Dave’s Review: Man of Steel

Letter Grade:

The Good:

Great re-imagining of the well-known origin story
Solid Acting from all involved
Amazing visual effects/cinematography
Finally get to see the Man of Steel in a real, all out fight

The Bad:

The details that drove the plot were a bit convoluted
Fight scenes drag after awhile

Cast & Crew:

Director: Zack Snyder
Writer: David S. Goyer
Starring: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Russell Crowe, Diane Lane, Kevin Costner, Laurence Fishburne, Richard Schiff, Christopher Meloni

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence, action and destruction, and for some language

I’m going to start this review with a caveat: I’m a giant Superman nerd. He’s always been my favorite superhero. I used to read the comics religiously and for the most part I have liked every one of the movies…even the bad ones. This movie would have to have been really bad (I’m talking Green Lantern bad) for me not to enjoy it. So knowing that, please read the below review through that lens.

(Note: After writing this review I have realized I have way too many opinions that are Superman-related. This is a REALLY long review. Don’t feel compelled to read the whole thing, although you’ll be missing out on my wonderfully charming sense of humor and long-winded nerdiness. In short, I really enjoyed it and think you should see it.)

If you are reading this review, you probably know the basics in terms of the origin myth of Superman. For the most part that remains the same here (with some very well done new details and slight changes). I won’t go into too much detail because you already know the stuff you already know and I don’t want to spoil the stuff you don’t know. Superman (Kal-El) is born on Krypton. All hell breaks loose. His parents put him in a rocket and send him to Earth. Kal-El is found in a corn field and adopted by Kansas farmers, Jonathan and Martha Kent who raise him as their own. Kal-El, renamed Clark by his new found earthly parents, grows up in search of who he really is and what his place is on this planet. Just about the time Clark is figuring stuff out, the evil (or at least fiercely determined) Kryptonian General Zod makes his way to Earth to make a mess of things. Superman isn’t going to stand for Zod’s shenanigans (and by shenanigans I mean attempted genocide) and thus begins a solid hour of fight scenes…which were generally awesome. (Fun Fact: my computer’s spell check doesn’t recognize the words “Kryptonian” or “Zod”… And I thought it understood me…)

After the box office failure that was 2006’s Superman Returns, Warner Brothers turned the reins over to Action/Comic book Director extraordinaire Zack Snyder (300,Watchmen, Sucker Punch). Under the watchful eye of Executive Producer and DC Comic Movie Universe Godfather Christopher Nolan (Director of the Dark Knight Trilogy), Snyder was tasked with jump starting a movie franchise that is beloved by millions and hasn’t really been any good since 1981’s Superman II. It’s only a cultural icon you are working with and the previous movie made almost  $400 million and was considered a failure…no pressure or anything. With stunning visuals (I wish my memories looked like a Terrence Malick movie), mostly well done CGI (which is a win considering the train wreck that was Sucker Punch) and an inspired and refreshingly original score by the legendary Hans Zimmer, this movie soars.

This was a great retelling of an origin story that is so well known that it’s become a part of our cultural lexicon. A lot of people will tell you that they didn’t like this movie because they are sick of comic book movies re-telling the origin story. To them I emphatically say, “Just Shut up. You’re stupid and I don’t like your face.” This movie doesn’t INCLUDE yet another Superman origin story. It IS a Superman origin story. That’s the whole point of this movie. Unlike “Superman Returns”, which told the origin story…and then jumped into the middle of the Superman saga, this movie shows you the whole origin from his birth on Krypton to his introduction to the people of Earth and his first heroic feats as Superman. The origin is what this movie is about. And I would dare say they covered it far better than any movie has to date, even the original Richard Donner version. I particularly enjoyed them covering the idea of how a young and scared Clark Kent came to terms with his powers and recognizing that he is different than everyone else. He’s bullied and there is nothing he can do to fight back that would not reveal his otherworldly abilities. He can see through people’s skin, hear dogs barking and grass rustling from miles away, and he has no idea why or how to control it. This struggle really humanizes a mythic character. He’s not a one dimensional, ever-optimistic hero. He’s alone and alienated from most meaningful human interaction. All of this makes his choice (largely due to The Kent’s strong moral upbringing) to use his powers to help others even more meaningful and principled.

Henry Cavill was surprisingly convincing as Superman. I was completely prepared to not be impressed by both his acting ability and his ability to have the necessary gravitas to properly portray such a massive character. I’m happy to say I was wrong on both accounts. He was capable of portraying the reserved, restrained and lonely Clark Kent (while not seeming whiny) and the powerful, confident and iconic Man of Steel (while not seeming void of human emotion). The film is of course full of other stars as well. Amy Adams played an adequate (but not exceptional) new-aged Lois Lane. Russell Crowe was great (and played a much larger role than expected) as Superman’s Kryptonian birth father, Jor-El. Perhaps my favorite performance of the film belonged to Kevin Costner. I will freely admit, I wasn’t sold on him as Jonathan Kent when I heard about the casting. Boy was I wrong. Costner (and perhaps the writers too) was able to add a layer of love and caring that previous incarnations of Pa Kent were lacking. The scene where Jonathan reveals what he knows of Clark’s true origin is heart-wrenching.

This is a very well made film. Riding on the coattails of the wildly successful Batman franchise, it seemed that there was initially some pressure to make a dark (both thematically and visually) and brooding Superman movie. Cavill’s Man of Steel is perhaps more dark than the iconic Christopher Reeve, but in general this is a bright and optimistic film especially when compared to the dark and seedy Gotham of the Batman franchise. This movie is about hope, and trust and overcoming fear. A dark style and theme would not have suited this movie or the character. Good for them for realizing that. The production value on this film was very impressive…but I suppose that’s what you get with a $225 million budget. As a purist of sorts I’m not sure I love the new Superman costume, but I can get used to it I suppose. They did a good job at linking the look and feel of the new costume to his home world. This is a nice touch so it looks less like a superhero in tights and more like he’s wearing clothing native to his home planet. There were a few moments where the CGI wasn’t great during the fight scenes (which were impressively set in broad daylight and not masked by darkness) but I think that’s to be expected, and considering how much of this film was CGI, I think they did a pretty great job.

I will say that the product placement in this movie was a bit insane. AdAge reports that 100 companies have combined to pay over $160 million for promotional tie-ins and after seeing the movie I’m a little surprised it wasn’t more. Lois uses a fancy Nikon camera. Clark drinks Budweiser and watches football Like a real ‘merican. Most of the cars driven (or destroyed) seem to be Chryslers. The sprawling fights destroy both a Sears and an Ihop. Even Jesus seems to have paid some big time money for all the Christ imagery displayed in this film (yes we get it, Superman is a Savior…). And perhaps most unbelievably, EVERYONE uses a Nokia Lumia phone…C’mon, no one has a Nokia Lumia phone in real life. I’ll believe a man can fly…but I won’t believe in a world where everyone uses a Windows phone. That’s just taking it too far. The whole time I was watching the wanton destruction of the mostly well done fight scenes, I kept thinking to myself, “Why wouldn’t Superman try to lure the bad guys out in the middle of nowhere, so people (and things) don’t get hurt?”.…the answer is that Ihop paid millions to have fight scenes take place in their restaurant…and the U.S. Forestry Service did not. Sad as it may be, that seems to be where we are at for these giant blockbuster movies. I don’t expect it to change anytime soon, so it’s just best to accept it, move on, and buy a Chrysler.

Overall I really enjoyed this movie. It’s exactly what you want from a big blockbuster summer movie. It’s loud, fast, and exciting…plus you get to see Superman punch people, full force, right in the face. What’s the use of having an all-powerful super hero if you can’t see him use his powers to his fullest. As a longtime Superman fan, I was very happy with this movie. If you are into this sort of movie, go see it in the theater to get the full big screen experience. It’s worth it.

Dave Bernard (5 Posts)

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