Will You Like 'Man of Steel' if You Don't Like Superman Very Much?

Will You Like 'Man of Steel' if You Don't Like Superman Very Much?

Jun 14, 2013

I'm one of those "Superman is boring" guys. Sorry. Obviously I mean no disrespect to one of the most iconic American heroes ever created, but I never read his comic books as a kid, virtually all of his video games are lousy, and aside from Richard Donner's 1978 rendition of Superman's origin story, I don't think much of the guy's movies either. (Superman II is half a good movie, if that. Superman Returns is unfairly trashed but still not great. Superman III and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace are virtually unwatchable.)

My main problem with Superman is a simple one: he's immortal, and therefore not very interesting. The only way to hurt Superman is to hurt the people he loves, but A) they're not very interesting either, and B) we know that nothing bad can really happen to Lois Lane, Perry White or Ma Kent. So again we don't have much in the "stakes" department. (Again, these are just the opinions of one guy; a guy who doesn't know much about Superman outside of his movies.)

What makes the 1978 version of Superman so great is that it effortlessly captures a wonderful sense of nostalgia, sweetness and old-school charm. Richard Donner's Superman is a truly lovely movie... but that was 1978's damn good Superman film. This new one? Man of Steel? This is 2013's damn good Superman film. If it's the Norman Rockwell warmth that elevates Superman 1978 into something more than just an action movie, then it's the pointed focus on science fiction that elevates Man of Steel beyond that of "just another Superman movie."

Kal-El (aka Clark Kent aka Superman) is an alien, after all, and while it was probably a good idea to avoid this angle back in 1978, there's certainly no reason that director Zack Snyder and screenwriter David S. Goyer cannot focus on some of the more interstellar facets of young Kal's life. It works alarmingly well. Of course there are some basics you cannot mess with. Since Man of Steel is an origin story, we need A) Krypton, B) Smallville and C) Metropolis. (Or if it's easier: A) infant Kal, B) kid Kal C) grown-up Kal.) 

The Krypton material is simply cool. A new look, a new attitude, more action than you'd think, Russell Crowe acquitting himself rather well as a no-nonsense and thoroughly badass Jor-El. Enough said. Once all that is said and done with, baby Kal is launched into space, crash-lands in Kansas... and that's precisely when Man of Steel gets really interesting. It's as if Snyder, Goyer and editor David Brenner (and probably producer Christopher Nolan) know we're expecting the typical three-act formula, but are intent on outsmarting us for a little while. Without spoiling anything, let's just say the filmmakers find a way to combine Act II (teen Kal) and Act III (adult Kal dealing with serious problems in Metropolis) in a novel and compelling fashion.

Plot? Alien kid grows up in hiding but (eventually) leaps into action when a platoon of seemingly immortal aliens show up on Earth and demand his head.

If you need a few nitpicks, fine. Man of Steel gets a little messy in Act II, structurally speaking, but it rights the ship in plenty of time for a third act that is so full of eye-tickling action lunacy you might not believe what you're seeing. Hans Zimmer's score is generally quite powerful and effective, but it also seems to linger on one or two specific cues too often. (One can only withstand so many exhausting crescendos.) Some may also find that this Superman is a bit too "steel" for his own good. In other words, Man of Steel is not exactly a cuddly superhero film, but since one of the main themes of the screenplay is that of Kal/Clark searching for his own humanity, the clinical approach actually works well here. 

The newest (and most interesting) thing on display in Man of Steel is the science fiction angle. We all know that Clark Kent is an alien, but this is the first movie to explore his interstellar roots with any sense of scope or confidence. Even if you don't care for superhero movies, it sure seems like Man of Steel could be approached as an "alien invasion" movie. We just happen to have one of the aliens on our side... because he loves us. Snyder makes his Krypton enjoyably weird, he has no problem using spaceships and force fields, and his big finale involves a giant gravity drill that's as cool to look at as it is to think about. (Seriously! What a weapon!)

On a technical level, this movie absolutely delivers on the ticket price. The special effects, be they subtle or smashed over your head, are some of the finest you'll ever see; the cinematography is slick at one moment and quietly evocative in others. (The Smallville flashbacks are really quite beautiful.) The cast -- which was probably my main worry for the past year -- is excellent across the board. Kevin Costner and Russell Crowe make for a fascinating pair of fathers, Diane Lane (as Ma Kent) and Amy Adams (as Lois Lane) provide most of the movie's heart and humanity; and the background is littered with grade-A character actors like Chris Meloni, Laurence Fishburne, Harry Lennix, Michael Kelly and Richard Schiff.

As the endlessly evil General Zod, Michael Shannon is powerfully intimidating but also sort of fun in a quirky way. Henry Cavill does a fine job of portraying a noble young god who has no clue what he's doing... look, there's a lot to cover in this fast-paced 143-minute film, but you already know if you're interested in Man of Steel or not. Speaking only as a relative nonfan of the character, I think this is a particularly excellent combination of old-fashioned superheroics, new-fangled filmmaking, and a very welcome dose of legitimate science fiction. This is a weird and wild, yet suitably reverent, rendition of Superman that may irritate some of the old-school Siegel and Schuster purists -- but I'm just a movie nerd. and I say this is a darn good movie.

Buy Man of Steel tickets now and receive a free download from the soundtrack by Hans Zimmer! Tickets are available for 35mm, 3D, IMAX and IMAX 3D shows!

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