While I didn’t stand on line at midnight Thursday to see Hollywood’s latest Superman incarnation, Man of Steel, I was excited enough to drag my husband to a Friday night showing. This says much as going to the movies is often a frustrating experience because I find the general behavior of young movie-goers these days to be sorely lacking in good manners. Sitting in front of a group of teenage boys who think loudly using the “f” word is acceptable and talk to each other as if they are sharing a bucket of wings at BW3s is akin to torture for me. But I was willing to endure the packed theater because I do love me a good superhero movie.
When all was said and done, I thoroughly enjoyed Man of Steel. On the other hand, my husband did not. Here is my review of the movie, with a bit of his viewpoint thrown in because while he is often hard to impress, he did have some valid complaints.
The Very Good: Man of Steel was extremely well cast and acted. Henry Cavill has set a new bar for perfectly personifying both the every-man Clark Kent and the super-powered and super-confident Superman. And if you don’t enjoy looking at him, you might not be human yourself. Bonus points for the Brit’s fantastic American accent.
Amy Adams’ Lois Lane is spot on. In this version, she’s less of a damsel in distress and more of an active participant in the story. While this was refreshing for us modern ladies of the new millennium who appreciate a kick-butt heroine, it does cause a few eye-rolling moments when Lois shows up in places you highly doubt she’d ever be.
The supporting cast is equally superb. Michael Shannon’s Zod is dastardly enough without resorting to mustache-twirling, the Kents are well played by Kevin Kostner and Diane Lane, and I loved Laurence Fishburne as Daily Planet editor Perry White.
The Good: Given that one has to entirely suspend disbelief to accept the Superman story, I found Man of Steel to be as realistic as such a scenario could possibly be. The settings and the costuming and actions of Clark make him truly just a guy who happens to be from another planet. As long as I’ve accepted the impossibility of the story, I can imagine living in this world they’ve created because it’s pretty close to my own.
This realism is greatly helped by superb CGI and a naturalistic cinematography that avoids over-saturated colors. The Kryptonians with their sun-powered super abilities have weight and cause real destruction when they hurl each other around. Superman’s costume isn’t the flashy primary colors only seen on a kindergarten teacher’s classroom wall but rather colors that makes sense given its Kryptonian origin.
Too, Man of Steel completely avoids the camp that dates the Christopher Reeves ouvre and makes it hard to watch these days without laughing more than was probably intended by its makers. This movie takes itself seriously enough to pose and answer the question of what it might really be like if an alien came to our planet to live amongst us.
Without revealing spoilers, one way this incarnation of the Superman mythos deviates from the others and adds to the realism is its moral ambiguity. While there is never any doubt that Superman stands for truth, justice and the American Way, he’s a bit less of an overgrown Boy Scout. He gets angry and seeks revenge. His battle with Zod wreaks collateral damage in the tens of billions and a body count probably in the hundred-thousands. And a moment at the end calls into question the very nature of Superman as the perfect superhero as compared to darker figures like Batman or Iron Man.
Even father-figure icon Jonathan Kent renders advice that many would call morally questionable. After a tween Clark rescues a school-bus load of his fellow students – and is witnessed doing so – Jonathan suggests that letting those kids die might have been preferable to risking exposure. For him to suggest that acting in one’s best self-interest at the expense of the lives of others is not exactly something Jesus would do.
The Depends On Your Taste: Man of Steel deviates from the traditional linear storytelling of most movies. Other than the destruction of Krypton and Kal-El’s journey to Earth, which happen in the beginning, the majority of Clark’s growing up is told via flashback. I personally never had a problem keeping up. And since I like quieter moments in a movie, I didn’t mind the distraction from the main storyline when the action would stop for a Clark nostalgia tour. However, if you want your story told in a straight line, point A to point B and on to final point C, you may find this format annoying. My husband did.
Too, quite frequently the film employs the hand-held-camera technique which gives a frenetic, quick-cut sensation that some may find off-putting. It’s not used all the time, however, and I didn’t get physically ill the way I have with other movies that go overboard with this style. That said, I cannot imagine what seeing Man of Steel in 3-D would be like.
The Bad: Perhaps this is because I’m a fully grown adult and not a member of the 18-35 male demographic, but the battle scenes that take up roughly the entire last hour of the movie were simply too long. Once you get over the amazing CGI and pure imagination and spectacle of building after building getting destroyed, the fighting became beyond tedious. I always have a problem with movies that depict two equally indestructible forces going at each other because No. One. Ever. Wins. It just goes on and on and on. Same here. A much smaller amount of battling between the Kryptonians could have proven the same point and shortened the movie by a good thirty minutes.
The Silly: Shame on Hollywood for sucking the last drop of water from a stone by such blatant product placement within a movie. As if raking in billions of box office cash isn’t enough, the number of corporate sponsors shilled in this movie is insulting. IHOP, 7-11 and Sears all feature as prominent Smallville stores. In a movie filmed in muted colors, the logos of these three entities remain bright and shiny, just to make sure that no one in the theater could miss them. The only good thing is that all three do get blown up at some point. And I suppose it beats having to sit through commercials before the movie starts, but only just barely.
I think ultimately the public’s opinion about Man of Steel is going to reflect the mixed-reviews of the critics. Unlike the almost universally loved Iron Man movies, this one will generate a lot of loved it/hated it reactions. In my household alone, we’ve got one of each. But if you ask me, Man of Steel is well worth a few dollars and a couple of hours spent on a hot summer day.
– Jenna AAR