SUPERMAN has always meant something a little special to me. You see, it’s the first movie I remember seeing in the movie theater. I was 2 and a half, yet I remember it vividly. Ever since I saw that, I was hooked on movies! My dad took me to see anything that wasn’t rated R in the late 70’s and early 80’s. You might say SUPERMAN:THE MOVIE “is” the reason why I’m into movies so much. Watching that movie now, I still like it quite a bit, but it’s not perfect. I liked SUPERMAN 2 (especially the Donner cut). SUPERMAN 3 is fun to watch in a horrible trainwreck sort of way, but SUPERMAN 4 is just garbage. I know a lot of people shit on SUPERMAN RETURNS, but I actually enjoyed it. I thought Bryan Singer did a great job recapturing the tone that Richard Donner set back in 1978. Well, now with this latest one, Zach Snyder (WATCHMEN, SUCKER PUNCH) is reinventing the franchise. It’s another origin story. When this was first greenlit, I couldn’t have been less excited. But after the last couple of trailers, I started to get pumped. They looked great! In fact, I even got a little misty in one of the trailers. So MAN OF STEEL quickly became one of my most anticipated movies of the summer.
The movie is kind of like a mesh of both SUPERMAN 1 and 2. Storywise only though, cause tonally it’s very different. It opens on Krypton with Jor-El (Russell Crowe) warning everyone about how the planet is going to be destroyed. No one believes him except General Zod (Michael Shannon), but he wants to wipe everyone out who doesn’t side with him and Jor-El doesn’t agree with this approach. Zod is arrested and sent to the phantom zone, but not before he vows to kill Jor-El’s son, whom was sent in an escape pod off the planet so he wouldn’t be blown up. Well, the planet is destroyed and Jor-El’s son lands on planet Earth.
The movie then jumps ahead to when Jor-El’s son, known as Clark Kent (Henry Cavill), as he drifts across the country, working odd jobs and saving people along the way. We learn in flashbacks that he grew up in Smallville and we see some of the challenges he faced when he was younger (like saving a bunch of kids from a submerged school bus). Clark eventually finds a Krypton spacecraft frozen in ice and learns about his race. Lois Lane (Amy Adams), an investigative reporter, tracks down Clark and discovers that he’s not from this planet, shockingly early on. Meanwhile, Zod escapes and invades Earth as he searches for Clark. This is when “Superman” makes his first appearance in the costume. He turns himself over to the military so that he can be brought to Zod. But Zod has plans to destroy all the humans and take over the planet, something that Superman won’t allow. The last 45 minutes or so is a monstrous battle with Superman battling Zod and his evil forces, as buildings are leveled in Metropolis.
The first 20 minutes on Krpyton is just outstanding. The design of the planet, vehicles and creatures are awe-inspiring. We get to see Jor-El being chased by spaceships while he’s riding around on some sort of dragon. Everything in this opening is handled with expertise and care. The action is exhilarating and the story is completely engaging. I was on the edge of my seat the whole time! Terrific summer moviemaking! The only thing that would have made this sequence perfect was if the title “MAN OF STEEL” appeared right after these 20 minutes were up. That would have easily conjured up a bunch of applause. At least from me. But no… We get no title at all. That was disappointing. But still, it was a hell of a way to start a picture!
Then the movie immediately flashes forward to when Clark is already an adult. Sure, we get the occasional flashback of his childhood, but unfortunately for me, there was a bit of a disconnect to the story because of this approach. We’re following around Clark, but we have no idea who he is or how he feels. We do eventually learn, but because we don’t know right away, it was hard to root for him at first. This isn’t a bad approach for a film normally, but for a superhero like Superman, I don’t think it was the right choice. There was some visually impressive scenes during this portion of the film though, like Clark saving the kids from the bus, or saving some oil workers, or getting pissed at a dude for being an asshole so he destroys his truck. But for me, the best moments of the flashbacks were the brief quiet moments involving Clark’s Earth father played by Kevin Costner. I felt that these scenes were the heart of the film. We learn that his dad cared for him deeply, which is why he urged him not to use his powers cause he didn’t want the world to be afraid of Clark. And his death scene was quite powerful, and very different from the previous version. Great moment.
The film’s big mis-step is Lois Lane. Many critics are blaming Amy Adams, saying that she’s miscast, but I don’t think she was the problem. It’s the writing of her character. I know that this is supposed to be a re-invention, but there’s just something wrong about Lois finding out who Superman is before she falls in love with him. And there IS a romance that develops, but it doesn’t feel genuine. I didn’t feel the chemistry between them. It’s not the actors’ fault, but the writing. Their relationship just never felt earned to me. Kind of forced.
The stuff with Zod invading Earth during the last half is typical summer blockbuster stuff complete with cities being destroyed and tons of explosions. It’s all well crafted and fun to watch. For those craving action, you won’t be disappointed. There’s quite a bit of it. I do like all the spaceships flying around Earth as Superman is taking out Zod’s soldiers. It takes some getting used to with the way they fight each other though. Since they have super strength, they move at super speeds which almost makes it seem they’re fighting each other in fast-forward. It does look kind of cool though as Superman flings bad guys around Smallville and Metropolis. Some of it reminded me of the ridiculousness of the “flying Neo and Smith fight” in MATRIX REVOLUTIONS (which itself was a take on the final battle of SUPERMAN 2). And Superman’s final fight with Zod is pretty satisfying. There’s only one action beat that felt odd, and that’s when Jor-El (ala hologram) appears to guide Lois through Zod’s ship as she shoots her way out. I’m sorry, but Lois firing some sort of high-tech plasma weapon just didn’t feel right. But otherwise, the action is fine. Though it gets a little too Roland Emmerich for my taste at the end, feeling like a disaster movie as it follows characters we barely know as they try to escape certain death. Why should we care about some lady that Perry White (Laurence Fishburne) is trying to save. Who is she? Why does he care so much about her? Who cares? That was poorly developed. Maybe I’m being to picky with my summer blockbusters?
Henry Cavill is fine as Superman, but the script really doesn’t give him much of an opportunity to do too much other than look hot (which some lady soldier actually mentions towards the end of the film). He is a likable presence though. Amy Adams…. like I said, does a decent job but her character isn’t well written. The supporting cast is really good though. Michael Shannon seems to be having a ball chewing as much scenery as he can as Zod. Russell Crowe is perfect as Jor-El. Laurence Fishburne is a great actor and is good here, but he has next to nothing to do other than say things like “Everyone, leave the building now”. Christopher Meloni surprisingly has a lot to do as a bad-ass military dude. Diane Lane is solid as Ma Kent, though her “old lady” voice could’ve been more convincing. For me, my favorite performance was Kevin Costner. His brief appearances as Pa Kent were the most moving scenes in the movie. With all of his ups and downs of his career, it’s sometimes easy to forget that Costner is a damn fine actor.
I’ve always been a fan of Zach Snyder (with the exception of 300). He’s definitely a visionary. He does a great job handling the huge budget here. All the action scenes have the confidence of a true craftsman. Though at times it felt like he was just a director for hire here. He has toned his style down, which isn’t a bad thing. He doesn’t do any of that overused “slow-down/speed-up” effect that marred 300. But I would have liked to see some longer takes. I loved it when he did that in SUCKER PUNCH. But, he does a fine job here. The script is where we have issues. It may sound like that I hated the script. I didn’t. It just didn’t have that emotional connection that the first 2 SUPERMAN films had. It’s all spectacle. Hans Zimmer’s score moves the film along just fine, but missing is an iconic theme. Superman deserves that, right?
It’s probably coming across that I hated it. I didn’t. Not by a long shot. Was I disappointed? Yes. I was hoping that this was going to be a game changer. It’s not. But those first 20 minutes are fucking fantastic! That opening sequence is probably better than any movie I have seen this year. I just wish the rest of the film was on that level. From an action stand point, MAN OF STEEL delivers. Unfortunately, I didn’t connect with it on an emotional level, which would be fine if this was something like G.I. JOE… but this is SUPERMAN. There should be more to it than just a couple of swell battle scenes. ★★½ (out of ★★★★)
– Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence, action and destruction, and for some language.
– Running time: 2hrs. 22min.