Sunday, June 16, 2013

"Man of Steel": My Review

I went to see "Man of Steel" this past weekend. It got me thinking about the direction movies based on comic books seem to be taking. Shortly put, I'm not so sure about the "Justice League" movie that Warner Brothers is talking about (and surely will be) making. If "Man of Steel" was the first step to this eventual Justice League movie then it wasn't the best of starts. My short review is that "Man of Steel" started off very promising and then compromised this in favor of the last hour being action that became mind-numbing and quite frankly a little boring. "Iron Man 3" was sort of this way too and it seems to be the trend at the end of a comic book movie to have a ton of CGI and long action sequences that eventually get a little tiresome. There's only so much "guys throw themselves into a building while fighting" you can handle in a movie. "Man of Steel" is almost like two movies. One movie that is about Superman's origin story and the other is an all-out action movie. I realize there has been action at the end of most Marvel's superhero films, but "Iron Man 3" and to a greater extent "Man of Steel" took the action at the end of a film to new levels.

I have never read a comic book, much less a Superman comic, but I have seen every incarnation of the movie (well, since 1978) and am not sure how "Man of Steel" fits in with them. Much like the character of Hulk, I'm not sure Superman is an easy character to put on screen. The only real way to make his story interesting is to throw kryptonite at him or have him face an alien of equal strength. I realize other Marvel characters like Thor have this same issue, but I feel like his story translates better to the screen than Superman's does. I've always enjoyed the Superman movies (there were even good parts about "Superman Returns"), but I'm never watching the films (even "Superman" and "Superman 2") and thinking "I can't watch to re-watch that movie." "Superman" from 1978 was very good, but then it had the whole "backwards time travel" thing at the end which basically served as a mechanism that Superman could use any time he wanted to change the past. It was kind of a lazy plot device in my opinion, even if it is completely within Superman's ability and range. I believe "Superman 2" (the Richard Donner cut) is probably a superior movie to "Superman." "Superman 3" and "Superman 4" were just not very good, there's no way to get past that. I think Superman isn't the easiest of characters to bring onto the big screen is my basic point.

(Potential spoilers ahead) So I came into "Man of Steel" ready to be impressed and excited, yet without any preconceptions or worry it would not meet what I expected from it. The first hour or so of the movie, which I know many reviewers hated, really got me into the story. I thought the idea of Superman trying to fit into the world was compelling and the way it was presented made you believe that a person like Clark Kent who never felt entirely like a member of Earth would have issues with his powers and what to do with these powers. Clark Kent was lost as a child and seemed lost as an adult as well. He's told by his father that he can't reveal himself to the world because they aren't ready and won't accept him, but he keeps running into situations where he can help others with his capabilities. So while Clark knows he isn't like other people, he also doesn't know whether he should reveal who he really is, despite the obvious benefits to Earth if he did.

Clark Kent is lost for most of the beginning of the movie and I know other reviewers have found this part of the movie to have too much gravitas, but I enjoyed Zack Snyder (more on him in a minute) giving a different twist on Clark's story before he became Superman as an adult and showing how he really wouldn't feel like he was part of Earth. He was born on a different planet and the only thing he has in common with humans on planet Earth is that he looks human. He can do things others can't and he can't really show everyone who he truly is because he doesn't feel he would be accepted. He's not like Batman in that he can run around Gotham City as Bruce Wayne and live some sort of fulfilling life outside of his role as Batman. Clark is a reporter (well, not in this film) and he doesn't have much else that gives him meaning to his life other than being Superman. Being Superman seemingly shades everything he does. He doesn't have a double identity like other superheroes, but lives as Superman all the time and tries to keep this from nearly everyone he meets.

Clark isn't extraordinarily wealthy so he doesn't have a bunch of cool toys screenwriters can use to further the plot. As exciting as Superman is, Clark can be equally as boring. Money can't buy happiness, but it certainly does make it easier for a screenwriter to write about a comic book character's life when he isn't being a superhero. So I enjoyed the first hour of the movie and thought we were on pace for something good. Clark/Superman would find his place in the world, defeat Zod, and then we could get to a sequel in 2016 or 2017 where we learn more about Superman and he recovers from the villain he helped face in "Justice League," which I assume is coming out in 2015. It was pretty clear what would happen and I assumed they were taking the Marvel track to creating an entire universe of characters that could be spun off and huge profits would be raked in and the studio and moviegoers would be happy. Then it fell apart for me. All sense of gravitas feel apart and the action started.

The last hour was just too action-oriented. I realize a person complaining about the action in a Superman movie is a person who is probably a moron or has unrealistic expectations for the movie. The entire last hour of the movie was action though. It was straight action all the way through and General Zod and Superman collided into buildings approximately 30 times and the military was called so there was shooting and fighting to where I wasn't always sure what was happening. People died, Superman/Zod never got bruised, and then I found myself wishing these two would just stop fighting and we could find a way to go back to furthering the plot of the movie. Except there was no more plot. Superman was lost in this world and eventually chose the citizens of Earth over Zod during the climax of the film, which I came to believe was supposed to be a dramatic moment. I'm sorry, was that ever in question that Superman would side with Earth over Zod? Was the moviegoer supposed to think Superman would side with the guy who killed his father and then tried to kill him? Plus, it's not like Superman had any memories of Krypton, so he has no emotional ties to the planet other than seeing his father through a hologram (or a download of some sort), but again, his father is dead. Superman can see his father when he inserts a key and downloads Jor-El, but Superman has no ties to Krypton. So of course Superman favors Earth over Krypton. This conclusion lacked a sort of drama for me.

Superman snaps Zod's neck, which inexplicably is what killed Zod considering these two had just flown through dozens of buildings. I guess crashing into a building and getting the shit beaten out of him isn't enough to kill Zod, but a quick snap of the neck does it. Also, why didn't Superman just snap Zod's neck as he flew quickly towards Zod? He tackled Zod dozens of times, couldn't he just snap Zod's neck while tackling him? That's right, Superman didn't want to kill Zod. He just thought Zod would stop destroying Earth out of the kindness of his heart. Comic book lovers and Superman fans know that's just how Superman is, but it just seemed silly to me. The action of the last hour was as mind-numbing as the first hour of the movie was exciting for me. I grew bored with the action, which is never a good thing when watching an action movie.

The actors did a good job and it was well-cast. Henry Cavill was pretty good considering he isn't playing a character, but an archetype. It's not incredibly easy to play Superman and display some emotion. Superman is not like Iron Man who can crack wise and be snarky. Frankly, Superman is kind of a boring guy. He doesn't have a ton of personality, so Henry Cavill does a pretty good job with the role because he does show some personality in the role. Amy Adams is dogged, which is seemingly all the role of Lois Lane involves. She was dogged, so that's doing a great job in the role of Lois Lane. I'm mixed on Michael Shannon as General Zod. I didn't buy into him much during the action scenes (of course I didn't buy into much during the action scenes), but I thought he did a decent job. When I heard he was cast as General Zod I thought we would be in for a treat with Shannon in that role. It wasn't really a treat, but Shannon wasn't bad. Not to mention, there wasn't one "kneel before Zod" during the movie, which disappointed me a little bit. I have this weird Kevin Costner thing where I didn't like him when he was a younger actor, but now I seem to really enjoy him as he has gotten older. I thought he did a really good job as Jonathan Kent and I wish we had seen more of him in that role. Diane Lane did a good job with a pretty non-descript role while Russell Crowe matched up well with Michael Shannon in early scenes as Jor-El. The casting was actually pretty good overall. I generally liked the movie and much of the reason for this was the casting.

Now Zack Snyder as the director. I had very low hopes for Snyder when I found out he was directing this film. I am not a fan of his really. What we got is pretty much what I expected from him. His filmography includes "300," "Sucker Punch" and "The Watchmen." I probably wouldn't dare let him near a rebooted superhero franchise, but I'm not the brilliant decision makers in charge of "Man of Steel." I simply didn't trust him as the director based on the amount of crazy CGI his movies seem to involve. Snyder did a good job in the beginning of the film, but the action sequences are really just a clusterfuck. I could barely see what was going on at times and there was just a lot of fighting that basically involved the characters flying through buildings. I thought two years ago when Snyder was announced as the director he wouldn't have the vision required to reboot the Superman franchise and I feel pretty confident I was correct. Still, he did a great part in the beginning of the movie setting the mood he was trying to set and engaging the audience, but he just couldn't help himself and turned the last 60 minutes into a CGI-fest.

There were no exciting Easter eggs and there was no postcredit scene. I thought Warner Brothers was using Superman to set up a "Justice League" film, but they didn't seem to try and do that. Rather than move forward the overall idea of a greater universe outside of Superman, they more teased that there was a greater universe without going into too many specifics or trying to show they had any interest in investigating that greater universe during the "Man of Steel" film. There were a couple views of Lexcorp trucks and the Lexcorp building. That IS something, but not a whole lot. There was also a Wayne Enterprises satellite that was shot down by General Zod, but this was explained in interviews by Snyder as an homage more than a hint of things to come. I don't think the lack of exciting Easter eggs or a postcredit scene is necessarily a knock against the movie, but I was hoping there would be more of an introduction to the overall potential "Justice League" universe. I've read there were Easter eggs all over in the film and while it appears there were a few, where Marvel succeeded in their films leading up to "The Avengers" is they managed to hook the casual viewers who saw their standalone superhero films into getting excited for "The Avengers." It was a bit of a disappointment "Man of Steel" didn't tease a larger universe and I think if Warner Brothers wants to really do a "Justice League" movie they need to tease the overall universe in their standalone superheor films. Maybe they don't need to do this and Marvel has spoiled us.

So just looking at Superman as a standalone movie, which is how we are supposed to view it, I think it was a decent re-re-introduction to Superman. If there was a sequel I would probably watch it depending on the plot summary and who is cast as the villain. It's hard to read criticism of Henry Cavill because there isn't a lot of emotional depth involved with playing Superman/Clark Kent. He's kind of an aloof guy and weird guy, which is how the script forces Cavill to play the role and I thought he did a satisfactory job. My biggest issue is that the action felt stale. It felt like it had all been done before and seemed very by-the-numbers. I can accept those who didn't like the downer emotional aspect of the first hour of the film, but I thought it made sense for Clark Kent/Superman to question his place in a world that didn't initially know who he truly was and would have treated him like the villain Jonathan Kent thought they would see him as.

"Man of Steel" was a good re-re-introduction to Superman, but I think Warner Brothers is more focused on promises of bigger things ahead, but for a movie that is supposed to be standalone, it wouldn't make a lot of sense to me if a sequel to "Man of Steel" is never made (which I doubt a sequel won't be made) and "Justice League" is never made. If a sequel to "Man of Steel" is never made then the film would be an improvement on "Superman Returns" and the series would probably get re-booted sometime in the future. I would remember the 2013 reboot and how a different view of the Superman was shown. I will remember it was a movie that tried to humanize Superman and then delved into excessive special effects. If a sequel is made (which probably will happen) and "Justice League" is also made then I will remember "Man of Steel" was supposed to be a standalone film that only seemed to serve the purpose of re-re-introducing the character of Superman for the purpose of making more superhero movies and expanding the franchise. I have no problem with that, but the movie seemed to initially want to have a different take on Superman and then decided against going all the way. It wasn't a disappointment, but it was a movie that managed to disappoint me in some ways. I will just wish that wasn't all "Man of Steel" ended up being to me.

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