Movie Review: Man of Steel

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There are few characters as iconic as Superman.  Almost everyone knows the character, the red and blue suit, the matinee idol hair. He runs faster than a locomotive, stops bullets and leaps tall bounds. The most recent addition the Superman film cannon – Man of Steel – is a disappointing film.

As is typical in the Superman franchise – this first film, in what I’m assuming will be a series of sequels – the film deals with Clark Kent’s search for identity…his search for answers to “who am I?” “why am I here?” “what is my purpose”.  I think the biggest disappointment was that the film never lived up to the trailer that was so exciting and cinematic. Man of Steel is a boring and sometimes nonsensical film – I wish it was a whole lot better.

Superman isn’t my favourite superhero – he’s not even in the top five. He’s too perfect. Everything seems to go right for Superman. He’s virtually indestructible. He’s a paragon of morals – truth, justice and the American way! It’s hard to generate drama or sympathy for such a character. The latest reboot takes on Superman’s origin story with a darker, and more violent tone.

It’s hard not to compare Man of Steel to 1978’s Superman. Where Superman is full of humour and wonder, Man of Steel is full of angst and paranoia. It takes itself very seriously.  It’s a long movie. There’s a lot going on. The story is told in tandem with a series of flashbacks. The flashbacks really take away from the pacing of the film – possibly due to the fact that there are so many of them. The story isn’t told in a linear fashion – which I usually enjoy – but it’s an incredibly long story, with so many characters, and too much plot involved.

There’s a lot of talking in this film. Every little detail is explained to the audience. It gets to be really tedious – almost as if every single action that’s taken has to be justified with a monologue.

The cast is stacked with talent. Russell Crowe, Michael Shannon, Amy Adams, Christopher Meloni, Diane Lane, Kevin Costner, and Laurence Fishburne. I’m very surprised that this film wasn’t better. It’s hard to care about a lot of the characters because they simply aren’t developed. I like all of the actors involved, but we spend zero time with them. The acting is serviceable – Russell Crowe played a good Jor-el, Diane Lane was a forgettable Martha Kent, and we didn’t see enough of the Daily Planet crew to know anything about them.

Michael Shannon is a phenomenal actor. While I was really excited to see his depiction of General Zod, I was disappointed. Possibly because his character’s villainous motivations were all over the place. He did a fine job, and that’s how I feel about the movie as a whole. It was fine. Not good. Not bad. Just…meh.

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Henry Cavill plays a charming and unbelievably attractive Clark Kent/Kal-el/Superman. It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a super handsome man! Man of Steel? More like Man-of-Steal-my-heart! They should call the sequel Super-handsome-man. (I’ll stop now). He has on-screen charisma, but isn’t given much to work with. Amy Adams is a great Lois Lane – she’s strong and independent, but again, she gets lost in the mess with the rest of the characters and the convoluted story.

There’s too much story. We have the history of Krypton, young Clark Kent, Lois Lane trying to find the identity of Superman, General Zod’s general destruction of everything, Clark Kent learning of his origins, and oh yes…saving the world.

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I really like that they’ve tried to make an edgier Superman. There are parts of this film that work really well. The flight sequences are exhilarating, and the scenes of a young Clark Kent coming to terms with his powers and his origins are the most powerful in the film. You see him grow, struggle to accept himself, and learn what it means to sacrifice. This is the Superman that I would’ve liked to seen more of. A struggle of morals for a man who fears his god-like abilities. The father-son dynamic really works here. I haven’t been this emotionally-attached to a Kevin Costner character since The Bodyguard.

I am not a fan of Zack Snyder. He’s heavy handed with his direction and all style with no substance. As seen in his work in 300, Watchmen and Sucker Punch, Snyder borrows elements of other peoples’ style and appropriates it as his own. There’s a lot of borrowing done for this film. Scenes look familiar, we’ve seen them before. At least with a PG-13 rating, Snyder couldn’t throw in a gratuitous nude scene – I’m sure its in the director’s cut.

One of the most surprising things about the film is that Christopher Nolan is involved. I’m a huge fan of Nolan’s work. There’s a lot of subtlety and intelligence in the way that Nolan puts his films together. I assume Nolan is the reason why the cast of the film is so large and well-known. I don’t understand what went wrong here – but I’m going to just blame Zack Snyder.

Man of Steel has already taken in hundreds of millions of dollars at the box office. There’s definitely a sequel in the works. Let’s hope its a more super Superman.

Spoilers…..if you haven’t seen it…consider this your Kryptonite.

As you can probably tell…I had a few problems with this film. At the beginning of the film, in Krypton, we’re given a long, and somewhat unnecessary backstory. Then, General Zod is introduced and we don’t get a real explanation as Zod’s motivations as the villain – at least not until much much later in the film. He was born with the single purpose of protecting Krypton and its people – doesn’t that interfere with his plans to kill Kal-el? Cue a half hour chase scene, fight sequence and very strange scenery. The people of Krypton are a civilized and advanced race, which makes me question why they live in caves, have no video technology capability, and travel via flying beasts.

I’m going to blame Zack Snyder for this film. It’s very reminiscent of Watchmen, in that there’s just so much talking.  He even includes a tableau-type montage. He sure likes to recycle. Speaking of which – the fight scene in the small town resembles that of Thor… except for the mass destruction that takes place. Don’t even get me started on the Christ parallels in this movie!

The action is often spectacular and fun – but it runs on for too long. It’s repetitive. There’s only so much building smashing a person can take. The destruction in this movie is crazy, especially in the final Metropolis fight between Superman and Zod. According to a study compelted by Buzzfeed and Watson Technical Consulting (WTC), the impact, “in terms of the strictly physical damage done to the city, the initial estimate is $700 billion. To put that in context, 9/11’s physical damage cost $55 billion, with a further economic impact of $123 billion.  Overall, WTC estimates that the damage would be $2 trillion,”  (http://www.buzzfeed.com/jordanzakarin/man-of-steel-destruction-death-analysis). For a guy who’s supposed to be saving the world, Superman sure doesn’t have much regard for human life.

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The quieter moments of the film have the most impact. There’s some really powerful imagery in the movie – Superman in handcuffs, the destruction of Krypton and especially the scene with a young Clark Kent wearing a makeshift cape. I love that scene.

The death of Zod has a lot of audiences divided. I think this was a really inspired addition. It’s so out of character for Superman, the paragon of goodness to actually kill a man. It was great – and really the only ending that would make any sense.

Man of Steel feels less like an introduction to Superman, and more of an introduction to Clark Kent. I really enjoy that angle. I think the following quote from Kill Bill really epitomizes the ending of this film: “Superman didn’t become Superman. Superman was born Superman. When Superman wakes up in the morning, he’s Superman. His alter ego is Clark Kent. His outfit with the big red “S”, that’s the blanket he was wrapped in as a baby when the Kents found him. Those are his clothes. What Kent wears – the glasses, the business suit – that’s the costume. That’s the costume Superman wears to blend in with us.” I like that Kal-el has to define himself as Superman before he becomes Clark Kent – his secret identity.

There’s a lot of noise in this movie, a lot of unnecessary dialogue and destruction – but sometimes, it works. There was so much potential here – and it was mostly wasted. It’s not a super movie. I blame Zack Snyder.

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