This article is going to be split into two parts. What I liked (part 1) and what I didn’t like (part 2). There will be excessive spoilers, especially in part 2, where I really get into why the film didn’t work for me, what I didn’t like about the decisions made, and why I think audiences are embracing the film. So, sit back, grab a cold soda and have a read of part 1.
Part 1: What I Liked about Man of Steel
I saw Man of Steel on opening day and walked out of the theater having had a unique experience. I loved half of the film and hated the other half. For me, this was a completely new experience; this was something that has never happened to me before. I usually either love the whole film, hate the whole thing, or are just kind of middle ground on it. Never have I had this experience where a absolutely adored some, but venomously abhorred the rest. After a couple of days of dwelling on it, after writing the spoiler-free review, I return with what I think didn’t work and why I hated some of the choices they made for the character.
Let me say first things first that I wasn’t completely against the idea of rebooting Superman. The time has passed for Christopher Reeve (Superman: The Movie, Superman II, Superman III, Superman IV: The Quest for Peace) and Brandon Routh (Superman Returns). It has passed for Tom Welling (Smallville) and Dean Cain (Lois and Clark). After the successful rebooting of Batman in Christopher Nolan’s trilogy, and seeing that Nolan was a producer, I was completely onboard with this film.
What I wasn’t onboard with initially was hiring Zack Snyder to direct. While I have liked/loved all of his films previous to this (Dawn of the Dead, 300, Watchmen, Sucker Punch, Legend of the Guardians), I personally didn’t feel that his flashy style of film making is what a Superman reboot needed. Luckily, I was wrong on that count. He did a very good job and kept the flashy, but did away with the slow down/speed up method his is known for.
Once Henry Cavill was cast as Clark Kent/Kal-El/Superman, my enthusiasm was negligible to say the least. I had seen a few films starring Cavill and all were terrible (Blood Creek, Immortals). I didn’t feel he had the right look to him to play Superman. When they released the first photo of him in costume, I just hung my head. Once again, I was wrong. He did a very serviceable job and hope that in the inevitable sequel he will be given some of that Clark Kent mojo to work.
When it came to the rest of the casting, though, I was completely onboard. Michael Shannon as Zod was a masterstroke. If you have ever seen the disturbing William Friedkin film Bug, you will know how good this man really is. Kevin Costner as Pa Kent and Diane Lane as Ma Kent were also brilliant choices that I personally would have never thought of. In fact, Kevin Costner gives the best performance in the film, even while his screen time is very minor. Russell Crowe as Jor-El? Sign me up! He does a great job as Clark’s natural Kryptonian father. When all is said and done, the casting was amazing.
I know I mentioned Michael Shannon in the previous paragraph, but I must talk a little bit about his portrayal of General Zod. In the film, Zod is not a bad guy. Sure, he does bad things, but he has been genetically engineered to do everything to save Krypton. It is in his genetic structure that he do what he deems necessary for the good of his people. Once he gets to Earth, he decides that Earth must become the new Krypton. Kal-El has all of the genetic codes for Krypton in his cells. Kal-El is the key to recreating Krypton. Zod sees this as his chance to recreate the world he was bred to save. The humans are inconsequential. Their death’s mean nothing to him. And Shannon pulls this character trait off wonderfully. In a summer where we have fantastic villain performances by Benedict Cumberbatch (Star Trek Into Darkness) and Ben Kingsley (Iron Man 3), Shannon pulls his own weight and easily stands with those two as the breakout performances of the summer.
Kevin Costner is also amazing as Johnathon Kent, Kal-El’s adoptive father. While I have always been a huge fan of Kevin Costner, here he makes one wonder why he is not in more movies of late. As the farmer father, he instills the values that will make Clark Superman. While he knows that his son is an alien, he is more concerned with keeping him safe. He fears that the world is not ready to know that there is extraterrestrial life, and Clark is the proof that there is. He fears less for the world than for his son. He just wants to keep him safe, as all fathers do. He is a kind, loving man, and Costner was the perfect choice to play the role. I cannot praise him more highly. The man made me tear up a little bit in the film.
The first half of the movie is phenomenal. The Krypton opening scenes are more science fiction film than super hero. I would gladly pay to see a whole movie set on Krypton. Gone are the cold crystals of Richard Donner’s film, replaced by a thriving world of nature and technology. After Zod attempts to take stage a coup, Jor-El sends his newborn son to Earth, the codex of all Kryptonian DNA absorbed in little Kal-El’s cells. Zod and his merry band of miscreants are sent to the Phantom Zone for their treason. Then Krypton blows up, in spectacular fashion, which, as described later in the film, frees Zod.
One of the interesting things about this 15 minute opening is that they let you know the planet is dying but also let you know that Kal-El is the first natural birth in centuries, which makes him special on Krypton, too. The rest of the babies are genetically modified and grown in bubbles to serve a particular purpose in Kryptonian society. Warrior, statesman, tradesman, etc. I thought this was a really cool concept.
We see Kal’s ship enter Earth’s atmosphere then pass over the barn of Ma and Pa Kent. The film then fast forwards to Clark working on a fishing vessel and saving a bunch of dudes on a burning oil rig. He then flashes back to elementary school. The structure of his childhood is told like this in the film. In flashbacks. And I feel that is worked wonderfully.
So, if I’m saying all of these good things about the movie, why did I only rate it 2 stars out of 4? Why is this article titled ‘Why I think Man of Steel (2013) didn’t work.’? I wanted you all to know that I was a big fan of a lot of the movie. My venom is not coming from hating the whole thing. I really, truly did love a lot of it. I feel that this clarification is necessary to expound on what I am about to talk about. Why it didn’t work.
Before I delve into that, I was having a conversation with a friend who has also seen it yesterday. He loved it. He told me that if I read one of the comics, I would probably like the film more. Now, this was just a silly statement, to me. I am talking about a film, albeit a comic book film, but I shouldn’t have to read a comic book to understand what is going on in the movie. Reading a comic should not make me appreciate the film more. They are separate mediums that do not cross over. Sure, a film can be inspired by a comic and take points from them, but the comic shouldn’t be required reading for enjoying the movie. (See the entire Nolan Batman trilogy.)
Stay tuned for Part 2, What I didn’t like about Man of Steel.
- Man of Steel (2013) review (bizzammovienews.com)