Mere hours ago, I went with a friend and I went to see “Man of Steel.” As I’m sure everyone on the internet knows, this is the new Superman movie. To stop from being spoiler-tastic for those who want to know, my conclusion is that it was rather good, although not quite fangirl-squeeing good. In keeping with the style of DC, the characters tended to be more larger-than-life than those in the recent Marvel movies, yet I feel it did a good job of exploring Superman’s character beyond simply Truth, Justice, and the American Way. Tone-wise, I felt it was reminiscent of Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, but it managed to steer clear of gritty-Superman, which I personally find annoying. Overall, it was a well-done movie.
Below there be spoilers.
For those of you who have not seen this film, but want to spoiler yourselves, here is a brief summary:
The movie opens on Krypton, with Jor-El playing midwife to his wife. He later meets with the Science Council, since the planet is about to explode because they apparently mined into/out the core. And explosions look a lot better in movies than pretty much anything else. Zod shows up, verbally fights with Jor-El, takes over the planet, and kills Jor-El in front of the latter’s wife as they send their son and the genetic codex which is used to produce more Kryptonians off of the planet. We also find out that Kal-El is the first Kryptonian natural birth in centuries, the rest being produced by translucent fruit-thingies. Zod and his groupies are then sentenced to the Phantom Zone.
We then cut to some dude on a tuna boat. Things go awry, which triggers a flashback sequence that reveals that this guy is Clark Kent (aka Kal-El, aka Superman). We do this flashback thing a few more times, revealing more of his life as a child–his struggles to control his powers (including a particularly cool scene of young Clark having a slight panic attack at school from being able to hear everything going on and seeing through his classmates’ flesh) and his and his adoptive father’s debates over how much of his power he can display and when.
He then decides to work as a mover for an Antarctic expedition, which Lois Lane happens to be reporting on. Things happen and Clark finds a giant space ship. Jor-El seems to pull an Obi-Wan to explain what happened to Krypton to Clark, but really that weird key-stick thing functions as his science-horcrux, so it’s more like pulling a Voldemort. But with less soul-splitting evil. Jor explains the reasons behind what happened on Krypton, along with why Clark has super powers on earth. Also, Earth was a Kryptonian outpost 20,000 years ago. Ergo the ship.
Elsewhere in the plot, Lois becomes convinced of aliens and writes an article on it, which is rejected for teh crazies, but she sells it to some dude with a website. She then sets out to find Clark. She does, but he tells her that he wants to be a secret, so she drops it. Or at least she does until Zod shows up, having escaped the Phantom Zone upon the destruction of Krypton and gone in search of the Codex, and demands Kal-El or he will destroy earth and she’s the only one who knows where he is.
Kal-El/Clark turns himself in and Zod takes Clark and Lois (for reasons) onto his ship. Clark passes out, due to the fact that his super powers came from the properties of Earth’s atmosphere and sun. In a ship that’s meant to mimic Krypton, he’s only as strong as a human. In some sort of I’m-in-your-head-hero dream sequence, he learns that Zod is looking for the Codex to create more Kryptonians and that he plans on using other magic technologies to make Earth into Krypton (and inhospitable to humans).
Meanwhile, Lois plugs in the science-horcrux, allowing Jor-El’s cosciousness to fuse into the ship. This also allows him to enable her to escape and explain everything Kal will need to know.
A bunch of fighting ensues. Much of this is Zod’s Dragon, a Kryptonian woman named Faora, being a BAMF. We learn that Jor-El fused the Codex with his son, so within Superman’s cells is the genetic information to make an entire race of Kryptonians. But Superman manages to destroy/send away all the Kryptonian technology, as Zod and Co. refuse to try to cohabitate with humans on Earth. After all the other Kryptonians have disappeared, Superman beats Zod by killing him. He then goes to work for the Daily Planet.
I find the focus on Superman’s origins in this film to be an interesting angle. I would have expected them to go a more standard Lex Luthor-route, rather than a Zod-route. Using a lesser-known villain (outside of the comic world) allows the movie to feel fresh. It also allows them to make something that serves as both a satisfying sci-fi movie and a superhero movie.
I also think that the non-linear story telling during the first half works really well. It allows the audience it get a good grasp of Clark in the present as a driftless young man, working unskilled odd-jobs while trying to figure out where he fits in, but makes this more interesting by showing key moments in his past in which he does something remarkable. Not only do the flashbacks make the first third of the film more interesting, but they also add depth to Clark’s character and explained just how he became who he is in the present plotline.
All of this serves to add depth and a bit of angst to the character of Superman without making him gritty. He does have a bit of a tragic past–he’s an alien who doesn’t fit in and he has some guilt over not having saved the life of his adoptive father. Yet, he isn’t Nolan’s Bruce Wayne, who abandons his life to learn martial arts, whose real life is an act, who locks himself away for eight years after the death of a loved one. But this is not his motivation for becoming a hero. His father’s death makes Clark seek to honor his wishes by staying secret, not to seek vengeance or repentance. Clark is isolated, but his feelings for his adoptive parents are strong and never questioned. His desire to be a hero comes from the fact that he knows he can make a difference and a belief that you have to trust in others, even if they don’t yet trust you. These things give him an emotional grounding that prevents Superman from ever being too dark. (This isn’t an attack on Nolan’s Batman. I think was he did was good–for Batman. And, as much as I prefer Batman to Superman, I hate when people make Superman into Batman.)
As far as the more technical aspects go, I felt that this movie was very well done. They blended the live-action and CGI elements well and the movie was visually striking enough to be cool without distracting you with “look at this pretty thing”ness. I also liked that consciouness-Jor-El would just appear around every corner, rather than having to move from place to place. I’m not sure why that struck me, but it did.
I also thought that all of the actors did a good job. I really enjoyed Crowe’s performance as Jor-El and I think Henry Cavill’s portrayal is probably part of the reason the angst was able to stay slight-Superman-angst instead of swaying to the grim-dark. Amy Adams also successfully transitioned from fairy-princess to serious journalist.
As a final note, I really, really, really liked Faora-Ul. She was fantastic. I liked the emphasis that was given to her as one of the primary baddies (I think she even got more screen-time than Zod). And, weird as it sounds, I like that she and Superman legitimately fought. A lot of movies will try to avoid sympathetic male characters hitting female characters. But they went for it. Because there’s no reason not to when the characters are supposed to be evenly-matched opponents. Also, good job, Antje Traue. You played that character well. You got a good level of evil, badass crazy going on there.
This movie didn’t really do anything that stood out to me as dumb. Could have had more emphasis on Superman’s mothers was the main thing I noticed. It kinda went for the a boy coming of age story for a bit, so I understand the emphasis on his relationship with this fathers, but both his biological and adoptive mothers obviously loved him.
Also, I’m not sure how I felt about their Lois Lane. Especially in the beginning, she seemed rather feisty. This may be a personal thing, but I’m not a fan of the feisty. Showing up to a military base a day early doesn’t really show that you won’t take anyone’s crap, it shows that you’re a bit of a security risk. I understand the whole “she wants to find the real story” thing, but I just found that to be a breach of etiquette, and risky behavior, when I felt the movie was asking me to see her as cool. Again, I don’t think this is so much of a failing of the movie as something that bothers me, personally. We all of character types we’re not too keen on. Early-movie Lois Lane just wasn’t my cup of tea, though she grew on me as the movie progressed.
The Things Even More Uta-Specific Than the Above
So, I’ve recently been on a bit of a Les Miserables kick. After seeing the movie, which was clearer than the theater productions that I had seen (because “oh, no, Anne Hathaway is a prostitute!” is clearer than “is that girl from early singing about being a prostitute or is this someone else?”–I’m pretty spacy in theaters), I finally recognized as Hugo-y and, as with all Hugo things, I was obliged to read it in a state of obsession. As such, there was part of me concerned that I would not be able to separate Crowe as Jor-El from Crowe as Javert, which I enjoyed immensely. (Yes, I understand the arguments for why Crowe’s Javert was the Worst Thing to Happen to Musical Theater Ever, but all I can says is that those things didn’t happen bother me and I personally connected with his portrayal of the inspector.) However, his Jor-El was sufficiently different, to the point that the only way I could connect them was consciously choosing to bring them together in my mind.
What I guess I’m really trying to say is, Russell Crowe: he’s a really good actor. Who would’ve guessed?
Or, rather, Uta: telling you award winning actors are good at acting since 2013.