Sunday, June 23, 2013

Baker's Dozen: Movie review: Man of Steel

So, with spoilers and reviews exploding all around me like flak around a B1-7, I decided to move up my viewing of the new Superman movie, Man of Steel, and Wonder Wife and I trucked up to the local cineplex for a matinee. I can't say that I went into it completely unbiased; I can say that I was more pleased than I had expected to be. I am giving a generic spoilersspoilersspoilers warning for baker's dozen that follows.

1. The performances are uniformly good. Cavill is a great in the cape and tights, Adams is a fine Lois, and Crowe in particular makes Jor-El believable as both a man and a hologram.

2. The first hour-and-a-half or two hours of the film was a pretty good science fiction movie about first contact with aliens. Stripping it completely of any Superman elements would not change this film very much.

3. I never got the connection between the Kryptonian military insurrection, the depletion of natural resources resulting in the destabilization of the planet's core, and the whole eugenics business - it seemed an awful lot to cram into the last three weeks before the world ended, and it didn't get across a sense of the end of days.

4. Much of the cinematography put me in mind of laundry detergent commercials... too much soft focus, too much just out of focus, too many lens flares.

5. I did like the non-linear structure that carried much of the narrative, and the flashing-back and forward was done well.

6. The preliminary super-heroics were pretty cool, evoking a nice Golden Age Superman vibe.

7. The battles with the Kryptonians were uneven. Sometimes I was struck by just how well the movie captured what a superhuman would look like to mortal eyes: moving too fast to follow, creating destruction with no apparent effort, a nightmare. Yet much of the Kryptonian vs Kryptonian conflict was shot in such a way that made it hard to follow.

8. I have never been one to quibble with casting that deviates from the character model in the comics. In this movie, however, with the whole mood so non-Supermanly for so long, and so many of the trappings of the Daily Planet gone (did we ever see a globe?), Perry White, Steve Lombard, and "Jenny Olsen" could have been anyone, just your generic disaster movie survivors. They could have at least put a bust of Caesar on Laurence Fishburne's desk.

9. But it wasn't even so much the minutiae that was missing: it was something in the core. Costner's Jonathan Kent seemed a little too isolationist, a little too paranoid; Clark a little too distant.

10. The movie didn't really turn into a Superman movie for me until the Superman/Zod showdown. Specifically, Zod says something about being bred and trained as a warrior and asks Kal "Where did you get your training? On a farm?" Well, the answer to that is yes, of course, and that is exactly what makes him Superman: his training was not in strategy or tactics or technique, but in strength of will and courage of heart and commitment to purpose.

11. That said, Superman's ultimate choice in that fight just told me that the writers, in the end, don't get Superman.

12. And I think that was the film's fatal failure: Superman has a rich mythology to draw upon. Choosing to let so much if it slide away may have left a decent story behind, but in the end, it was not a story that leveraged the rich themes and tropes and traditions that the Superman legend holds. It was, in the end, not a Superman story.

13. Or maybe it was. Wonder Wife remarked that it was good as a casual fan to be reminded that Superman was an alien and that his relationship with humanity would be influenced by that. So perhaps as the first movie in a series aimed at a general audience, this movie accomplished what it set out to do.


  1. No comment about the Jesus stuff, huh?

  2. Meh. I have heard stuff said, and noticed that they made him 33, but really didn't see it.

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