Friday, June 21, 2013

Man of Steel - A Review

I finally got a chance to see the new Superman film, Man of Steel, and the results... are mixed.

The movie gets a lot of things right, and several things very wrong.

The actors are terrific. Henry Cavill certainly looks the part of Superman, and while he doesn't get much opportunity to show anything other than anger, he seems to have the acting chops needed to carry it all off. Amy Adams is always a treat, and as Lois Lane she manages to combine the toughness of a top reporter with the kind heart that makes it eaay to believe that Clark would fall for her.

Russell Crowe plays Jor-El, who has a surprisingly big part in the film, and he's quite good, though he generally just radiates grim determination. Michael Shannon is equally grim and determined as General Zod, with a solid malevolent edge.

The movie offers a somewhat new version of Superman's origin, focusing on the social conflict that threatens to tear Krypton apart, coincidentally at the same time that the planet itself is about the be destroyed.

Jor-El and Lara manage to send their son Kal-El to the Earth, but he's not the only survivor of Krypton's destruction - Zod and several of his followers were exiled to the Phantom Zone, and they return with a new mission - to find Kal-El and the secrets he (inadvertently) hides.

So we have Clark flashing back to his childhood, learning about his abilities, wondering about his origins, while Krypton is on the way to Earth to bring together (in a not at all nice way) both heritages.

The story is interesting, with a straightforward science fiction take on the original story. Director Zack Snyder gives the movie a great visual look, and the special effects and superpower sequences are excellent. The music is terrific - a worthy successor to the classic John Williams theme.

But... there are problems. It's incredibly violent, as untold thousands must have been killed in the widespread destruction that hits both Metropolis and Smallville. It's especially disturbing to see so many Soldiers killed callously (though the violence isn't as graphic as, say, 300). I really think this movie is too violent for young children.

Other problems: the movie is too long and spends too much time having Kryptonians punching each other through walls, buildings, into cars, into the ground, etc. Nifty the first few times, but it gets tired quickly.

The film is also far too grim - I think there was one actual laugh in there, and I couldn't tell you what it was. A superhero film should be a little bit fun - I think the Batman movies had more laughs.

But the biggest problem goes to two sequences that had Superman acting (or not acting) in a heroic fashion (I won't go into more detail, but you'll know the moments when you see them). Both scenes indicate that the writer didn't know the character - or wanted to shock the audience. Neither translates to good storytelling.

So, I walked out with mixed feelings. I think the elements are in place for a long, successful series of Superman films - the actors are great, the technology is flawless, and the director has a great visual sense.

But they need to tighten up the writing end of things before they'll be ready to match Marvel's success - oh, and they need to develop a sense of humor.

Grade: B-


Here's the trailer for those of you who've missed it:


Tom Dearing, APR said...

Great review, Chuck. Some of the choices they made were puzzling. The writer knows these characters, too, so it makes it even tougher to fathom why they had Superman do - or not do - what he did.

The overlong action scenes might have been balanced with Supes struggling to help with what was happening around him. Even the big out-of-character moment might have made more sense by layering in an increasing sense of frustration that he can't stop the destruction.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

Chuck said...

Tom, good point. Perhaps if there had been a few rescue scenes the mayhem would have been easier to take - you got the feeling Superman wasn't worried at all about the bystanders.

Daniel said...

Spot-on review, Chuck, though I'd have graded it somewhere in the C range. "You'll believe a man can fly" got replaced with "You'll take it for granted that a man can fly." Great cast and score, though. Just missing that all-important element of fun.

My own spoiler-filled review is here, for anyone who's interested:

Chuck said...

Excellent review at the link, Daniel - I think we're in agreement on this one. The flying bit bothered me, too. And they never explained how he can fly (or why he suddenly thought he'd be able to fly).

Anonymous said...

Well said (or written), Chuck. DC needed an A with this film to compete with the Marvel success, and got a B- at best.