Monday, June 17, 2013

Man of Steel Review

If you're a super-hero nerd like myself, you have been anticipating Man of Steel for a long time and now that it's finally out you have either already seen it or you are wondering why the reviews for it seem to be so mediocre.  Having seen the movie I would have to say I'm slightly surprised by the stale response that critics had toward Man of Steel.  I was really into it.  Like all movies these days, it is impossible not to compare it to the slew of super-hero movies that have inundated cinemas for the past, let's say decade. Take this movie and release it 10 or even 5 years ago and it would have been one of the best things anyone has ever seen.  As such I can only conclude if you generally like super hero movies and don't like Man of Steel, it was for 1 of a few reasons.  Among them.

1) It wasn't Chris Nolan's Dark Knight Franchise.
2) It wasn't the Avengers.
3) Your standards for a movie about a guy who flies around in blue spandex are too high.

I'm not saying the movie was a flawless masterpiece, quite the contrary.  Just that it's a victim of it's own hubris and few movies could live up to the expectations that were placed on this Man of Steel movie.  I was never bored by it, except maybe during the last set-piece (more on that in a bit). The story was great and the action was for the most part fantastic.  Tonally, I would say it is somewhere between the brooding Dark Knight films and the action packed Avengers.  The movie was severely lacking humour though.  Don't get me wrong, I'm glad the movie wasn't the perpetual wise-cracking slapstick that was Iron Man 3. That wouldn't be consistent with the character.  But it didn't have to take itself as seriously as it did either.

It almost felt like 2 different movies. For the first 30 to 60 minutes, I was watching something spectacular.  The cinematography was gorgeous and it really drew me in.  It took its time telling a story.  This movie has Krypton like you have never seen it before, with eye-popping visuals, complex culture and politics.  They did a good job of giving us the Superman backstory without getting too bogged own in it.  It reminded me of Batman Begins.  They jump around in time so that you only get the information you need (though director Zack Snyder doesn't do it nearly as well as Chris Nolan).  By the time Clark Kent becomes Superman you're like, "Already?  Well, that was pretty cool."

And then, problems start to pop up.  The characters do and say things that don't make any sense.  Martha Kent's (Diane Lane) reaction to Superman saying, "I've found my people!" Was little more than a dry, "Good for you."  As if she couldn't care less.  Had I been Superman at that moment I would have been like, "Good for me...?  My people are aliens!  From outer space and I found them!  Our planet blew up, they're all dead!  Do you know what a planet is, Mom?  Also, I can freaking fly!  Mom?  Are you awake?"
Superman: "Mom, I'm from another planet that exploded and I'm the last of my kind."
Martha Kent: "Meh..."

You may have seen the scene in trailers where a young Superman, after rescuing a bunch of children from drowning in a bus, asks his father, "What was I supposed to do?  Let them die."  And a morally bankrupt Jonathan Kent played by Kevin Costner basically says, "Yes." Really??  The idea is supposed to be that Superman's adopted father is so worried that people will persecute Superman when they find out he's an alien, that he should keep his powers a secret, even if it means standing by and watching people die.  It gets a little strange.

"Clark... God clearly wanted those children to die. I know you have super powers but I don't want you going around saving people's lives!"
And then the ultimate sin of this movie comes in the last 45 minutes.  Non-stop, mind-numbing, senseless action.  There are times when the action is great.  But the final set-piece is way too long.  It was ALMOST as tedious to sit through as the ending of Transformers 2 and 3.  Buildings are crumbling to bits, Superman endlessly punches the villain, sending him flying through walls and even into outerspace.  At a certain point someone throws a train at Superman and then an orbital satellite which just made me laugh out loud.  It was overkill.  You'll hear this phrase in many reviews of Man of Steel.  "Less is more!"

Was the movie too melodramatic at some points?  Definitely.  But other times it was spot on.  Other times the action or the pacing just seemed off.  Other times it was perfect.  Henry Cavill's Superman didn't have great chemistry with anyone on screen from his parents to Amy Adams' Lois Lane.  I think he was trying too hard to be alien and otherworldly.  Sometimes it actually worked quite well in a scene, other times it was just creepy and weird. But there is no denying that he looks the part.

At the end of the day I would say, aside from a few misfires, it's a good movie.  After the origin story, which is as well known as the story of Jesus at this point, Man of Steel becomes an alien invasion story done sufficiently.  The invaders have history, and culture and motivation and are lead by a charismatic General Zod played by Michael Shannon who many critics feel was not in full form, but still very good.

The movie is inconsistent.  Its high points are incredibly high, and it's low points are jarring enough to take you out of the movie entirely.  But in many ways this is the Superman movie a lot of us have been waiting for.  Finally, he gets a worthy adversary!  The battle scenes in this movie are what has been missing from our Man of Steel all these years.
Time for an epic fight!  And by epic I mean long.
So, if you're a fan of Superman, comic books or the DC universe, I suggest you just roll with it.  Not all movies can be Dark Knight, or Avengers.  On the bright side the movie isn't Daredevil or Spider-man 3 either (yet).  Besides, we have tolerated all kinds of sub-par super hero movies.  When I think of Marvel's Thor, Captain America and Iron Man 2 as build ups to the Avengers, I would have to say that Man of Steel is at least as good or better than those, though it would have benefit from a little humour here and there. 

And, the good news is, with the success of this movie there is some hope that the DC Universe will finally find life at the cinema.  Justice League movie?  More Batman movies?  That's all us fanboys want.  So I choose to give Man of Steel a break and say it was enough that it wasn't terrible.  The plot held together relatively well, it was exciting and I was rarely ever bored by it..

3.75 choo-choo trains to the face out of 5

A few very minor spoilers.  If anyone has seen the documentary, "An Evening With Kevin Smith" you will probably remember his story about the brief time he was hired to write for the Man of Steel movie.  This was back in 2001 and he tells a great story about producer Jon Peters, who is in fact one of the producers of Man of Steel today. The story goes that Jon Peters insisted that Superman have a giant spider in it for no apparent reason and that polar bears guard the Fortress of Solitude.  Though Jon Peters eventually got to shoehorn a giant spider into the movie, Wild Wild West I think it's pretty clear that the World Engine is some kind of giant spider.  Also, there is a very odd shot of a polar bear early in the movie. Start watching at 5:18 for the Jon Peters story.