“Reason #1 to see Man of Steel: Kryptonians Ride Dragons.” -’Chubbs’ Spencer.
The Man of Steel sores over the weekend with nearly $200 million global box office, yet there are critics who whine and complain about one of the greatest retellings of the Original Superhero.
If you are a fan of action, excitement and a good summer movie, stop reading this review of Man of Steel right now and head to your local theater. If you are lucky enough to have an IMAX with 3d, spend your $20 and sneak in some candy, because you will need to give your jaws something to chew so they don’t stay dropped on the floor.
The Man of Steel is spectacular: it gets everything right where man Superman Returns got everything wrong: we have a Superman who didn’t forget how to Superman. We learn Kryptonians ride friggin’ dragons that they can call as they jump off tall, sweeping buildings. General Zod is a sympathetic villain who likes to wield gigantic spaceships and shoot Superman, but also likes to use his fists. Even Jor-El throws punches. The movie is pure action, from start to finish.
In some ways, it can leave you feeling exhausted, but that is just because we are mentally out of shape when it comes to Superman movies. Critics who were going to hate this movie the minute they heard Zachary Snyder produced it and Hans Zimmer was not going to clone Donner’s great theme and rehash it as the movie’s theme were going to cry from the get-go: that is fine, nostalgia is a strong addiction.
But this change in the franchise is a welcome break and it is not too grievous. From this point on, spoilers shall be heavy as we discuss the finer points of this movie and why it is grossing so much more than any other Superman film.
1. A Believable Villain, No Need For Plot Crutches
General Zod is simply fantastic as a villain: he is Kryptonian, he has a great motive for wanting to destroy Earth and he brings his troops with him.
The movie starts off with the Kryptonian High Council at odds with their greatest scientist, Jor-El, and their greatest (though misguided) protector, General Zod.
We learn that Kryptonians are ancient, in the sense that they sent their people to explore space for life over 100,000 years ago. Their space outposts lived on but eventually died out, as the homeworld lost interest in finding other life outside their planet. Kryptonians turned introverted, then started a genetic program where natural childbirth was seen as hedonistic crime and every Kryptonian would be bred for a function in society.
And it was so: Jor-El is a scientist, and damned good. Zod is a warrior, and unrelenting in his pursuit of preserving the Kryptonian race. Hubris gets the best of the leading council, as they refuse to believe their tapping of the planet’s core to get energy in the wake of a dying, old Sun would cause the planet to explode.
Of course, they were wrong, Jor-El and his wife Lara conceive a child (Kal-El) and General Zod sees all these events as the worst thing ever. Several fistfights, a dragon ride and more actiony plot later, Kal-El is fired off to Earth, with a wounded, disgraced Zod vowing to hunt him down, along with the blueprint with all life on Krypton.
To rebuild Krypton, Zod would have to 1) kill Kal-El (Superman) and destroy Earth (in his view) so that he could build a New Krypton on the ashes of destruction.
2. Superman Has Human Issues
Brandon Routh was a great
Superman Christopher Reeve as Superman impersonator. But he did not have the acting chops of Reeve in the costume, nor did he have much of a script in which to work and shine. Who knows if Routh was capable, because the cold, distant Superman in Superman Returns liked to float outside Lois’ home and creepily watch her kiss another man, fly around in cool, whispy air and do the entire dorky reporter thing, right down to the “Golly Geesh” thing that would make Wally, The Beav and Eddie Haskell frown in disappointment.
This Superman was of course raised in Kansas. He used that fact as a defense of his ‘loyalty’ to Earth. He was bullied as a kid, watched his Dad dies, has a very Kansan mom and probably ate pancakes at his local I-Hop. While being bullied as a kid, he had to hold back from punching people a lot, to the point that he bent fence posts as he waited for his teasing cohorts to pass by. Yet, he always had a sense of responsibility that shone out, which his father saw in him.
The culmination of Superman’s Midwest borne values, internal character and experience as a kid makes him not only a defender of the weak by character, but also makes him emotionally vulnerable. He lived as a drifter, has a strong sense of biting his tongue and really wants to not do anyone harm. When you think of a tough, grizzled farmer who would not hesitate to help clear his neighbor’s home after a tornado or save someone from a burning house, you’d think of this Kansas farmboy who packs a wallop.
That makes his greatest moment of emotion in the movie (right after having to watch his adoptive father die, all for a principle and his own safety) all that more powerful. This Superman is tormented not by a bald realtor gone bad holding Kryptonite, but instead by the fact after an exhausting fistfight through Metropolis, he was forced to kill General Zod to save a family from being incinerated by heat vision.
By this point in the movie, Superman’s human side is believable enough to the point that we can relate to his emotion. Zod was a conflicted character, sort of a dog with rabies. His condition made him what he was: a destroyer who wanted to preserve his people, at any cost. Sure, General Zod had the selfish motivation of wanting to lord over said people, but in a way we could relate to Zod as well. If the whole of humanity were doomed and we had a chance to rebuild it, could we understand the emotional turmoil of not restoring our civilization?
There is so much action in this movie, typing much about it is just adding too much. Just beware that if you cannot sustain fights with giant robots, buildings being toppled, Kryptonians ripping planes apart and a tough woman who moves at light speed beating grown men like an old rug, you don’t want any part of this film.
There is a movie named The Goonies. It is a about a group of misfit childhood friends who must ban together to save the day. At a pivotal point in the movie, a very hokey heroic action scene plays out and of course, the Superman theme plays in the background. And by Superman theme, we mean the Richard Donner theme. And as such, that is the context the theme has been largely used in popular culture, sense the original Superman film.
Whenever Superman does a superact, or some other situation requires a hero to save a woman with a stroller from a piano being lifted into the fifth floor of a Manhattan loft, or a bridge just so happens to fail and a man in tights must use heat vision to solder it back together, or a cat is in a tree, or, you get the point. The theme song is like the time you heard Welcome To The Jungle for the 400th straight day on your drive to work. You may want to change the station. It is not pumping you up for your morning drive, but rather just being overused.
The Donner theme is still awesome, it should be included in a soundtrack, but it is nice to have a Superman movie that doesn’t have to have the damned themed blaring throughout. Zimmer is a genius, the music was fitting and if I want to hear the original Superman theme, I can simply add it to my iTunes playlist. Simple, simple.
The movie is over two hours long: as I stated, the action can leave you feeling a bit exhausted. It is not flawless: there are some ‘humanizing’ opportunity moments the director and writer missed. Showing the contrast between Superman the hero and Clark the man were missed, though that just leaves room for expansion in the sequel
But when you leave the movie and all is said and done, you will want more and you will think it was a very quick two hours. And that is the mark of a good movie.
Right after viewing, I gave this movie a B+ rating, right at 87%/100%.
After sitting and stewing on it, it is now a 91% film.
Man of Steel Rating: 91% for (action action action, soundtrack, plot and reasonable villain motivation, visuals, explanation of Superman costume being underwear for armor, so no red trunks needed)
I subtracted points for (missed opportunity in contrasting Man of Steel from Superman, Nolan’s annoying “don’t say the common name of the hero in the movie too much” schtick, Jenny “Olson” being shoe-horned in sloppy fashion, giant robot was just there for show and not plot, not enough shots of Man of Steel hovering over awesome landscapes/scenes in HD 3d IMAX).