Monday, June 17, 2013
Man of Steel (movie review)
Superman is back in MAN OF STEEL, he has returned, he has blown away box office records already, there are sequels booked, toys made, shirts printed, and merchandise aplenty at your local CVS.
But...is it worth it? Did Snyder and co. do what they set out to do, which is wipe the slate clean and give us a new Supes for a modern age while sticking to the character and tropes that we are all familiar with?
The answer, like my attraction to Henry Cavill's chest rug, is very complicated.
Let's start with the good and work our way down. There's plenty of ground to cover and you and I both have work to do so let's get on with it. Henry Cavill is a GREAT Superman. His physique is cut from the comic book pages themselves and his face is chiseled out of marble. He looks like what we all think Superman should look like...impossibly beautiful, a God on earth. Cavill also seems to get the inherent politeness and empathy that Supes possesses. Superman is not called the Big Blue Boy Scout for nothing...he's nicer than anyone you've ever met (unless you go with the Superman is a Dick theory, which they get at quite a bit in this film...Superman doesn't have to destroy a 12 million dollar surveillance drone, but he does...mostly because he thinks it's pretty funny) and is so charming that I thought Stabler wanted to make out with him. Stabler was pretty good in the movie too, but there were no special victims for him to unit so he seemed out of sorts. In fact, acting-wise, this ensemble is strong. Russel Crowe gets really into being science-Zen master Jor-El, Amy Adams is a pretty serviceable Lois (although she's basically around to get into scrapes that Superman has to save her from...but that's been her thing for years, so deal with it), and Michael Shannon as Zod does Chicago actors proud by treating this admittedly campy and hammy script like it's True fucking West. Get that cash, Shannon, you ever loving psychopath.
The film opens with a looooooong sequence on Krypton, and I gotta say, if you loved Flash Gordon you are gonna cream in your Ming the Merciless pantaloons over this shit. Luckily, I am a science fiction nerd, and this weirdo prog rock planetoid was just great. Uncanny bio-computers? Check! Dragonfly mounts? Check! A council of old freaks in Cher's outfits from the 80s? DOUBLE CHECK!
Oh, and Zod wants to take over the planet at the worst time and is sent to Dildo Jail.
All of the Kryptonian technology tiptoes right up to the campy line and then drops a skyscraper on it. Full-on stoned-out...and pretty show-offy really. But, hey, is it any stranger than the over-saturated crystal castle 70s Krypton, with its ultrawhite robes and hulahoop prisons? Not really, it's a wash. This film, more than any of the others in the Superman canon, is unapologetic science fiction (maybe more Space Opera, actually, but let's get nerdy later on, we're gonna have to) and very much underscores the idea that Superman is an alien and his presence on Earth will change everything.
But, before he changes everything, he's gotta grow up in Kansas with Ma and Pa Kent (adroitly played by Diane Lane and American hero Kevin Costner, in full baseball and apple pie mode here). The youth and adolescence of Clark Kent is played out in a series of flashback sequences, which some people may think of as sort of pretentious and art-housy what with the fragmented timeline. Well, those people are annoying. Although if Superman always has a flashback to a traumatic event from his childhood when he sees a yellow bus he better stay out of school zones, brahs.
Before he dons the tights, he humps it place to place looking for people to help, and then disappearing. See, Pa Kent makes it clear that the world is not ready for him. So, he's a little afraid to go full-on Supes just yet. It's fine, I get why they did it, but there is no SPOILERING way that Supes would not save his dad from being murdered by the world's most inconvenient tornado just cuz people might see his superspeed. Come on, Glenn Ford had a heart attack in Superman One and that showed Christopher Reeve that even with all of his power he still couldn't save him. A tornado killing Superman's father is inconceivable, and it's deviation from canon number one that I took umbrage with. UMBRAGE!!!!!!
Wait until we get to deviation from canon number two, gang. It's a doozy.
Well, Clark finds an old Kryptonian ship in the arctic ice and talks with his pop and gets the blue suit and learns to fly and all that jazz. By the by, Superman flying in this movie is astounding...Snyder's visuals in the flight scenes are impeccable and thrilling. You truly believe in it, which is ambrosia.
BUT, General Zod finds out where he is (Earth, for those not keeping up) and threatens the world with total destruction if Supes doesn't surrender. But, of course, Zod wants to remake Krypton on earth and get the codex and blah, blah, blah this is some REAL comic book nerd shit here...with big shades of The Matrix as well. A large theme in the film is predestined vs. free will. Of course, this is philosophy ala Zach Snyder and David Goyer, so you should never write a thesis paper on this film for your Ethics class because I will make sure you get an F PLUS. CLICK!
And then the REAL action begins. Superman punches things...a lot. He punches cars. Trains. People. Faces. Buildings. Lexcorp tanker trucks. Bank vaults. Corn. He punches more stuff in this movie than any Superman ever did. The battles in Smallville and Metropolis are gorgeous violence porn, and I do eat that stuff up...it's pretty fun. But, a nitpick: Superman never really tries to save anyone during this. Maybe he could have flown Zod to Saturn and fought him there, where there were at least no people around. But, no, they fight in a city the size of New York and wreck the joint. And let's be perfectly clear here...
MILLIONS OF PEOPLE WERE KILLED.
Now, usually, Superman cares about things like this. And with all the shit stuffed into this flick, they could have added a line or something to cover it. But, they didn't, and that was a bit weird. And I was mostly ok, until the deviation from canon number two:
Superman kills Zod. Straight up snaps his neck. Not often do you see that kind of behavior from the defender of truth, justice, and the American Way. I suppose a case could be made that that IS the American Way now-a-days, but I'm no philosopher. Zod threatens a family with his heat eyeballs, all of the sudden Supes gives a shit, and he drops Zod like a bag of potatoes. No sequels for this dude. I hope Shannon got a good back-end on his contract.
I wasn't really happy that Supes had to kill Zod...because he didn't have to. They jailed Magneto and Loki and SPOILERS Khan for Pete's sake...they couldn't figure out how to jail Zod? The script just wasn't good enough to justify that huge deviation from Superman's morality, and I won't make apologies or defend it like some nerd who just loves Superman too much. Not a brilliant choice, Goyer. I know from experience that snapping Michael Shannon's neck gets you NOWHERE.
Also, Snyder, it doesn't take a lot of imagination to knock down a bunch of skyscrapers. They could have tunnelled through the earth, had a brawl at the core, gotten sucked into an alternate universe, Zod could have transformed into a giant giraffe with Michael Shannon's face, Superman could have offered to rap battle him for ultimate supremacy, they could have thrown monkeys at each other for a really long time like something from Family Guy. I reject the fact that all you could conjure up was "Hey, derp...SKYSCRAPERS!"
But, all in all, this is a summer blockbuster and a lot of my complaints are nitpicks. I was very satisfied with this movie, it's the best onscreen Superman since Superman One, and it absolutely eliminates the sorry SUPERMAN RETURNS from America's memory banks.
I think the potential for sequels is incredible, and I'll gladly go watch more Cavill-as-Supes. Now that they got this bizarre, three act, disjointed, sci-fi fantasy origin story out of the way they can really make headway on making Superman truly great again. But, please, maybe Goyer should sit the next one out...buddy, it's called subtext. When your dialogue is just the themes of the movie over and over again, maybe you need a script doctor. Or a superpunch to your adrenal glands.
MAN OF STEEL: B+
-Eric Roach, Anderson Lawfer