[img]http://www.moviehousememories.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Man-of-Steel-Theatrical-Poster-Courtesy-of-Warner-Bros.-Pictures.jpg[/img]WARNING: VARIOUS PLOT SPOILERS ABOUT THIS FILM -- JUST RELEASED TODAY IN U.S. THEATERS (FRIDAY JUNE 14) -- INCLUDED BELOW; PLEASE DO NOT READ IF YOU HAVEN'T YET SEEN THIS.
Just got back from seeing, in the first showing of its opening night, the long-awaited re-reboot of DC’s most beloved character in their arsenal, and I have some mixed feelings about it, my friends, that I’d like to share here with you. First, let’s begin with talking about the critical negativity bestowed upon Man of Steel’s predecessor, Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns – I don’t understand why this film was so defecated on by critics and fans upon its launch and subsequent re-runnings on home video. It was designed to be a “continuation” story of sorts, with Singer feeling – rightfully so – that he didn’t need to go into the entire “birther”/origin story, instead concentrating on a plot that revolved around Kal El hearing that scientists had found remnants of Krypton and his search for parts of his home world, thus “abandoning” Earth for awhile only to return and be our protector once again. While horribly mis-cast in many areas – Lois Lane primarily – the film was far from a disaster, rather a bit long-in-the-tooth in terms of villain choice by the way of the tiring Lex Luthor angle (Kevin Spacey). I thought it was wise for Singer to go with a “continuation” plot rather than a reboot of sorts, even though the film was attempting to re-introduce a new generation to the characters made so lovable and believable by the Christopher Reeve films that came before it (to this day, no one will play the role like the late great Reeve); of course, in the midst of this was Warner Bros.’ interest in resurrecting a franchise nameplate in the wake of the comic film adaptation craze and once Christopher Nolan had a hit on his hands with Batman Begins, there seemed to be no stopping Warner, Syncopy, Legendary Pictures and DC Comics’ live action division. What I would have done, personally, though if I were directing Superman Returns was to attempt to actually offer the roles of the classic characters in the story – Lois, Lex and Perry White – to the actors that portrayed them in the classic Superman films…that is, I would have tried to get Margot Kidder, Gene Hackman and even Jackie Cooper to reprise their roles because this was, after all, a “continuation” story and the only one not around to reprise a role would have been Reeve. I mean, we did get a cameo by the great Marlon Brando as Jor El – even “speaking” to Spacey’s Luthor as a holographic image in the iconic Fortress of Solitude – so why not get the other main stars to reappear? It would have made logical sense in that they all simply would have gotten naturally older, and Singer could have somehow woven their characters into the current time period – specialized makeup could have also made them appear a bit younger than they are in real life. It seemed to me, at least, that Kate Bosworth playing Lois in Returns didn’t make any chronological sense; Bosworth is younger than Margot Kidder ever was even during 1978’s Superman and yet it was supposed to be years after the events of Superman II…this didn’t make any sense to me. Though, it was wise for the filmmakers behind Superman Returns to completely ignore the events and timeline of Superman III and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, two of the most laughable motion pictures ever put to celluloid.
And so I never understood why Returns was considered such a disappointment by many; sure, it didn’t have the charm that the Reeve films had, but it did follow the “flying intro credits” formula like the classics before it, making it instantly recognizable as a Superman film, and Brandon Routh looked good in the revamped, modernized costume – further, the effects weren’t cheesy or offputting (especially compared to the old films and the limitations of the technology of the time), Spacey portrayed a pretty creepy and sinister Luthor and there was a nice, “retro” throwback feel to the color timing, suggesting a bygone period from perhaps the Reeve films’ days, especially in the shots including the Daily Planet. Still, the film didn’t really see all that much Supes “hand-to-hand” combat action, the plot centering more around our hero attempting to squelch the damage Luthor had done to Metropolis by way of the “new continent” he had created offshore (one of the film’s shortcomings).
Man of Steel, as directed by Zach “300 and Dawn of the Dead” Snyder, is a completely radical departure from Singer’s Superman Returns – here, I can happily report, fans that have been waiting for rabid, nail-biting fight sequences that seemed as though they jumped off the pages of the comic will be more than pleased. Finally, we get to see the main character in serious, tail-kickin’ fight action never before seen in any Superman feature film, and we finally get an adversary that’s both life-threatening and menacing in Michael Shannon’s General Zod. There are problems, unfortunately, but that doesn’t stop Man of Steel from easily making up for the disaster this summer that was Iron Man 3; let me preface my detailed analysis of this motion picture first by saying much of the film was horribly mis-cast and illogically endowed with way too heavy a dollop of science fiction and Star Trek-esque overtones. This was something I complained about in the recent reboot of the Spider-Man franchise – Marc Webb, in my opinion, mis-cast that film from beginning to end, starting with the horrible choices of Sally Field and Martin Sheen playing Aunt May and Uncle Ben. Then, there was the problem with Andrew Garfield in the main lead as Parker – what?! We have a skateboarding, mop-headed, geeky freak who can’t even put a sentence together just to satisfy and cater to a demographic of idiotic teenage girls who see this stuff as attractive? Really? Tobey Maguire, in my opinion, was far superior in this role – right down to the facial gestures that looked like they came right off the pages of Stan Lee’s legendary book. Alas, this problem trickles down to Snyder’s Man of Steel in that it’s not Henry Cavill in the lead as Clark/Kal El that’s the issue but rather the supporting players – Michael Shannon as General Zod was an absolutely awful choice, especially when you compare his performance to Terence Stamp’s in Superman II, while Russell Crowe as Jor El wasn’t really fitting, either…then, there’s…wait for it…Laurence Fishburne as Perry White? Are they serious? Horrific choice. Honestly. While no one will play the role like Jackie Cooper, at least Frank Langella was acceptable in Superman Returns. Also mis-cast is Diane Lane and Kevin Costner as Kal El’s Earth parents; in my opinion, it seems filmmakers of these “reboots” simply choose Hollywood chart topper names to get some marquee value without taking into consideration if these people will actually work or make sense in the roles. Yet, in some sense of retrospect, my wife explained it to me like this: Perhaps it’s their way of re-introducing these characters to a new generation that expects folks of the age of the characters like Aunt May and Uncle Ben and Clark Kent’s parents to not really look as “old” as the people that came before them did at this same time/age frame. In this context, the casting kind of makes more sense.
Now, as most of you already know, the essence behind Man of Steel was a complete re-telling of the birth story, so we get Snyder’s take on the origin mythos here – but I had a big problem with this, as the entire opening sequences on Krypton itself are of a much, much darker nature, taking on heavy science fiction overtones that are in complete contradiction with the original Superman films. I understand Snyder had already helmed incredibly kinetic projects like 300 – and you can definitely feel that influence here – and that Christopher Nolan brought his brooding, dark vision to the story via producing duties, but something felt totally off and “different” from the very beginning of Man of Steel. Gone is Krypton’s “hot white” essence and Jor El’s “glowing white” costuming when Brando played the role; here, Krypton is a dark, alien place run by beings that are more equipped to be fighting in gladiator-style events with their armored costumes than escaping a doomed planet. Crowe’s performance as Jor El is okay, but I just didn’t buy him as Kal’s father, especially when you keep seeing Brando in your head in the role. What confused me most of all was Snyder’s source material for the story he weaves here – which Superman comics portray Krypton as such a “synthetic” and “organic” place with so many robotics and alien-esque beings flying about and within?
Still, much to fans’ delight, we get a dabble into Superman II territory by Snyder in the way of re-introducing the great General Zod character to a new generation of theater goers – instead of yet again Kal El meeting notorious criminal mastermind Lex Luthor once he gets to Earth, we have him meeting and coming into conflict with the legendary Zod, whose presence is what made Superman II such a memorable comic adaptation. It seems what Snyder and team have done here is to borrow elements from Richard Donner’s Superman II while weaving a more modern story, but in so doing, a way-too-thick science fiction overtone gets lathered on, leaving behind the simplicity of the original goofy story. It seems Zod (played by a horrifically-cast Michael Shannon) is the military commanding force upon Krypton and has led a revolt with his constituents in the midst of the planet breaking apart and preparing for its doom. Zod claims his revolt is merely in the best interests of Krypton and will lead to his resurrection of the Kryptonians, but Jor El (Crowe) knows him too well and instead instills his newborn son with all the powers of the planet within the child’s cellular structure. After an effective and exciting hand-to-hand combat sequence between Jor El and Zod where Zod pretty much gets his backside handed to him, the Kryptonian council sends Zod and his followers to a vessel that will forever be trapped inside the Phantom Zone – a concept explored in Donner’s film but radically altered in this version – as a punishment for their attempted overthrow. That appears to be the last action the council ever takes, as the planet Krypton explodes (not before Zod manages to stab and kill Jor El) and Kal El is thrust into space towards Earth and Zod and his people are thrown into the atmosphere as well, somewhere within this “Phantom Zone” that’s never really fleshed out.
A big problem I had during these Krypton sequences early on was the costuming – while of course ridiculous and cheesy, the costumes in Superman II with the huge black boots and shiny black outfits somehow “worked;” in Snyder’s film, these have been replaced by gladiator-esque body armor and oversized shoulder pads that looked equally as ridiculous. Where Krypton was once run by what appeared to be a technologically superior and advanced race has been replaced by a colder, darker more antiquated-appearing variant even though the technology on display here was quite…well…advanced. Where the original Superman of the 70s explored the entire Kal El crashing into Smallville angle, being taken in by his Earth parents, Man of Steel kind of goes back and forth with these elements, suggesting the crash landing by Kal into the Kansas farm but then quickly fast-forwarding to him being grown up and working on a fishing ship. What? Again, I have to ask – which run of the comics ever suggested Clark worked on a fishing boat, or worked as a waiter in a seaside bar as Snyder’s film suggests? In between these scenes, we get flashbacks to Clark growing up on the farm, being raised by Costner and Lane’s characters, while he discovers for himself his developing powers and abilities. One thing I do applaud Snyder for is introducing a sequence that explains how he first “gets” his red and blue suit – in a sequence that makes a nod to the “talking hologram” scenes of previous films in which Clark can communicate with visions of his father, Jor El (Crowe) explains to Kal El who he is and what he should do as Earth’s protector inside some kind of holographic “craft” that appears when Kal El utilizes the legendary S-shaped “key” that accompanied him to Earth in his pod. All of this is a radical departure from what you have seen in previous takes on this material, and I can’t figure out yet if I liked it or not – but what made this sequence so great was that Jor El shows Kal his red and blue suit with the iconic “S” on it, which Kal will use to become Earth’s greatest superhero, of course. Gone are the days of Clark Kent running into a phone booth or putting colored pantyhose on beneath his suit, I suppose; now we know how he actually acquired the costume.
The whole way Lois Lane gets introduced to the story was a bit hokey – and we even get a mention of Lana Lang, remember her from Superman III? – in that she somehow stumbles upon a story about some kind of alien contraption that was discovered in the ice from a long-bygone era, which leads her to investigate this alien stranger that has been living in different towns, cities and states (Clark Kent)…eventually, she catches up to Clark and discovers who he really is (an element that took nearly two full motion pictures to get to in the previous classic films) amidst news that Zod and his legion have come to Earth, demanding Kal El be turned over to him. This is where things get hairy, offputting and…well...just different as compared to material we already know; first, Zod knew Jor El sent his son to Earth with the last remaining essence of Krypton before he was banished to the Phantom Zone, and for this, he seeks revenge – what Zod’s ultimate plan revolves around is “re-inventing” Earth’s atmosphere so he can “re-create” Krypton on actual Earth. But as Kevin Spacey’s Lex Luthor explained to us in Superman Returns, simultaneous existence of certain bodies, essences and matter can’t occur…can it? And so, Zod plans to re-create Krypton right there on Earth, by, essentially, “paving over” the planet. What’s not shown is what is suggested in Donner’s Superman II – that from the blast of Krypton’s explosion, Zod and his people were blown free from the Phantom Zone, eventually making their way to Earth where they come to not only wreak havoc but find the son of their jailor.
The way in which Snyder handled the Zod-coming-to-Earth thing was cool – television broadcasts, cell phone transmissions and satellites are all jammed, the words “YOU ARE NOT ALONE” splashed across them, indicating, indeed, that a race of aliens have arrived. Next, we hear Shannon’s voice explaining who he is and why he has come to Earth – and that the people of the planet have to hand Kal El over to him. Still, as cool as this element was, the whole “Zod and his people” aspect wasn’t; instead of a free-flying trio of space villains as seen in Donner’s take, Zod and his “legion “ – a squad of Krypton goons highly advanced and with developing powers possibly even superior to Superman’s – arrive on Earth wearing space suit-like contraptions that make them look more like the things that attack the planet in Battleship than anything resembling a Superman adversary. I didn’t like this take on the material, at all, and again I question Snyder’s source for inspiration – was this really how Zod and his followers traveled? With “breathing shields” to “protect” them from Earth’s atmosphere? What about Donner’s version, which suggested they could fly around as easily as Superman, no breathing apparatus needed? There is a moment in the film that suggests Diane Lane’s character tells Clark of when he was young and she noticed his “difficulty breathing,” possibly explaining the “developing a body that can live on Earth” aspect with regard to Superman and Zod, but honestly it was lost on me.
At this point, we see Henry Cavill flying about in the souped-up new cape and outfit – which looks much like Spider-Man’s in The Amazing Spider-Man in terms of dynamic detailing and cellular structure – and we get Snyder’s take on how he gets the name Superman when Lois Lane is talking to him in a military isolation room after he’s surrendered to authorities for being of alien nature. Lois asks him what the “S” on the chest stands for, and he tells her it’s not an “S” at all, rather a symbol that refers to a concept on his home world. She begins to give it another reference, letting him know that on Earth it is indeed an “S” and it will become his legendary new name – just before they’re interrupted. Eventually – and before Kal El can learn what evil Zod is really planning – he submits to Zod and his people, ready to be taken back for any crimes he has been accused of committing prior to coming to Earth. However, once aboard Zod’s ship that escaped the Phantom Zone, he quickly learns of the dark side of this Kryptonian adversary when he’s chained up and restrained, along with Lois.
In between are some hints and glances at other iconic Superman-esque elements such as the Daily Planet building, run by an awfully-cast Laurence Fishburne, the death of Clark’s Earth father (Costner) at the hands of not a heart attack as suggested by previous films but a tornado in the middle of a Kansas highway, conversations between a quasi-holographic Jor El and his son and more, but the heart of Snyder’s Man of Steel is what fans have been waiting what seems like ions for – incredibly choreographed, expertly CGI-coated fight sequences that rival any comic adaptation out there. Cavill’s portrayal of an angry, rage-driven Kal El who wants revenge on Zod for the death of his father as he clenches his fists and butts heads with the worst from Krypton was super-exciting and kinetic, setting up the downright nail-biting flying fight scenes that totally wiped the floor with anything Iron Man 3 could have conjured up; first, Superman comes to blows on Earth will Zod’s female henchwoman (played by Sarah Douglas in Superman II in which her name was “Ursa” but which is totally changed in this one) in absolutely exciting, visceral fight sequences, moving on to meet a giant, “Destroyer-from-Thor"-like being also loyal to Zod. As these adversaries beat the ever-loving-super-snot out of each other, the military attempts to converge on Zod and his people to try and stop them from going through with their plan for our planet. The whole military angle was something Snyder also borrowed heavily from Donner’s Superman II, though of course here the technology is far more advanced and enjoyable to look at. As these fight sequences came to a close, I was a bit disappointed that there was no hand-to-hand action between Zod and Superman being that Snyder seemed to be setting this up, and that’s what the whole essence behind Donner’s material was kind of built on…but I was rewarded for waiting in the final frame of the film.
Zod, now fully “adapted” to Earth’s atmosphere and no longer needing his breathing shield, strips to reveal his Krypton-esque black body suit before engaging Kal El in a downright electrifying fight sequence, taking both super beings all over Metropolis as they punch, fling, whirl, throw and pummel each other in ways Donner’s film could never explore – and THAT’S what I, as a fan, was waiting for in this re-imagining of the material. This last fight sequence between Zod and Superman is well worth waiting for, and is right up there with some of the very best comic adaptation battle scenes between hero and villain; further, it represents the first time in this franchise that we get to see a serious, non-comedic take on Superman’s battles with enemies from his home world…an element sorely missing from any other installment. I am glad Snyder decided not to explore the whole tired Lex Luthor thing again, though I know he’s going to have to appear at some point because he was an essential element in the books. Snyder also ends the film on a note that gives a nod to all the classic takes on this material and opens the door for the inevitable sequel – though no villain is hinted at: Clark Kent is now working for the Daily Planet and has donned his glasses, shirt and tie…though I have to say, Cavill doesn’t look at all fitting in this aspect of the role as compared to either Reeve or Routh.
The biggest problem with Man of Steel as I see it was the casting of Michael Shannon in such as vital role as General Zod – this guy had no menacing quality to him when taken alone…sure, once his threats heat up and he gains super strength to fight Kal El he becomes a formidable foe, but his performance in this role was just downright odd and lacked all the charm that Terence Stamp had when he played him. Shannon is wooden, almost amateurish in his portrayal of Zod, going through the notions as if he’s reading it off a cue card. This could have been easily re-cast using a plethora of other actor choices. Likewise for the choice of using Russell Crowe as Jor El; I don’t see this guy as anything other than General Maximus from Gladiator, plain and simple, and in the footsteps of the great Marlon Brando, he didn’t work here. There was also the problem of the way in which Krypton is depicted in Snyder’s vision here; what’s the more accurate rendition as according to the books…the way in which the planet looks in its “hyper bright” variant as seen in the original film(s) or this darker, brooding, alien-esque take? And was Zod in the books ever wearing spiked shoulder pads and body armor as seen here? On the plus side, we get a solid performance from Cavill in the lead role, eventually utilizing his red “laser eyes” as seen in previous incarnations in fights with Zod – as well as Zod using them too, which was a nice nod to Superman II – in addition to the character’s growing, evolving rage as he fights each one of his adversaries, flying faster and faster and with more force as this anger grows. This was handled expertly by Snyder, in my opinion.
As I stated, you could totally feel Snyder’s 300-esque syrup coating this production – from the way in which alien “creatures” fly around his version of Krypton with large flapping wings to the outrageously kinetic action sequences that grab you by the throat and don’t let go. What I didn’t care for – but what I understand it was done for – was the lack of the traditional, classic opening sequence to every Superman film with the “flying credits” and the iconic score. Instead, Snyder opened the film with the brooding fate of Krypton and Kal El’s birth with a credits-less intro; of course, this was supposed to be a much darker, different take on the material as ever seen before – a la Nolan’s Batman trilogy – but to leave out this essential element made it seem like it wasn’t even a Superman project. The fight scenes, though, especially towards the end, is everything you’ve been waiting for if you’re a fan of the previous work – what Snyder has done here is take the essence of what made Superman II, perhaps an even better film than the original arguably, such a great comic adaptation and turned it up to 11. I won’t give away Superman’s eventual control of Zod or how he stops him during that brutal final battle, but it was pretty satisfying; suffice to say, I think you’ll be pleased.
There were many things that bothered me about Man of Steel – one of which I forgot to mention was the lack of a Fortress of Solitude element -- but at the same time, I think this makes up for the summer’s comic film bomb that was Iron Man 3 and it seems like Warner and DC may finally be on the right track for a forthcoming Justice League project if they can ever get Wonder Woman or a Green Lantern sequel off the ground. I think Snyder took way too many liberties in terms of altering the genetics of the Superman mythos in the name of satisfying a modern day audience, as the film takes on way too deep of a dark science fiction/Alien tone at times. Still, this will be a buy when it arrives on Blu…
If you have seen this – or when you do – tell me if you concur or disagree with my findings regarding Man of Steel!