Tony’s Review of ‘Man of Steel’
As a 32-year-old Superman fan, I’ve yet to have a great interpretation of Kal-El in my lifetime. The two amazing Christopher Reeve films were in the 70s, his last two films were terrible, the “Lois and Clark” TV series was OK at best, “Smallville” was to Superman what “Twilight” was to vampires, and “Superman Returns” was an abomination that nearly killed the legacy. But today, “Man of Steel” combined with the amazing theater made for the greatest movie going experience I’ve ever had.
“Man of Steel” opens on Krypton with scientist Jor-El explaining to the Kryptonian council that their planet will destroy itself in a matter of weeks due to damage to the planet’s core. The council is unresponsive to Jor-El’s warnings until their military leader, General Zod, shows up and opens fire on the council, accusing their actions, and inactions, of dooming the Kryptonian people. Zod urges Jor-El to join his cause, but Jor-El refuses, believing Zod’s vision of Krypton’s future to include only those Zod deems worthy. Jor-El returns home where he and his wife Lara take their newborn son Kal-El, revealed to be the first naturally born Kryptonian child in several centuries (Kryptonians are genetically engineered to be ideal for predetermined social classes), and place him in an escape rocket bound for Earth. Along with his son, Jor-El includes a codex from the planet core that can preserve the Kryptonian race. Shortly before the destruction of Krypton, Zod and his followers are captured and imprisoned for their attempted takeover, being sent to the Phantom Zone. Fast-forward several years and Kal-El, now Clark Kent, is a drifter on Earth working odd jobs including a bus boy at a truck stop and a “Deadliest Catch” style fisherman. While his fishing boat is responding to a distress call on a burning oil rig, Clark ends up using his abilities to save trapped workers, only to go into hiding afterwards to protect his secret. In northern Canada, an anomaly is discovered incased in ice that predates recorded history, garnering the attention of Pulitzer Prize winning reporter Lois Lane. While investigating the anomaly late at night, Lane follows a member of the science team, Clark using a fake name, into the anomaly which turns out to be a Kryptonian scout ship sent out centuries ago to look for habitable planets. Using a key from the ship that brought him to Earth, Clark turns the ship on and is greeted by a hologram of his father Jor-El. Lois boards the ship, but is wounded by a defense system, only to be saved by Clark. After the ship takes off for an unknown destination and leaves Lois in the snow, Lois is determined to find out who her mystery savior is. While Clark is learning about his heritage, Earth receives a message from General Zod, threatening to destroy the planet if they don’t turn over the son of Jor-El to him. Now Clark has a two-front battle, fighting off Zod and his followers, who want to take the Kryptonian codex to make a new Krypton in place of Earth, and proving to the American government that he is not their enemy.
After three decades of cinematic Superman failures, this was make-or-break time for Warner Bros. and DC. Their first right step was to take the genius behind the success of the recent Batman films, Christopher Nolan, and use him as Producer of this film. From that point on, all the pieces of the puzzle just fell into place. First, the cast is amazing. Russell Crowe as Jor-El was a breath of fresh air compared to the floating head of Marlon Brando in the original films, being a guide to Kal-El on Earth, but also showing a physical side while defending him family from Zod. Crowe’s presence as Jor-El, then his holographic representation, was center stage in every scene he was in without overpowering the other actors on screen. Michael Shannon brings a new Zod to life that many audience members won’t recognize. The last time Zod was on the big screen he was a power-hungry militant who just wants to rule. Luckily, the film and Shannon don’t try to mimic Terrance Stamp’s iconic performance; instead Shannon’s Zod is as Zod is in the comics, the leader of the Kryptonian military who does everything to preserve the Kryptonian race, at least his view of the Kryptonian race. While you know that Zod is not a good guy, you can’t fault his desire to protect his people. Amy Adams is now officially the greatest representation of Lois Lane because (SPOILER) she plays a Lois Lane who is smart enough to figure out who Superman really is, something others like Margot Kidder, Teri Hatcher, and Kate Bosworth fell very short on. Diane Lane as Martha Kent turned in a good performance as she normally does, just nothing too terribly impressive. That’s not a fault on her, but of the script and a lack of substantial material for the character. And though I’m not a fan of Kevin Costner, his turn as Jonathan Kent was beautiful and one of the most emotional moments in the film. As for Henry Cavill, he earns his stripes as Superman here, having the physicality to be Superman, but also portray the emotion of Clark Kent, a man battling with his desire to protect those around him and live up to the expectations of both of his fathers. Also, Cavill succeeds where Brandon Routh failed, living up to the charm made famous by Christopher Reeve. Superman needs to not only be an imposing figure, but a calm and charming one at times to put people at ease. And you see that side ever so clearly with Cavill any time he deals with Lois or the U.S. Military.
For me, the best part of the film was the emotion. Where a film like “The Avengers” was a lot of action with some emotion thrown in, this is equal parts action and emotion. If you know the lore of Superman, you know there’s loss involved, especially the loss of Pa Kent. While this stays true to that aspect of Superman’s history, the manner in which Clark loses his human father is brand new and such an amazing moment in film, resulting in very few dry eyes in the theater. Apart from that, there’s a lot of emotion running through Clark during the second half of the film, with his desire to protect his adoptive home of Earth, and his wish to help in the rebirth of Krypton. The other half of the film, the action, is terrific. With “Superman Returns” we had a Superman who didn’t fight ANYONE. Now we have a Superman who fights no less than three other Kryptonians, in battles that are so intense and brutal that they create damage that some critics have related to 9/11. Before seeing the film today I’d heard several people make such comparisons, and I can perfectly see where they were coming from. During the final climactic scene and resulting battle, Metropolis is the victim of a gravity weapon of Zod’s that causes buildings to fall over and citizens to run away in terror, looking eerily familiar to amateur footage from Ground Zero.
Earlier I mentioned that my movie going experience was the best I’ve ever had. Let me take a moment to explain why. As my wife is just over a week away from her due date, we wanted to make sure she was as comfortable as possible for this two-and-a-half-hour film. We went to an iPic Theater in Scottsdale, AZ after randomly discovering it a few months back. The moment you walk into the beautiful lobby you have a full bar on your left and a restaurant and wine tasting booth to your right. The average theater has a capacity of 91 people, with the front half of the theater being premium seating and the back half being luxury seating. Reserving seats in the luxury side we had an elevated area so no one was blocking our view, fully reclining seats with a pillow and blanket, complimentary popcorn, and a server to bring us our exceptional food.
I loved this movie, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have issues with it. At times the script was a little over-dramatic, and I’m not too pleased with what I felt to be an abrupt ending to the carnage in Smallville and Metropolis. There are two major changes to the lore of Superman that have bothered long-time fans, but I felt this movie did more than enough to make those changes feel organic and a perfect fit to this world. And don’t worry if you don’t have a chance to see this in 3D. Apart from the flying scenes, the 3D wasn’t very noticeable. But overall, this movies get so much more right than it gets wrong. The attention to detail is terrific, even going as far as to give a valid reason for Superman's cape, suit, and symbol. This movie succeeds were other reboots like the Abrams “Star Trek” films fail, keeping the loved aspects of the original product, while giving the audience something new to make it feel fresh. This movie doesn’t insult the long-time fans by watering down what they loved just to appeal to a broader audience. Producer Christopher Nolan, Director Zack Snyder, and writer David S. Goyer were able to craft an overall story here that was the best of both worlds, especially in respect to being a summer blockbuster. We have amazing action as well as a terrific story, actors who look good in their roles as well as having the acting chops to carry their scenes, and a film that gives the comic book fans what they love while presenting it in a way that doesn’t alienate people not familiar with the comics.
If Warner Bros. and DC can continue their films in this tone, which will include a reboot of Batman (sorry to those who thought Christian Bale or Joseph Gordon Levitt was going to show up), they are going to wipe the floor with Marvel and “The Avengers”. This is my pick for Film of the Year!