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Sunday, June 16, 2013

Quick Review: Man Of Steel

This is a not-so-quick read, actually.

If you've read this blog in the past, back when I used to post a lot more (and yes, I'm going to keep making the point that my lack of posts has been an abysmal failure of mine), you know that I am wayyyyyy into Superman. The comic books, the animated films and series, the TV series and, of course, the movies. The comic books, lately, I've put aside. My disdain for the changes foisted upon Superman's character by DC Comics when they rebooted their entire universe caused me to pretty much stop buying the books. That's not to say I haven't bought any comic books; there are the Simpsons and Futurama titles, and other things I've dabbled in, including some other DC titles. (I'll have to summarize all of that somewhere. There's over a year's worth of purchases so I won't really summarize them as I used to.) But as for the main Super-titles, I haven't purchased them.

Still, I am all for Superman, when done right. So geeked was I for Man of Steel, the latest big-screen attempt to cash in on Kal-El's popularity, that I not only purchased a ticket in advance (which I never do), but I spent the extra cash for IMAX (well, the faux-IMAX that they have at the AMC at Franklin Mills Mall).

There's another reason I mention the whole DC Comics reboot. As with every iteration, the individual creators tend to make changes to suit their needs. (And at times those changes get into the comic books. The 1940s cartoons had Superman fly for the first time, instead of leaping from place to place; Kryptonite was introduced in the radio serials in 1943; the list goes on.)
So it is with "Man of Steel." "Superman Returns" was in many ways a carbon copy of the Christopher Reeve movies; while I enjoyed it, it hasn't quite held up and wasn't popular enough to warrant sequels. The problem for Warner Bros., DC's parent company, is that the Marvel Comics filmmakers have been extremely successful with films featuring a variety of characters (most notably Iron Man and the Avengers). Warner has had success only with the recent Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy. The Green Lantern film fizzled and they can't even get Wonder Woman on film, other than a failed TV pilot. What they really want is a Justice League movie, but without a strong Superman performance it just won't happen.

So the studio called upon Nolan and screenwriter David S. Goyer to work their Batman magic on Superman. This time Nolan only produced, while passing the directing duties to "300" and "Watchmen" director Zack Snyder. And, of course, they made their own changes. For the most part, they aren't horribly offensive. The depiction of the end of Krypton, the planet's technology, the ship used by Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and Lara to send their baby Kal-El to Earth, the actions and punishment of General Zod (Michael Shannon) and his rebel forces, all differ from previous depictions in the films and comics.

Once the scene shifts to our planet, we especially see that this is going to be a darker and more modern movie than other Super-flicks. Clark Kent's childhood is more difficult, as his powers start manifesting themselves. As a teenager he's warned by his Earth dad (Kevin Costner) not to let people know about his power, because people would be afraid upon learning that there's an actual outer space alien living in their midst, a warning that is shown to have grave consequences later.

So the now-adult Clark (Henry Cavill) ends up traveling from place to place, working temporary jobs and keeping to himself, until he ends up using super-powers to help someone, and then moves on. Things then start to happen rapidly as Clark finds an ancient Kryptonian ship and learns where he came from, which not only draws attention from Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams) but also from the freed Zod and crew, who arrive on Earth demanding their fellow Kryptonian be handed over.

The darker tone means there is much more action in this film than "Superman Returns," more fighting, including major Superman-Zod slugfests (makes you completely forget "Superman II" and "Kneel before Zod!") and much, much more destruction -- so much so that, while it's unspoken of and not displayed (hello, PG-13 rating), there had to be tens of thousands of deaths just in Metropolis alone.

And there's a much more serious feeling. Even in the Batman trilogy (darker than the previous Batman films, especially the non-Michael Keaton ones) there are quips from Michael Caine's Alfred that lighten the mood. In this film there's little of that. Unlike Reeve and his near-clone Brandon Routh, Cavill's Superman isn't all that happy, and even when he finally puts on his costume (which is kind of muted; I can understand getting rid of the red shorts over the tights but they went too far in dulling it down) he's not sure if he's doing the right thing. It's a technically competent performance but a bit devoid of personality. Clark's just sort of existing, not really living. (Amy Adams was better at filling in Lois Lane's shoes. And Crowe as Jor-El -- who ended up with quite a bit of screen time thanks to Kryptonian technology -- fares much better than he did in "Les Miserables," which wasn't hard to do.)

It looks brilliant, it was well-acted, but...it was missing something. Even with all the mayhem in "The Avengers," that movie had fun as well, and the actors seemed like they were having fun. That's missing from "Man of Steel," along with a stirring theme. I know they didn't want to use the John Williams theme yet again, but the music in this was unremarkable. 

I enjoyed it, but I wasn't particularly moved or overwhelmed when I left the theater. And one last thing: there's one particular moment, near the end of the film, that is completely unacceptable. I can't tell you what it is without a spoiler, but once you see it you'll probably understand what I'm talking about. Some executive should have put a stop to it, and I'm lowering my grade a bit because of it. My grade: B.


Dan O. said...

Good review Joe. It was a good movie, just not a great one and I think that's where most of my problems with this lingered. I just wanted more of something the movie itself was just not giving me.

Joe in Philly said...

I commented on Facebook about the scene in "Superman Returns" where he stops the plane from crashing into the ballpark and the crowd at the baseball game, seeing him for the first time in five years, goes nuts (with the Williams theme music going as well). How that scene made me feel was what was missing in the new movie.

canmark said...

Finally saw MOS. OK overall, but overly long (I was bored at times) and too earnest/serious. I agree that they didn't give Superman/Clark Kent much in the way of personality. Even Lois Lane could have had more spunk (it's Amy Adams, after all). And that weapon that Zod uses (some sort-of beam shooting into the core of the Earth), reminded me of similar in the Star Trek reboot.