January 29th, 2015
Review: Man Of Steel
It’s pretty hard to make a globally recognized 75 year old icon appear new and fresh, but somehow Man of Steel manages to do it.
I’ve loved the character of Superman for most of my life (age 4 or 5 to present) and the fanboy cliché with these sort of movie reboots often ends up in a lot of wailing about “WHAT have you done?” After watching Man of Steel, which is a sensory overload from the opening frame to the last, my feelings ended up being more along the lines of “Oh! What HAVE you done.”
Man of Steel has the best action/fight sequences of any superhero movie ever. They surpass the spectacle of The Avengers and out-class the classic battle from Superman 2. While I’m not always fond of the film’s handheld camera style (it sort of reminded me of the docu-style of United 93 at times), they really work well in the fight scenes.
In these sequences we get a true sense of what its like when superpowered Kryptonians go head to head. There is damage, tons of it, and we even get a sense of the collateral damage in a fight like this.
In the mythos of Superman, what this movie does that only the comics have done before it, is give us a real, true sense of Krypton. Contrary to past efforts, Superman’s doomed home world isn’t just a convenient plot device to create an orphan hero. We learn about Krypton’s culture, its past, its rigid social structure and its amazing geography. We even get a very cool look at Krypton’s technology and it isn’t superfluous to the plot.
The hero of Krypton is of course Russell Crowe’s Jor-El, the most badass Jor-El we’ve ever seen in any medium. We find out that not only is he a brilliant scientist, a moral compass, but a societal rebel (along with his wife, Lara). Marlon Brando’s Jor-El was almost an all-seeing God that bequeathed the knowledge of Krypton to his son. Crowe’s Jor-El has that element to him, but is also a father saving his son and a man trying to save his people.
Heresy, but I think Crowe’s Jor-El is better!
The fleshing out of Jor-El helps to build the groundwork for Superman’s arrival on earth. It isn’t just random where he ended up. There was a purpose and a plan.
The other half of the Krypton question is Michael Shannon’s Zod, who is fleshed out enough in the film that he becomes more than just a stock villain bent on evil. If you look at the events through Zod’s eyes, his actions make a strange, twisted sense. When he intones that he does the horrors he does for the good of Krypton, it makes a sort of logic you rarely get in a comic book movie.
The star, of course, is Henry Cavill as Superman.
We get a look into how Superman was raised, and why even though he is reluctant to use his powers for good, he is still drawn to do so because it’s the right thing to do. His two sets of parents instill in him the understanding that he is where he is not out of random luck but because he is there for a reason. And that is the essence of Superman, and Cavill does a great job in communicating both Clark/Superman’s vulnerability and the raw, unbridled, ass-kicking power that is Kal-El/Superman.
I also enjoyed the non-linear way in which Superman’s story was told and the realistically paranoid reaction from the U.S. government to his existence.
The film also touched on the Superman-government dynamic and the stark difference between that relationship and Batman’s government dealings. Superman is willing to submit to the government in order to do the right thing and also gain acceptance, while Batman aids the cause of law and justice while also being considered an outlaw and enemy of the state.
It’s why the two characters mesh so well and why the world needs a Superman/Batman movie.
The Lois/Superman/Clark troika appears in this movie unlike any way we’ve seen it before, period. I’ve wondered for months how they could execute this, and they made it work in a way that I ended up loving by the end of the movie. “That does make sense,” I said to myself. I can’t say anymore without ruining it but this relationship, which will always be central to any execution of Superman (and why I’ve had problems with the “New 52” relaunch from DC), won me over. It works.
As a reboot, I had to be open to new interpretations of characters, and I’ll confess I’m still a little unclear on Amy Adams’ Lois Lane. She has the toughness and intuition of past Loises, but without much of the damsel in distress cliché that was all the Lois Lane of the 1950s did. But I don’t know if she had a hard enough edge – though it may not have worked well in the more grounded, “real” world of this Superman. I hope they give us more Lois in the sequel and flesh this out some more.
I wanted the movie to be much longer, and even at its extended running time I was on the edge of my seat for the entire thing. The action set pieces and even the smaller “Superman moments” were appropriately epic for the greatest fictional character ever created.
This movie was the Superman I’ve loved my entire life, in epic, gargantuan scale that I’ve always wanted to see, but still fresh and new and accessible and modern without losing the heart of what Superman is all about: hope.
5/5 Must See
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