Bombastic, fantastic and heroic Man of Steel brings Superman back to the silver screen, without having the temerity to name him. It’s been a box office hit so far ($600m + wordwide income), despite some critical snarking.
The first third of the movie gives us the full origin story with long, lush scenes on Krypton showing a planet falling apart, and a etiolated, militaristic society collapsing in the face of its own arrogance. Kal-El (Superman) is propelled into space by his parents, shortly followed by the eventual villains of the story. The familiar story takes us to America and we watch him grow into a handsome beefcake before losing his earth father and taking on the mantle of protector of the earth. A long sequence of thumping ensues until the end when, exhausted, we arrive at the one funny moment of the entire movie.
I paused when I wrote that sub-tltle. This movie is an honest attempt to bring Siegal and Schuster’s quentessential all-American hero up to date. It takes a giant stride away from the revered Christopher Reeves movies with their clean-cut, uncomplicated storylines and attempts to push it towards the darkness of the Dark Knight movies. I guess it succeeded to some degree.
I went to see this with my partner, daughter (11) and son (18) and between us we represent a mix of the cynical to the enthusiastic, as far as superhero movies are concerned. I think we agreed on the the best bits:
- The depiction of the planet of Superman’s birth and his fiercely moral parents was fantastic, believable and brought some new elements to a well-worn story.
- The technology was not too shiny! I particulalry enjoyed the grungy pods, buildings and spaceships of Krypton which had a lived-in look unfamiliar to the bulging grotesquerie that occupied the Green Lantern’s overblown filmic world.
- Every scene with Clark Kent’s parents, particularly Kevin Costner. The emotional core of the film centred around this earth family and his earth-parents’ determination to keep their adopted son grounded.
- Superman flying for the first time, after a few false starts. This was spectactular and everything you want from a superman movie. I wish it had stopped there
- Amy Adams as Lois Lane. Ah, now she could flirt with a stick and make it look sexy. Sometimes Henry Cavill was a bit of a stick, so upright and darned noble. Her warmth lit the film, especially when surrounded by the stark metal walls of various prisons and ships.
- The polar opposite to the lovable Lois Lane character was Zod’s indomitable second in command, Faora played by the gritty, proud and powerful talents of Antje Traue.
- Henry Cavill. A modern Christopher Reeves, with no baggage to carry into the film. He was a good choice and not consumed by the part. His interations with his parents were as touching and he certainly looked the part.
- The main issue with this film is the Man of Steel’s invincibility which I felt strained at the credibility of the film throughout. In the end Superman is not particularly bright but is very strong. His answer to most problems is to bash his way through them. The beauty of Iron Man or Spiderman is that they have strength but not unlimited amounts so they have to use a degree of ingenuity to survive against superior or reckless opponents. In this film Superman’s opponents all come from the same planet, so have all of his physical advantatges on earth, so we are subjected to the bare-knuckle fight to end all bare knuckel fights. Frankly, it’s boring. Cut 90% of the fighting out and the film would be 90% better.
- Combine this with a thorough lack of humour and I found this film severely lacking in some basic elements. We can’t escape the fact that Superman is a superhero and this is a fantasy but The Avengers movie (with the Hulk punching Thor and using Loki as a ragdoll) contains some standout funny moments and this balances the portentous story, makes us feel part of the story. In Man of Steel the one funny moment is right at the end, and at the show I went to see the whole audience burst out after all the noise and damage, with a massive cathartic guffaw. If you’ve not seen the film, I’ll not spoil it for you, but it involves a female soldier openly admiring Superman for something other than his obvious strength. More of that would have made a big difference to this movie.
- Zod. Actually he was well acted by Michael Sheen, and convincing, but it’s hard to get past a cheesy 1940s name like Zod.
- Superman’s real dad, Jor-el, played by Russell Crowe was very good in the first part of the film, back on Krypton, but really not when he reappeared as a ghost in the machine later on. Perhaps Crowe (immortalised by his brilliant performance in Gladiator) has a clause in his contract that says he’s only allowed to deliver wooden lines, as a piece of wood. His door-opening gestures were unintentially hilarious.
- And back to that endless fight sequence that occupied the last third of my life, er sorry the film, when buildings crash to the ground, don’t people don’t get hurt? And what about several buildings? Don’t even more people get hurt? Well, not in this film.
The end of the film certainly sets us up with a range of options. Now there’s talk of Superman vs Batman (confirmed at the San Diego Comic-con by Zack Snyder, a Justice League of America, possible a Supergirl movie, and DC is finally pulling itself together, a few years after Marvel straightened out its own universe so that the movies could all work together.
But, if Lex Luther appears in any of these new movies, I will not go. I cannot stand Lex Luther, the most odious, tedious comic book villain that ever lived. Sorry. Always felt like that.
Ratings (out of five stars)
Entertainment value: *** Story rating: ***
So, the overall rating is:
A ho-hum ***
- Supergirl story to come? See the DC comic book prequel to this film story, here.
- Some other reviews from Rotten Tomatos here.
- These Fantastic World Links: 2013: Top 10 SF and Fantasy Movies, Iron Man 3 Movie Review
What did you think? Was it worth the wait? Did the Man of Steel work for you? Please leave a comment below. Thank you.