Thursday, June 20, 2013

Movie Review of "Man of Steel"

So this is it. The moment all Superman fans have been waiting for since it was revealed that Dark Knight trilogy helmsman Christopher Nolan and director Zack Snyder (Dawn of the Dead, 300, Watchmen) were rebooting the franchise. Of course, Man of Steel is better than any current standalone Marvel Comics movie (i.e., Captain America, Thor, The Incredible Hulk, or any of the Iron Man trilogy). But the question most people may ask is: "Is it better than The Avengers?" More on that in a moment.

Anyone who knows me knows I'm a big Supermen fan and not much of a Marvel fan (save for Daredevil and The Punisher), but I can honestly say that The Avengers was an excellent film -- the most perfect (next to The Dark Knight) comic book adaptation to date. When critiquing a comic book film, I not only look at story, acting, and directing, but also if the film sticks to or addresses the original material. Both Marvel and DC comic characters' origins have been retconned, reimagined and rewritten so many times over the years since they first were originally introduced to the world that filmmakers have had a lot of material with which to work. And while some creative license is allowed, the story must stay mostly true to the comic book story and the characters have to definitely stay true to their comic book counterparts.

Just one look at the opening scenes on Krypton featuring Jor-El (Russell Crowe) from Man of Steel prove that this film isn't your father's Superman movie!

I remember seeing the original 1978 Superman, starring Christopher Reeve, and loving it. I still love it to this day. But that Superman was one for younger and/or more general audiences -- a tongue-in-cheek Lex Luthor, his goofy, bumbling sidekick Otis, the sexy, misunderstood "bad" girl Miss Teschmacher, and a Lois Lane who is nothing short of annoying. Reeve's performance was excellent, but, as most Superman fans can tell you, his Clark Kent was the C.K. of old. The new Clark Kent -- while still a little bit of a klutz and wearing glasses -- isn't quite so dorky (think Tom Welling's portrayal from The CW's Smallville). Also, no offense to Richard Donner's masterpiece, but the 1978 film simply does not achieve the greatness of the comic and who Clark Kent/Kal-El/Superman has become over the years since. When I was a kid and a teenager, I always preferred Batman to Superman because Batman was a darker comic and darker character; his parents were murdered, people died. The teen angst in me related to him and his plight. Whereas Superman -- at the time -- seemed like a goody-two-shoes, a boy scout. And while he still may be that kind of superhero, as I've grown, my admiration for the Kryptonian has grown, seeing how he has more problems than one may contemplate. If you were to think more about Superman's plight, you'd see that he doesn't have it so easy either. There are many philosophical complexities and moral dilemmas presented in Superman's stories. Man of Steel features all of these complexities of Kal-El's existence: 
  • The knowledge that despite his love for humans and his feeling of being one, knowing he will always be an outsider -- check!
  • The knowledge that any time an alien comes to defeat him or make him suffer, it is his mere presence on Earth that brings them there so he believes any destruction or human casualty is his fault -- check!
  • The knowledge that any small physical reaction could lead to instant disaster and would garner great scrutiny and fear from the humans he so loves -- check!
  • Having to truly sacrifice those he loves the most ... even meaning letting loved ones die for the "greater good" -- check!
  • Being solely opposed to killing ... no matter good or evil -- check!
Superman's refusal to kill has been in the comics for many years. Based on the fact that he's a super-powered alien, Superman believes in the value of life (something he learned from his Earth parents Jonathan and Martha Kent)  and that using his powers to kill would "ruin his credibility with the human race."

It has been reported that the "controversy" (if that's what you want to call it) of Man of Steel particularly touches on two aspects of the film. One involves that last bullet point I just mentioned. The other is the destruction of Metropolis at the end of the film when Superman (Henry Cavill) fights General Zod (Michael Shannon) and his Kryptonian cronies -- an inevitable result considering a bunch of super-powered alien beings are there to take over the planet and trying to kill Superman (this is definitely no Superman II where Superman flies away to avoid destruction and human casualties). The fact that the destruction of a city is even an issue proves that critics and audiences are merely nitpicking for any negative criticism they can find. Was there a lot of this nitpicking when The Avengers, Watchmen, Transformers 3, or G.I. Joe were released (and that doesn't include all of the numerous alien-related films where New York is destroyed)? Did their destruction of a city sully the film's worth? Besides, if you want to get into semantics, then you have to remember that Superman has unlimited strength and can move at the speed of light, so I'm sure the city could be rebuilt in no time. Besides, if it weren't for the heavy action you expect from a Superman film, then those same critics who are moaning about the destruction of a city would be saying how little action there was in the film (remember what most people said about Bryan Singer's 2006 quagmire?).

So ... onto the question I originally posed: Is Man of Steel better than The Avengers? Yes. And I'll tell you why. Basically the same type of threat that was in The Avengers (i.e. a demigod being attempting to have alien beings take over Earth, starting with a major city) is the same threat in Man of Steel. The one major difference? The threat that took an entire superhero team (and a few random regular humans) to diffuse in The Avengers took only one man (and a few random regular humans) in Man of Steel! But it's just not that. Man of Steel takes the audience into every aspect of Superman's character (his birth and more background into his birth parents and home planet, his formative years, and his reclaiming his heritage and powers), and also injects some of the new origin material that has inhabited the comics for the past few years. The scope is massive and Snyder pulls it off without making the audience roll their eyes. To say this is not your grandfather's or father's Superman is a huge understatement! Man of Steel introduces the audience to the contemporary Superman. Nolan and screenwriting partner David S. Goyer inject more of the alien world and technology of Krypton into the story, which is necessary seeing how the main hero and villain(s) are alien (Kryptonian) and this is an origin story. The film explores both Clark's farm-bred past and his isolated present, which is what makes the story so great. Unlike Avengers, which would not have worked if not for each character (save Hawkeye and Black Widow) having their own respective movie before its release, Man of Steel shows both Kal-El and Zod's background, almost making Zod a character with which to sympathize. In fact, there is a bit of art imitating life when it comes to Zod's views as well as the reason behind Krypton's fate. But I cannot go into those points without giving away the story.

One of the greatest aspects to Man of Steel is its exploration of Superman's multi-layered life -- his true self (Kal-El), his alter ego (Clark Kent) and his superhero persona (Superman).

I believe an updated cinematic origin and retelling of Superman is long overdue, and Nolan, Snyder and company have greatly succeeded! The acting is well-done, the writing is stellar (with plenty of quotable lines), there is plenty of action (at least enough of what a fan would expect from a Superman movie), and every major complexity of Kal-El's life is conveyed in all of its bittersweet glory. Plus, there are hidden hints at the existence of both Lex Luthor (see the tractor trailer logos?) and Bruce Wayne (see the satellite Zod throws at Superman?). What more could a true fan ask for? 


Some may not like the fact that Lois Lane (Amy Adams) finds out Superman's true identity but I thought it was a breath of fresh air. Honestly, how could a respective, professional reporter like Lois not tell who Clark was just because of him wearing glasses? 


Some critics did not like the way particular characters were treated but I found all situations understandable and adding more depth to the story. It should be pointed out that if Nolan & company did a somewhat "traditional" origin story -- the same one all audiences have seen over and over again -- critics and audiences alike would be quick to point it out and complain about how unoriginal and ho-hum the film would be. If there are two things that Man of Steel is not, it's unoriginal and ho-hum! These people are just overly critical blowhards who can't be pleased. And for anyone who thought any part of the film's story was confusing, I'd wonder where they were coming from as I found the film's story not that difficult to follow. When you go to see Man of Steel, prepare for lots of action, a good glimpse at Krypton, a touching story and the epic beginning of a spectacular universe of characters! If Man of Steel is the beginning franchise in what DC Comics Films will be offering, we're in for one hell of a fun, imaginative, heartfelt, cool ride! Man of Steel is the best big movie of the summer and the best action film I've seen so far this year!

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