In commemoration of the upcoming SHAZAM! (2019), I’m taking a trip down memory lane to revisit the movie that started the entire DC Extended Universe. In addition, for my reviews of the other DC films, click the following links:
- BATMAN V SUPERMAN (2016)
- SUICIDE SQUAD (2016)
- WONDER WOMAN (2017)
- JUSTICE LEAGUE (2017)
- AQUAMAN (2018)
Cast: Henry Cavill (MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – FALLOUT , U.N.C.L.E. , and STARDUST ), Amy Adams (VICE , NOCTURNAL ANIMALS , and the upcoming THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW ), Michael Shannon (12 STRONG , SHAPE/WATER , LOVING , and upcoming films KNIVES OUT  and ECHO BOOMERS ), Diane Lane (SERENITY , TULLY , MARK FELT , and INSIDE OUT ), and Kevin Costner (MOLLY’S GAME , HIDDEN FIGURES , and upcoming films THE HIGHWAYMAN  and THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN )
Director: Zack Snyder (WATCHMEN  and DAWN OF THE DEAD )
Writer: David S. Goyer (BATMAN BEGINS , BLADE , and the upcoming TERMINATOR )
Producer: Christopher Nolan (TRANSCENDENCE )
Composer: Hans Zimmer (WIDOWS , DUNKIRK , HIDDEN FIGURES , MISSION IMPOSSIBLE II , and upcoming films DARK PHOENIX  and THE LION KING )
Cinematographer: Amir Mokri (SUPERFLY , BIRTH/DRAGON , PIXELS , and the upcoming MURDER MYSTERY )
Editor: David Brenner (THE PATRIOT , INDEPENDENCE DAY , and the upcoming AVATAR 2 )
This is my honest opinion of: MAN OF STEEL
Years ago, Krypton was faced with many problems before its end. It’s people were amidst a civil war, led by the ruthless General Zod (Michel Shannon), and scientist Jor-El (Russell Crowe) has predicted that the planet will implode, thanks to the planet’s Council harvesting the planet core for energy. Jor-El knows the planet is doomed, so he seeks out Krypton’s codex, a compilation of everything about Krypton, it’s people and culture, everything. He puts it in a small escape pod, housing his newborn son Kal-El, and sending both away to the planet Earth, where both will survive the destruction of Krypton.
Now a thirty-three year old adult, Kal-El, who has been raised by the Kents, Jonathan (Kevin Costner) and Martha (Diane Lane), and given the new name, Clark (Henry Cavill), has spent his life keeping his powers a secret in fear of the world not being ready to know that he exists and reject him. After learning of his heritage after discovering a second Kryptonian spacecraft, Zod returns. Having survived the events of Krypton, he hopes to reclaim the codex that Clark has and terraform Earth to rebuild a new Krypton.
You know, back in 2013, when this first came out, I considered this to be my favorite movie of that year. Well, you haters can at least, partially pump your fists in victorious fashion as this movie has many elements to it that didn’t age well for me. Having said that, make no mistake, I still like it.
I hear that one of the major complaints is the opening scene on Krypton and how it drags too long. I can understand that, especially in a movie that’s supposed to be more about Superman. But I disagree with this one, at least in part. The ideas presented are that Jor-El tried to save his people when saving them was an option, but they eventually passed the event horizon, and all that was left was to save their history. However, I think through the remorse of the hologram of Jor-El, we understand that he did everything in his power to try and save Krypton, but ultimately failed, and that regret carried over to the hologram. We saw the violent and destructive end of Krypton firsthand. We saw how their leaders refused to act or have any sympathy in their hand in Krypton’s end. Personally, I think it was a nice touch. Sure, did we need to see so much action with Jor-El riding a space dragon? No, not really. Did we need to see Zod’s trial, as opposed to the Council trying to save at least a few people from Krypton’s destruction? No. Do I understand why a space dragon exists when there’s spaceships aplenty, or why Krypton’s codex is an old-ass mostly-broken skull, or that the term “freak” to describe someone different exists in Krypton’s vocabulary, or why Jor-El instantly thinks that Kal-El will be a god to the people of Earth, putting a great deal of pressure on a newborn baby that probably doesn’t have all of his mom’s vaginal goop off of him yet? Absolutely not. But I think everything else, Zod’s coup, that fist-fight between him and Jor-El (which was awesome, by the way), this all served a purpose. We also learn that Jor-El and Zod were, more or less, on the same side of seeing Krypton’s destruction, but both having very different ideas on how to preserve their culture. Zod is a three-dimensional character, in spite of Shannon’s occasional overacting. I’m happy this sequence exists.
I also hear that not everyone was a fan of Jonathan telling Clark that maybe he should have let that bus full of kids die in order to protect his secret. Once again, I disagree with those who don’t like it. Keep in mind, this movie was intended to be a darker interpretation of Superman. I know, this is likely only because it was riding off the heels of the Dark Knight trilogy and DC had the mindset that their movies had to be dark in order to be successful and popular. Flawed logic, but this is a darker idea to introduce. And it’s not like Jonathan is outright saying, “yes, let them die,” it’s that he doesn’t know. He’s dealing with something that he knows he’s not the foremost expert on and is in the dark about what the right thing is. Imagine if you were this special. Would you really want that level of world-wide attention? Would you, as a parent, want that for your child? The knowledge that this kid will challenge the ideas of religion, science, and “what it means to be human.” A little dramatic in the script, admittedly, but the ideas and arguments are still understandable. This is supposed to be a slightly more realistic take on the character and I don’t think every teenager, or young adult would take this lightly, nor should they.
I know I’m definitely in the minority on this one: I really like Costner in this movie. I’ve already rambled about how I like Jonathan’s character in how uncertain he is about Clark’s place in the world, but it’s the way that he delivers his lines. He perfectly blends his tone being concerned and scared for his safety, but stern and forthcoming about the dangers of being revealed too soon. Even when he finally tells Clark that he’s an alien and Clark says that he wants to keep pretending that he’s his son, and I won’t lie, I get choked up every time he says, “You are my son.” I know, I love a good adoption story and that’s why it’s so powerful to me, but if it works, it works.
I also really love some of the visuals that we got in this movie. Like on the Kryptonian ship, the technology is like the Terminator franchise’s T-1000 liquid metal stuff, but on steroids. It forms all these cool, liquid metal shapes and people, illustrating the history of Krypton. All of that was awesome. Same goes for when Zod arrives at Earth, hijacking the TVs all over the world with the texts “You are not alone” and that creepy voice crackling through. That was pretty chilling for what it was. Almost horror movie-esk.
This is a side-note, but I love how that entire “frozen tundra” scene where Clark and Lois find the crashed alien ship is a mini BATTLESTAR GALACTICA reunion with Tahmoh Penikett (Captain Helo) and Alessandro Juliani (Lt. Gaeta). I don’t know how many fans would have noticed that, but that tickled the crap out of me.
I’ll talk about the more spoiler-y stuff later, but I think even as a fan who legit likes this movie, I have to admit that there are some problems.
Let me get this out of the way first. I do not have a problem with product placement. Because I never notice. If anything, if I see a Coke can somewhere, I just think, “oh, someone drinks Coke in this movie.” So what? I don’t care. And the IHOP thing is just funny to me. This bad-ass action scene is taking place in an IHOP, of all places. Sure, the tone of it is out of place, but I didn’t mind it in the least. What I do mind that only recently came to my attention was the Jesus symbolism. That shit was annoying. Why? Why in hell does Superman need Jesus symbolism? Why does he need to be seen as a God? Look, I get it, the Justice League is an allegory for the Greek Gods. Superman is Zeus, Batman is Hades, the Flash is Hermes, and so on and so forth. But does it need to be this on the nose about it? Hell, it’s not even really hinting about him being a “Greek” god. Just… God. That’s completely unnecessary. This is basically a pompous way of saying that Superman is the greatest superhero of all time. Never mind the fact that this is subjective opinion, but if you’re going to make a movie about “the greatest superhero of all time,” then you have to make a movie that reflects that, and this movie doesn’t really do that. You have to show that he’s the greatest, not talk about it, or bludgeon us over the heads with obvious symbolism. Piss off.
Amy Adams is sorely underutilized. She really is. She’s a terrific actress, and you can certainly see glimmers of Lois Lane in her performance, but at some point, it’s just dropped and she’s the resident Mary Jane from the Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies. She’s just there for Superman to save, not be a legit character. Lois, from both the comics and the cartoon, she’s a very stern and stubborn. She’s a charging juggernaut of a bull when she’s goes after something and never gives up. She’s also a brunette, not a redhead. I mean… was it really so hard for Adams to dye her hair? The logic of why they didn’t change her hair was because they said, “I don’t think Lois would ever find the time to change her hair color.” Well, if you knew who Lois was, she’s a brunette. Now she’s a redhead. She found some time to change her hair color. But fine, whatever, Lois doesn’t have to be a brunette, so long as her personality is intact. At first, she’s fine. But as soon as she meets Clark for the first time and he asks her not to publish her story on him, she completely gives up. Um… excuse me, Lois gives up?? And her bull-headed personality is completely dropped and comes across as some lost child who doesn’t know what situation she’s in. In retrospect, Lois is a generic damsel in distress. Ugh… that’s not who Lois should be.
As a result of how dull Lois is written, she has a very contrived romance with Superman. It’s literally love at first sight. I understand that Superman and Lois are an item in most forms of media, but it’s entirely possible that the relationship can be dragged out a little to blossom into something that the audience can get behind. But, nope. They stare longingly at each other and we’re supposed to buy into it.
The script could also have used some serious fine-tuning. During the Krypton sequence, Jor-El is going on and on about how everyone screwed up their planet, but where you might think he’s getting at “hurry up, let’s evacuate and save anyone that we can” it’s really leading up to, “we’re all dead, give me the codex.” Um… what was the point of the exposition then? We were already informed that Krypton is dying and later shown it as well. We don’t need the dialog to inform us of what we already know. Especially since Superman’s origins are so well known, so really, it doubles down on the pointlessness. Or when that jerk who harasses that waitress at the restaurant he works at temporarily, he impales the jerk’s truck with telephone poles? First of all, no reaction to that? That’s not something anyone sees everyday. I’d be all like, “Oh shit!” or something. Anything. But more importantly, for someone who’s been trying to keep a low profile, that was something very much not on the lower side of profiling. I’m likely not using that word correctly, but when this movie does something this dumb, I feel like I’m getting dumber. And there are a lot of problems like this too.
If you had a problem with Steven Spielberg using too many lens glares, then boy howdy are you going to hate Snyder’s take on it by using “sun blares.” Seriously, take a shot for how many times the man flashes the sun in our damned eyes. You’ll… probably end up hating this movie more in a drunken rage. I should seriously try this someday soon. But this got freakishly obnoxious. It’s like the opposite problem of action films, like SUICIDE SQUAD, where scenes are too dark make out anything, whereas this one blinds us from seeing anything at all. Is there some sort of challenge in finding a damned balance between the two? Seriously!
And let’s talk about the really controversial stuff, starting with Superman’s borderline destruction of Metropolis. Honestly, I don’t think this is his fault. I choose to believe that he’s not exactly a seasoned hero yet, therefore, hasn’t learned how to take control of a situation and take the destructive fighting outside of where civilians will be collateral casualties. Plus, his opponent is Zod, a soldier and warrior by trade, whose very job is to learn how to control the battle. I think the destruction of Metropolis is very understandable given the circumstances. And even though we’re supposed to divorce this movie from the comics and cartoons, let’s face it, this happens all the time in those mediums and very rarely does it mean the people of Metropolis, or wherever he happens to be fighting, suddenly turn against him. In fact, he’s relentlessly considered a hero. I guess I just have an easier time accepting this than others. No one ever said I wasn’t a forgiving dude when it comes to comic book movies.
And now for the really controversial moment: Superman kills Zod. Once again, I actually really like this. Not only is it keeping with the theme of a darker Superman story, but it could also explain why Superman doesn’t kill. Sprinkled in certain parts of the movie, Clark is constantly holding back from hurting people who might otherwise earn it. However, thanks to good raising, he always holds back. He’s always had a choice and chose not to take that step because he and his family knows that he could kill someone. Also, there’s that great line, “Yeah, you could, but then what? Would it have made you feel any better?” Clark didn’t actually answer. Also keeping with the theme of uncertainty. But more importantly, Zod left Superman with no choice. And before anyone asks why he didn’t fly them both up through the roof to prevent Zod from killing that family, keep in mind that Zod learned to fly too and both know how to fly down. So for all we know, Superman was trying to fly up, but Zod was flying down, preventing that from happening. But as for the snapping of the neck itself, yeah, look what happens. Jonathan’s question is answered. No, Clark didn’t feel better doing what he did. He wasn’t left with much of a choice this time. Let innocent people die so his integrity could be spared. But really, was it tarnished? Isn’t the very notion that he felt remorse for Zod’s death not indication of his humanity? Personally, I loved it and felt for Superman. I can certainly argue that maybe his devastation could have been pushed much further. Maybe if he killed Zod, he would at first be paralyzed with disbelief, fly up to the roof of this building, slowly look around at the destruction that was caused as a result of his conflict, and then he breaks down and screams. Wouldn’t that be just a little more powerful than what we ended up getting?
Overall, I see the problems better now than I did before. The script is poorly written way to much of the time, while some visuals are stellar, there’s way too many annoying choices to offset them, Lois Lane is tragically under-written, there are certainly slower moments that I could easily skip, and I’ve learned to really hate the Jesus symbolism. With that said, I love most of the characters and the ideas presented and executed, the action is right out of the best of the cartoons and video games, and I absolutely support the idea of a darker Superman movie. I don’t necessarily enjoy the sequel that spawned from this, but I still enjoy this movie. Flaws and all.
My honest rating for MAN OF STEEL: 4/5