Monday, June 17, 2013

Movie Review: Man of Steel

Compare and contrast to the photo below. Yeah, this is
an new Superman. Image from
As a DC comics fan to nearly my infancy, I've been starved for representation in the movie adaptation realm. Yes, Batman has been amply represented, but he was never one of my faves, which has left me very little over the years. So, seven years ago when Superman Returns finally came out, I was ecstatic. I'd take him any way I could get him, and how I got him wasn't too bad. Brandon Routh looked the part, and was a decent actor. Kevin Spacey out-hackmaned Gene Hackman. And it kept the vibe of the classic Richard Donner/Christopher Reeve era.

It wasn't the best movie ever, but was far from the worst one, even if you confine yourself to the comic book world. Contemporaneous reviews back me up on this too, Superman Returns was generally well received. But the film was saddled with a lot of baggage, especially the two decades of development and expenditure leading up to it. And when it wasn't a mega-worldwide blockbuster with stellar reviews, it was recast as a flop, a failure. No.  Superman IV: The Quest for Peace was a flop and a failure. But I protest too much. I'm aware that I am in the minority in my appreciation of the 2006 film. And this many years later, I accept that 2013 was not too soon for a reboot.
C'mon, everybody, was it really so bad?
Image from

Boy howdy did we get a reboot. Spurred, no doubt, by Marvel Comics' stunning string of successes (just ignore Daredevil, Electra, Ghost Rider, The Punisher, The Punisher again, etc.), not to mention legal matters from the heirs of Superman's creators, DC and Warner Brothers got it together at last. Man of Steel is finally here, and is its own kind of Superman. And unless sales deflate on a scale never seen before, it's already on track to be one of the most successful superhero films in history. For once, the hype, the marketing, and the buildup paid off. It's a freakin' great movie.

With over $200 million spent to make it, I guess it should be really good, but look at the recent Star Trek sequel. Its budget wasn't quite that big, and did respectable business, but has been belittled and berated all over the internets as an under-performer, and a disappointment (again, not to me, I dug it). Today's blockbusters are judged as much for how much money they haul in, as they are for actually being good entertainment.

But I'm off on a tangent here. We're talking about Man of Steel, so named to align with Batman's Dark Knight trilogy. The movie is star-studded, with huge names (Russell Crowe, Diane Lane, Kevin Costner, Laurence Fishburne), and lauded TV stars (Richard Schiff, Christopher Meloni). It starts by creating a whole new planet Krypton, with a re-imagined origin story. It ably combines the elements from Krypton in Superman: The Movie, the John Byrne era Superman comics and the classic silver/golden-age Superman comics.  The reasons behind Krypton's eventual destruction resonate with earthly concerns of today, and the villains consigned to the Phantom Zone (as in Superman I & II) have much more back-story and motivation.

Every adaptation monkeys with the "S" shield, none get it right.
This is one of the better ones, though.
Clark Kent's arrival on earth and growing up years are wisely mostly confined to flashbacks, in nice little nugget-sized factoids, woven adeptly into the story. Since almost everyone already knows about Clark Kent, Ma & Pa Kent, and the rest from Smallville, other TV shows, movies and seventy-five years of comic books, a more through story is unnecessary. Thank you, movie gods! The back-story leading up to the meat of Man of Steel does a good job of showing us how he got here, how he grew up, and where we are now, without belaboring any of it. And it manages to shed all of the Donner/Reeve years while doing so. With beefy, very different looking Henry Cavill playing Clark/Superman, it really does feel brand new. Even the costume (which is updated quite a bit) is given a reason for existing that is far and away better than any previous adapation. The Movie tried, with Marlon Brando's S tunic, but this movie got it right.

Given all of the fan mockups of Jusstice League posters
online, there are high hopes in fandom
land that Man of Steel begets lots of DCU movies.
Image from
Once Man of Steel gets going, it really gets going. Previous Superman movies are going to look like high school stage productions in retrospect, after this one. It really looks like super beings pummeling the stuffing out of each other. There's a little to complain about here, if you--like me--have a little difficulty following fast-paced battles in movies. It wasn't like Lord of the Rings, where there are hundreds of participants (I couldn't deal with it, sorry), so I managed. But there is a lot of whiz-bang here. Not to mention a lot of destruction. You thought The Avengers knew how to destroy a city? Well Smallville got a lot smaller, and Metropolis is going to be rebuilding for years.

If I had any other complaint about the movie, it would be one abrupt transition in the film. The bad guys are really making a mess, and things look bad. Supes is getting his clock cleaned. Then, all of the sudden, the good guys have a plan, and put it into action. There felt like there was a scene missing there. But at 2-1/2 hours long, they must have needed to speed things along. Ultimately, I left the theater feeling that it was the best Superman movie ever made. It topped Star Trek: Into Darkness (which I loved), comparatively speaking. And it made me excited at the prospect of more in the series, more in the DC Universe, and a hope for a Justice League movie!

This is a Superman I want to see again, whether he's called Man of Steel, Last Son of Krypton, Man of Tomorrow or just plain Superman. Oh, and as minor character Carrie Farris (awfully close to a Green Lantern character name) says at the end, "he's kinda hot." Perhaps the understatement of the year.

My grade is: A - Highly Recommended

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