Friday, June 21, 2013

Man of Steel Movie Review

A couple of years back, someone decided to ignore the Superman 3 and 4 movies because those were terrible, and pick up the Superman movie franchise where it left off. Superman Returns was a pretty bad attempt at picking up the franchise. So, rather than continue beating a dead horse, Zack Snyder directed a series reboot. Man of Steel (2013) restarts the whole story from square one. While I'm not really a big Superman fan, I think this is the Superman movie we've needed for some time.
The planet Krypton faces imminent destruction due to its unstable core, resulting from years of exploiting Krypton's natural resources. The Ruling council is overthrown by the rebel military leader, General Zod (Michael Shannon), and his followers. Scientist Jor-El (Russell Crowe) launches his infant son Kal-El on a spacecraft to Earth to escape Krypton's annihilation, though Zod swears to hunt down the boy. Kal-El is found and raised on Earth by Jonathan (Kevin Costner) and Martha Kent (Kiane Lane) who give him the name Clark Kent. Due to Earth's sun's radiation having unusual effects on young Clark's alien physiology, he develops extraordinary powers which he keeps secret for fear of how Earth's people will react to him. As an adult, Clark (Henry Cavill) roams the earth trying to find out about his mysterious origins. Along the way he encounters firecracker reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams), who is also researching unusual occurrences for The Daily Planet. But before long, General Zod finds Kal-El on Earth and begins an invasion, meaning to wipe out its inhabitants.
We've never had a Superman story like this. The previous Superman movies revolve around a normal human who has pitiable physical abilities compared to Superman's god-like powers (usually Lex Luthor) who is trying to manipulate Superman or get him to break his unbreakable willpower. The issue is never "Can Superman stop him?" it's more like "Can Superman stop him fast enough to keep casualties to a minimum?" While that is an interesting problem for Superman to face, it's all that has ever been done in Superman movies. They've also remained very terrestrial; we are told briefly that Superman is an alien, but it isn't really expounded upon or explored.
Man of Steel starts out on Krypton, and we get to see quite a bit of it. We don't just get a glimpse; we get to understand the political climate, we get a feel for the culture and history, and a sense of what Kryptonians are like. Later when General Zod invades Earth, we see spaceships, weapons, and all sorts of crazy alien technology. I like how the reason for why Kryptonians develop super powers is established and how the sensory overload really disturbs and weakens them until they learn to adapt to the physical changes. In a flashback we see young Clark Kent in school when he is overcome by his x-ray vision and super hearing. The boy curls up in a fetal position, coving his ears, and tries to block the sensory overload. It looks a lot like an autistic child having a meltdown. The setting is so much more detailed, and it is developed steadily throughout the movie. That alone shows how well Man of Steel was written.
The characters were well written, too. Kal-El isn't really called "Superman" in the movie, which was a delightful detail. Kal-El is a very human character and is very easy to relate to. He was raised by some very good parents who instilled in him a strong sense of morality and  righteousness, but they also encouraged him to keep his powers a secret because none of them knew how the people of Earth would react to him being so different. This really illustrated the "alien immigrant" nature of Superman's character, the fear and uncertainty about being different is something anyone can relate to. In spite of his moralistic upbringing, Kal-El is faced with situations that no parents from a farm in Kansas could ever have prepared their son for. Trying to figure out what is the best thing to do isn't easy, and we get to see that realistic weakness of character in Kal-El. Also, never ever threaten Clark Kent's mother. Just saying.
It was also neat how the human characters acted as heroes, not just weaklings incapable of defending themselves. One of my favorite scenes is when Lois is being advised by the holographic program of Jor-El on the Kryptonian spaceship on how to avoid or defeat the Kryptonians as she makes an escape. Lois is not a damsel in distress; she's a strong, brave, and a very intelligent woman who is able to hold her own even when up against god-like aliens. Kal-El might have been able to stop the villains, but since the human protagonists help and support Kal-El, more people are saved even if they cannot confront the villains themselves.
My only real complaint about Man of Steel is the amount of action sequences there were. Don't get me wrong, the action scenes were great and have the magnitude that a Superman movie deserves. But there was very little time for the audience to recuperate after an intense action scene. It's like there's a crazy action scene followed by a crazy action scene which is followed by yet another crazy action scene. They were good, no doubt about it, but at some point the novelty of seeing these super powered people being flung through buildings wears off and it left me thinking that the movie could cut back on the action scenes a bit and that it doesn't have to make everything so exaggerated and crazy. There's even a point in the movie where everything has basically been resolved and the movie could come to an end, but yet another over-the-top fight scene begins. There is lots of story to tell and some great characters to develop, but if an action movie actually makes you stop and think, "Really? Another fight scene? Is this scene even necessary?" then the movie has probably gone too far. The action is great, but I feel as though less could have been more in this case.
Man of Steel showed us an expanded Superman universe, the likes of which we have not seen before and probably was not possible until recently. It's a decent movie that focuses on setting and characters. It's well written and manages to tell the story logically and gradually. It is a bit choppy at the beginning, but doesn't lose the audience. The action is great and lots of fun, but the movie would have benefited from cutting back on the number of the action scenes. Man of Steel is worth catching in theaters. I'm not even a Superman fan and I enjoyed it. I was teetering on whether or not it's worth buying a copy, but I think I can safely say this is worth owning on Blu-Ray.

There have been a lot of actors who have played Superman. Christopher Reeve is easily my favorite. Who is your favorite Superman? Comment below and tell me why!

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