Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Review: Man of Steel

[NOTE: I actually wrote 98% of this blog nearly two weeks ago but I've been dealing with so many personal issues this Summer that I couldn't bring myself to upload it. I apologize to anyone who's been disappointed by the lack of updates the last two months. Hopefully I'll be able to get a few blogs up before the end of the month]



Most people, from random people I know on Facebook to big named celebrities, seem to have this weird dislike of Superman usually citing him as being dull or hokey and usually following it up by saying how much they love Batman. I will agree that a Superman movie hasn’t really been something to get excited about in modern times due to the fact that, well, there haven’t been that many good Superman movies. Most people agree that the 1978 Superman film and Superman II are the best of the bunch (though I think the first one is kind of dull and the second one is overrated). Superman III and Superman IV are considered two of the worst superhero movies of all time. Years later we got Superman Returns, which seemed to be Warner Bros. trying to capitalize on the momentum of Batman Begins, ended up not doing all that great and being extremely decisive among the fans (director Bryan Singer decided to have Superman returns be a direct sequel to Superman II, complete with re-used footage). They opted not to make a follow-up.

But now Man of Steel is upon us and there was a lot of good buzz about the film prior to release. It’s a reboot that has nothing to do with the previous films’ continuity (and also doesn’t have the classic Superman march). But wouldn’t you know it; the film has been the most hotly debated film of the year so far. Some people LOVED this film calling it one of the best superhero flicks made but then others have declared it to be an assassination of the character of Superman. I’ve been led to believe people who love Superman hate the movie but people who hate Superman enjoyed it. That’s a bad sign. Also they hired Zack Snyder to direct, presumably because they watched 300 and Watchmen but didn’t watch Sucker Punch and thus still had faith in his directing skills.

Before we get to the review there’s an outstanding issue and that’s the Justice League movie. Ever since The Avengers came out last year amnd ade all of the money on Earth Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment have been touting that they plan on releasing a JLA film in 2015 just in time to go toe-to-toe with Avengers 2 Avengers: Age of Ultron. [EDIT: This has since changed. Skip to the bottom of this review for more details] However a few months later they backtracked on this and said that Man of Steel needed to do well in order for them to move forward on that. That’s…suspicious. In any case this means that Man of Steel isn’t just its own movie but rather the DC equivalent of the original Iron Man movie; the beginning of a cinematic universe. That’s a lot a pressure.

Full review after the jump.

[WARNING: This review contains major spoilers for the film so if you haven't watched it yet and manged to avoid the internet the last month you may not want to skip this one]



Without the "underwear" I just can't buy him as Superman
The planet Krypton in dying. Scientist Jor-El (Russell Crowe) believes they have weeks at most but the ruling council seems content to sit on their hands. General Zod (Michael Shannon) agrees with Jor-El but chooses to stage a coup against the movement and then preserve the bloodlines he sees fit. In the chaos Jor-El sends his newborn son Kal-El to Earth in a ship, also containing “the future of Krypton”, knowing that the planet’s environmental conditions would grant his son great powers. Zod’s coup is defeated and he and his followers are banished to the Phantom Zone. After all this Krypton still soon explodes, obliterating the civilization. Thirty-three years later on Earth a man named Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) wanders from location to location looking for his place in the world and, more importantly, his reason for being. This man is a grown Kal-El and he is about to find out where he came from…and all of Earth will pay the price.

You have to understand that Man of Steel does something almost no other Superman movie has properly done: given Superman a proper physical threat (i.e. giving him something to punch). Now I understand the idea of Superman in that it’s not supposed to just be him using physicality to defeat enemies but I have to assume I’m not alone in being a little bored of “the evil manipulations of Lex Luthor which always seem to come down to land schemes”. If you’re a superhero comic book fan and you say you don’t want to see Superman fight something that could physically challenge him than your either lying or you’re pretentious as shit; which one is it? Anyway I believe the vast majority of the action in this flick was done as a sort of therapy as the older films seemed so restrained. This was Zack Snyder letting Superman’s hair down. Whether it succeeded or not is something I’ll get into more in a minute but I want to point out that seeing Clark in a big clash of power with someone other than Lex Luthor was worth the price of admission for me. I would have preferred Braniac but beggars can’t be choosers. I swear to god if the plot had been Lex Luthor was using ill-gotten money to buy up a bunch of real estate and only Superman could stop him I would have exploded due to anger.

Actually now that I think about it Zod's plan WAS a real estate scheme!
GODDAMN IT ALL TO HELL!!!!!!
The plot is fine. That isn’t really the movie’s strong point but I did love the added detail to Kal-El's Kryptonian origin. I really like the idea of the codex and that Jor-El had a philosophical reason for sending his son to Earth. So on that side of things I really thought it did well to make more sense of an inherently silly concept. I also liked the flashbacks of Clark’s life on Earth prior to when we met him as an adult as it was somewhat reminiscent of Batman Begins (with Christopher Nolan as producer this was certainly intentional).

I’ll speak on this more in a bit but I would like to touch on two things: 1) I liked the action sequences in the movie in so much that I liked the way it looked. The CGI in this film was some of the best I’ve ever seen and looked great; we’re a long way from the fake looking effects from the original Spider-Man film, which bothered me even in 2002. I also think that those scenes are in the same vein as the horrible third act of Transformers: Dark of the Moon (aka “The Chicago Destruction Sequence”) which is technically a bad thing but I thought Snyder shot it so much better than Michael Bay did. I felt like I understood what was happening a lot more than that bullshit Bayformer crap. So, as a visual treat this was pretty fun stuff. While we’re on the subject I will point out that I completely understand why the filmmakers go so all-out on this action: it’s therapy for them and for us. A ton of people, including myself, really have been wanting to see Superman fighting a foe on his physical level so we could have a slugfest of sorts. They go overboard, yes (we’ll talk more in a bit), but I feel weird about bitching too much about it when I basically asked for this. I wanted Superman to punch someone through a building and while I don’t think General Zod was a villain I wanted to see I’ll take it. Most people who read straight superhero comic books are doing so because they want to see superheroes battling it out with supervillains; philosophy, no matter how awesome it may be, is a welcomed addition to that (I’d rather have Cyclops and the X-Men fighting superpowered bank robbers with no mention of the allegory of discrimination than have Cyclops and Storm talk about discrimination at a restaurant for 33-pages).

So it should be pretty clear by now that I really liked this movie, a very different opinion than a lot of the other opinion reviews floating around. But this movie, while enjoyable, is far from perfect and honestly is about as far from a true Superman film you can get without blatantly pissing on classic elements of the mythos (you know, like Tim Burton wanted to do with Superman Lives).

I heard a rumor Warner Bros. may do a Krypton spin-off
Yes, please
For one, yeah, the characters aren’t great. They’re e not bad but they aren’t deep and there’s not a huge amount of character development. This being a summer blockbuster this isn’t unexpected and let’s not forget that even The Avengers last year didn’t really have any true characters arcs either. I’m not saying Man of Steel shouldn’t be criticized for this, I’m simply saying that it’s no worse than the best superhero movie of all time (my opinion) in that specific regard. The cast does a great job with what they have so I think that it balances it out enough that it’s not the huge issue the critics have been making it out to be.

As much as I liked this film Man of Steel is no fun. It’s not “dark” in the way the Batman films are dark but it’s taking more from angst than hope which is literally the exact opposite thing you’re supposed to do with a Superman story. If a Superman story doesn’t make you feel optimistic and hopeful for the capacity of good to win against evil than it’s a subpar Superman story. I assume the filmmakers were attempting to avoid Superman as a corny figure, an idea that people who are misinterpreting what makes the character so special ALWAYS have. However rather than making Superman “cool” they end up not making it Superman at all. Some lighthearted interaction could have helped so much but you will find little of it here.

That was a nice major city we used to have...
On a similar note the big action scene that I fully admitted to have liked watching further makes this point. I want to see Superman fight a villain in a big giant fight but never did I want to see Superman partially reasonable for the terrifying amount of destruction and loss of life that had to have occurred. Thousands of people, tens of thousands of people, had to have been killed and the city of Metropolis just absolutely trashed. This was like watching 9/11 stylized to be 1000 times worst for the sake of entertainment…and with Superman doing half the damage. It’s just not what you expect from the big guy; I can’t believe Superman would even allow this battle to happen in the city but assuming it couldn’t be avoided I’m certain that the fight would mostly had been him SAVING PEOPLE from the destruction and then getting repeatedly sucker punched by Zod. Even the attempt would be good but the idea of Supes in a punching contest with a villain while the city burns around him is unsettling to the point that it doesn’t feel like Superman to me.

So Man of Steel doesn’t feel like a Superman film and the actions of the character in question do not feel like the character I love but I think the reason I still enjoyed the film when so many other Superman fans could not was because I had previously forced myself to enjoy the The Dark Knight Trilogy despite the fact that the Batman featured in those movies didn’t feel at all like Batman to me. The way he problem solved, the things he stood for, everything between the second and third movie just never felt like an accurate adaptation of the character. They were still great movies, especially the second one, but I basically had to tell myself that the character calling himself Batman really wasn’t Batman but rather some alternate universe guy who just couldn’t live up to the legend. That’s how I feel here too; Superman is awesome but this guy isn’t Superman and that’s okay. While he may not be Superman his movie is still entertaining.

Let's Ra's Al Ghul burn to death in Batman Begins
Spends all of The Dark Knight bragging about his "No Killing" rule
Max Landis, writer of Chronicle (my #8 favorite film of 2012), did a really great rundown of what went wrong with Man of Steel and what the spirit of Superman represents (and superhero films in general). By the way Max Landis is now officially my favorite person in Hollywood, partly because he's a big nerd, partly because Chronicle was a great script, and partly because he too hates The Big Bang Theory. Anyway check out this video.



Man of Steel is my favorite Superman film by default, not because it’s a great Superman film but because I happened to enjoy it more than the previous efforts for a variety of issues I had with them. It’s big, loud and dumb but not as devoid of humanity as a lot of people are saying. But, and this is a huge “but”, this movie fails to be a proper Superman film, often going in bizarre directions that contradict the spirit of the comics. Superman feels less like a hero than he should here and that’s nearly unforgivable. If you saw this movie and hated it I think you are 100% justified in feeling that way because this film is very infuriating. Still I came out of the film feeling good about it and a desire to see it again, which is more than I can say about another superhero movie I saw recently.

As long as Superman is at his core a guy from Kansas it's hard to mess it up
I give Man of Steel 4 out of 5 Adorable Pandas. Somehow.


Pros 

-Great looking action

-A Superman film where he actually gets to fight someone

-An interesting dynamic between Superman and Lois Lane

-Good acting

Cons 

-While it looks good the action sequences go on forever

-The characters are weak

-The film doesn’t really get what makes Superman an awesome character


Oh, and one more thing: this film does absolutely nothing to set up a future Justice League movie or a greater cinematic universe, unlike the original Iron Man film which did it in just a few lines in a stinger scene. So far Warner Bros. strategy is not as clear as Marvel Studio was.

[Post San Diego Comic Con Update] It’s a good thing I took so long to post this blog because I got a chance to update this a bit. So coming out of SDCC we’ve learned that instead of a Justice League in 2015 like what had been suggested we will be getting a Batman/Superman crossover film (rumored to be titled “Batman vs. Superman” or “Superman vs. Batman”) that will act as a sequal to this film. Afterwards they’ll produce a Flash film (fingers crossed for Wally West, otherwise they can go f**k themselves) and THEN a Justice League film. This doesn’t really change my disappointment with the lack of connection to greater world in Man of Steel and it also feels like desperation tactic but it does put Warner Bros. in a better position to compete with Marvel Studios (that said The Avengers: Age of Ultron still had more buzz coming out of the con so I think Marvel is still winning).

1 comment:

  1. Hey Beta,

    Glad to see you back, and hope everything turns out ok.

    As for the film, I enjoyed it too. It wasn't my favorite super hero film of all time, but I'll definitely see it again. (Of course, I liked the previous Superman film too.)

    You make some valid points in your review. I too thought the action scenes were a little bit long and drawn out, but I really liked the science fiction feel to the movie. The scenes on Krypton were really cool, and the space ships had a wonderful feel to them! Oh - and I didn't hate Russell Crow as much as I normally do, so bonus points for that!

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