Review: Man of Steel

Superman doesn’t do anything halfway. He can’t. As a near indestructible alien from a destroyed world, raised on a farm in the middle of America, the character simply does not know how to do things halfway.

This, however, is a double-edged sword – it means his failures are equally catastrophic.

The same goes for Superman movies, and after the failed last attempt to reboot the movie franchise, I will admit I was trying not to worry too much about how well Man of Steel would do with re-introducing the character.

It has been said that a hero is only as good as its villains. While I think this is not entirely true, it certainly has some weight within the concept of superhero movies.

To an extent, because of how powerful Superman (Henry Cavill) is, there is even more need for a solid villain to stand against him.

General Zod (Michael Shannon) certainly has the ability – as a fellow Kryptonian – to stand up against the Man of Steel, as far as power goes, but more importantly, his character – while certainly very tightly focused in purpose and logic – is very well presented.

This is important, as just because a character should be able to challenge Superman does not mean they are portrayed well in doing so. Previous movies with Lex Luthor as part comedy relief and part stupid crazy – rather than a cold and ruthless business tycoon – prove my point.

This is not a problem in Man of Steel. With the movie starting during the last days of Krypton, we get to see General Zod act in a cold and ruthless manner in a misguided coup attempt he believes is necessary to save the Kryptonian race.

This does a great job of placing the character and his motivations, while allowing the the reasoning behind the infant Kal-El – the someday-Superman – being sent to Earth to shine through, as well as how and why the General was banished to the Phantom Zone.

Unfortunately, while General Zod is a very ruthless and challenging enemy, especially with his Kryptonian technology and soldiers, the writing really struggles with him. As a being specifically designed to fit a military role both genetically and through training, he should be able to easily crush first the scientist (and Superman’s father) Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and later the untrained Superman.

The movie’s plot features a great central plot, as Zod invades Earth searching for the wayward Kryptonian, and does well in neither completely ignoring Clark Kent’s childhood growing up in rural Kansas, nor in spending too much time on it. While the movie did jump from the destruction of Krypton to an adult Clark Kent, it uses well-placed and written flashbacks to help define the moral growth of the character and his motivations.

Dylan Sprayberry – the actor who played young Clark Kent – does a great job, as do both Kevin Cosner and Diane Lane as Ma and Pa Kent. While there is a solid story woven throughout these flashbacks, and this manner of revealing things seems to work better at keeping the film from falling into three different stories of Krypton, young Clark, and Superman, it does also feel like there could have been a lot more to Kal-El’s development as a child.

The side characters seem to suffer from the same problem. It is great to see the strong human element of what goes on around Superman, and to see both the military and civilians like Perry White (Laurence Fishburne) and Lois Lane (Amy Adams) stand up and act heroically against threats most humans would bail from. However, there’s just so many storylines and such huge town-shattering fights going on around the cast that we don’t get to see much character interaction, which is a shame.

Other than the poor depth of character interaction, another weakness of the film is the camerawork.

Far. Too. Much. Shaky cam.

During the battles, it’s not a problem as fights are actually very nicely demonstrated, but I don’t need the camera shaking during a council meeting. It’s distracting.

Other, calmer times where the camera was not steady also detracted from my ability to focus on the scene, which weakened it. I don’t even know where to start with how stupid I thought the close ups on Superman learning how to fly looked. They just looked poorly conceived and not any better brought about.

I do give credit, though, for some of the comic book Easter Eggs that managed to get worked in. Certainly, they aren’t needed to enjoy the movie, but if you do catch them they’re a nice touch.

Overall, I think Man of Steel was a successful action flick and a nice reboot. It doesn’t always hit the mark but generally it holds up well, and despite its flaws there was enough substance there that I left satisfied.

6.5/10 – Fun film, but points off for disappointing camerawork.

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4 thoughts on “Review: Man of Steel

  1. I’m not so sure the movie is emblematic of a capitalist nation in decline, however, I will concede the filmmakers were clearly more concerned with commerce than art.

    I would’ve liked a little romance, innocent flirting, something between Superman and Lois Lane. We got an interview segment, but even that was a botched opportunity for a better conversation.

    “The film was an ode to hyper-macho-steroided masculinity, and a war-happy militaristic America.” Again, I don’t know if I agree, but you certainly know how to write. Thanks for making me laugh.

    • I agree that more time spent building the romance between Lois and Superman would have been nice. Unfortunately, with all of the things the movie was trying to include, this and a lot of other character development possibilities failed to develop in any depth.

      Thanks for commenting.

  2. This was the most intelligent review. I was blown away when I kept seeing Sears, 711, and IHOP in my face shamelessly. For a brief moment I thought Nolan and Snyder were sending a message to the people of the world with a wink “See what Hollywood and Capitalism is really all about?” But then I noticed that the film had absolutely no character development and logic. Superman kisses Lois, who kisses him simply because he was a hero, like a navy man met at a bar in the 1940s. They didn’t even get to know each other at all.

    The film was an ode to hyper-macho-steroided masculinity, and a war-happy militaristic America. Even the “Soldier of Steel” advertisements that have played for the last couple of months in theaters before the films say it all: military good, join up kids!

    But what it fails to note is that this country is owned by corporations, and the “soldiers of steel” will be sent to kill, to die, or to be scarred for life, all in the name of corporate dollars and a false sense of imaginary patriotism.

    Thankfully, I knew this would be the case, going into the film, so I got a ticket for After Earth instead. I figured, might as well give my money to a film that is about a father and son relationship, and has the message of remaining in the present moment. So I bought the ticket for After Earth, and went and saw Man of Steel. That’s the best way to protest, with the money.

    Anyone who has their eye on the waves of the world, on the trends, on the media, on the education system, on the politics, on the corporations, and on the arts, can see clearly, this nation is going down down down, yo. My advice is to become as simple and Buddhist like as possible, and go to a poorer nation where capitalism hasn’t sucked the soul out of every single person you meet.

    • The “Soldier of Steel” commercials showing Superman have been a bit over the top, which is the point of a recruitment ad, I guess. People don’t sign up for dangerous duty if the message isn’t powerful and positive.

      I did think that the IHOP product placement was a little over the top. Those scenes were a little too forced, I felt. Perhaps I’ve become numb to product placement in movies (for better or worse), but I missed the Sears and 711 names. While I do remember the gas station explosion, I could not have told you the brand name. I do remember the fuel tanker with LexiCorp on it, though that was because that kind of nod to the setting was something I was looking for.

      Thanks for the comments.

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