AAR at the Movies: Man of Steel

MOS

While I didn’t stand on line at midnight Thursday to see Hollywood’s latest Superman incarnation, Man of Steel, I was excited enough to drag my husband to a Friday night showing. This says much as going to the movies is often a frustrating experience because I find the general behavior of young movie-goers these days to be sorely lacking in good manners. Sitting in front of a group of teenage boys who think loudly using the “f” word is acceptable and talk to each other as if they are sharing a bucket of wings at BW3s is akin to torture for me. But I was willing to endure the packed theater because I do love me a good superhero movie.

When all was said and done, I thoroughly enjoyed Man of Steel. On the other hand, my husband did not. Here is my review of the movie, with a bit of his viewpoint thrown in because while he is often hard to impress, he did have some valid complaints.

The Very Good: Man of Steel was extremely well cast and acted. Henry Cavill has set a new bar for perfectly personifying both the every-man Clark Kent and the super-powered and super-confident Superman. And if you don’t enjoy looking at him, you might not be human yourself. Bonus points for the Brit’s fantastic American accent.

Amy Adams’ Lois Lane is spot on. In this version, she’s less of a damsel in distress and more of an active participant in the story. While this was refreshing for us modern ladies of the new millennium who appreciate a kick-butt heroine, it does cause a few eye-rolling moments when Lois shows up in places you highly doubt she’d ever be.

The supporting cast is equally superb. Michael Shannon’s Zod is dastardly enough without resorting to mustache-twirling, the Kents are well played by Kevin Kostner and Diane Lane, and I loved Laurence Fishburne as Daily Planet editor Perry White.

The Good: Given that one has to entirely suspend disbelief to accept the Superman story, I found Man of Steel to be as realistic as such a scenario could possibly be. The settings and the costuming and actions of Clark make him truly just a guy who happens to be from another planet. As long as I’ve accepted the impossibility of the story, I can imagine living in this world they’ve created because it’s pretty close to my own.

This realism is greatly helped by superb CGI and a naturalistic cinematography that avoids over-saturated colors. The Kryptonians with their sun-powered super abilities have weight and cause real destruction when they hurl each other around. Superman’s costume isn’t the flashy primary colors only seen on a kindergarten teacher’s classroom wall but rather colors that makes sense given its Kryptonian origin.

Too, Man of Steel completely avoids the camp that dates the Christopher Reeves ouvre and makes it hard to watch these days without laughing more than was probably intended by its makers. This movie takes itself seriously enough to pose and answer the question of what it might really be like if an alien came to our planet to live amongst us.

Without revealing spoilers, one way this incarnation of the Superman mythos deviates from the others and adds to the realism is its moral ambiguity. While there is never any doubt that Superman stands for truth, justice and the American Way, he’s a bit less of an overgrown Boy Scout. He gets angry and seeks revenge. His battle with Zod wreaks collateral damage in the tens of billions and a body count probably in the hundred-thousands. And a moment at the end calls into question the very nature of Superman as the perfect superhero as compared to darker figures like Batman or Iron Man.

Even father-figure icon Jonathan Kent renders advice that many would call morally questionable. After a tween Clark rescues a school-bus load of his fellow students – and is witnessed doing so – Jonathan suggests that letting those kids die might have been preferable to risking exposure. For him to suggest that acting in one’s best self-interest at the expense of the lives of others is not exactly something Jesus would do.

The Depends On Your Taste: Man of Steel deviates from the traditional linear storytelling of most movies. Other than the destruction of Krypton and Kal-El’s journey to Earth, which happen in the beginning, the majority of Clark’s growing up is told via flashback. I personally never had a problem keeping up. And since I like quieter moments in a movie, I didn’t mind the distraction from the main storyline when the action would stop for a Clark nostalgia tour. However, if you want your story told in a straight line, point A to point B and on to final point C, you may find this format annoying. My husband did.

Too, quite frequently the film employs the hand-held-camera technique which gives a frenetic, quick-cut sensation that some may find off-putting. It’s not used all the time, however, and I didn’t get physically ill the way I have with other movies that go overboard with this style. That said, I cannot imagine what seeing Man of Steel in 3-D would be like.

The Bad: Perhaps this is because I’m a fully grown adult and not a member of the 18-35 male demographic, but the battle scenes that take up roughly the entire last hour of the movie were simply too long. Once you get over the amazing CGI and pure imagination and spectacle of building after building getting destroyed, the fighting became beyond tedious. I always have a problem with movies that depict two equally indestructible forces going at each other because No. One. Ever. Wins. It just goes on and on and on. Same here. A much smaller amount of battling between the Kryptonians could have proven the same point and shortened the movie by a good thirty minutes.

The Silly: Shame on Hollywood for sucking the last drop of water from a stone by such blatant product placement within a movie. As if raking in billions of box office cash isn’t enough, the number of corporate sponsors shilled in this movie is insulting. IHOP, 7-11 and Sears all feature as prominent Smallville stores. In a movie filmed in muted colors, the logos of these three entities remain bright and shiny, just to make sure that no one in the theater could miss them. The only good thing is that all three do get blown up at some point. And I suppose it beats having to sit through commercials before the movie starts, but only just barely.

I think ultimately the public’s opinion about Man of Steel is going to reflect the mixed-reviews of the critics. Unlike the almost universally loved Iron Man movies, this one will generate a lot of loved it/hated it reactions. In my household alone, we’ve got one of each. But if you ask me, Man of Steel is well worth a few dollars and a couple of hours spent on a hot summer day.

- Jenna AAR

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9 Responses to “AAR at the Movies: Man of Steel”

  1. maggie b. says:

    We went yesterday for father’s day and my household pretty much fell in the hated it camp. My son, a Chris Nolan fan boy, came up with an OK verdict. My husband, other son and I were all in the hate it camp :-)

    SPOILER ALERT I especially loathed SPOILER ALERT the scene with the dog. The mom loves it so much she is willing to risk lives to get it. But when she is sitting right beside it she forgets all about it? The mom in Independence Day had a kid and still had the presence of mind to bring the dog.

    • AARJenna says:

      What did they hate about it? I’m curious. My husband’s biggest complaint is that he felt it lacked originality – he wanted a different spin on the story, although I pointed out that if you change they mythos too much, it’s no longer a Superman movie. He also hated the extended battle scenes because no one could ever just win.

      • maggie b. says:

        We spend the summer at the movies, so you are talking to a critical audience here. :-) Pacing was a big problem – lots of long segments giving us back story we really didn’t need. The battle sequences were indeed overdone. The film didn’t have a positive spin to it at all. I think of the joy that permeated the first Spiderman movie, the thrill Peter Parker got from learning to use his skills versus Superman’s painful acclimation. Spiderman and Batman both had friends and allies, this guy was a loner aside from Lois Lane (whom they worked too hard to make an equal). An emphasis in the comics and original Superman source material is the happy home he came from. Costner played the dad as a deeply depressed, fearful and worried individual. I could go on but I think the main thing is it didn’t work for us. I’m glad it worked for others though.

  2. pwnn says:

    Man Of Steele – for me it was just mind numbing action with a disjointed undercooked over clumsy monologuing narrative under a bleak color scheme better suited to Batman. The film tried to make Superman more edgy and relate-able but in effect made him less warm, human and humane. He’s no longer the great protector, a symbol of hope, a manifestation what is best in all of us. He’s now just one of us – angry, neurotic but with great powers.

    He sulks, drifts and ‘emos’ for far too long. At least Bruce Wayne had a purpose and goals in wandering the world for a decade as he became Batman. What Clark allows to happen to his father (frustrating and laughable rather than the intended moving), and his almost complete disregard for civilians and collateral damage in his never ending fights until the very last moment when he does something so against Superman’s code – made him to me a very unappealing Superman (except visually).

    As it stands the movie leaves it self open for a sequel where Lex Luthor declared Superman a menace to Metropolis and the world and after the last third of that film I’d be on his side.

    If they’d cut down the Krypton portion to 5-10 minutes instead of 20 and cut the punching and town and city leveling fights by half they’d have 30-45 minutes for actual character development, dialogue and maybe some sense of hope, joy or wonder which Superman 1&2 provide. (and I’m pretty sure the original Superman films knew exactly what they were doing – which is why there are two very different versions of Superman II depending on director)

    The best scene in the film is Clark as an sensory overloaded child, telling his mother the world is too big and her telling him to listen to her voice to make it smaller. Beautiful and heartbreaking and what the film needed far more of. Not Jonathan telling him maybe he should have let everyone on the bus die so he can turn into a paranoid emo drifter Clark furtively using his powers and passive aggressively dealing with bullies by destroying property. Clark learning how to contain and focus power and abilities that are so overwhelming so that he can have a livable life on earth and later use those gifts to protect and help – that’s Superman’s journey and the one Kent’s adoptive parents are supposed to give him as foundation.

    • pwnn says:

      Wow that was much longer than I thought and who knew I was so Superman protective and geeky. :-/

  3. AARJenna says:

    Looks like my opinion might be a minority. I didn’t have a problem with Superman/Clark as a darker, more emotional man. For me, that’s what made the movie far more grounded in reality than the other incarnations. Maybe that’s totally a me thing – I tend to prefer superheros who are fairly human, a la Peter Parker/Spider-Man, Tony Stark/Iron Man. Superman was always too out of the realm of possibility for me. This version brings him closer in, shows me a way this kind of guy might really exist in our world.

    It also looks like some of the divide in the hated it/loved it factions might be along the lines of Superman traditionalists who prefer him to remain morally pure and a bit more god-like, if you will, versus those who are not as bothered by the creators of the movie playing with the story in ways that move too far from the original.

    • pwnn says:

      Yes I do prefer a lighter, more optimistic Superman, one who inspires awe and joy not only because of his power but his goodness. I don’t find goodness dull but I do think it’s far harder to portray well which is why I think Reeve was excellent in the role.

      I’d have enjoyed the darker concept more if the narrative and execution was better, but I found it very poor. I don’t think Zach Snyder as a director is capable of complexity, subtlety, warmth or narrative coherence.

      I didn’t find this Clark to be more complex or more realistic (for a character who flies, and can throw around small planets though what is realistic) just drearier, more immature, more passive, and less competent. He was rather one note which wasn’t helped by having very few dialogue scenes. There’s not actually much characterization to him and very little actual time on screen to build a solid character arc. Basically he mopes, frowns, punches stuff real hard, murders someone and shows off his now “cooler” suit – cooler because it too is “dark”.

      Smallville had 10 seasons of showing Clark as more vulnerable and conflicted and I loved much of it. But he was a teenager and young man it and not a fully grown 33 Christ Like years old. (Another Snyder/Goyer sledghammer)

    • maggie b. says:

      Batman is my very favorite superhero and he does dark and edgy to the hilt. And Lord knows Tony Stark is a mess – and not even a hot one. Yet I loved the first Iron Man and have liked the other two OK. I am going to give a simplistic argument for my problems with this particular film. Spiderman is like a young, enthusiastic cop. It’s OK to get pulled over by him cause he’s so earnest. Batman is the intense cop, OK to get pulled over by him because he’s a zealot. Stark is average cop – kinda a smart mouth with a bit of a tude. I have been societally trained to accept his authority. But Superman is the guy who arrives at your dangerous accident site (median between the entrance lane to the hwy and the hwy where everyone is abusing the speed limit) and then tells you to quit your crying over the wreck (could have been worse). (True story) This guy makes you resent every tax dollar going to the department and makes you think maybe someone should examine just how we police our streets.