We all know what the new Superman movie has going for it, and it isn’t the legacy of ‘Superman Returns’. Warner Bros. wanted something more like Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, and ‘Man of Steel’ is the result. Was it worth the effort?
Opinions on a movie like ‘Man of Steel’ will inevitably involve two very important factors: the viewer’s attachment to the Superman character, and the viewer’s feelings about Zack Snyder as a director. For me, both are pretty good but not great. As a hero, Superman is regularly befuddled by things such as magic and the machinations of Lex Luthor, yet he’s nevertheless an icon with the array of superpowers. Snyder’s movies, meanwhile, have a visual aesthetic that’s stunning almost to a fault, but plot details and character dialogue seem more obtrusive, like he treats them as necessary evils.
The first trailers for ‘Man of Steel’ told the story of Superman with a few episodes from his youth. The full film adds to those, but arrives at the same place. A 33-year-old Kal-El tries to come terms with his origins, and in that process comes face to face with General Zod and his cronies. Unfortunately, the movie begins not with Superman but with Krypton.
Some might quibble about that point, as the movie opens with the birth of
James T. KirkKal-El, but it’s mostly the world of Krypton on display. The planet is a complicated place, and unfortunately its contradictions muddle much of the film. Several alien things look fascinating, but the rapid set-up of Jor-El, the council, Zod and Krytpon’s impending doom all happen in mere moments. The screen time on Krypton, which sees Jor-El set in motion a mysterious plan whose solution Superman, Zod and (presumably) viewers will spend the rest of the film unraveling, could have been more wisely spent.
Several quick snippets of action and dialogue relate some important details. Kryptonians fundamentally don’t believe in harming other Kryptonians, but the General (the designated warrior and protector of the race) leads a violent and callous revolution. The advanced society preaches a peaceful existence in one scene, but later on seems to have a lack of morality that makes killing A-OK. Likewise, Kryptonians either have a mastery of space travel or are stuck on their planet. Much is made of a recent lack of natural resources, but it feels more like Krytonians other than Jor-El and Zod just don’t have much initiative. Krytpon’s harsh environment is key for the film as it relates Superman’s powers and weaknesses to the audience, but the other Kryptonians’ abilities follow slightly different rules. They have power armor and guns, but the nuances were mostly lost on me. In comparison, the sometimes perplexing decisions made by the Kents and other humans are delivered in a much smoother manner consistent with just about any of the better comic book-based movies.
The tendency of the Kryptonian characters to babble plot points makes for an odd contrast with the rest of the film’s sparse use of dialogue. If you took Snyder’s ‘Sucker Punch’ and completely turned down the dialogue, would the movie lose any of its visual punch? Much of ‘Man of Steel’ feels the same way. The few frames of Krytpon’s destruction seen in the trailer do more than what Russell Crowe is able to accomplish in the beginning fifteen minutes.
Setting those issues aside, the slow-building and visually lush nature of the film is very enjoyable, especially when compared to the dull ‘Superman Returns’. With that in mind, if I had to choose between letting Zack Snyder create a Director’s Cut that makes the film more consistently good overall, or going ahead with a sequel, that would be a tough choice.
I think the movie’s problem is people’s expectations are way too high.
People expect this movie to tell us, the origin of Superman, the backstory of Zod, the love affair between Clark, Louis and Superman, Clarks life as a reporter at Daily Planet, Superman as an inspiration to mankind, being a hero, saving the planet, and so on, and so on.
Lets face it. The movie cannot possibly live up to all that. But even if it only manages half of that, doesn’t mean it’s a bad movie.
Some of those bullet points about the entirety of Superman’s origin and daily life receive a slight treatment in the film, which doesn’t particularly bother me. The mess that is Krypton, Jor-El and Zod pervades many sequences that otherwise should be mesmerizing. Since the plot and character motivations are so inconsequential, it’s up to the viewer to decide if a handful of cool looking scenes of Superman make for a great movie.
My expectations were huge, but I walked away completely satisfied. Batman Begins is to the Batman series as Man of Steel is to the Superman series – it’s a completely fresh take. New beginnings and a very new (and unexpected) outcome.
I was a little baffled by the ending. He decides to “disguise” himself as Clark Kent, the reporter (a good idea and a staple from the series). But the whole world has seen him fighting Zod, on television screens, cell phones and (presumably) internet. Do the glasses really ‘hide’ his true self? Will no one say, “Man, that reporter sure does bear an uncanny resemblance to that one guy that was all over the news”?