The Man of Steel
I am going to try to keep this brief and I will start with a spoiler free review with my thoughts and then I will also add some deeper reflection with spoilers but I will warn you in case you want to stop.
Man of Steel was Directed by Zack Snyder (300 & Watchmen) and one of the producers was Christopher Nolan. Having never watched Zack Snyders’ films before I at first thought that Nolan was the director as it reflects his epic scope and masterful moralizing by placing reality based, Conservative messages in an action or superhero movie.
This movie is a back story or foundation for an OBVIOUS franchise of many films. That being said it manages to lay a firm foundation for later films without actually sacrificing character development or interaction. It has a VERY good story and in fact out of ALL the Superman movies it did the best job, in my opinion, of explaining the origins story with the fall of Krypton and the sacrifice of baby Kal-Els’ birth parents being shown to good dramatic effect.
There is even some focus on the childhood Clark Kent and how he must learn to control his powers and his temper to TRY to fit into the everyday world of humans. I don’t want to give anything away here but the childhood back story is WELL done and needed as it comes up again in the movie and helps explain who he is and WHY he is who he is. His Earthly father is played by Kevin Costner to great effect and it is obvious that Clark learned MUCH about hard work, trying to do the right things and sacrifice from him.
This movie is HUGE in scale with amazing special effects that never take over the movie or feel out of place or unrealistic. Whether we are seeing the fall of Krypton, the attempted coup d’état (military takeover) of Zod or the final battle between Supes and Zod it all feels very plausible and looks real enough to immerse you in the fantasy world. For a contrast, people seemed to LOVE movies like Avatar and Avengers which to MY way of thinking BOTH rely far too heavily on special effects that ultimately just don’t convince.
The biggest complaints that I’ve heard about this film are that the character development story & dialogue weren’t thorough enough. One major example is that people think the interactions between Lois Lane and Superman weren’t deep enough and that General Zod was (depending on who you ask) either too dry or too over the top… To me analyzing what we ARE given about the characters situations and motivations, MUCH of which is revealed THROUGH character dialogue I couldn’t disagree more.
Spoilers ahead people! If you haven’t seen the movie and think that knowing plot points may ruin your enjoyment please stop now…
To me this movie strikes an almost perfect balance between laying the foundation for a franchise and telling a complete and enjoyable story NOW. The Kryptonian home world was a CGI dream come true for the creative team and will likely be for Superman fans. However, the strife of a collapsing world with a mini civil war and the Scientist Jor-El trying to get permission to send his son (the FIRST naturally conceived and born Kryptonian in generations) away with the Codex (a genetic and historical map of life and culture on Krypton) and ultimately seeing General Zod abolish the council of elders by killing one of them and seizing control. Jor-El played by Russel Crowe was apparently far sighted enough to know that he might have to fight to send his son away and made plans accordingly. Jor-El and Lara send their son away and Jor-El fights Zod to a virtual standstill. We begin to see the cruel, win at all costs nature of General Zod when he takes the cowards way out and stabs Jor-El through when the fight had stopped. Zod and his soldiers are banished and frozen in time for “300 cycles” but when Krypton collapses the explosion sets them free and we later find out they spend the next 30 years or so trying to find Kal-El and the Codex.
On earth the character development and dialogue are firing away as we see a young Clark being perceived to be the class basket case as he tries to adapt to all the things he can see, hear and do. We also get to see him bullied and see how saving the life of a bus full of kids puts him at further risk but also makes him a lifelong friend in one of the bullies he saved. Clark goes on as a young man to travel the world working and trying to decide what he is going to do with his powers. He helps others but whenever the display of power gets too great he moves on and starts over.
The story of Lois and Clark can’t start because Lois is only seeing and dealing with Superman in this movie (well until the end) and yet the dialogue and interactions are appropriate. The thing that is key about Lois is that she finds out who and what Clark is and decides not to share the information after Clark explains that he watched his father die to protect his secret from a world his father was sure wasn’t ready for him.
This all becomes a moot point when Zod arrives and tells the WORLD who he is looking for and “outs” him as different and super powered. The world is given an ultimatum to turn him in. One of the best scenes for dialogue to me, though brief, is when Clark walks into a local Church and tells the minister he is the guy the aliens want. The Minister gulps audibly and visibly and yet still tries to give him good advice. Superman ultimately gives himself up to the American authorities so that he can in turn be given over to General Zod.
Superman knew that Zod couldn’t be trusted but the full extent of what he wishes to do is almost unbelievable. He wants to use the codex and a machine called a “world engine” to terraform Earth. Terraforming is engineering the conditions, flora and fauna to better suit the other life forms. This world engine will also wipe out all of mankind if this is allowed to happen.
There is a message delivered by Commander Faora that Superman is weak because of his morality and that the Kryptonian soldiers are evolutionally superior because they are not hampered by it. This was a very interesting premise because I couldn’t stop thinking about the implications…
We see Perry (Editor at the Daily Planet played by Laurence Fishburne) stopping to try to save a young female intern who is pinned in rubble. He orders one of his reporters (who could have left since the world was falling apart around them and their workspace didn’t exist any longer) to help him try to get the young lady out. They struggle but as the destruction is coming towards them they know it is useless and stop. Neither man runs they stay with the girl knowing it will mean their doom. Superman also takes on a mission that just may kill him as when he gets near the world engine and conditions become more like Krypton he grows ever weaker. Soldiers are shown REPEATEDLY sacrificing and dying against an enemy they can’t HOPE to defeat…. One Air Force Colonel who had already shown himself willing to die against Commander Faora in a hand to hand knife battle but was saved by Superman, later sacrifices himself to deliver a nuke of sorts that destroys the world engine and creates a singularity or black hole that manages to suck in all the Kryptonians except Kal and Zod.
From an evolutionary standpoint, where there IS no objective external right and wrong, YOU are all that matter and you are supposed to protect yourself and stay alive. Sacrificing yourself for others makes NO sense from an evolutionary standpoint. This movie speaks of sacrifice, duty, honor and helping others even at the risk of oneself. It mentions God in a positive manner and not just as a curse word and ultimately, it shows that sometimes ALL we can do is stand against wrong. The final message to me in this movie comes from the final battle on Earth between the last two Kryptonians..
This sequence ALMOST became too much as we see an evenly matched Zod and Superman fighting. There is an unbelievable amount of collateral damage with buses, trains and entire buildings being laid waste. Finally, in a scene that looks like it was done in the Metropolis version of the Grand Central Station, we see Superman holding Zod in a chokehold while Zod starts trying to fry humans with his laser vision.. Zod had, earlier, told Superman that this could only end one way, with one of them dead, and I think that Superman had to be racking his brains as the big battle was raging, desperately trying to think of some other way to stop him. He tries reasoning with him and finally as Zod is just about to kill a cowering family Superman snaps his neck with a two handed twist. I burst out into applause. NOT because I enjoy seeing violence but because as an Army war veteran I understand (perhaps better than most) that some people are like rabid dogs and like rabid dogs they should be put down to protect the world from their infections and their destructive actions. Kal-El, realizing he has just had to kill the only other Kryptonian on Earth screams and starts to cry.
The last few minutes of the movie I don’t want to give away at all so I won’t.
This just may be the movie of the summer. I loved Iron Man 3 but this was even bigger and better to me. I’m still waiting for the New Captain America, Thor and Wolverine Movies but I can’t see right now how any of these can top Superman Man of Steel.