Movie Review: Man of Steel

Originally posted June 14, 2013

First off, I have to say that I am not particularly knowledgeable about comic books. I have many friends who are, but I simply am not that type of nerd. So, a detailed discussion on how this movie does or does not fit with the minutiae of the comic books is not something that I will be able to provide. I am, however, familiar with the various other television and film interpretations of Superman, and will comment on some of the differences there. This review will not have any plot spoilers, but if you are like my friend Eric and want to see the movie without knowing the opinion of any other human being, then you will want to avoid this and any other review of anything ever.

PREMISE: This is a Superman movie.

AND?: Okay, more specifically – this is a complete reboot of the Superman film franchise. Rather than trying to tie-in to something (such as the Christopher Reeve films), this starts over at the beginning as a modern adaptation of the Superman lore.

Casting/Acting: Director Zach Snyder made some casting choices that I would not have expected. Given, however, that he is creating a new vision for the franchise, each and every actor played their part and fit into the new look and feel perfectly. Russell Crowe, for example, brought the poise and dignity to Superman’s father Jor-El that needed to be there. Kevin Costner turns in a brilliantly subdued and nuanced performance as Jonathan Kent. Dianne Lane and Lawrence Fishburne also give great interpretations of some classic and well-known Superman characters.

Even the ancillary one-off characters are well taken care of, with Snyder casting veteran character-actors Harry Lennix, Richard Schiff, Christopher Meloni, Michael Kelly, and an Israeli actress named Ayelet Zurer. They act in roles that easily could have gone to less experienced (and by extension less expensive) actors. Instead, we have an extremely well-rounded ensemble cast, with each character being deep and 3-dimensional – something that you would expect to see in a classic epic film much more than a postmodern blockbuster.

The Heavy: The villain in this movie is a character that should be well known to even casual Superman fans, though due to the spoiler-free status of this review, I will not name him. (This is 2021 Matt. Zod. The antagonist was General Zod.) Zach Snyder could have easily cast a big-name actor to play the big bad in this movie – and the movie would have been poorer for it. Instead, he went with lesser-known character actor Michael Shannon. Shannon has made a career of playing characters such as this one, and his specialty comes through here.

The Lois Lane: Lois Lane is probably the character who has changed the most through the various incarnations of Superman. The Lois Lanes of the television and movie serials of the 1940s and 50s were generally level-headed, but ultimately existed simply to get into trouble and be rescued. Margot Kidder starred as Lois Lane in the Superman films of the ‘70s and ‘80s. In this incarnation, Lois would intentionally put herself in danger to get “the scoop” and just sort of expected Superman to save her. It was quite annoying. Teri Hatcher’s Lois Lane in the 1990s TV show Lois and Clark existed almost purely for fanservice and was a classic ‘Damsel in Distress’ cliche. In Bryan  Singer’s Superman Returns, Lois was fairly vapid and two-dimensional.

In this version, Lois is played very capably by Academy Award nominee Amy Adams. Adams’ Lois is a great reporter, but rather than being blinded by ambition, is a very ethical, conscientious and heart-felt character. They make her a very heroic character in her own right, but without making her a cliché waif-fu-performing ‘action chick’ (i.e. Black Widow). Far from being a ‘damsel in distress’, the only time Lois needs any type of rescuing is when her association with Superman puts her in harms way. Contrary to other incarnations, this Lois plays a very key role in Superman’s development throughout the movie, saves him a few times, and plays just as large a role in saving the world as Superman himself, using her tenacity, intelligence and ingenuity, contrasted against Superman’s brawn. Lois’s relationship with Superman/Clark is also very different in this movie in ways that I can not discuss without spoilers, but which are quite surprising (2021 Matt again. I would tell you what those other ways are, but I seriously can’t remember).

The Superman: For Superman, Snyder cast English actor Henry Cavill. In spite of seeing the movie in its entirety, I did not know that Cavill was English until I started research for this review. He uses a pitch-perfect non-regional American accent in this film. Superman is a character who was also taken from two dimensions to three in this movie. In some versions, Superman is played as a ‘dudley do-right’ who is an unfailingly-good boy-scout type in a black-and-white world, saying things like “STOP, FIEND!” and “YOUR BULLETS CAN’T STOP ME!”. While this Superman is still undeniably on the side of good, he has many more emotional conflicts and moral ambiguity. Cavill plays his part flawlessly.

The Story/Writing: Overall the writing in this movie is excellent, and the story is fairly classic for a Superman movie. My only issue is that a lot of Clark’s backstory is told through flashback. This movie is over 2.5 hours long, and these flashbacks seem to bring the flow and action of the movie to a grinding halt every time they show up. They serve to take an otherwise great movie and make it feel even longer than it is. At the same time, the beginning is overburdened with even more exposition. All of this is very well done, is mostly necessary and helps us to understand the plot and the characters. I just think that it needed to be done in a more linear fashion, and given a bit more brevity.

On the positive side, I have to heap praise on the ancillary characters. As you might imagine, Superman’s appearance interests the military. They could have easily turned these characters into cliché two-dimensional meat-headed G-men who are opposed to Superman just to create extra conflict. Instead, they are complicated, thoughtful characters with very clearly defined motivations.

The Special Effects: They completely outdid themselves with the CGI. Some of the fight-scenes may have been a bit long, but were mostly very well executed.

The Verdict: 4.5/5

From start to finish, this movie just feels big and ambitious – and for the most part it succeeds. The thing that most impresses me is that it completely managed to avoid the cheesiness and clichés of most of the previous incarnations of Superman, bringing it into the 21st century. None of the actors copied the performance or characterization of any previous actor. One thing is for certain: This is not your father’s Superman.

This movie feels more like the other contemporary superhero movies of our time – significantly darker in tone and subject than previous Superman outings. The only thing that I have against it is that every one of the flashback scenes – as well-done and important as they are – disrupted the flow of the movie and made the entire thing feel longer. Also, Snyder put some of the male characters in super-tight outfits that really showed off their … planet krypton. And that is not neccessarily something that interests me, personally. Though, some people may enjoy that, and if you are one of those people, then have at it, friend. But, I suppose that this is just the way that Zach Snyder does business (see: the entire movie 300).

If you have any feedback, or suggestions for future topics, please leave them in comments.

As always, thank you for reading, and stay strong.

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