"Man of Steel" comes back swinging

Written by Muleskinner Staff

By ANDREW LINK (digitalBURG) – To the rather large chunk of people who are going to see “Man of Steel” regardless of what I say: Yes, the 3D is worth the few extra bucks. No, there is nothing after the credits.
Becoming something that isn’t the hero portrayed in issue number one of his comic is something the recent Batman movies have shown us is not just okay, but massively successful. Modern theater-goers want our villains to be scary. We want to feel like our heroes can make mistakes. We want them to be people we can relate to, not just people we wish we could be like. And we definitely don’t want them rewinding time to save the love interest rather than, oh I don’t know, catch the bad guy before he launches nuclear missiles à la 1978s “Superman.”
The bottom line is that Superman has been in dire need of new everything. We saw the Hulk fall short twice. Thor’s cinema debut was just good enough. We like to pretend the recent Spiderman trilogy never happened. But Batman and Ironman have managed to stay true enough to their respective stories while pulling off decent hero movies, largely by abandoning the idea of directly porting comics written in a different time period for a different audience. “Superman” began in 1938, following the Great Depression as a near-communist destroying low-income housing. It’s time to let the “Superman” we used to know fade away.
The reason seems obvious. People aren’t rewatching Adam West’s Batman, they’re buying Christian Bale’s Batman. They want the new, gritty, dark, flawed, mostly-human hero.
So does “Man of Steel” succeed in becoming something its predecessors couldn’t? After all, it’s written by David S. Goyer, the same gent who penned the new Batman trilogy. However, this is the guy who also gave us “Ghost Rider” and “Blade Trinity.” You could call him hit-and-miss and I don’t think many people would argue. But throw in the directing of Zach Snyder, who has totally forgotten what failure means after directing “Watchmen,” “300,” “Sucker Punch” and “Dawn of the Dead,” and you have a very promising enterprise.
Overall, “Man of Steel” will deliver for everyone willing to dismiss inconvenient science and indulge their imaginations. The action and effects are what Superman fans were deprived of even in 2006 with “Superman Returns.” At long last, we have over-the-shoulder shots as Big Blue punches Zod in the face. They’re finally super-punches, too, with one Kryptonian smashing the other through five skyscrapers at a time at ludicrous speed. Superman breaks the sound barrier rather than seeming to drift lazily around on fishing wire. The X-ray sight, super hearing and laser vision are all presented well.
Of course, there are problems. “Man of Steel” has some very severe issues if you’re simply looking for a good time at the theater instead of two and a half hours of nerding out. In a lot of ways, the movie never really leaves Krypton. We start out with yet another rehashing of Superman’s origins as we follow his father, portrayed phenomenally by Russell Crowe, and the film doesn’t seem to want to transition into Superman as a hero of earth rather than a lost citizen of another planet. The viewer is blasted with a history lesson on Superman’s home world for a large chunk of the movie, giving it a long runway time before anything super really happens.
The origin story also can’t seem to decide where it wants to happen. While the first half hour of the movie follows Crowe around Krypton, the next origin chunk jumps between a somber adult Clark Kent and flashbacks to his youth. In these flashbacks, Kevin Costner is tragically underutilized as Clark’s father and his (spoilers!) death in a tornado versus the heart attack of the 1978 “Superman” seems less real and therefore less moving.
Henry Cavill’s acting ability isn’t lacking, but the character he’s given doesn’t allow him to shine. “Man of Steel” gives us a Superman who’s afraid to use his powers, who never really has much fun with them as Superman did in the montages of the original trilogy, and who in a great many ways is just a sad-faced cardboard cutout. A large cutout with lots and lots of muscles, but still very bland. Most people will be able to identify with the “man has destiny that isn’t what he wants” theme, but struggling with a dead-end IT job versus finding out you can fly are hardly close enough to make you truly sympathize.
Michael Shannon’s portrayal of Zod is leagues beyond what Terence Stamp gave us in ’78. But while he doesn’t command anyone to kneel, he never gives the impression anyone would kneel anyway. Zod is a poor mix of insane and sympathetic that just isn’t quite pulled off. This failure to land on either side of the fence gives him the same feel you might get if you put googly-eyes on Patrick Bateman from “American Psycho.” While Zod’s eye beams would make Cyclops from the “X-Men” series wither in envy, Zod is overshadowed by Antje Traue’s version of Faora-Ul every second she’s on screen. Where Zod comes across as a kind of crazy old Uncle Adolf, Faora-Ul is the embodiment of graceful power and pure dag-nasty evil we wish Zod would be.
Goyer made the wise decision of omitting Lex Luthor and replacing him with background references to Lex’s business and Wayne Enterprises to ensure the film’s place in the DC Universe. But Lois Lane is still present with that, “I guess we have to put her in,” feeling. The movie couldn’t decide what Lois needed to be. First a reporter, then a makeshift soldier, then a chemistry-less love interest. At least she can be presumed to know how to spell this time around, but she ends up as little more than a deus ex machina to propel the story when nothing else made any more sense than using her.
The worst crime of the film isn’t even the yelling-makes-you-stronger trope or anything to do with the acting or writing. It’s the camera. For some reason, the decision was made to film lengthy parts of the movie “Blair Witch” style. Sometimes hand-held filming can add a little realism and grittiness to a scene, but the one doing the filming for “Man of Steel” is no watchmaker, and at some points it was downright nauseating on the big screen.
Overall, the audience reaction was good. The film opened to a packed theater at a midnight showing and ended to a round of applause. Some of the comments I kept hearing were that it was good but not amazing, that it had the best action of anything that’s come out in a long while, and that it was all around better than most people had expected. Some complained that CGI becomes the real star in the end, but I’m not sure how those nay-sayers expect to make a Superman flick any other way. Welcome to the Man of Tomorrow.
While there’s a lot of implied death in what I would call a goreless bloodbath, we’re only shown a few actual bloodless deaths. If you don’t mind your child seeing yet another New York City stand-in demolished, it’s a decent family movie and sure to spawn the next generation of Superman fans.
“Man of Steel” will make you wish you were a kid again so you could appreciate it even more, but due to often poor filming, underdevelopment of characters and an abundance of, “But that doesn’t make any sense,” I’d rate it 7.1/10.