MAN OF STEEL REVIEW:
Jor-El: “What if a child dreamed of becoming something other than what society had intended? What if a child aspired to something greater?”
How do you update a patriotic-bantering Superman from the 80s? (Let’s face it: I’m a 90s kid, but Superman’s been trying to escape the Reeve image for a while!) You completely underplay it! Instead of making the Good Guy the Boy Scout…make his enemies irrevocably evil. That seemed to be the formula for Man of Steel, and I think it’s one that works well. Zod is a dictator bent on exterminating inferior beings such as Earthlings, which recalls America’s villain when Superman was first made: Hitler. But, the scenes were all as much a product of their time and place as Superman is here. Krypton looks like Starcraft brought to life. The source comics are well-followed to a point, without me revealing spoilers.
Yes, Superman is conflicted, but he’s the kind of good guy that’s understated, as I said. Maybe that was a little cheap narrative out, but I liked it. Suffice it to say, the action destroys entire city blocks, but is a bit fast-paced to keep up with, much in the style of The Dark Knight times 10 with flying through buildings and shooting heat rays. I found a little bit of the commercialism hokey, but those are modern movies. I secretly hoped the Sears they kept having me look at would be destroyed.
I especially liked the snippets of Clark’s childhood, which were taken seemingly from 2010’s Secret Origins graphic novel. Which makes sense, since David S. Goyer wrote it. In some ways, having Superman talk less, meant that when he spoke, it meant something. And I was really impressed with Superman’s ethics. Contrary to what some critics say, I never felt that he was responsible for all of the destruction Zod caused. Rather, Zod doesn’t think the humans and Kryptonians can live together, and so Superman is the only one who can stop him. I think throughout the film he saves as many lives as he can; in fantastic ways!
I was a little bothered by the comment by a villainess that Zod was acting on behalf of evolution, and by Martha Kent’s comments about Clark’s Earth father in the end. It could be insinuated that Superman isn’t a man of science, when in fact he is a super genius. But, the movie seems to take “less is more” to a new level in terms of Superman’s dialogue. As I said though I was impressed with the fights and his ethics. His first fighting words to Zod are: “Stay away from my mother!” When the chips are down, he defends himself, which is all we really need from a Good Guy like Superman.
People throughout the film are always trying to get him to choose between Earth ways and Krypton. So, I didn’t think that the “angst” was all that misplaced. It was a symptom of a bicultural background and his body adapting to an alien planet. Remembering what that shaman said to me about being from another planet, I couldn’t help but think, “That son of a gun made me Superman!” the adaptation was well-depicted. As I said, the “angst” is there, but it doesn’t overshadow his heroism in the alien invasion…and I got the sense that he tried to save lives. Rather than speaking about what both parents taught him, he acts on the idea that he can represent the best of both worlds.
The action is super. Zod is a perfect counterpart to Superman…even though its decidedly a different one from the 80s. He will never stop to protect Krypton, so he must kill Earth. He is what new Khan should have been. BUT, on the same side, he never stops talking either, which makes it so that Superman is his PERFECT opposite…but gets a little tiresome. Superman is purely good because Zod is purely evil gets repeated in some way over and over!
My favorite part was when Superman first tackles Zod and it turns into a big fight, with clear good and evil sides. I was admittedly a little disappointed that they kept pressing the hope message (on the Superman symbol; hope in a movie is just fine.) but I can accept that this is a new interpretation. I was a little disappointed in the new Superman theme, which seemed to contain nothing but a sleepily rising trumpet sound. I kept waiting for the theme to rise with the signature three notes, but it does so very flatly. It leaps, but doesn’t fly.
All in all, the film has a solid sci-fi background, plenty of good action, and a fair story if a bit nebulous at times due to Superman’s sparse dialogue. It seems the filmmakers wanted us to see all the Good things in him by comparing him to pure evil. Which to be fair, has worked before. I just didn’t get the sense that Superman was proactively good. His ethics are a superbly demonstrated ying-yang. Less is more again!
I’d definitely recommend this movie to everyone. It’s not perfect, but it’s a new interpretation. Scenes and dialogue (including some Grant Morrison-inspired lines!) are readily visible! This is a good Superman for a new era! Action-packed and sci-fi heavy. I loved the action! But, was I inspired? Well…I was inspired…in leaps, not bounds! A good re-boot, but I could’ve used a little more heroic banter; I’m just more Marvel that way!