Friday, February 7, 2014

Man of Steel review

   The story of a troubled young man who, after suffering a terrible loss, travels the world learning to cope with it. Eventually, he decides to become an incorruptible symbol that he turns against the evil people who helped create the symbol in the first place.

    Wait a second, I've heard this before.

    Jokes aside, Man of Steel does have a lot of thematic similarities to Batman Begins. Surprisingly enough, it has a lot of thematic similarities to Spiderman too. Both are stories about how seemingly ordinary young men are tortured by guilt and learn "with great power comes great responsibility."

    This is part of a larger issue many fans have with this film because it represents a different age of comic books than the one traditionally associated with the Big Red S. The Clark Kent of this story seems like he'd be more at home within the pages of Marvel comics than DC, being a tortured outcast who is isolated from the rest of the world by his powers.

I wonder if they're building Anti-Superman Sentinels and restraining collars. Damn mutants! Err, aliens.
     I fully expected to see Hugh Jackman's Wolverine pounding down beers at the Alaskan truck stop Clark Kent briefly worked at. Superman by way of Bryan Singer's X-men is certainly more enjoyable than Bryan Singer's actual take on the Man of Tomorrow but the thematic dissonance was pretty severe throughout.

    Still, I'm going to judge the movie on the Man of Steel we got rather than the Man of Steel I wanted. I'm not innately opposed to a darker take on the adventures of Clark Kent, even if I think this version would be more at home with Doom Patrol than the Justice League. Seriously, it's a weird-weird world where the Marvel stories are bright and optimistic while Superman's story is how afraid he has to be about revealing himself.

    Lest we HATE and fear him!


    Okay, now I'm going to judge the movie on the Man of Steel we got rather than the Man of Steel I wanted.

You can tell what Superman's thinking here. Hot.
    Overall, I felt the movie was pretty good. Everything was dark, dreary, and depressing in both colors as well as presentation but it's a story about a man struggling for acceptance. It's one of the few times I actually liked the Superman=Christ metaphor because Jesus' story was pretty bleak until the end. Superman, in this version, passes through numerous terrible trials and emerges stronger for the experience.

    A persistent theme throughout the movie is the deconstruction of comic book morality and the hard choices one has to make in real life. In a bit of what is almost certainly unintentional humor, Clark Kent decides to become a moral ubermensch who makes his own ethical decisions  You could even argue Zod and company are the people who don't get Nietzsche's philosophy. Superman is forced to make hard moral choices and the fact he does so is not something that should be shied away from. Being a moral paragon means you try to do the best you can with what you're given and Henry Cavill's Clark pulls that off.

Poor Smallville. Bet you're glad you're Superman's hometown now!
    I'm less enthused about Amy Adam's Lois Lane. This is sad because she's written very well, being the same sort of sassy no-nonsense reporter I've come to love in the comics. She also gets to subvert one of the biggest cliches about Lois Lane since the 1930s. Unfortunately, I could never quite get past it watching Amy Adams play Lois Lane versus watching Lois Lane (as played by Amy Adams). There were just too many of her trademark mannerisms and she took me out of the movie whenever she was onscreen.

    Michael Shannon's General Zod, however, is a treat and one of the major reasons to see the movie. While megalomaniac villains are nothing new in cinema, let alone comics, he plays a more subdued version of madness than most. While Zod's implied to be a brutal fascist even before Krypton's destruction, the movie also goes a long way to giving him sympathetic motivations as well as understandable aims. It may be lunacy to want to destroy the Earth for no reason but is it in order to resurrect your race?

    I was also a fan of Antje Traue's Faora-Ul. While the comics version is little more than a typical femme fatale and love interest/second-in-command for Zod, the movie's Faora is more like his version of Darth Vader. It was nice to see a woman in the role of the Heavy in a major action movie and she carries it off with aplomb. At the risk of sounding superficial, she's also quite striking to look at and I approve of her casting.

    Russell Crowe's Jor-El is, unsurprisingly, another major draw for seeing Man of Steel. The developers seemed to realize this as they have expanded the role of Jor-El significantly. You know, despite the fact he dies at the very beginning of Superman's origin. Russell Crowe manages to project a kind, fatherly, and hopeful warrior-scientist aura--perfect for the character. Unfortunately, this tends to overshadow the star in places. It's great Russell Crowe is an awesome actor but if he's more memorable than Superman, there's a problem.

Krypton is absolutely gorgeous. It's too bad we don't get to see more of it. That wouldn't be a Superman film, though.
    Don't take it as damning with faint praise but the biggest reason to see this movie is the action sequences. They're kinetic, exciting, well-designed, and go in unexpected directions. The damage from them is a bit too close to the kind suffered by Metropolis during the Death of Superman story, leaving nowhere to go, but I was still impressed.

    I also recommend the movie for its fabulous special effects. The movie's depiction of Krypton is amazing and blows Disney's John Carter away for well-realized planetary romance. While Krypton has its downsides, it actually looks the sort of place you might want to spend a movie exploring. Indeed, when the movie moves from Jor-El's adventures on Krypton to Earth, it's a bit of a let-down.  Thankfully, things pick back up when Zod's starship arrives. Is it right that Kryptonian starships look straight out of Prometheus? No, but I've seen much worse.

    In conclusion, I recommend the Man of Steel but only if you set aside any preconceptions about who Superman is, what he's about, or what sort of limits he should have. The movie has a very clear idea of who they want Clark Kent to be and they achieve it. I leave it up to you, the viewer, to determine if that's someone you want to know.


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