As a warning this may be one of my longest reviews to date, but I also believe this movie is one of the few that deserves to be talked about and thought about. There are bones of contention scattered through the film by many fans and some critics and I want to lay them to rest from my point of view. So I am going to break tradition for me and give the TL;DR upfront.
SEE MAN OF STEEL. At the moment this is the absolute must see film of the summer. Pacific Rim and Lone Ranger haven’t come out so this is the movie to beat right now in every respect.
Why? That’s what you may be looking for in my review.
Director Zack Snyder, best known for 300 and Watchmen (and lamented for Sucker Punch) with writer David S Goyer (the last three Batman films, Blade films and Dark City) have departed from the hyper realism of Nolan’s Batman universe and given us the Man of Steel of this era. To take liberties with a line from Dark Knight, this is the Man of Steel we need, not the one we deserve.
Henry Cavill (best known for the 300 knock off Immortals), plays the titular character with all the complexity of a modern hero. He has internal anger, he has his reserve, he isn’t entirely the boy scout of the 1930’s and he has fear and he has doubts. Cavill expertly delivers the range of emotions and conflict of a man with two homes, two worlds and of a man who belongs to both and neither. An alien wherever he goes this Clark Kent is guided by his conscience and the words of his two fathers. He is a literal god among men who can shake the pillars of heaven with a passing glance and yet turns the other cheek when confronted with those he could so casually defeat. It amazed me to see the nuance to a character like this and to let him become human for the first time, not in the genetic or literal sense; but in the sense that he has the emotional frailties and concerns of man raised as a human by humans living with humans but never quite human. To quote one of the animated series, “I live in a world made of cardboard, always holding back, afraid to break something, someone.”
This is that Superman. That being said, this is also the first time ever that we get to see the rest of the line I just quoted, “Never allowing myself to lose control even for a moment or someone could die. But you can take it, can’t you big man? What we have here is a rare opportunity for me to cut loose and show you how powerful I really am.”
He does and we are amazed. We get the slug fest we have as an audience been waiting for ever since Superman hit the silver screen. For the first time in 75 years we are treated to watching our big blue boy scout have an aerial fight. Have a fight that is appropriately epic for him. We get to see him moving with super speed and believe it. We watch him break the sound barrier, we watch him fly and we watch him be the Superman we have all been clamoring for. The effects have finally gotten to the point where we can as fans of the character see this fight for his life and the life of the planet and people he loves.
Lets talk supporting cast as there are some nitpicks many have had.
Lois Lane – played by Amy Adams (you don’t need me to tell you who she is). She is missing some of the snark and sass that we have come to know from recent animated outings and this most certainly is not Margo Kidders portrayal. This Lois Lane actually IS an investigative reporter who isn’t happy unless she’s in a free fire zone. She is smart enough to follow the bread crumbs and put what she needs together. She also shows, perhaps due to writer bias, a sense of journalistic integrity that we have lost in our media outlets; choosing what stories to run with and what not to run with. She doesn’t flinch at the strange or danger itself and all but runs into it. This makes the new Lois Lane the partner our man of steel needs. She isn’t the Damsel in distress (as much) because she is an active participant in the story. She is also the one person that can support HIM. That’s a strength that should not be undercut or under emphasized. It takes big shoulders to be the Man of Steel, it maybe takes bigger ones to be there for him when and if it is needed.
Perry White / Jenny Olsen – This is perhaps some of the most controversial casting. I only need a moment here. Get over it. There’s nothing central to these characters that couldn’t be changed. Perry is still the editor and he lets you know he is in charge. He cares for his people and his paper – in that order. Jenny -…aka Jimmy – exists, in a future film they may be more important but right now, they exist. Deal with it.
Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent. This deserves an extra moment because of a scene that was shown in the trailers. People are up in arms about JK telling young Clark “I don’t know maybe” when asked if he should have let kids die. I am not a parent, but I want you to consider raising someone for thirteen years as your own. You know full well that they are not of this earth but you have made them yours. You know at any moment people will come to take him away, take your son away if his secret is let out. You know that people are afraid of what they don’t know and that though they cannot hurt your son physically there is a lot of other types of harm that can be done. This is the Jonathan we have. A loving father who wants his son to be a good man some day, to be safe and to have no harm come to him. No matter the price he has to pay all he wants is to protect his son.
All of the other major characters in the film are played equally complex both good and evil, who believe in what they are, what they do and why they do it.
Lets talk FX and I know this is a long review. This may be one of the few flaws in the movie. They are not perfect. They made a man fly and it looks far better than it did in the 80’s with the Reeves versions; yet it isn’t always quite clean and the line of the green screen can be seen ever so slightly to the discerning eye. Does it affect much? No. Its still awesome to watch him break the sound barrier and fly across continents its just not “perfect”. There are other flaws in the FX during some of the fight sequences where I could tell CG was used in place of the characters. While much cleaner than the FX in Matrix 2 and overall better executed I could tell. I hope you can’t.
Camera work – FOR GOD FRAKKIN SAKES – STOP WITH SHAKY CAM. I am going to do a new series called Rants from the Darke and this will be my first major rant. IT ISNT NECESSARY and in fact hurts your film. The quick zooms to bring you into the action from a wide pan and scan shot into a close up are a bit jarring in 3D. I will see it in 2D tonight and hope that it’s not as bad.
Those are the two areas the movie lacks, aside from some small pacing issues and deus ex machina occurrences. Aside from that, it’s really the epic superman reboot we have been waiting for.
It leaves one final question for those who go – does the world need superman? Is Superman still relevant other than to make money for DC comics who can’t get their cinematic act together?
As many of you know I am a sarcastic witch when I want to be, I am cynical and jaded to the world and have one of the lowest opinions of humanity one can have. I say Yes to the question. The movie tells us that the S on his chest is the symbol for the house of El. It means Hope in Kryptonian. I think we need a little hope. I think that as a country and a species we are in a world of polarized extremes with only a few bright spots in the dark. That while we are not “teetering on the brink of the abyss”; that we need heroes. We need that which is good and represents the best of what we can be. That while heroes that kill are sometimes needed and wanted, we should hope for more we should want more. I think we need a hero that doesn’t kill unless he has no other choice. A hero that is there to protect the people even if it could mean his own life.
I believe we need a Superman, I believe we need a little hope. Collateral damage of fights aside, I want a world where I can look up in the sky and see not a bird, not a plane but Superman.
This movie gives me that world and I am happy for it.