Cinepub


Review: Man of Steel by Jamie

Superman. There was a time that when someone said the word superhero, the big blue boy scout was the image that would pop into your head. That might not be so true nowadays what with the proliferation of superheroes as a whole in the pop culture milieu nowadays. Sure, there were some who’d think Batman but those people would be wrong. Batman isn’t a superhero, he’s just an awesome detective in a bat costume. Would you call Sherlock Holmes a superhero? Probably not, not even if you dressed him as a small flying mammal.

Anyway, my point is that Superman is THE Superhero. He was the one that kicked of an entire genre of comic books and set the standard on which later heroes would be based. The cape, the spandex, the secret identity? All a result of Superman. Still, Superman himself has had a rather spotty record when it comes to his cinematic outings. Sure, the first two Superman films starring Christopher Reeve were great if perhaps a little too campy when looked back upon now. Then came the third which inexplicably starred Richard Pryor as someone who’s good at computers for some reason. The less said about Superman IV the better.

Supes finally returned nineteen years later in well, Superman Returns. It was not considered a success. It’s been a while since I’ve watched it myself but I don’t think I hated it. It was just a thing that kind of happened and that was that. And it’s not surprising that it was a failure to be honest. The cinematic superhero genre had come a long way since the first series of film. This was film was released not long after the first two X-Men films and the first two Spider-Man films had come out and kind of redefined what a comic book movie was. People wanted deep characters with deep motivations. Superman was not these things.

Let’s be honest for a moment. Superman is a boring character. Yes, I’ll admit that he deserves a little respect for being the first but an indestructible, flying man with lasers for eyes who only has one weakness is just not interesting. Throw in the fact that his motivation never really developed much further beyond “Truth, Justice and the American Way”. That kinda shit just doesn’t fly anymore.

So DC recently relaunched their entire universe (sort of) in 2011 and I bought each of the new number ones. I liked the stuff that they did with Superman. He was no longer specifically on the idea of the law but rather a Superman of the people, doing what was right not necessarily what the government wanted. He was a Superman for the Occupy generation. Also his powers had been toned down somewhat since he was a younger character still developing his them. It was an interesting concept and one that I enjoyed even though I didn’t stick with buying any more of them.

So could Zack Snyder, David Goyer and Christopher Nolan bring the world’s first superhero into the 21st century on the big screen? Well…

Look, I didn’t hate this movie. I want to get that out of the way right up front. It’s just that I can’t say that I really liked it either. So let’s get into what I did like first. One of my biggest problems with Superman has always been that Lois Lane is supposed to be one of the bet journalists on the planet and yet she can’t tell that someone is the same person when they remove a pair of glasses. I’ll suspend disbelief that Supes is from an alien planet where evolution has resulted in a dominant species identical to ours and that being from said planet grants him abilities such as invulnerability, flight and laser eyes. Fine. But that Lois Lane thing is a step too far and this movie solves that problem brilliantly in a way that resonates with the character.

I also really enjoyed the opening scenes on Krypton though they were somewhat rushed and involved characters yelling exposition at each other but you know what? I can live with that. It’s a movie and, as important as Krypton is to the Superman mythos, it’s not the main focus of the character. Still it might have been nice to flesh out the character of Zod a little better during these scenes. Despite this, like I said, I enjoyed the sequence though it did feature one of the oddest design choices I have ever seen in a film. Zod and his followers are sealed in stasis pods. Here, I done a rough art of what these pods look like:

Kneel Before Zod’s Giant Bronze Space Penis!

I’m not kidding either. Zod and his followers are literally locked away in giant, bronze dongs. They even have the beginnings of little scrotal sacks at the bottom. I get it. You want something that will fit a human being standing to attention inside it. You have to account for the feel and the rest can be a long pole-looking structure. Fine, that would have resembled a somewhat cartoonish penis, I would have giggled and we all could have gotten on with the movie but to actually put a bulbous head at the top of the shaft… I mean, seriously? Did nobody notice this during production? They had to have, right? So does that mean that this was entirely done on purpose? It’s just… Wow.

Anyway, where was I? Oh right, giant bronze penises. I mean Man of Steel. Ok. Another thing I enjoyed was the action. You know what, it was big, it was loud and it was awesome. I’ll admit that by this point I’d completely lost interest in the story. The villains motivations were inexplicable which is kinda becoming a theme in blockbuster movies lately but the action scenes got me through it. It was the first time I got a sense of just how powerful the Kryptonians on Earth. Obviously this is a little unfair to the previous films since didn’t have the kind of effects that this film does but it really is cool to see Superman creating sonic booms as he flies or to see one the villains leaping and crashing into things. There’s weight behind it all, it feels physical and there is mass devastation as a result. It’s pretty sweet.

I’ve also gotta say that I can’t really single any actor out as being bad. Everyone was pretty much bringing their A game with Russell Crowe and Kevin Costner playing Jor-El and Jonathan Kent respectively. Also Christopher Meloni is in it and I always have respect for a man whose IMDB bio begins with “With his piercing, blue-eyed glint, brawny looks, cocky “tough guy” stance and effortless charisma, TV’s Christopher Meloni drew on his sexy Italian heritage to grab audiences attention, male and female alike, finding breakthrough stardom playing on both sides of the law.” Well played Meloni’s IMDB bio. Well played.

So what about the bad, though I’ll admit that there’s a fairly decent amount of bad listed in the stuff that I supposedly liked about the film. Well, the story is a major concern and it also has a lot to do with the way the film is put together. After we see Kal-El’s pod crash land on Earth there is a cut to Clark working on a fishing boat. It is one of the worst cuts I have ever seen in my life. It was so jarring and unnatural looking that I actually thought that there might have been a problem with the projector and the film had skipped ahead. The middle of the story then is mostly made up of flashbacks as Clark tries to find out exactly what his role in human society is. The young man is torn and conflicted due to his pa telling him that he must hide who he really is until the world is ready to accept him.

He’s a tortured soul you see, someone with amazing and incredible gifts who must hide who he is because revealing himself would terrify the people he wants to protect. He’s an X-Man, you see. Ok, that’s a little unfair. In actuality this is gritty Superman. This is tortured Superman. This is Batmanified Superman. And it doesn’t work. The problem is that I think it could work. I think that the basic core idea is a solid one. I just think they went about it in totally the wrong way. The flashbacks suck any sense of development out of the story. Showing me an adult Clark getting in a situation and then flashing back to a scene of young Clark explaining why he reacts to this situation in the way that he does is one hundred percent less effective than having the story and my understanding of the character develop naturally and organically.

Then there’s the “romance” between Superman and Lois. It just sort of happens because, you know , that’s what happens in superhero movies, right? The hero needs a damsel in distress to save and so they are forced together and are making out in a devastated city on top of what must be the corpses of literally thousands after only really meeting each other a couple of times. It’s another symptom of the fact that there just isn’t any real development going on in the characters or story taking place in the present. All of the character development is shown a having taken place in the past in flashbacks relevant to the current situation and, again, that’s a really shitty way of doing things.

Overall it’s really a shame. To have such great acting, such great action and little flashes of brilliance here and there just to have it fall down on the single most important aspect of a movie, in my mind at least, the story is the biggest disappointment of all. Still, I left the cinema feeling somewhat hopeful. This could provide the background for a really nice sequel. It almost feels as though that’s exactly what they were thinking too. Rush through this film to retell the one superhero origin story that literally every human being knows, because at this point he’s been around since before many of our grandparents were born, and we can really focus on making the next film a great one. It is Batmanified Superman after all so why not just completely follow the formula of Christopher Nolan’s Batman films? Batman Begins had the advantage of having a vastly more interesting central character than Man of Steel but it still has to be admitted that The Dark Knight is when people sat up and paid attention and so I can see it being the same way with this.

Will they be able to pull a truly epic sequel off? Only time will tell and I hope that I’m proven right. It’d be nice to see Superman reinvented properly for a new age. Of course The Dark Knight had the advantage of having the Joker as the villain. A Man of Steel sequel will have to settle for Lex Luthor and it will be Lex Luthor.

And that's terrible...

And that’s terrible…

So I come to the end of this review a little disappointed. If indeed it was their plan to get through an origin movie just to provide the backdrop for a better sequel, did they need to waste Zod on it? It’s a shame but as I said, despite this disappointment I do remain hopeful and I feel it’s right to feel that way. After all hope is what the on Superman’s chest stands for.

Oh one last thing. Zod has one line, Snyder, Nolan and Goyer. One line that he is famous for. I know you’re trying to be all gritty and serious but c’mon, you couldn’t have thrown it in?

Two pints out of five. Laterz! Giant bronze penises to you all!

(In case you’re worried, that “And it will be Lex Luthor” line isn’t a spoiler for some post credits scene. There isn’t a post credits scene. It just will be Lex Luthor in the sequel obviously.)

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