This review is a little late since I have a horrible cold the past few days. Anyway, since I’m feeling a little better, I’ll get this review out of the way before my cold gets worse.
Man of Steel was one of the most hyped up movies of this year. Mostly it’s because the DC fans finally have something to throw against the Marvel fans aside from the Batman trilogy (Green Lantern movie? What Green Lantern movie?). But, it’s also been years since we had a decent live-action adaptation of Superman.
For this review, I’m not going to compare it to Donner’s Superman. It’s been years since I last saw Superman: The Movie, and I didn’t bother re-watching it to avoid the pitfalls of comparing. Because, it’s really silly–it’s as silly as comparing Burton’s Batman to Nolan’s adaptation. Both have differing tones, cinematography, plot, and a huge technological disparity. I’ll be reviewing Man of Steel as Man of Steel, and not as Superman: The Rehash Movie. Also, this might be quite long-winded, too, so there might be a lot of tl;dr moments.
Man of Steel has a huge cast of characters, but what I love about it is the huge amount of depth of both the hero and the villain (and I’d be mainly focusing on them). Let’s start with Clark Kent aka Superman, played by Henry Cavill.
Most people didn’t like the somber, loner, confused, and emo approach to Superman. Criticizing that they are turning a traditionally lighthearted and justice-driven superhero and turning the grit up the notch. I for one, liked this adaptation, since it’s a different approach. Remember that people with unique talents doesn’t always rise to popularity–more often than not, the burden breaks them. You would see a lot more talented people that are ostracized compared to those that actually attain popularity and acceptance.
We saw this in Clark’s experiences as a kid. His enhanced senses almost drove him mad and was only saved thanks to the intervention of his parents. He had incredible strength, and as much as he wanted to use that strength to harm those who bullied him, he could not bring himself to do it. Papa Kent taught him that the world was not ready for someone like him, that if done prematurely, the people would reject him.
As much as we fantasize about the unknown, or the extraordinary, we are still cynics. We always fear first, before we understand. This is natural as humans–we always think of the possible risk a certain thing imposes on us before fully accepting its benefits. Think of it as the nuclear power dilemma. We know its benefits of a clean and vast source of energy, but we always fear the destruction that it can do. That’s Superman–the nuclear power dilemma.
And that was also Clark’s dilemma. He knew he possessed something great, but what exactly would he do with it? What exactly is his purpose? Made worse by the fact that he knows that he isn’t from Earth. Fitting in and finding our purpose is already an existential problem for most of us, but do that for an orphaned alien with superpowers. Clark’s somberness and his gloom and doom is in character, it has actual foundation and not just because they want to make a dark and gritty movie.
Next is our main antagonist, General Zod, a villain that is actually really just misunderstood (I’m looking at you Nolan’s Bane). He is the direct foil of Superman–Zod had a purpose and not just any purpose he thought out of the blue, it was something that was embedded to him on a genetic level. He was born to protect Krypton. More accurately, he was born for that sole purpose and was raised for that and that only. Unlike Clark who didn’t know what he was born for, Zod knew exactly what he was and must do right to the very fabric of his core.
Zod rebelled against the Kryptonian hierarchy not because he wanted to be the great big ruler, he though that what he was doing was to safeguard Krypton’s best interests. He rebelled because those in power became complacent and lost urgency to save their dying planet. You would know he’s a complex and unwilling villain when you see his agonized face as he killed his friend, Jor-El. He would later say that it was his greatest regret in his life–but if he must do it again, he would.
His villain portrayal overlooks the fact that what he is doing is for Krypton’s best interests. Sure, he did try to like, destroy Earth and committing genocide isn’t the most noble of causes; but it is for a fact that he was a desperate man. It’s the concept of survival of the fittest–when a species is driven to extinction, is it not the logical choice to persevere and survive? His methods may have been severe but his cause was logical.
This also made his untimely demise all the more tragic, both for him and for Clark. For him, he was just trying to do what he had to do, ensure the survival of his race. To die at the hands of your own species, is tragic, and to know that you failed the one thing you were born to do is absolutely frustrating. For Clark, it was not only tragic killing someone, but killing someone of your own kind. Most of all, killing someone you knew was trying to preserve your own race. You could feel Clark’s frustration afterwards, he doesn’t just have one man’s blood on his hands, he has the blood of all those who possibly died in that attack on Metropolis and the burden of the apparent extinction of his race. This goes to show how emotionally fueled the characters of Man of Steel are.
I’m too lazy to discuss the other characters as they are mostly the usual stock characters. Papa Kent and Jor-el embodies the father figure, Mama Kent the loving mother, and I’m still not convinced that Amy Adam is Lois Lane–but what the heck, she didn’t do anything really aside from being a romantic interest.
The plot was probably the reason why Man of Steel became somewhat of a mediocre film. One thing I didn’t like about it is the multiple flashbacks. Though it was also good that they didn’t dwell too much at Clark’s past, the flashbacks at inopportune times felt disconnected, random, and done for the sake of exposition. It didn’t quite naturally flow, though I did love the tidbits in the flashbacks.
But what I really didn’t like about this movie is the pacing. It was paced so slow at the beginning then suddenly started rushing in to the action without any particular build-up. Then it paces slowly again for some emo moments, before picking up again. Especially that particular scene with the seed ship in Canada (okay it was a snowy place I don’t know). One time we were seeing Clark doing part-time jobs and next he gets info-dumped by the AI-version of Jor-El. Then next the pace slows up with Lois Lane investigating Clark, some emo moments, before picking up again because Zod was invading Earth.
The pace is so flip-floppity that it was hard to adjust to the appropriate tempo of the movie. There were some scenes that felt out of place, especially this supposed “romance” between Lois and Clark. There was no development to that at all, it felt forced, and it was a distraction most of the times. Most of all, it introduced one of the craziest plot devices in the movie, Zod asking for Lois Lane and seemingly abducting her and imprisoning her for the sake of extracting information. If Zod really wanted to extract info on someone who knew Clark, and was important to him, he should have gone for Mama Kent, right? I mean, Lois barely knew Clark, so why get her? The scene was done for the sole reason of cheap romantic build-up and the damsel in distress setup, which I absolutely hate by the way.
The movie also did the same mistake as Green Lantern. That is to have a cosmic entity as an enemy, but the whole world is doing…nothing. When there is a zombie apocalypse, or the end of the world, the whole world seems to react. But here, it seems like the US is the only country that cared enough to handle it. Heck, Zod broadcasted to the whole world in different languages that he was finding Clark, but the whole world seemed like, “America will handle this shit”.
Of course, we didn’t want a 10-minute scene showing what the whole world was up to with this particular threat, but give a few hints even on some of the character’s dialogue. Like, how come nobody is attacking the World Engine in the freaking South Indian Ocean? You would have thought that someone would have dispatched at least a single plane there–even if it’s a stupid idea. Also, the whole genesis concept, that thing where genetic material for the Kryptonians was stored in Clark, was severely under-played. It was the object that Zod was seeking, but becomes a plot device left in the shadows.
May I just say that I didn’t particularly like the disaster porn and all the explosions? Seriously, things get blown up a lot. I know that these are basically super-powered people fighting, but it couldn’t have hurt for Clark to bring the fight to a desert, right? I mean, Zod was chasing Clark so to stay on the populated areas was a baaaaad idea. Also, Metropolis wasn’t made distinct enough. It was just Metropolis in name, without anything special. A setting has a character of its own and adds to the immersion of the movie, just look at Gotham City. It has a unique and distinct atmosphere. Metropolis could have been New York City getting destroyed, because everybody secretly loves destroying New York City.
*Superman had 30+ years of experience with his superpowers, while Zod and friends were just adapting to it. Superman could have used this to his advantage, like exploiting the particular weakness to their enhanced senses. He was more used to the flight and the super-strength, so I don’t get why he let the fight draw out like that. One could argue that he was battling soldiers, but in the movie, Superman can apparently hold his ground even against them. I don’t get why he took the mindless brawl-it-out method.
*I have no idea why Zod chose Metropolis for the World Engine, did he do it based on optimization, or because its position is particularly important? I don’t know.
*The scene where Zod was trying to laser-fry a whole family. I don’t get why the family had to go to a corner. They could just have moved forward a little and took a right turn to safely escape. Instead they spend the next 10 seconds cowering in the corner.
*How did the suit fit him perfectly? Maybe Jor-el predicted his particular height but, even the body-build? Did he seriously predict that Clark would be a buff guy to have a perfectly fitting suit tailored to him?
*Henry Cavill’s chest hair peeking out of the suit is seriously distracting. Seriously. Also, the great question of how does he shave considering that even a fire cannot burn his hair. It only leads to this possible conclusion:
Recommendation: Definitely worth a watch. Just don’t expect it to be a stunner just because Nolan’s name is in it.