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Movie Review: MAN OF STEEL – **SPOILERS!!**

June 15, 2013

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…not this guy…

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NOW we’re talking!

 

It’s been said that there are no more original stories to be told; there are only new ways of telling them. The world may have heard the same old stories told over and over again, but it hasn’t heard it in your voice. Well, now Zack Snyder has added his voice to the chorus of storytellers who have spun the tale of Krypton’s last son; and the ensemble is all the richer for it.

All flowery language aside – Man of Steel is a freakin’ great time at the theater.

The origin tale is very familiar, but it’s told in such a way to make it interesting enough to see again. Without giving away any plot points, it sets up the antagonist, General Zod, and his motivation perfectly. There’s just the smallest room for sympathy, but it’s quickly overshadowed by the menace he represents – not just to earth, but to Krypton itself.

More on Zod in a mo’…

The scene where Kal-El (Superman’s given name) is placed into the spaceship to send him to earth is actually emotional! In previous iterations I’ve never really felt that Kal’s parents were particularly sad to send their one and only child to an alien world. Here you actually see and feel the pain, especially in his mother, as they do not what they would want to do, but what they must do, for, of course, the planet only has days before it explodes. The scene is made even more poignant, and the stakes are even raised a bit, by some interference by Zod.

Now, some may say that there’s really no point to adding that element in because we all know the story – Superman’s going to make it to earth. However, the way it’s done you can actually feel the danger of the situation and genuinely wonder, will he make it? Of course you have to go into the movie leaving your cynicism at the door. If by nature you’re a troll, then, well, there ain’t no power in the ‘verse that can put a smile on your face let alone the film in question.

From there Snyder begins taking the story not in a new direction, but spins it in a new order. Perhaps he’s taken some cues from the TV show Smallville and/or some of the comics and in a series of flashbacks and flash-forwards shows some of the highlights of Kal’s time on earth as he tries to discover himself.

One of my favorites is a particularly poignant scene in which young Clark (the name his earth parents, Jonathan and Martha Kent, give him) is at school and suddenly his super-hearing, super-sight, x-ray vision and heat vision manifest, virtually simultaneously and freak him out. His teacher thinks he’s just being weird, but when his mother is called in to help with the situation – as he’s locked himself in a janitor’s closet – the way she deals with it…just, wow; made this sentimental moviegoer a bit misty.

Again, like the scene where we see an actual emotional attachment between Kal and his Krypto parents, in this film we see the bonds of love form between Clark and his earth parents, so when they’re placed in danger we can actually believe that Clark is genuinely afraid for their safety.

Speaking of which, another of my favorite moments is when Zod threatens Clark’s mom. When he arrives on the scene as Superman it’s one of the first times he actually flips out saying something to the effect of, “LEAVE – MY – MOM – ALONE!!” accentuating each word with a super-punch, taking the two of them miles away from the Kent homestead.

Speaking of General Zod! I can’t think of a better movie villain that I’ve seen in a while. Loki in The Avengers is alright, but just a little too heavy on the manipulative side and he himself doesn’t pose much of an actual threat to our heroes. The Red Skull in Captain America is actually quite good, now that I think about it. Of course the Joker in the Dark Knight is quite good, too. The villain of Chronicle definitely ranks up there. Apart from those guys I can’t really think of any really good, dyed-in-the-wool villains that the audience really loves to hate and poses a real threat to the hero and his loved ones.

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“Kneel before Zod!” is definitely NOT what he’s saying here.

Zod yells, carries on and does everything but laugh maniacally (I think) but he’s never obnoxious or over-the-top about it. He’s just really passionate about his life goals and has a non-existent tolerance for stupidity (as he defines stupidity (basically anyone who disagrees with him)).

When he and Supes have their final, epic showdown, the two are pretty evenly matched. Since Kryptonians get their powers on earth from our sun, they have just that: the same powers and strength and such. While Zod has military training on his side, Superman has 33 years of life in the sun on his side giving him superior strength and endurance; the only thing holding him back from completely flipping out on Zod is his moral code.

During the fight we see played out why Edna Mode, fashion designer for The Incredibles, insists on “No capes!” The film also, whether Snyder intended it or not, gives a great illustration for the death penalty. There’s also an interesting subtext about fate versus free will – there’s even a visual nod to the Matrix!

I’ve read a review or two that compares this film to Richard Donner’s version from 1978, the one that really propelled Superman into the limelight for the first time. There have been criticisms leveled at this film that it’s too somber, not all that fun and nothing like Donner’s version. Well, for one thing, that’s kind of the point. I think that was Bryan Singer’s fatal flaw with Superman Returns which was released in theaters just a few years ago and then quickly swept under the rug. That film wasn’t awful – I especially think the musical score, which is based on the iconic theme from John Williams, is quite epic and it gives me goosebumps every time I listen to it – but the film as a whole is almost a beat-for-beat remake of the Donner flick rather than a continuation of the saga.

Instead of trying to capture the spirit of the Donner flick, Snyder tried to capture the spirit of the original story of Superman which comes from the comics – and on that level he succeeds magnificently. If I wanted to see a Richard Donner Superman film I’d watch the film directed by Richard Donner.

Yes, there is more of a somber tone to this flick, but that doesn’t keep it from being fun. The sheer spectacle of seeing the super-people duke it out is just fantastic. The emotional stakes for the characters is at just the right level to make you care about the characters; and that of course speaks to the effective characterizations.

And you see lots of stuff that hasn’t been done before – a lot due to technological constraints up until now. And yeah – duh, there are a lot of computer generated effects. If that’s your beef, you need to cook that roast and eat it quick because we are well-ensconced in the digital age. Instead, like I said before, turn off your cynical switch, let the story take you away to Krypton and then back to earth and you’ll have a good time. And by the way, the effects are top-notch making the ludicrous speed, titan strength and epic flights well within the realm of the plausible if such beings existed.

On the note of fun, there are a couple of clever little jokes laid here and there, but not overstated so as to avoid camp. There’s a nice little visual that tests the axiom of Superman being more powerful than a locomotive and faster than a speeding bullet. And if you look fast enough, you’ll spot a chuckle-worthy sight gag when the final showdown finds its way to a construction site; but blink and you’ll miss it.

Overall, this telling of the Superman story represents a more plausible scenario should a super-being ever fall into our planet’s lap. Just like real life there are serious moments and there are light-hearted ones. I’d only recommend it for whole families in which the children are at least past the age of 10 – it is rated PG-13, after all, but I think that’s a bit much myself. It is, however, appropriate, considering the more real-life way things are handled and little kids get bored easily (I witnessed it at my screening). That said, it’s fun, it’s neat, it’s freakin’ epic.

Go see it.

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6 Comments
  1. I might give this one a skip.. 🙂

    • Do you mean the post or the film? I’m guessing if you mean the post it’s because you don’t want the movie spoiled – or you read the post and now don’t want to see the movie…

      • I meant the movie. But not because of your post, ha ha. Im just not a fan of those. *waiting to be stoned by you now* haha.

  2. Ha – no, that’s fine. Different strokes for different folks. 😉

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