So, a short ways back, I posted an article with my thoughts about the upcoming movie Man of Steel. As a big Superman fan, a lot of hopes and fears were going with me into the theater as I saw it this past weekend, and I thought that you might want to have some idea of what I thought.
I’ll take a moment to say that, if you think I’m capable of giving my opinion of a movie I’ve seen without a certain level of spoilers, you’re sadly mistaken. This article is likely to be spoiler-tastic, and I wanted to give everyone fair warning. If you haven’t seen the movie, you may want to come back and read after you have.
Okay, everyone gone who doesn’t want spoilers? Good.
Big and Small
Okay, so this movie is unbelievably epic. From the opening sequences on Krypton, with General Zod leading a military coup against Jor-El and the Science Council to the shockingly destructive end fight sequences, there’s nothing small about the scope of this film.
Except that there is.
It’s amazing that, in a story this big, it takes time to slow down and tell a small story, as well. At its core, beyond the fighting and the destruction and the romance, it’s the story of a person who has an incredibly fundamental question on his mind: who am I?
Clark is different from everyone else. He’s got powers that set him apart from his schoolmates and his family. He has to be incredibly careful, not only to avoid being discovered living among ordinary people, but to avoid hurting someone. Clark has to really hold back and keep his cool, or people could die. His adoptive parents are doing their best to help him grow into the best person he can be, but it’s not easy. Clark wants to help people, but he’s afraid to reveal who he is, too. He’s afraid that, as soon as people know he’s different, they’ll be afraid of him. The fact that his adopted Dad drums this into him over and over probably isn’t helping. In fact, we see his Dad make the ultimate sacrifice for Clark’s safety, something that clearly haunts him.
As an adult, Clark is spending a lot of time in remote places where it’s less likely he’ll be noticed. But his natural tendency to want to use his powers for good keeps forcing him to reveal himself, and then it’s time to move on. So when Clark finds out about something that might be related to the who and what of his true identity, he heads into even more remote territory to find it. The fact that a young lady named Lois Lane is there, too, ultimately causes him to reveal himself yet again. And, in one of the more controversial but incredibly logical changes to the overall Superman mythology, it isn’t long before she figures out exactly who he is and shows up on the Kent farm.
By the time General Zod shows up on Earth looking for Kal-El and the “Codex” (nope, I’m not going to explain if you haven’t seen it yet), Clark is just beginning to really understand himself and what he can be to humanity.
Sci-Fi & Violent
My husband Steve and I talked a lot about why we think critics are panning this film. We think they don’t get it. A lot of this movie is about how Clark is an alien and how people react to this fact with initial distrust before slowly beginning to warm to him as he makes it clear he’s not an enemy. There are a lot of spaceships, alien technologies, and sci-fi elements. While I’ve been keeping up with Superman over the last 20+ years and know that it’s taken a very sci-fi turn, we feel that critics weren’t ready for this and just expected the alien aspect to be as hand-waved as it was in the older films.
I mean, seriously, if a guy showed up and said, “Hey, I’m a really, really powerful alien who’s been hiding among you from thirty years, but I’m here to help,” it’s more likely that the Men in Black would be dispatched than he’d be offered the key to the city. This touch of verisimilitude in the movie might be uncomfortable to someone who’s grown up with the idea that everyone loves Superman unequivocally…except Lex Luthor.
Also, this movie is intensely violent at times. It’s intriguing that Zod’s threat has shifted so dramatically from Superman II until now. Then, he was just out for vengeance and conquest. Now, he’s hell-bent on the complete destruction of humanity. Then, he was a megalomaniac. Now, he’s a genocidal psychotic…who’s all the more disturbing because you think to yourself, “Yeah, I can see why he’s doing what he’s doing.”
The scope of violence is truly shocking at times, as well. Some of that is simply improvement in special effects, but the city fight in Superman II seems positively droll by comparison to the fights and destruction is Man of Steel. I saw someone comment to the effect that the destruction in this made the destruction shown in The Avengers seem like it was handled with restraint. I don’t know if I’d go that far, but the threat in this feels much more terrifying, and Superman’s opposition to it maybe just a little bit more heroic.
So What Did I Think?
Well, speaking as a Superman fan and a movie buff, I absolutely loved it. I thought it was full of great performances, especially Henry Cavill as Superman. He was extremely human, fallible and afraid, but utterly unwilling to give up, just like Superman should be. He had touching moments with his Earth family, and his romance with Lois Lane didn’t seem forced at all. It seemed a pretty natural extension of what they’d gone through together. Amy Adams was a great Lois Lane, and, while Michael Shannon isn’t Terrance Stamp, this Zod is a very different villain, and Shannon did a great job of being utterly menacing.
I really don’t understand what critics are saying about the movie being hard to follow, unless they’re confused by the non-linear nature of the story. There are numerous flashbacks to episodes earlier in Clark’s life. I didn’t have any trouble with this, and I didn’t have any trouble understanding motivations, plans, goals, or anything else. Again, maybe the critics were put off by the sci-fi elements. I just don’t know.
I have only three complaints, and they’re all pretty minor.
1. I thought the “dildo pods” that Zod and his cronies were imprisoned in had a…shall we say…unfortunate design to them. And I know I wasn’t the only person in the theater who thought so, because a lot of people laughed.
2. I thought Perry White’s line of, “Can you imagine how people on this planet would react…?” was oddly phrased. Why would he call out “on this planet”? Why wouldn’t he just say, “Can you imagine how people would react…?”
3. We’ve seen General Zod in Superman movies before. I kept waiting for some kind of villainous twist…like that his ship was really Brainiac…or that he was being manipulated by some other villain…but no, it was just Zod. Obviously, I didn’t know the scope of Zod’s resources or plans, but I’m starting to hanker for a Superman villain we haven’t seen before. Like it was great to see the Scarecrow, Ra’s al Ghul, Talia, and Bane get screen time alongside the Joker, Two-Face, and Catwoman in the Dark Knight films. I want to see Brainiac, or Metallo, or Titano, or someone.
I encourage everyone to ignore my review of this film. Ignore the critics. Go see the movie and make up your own mind. Was it too big and destructive? Was it not Super enough? Let us all know what you thought.