Man of Steel (2013)

Man-of-Steel-PosterThe 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.

Man-of-Steel-03-Superman-01Krypton 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).

Man-of-Steel-06-KentAll 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!

Man-of-Steel-01-ZodSarky 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.

Man-of-Steel-04-Superman-02The 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’.

Man-of-Steel-02-LoisThe 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.

Man-of-Steel-07-Jor-ElThe 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.

Man-of-Steel-05-Superman-03So 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.

Man-of-Steel-Rating

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About Judge Droid

In between refining my procrastination skills I talk a lot of shit about movies and such.

69 responses to “Man of Steel (2013)”

  1. tombando says :

    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?

    • Judge Droid says :

      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.

      • Judge Droid says :

        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.

  2. tombando says :

    Costner was well handled here. Hard for me to quite accept Superboy would let

  3. tombando says :

    that happen, honestly—but I got why it was done.

  4. The Thorn says :

    Awesome! I love your shopping guide. Brilliant! 🙂

    • Judge Droid says :

      Cheers. I hope you enjoy(ed) the movie.

      • The Thorn says :

        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…

      • Judge Droid says :

        Superman is something very different from I’m reading here

        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.

  5. Just Pillow Talk says :

    The comedy from the previous Supes films are awful.

    • Judge Droid says :

      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.

      • Echo the Bunnyman says :

        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.

  6. Echo the Bunnyman says :

    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.

    • Judge Droid says :

      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.

  7. Echo the Bunnyman says :

    Also, Crowe riding a dragon FTW!

  8. Echo the Bunnyman says :

    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’

  9. tombando says :

    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.

  10. Judge Droid says :

    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.

  11. Echo the Bunnyman says :

    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:

    • Judge Droid says :

      heh. 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.

      • tombando says :

        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’.

      • Judge Droid says :

        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.

      • kloipy says :

        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

      • Judge Droid says :

        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.

      • Judge Droid says :

        Just someone that doesn’t have emotional issues I guess.

      • kloipy says :

        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

      • Judge Droid says :

        He’s great in small roles. By far the best thing about Gimme the damn Oscar Revolutionary 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.

      • kloipy says :

        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.

      • Judge Droid says :

        I have just found Shotgun Stories, so I’ll watch that this week.

  12. Judge Droid says :

    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.

  13. tombando says :

    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.

    • Judge Droid says :

      The only characters I like in SR are Rouths and Marsdens.

      Uh oh. Supes is hovering outside Lois’ window. Creepy!

    • Judge Droid says :

      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.

      • Judge Droid says :

        Superbrat pitches the piano. Ugh.

      • Judge Droid says :

        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.

      • Echo the Bunnyman says :

        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:

        We were also hampered by budget constraints and cutbacks in all departments. Cannon Films had nearly thirty projects in the works at the time, and Superman IV received no special consideration. For example, Konner and Rosenthal wrote a scene in which Superman lands on 42nd Street and walks down the double yellow lines to the United Nations, where he gives a speech. If that had been a scene in “Superman I”, we would actually have shot it on 42nd Street. Dick Donner would have choreographed hundreds of pedestrians and vehicles and cut to people gawking out of office windows at the sight of Superman walking down the street like the Pied Piper. Instead, we had to shoot at an industrial park in England in the rain with about a hundred extras, not a car in sight, and a dozen pigeons thrown in for atmosphere. Even if the story had been brilliant, I don’t think that we could ever have lived up to the audience’s expectations with this approach.

      • Judge Droid says :

        Yes I did wonder why the UN looked like a hotel lobby.

      • Jarv says :

        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.

      • Jarv says :

        Watching Lie to Me

        Roth is good. The series not so much.

      • Jarv says :

        Need either pissing rain or the convicts to beat the lankans

      • Jarv says :

        Unsurprisingly, the Graun doesn’t like Man of Stool:

        The film is a load of repetitive tosh, featuring in every sequence of its 143 minutes more special effects than God used when he created the world, ending with a list of credits longer than many a telephone directory. And it’s all so deafeningly, humourlessly solemn. The Saturday edition of the Guardian has a Q&A page where celebrities are asked: what superpower would you like to possess? They usually reply “invisibility” or “flight”. After a few more pretentious pictures like this they’ll be saying “vulnerability”, “honest doubt” and “a puzzled liberal conscience”.

      • Judge Droid says :

        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.

      • Echo the Bunnyman says :

        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

      • Judge Droid says :

        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.

  14. Toadkillerdog says :

    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

    • Judge Droid says :

      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.

  15. Continentalop says :

    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.

    • Judge Droid says :

      Cheers.

      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!”

  16. ThereWolf says :

    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.

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