2013-06-15

Man of Steel – He Doesn’t Quite Soar

by Yo Snyder

Man of Steel is a
Superman movie that’s willing to make some bold choices. It’s willing to do
things a little different and bold enough to want to tell its own kind of
Superman story without being a slave to what’s come before. Then again, it’s
also a rather safe movie. It’s almost timid in how it’s determined not to
repeat the mistakes of the past (looking at you Superman Returns). Thus it moves rather quickly and seems unwilling
to take much time to truly explore some of the bold choices it makes. Of
course, the big question is whether or not it’s a good Superman movie. Well,
the answer to that is yes, however, it’s still not quite the Superman movie I’ve
always been waiting for.

Perhaps the most interesting part about this movie is the
fact that this isn’t a movie about Clark Kent. Indeed, that character doesn’t
really make an appearance in this film. Oh, we see Superman out of costume, and
people do call him Clark, but he’s not really the Clark Kent of Superman lore,
but it was just the Clark Kent who’s the same guy as Superman when he’s not
wearing the cape. That’s just one of the many interesting choices, along with
making Jimmy Olsen a girl name Jenny, that shows this film is willing to do and
try things a little differently with the well-known story and characters of
Superman. For the most part, these choices make for a fun experience and gives
us a chance to see Superman a bit differently that we have before.

On the other hand, the film seems almost too determined not
to repeat any of the mistakes of the past. Specifically, it doesn’t want to
take any time to slow down. Superman
Returns
has such a reputation of being somewhat ponderous, and in response to
this, Man of Steel is determined to
keep things moving along at a brisk pace. This means that some scenes that
might have had a larger impact emotionally aren’t given enough time to truly
resonate, and some of the more interesting character developments aren’t really
given time to develop. That also means certain events in the movie ring rather
hollow; such as the high level of destructions that results from Superman
fighting Zod, but no one really seems to be all that disturbed by all the
destruction which mostly certainly resulted in some fatalities. The weight of
that just isn’t there, and for a movie that’s trying to be more grounded and
real, that seemed a bit shallow. There is so much destruction but it all ends
up being treated in such a comic booky fashion that any sense of a grounded
reality is lost.

[MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD]

Then there’s the bigger issue of Superman actually killing
someone. Granted the circumstances were extreme and there seemed to be no other
choice, but Superman is the one hero who always finds a way to make another
choice when it comes to life and death. 
Now, had this been a developing moment for the character – a moment when
he’s still learning about his powers, how to control them, and the great
responsibility he has because of them, had it been an emotionally impactful
moment, one that was followed-up with some sage wisdom from one or both of his
dads on how that’s not a choice Clark can ever
allow himself to make, how he must be better than that – well then maybe it
would have fit and actually been a bold choice in showing the development of
Superman in the character he’s supposed to be. However, at least in this film,
it’s not that way. Even when pushed to the brink by the Joker to break his one
rule, the much darker character of Batman found a way to avoid breaking that
rule; it’s disappointing that the beacon of virtue, Superman himself, could
also find a way to do the same.

[SPOILERS END]

Still those issues aside, Man of Steel is a fun, epic Superman film. It sports a solid cast,
especially with Russell Crowe as Jor-El and Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent.
These two do a solid job at portraying Superman’s dads and its plain from their
strength of character how Clark could have grown up to be the man he is. Amy
Adams is a fine Lois Lane, though towards the end of the film, she seems to
lose some of her stoutness of character and becomes a bit more of a damsel in
distress than one would expect out of a strong character like Lois. I will say
the approach the film takes to the relationship between Superman and Lois is
definitely different and interesting, and should a sequel happen, it could go
some very interesting places. Then there’s Henry Cavill as Superman. He does a
fine job, definitely looks the part, but as I mentioned, we don’t really get to
see him play the role of Clark Kent. It’s hard to say if he’s truly right for
the part until we get to see his version of the meek, mild mannered Daily
Planet reporter, but I will say he’s the best Superman since the original
(referring of course to the one and only Christopher Reeves).

Now usually I delve into some sort of biblical or spiritual
tie-in at this point, but in truth we cover that in greater detail in our
article on “Why Superman Isn’t Jesus.” I will say there is plenty of spiritual
imagery in here and the film is more than willing to delve into that aspect of
the character’s mythology. In fact, I’ve really appreciated how Zack Snyder,
the director, has come out and said that this is a Christ-like character, and
they wanted to embrace that because is so much a part of making Superman who he
is. That’s laced all throughout the film, and again, it’s just a shame they
were so nervous about slowing down at all to allow such themes and moments to
resonate.

There’s a lot riding on Man
of Steel
. Not only is it supposed to be the movie to help Superman regain
some prominence in pop-culture 75 years after his creation, not only is it
supposed to help make up for Superman
Returns
and be the Superman movie we’ve always been waiting for, but it’s
also supposedly supposed to help get the long awaited Justice League movie off
the ground. That’s a lot to shoulder, even for Superman. While Man of Steel doesn’t quite soar to the
lofty heights I was hoping for, it gets a bit bogged down with heavy CGI fight
scenes and so much destruction that the scale is lost and it almost becomes
numbing, it’s still the best Superman movie since Superman II, and it may just be good enough to not only get the
character his own viable franchise again, but help the rest of the DCU make it
successfully to the big screen as well. No, this isn’t another Avengers type movie event, but it is a
really good one; and considering some of the struggles he’s faced recently,
perhaps that will be enough for Superman this time around.

Score: 5 of 7 – This a
grittier Superman story than we’re used to, with bad guys who can be brutal and
intense, and some jerks who don’t treat women very nicely and more bad language
than I’ve ever heard in a Superman movie. Not quite as family friendly as Avengers, but not as dark as The Dark Knight, or even as brutal as Iron Man 3. Still, probably more
appropriate for older kids.