Man of Steel (2013)
The official ‘Man of Steel’ shopping guide:
1. A cushion. This movie is long.
2. Earplugs. This movie is loud.
3. A chastity belt for your eyes. This movie intends to do naughty things to your eyeballs.
4. Earmuffs. Earplugs won’t be enough. This movie is almost relentlessly LOUD.
Now that we’ve picked up our necessary items, we are safe to head to the cinema to enjoy the newest interpretation of probably the most famous superhero, Superman.
Krypton is in trouble. Centuries of environmental abuse have led to the imminent destruction of the planet. A coup is led by General Zod (Michael Shannon), who is probably a little late to the party but that’s neither here nor there. He’s mad as hell and he’s not going to take it anymore. It’s rightly pointed out that he’s attempting to gain control of a doomed planet. The word futile comes to mind. New father Jor-El (Russell Crowe) wants to save his son, and perhaps the future of the Kryptonian race. I’d go into it, but it would take forever and I’m not sure I have it 100% clear in my mind anyway. Zod and his henchmen (and henchwoman) are arrested and sentenced to the Phantom Zone and Jor-El jets young Kal-El to the safety of earth, where he is found and raised by the Kents (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane).
All grown up, Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) is a lost soul looking for answers. He wanders the world, searching. “Searching for what?” you might ask. Good question. But it’s lucky he is, because he happens to end up in Canada, where the military have located a very large unknown object buried under the ice. But this isn’t the Fortress of Solitude. This is a Kryptonian scouting ship, sent 18,000 years prior, in search of uncharted territories. Here Clark gets all his answers, finds out who he is, and where he’s from. But that’s not all. He also gets a love interest in Lois Lane (Amy Adams), and a fancy new wardrobe too.
So General Zod arrives seeking vengeance, and a piece of real estate to call his own. You think you could escape it since Lex Luthor isn’t in the film? Think again. This is the ultimate real estate scam. New Krypton or bust. For earth’s sake, let’s hope it’s a bust!
Sarky plot synopsis aside, ‘Man of Steel’ (hereby known as ‘MOS’) is a pretty good film. It’s no ‘Batman Begins’, but there’s a lot to like. First of all, this is far and away the best film Zack Snyder has directed. That may seem like faint praise considering his previous best was an animated talking owl movie, but it is the case. Nearly all of the stylistic nonsense that plagued his earlier films are thankfully missing. Most pleasing is the complete absence of slow motion. He directs the film with a satisfying competence, with only one irritating flourish to sully some decent work. That flourish is the digital zoom. I first saw this used in ‘Attack of the Clones’, and later in ‘Avatar’. In those films I only noticed it once, maybe twice. But in ‘MOS’ it is used in almost every single shot that portrays Superman flying, or an aircraft in flight. It’s not the end of the world, but by the fiftieth time you see the effect it gets a bit tiresome.
The screenplay, written by David S. Goyer (‘The Dark Knight’ films) is suitably epic, and the film definitely sets itself apart from previous iterations of the character. I personally would have preferred that the film were told in chronological order, as the flashbacks to Clark’s childhood might have allowed the film some downtime and character development. Kevin Costner is criminally underused, and I wanted to see more of their relationship and Clark’s childhood. The film seemed like it was in a hurry to get passed the obligations of Jonathan and Martha Kent. Possibly because it is familiar territory to anyone who’s seen ‘Superman: The Movie’, but I think it has more to do with the fact that what worked for ‘Batman Begins’ will work for ‘MOS’.
The other element missing from the film is probably the same scenario as I’ve just mentioned. ‘MOS’ is almost devoid of joy. There are mildly amusing moments here and there, but overall its tone is relentlessly serious. Because of the nature of the screenplay, the film never stops long enough to allow a scene of lightheartedness or dare I say it, comedy. The only moment when Henry Cavill is allowed to smile is when Supes first takes flight. It’s a fleeting moment of joy in an otherwise square-jawed, brooding performance. This isn’t a knock at Cavill, because he does square-jawed and brooding quite well, and it’s obviously the performance he was asked to deliver. I just miss some of the goofy Clark Kent as an awkward klutz performance that Christopher Reeve nailed so perfectly. Whether or not that was true to the comics, I don’t know. I haven’t read them. But for me, that lighthearted tone helped contrast the square jawed heroics of Superman.
The star performance of the film goes to Russell Crowe. He has considerable screen presence, and amidst the hectic storytelling, he brings an element of centred calm and balance to the film. Be it busting chops or merely expositioning (of which he does the lions share), Crowe is eminently watchable and it’s something of a disappointment when he finally departs. Michael Shannon is an actor of incredible power and intensity, and he’s not bad as Zod, but I have the sneaking suspicion his hearts not in it. Particularly after seeing him so recently in ‘The Iceman’. He’s an effective villain, but not a particularly memorable one. Amy Adams does what she can, but the film doesn’t sell the love story, and her character isn’t particularly well written.
So it’s a mixed bag so far, you probably think. You’re right, there are both good and not so good things about the film. It isn’t perfect, and it doesn’t completely deliver on its promise. But there’s one thing ‘MOS’ does do that will get any fan of funny books excited. It brilliantly establishes a universe. Anyone thinking Christopher Nolan’s Batman could co-exist in the world that ‘MOS’ has created should think again. The film is a large scale science fiction epic, and it offers tantalising possibilities for future instalments of Superman, as well as other characters in this universe. A new interpretation of Batman is necessary (but not one we need right now). But more importantly, I feel this is a universe where the more fantastical DC characters like Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and Martian Manhunter can co-exist. This is almost definitely their intention, and they’ve absolutely nailed it. There’s a lot more in store for Superman and the Justice League, and despite my petty grumblings, I’m looking forward to seeing how it plays out.
‘Man of Steel’ flies in for 2.5 Superbrats out of a possible 4.
I’ll give it one more superbrat heaving a piano just for the heck of it…You are right–not enough Costner, the forced flashback structure was off putting at times, and I thought Shannon chewed the works kinda bigtime here and there. But I still enjoyed it. What did you think of Costner’s Final Scene(TM)? did that bother you or did you think it made sense given the rest of the movie?
I thought Costner’s death scene (if that’s the one you mean and not the one at the very end) was good, and made sense. I don’t think it was necessary for it to be told as a flashback, but I liked the simplicity of the gesture he gives Clarke just before he departs. It’s a good, effective moment.
It’s a substantial departure from Kent’s death in Superman: The Movie though. I thought that death was probably more interesting in terms of teaching Clarke a lesson. That despite his immense powers, he couldn’t save everyone. The new version doesn’t aim for that, but I think it’s less interesting thematically than the Donner version.
Costner was well handled here. Hard for me to quite accept Superboy would let
that happen, honestly—but I got why it was done.
You’re right. It’s hard to believe it would have played out that way, but I accept that it for why they did it.
Awesome! I love your shopping guide. Brilliant! 🙂
Cheers. I hope you enjoy(ed) the movie.
Not sure if I’ll be seeing it soon, quite frankly. For starters, I’m not a fan of Snyder’s work. Secondly, Superman is something very different from I’m reading here (and elsewhere). Maybe on Blu-ray at some point…
You mean in the funny books?
I'm not a fan of Snyders either, but if it make any difference, this is very un-Snyder-like.
The comedy from the previous Supes films are awful.
I know you’ve cooled on the Donner films but the comedy from those films fit the tone of those movies. I’m not saying you need Clarke goofing around, but this film does lack a comedic quality that I personally associate with Superman. It helps humanise him in a way that this film does lack. Like the comedy or not, but it serves its purpose.
It’s not even that the film needs ‘comedy’, it just needs a lighter touch in places. It’s hard to quantify it without saying something that sounds like it needs more jokes or something. It’s not that the movie is brooding or glum, it’s just so damn…stoic.
Excellent review, and after seeing the film twice, this almost exactly mirrors my thoughts. Nothing I could really add. You nailed it. I just wish the movie had also nailed it, but I feel like you–they have established this universe perfectly.
The two things that resonate here that you said: a) no joy and b) I could have easily watched more Pa Kent and growing up in Smallville.
That’s the interesting thing to me. So much has been said about it being an origin story and retreading familiar ground, but my favorite parts of the movie were Krypton and the backstory. Go figure.
Yep. I liked the Kent scenes, and preferred them to the numerous scenes of invincible supermen crashing through buildings. Would have liked a more even balance of the two.
Also, Crowe riding a dragon FTW!
That’s not as cool as a midget riding a dragon.
no, it’s nowhere near as cool, but it’s as a start.
Rusty did Gladiator and the sword-and-sandal fall-out eventually got us midgets wielding swords and smacking bitch-kings. One can only hope the trickle down is quicker this time.
That’s being tough on Rusty. There are very few things in this world cooler than a midget riding a dragon.
I really liked the opening Krypton sequence. The immediate effect of those scenes was to end any possible link to The Dark Knight films.
Also, I didn’t even think about it being another real estate scam, but you are right, in a sense. I was too busy thinking ‘what the hey! this is the last third of Transformers 3’
For the purposes of a cheap jab, it’s a real estate scam!
Plus face it, Zod’s plot was like the baddie’s in Big Robots 2–complete w big Device and fending off jets etc. I wanted more Costner stuff too.
Just read Jarv’s spoiler issue from the other day. You can’t take it at face value. There is a reason why he doesn’t save him. In fact, it wasn’t his choice. Sure he could have, and realistically he would have, but for the purposes of the film he didn’t. It’s not about daddy issues at all. While there are father/son themes in the film, it’s free from the cheap daddy issues as motivation storytelling device.
yea, I never understood that idea that Supes would have daddy issues..he had a surplus of awesome dads. They get that quite right in this, I thought.
Yep. His issues are the immense weight of responsibility. That should be explored and is potentially interesting territory.
Also agree with the fact Shannon was a little off. Certainly not up to his performance here. Do you guys remember the sorority sister’s letter that used the word ‘cunt punt’? Not sure if this was ever posted, but it’s damn funny:
Shannon’s a great actor, but I’d like to see him play lead character who isn’t so “intense”. His performance in Mud showed that he can play that type of character easily.
Yeah I thought he was OK as Zod, but MAN he chewed the scenery in a very Shatnerish way in a couple scenes.
Did you like Crowe? I thought he was fine though his role amounts to being a video game character at times in his ‘ghost mode’.
Not sure if you’re asking me or Jonah, but I’ve got nothing better to do so I’ll answer.
I really liked Crowe in the film. Did he amount to a video game character? Dunno about that. If it’s the sequence aboard Zods ship you mean, then I can see it why it may seem like that, but I don’t necessarily agree. They explain enough to substantiate his knowledge of the ship and his plan at the end that it’s not a big deal to me.
Droid, have you seen ‘Take Shelter’? It has 1 scene where Shannon goes ‘crazy’ but i think it is another really understated but powerful performance. Same with ‘Shotgun Stories’ also made by the guy who did TS and Mud
Yep, I’ve seen it. It’s an intense performance. I’m thinking more along the lines of the character he played in Mud (if you’ve seen it) where he’s not intense at all. In fact, he’s a bit of a likeable goof. Just thinking I’d like to see him play that type of character once in a while.
Just someone that doesn’t have emotional issues I guess.
I haven’t seen Mud yet (but really want to). I think Shannon is in risk of only getting typecasted in that sort of role, but I also think he’s an excellent actor who has that range. Just needs the right project for it. I really don’t want to see him go all mainstream films. He works better in the small roles
He’s great in small roles. By far the best thing about
Gimme the damn OscarRevolutionary Road. Scary and intimidating in Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead. His small role in Mud shows a different (and welcome) side to him, and I’d like to see more like that. He is at risk of being typecast as a Hollywood bad guy after Supes and that bike messenger movie. I hope it doesn’t happen.
I’m happy for him that his career is taking off so much, but like you as well, I don’t want to see him play the same character over and over again. He’s far too good an actor for that.
I have just found Shotgun Stories, so I’ll watch that this week.
Today’s viewing has been the Reeve Superman movies. Despite being a bit silly and dated, I still like the first 2. But holy moly, Superman 3 blows. Reeve is fine, but everything else sucks. The most incredible thing about it is that Spiderman 3 stole so much from it. The hero goes “dark” shit. If you’re going to steal shit, at least make it from something good.
Superman 4 is up next. I actually don’t think I’ve ever seen it. I can’t remember anything about it at least. There’s some blonde bad guy is all I can think of.
Really Hackman. What are you doing in this? Co-starring with friggin’ Ducky.
Good lord Kidder looks old in this.
How is it possible that the effects are worse 10 years after the original? I know this had budget problems, but c’mon.
Oh no, don’t let him scratch you Supes.
Told you not to let him scratch you.
Really need more beer for this.
God that is horrible. Funny, but horrible.
Oh well, guess I may as well finish this off and watch Superman Returns.
Leaving aside the fundamental misjudgment of the slavish devotion to Donner’s films, that plane sequence is top notch.
Spacey sucks as Luthor of course.
Ugh. Superbrat makes an appearance.
Never saw more than 5 mins of Supes 4. They brought back Hackman and Kidder but it was a Cannon film, and thus-was going to blow heavily.
I still like Routh as Supes in the ’06 flick, but agree w/ the rest—Spacey as Luthor was awful, the plot sucked, etc. And what was with having Supes jr as Schroeder tossing that piano? Bosworth as Lane was miscasting too.
The only characters I like in SR are Rouths and Marsdens.
Uh oh. Supes is hovering outside Lois’ window. Creepy!
There’s things to like about SR. Routh, it looks great, and some of it’s pretty well directed. But it fails because the script is awful. What the hell is it? It was way too long after Superman 2 for it to be a sequel. It doesn’t makes sense as a sequel. But it doesn’t stand alone as its own film. It continually references the Donner films through dialogue and imagery. It’s totally confused. It’s the Single White Female of Superman films. It’s obsessed with a film it thinks it has a connection to, but in reality it’s just some delusional wannabe who’s created a fantasy relationship.
Superbrat pitches the piano. Ugh.
I don’t hate that film, but quite simply, overall it’s not very good. I feel sorry for Routh. He is far better than anything else, and deserved a better movie.
So it’s done. All 6 Superman movies in just over 24 hours. I don’t think I’ll need to watch any of them for a good while. I may check out Man of Steel again at some stage, but it’ll be years until I revisit any of the others.
Superman Returns is a mess, but there are things I like about it, that plane scene being a primary one. I feel like Man of Steel could have used more scenes like that, constructed with that sense of heroism. It was mostly lacking, even in the big rescue scenes.
Regarding why Superman IV looks like ass–it had budget problems, but even beyond that Canon took 40 million from WB to produce it and then allocated a good bit of the money for it on other projects. So, allegedly, Supes IV was made for like 17 million dollars! Maybe a smaller, canny indie director working ceaselessly could produce better fx on that budget, but not the hack team pulled for this, in an era when fx weren’t being created solely on a computer by a handful of animators. So, it’s entirely plausibly given that, why the fx look so bad. They never even had access to anything close to state of the art.
A funny and sad bit from Reeves on the making of the movie:
Yes I did wonder why the UN looked like a hotel lobby.
I actually prefer Supes3 to SR.
Even if the rest of it was good, which it isn’t, superbrat was such a horrible idea that should never have made it past concept. At least half the problems that film has relate directly to him.
It’s weird, stalky and uncomfortable viewing. Basically everything a superhero movie should not be.
Watching Lie to Me
Roth is good. The series not so much.
Need either pissing rain or the convicts to beat the lankans
Unsurprisingly, the Graun doesn’t like Man of Stool:
The first bit is a fair enough view. React negatively and that could be your opinion. The last bit about the celebrity answers is garbage.
So, in retrospect, Droid what’s your ranking of the movies?
For me it’s: Superman 1978 >Man of Steel>Superman II>Superman Returns>dog shit> Superman III>Superman IV
Pretty much the same as yours. I’d consider flipping MOS and Supes II. Or maybe not. I’ll have to see how MOS holds up.
Good review R2,
I find that i cannot honestly review a flick right after i have seen it. It really needs to sink in.
I loved MOS, but as a few days have passed , I have started to think about some of the problems with it that prevents me from giving it the highest honor – four out of four bottles of Pappy van Winkles Bourbon.
But it is still a damn good flick and it is battling hard with TDK as my favorite DC based superhero movie
Cheers, TKD. Glad you loved it. I wasn’t quite so enamoured (obviously!), but I liked it. You’re right, it’s on an overall par with TDK. Except that I think TDK is the weakest of the Bats trilogy!
I do like your rating system.
Yeah, The Pappy’s!
Good review droid.
I just saw MOS and I’m still trying to process it. One thing I found interesting though was, besides being a Jesus metaphor, Superman was also a stand in for Muslim Americans.
Why? Because he toppled so many tall buildings? heh Too soon?
I’m guessing you say that because of America’s first reaction to him is fear, because he’s “different”, and he has to prove to them that he’s not a danger. “This man is not our enemy!”
That, plus people from his land of birth who share the same heritage and background are staging a terrorist attack.
It’s not a terrorist attack, it’s a real estate scam! hehe No, I see where you’re coming from.
Very good review, Judge2.
I’ve never got into the Superman films, for some reason. I’ve got time for Snyder though so I’ll give Supes one last chance to dazzle. I’d better believe he can fly this time, coz I’ll not be happy otherwise.
That digital zoom, I’ve seen it in other films as well, it’s usually to give a ‘documentary’ vibe to proceedings – don’t mind it meself.
Thanks Wolf. I don’t know why but the digital zoom kind of irritates me. It’s a petty objection but hey, I’m petty.