Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Man of Steel: Worth Seeing?

NO SPOILERS AHEAD. This is not going to be one of my usually long and wordy reviews. I'm working on three deadlines at the moment, and I apologize that the blog has gone rather silent, but I promise to pick it up again in the next week.

As I mentioned on Facebook, two weeks ago I went to see Man of Steel with my cousin. When we were kids, he was Superman, I was Wonder Woman, and my brother was Batman. The three of us would tear around my Grandma's house while she fretted that we were going to break something, and she'd pin dishtowels on our shoulders (they helped us fly. No, really, they did... seriously, go try it). We tried to get a full Justice League reunion to go see the movie, but sadly my brother, who lives out of town, couldn't make it on any of the weekends we were aiming for, and so we had to go with one man down. We made the best of it. My cousin showed up in his Superman shirt, and I had my Wonder Woman T on, and we pinned my dishtowels to our shoulders, giggling the entire time as my husband snapped photos. (And also in awe of the fact that my grandmother only had one arm — she'd lost her right arm to polio at the age of four — and somehow pinned these damn things with one hand and we could barely manage it with two!)

ANYWAY. That was the setting: two adults who remembered being a kid and just loving Superman for being Superman. And loved the Justice League (never missed an episode) for being awesome.

I know a lot of people have not liked Man of Steel. I saw a lot of negativity thrown at it leading up to it (many of my friends are in media so they were at advance screenings), but then I began seeing in my Facebook feed a lot of comic book fans that loved it. So I kept an open mind.

And, as an adult going to a movie with another adult, both remembering when we were six years old and tearing around Grandma's house with towels on our backs, we marched into the theatre, ready to be entertained. And we were. I thought it was great.

Some people have complained it's not enough like the Christopher Reeve movie, but if it were, those same people would complain that that movie had already been done so why do it again? Some people have said the acting was lame. I thought it was fine, and Michael Shannon is great, as is Russell Crowe (and to be honest, I think Cavill is playing Superman a particular way and doing a good job of it). Amy Adams and Laurence Fishburne, not so much, admittedly. Some have said it's too dark and they've given Superman "issues." But I've heard a lot lately about how boring Superman is because he's so damn flawless that it's hard to identify with him, so I thought it was a good call.

Could it have had some funny infused into it? Yes, it could have, and a few lame jokes fall flat, but I thought it was a lot of fun. It plays with canon (Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane are not what you expect) so it'll be interesting to see how they can carry that through to later films. It's told in a non-linear fashion (you jump around to different points of Kal's life) and I really enjoyed the focus on Krypton and Jor-El, which wasn't a major element of other origin films.

However, I will warn you that there's a lot of handheld camera work and it jumps around a LOT. Luckily two friends told me that, and so I popped two ginger Gravol right before, and had no problem at all. I highly recommend that approach to anyone who gets queasy in films. ;)

Clark struggles with who he is, because he's grown up with an adoptive father who tells him to never show his powers, no matter what, because people won't accept him. It's the opposite message we see in movies these days, where parents tell their children to be whoever they want, and if people don't accept you, screw them. You'll eventually find people who will. Clark's dad, on the other hand, realizes his son's difference is so big that revealing it could endanger him and everyone. And when it is revealed, and General Zod comes to town, Dad turns out to have been right. But it's when Superman comes out to meet him that the real fun begins.

Yes, I wish it had had more humour, but again, these two big kids sitting in the audience were giddy and excited and the movie delivered. Don't go see it with the eyes of a film critic: go watch it with the eyes of a child who loves superheroes. Open your mind, and allow the film to entertain you. I wanted to be entertained, and I was entertained.

Near the end of the film, we flash back to Clark, around age six, and he's running around his backyard as his mother is hanging up the washing. As the camera comes closer, you realize he's got a towel pinned to his shoulders with clothespins. I felt my heart balloon as I watched it, and in that moment — and for the first time ever with this character — I felt like I could be Superman.


Anonymous said...

I was intent on seeing this movie since I'm a huge Russell Crowe fan. But, I went to see it with the critic's descriptions of "being dark". And I couldn't tell from the trailers if I would like this Henry Cavill as Superman. Boy, did I like him !! I liked the back story of Krypton, and just what a unique baby this was. I was a little confused by all the time-jumps. But I have a chronological, orderly mind. I also liked how Lois Lane had a more active role in THIS version, as opposed to others, and I thought Amy Adams was great. Some have complained of all the CGI, but seriously, how can you have alien spaceships and a planet's exploding without CGI. The destructive battle in Metropolis reminded me of the final fight in The Avengers, and no one complained about the damage the Hulk did.

Anyhow, I thought the movie was fantastic. It could've had a few minutes of battling cut, but all movies could use a little editing.

MikeP said...

But there's that one moment, that one character destroying moment, that just goes to show the writers just don't get it. 75 years of Superman NOT doing something has got to mean something. How many 10 yr old kids walked out of that theater thinking Superman was cool because of what he did at the end? Fundamentally, that's just wrong.

Nikki Stafford said...

MikeP: Thanks for not posting spoilers here; someone after my own heart! :) I'd love to discuss this further with you, though, so... if you haven't seen the movie, SPOILERS AHEAD FOR MIKEP, ME, AND ANYONE WHO"S SEEN IT! ;)

You're certainly not the only one to make the assertion that he'd never done this in 75 years: but he has. He did it at the end of Superman II: same villain, same result. Just because he doesn't do it with his own physical hands doesn't mean he didn't do it. I still remember watching that movie as a kid and thinking Superman killed all three of them with the red sun, and he did it for the good of humanity. While he does it with a fierceness and physicality in this movie that Reeve doesn't display in Superman II, he's still thinking of the greater good. And he's done it in the comics. I've heard a lot of people say what you're saying, and I don't understand what they mean because it's right there in the previous incarnations.

MikeP said...

Thank you ma'am! And you're awesome. :)

Here's the thing about Supes II, in the original ending (Richard Donner's), Zod and the others get de-powered and then arrested, there is actually footage that shows them being led away in cuffs. The filmed one is different, yes (different director came aboard midway), but it's never established that they are killed. They are dropped into the mist, which again, it's never established what that is. It can also be argued that 1982 was a different time, when people weren't so invested in the motivations of fictional characters, which I think we are so much more invested in today's world. we take it so much more seriously today than we did then.

As far as the comics go, I paraphrase comics writer and Superman purist Mark Waid: Just because one writer did it 35 years ago in one story doesn't mean it's ok.

I promise I'm not trying to shill my own blog, but I managed afer much difficulty to sum up my thoughts on it here, if you'd like to give it a read:

Bottom line to Superman purists like myself, Superman never, ever kills. There's always another way. It's a fundamental truth of the character, it's one of the main reasons he is a symbol of hope.

Efthymia said...

I'm one of those people who generally consider Superman a bit dull, but I liked the first Reeve films, I liked Lois & Clark (up to a point, at least), and I did like this film. I, too, had read a lot of negative criticism, which I don't get. The humour thing, I'm all for it in general, but some things work fine without it (see: the Walking Dead), and this is one of these cases; I can't see where in the film it would have been fitting to be funny. The Dark Knight trilogy didn't have any humour in it, yet I never saw anyone complaining then. Man of Steel shouldn't have been another Avengers, and it wasn't. Did I like the Avengers more? Yes, because I'm a Whedon fan, and a Marvel gal, and -like I said in the beginning- I've always considered Superman a bit dull. But why compare these two films in the first place?

P.S. Those few moments of Tahmoh Penikett made me happy. :)

Unknown said...

Efthymia said... The Dark Knight trilogy didn't have any humour in it, yet I never saw anyone complaining then.

The Dark Knight trilogy had plenty of moments that were humorous. Does that make it a comedy? Definitely not.

Simple conversations between Bruce Wayne and Alfred or Bruce Wayne and Lucious Fox were subtle, but they were charming and managed to infuse an element of levity into the story without making it a farce.

The Joker dressed as Nurse Matilda or The Scarecrow holding court in The Dark Knight Rises are other examples of the charm that Man Of Steel could have benefited from.

Overall, I enjoyed Man Of Steel. However, I agree with NikkStaff in the fact that it could have some more/better comedic moments blended into the brew.

Nikki Stafford said...

MikeP: Interesting, and thanks for the blog link! I'll absolutely check it out. I haven't seen Superman II in YEARS so my questions were genuine (as in, "did he kill him? Because I remember him killing them"). My young brain took that ending to be that Superman killed all of them, but your explanation definitely makes it sound more vague than that. (I didn't see it until about 1983, and my 10-year-old brain apparently didn't do "vague" at the time, haha!) And obviously Man of Steel took all vagueness out of the picture. So it's definitely a point well taken. :)

Nikki Stafford said...

Kreighton: I am totally using NikkStaff now. ;)

MikeP said...

Yeah, Supes II is pretty vague on what actually happened there at the end. :)

It'll be interesting to see where they go with Supes from here.

TomWill said...

I loved the new treatment. Not my favorite villains. I always thought Lois was an idiot to not recognize Clark was Superman -Problem Solved!! Cavill Rocked!

Page48 said...

When I was a kid, Superman and Batman were the only comic book heroes I was interested in. I remember wearing a cape and carrying a sword and shield (not that Batman or Superman did that sort of thing) and telling the neighbours in my sleepy little town that they should have no fear because my friends and I were here to protect them (from what, inflation?).

George Reeves was my Superman and, of course, Adam West my Batman.

I pay no attention to the negative buzz surrounding movie releases. Some people just don't know how to kick back and enjoy themselves. I read all kinds of negative press about "Star Trek: Into Darkness" when it was released. I haven't seen it yet, but I already know I'll enjoy it, cuz hell, it's Bad Robot doing "Star Trek". When I get around to seeing "Man of Steel", I'll enjoy it as well.

Colleen/redeem147 said...

MikeP - Superman did that thing in the comics, in a much more calculated way, then vowed never to do it again.

I loved the film. And yes, I'm a Superman fan. :)

MikeP said...

Colleen - And it was wrong to have him do it then as well. Again, one time in one story by one writer 30 years ago doesn't mean it's ok. It fundamentally goes against everything the character stands for.

Also, it's faulty logic - he kills, even though he knows it's wrong, then vows never to do it again because killing is bad? What happens the next time he's in the exact same situation and has "no choice"?

There are a thousand ways they could have written themselves out of that without going against character, but they chose not to.

Colleen/redeem147 said...

I think the New 52 is a bad idea, but it's not going away. :)

I would like to know how you would have gotten out of that particular situation, Mike (though you can't tell me cause, as River Song says - Spoilers.) :)

MikeP said...

Colleen - No ma'am, the New 52 is definitely not going away! lol

Great Doctor Who reference, by the way!

The original script ending calls for Zod to get sucked back into the Phantom Zone with the others...why was that not good enough?

Jor-El talked to 85 people in that film, couldn't he have told Lois about a Kryptonian weapon to incapacitate Zod?

Couldn't Supes have fought Zod on the dark side of the moon, which would have weakened Zod during the battle (Supes had 33 years on the planet vs. Zod's couple of days), allowing Supes to beat him? (I'm assuming you know all about Kryptonian cells being a solar battery)

How about the Superman II scenario - Depower Zod, again with Kryptonian tech.

These guys (especially Goyer) are writers, and any writer worth his salt should know every ending has multiple possible outcomes.

They CHOSE this particular ending for the character, and myself and many others felt it was the wrong choice based on 75 years of history.

Nikki Stafford said...

SPOILERS: I still love the movie, don't get me wrong, but I will admit that what sat funny with me was the idea that they seemed to just be knocking canon down all over the place. If Zod is dead, then I guess that means no return in a later movie? If Lois knows he's Superman, then the secret identity thing is moot? If Jimmy is a woman, then... well, that's not much of a difference there. ;) But then I think if I want all those other things, I have comics, books, movies, and TV shows to show me another side of it, and maybe it's cool to have a fresh take. Why not have Lois know who he is, because now TWO people are in on the joke of Supes' secret identity. Why not kill off Zod; can't they just come up with some new Superman villains? And it's not like they don't have an entire arsenal of them to choose from already.

But I do understand that to many people like Mike, it's the moral factor. This Superman is clearly a lot darker. There was definitely a 9/11 vibe at the end of the movie, too, and perhaps that was part of it: in the midst of the rubble of Manhattan, he could actually kill the terrorist. So if he can... should he?

MikeP said...

"This Superman is clearly a lot darker."

And that is exactly what's wrong here, Nikki. Superman isn't supposed to be dark. He's the bright and shining moment amidst the darkness of the villain, or even the world, for that matter. He is supposed to be an inspiration to us all, a symbol of hope and all that is good within us because that is how he was raised, by good, solid Midwestern values.

The thing that has me (and a blessed few others) so upset is that the world no longer has those values.

I work in a comic shop, and I've got kids telling me they would rather be Wolverine than Superman, because Superman is "too good."

I can't be the only one to see how sad that is.

Colleen/redeem147 said...

We'll see how dark he is (or isn't) in the sequel. You could take that ending as him choosing humanity over someone who might be the only other Kryptonian, as far as he knows, that he had left.

Personally, I think this is a set-up for Lex Luthor and his hatred of aliens. He can spin Supes as a threat to mankind now.

One thing that interested me is how much Smallville was in the film (and I don't just mean the cast.)

Nikki, Lois knew who he was in the comics for twenty years, and for a lot of that time he was married to him. Lois knew who he was on Smallville, too. In fact, she got him the glasses.

Mike, you could call me a Superman purist if there weren't so danged many versions. I'm actually surprised how much I didn't have a problem with the end. I think it's because I still believe he's a good man, but one who had to make a terrible decision, and quickly. Sort of reminds me of a certain Slayer I know...

Nikki, I've seen two Batman movies where they killed the Joker. I think it's the way it's done these days - the villains only get one shot. I'm assuming there will be a Luthor exception.

Austin Gorton said...

My biggest problem with the ending wasn't that he killed Zod (because that, in my eyes, has precedent in both comics and film ie Zod is the one person for whom he will cross that line, and yes, I've read all of Mark Waid's and other criticisms of that notion, and I'm sorry, but he straight-up threw Zod into a chasm with a smile on his face in Superman II; as far as he was concerned, he was killing the dude), but that the film had given us no reason to think killing him was a big deal.

*We* know it's a big deal, because we know Superman doesn't kill (barring a Byrne-penned exception here and there), but the film never established that for itself, and for anyone in the audience not intimately familiar with Superman's moral code. Sure, Cavill sells the hell out of Superman's anguish over having to do so, but it's never made clear WHY he's so anguished, whether it's because he doesn't want to kill this link to his past, or doesn't want to kill period, or whatever.

I can accept a film which depicts Superman making a tough moral decision and ultimately deciding he needs to kill Zod, even if it goes against everything he believes, but the film didn't set that up.

And I totally agree that Supes killing Zod was a choice made by the writers, and I think it's another example of how this film seems to be setting something up that will make for a better sequel, yet still leaves this film lacking (see also: the wanton destruction of Metropolis during their fight).

This is very much an origin film for this iteration of Superman, one who is still learning how to be a hero, and I have a feeling (or wishful thinking) the next one is going to play off the events of this one to present a Superman more palatable to a lot of us.

That is, we'll see that Superman has realized just how much destruction his powers can cause, and vows to be more responsible in using them (I also think this is how Luthor will be brought into the film - pointing to the destruction caused by Superman as an example of how we can't trust him).

I also wouldn't be surprised to see the future film(s) establish a "no killing" rule for Superman in the wake of Zod's death, something about how, after doing that, he's vowed to never do so again (similar to the transition in Batman from letting Ra's die in Batman Begins to going out of his way to save Joker in TDK).

Again, I freely admit that could all be wishful thinking, and even if it is true, it doesn't wipe away all the criticisms that can be leveled at this film specifically, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if the events in this film led to a depiction of Superman in future films which more closely hews to him being the shining inspiration we all want him to be.

Old Darth said...

Adequate SF alien contact movie. Depressing and inadequate Superman. The movie proclaimed itself to be a reboot but was more like a revisit as it expected us to be familiar with the characters of this iteration without reintroducing the characters. As a result I never developed any emotional connections to any of the characters except for Kevin Costner who was fantastic. Even Smallville and Metropolis never had their geography or sense of being communities developed.

I could care less if Superman has to kill but this movie took the easy way out when other options are available. The last 40 minutes were tonally deaf in portraying Superman as a hero. It also never established that the world needed him. In fact the opposite was true. The world was doing fine until he brought the crisis to earth by alerting Zod to his presence. Then the action scenes become destruction porn - which quickly became boring - without taking any time to show Superman reacting to all the death and destruction around him.

To top off the tone deafness of the final sequences immediately after all the destruction, an apparently oblivious Superman and Lois go to a kiss. Seriously? Would it have hurt to cut down on the 40 minutes of destruction and show Superman in a rescue and rebuilding montage?

Man of Steel brings Superman down to our level. The other Superman movies inspire us to reach to his level.

As Superman Birthright writer, Mark Waid said - Superman was not designed to fail the Kobayashi Maru.

Technically the movie was well done but the story is a joyless and diminished retelling of the Superman mythos.

5 out of 10.

And I leave it to this video review which sums it up perfectly for me:

C. David Milles said...

I agree with your thoughts. I think this is the first time I can conceive of Superman actually living in our world. I felt the same chills you did at the very end scene, almost tearing up. It was a great look at a classic character, and I think it revitalizes Superman for a new generation.