1. This is Superman’s first real outing as Superman. He’s completely inexperienced in battling other foes, much less ones that have his same powers. Even if he wanted to move the battle, his enemy seemed pretty intent on keeping it contained to where he was.
2. Cities get constantly destroyed in every fucking superhero movie, cartoon, and comic book that I’ve ever seen. The Avengers did a fairly shitty job of not seeing New York totally fucked up. Or how about Chicago at the end of Transformers 3? It’s totally normal for a movie city to be devastated.
It is a bit funny to think that Man of Steel is the ultimate example of a superhero creating his own enemies. If Superman had never arrived on Earth, then Zod would have probably never come here. I guess there’s some guilt potential for a sequel.
And finally for the biggest complaint, the fury over Superman killing Zod. Again, I don’t see the big deal about this. Superman was put in a position where he had no other choice. He was facing a foe much greater than himself and he also (again) was not experienced. Having Superman make that choice was a ballsy test. Not only did it force Superman to truly become the last son of Krypton, it could also haunt him in the future sequel. I’m fairly certain in the right circumstances, like the right political environment and some handy editing, the public could be stirred up to fear an ultra powerful being that snaps the necks of other ultra powerful beings.
Man of Steel is a movie that is very much in line with many of the popular DC comics direct to video animated features as well as the Bruce Timm Superman and Justice League Animated Series. In those cartoons Superman ends up in a huge battle that destroys most of the area that he fights in. However in those cartoons (and the comics for that matter) the hero usually can get away by not killing his enemies. There’s some sort of fake out or trick the hero can employ in order to capture the bad guy. I think that approach may have worked in Man of Steel, but it was much more powerful emotionally when he was forced to kill his enemy as opposed to him pulling out a Phantom Zone projector at the last second.
On another note, it kind of sucked that Superman didn’t have freeze breath. Maybe he didn’t develop it yet, but I have the feeling that the creators thought it was too unreal or didn’t want to over power him. It’s one of my favorite under used Superman powers.
And perhaps the most unbelievable moment of the film was Clark showing up for this first day on the job at the Daily Planet. For a film that goes to some lengths to make it a tad more of a realistic take on Superman, having him show up in the end in the glasses and just hoping nobody will end up recognizing him eventually is a bit of a logical leap. Still, this has always been one of those things you must accept as a Superman fan.
If you can’t tell by now, I really liked Man of Steel. I’ve wanted a balls out action orientated Superman film for a long time and this one fit the bill for me. I don’t get where people say that this film is “joyless”, especially if they liked the Nolan Batman films, talk about joyless. Despite the darker tone and the millions of people that most likely died, Man of Steel is a solid sci-fi/action flick and I’m very happy with Superman’s return to the big screen.
Score: 4 out of 5 Up Up and Aways