Man of Steel
I’m happy to report that I made it to the Man of Steel screening last night along with about 420 other lemmings. I’ll do my best not to ruin anything here, but I read a lot of geeky websites so I’m not sure what qualifies as a spoiler anymore.
The film opens with an excessively lengthy scene on the planet Krypton. First we see Lara-El giving birth to a son as her husband, Jor-El, frets over the future of Krypton. I’m not sure why anyone thinks the birthing process needs to be dramatized and documented on film. Ever. In this case, seeing the natural birth is central to a plot point, but still.
It’s here that we first glimpse Kryptonian technology, specifically a sort of communication device that works by displaying images not unlike the impression from your hand or face in one of those boxes that’s full
of pins (“pin art”). Except in this case, the box of pins looks more like a soot-covered lacrosse head filled with pulsating caviar. We also learn that Kryptonians utilize flying creatures reminiscent of meatier Can-cells from the Star Wars prequels.
After baby Kal-El is born, Jor-El gets into some heated political debates and we’re introduced to General Zod. Jor-El and Lara make haste in getting their baby boy off the god-forsaken planet. But not so fast! Zod isn’t about to let that happen without a struggle. Said struggle ensues then he’s exiled and Kal-El is sent on his merry way.
In an awkward turn, we’re ushered ahead some thirty years where we encounter a young man demonstrating superhuman strength by rescuing workers on an exploding oil rig. Said young man escapes unharmed and moves on to work as a bartender (or maybe a bus boy?) in a lumber town before moving on to an ice field where the government is investigating something buried in the ice.
During our time with this young man, we learn through flashbacks that he is Clark Kent from Smallville, KS. You’re shocked, I know. I’ll wait while you regain composure from this astonishing disclosure. Okay, ready?
The memories of Clark’s formative years are where the film finally finds its footing. Martha and Jon Kent (Lane and Costner, respectively) beautifully demonstrate the burden and range of emotions one might expect from a couple raising a child who’s altogether extraordinary…and not biologically theirs or even from their planet.
You’ve probably seen in the trailers that Clark intervenes in a school bus accident, earning the seeming disapproval of his earthly dad and making Kevin Costner look like a big jerk. Yeah, that happens, but there’s a slew of other factors that tie it all together masterfully. You’re left with a strong sense of both sadness and wonderment. So, so many feels!
Aaaannd then you’re whisked back to the ice fields of the present. Amy Adams shows up as Lois Lane, which is essential to the story but a little yawn-inducing. Don’t get me wrong, I like Adams, but she’s the same plucky girl in every role; Julie & Julia, The Muppets, Leap Year, Enchanted, all the same. Is she an improvement over Margot Kidder or Kate Bosworth? Pshhh. Does Superman wear a red cape?
Also, Gaeta from Battlestar Galactica is in on the military operation looking at computer screens and analyzing data…sounds about right. The guy from Law & Order: SVU is there, too. It’s a veritable who’s who of television folks working for the military/government in this flick.
Anyway, Lois figures out that Clark has special abilities at essentially the same time he discovers why he has them. This seemed like a premature plot development initially but ended up making sense. General Zod resurfaces, bent on destroying Kal-El and Earth, as does Jor-El; I think Russell Crowe must have been contracted for a certain amount of screen time. The remainder is a lot of fast-paced action with relatively little furthering of the story. And not much more that I can say without being one of the spoiler-y types.
Graphics and effects are crisp and engaging, easily better than some other superhero romps, though not overly spectacular. Our screening wasn’t in 3D, but I do think it might lend itself to the format.
I was surprised by the copious amount of J.J. Abrams influence (lens flare) and pleased with the couple of same-universe references I noticed (a nod to Mr. Luthor, among them). Disappointingly, I detected no hint of the original John Williams Superman fanfare woven in for nostalgia’s sake. Just a lot of dissonant power chords that sound like they’re lifted directly from the Inception soundtrack. Thanks for rehashing that, Hans Zimmer.
Overall, this is a good film but not an altogether outstanding one. The flashback technique makes for a somewhat disjointed experience that is quickly forgiven when the focus rests squarely on Clark Kent. His struggle, adjustment and eventual acquiescence are gripping and perfectly played by Henry Cavill. I firmly believe that he is superb and will easily carry this franchise to new heights.
Now having said that, it’s impossible to ignore the massive hurdles that lie ahead. Man of Steel stands head and shoulders above 2006’s Superman Returns, but it isn’t quite the epic that Christopher Nolan fanboys had hoped. I doubt that it will do for Superman what the Dark Knight trilogy did for Batman, though Superman’s track record is better proven over time.
Moreover, the Marvel stronghold shows no signs of weakening, particularly with the next wave of films fast approaching. I’ve never seen so many people stay until the very last of the credits rolled across the screen, all hoping for an Avengers-esque nod to the next film (don’t bother waiting around).
This, I’m afraid, is not the DC Comics franchise savior that it so desperately wants—and blatantly claims—to be. Indeed, the messiah references get a little heavy-handed at times. There’s a church scene where Clark is framed by stained-glass images of Jesus. His age, 33, is mentioned on more than one occasion. He takes the not-so-subtle crucifixion stance when committing himself to the task of protecting earth. Oh, and he rose to greatness from humble beginnings on a farm in Kansas, which hearkens to Jesus’ upbringing in Nazareth (“Can anything good come from there?”).
And speaking of Kansas, producers did a great job of tying in regional references. For instance, Clark sports a Royals t-shirt and watches a KU football game…though a basketball game would have better represented Jayhawk nation. Regardless, as a midwesterner born in the Sunflower State, it made me pretty dang proud. Of course, it was filmed in Illinois but whatever.
In sum, I will not be so bold as to guarantee you will like it but I certainly did.