Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Man of Steel (2013) - Movie Review

(NOTICE: This review will contain mild spoilers for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice)

Well, I'm sure this won't be controversial at all!
Superman is one of those characters who doesn't need an introduction. Everything about him has become so iconic and so engraved in pop culture that even "non-nerds" have a pretty extensive knowledge of who he is, where his from, his supporting cast and so on.
I have personally never been that big into Superman, but I'm definitely a casual fan (my favorite versions of the character are the DCAU and '78 ones) and I've never bought in to the accusation that he's a bad character. Y'know, those people who say that he's boring because he's "overpowered" or that he's not engaging because he's too nice and blah blah blah. Any character, regardless of power level or cheese factor can engaging if written well.
To those who say that true blue, purely good superheroes just can't work on screen, I present to you Exhibit A:
I'll review this movie at some point, too.
Exhibit B:
Best Superhero movie.
And Exhibit C:
Nice 'S'!
I bring these points up because Superman has always had a hard translating to screen. With the exception of the two Richard Donner Superman movies, there has never been a widely embraced and beloved Superman film. The 2006 Bryan Singer vehicle Superman Returns was an admirable attempt but it was let down by some miscasting and just generally being kind of boring, and the less said about the two other Superman movies the better.
 I did stare into the abyss, and it whispered the name "Nuclear Man".
This leaves just the subject of today's review, Man of Steel.
But first a little background; the year is 2013 and Warner Brothers and DC Comics are in a bit of a pickle: the financially and critically successful Dark Knight trilogy has just wrapped up leaving them with no big franchises to speak of, their last attempt to create a franchise around the larger DC Comics universe in 2011's Green Lantern failed miserably and their distinguished competition, Marvel Studios, had just released the ultimate culmination of their "shared universe" project with The Avengers, which was a massive critical and financial success. So what is there to do? Create their OWN shared universe with blackjack and hookers of course! So this means a new Superman movie, but who to direct?
Who should be the one to bring to the big blue boy scout back to the big screen? Who should be the one to bring Superman to the new age? Who should impart their own thumbprint on the Man of Steel? Who should be the one to jump-start the DC Cinematic Universe and create a mega-franchise that can rival the MCU? Who should be the one to stick true to Superman's kind, gentle nature and yet still deliver an exciting action movie?
Why the director of Sucker Punch of course!
Now, I like Zack Snyder. I think the dude can deliver some really good material (I like his Dawn of the Dead remake, I love 300 and Watchmen gets way too much hate) but is he right for Superman? Uh, well, we'll get back to that in a bit.
He'll start reviewing the film any minute now folks.
Although Man of Steel opened to a great box office draw. it wasn't exactly the huge crowd pleasing hit Warner Bros. wanted it to be. Time has now passed and this film now has a sequel in Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (trust me, I'll rip that movie to shreds once it comes out on DVD) and plans for a bigger, shared DC Cinematic Universe have now basically been set in stone.
With its sequel getting absolutely nothing but praise from every conceivable angle and the future so clearly laid out, I thought it was time to go back to the original to see what's improved, what's worsened and what's changed from the context of its sequel. Get ready to smash up some trucks and turn your color saturation all the way down for Man of Steel.

So are film begins with the birth of Superman. Literally. Jor-El (Russell Crowe) is helping his wife played by a woman whose real name sounds more alien than her kryptonian name, Ayelet Zurer, give birth to their son. They do this with help from their machine that looks like one of those pin toy things that you press and it takes a shape.
Don't put your face in it. It'll hurt like the dickens.
In any case, the child is born successfully. In the next scene, Jor is talking to the Kryptonian high council, who're are all decked out in their fabulous new style I like to call, roller coaster chic.
I hear it's all the rage on Kandor.
Jor lambastes the Krypton high council for their pillaging of the planet's core, saying that it will now collapse and that they are all doomed and that the only hope for Krypton is to send the "Codex" away. But before the debate can continue, in bursts General Zod, played by Michael Shannon.

I freakin' love Michael Shannon as Zod. He is hammy and over the top when he needs to be and delivers some of the best lines of the entire movie, but he maintains a sense of authority and tragedy to his character. Michael Shannon is a fantastic character actor and he brings a lot of depth to Zod. A running criticism of this movie will be wasted potential and Zod is one great example of this, but we'll get back to him later.

He murders the council, claiming ruler-ship of Krypton. He asks Jor to help him save their planet and to slay the degenerative bloodlines that led Krypton astray. Jor responds by accusingly asking who will be the one to choose which bloodlines continue, implying his disgust with Zod's plan.
I will ignore for the moment that Jor was asking pretty much the same thing of the council a moment ago and move on.

Jor is taken captive but manages to escape. He then partakes in a long action scene full of jumping and swimming and flying in order to reach the codex. Three things to say about this sequence: A) Zack Snyder is a phenomenal director when it comes to visuals, as this film looks very grand
B) Jor is able to collect the Codex by swimming through a scene from The Matrix.
And C) I really like Jor's Dragon Bat.
He flies back to his place with the codex though his Dragon Bat dies along the way (NO!). He makes it back and what follows is a legitimately touching scene between Jor and his wife, Lara Lor-Van. They're both really sell the tradgedy of their impending doom and the heartbreak of having to give up your only child. They explain that they're going to send him away to Earth, where the radiation of that planet's Yellow Sun will infuse Kal with energy, making him man with superior abilities. A...super man if you will.

Zod and his troops converge on their home as Jor and Lara bond the Codex to their son's cells. Zod and some troops break in  and demand to know where the Codex is. Jor explains that they've had a natural birth, apparently the first one in centuries, and that they're child will be free to forge their own destiny, not limited to what society deemed for them. Zod decries this as heresy (so, in Zod's eyes, giving birth naturally is "heresy", but staging a massive coup and murdering the council isn't? Okay.) and orders the ship destroyed. Jor is able to re-soundly beat Zod's minions and then kicks Zod to his ass. So much for being born the ultimate warrior. The ships takes off and in a rage, Zod stabs Jor, killing him dead.

The pod shoots off into space whilst Kryptonian forces capture Zod and put him on trial. They send him to the Phantom Zone but not before he shouts "I WILL FIND HIM!" four times at Lara. Also, I think who ever designed these prison pods really needs to talk to someone about their sexuality.

Well, they don't call it a "Penal" colony for nothing!
So, after  a good 20 minutes of set up, Zod and co. are sent to the Phantom Zone and Krypton explodes.
If you thought the recap so far has been kind of long winded then that's only because the first bit of Man of Steel is absolutely crammed with sub-plots and set-ups. It feels like the film is trying to make everything be connected but it kind of makes the film overstuffed. In this intro alone we have: Krypton's destruction, Jor and Lara trying to save their child, the coup of Zod, the whole deal with the Codex, the genetic destiny crap and Zod and co. being sent to the Phantom Zone, when really only the first two were needed. It didn't need all this set-up and it takes away from character building.

Anyway, cut back to the outer rim of the Solar System as the pod sails past Jupiter, goes by the Moon, enters Earth's atmosphere and barrels towards the surface when suddenly...SHIP!
A common pest in Kansas.
No, we've instead jumped ahead to Clark's adulthood. This film likes to play around with its time frame but I'm not entirely sure why. I mean, yeah, it is a staple of Christopher Nolan (the producer of this film, a fact you can really tell) but in the context of the movie I'm not sure what it adds. It means we never really spend enough with adult Clark to get to know him as we're constantly flashing back to his childhood.
In any case, Clark (played by Henry Cavill) has taken a job on World's Deadliest Catch and is no doubt pissing off Aquaman by fishing when the ship detects a nearby oil rig in trouble. Before they can even react however, Clark has already swum over.
He bursts through the door of the survivors covered in the most unconvincing flame effects since the first Hunger Games movie.
It's alright men, I, The Human Torch, will save you!
He's able to save all the survivors but gets knocked unconscious by trying to hold the rig up. He falls into the water and then flashback.

We see young Clark in his classroom, freaking out because his super X-Ray vision is causing everyone to look like extras from They Live!
He freaks out and and locks himself in a closet. I will say that I really do like this scene. It shows how someone with these amazing abilities would initially be looked upon with fear and disgust and the conversation with Clark and his mother (played by Diane Lane) is genuinely touching. Also, kudos for casting a Jewish woman as Superman's earth mum, I feel it's a nice nod to Superman's Jewish creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.

Anyway, back to the present as Superman is saved by whales.
Aquaman says "Hi".
After a brief scene of him snatching some clothes, Clark spots a school bus and this leads to another flashback.
Young Clark is travelling on a school bus, being bullied by another kid when it bursts a tire and flies into a river. Using his strength he's able to save the bus full of kids and even goes back down for the bully.
In the next scene, one of the parents of the kids Clark saved is talking to the Kents, saying how what Clark did is "an act of god" and her tone of voice construes this as a bad thing. Clark gets despondent at this and Jonathan Kent (played by Kevin Costner) goes out to try to, not comfort, but...well...we'll get back to him in a second.
Something that bothers me about this whole scene is the fact that no one sticks up for Clark aside from his parents. I know this movie is trying to be more realistic in having everyone be afraid and paranoid of Clark, but I refuse to believe that not one of the kids that Clark saved is on his side. Surely, in the real world, if someone like Clark existed and did what he did, then at least a few of the kids would go up to him and be like "HOLY CRAP DUDE! YOU LIFTED A BUS OUT OF A RIVER! THAT'S SO COOL! ARE YOU, LIKE, A CYBORG OR SOMETHING? CAN WE BE BEST FRIENDS!?'
I mean, yeah, there would people that'd be afraid of him, but surely there'd be at least a couple of kids who's stick up for him!

Anyway, Jonathan goes out to talk to his son and what does he do? Does he comfort his son, let him know that what he did was very brave despite what others say? Let him know that even though others may fear him, he shouldn't stop what he's doing?
Instead he tells his son that he needs to keep this side of himself a secret and that he should know that people will fear him no matter what he does and I'm sorry, but I just can't get behind that.
One reason that Superman is traditionally such a heroic character is that he was raised by good people who that taught him good morals.
THIS Jon Kent is teaching Clark to fear, to emphasize that every move he makes will have huge ramifications no matter what, which, yeah, while a valid point, still comes as overly-paranoid ranting.
He shows Clark the ship he arrived in and then goes on a speech about the importance he'll have in the future.
There's a lot of speechifying in this movie. Like, A LOT. So much so, that very people in this film ever talk like human beings. So whenever a speech about the "Importance of Superman" comes up, I'm just going to play this clip.

Anyway, back to adult Clark as he's gotten a job as a bartender...somehow. He overhears some army guys talking about an anomaly that's been found in Antarctica, but gets distracted by some jerks advancing on a waitress. He goes over to talk them down but they respond by throwing beer in his face. Dude, even if you don't know that the guy is an essentially immortal alien god, he's still built like a brick wall on steroids and is foot taller than you, I think you should listen to what he says.
Besides, it's a waste of perfectly good beer.
Clark decides not to turn the guy to paste right there and then ('cause he's nice like that), but does teach the guy a lesson another way.
"Faster than a speeding bullet, More powerful than a locomotive, able to destroy trucks without anyone hearing it!"
I've heard some people complain about this scene, saying that the real Superman wouldn't have destroyed this guy's truck in revenge, but I kind of like it. It shows that this Clark is still learning and has yet to really control his abilities. It'd be great set-up for a character arc...if it was ever followed up. One of my big problems with this film is that there's very little character development, especially when it comes to Superman. He starts off a destructive prick and then ends the film as a destructive prick. Kind of. Sort of. We'll get to that later.

We then cut to the Antarctic, were we meet Lois Lane played by Amy Adams. I like Adams' Lois, she's funny, assertive and has good chemistry with Cavill. She spends most of the film speechifying (because frickin' everyone does) but when she's allowed to just be Lois, she does a pretty damn fine job.
Alright to summarize the next bit of info dump, she's been called to the Antarctic to meet with Col. Hardy and Doctor Emile Hamilton (HA!) in the investigation of a crashed alien spaceship buried in the ice. The next night she goes out investigating and spots Clark making his way up the glacier with no coat. She follows along with her NIKON camera.
Yeah, the product placement in this film is ridonculous!
Clark cuts though the glacier to get through to the ship and spots a nearby console. After a brief scuffle with a droid, he inserts a small key that was with him on his ship when he crashed. He spots Jor-El's "ghost" and is about to go and investigate when he hears Lois being attacked by the droid.
Superman saves Lois (which I'm sure is something that will never happen again) by using his heat vision to cauterize her wounds.
The ship takes off but Lois is left behind.

She recounts her experience to her boss Perry White (played by Lawrence Fishburne), who says that he's not going to print the story because of the Pentagon, but Lois gets Jimmy Olsen Woodburne to leak it online. I like Lawrence Fishburne in this movie, but he can't stop feeling a little superfluous. Like he and the Daily Planet are only here because...well it's a Superman movie. It'd be like making a Spider-Man film without the Daily Bugle.
Back to Clark, he's receiving a message from "Ghost" Jor-El (hey, how come Lara didn't get a "ghost"?) as he re-explains everything we learned in the first twenty minutes.
He gives an info dump that every birth on Krypton was predetermined and that there were no natural births and the impo-shank of Silverman
He makes the ship create the Super-suit...I think...and then this leads to one of the best scenes of the movie: Superman's first flight. I really do genuinely love this bit, it's funny, the music is great (Hans Zimmer is in top form, as always), it's one of the few points in the film that Cavill is allowed to act human, and not just as a cipher for people to talk at, and it is one of the few parts of the film that actually inspires hope. It's just a great scene.
Additionally, I will say that I really do like the Super-suit. It looks like Superman's traditional look whilst also looking like alien clothes so spot on there.
Doesn't hurt that Henry Cavill is a sexy, sexy man!
Lois retraces all the places that Clark has been and finally tracks him down. They engage in a brief conversation about the illi-gaga of Superfan.

And then the worst scene in the movie. You know the one. Flashback to adolescent Clark as he and his parents are arguing in the car, when they are invaded by the movie Twister.

I swear, if Cary Elwes comes on screen with a laughable accent, I'm gone.
They get out of the car and Jon orders his son to help get people under a nearby overpass (Hey, Jon, maybe read up on Wind Tunnels sometime before you...y'know, die!). They remember that they left the dog in the car and instead of sending their super-powered son to get him, Jon, who has all the stamina of a post-middle aged Kevin Costner, goes instead.

Okay, look, I get that he didn't want to reveal his son yet and that it is meant to be all noble and junk but A) Clark could easily have done this without arousing too much suspicion; I mean, Jon was able to die without being picked up and thrown a mile away.
Yeah, death via tornado doesn't so much involve noble stoicism as much as a lot of  "AHHH!" and screaming and going "OH DEAR GOD, MY HEAD IS WHERE MY ANUS USED TO BE!"
B) Everyone in Smallville already knows what Clark can do! Pulling a bus out of a river is not something people easily forget!
C) The green screen in this scene (say that three times fast!) is really awful.
D) Clark was going to reveal himself later anyway so this sacrifice is meaningless!

E) By doing it this way you remove one of Superman's primary motivations. Maybe I need to brush up on my comic book lore, but I thought the whole point of Pappy Kent dying of a heart attack was that Superman couldn't save everyone. That no matter how hard he tried, people were always going to get hurt! By doing it this way, you remove his appreciation for mortality (Oh, trust me we'll be touching on that again soon!)
So all in all, I hate this scene.

Perry chews out Lois for leaking her report and he talks about the employment of Shmeenerdan.
Clark returns to the Kent estate, having hitched a ride on a very familiar looking truck.
I hear they've moved into the "exploding jars of piss" business.
And then Clark and his mother talk about the impootank of Superboo.
So, basically, after an  hour of setup, Zod and his mates finally return in what is actually a pretty legitimately creepy scene.
First, the army spots Zod's ship in orbit, helpfully pointing it out with an arrow.
Oh thank god, I never would have seen it otherwise.
Then Zod hacks all the channels (ALL of the channels) to deliver a message to Earth. Just for fun, I'm going to recount it...in LIMERICK FORM!

Among you there's a guy named Kal.
You see, he's like me and my pals.
Bequeath him to Zod,
Or your faces I will trod.
And then leave you all dead, bye now!

I am truly the greatest poet of our time.
There's a brief flashback (No, in this movie?) to when Clark was a child. A couple of bullies try to beat him up but they fail. Jon says that he's proud of his son's restraint...oh no sorry, he just goes into another speech about the (say it with me now) da impotence of super-donk!
Lois is captured by the FBI meanwhile Clark visits a random local church to have a conversation about the intercontinental of sillystring.
Oh, but this particular episode of "Zack Snyder's Speech Therapy Session" is made even more unbearable due to the Jesus symbolism.
Oh, sorry, I meant to write JESUS SYMBOLISM!
Oim biggah than JEEEESUS!
Something that every Superman movie has gotten wrong so far is equating Superman with Jesus. Superman Returns is guilty of this as are all the Christopher Reeves ones. And I get it, being sent from another plane of existence to help humanity, I get where you can draw the parallels.
BUT, and this is a big smelly butt with lots of pimples, Superman is more akin to Moses than the Big J, I feel anyway. In that, rather than being a wholly superior being sent to guide humanity, he is a human being, just one with greater purpose than the rest of us. But whatever, this is the narrative through-line they've chosen and if I go into it then we're going to be here all damn night.

Superman surrenders to humanity and is sent to an interrogation with Lois Lane. And I just realized another one of my big problems with this film: THERE'S NO GODDAMN COLOUR!

Look, I get it, this Zack Snyder we're talking about and he only ever has two colours: overexposed grey and overexposed brown. But this is a Superman movie! At the very least, he should be colourful! If you want to have a darker, more *hurgh* realistic Superman movie, fine, but could Superman himself at the very least look more alive than a corpse in a Call of Duty game!?

That having been said though, I do actually like this scene, in fact, it's one of my favorite bits in the movie. Why? Because Superman is not being talked at! There are no "grand" overly long speeches about da imkatonk uv stuperfart. There's just Lois and Clark, talking like two actual human beings. I like it because it finally allows Henry Cavill to show what his Superman would be like if he were allowed to be Superman and it turns out...he'd be great at it! His Superman is funny, and charming and someone that inspires confidence. He does a really good job!

But then the scene is over, and we're back to the plot. Superman and also Lois (for...some reason) agree to go aboard Zod's ship, Superman slipping Lois the Jor drive, where Superman is overwhelmed by the Kryptonian atmosphere (which, admittedly, is a pretty clever update to Kryptonite).

In his dreams, Zod explains that the destruction of Krypton freed them from the Phantom Zone (that was lucky!), they stole a World Engine (basically a large terraforming device) and then followed the signal of the scout-ship to Earth. Well. That's not overly complicated at all. Zod then goes on to say that he's remorseful for what he had to do to Jor and that he's ready to rebuild Krypton on Earth. Which of course, will mean the destruction of everyone he's every known or loved.

Well, as far as sales pitches go, it's slightly above "gives you instant bacne".
Of course he rejects Zod and wakes back up.
Zod and Co. go down to find the Codex. Lois implants the Jor drive and he helps her escape but not before her escape pod is damaged. Jor changes the atmosphere of the ship and gives Superman his powers back. And I will say that I do like the look he gives the doctor that was about to experiment on him. 
Oh Son, you done messed up now!
Jor helps Lois escape in a pod but it gets damaged on its way out. Jor tells Superman that he can save all of the humans (yeah, we'll see about that) and then Superman flies down to save Lois. They partake in some brief romantic banter but Superman hears that his Mum is in danger and so flies into an action scene.

Superman and some other Kryptonians duke it out in Smallville and it's a pretty exciting action sequence...once you can get past all the rampant death and destruction (and the product placement). To his credit, it's obvious that Superman is trying to move the battle away from Smallville, it's just that he's hilariously outgunned by the far superior Kryptonians. 
Anyway, battle battle battle.

The fight ends, the army realizes that Superman is not their enemy and Superman even has another genuinely touching moment with his mother. 

There's no time to waste however as the Kryptonians have deployed their ship over Metropolis and the World Engine over the Indian Ocean. Superman goes to deal with the latter whilst the army deal with the former.
Zod turns the machine on and starts pulverizing Metropolis. Because that's what you want to see in a Superman movie right? Rampant Death and Destruction!
Bring the kiddies!
AND SO MORE ACTION! Seriously, like the back half of this movie is nothing but action. So in order to save time, I'll just briefly say what I thought about each.

SUPERMAN v THE WORLD ENGINE: Love it, looks comic book-y and ends on a high note. 
Also, I'm sure it makes John Peters very happy.
THE ARMY v ZOD in THE SCOUT SHIP: (Oh yeah, Zod stole the Scout Ship thing earlier) Meh, it's fine.

So action, action, action, Zack Snyder, Watchmen, Spartans, Owls, Blah until finally the day is saved, Emile Hamilton, one of the staples of the Superman franchise is dead (BOO! HISS!) but Lois is saved by Superman. 
Honestly, if the film ended here with Superman helping rebuild Metropolis, I think it would've worked better and would have been more in keeping with Superman's character both traditionally and what was displayed in this movie.

Unfortunately, no, Zod survives and he and Superman duke it out in a long, LONG action sequence that quickly devolves into two CGI blobs punching each-other. Not only is this final action sequence boring, but it goes against the Clark built up by the movie itself. It keeps droning on about Superman's importance and how he's a symbol of hope, yet when it comes to the end, he just punches Zod and shows little care for the people who might be killed.
And then we get to the most controversial part of the film: Superman kills Zod.
He snaps his neck.
Snuffs him.
Does him in.
Makes him cease to be.
Creates an ex-Kryptonian.
Ah, he'll be fine. I hear there's this wonderful "Doomsday" treatment they have.
I don't like this. At all. Not because it makes Superman a killer, a better movie could've made it work. But because, ultimately, it has no impact what so ever. Superman never expresses his hatred of killing before this moment and afterwards, he has a bit of freak out sure, but he never really thinks about it all that much. Even in the sequel, Zod's body is used to create Doomsday but that's it. The destruction of Metropolis made death  meaningless, so this incident holds no weight. I don't like this scene because it doesn't fit with the movie and ultimately just sours my opinion of the film as a whole. 
Even the very next scene is a "comedic" one between Superman and some army guys.
So this incident, one that inspired fanboy rage beyond all the fiery pits of hell and caused years of debate about what it would mean...is pointless.
Then there's Clark going to the Daily Planet.

My feelings on Man of Steel are...mixed as you can probably tell. There are moments where this film feels almost perfect. The actors (Henry Cavill especially) are clearly giving it their all. The action is fun and exciting and there are some good character interactions. But the film is way too focused on explaining Superman and trying to justify him rather than just letting him be. I don't like the rampant destruction, I hate the amount of speechifying and this film makes me miss colour. Zack Snyder was not the right choice for this material. I like him, I think he can make good stuff, but the dude is best making bleak films. Superman is not bleak. He is hopeful and brave, charismatic and caring basically everything a human should be. 
Even as a movie in of itself, the film is wonky. The first hour is extremely slow whilst the second speeds by like Speedy Gonzales. 

But I will say that after Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice this film has gone up slightly in my eyes. At least this film has some character, at least this film has some good cinematography, at least this film is coherent and at least this film has a Superman who, albeit occasionally, acts like Superman!

So all in all, my opinions on this film are...eh? It its moments, and I certainly can't not recommend it but ultimately the dour dreary nature of the film prevents it from being kind of classic.

I give Man of Steel The Meh Pin for Okayness

NEXT POST: 11/05/2016 
*Predator Noise*

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