Man of Steel Review: Death of A Boy Scout

The cinematic riddle for the past three decades was “How do you make Superman relevant?” Which is bizarre considering that Supes is the comic book equivalent of a Maybach. Let’s face it, if someone were to be asked which super powers they wanted, most would say Big Blue’s abilities. Despite being the template for every superhero, the actual character has suffered from years of being painted as stiff, boring, old fashioned, and plain old corny. Enter Christopher Nolan and Zack Snyder to save the day after Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns raped my childhood memories with a Kryptonite Condom.

Man of Steel is an origin story akin to Batman Begins. I know I know, it’s frustrating for fanboys. We know the tale of Krypton and Smallville, and we want to cut right to a story that’s fresh and hasn’t been told countless times. However, unlike The Amazing Spiderman, this is an origin story that needed to be told. This Clark Kent is far removed from the bumbling Christopher Reeves version and the angst ridden Tom Welling portrayal of the Smallville series. This Clark is an 80’s baby who brings all the baggage of that know-it-all generation with him. Gone is the goofy duality of Clark/Superman, here they are one in the same, a man out of place, yet sure of his destiny. For the first time in the history of the character, we’re greeted with less of a turn the other cheek Clark Kent, and more of a “Just wait and see you sons of bitches”, Clark whose searching for the moment where he’s allowed to be the bad azz he knows he is.

The film begins at the beginning, which means the end for Krypton. I read a novel called The Last Days of Krypton a few years back, and it was an exceptional retelling of this story in detail, making it more about the mistakes of a people, then simply a launching pad for Superman. The self-destruction of the Kryptonians would be better told in an R rated series format similar to Game of Thrones, than as a 15 minute movie opening. This is a Superman movie not a Jor-El movie, which means that we have to get in and out of the Krypton backstory quickly while getting all the exposition out of the way as fast as possible. I credit the filmmakers for making Krypton feel like the last days of a crumbling civilization, not in terms of planetary catastrophes, but the government breakdown, that we didn’t see in the Richard Donner version. Here we have General Zod leading a military coup to take over the dying planet and on the opposite side of the spectrum Jor-El and Lara rebelling in their own way by producing the first natural born child in over a century. First rule of Krypton sex, there is no raw boning! It sounds convoluted but Nolan & Company solved a major problem with the Superman Myth. What makes Kal-El special? If it’s just that he’s from Krypton, it’s not as believable because as DC fanboys know, a new Kryptonian pops up all the time and they don’t measure up to Big Blue. Here we find out that he’s the first of his kind born with free will to choose.

From the destruction of Krypton and Zod’s banishment to the Phantom Zone we fast-forward to Clark Kent on a shrimp boat. While it’s never spelled out why Clark is doing his best Bruce Banner impression, running from place to place, saving people when needed, we can assume that he’s waiting for that sign where he can finally reveal himself. Throughout the film we flashback to Smallville and see the evolution of Clark from strange boy to strange teen. All of the classic elements are here, the discovering of X-Ray vision, Pa Kent showing him tough love by scolding him to keep his powers secret at all costs, and the discovery of the ship that brought him to Kansas.

The true story doesn’t begin until Lois Lane arrives. I give Man of Steel kudos for having the most realistic take on the character, this Lois quickly does away with all the bullsh*t and figures out who this mystery hero is in no time. As a fan of Lois, it’s always bugged me that the world’s greatest reporter wouldn’t figure out who Superman was within a month. Here Lois does it in a matter of weeks. Amy Adams does a wonderful job making the famous role hers, less sassy and more ballsy, you have to believe that even if Superman wasn’t around she would find ways to save herself. Lois gets word of a ship frozen in a Canadian province and uncovers it’s mysteries at the same time as the snooping Clark. For those who read the Man of Steel prequel comic you probably geeked out when Clark entered the control room. For those who have yet to read it, SPOILER ALERT-------------------
It’s Supergirl’s ship, complete with missing Kara Zor-El hmmmm. That’s merely an Easter Egg. The real purpose is that this ship being activated gives us an updated Fortress of Solitude and alerts a freed General Zod and his militia to come to earth.

Here’s where I’ll stop the plot summary as not to spoil the big moments of the film, and get into the nuts and bolts of the movie on a more critical level.

Man of Steel is a mixed bag. There are three very powerful beats in the movie that deal with death and trust, and they’re touching enough to make a grown man cry. At the same time the tone of the film is often cold, dry, and humorless. Superman isn’t Ironman; he’s not witty or snarky. He’s not Batman, there is no quiet cool to him, or funny supporting cast to play off his loner nature. While we do see a lot of passion from Supes this go round, and a more edgy side in battle, the movie lacks any real personable moments. I can point back to the original Superman and the little Boy Scout things like saving a cat from a tree or the winks Christopher Reeves would give that while corny felt authentic to that person. Those small gestures spoke a thousand words and allowed you into the heart of the character. Here we understand Clark’s anger and torment, but aside from watching a college football game on TV, we don’t really know Clark on a personal human level. This chilly isolated tone works for Bruce Wayne because when he’s not playing the role of Billionaire he’s dead inside. Clark’s supposed to represent the flip side of the coin, bright, optimistic, Apple Pie. In toning down the Boy Scout qualities of past Superman interpretations, I fear that Snyder made him a little too distant. On the other hand Henry Cavill may have brought that balance back with his superb job in the title role. While there weren't many scripted moments to show the depth of Clark outside his quest to find himself, Cavill still comes across as extremely likeable. While I had my doubts going in, Cavill brings weight to the character physically (No Michael Keaton Suit Pads for this guy) and emotionally, and was perfect for this particular version of the Last Son of Krypton.

Superman Returns was bashed unmercifully for not having Superman fight anyone the entire movie. This film overcompensates for that in a big way by having several big action scenes that run entirely too long. The initial battle between Superman, Faora, and the Air Force goes from being awesome to cartoony because it simply lasts forever. I was shocked that the early action scenes weren’t as stylized as Snyder’s other works like 300, Watchmen, and Sucker Punch. While Snyder’s Watchmen adaption had some of the greatest Superhero action ever filmed, Man of Steel let’s the CGI get in the way. Not until the final battle with Zod do we get a cleaner fight, but by then you’re pretty burnt out on Kryptonians punching each other in the face.The cast is terrific. From Lawrence Fishburn as a more fatherly Perry White to Russell Crow’s stoic yet entertaining Jor-El, it’s almost perfect. However, the chemistry between Amy Adams and Henry Cavill seemed extremely forced, which created a strange dynamic. It’s as if Lois and Clark were great when paired as friends, but as soon as they were left to have tender moments, the eye rolls began. The Comedian backhanding Silk Spectre then bending her over the pool table in Watchmen felt more romantic than anytime Lois and Clark kissed or held hands. Not sure if it’s because the two actors became friends and those friend vibes shined through, or if the romance was just shown in a poor manner with all the destruction and chaos going on. Michael Shannon’s Zod, on the other hand, clicked on all levels. He was a one of those rare villains, one who allowed us to not only see his motivation but gave us true cause to believe that what he was doing wasn’t evil, it was out of loyalty to his race. It can be argued that Man of Steel was just as much as Zod’s story as it was Kal-El’s.

Overall Man of Steel was a good start, it rebooted the franchise and added new elements to a familiar world (don’t worry no super baby) that makes you wonder where they can take it next. The lack of Kryptonite, Lex Luthor, and Jimmy Olsen will probably upset purist, but we needed those three things like DC needs a new multiverse. Is it as meaty as The Dark Knight movies? No way. This wasn’t meant to tell an epic story about the human complex, it was an origin story to reintroduce and redefine someone we thought we knew. In that respect it does excel over X-Men Origins, Amazing Spiderman, and Batman Begins. Man of Steel may not soar as high as it could have, but I have a feeling it’s just taking off.


Oh, and one more thing:

As a launching point for the Justice League movie Man of Steel fails. Clearly, Warner Bros was not confident in the success of this movie the way Marvel was with the first Ironman. There is no after credit visit from Bruce Wayne or Martian Manhunter telling Clark to cool the f—k out with destroying half the city or any Amanda Waller plot being planned. All we really got was Clark drowning and Whales waking him up? Geeks will be like, “Aquaman sent the Orcas!!!” pump your breaks and stop reaching. Other than the Supergirl ship, the biggest sign of another hero was a Wayne Industries satellite that Zod uses to bash Clark with. Some people may argue that it’s too early to blow your load by having a cameo from one of the heavy hitters, but DC has so many small characters that are JLA influenced that they could have done something to get the comic fans excited. As good as this movie is, JLA stilll has no buzz, because they didn't show their hand! Again, this is a case of seeing what Marvel’s doing right, yet convincing yourself your way is the best way—you people do realize you thought Green Lantern was a good idea. I guess this was just a creation movie, establish the new sandbox where Wonder Woman, Flash, and Non-Christian Bale Batman can exist and do for the supposed JLA universe what Thor did for Marvel. Now that otherworld forces have shown that they can destroy the planet, how can humanity protect itself? Honestly, it looks like Man of Steel II will be the actual launching pad for JLA phase one, and if that’s the case, Warner Bros just pissed away a chance to build momentum for their universe, because that film probably won’t hit theaters until June 2016. 

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