I just got back from Man of Steel so much of this review will be pretty raw and not very organized- so bare with me. Man of Steel was my most highly anticipated film of the year. Superman has been my hero since I was a teen and I have stood by his side through the good times and bad. I even gave Superman Returns a pass even though it ultimately failed in modernizing the mythology for a new generation. So I had high hopes but low expectations because of my skepticism of Zach Snyder. So here goes…my initial gut feeling leaving the theater was one of disappointment. Not epic, nor anger inducing, but definitely far from being satisfied. Which was so unfortunate because it has so much going for it. The casting was solid and all the acting was fine. The world building of Krypton was spectacular. The new sci-fi feel made me want to see a prequel about the history of Krypton! The origins story done in multiple montages was handled very well. Solid mood and music throughout. The biggest problem I had is what has plagued Snyder’s filmmaking career- Man of Steel while full of emotion, it was missing some much needed good ole’ fashion awe. Seemingly swinging the pendulum from Donner’s romanticized Superman, MoS is all business. This is no spoiler, essentially MoS mashes both Superman I & II into one movie. Because of the bloated story, there is little time and space for emotions like majesty and wonder. Cavill, delivers a strong performance as a humble and meek Superman but not nearly as regal as Chris Reeve- but who can be?. Unfortunately, the dialogue doesn’t help him out any. Unlike previous Superman chapters, there is plenty of action throughout, however the last third really starts to feel like an updated version of the Neo vs Agent Smith fight in the Matrix III. There are plenty of wow moments and this final fight would put it up there as the most bombastic hero vs villain fight ever. It certainly makes the Superman II Metropolis fight look like a Michael Jackson BAD music video. Well, this is about as much as I can say without treading into spoilers.
Overall, the first act is very strong- then it makes an mildly entertaining gradual decent from that point. Even though MoS, or better titled Superman Begins, has a lot of strengths, it ultimately fails where I most suspected it would, in storytelling. It’s just not Snyder’s thing. At this point, I might see it again but I had a stronger return compulsion about Star Trek than this one. With me, sometimes movies have to marinate… but I have a feeling I won’t be as kind in the next few days. Now on to the painful part…
Now to take the gloves off. These are all half baked criticisms so thanks for your patience. Most of my concerns are third act problems which MoS is weakest.
- Tied to the earlier criticism about ‘awe and wonder’, Kal has almost no interaction with the people of Earth. We barely see people’s reaction to him. To make matters worst, there is way too much collateral death and Supes seems oblivious to it. In Superman II, Chris had to constantly save lives during his fight which made him vulnerable- but that’s WHO HE IS. He’s a savior not just a fighter. In MoS, I think I saw him save one person but that was about it. The sad reality is that Superman himself caused much more damage than the events of 9/11- seemingly without remorse. It seemed he was more interested in saving Earth but not necessarily people.
- Speaking of 9/11, the massive amounts of collateral damage was troubling. The damage even eclipses both Revenge of the Fallen and Avengers. During the fight, I had to mentally turn off my thoughts about 911 and the potential tens of thousands of loss of life during this showdown with Zod. How do you glaze over this cataclysmic event by the end of the movie? It was disturbing and I was conflicted over it. Am I being too sensitive?
- Speaking of Transformers and Avengers (and Amazing Spiderman, Dark Knight Returns, etc), while I liked the sci-fi feel of this updated version, this final act was way to familiar to me. How many times are we going to see a big machine in a New York type city, shooting an energy beam, that’s going to destroy the planet- unless you get McGuffin #1 and stick it into McGuffin #2. As soon as this master plan was revealed I just sighed in disappointment. I like the idea of Zod trying to recreate Krypton but this whole sequence felt old and unoriginal.
- The biggest problem is that MoS introduces Superman as an instant global threat when Zod outs him over the airwaves. Superman is now a liability verses a champion for the people. Imagine your home and a group of Nazi’s surrounded your house with guns drawn. You discover a Jew has been secretly living in basement for 30 years without your knowledge. It would be hard not to feel violated. At the very least, you would feel like the nazi’s would not be invading your home if it wasn’t for this tresspasser. Sure, if you had meta knowledge of what was at stake, then you might risk your life saving the refugee- but really all you are thinking about is survival. Let’s say instead of it being a secret stowaway, it was your beloved family member they were after. Then the stakes change and it becomes emotional. Arguably, he is the cause for tens of thousands of lives that a lifetime of good works will not be able to overcome. Back to my illustration, even if the good natured Jew indirectly caused the death of your spouse and kids, it would be hard not to hold that against him for the rest of his life. This story device just felt like the wrong way to introduce Superman to a new generation. I think the story priority was action over substance which was an obvious response to the 2006 Superman Returns.
I have more gripes but those are the big ones for now. I liked Cavill, Adams, Crowe, and Shannon. I liked his super suit. I even liked the Batman Begins formula. However, overall I felt like this bold new direction didn’t make me admire or love Superman. Unlike the Superman Returns universe, I do think you can build off this one. DC/Warner certainly need to start somewhere and this is a decent place to start a Justice League franchise. Although, if they were to create a whole new Superman for the next, I think I would be fine with that. I think the perfect title would be “Superman Again”.
I’m marinating and I’ll tweet more thoughts in the days to come.