My Thoughts on Man of Steel

(SPOILERS! Don’t go below the symbol if you haven’t seen it!)

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All the key points are there, well, most of them. Jor-el, Lara and the birth of Kal-el, Krypton (and yes, it blows up real good, for those of you that heard that it didn’t), Earth (of course), Jonathan, Martha and Clark Kent, Smallville, Metropolis, Lois Lane, Perry White, big fights, massive property damage, x-ray and heat vision. The ones that aren’t are not things I’ve ever thought of as deal breakers in a Superman movie. What’s missing from this list? Things and characters you’ve seen in every other Superman film but not this one? Jimmy Olsen, Lex Luthor, glasses on Clark Kent (until the last scenes, that is), the split-personality relationship between Clark, Superman and Lois, the Fortress of Solitude (ice pillar palace or cliff face with giant yellow door, which, unfortunately, never made a cinematic appearance, I miss that giant yellow door and airplane marker key!) and Kryptonite. I didn’t miss them, especially Luthor and Olsen (although there was a rumor that the female intern that was trapped in the street that Perry and Steve Lombard were trying to rescue was Jenny Olsen, I didn’t stay for the credit roll since I had to pee and stop my ears from bleeding from the IMAX soundtrack.

To get this film made, and to get an audience in sufficient numbers to jump-start the DC Comics film franchise beyond periodic Batman trilogies, changes had to be made from the previous attempts and from the comics, I knew that going in, I was prepared for them and, thanks to the Internet I was aware of a lot of them years ago. Things like the suit – I accept that, the no red trunks thing, no real problem here. Perry White is black, who cares? Not me. Pete Ross is white again. (He was black in Smallville, he was created as white, blond and fit in the comics, now he’s white and fat in Man of Steel, but really, he’s a fourth tier character so he’s lucky to be in there in any form!) Therefore I was feeling pretty good about my level of acceptance of the differences between the Man of Steel with whom I grew up and the newest cinematic offering. Until the last, climactic scene of the movie. More on that later when I spoil the ending.

(This paragraph has little or nothing to do with Man of Steel so skip it if your are only interested in movie bits.) My film (TV really) Superman is and always will be George Reeves of The Adventures of Superman. I encountered that show at an impressionable age and George Reeves will always be Clark Kent/Superman in my mind. And I place Kent before Superman because I actually prefer Reeves Clark any other actor’s version. He played Kent as a hard edged investigative journalist who just happened to strip off in alleyways towards the end of each episode to justify the name of the show! The first season of that series is a great example of action, adventure, mystery and a little more terror than you would have expected in a kid’s series from the mid 50s. Each episode was like a mini serial adventure with thrills and chills galore. Then the sponsors made them tone it down and become a truly bland kid’s show. Christopher Reeve was the best actor to embody the classic comic Superman. He looked like a good Clark but I thought he went too far with the timidity. But that scene in his first film in Lois’ apartment, when Clark straightens up and let’s his voice go deep – that’s the best transition I’ve seen. But there was too much Otis/Luthor foolishness in those films for them to supplant the first season of the George Reeves TV series for me. My comic book Superman is the Curt Swan drawn version from the early 60s and 70s written by many authors and edited by Mort Weisinger and Julius Schwartz. Comics made for kids, but I was a kid then so it worked for me. Since then there have been many reboots and gradual revisions in the character, some of which I followed, some that were too extreme for me, nevertheless my lifetime of haunting comic shops have allowed me to be aware of them even if I didn’t read and collect them. I mention this, for those who have read this paragraph, to establish a basis for my comments on the new movie.
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The production design for the Krypton scenes was unlike anything I’ve seen before. Instead of the sterile ice planet of the Richard Donner/Chris Reeve films we get an H. R. Giger look on a worn-out desolate planet with 4 winged critters as private transport. Kryptonian display devices consist of an exaggerated version of those toys made of tightly packed pins or nails that push up or down to make a fist or other things you press into them. Interesting but it makes for a dull, monochromatic planet. And it begs the question, why is the Kryptonian suit for Clark in red, yellow and blue when every other Kryptonian from Jor-el to Zod dressed in blacks, grays or browns?
Kryptonian ArmorThe movie is not at all linear in it’s storytelling. It jumps back and forth from adult Clark to young Clark, which is fine, I found it easy to follow. But the camera work in many of the scenes is unnecessarily jerky. It sorely needed a steadicam. Perhaps Snyder did this to make a fantasy film seem more realistic but all he did was give me headache!

Henry Cavill makes an excellent Superman with a spectacular physique and a face that matches the comics better than many of his predecessors. His Clark Kent demonstrates  the conflicted feelings presented by his fear of using his extraordinary abilities, instilled in him by Jonathan Kent, played by Kevin Costner. The two younger actors, Cooper Timberline and Dylan Sprayberry, who play Clark are also adept at playing the isolated, frightened boy. Amy Adams is a very good Lois Lane. (A few words here about the digital image in films these days. The image is so clear, sharp and detailed I, for one, find myself getting distracted from the movie by seeing all the pores, moles, folds and imperfections in the extreme close-ups on the actor’s faces. Laurence Fishburne’s face looks like it’s made of concrete!) All of the actors do well in their roles. Of them all I was only disappointed in Jonathan Kent and that was in the writing of the character. I thought they made him too stern and paranoid towards the eventual fate of his adopted son. That would have been mollified with a scene or two of he and Clark enjoying one another’s company.
Film Review Man of Steel
What makes for a successful film these days are long, violent fight scenes and massive property damage. Man of Steel has those in abundance, possibly more than we saw in The Avengers. While watching the Metropolis scenes I kept thinking of the massive death toll in all those collapsed buildings. Another blog told me what was bothering me about all that implied death, in The Avengers we were shown scenes of the super heroes acting to save innocent bystanders in addition to fighting the enemy. In the Metropolis fight scenes I don’t recall seeing Superman try to save anyone. That is counter to the basic principles of the character. In the final fight scene between Superman and Zod, Superman does act to save a family but in doing that he violates another basic principle, he kills Zod, by breaking his neck. There is a precedent for this in the comics, there was a story line where Superman had to kill Zod and some other Kryptonian villains, but that was in the 90s, I believe, not my Superman. The classic Superman always finds other ways to defeat the villain rather than killing. (Of course that was when Superman, and comics in general, were a disposable, cheap entertainment medium for children. Comics today are neither, they exist as springboards for movies (if they aren’t, they want to be) and have been aimed at an adult audience for decades.)
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So, not a perfect Superman film, in my considered opinion, but, I think it went less astray from the Superman of the comics than did Superman Returns several years ago. The changes in the suit for Man of Steel are more acceptable to me than than those in Superman Returns. I don’t like the killing of Zod and the lack of concern for bystanders in Man of Steel but since the killing happened in the comics I find it better than the Peeping Tom use of x-ray vision and the illegitimate son in Superman Returns.

When it comes out on DVD I’ll buy it, if only to rewatch it without having to stick my fingers in my ears during the battle scenes!

Addendum, a couple of days later;
I’ve read several reviews of the film and I’d like to pass on links to two. The first is from writer Mark Waid, the second is by Steven Padnick at the TOR Books site.
I can sympathize with both in some measure. I don’t hate the movie as Mr. Padnick does but had this film caught me at a different point in my life I would have. I’m more cynical now (if you know me you might find that hard to believe) and I realize the people behind this film were only interested in making money, and it did that. Our society has become much darker, violent and unpleasant than when I was first becoming the Superman fan that I still am. To reach the youth market these days you’ve got to be dark, destructive and willing to kill.

Now if you will excuse me I’m going to go to my bookshelves and read my SHOWCASE editions of the 60s Superman and John Byrne’s Man of Steel series.

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One Response to “My Thoughts on Man of Steel”

  1. Great review, from the lucrative weekend box office returns it’s clearly been successfully tailored to the tastes of modern younger moviegoers, unfortunately that’s not me. I rather miss the noble innocence that once went along with the role of Superman, pure of heart and honourable strength of character. I can’t say I’m glad to hear that Superman murders the villain no matter what the storyline motivation is. But then again, I’m not the target audience who just want to see the equivalent of a violent video game on screen.
    It sounds like they got it.

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