Man of Steel

Clark Kent: "My father believed that if the world found out who I really was, they'd reject me... out of fear. He was convinced that the world wasn't ready. What do you think?"

I'm going to try do this review spoiler free. Wish me luck.

I'm feeling conflicted about this movie. On the one hand it was brilliant, both visually and in capturing a specific version of an icon, in a way that we haven't seen before on film. On the other, this was a very serious movie without a hint of the humor that made the original Superman movie so good. It makes me wonder if maybe in the attempt to distance themselves from the past, they went too far.

That isn't necessarily a bad thing. There is a lot to like here. All the actors deliver excellent performances; even the bit players have screen presence. Yet none of them detract from Henry Cavill's Superman, who is a dominant presence throughout the entire film. Cavill imparted the right level of conflict and emotion to make his character vulnerable and sympathetic, which is probably the right way to go with someone who is essentially a god.

Russell Crowe was awesome as Jor-El (Superman's biological father). He delivered pathos and humanity to a character that needed to be sympathetic. He also played a much bigger part than I thought he would. Crowe's Jor-El is much more front and center in this version, and it totally works. I'm not quite sure if I can say the same for Lois Lane (Amy Adams). Although she has a significant part, and they didn't go the usual route with the character, I thought she didn't quite fit into the story as well as I would've liked. Not that it was Amy's fault. She was a decent Lois Lane, but I didn't feel a ton of chemistry between Lois and Clark.

The rest of the supporting characters were just that, supporting. The Daily Planet was full of people that worked as characters, but were mostly irrelevant except as innocent people suffering from Zod's path of destruction. Which brings me to the villains. There are two primary villains in this: General Zod (Michael Shannon) and Faora (Antje Traue). Of the two, I liked Faora quite a bit more than Zod. She was ruthless without becoming the caricature that was Ursa (Superman II). She also had some of the best action scenes in the film. The way she moved was elegant and brutal, and it really showed how dangerous Superman's powers could be if he didn't hold back.

Zod was also a great villain, but I'm not sure he was the villain that should've been in this film. In the context of the plot, he works. In the scope of the story, he has purpose and he fits perfectly into the character arc Clark goes through. But I think he was almost too big for this story. He was too heavy, too serious. An origin story has a lot of heavy lifting to do without getting bogged down with a super serious villain, too. That being said, I think there was a lot that I liked about the Zod character and his evil mastermind scheme, even though it was a bit cliché. I just wonder if the director (Zach Snyder) and the writer (David Goyer) went too big this time.

One last note. I think it's interesting that this story felt more like a science fiction epic about an alien invasion than it did a superhero movie. Without the familiar characters, this could've been a totally original story. I do need to reiterate one thing though -- this was one of the most visually stunning movies I've seen all year. It easily beats Iron Man 3 in that department.

Bits:

Krypton was a fully realized place, and it was gorgeous. The alien animals that were shown gave just the right hint of reality to the world.

I loved the way the Kryptonian technology felt old and used, but very advanced.

Henry Cavill in the suit makes everyone who's ever worn it look tiny in comparison. He looks like the comic come to life.

The Kents (Kevin Costner, Diane Lane) were really wonderful, even though they were basically only seen in flashbacks.

The big tornado scene (that they talked about deleting after recent events) was heart wrenching and very well done. It didn't feel out of place at all.

Overall, it was a fascinating and engaging experience that I do recommend. I just wish they had managed to put a bit more humor and awe into it.

3 out of 4 Kryptonian flying horses with four wings.

J.D. Balthazar is a confirmed nerd who loves most things sci-fi or fantasy-related.

32 comments:

CrazyCris said...

Brilliant review! I am so looking forward to this! Comes out in Spain next Friday and I'm hoping there's a 4pm show so I can go see it before heading off to the airport... I'm already miffed at having to wait 2 months for Star Trek, I really don't want to wait another week or two to see this one! :p

Freeman said...

This movie was FANTASTIC. Unlike most everyone ever, I actually do not care for the old movies at all. They were beyond cheesy and basically growing up with them made me foster a strong dislike of Superman for many years. It was only until a few years ago that I stepped back and really took a look at the character and truly began to appreciate him. This movie took all that I love about Superman and brought it to life. I'm actually glad they kept it serious, though if you look around, there was quite a bit of subtle visual humor and the movie did lighten up at the end. It was almost like they just wanted to get the grim stuff out of the way to set the stage for the Superman we're more familiar with. The events of the movie really set the stage for a lot of events...in particular the rise of a certain unhinged mogul.

The fight scenes were hands down some of the best I've ever seen and all superhero movies of the future better recognize. Pretty much every fight scene made the Avengers showdown look weak. My favorite fight in particular was the gas station brawl.

I'm a little disappointed this is a spoiler free review because I can't really go into exactly what I enjoyed in the movie haha. Suffice it to say, Faora is one of my new favorite movie villains. She was straight thug in this movie. I can't say I agree about Lois. They made her a much stronger character than she's ever been in the movies. Now we can actually see why she's a famous reporter. Also, for once the military wasn't completely incompetent in a movie where they couldn't really be blamed for incompetence.

J.D. Balthazar said...

Sorry to hear about the Star Trek delay CrazyCris

Freeman,

I totally agree that Lois felt like a reporter for once. That part of the character I loved. I was more referring to the semi-forced love interest angle, and the near lack of chemistry between the leads. Sure they did play off each other pretty well, but I didn't quite buy into them together.

I loved that the Military weren't depicted as morons, or incompetent, or unable to recognize and accept a situation as it is instead of how it seems. Kudo's for that most definitely.

I recognize the desire to talk about the elephant in the room, but we try to keep movie reviews spoiler free on this site.

sunbunny said...

I decided a few days ago to let J.D. decide if I was going to see this or not. So, what do you think, oh movie guru? I'm not generally a fan of most superhero movies, but I loved The Avengers. I really don't like Superman, but I'm completely in love with Henry Cavill. Guide me, great one.

J.D. Balthazar said...

It is way more serious than the Avengers, but the action scenes make the Avengers seem a little tame. If you love Henry Cavill you'll probably love this, after he comes on screen he is front and center for pretty much the rest of the movie.

What do you dislike about Superman, because this is very different from any Superman I've ever seen before (the closest might be the Animated series)?

sunbunny said...

http://sunbunny254.tumblr.com/post/53011543849/why-i-dont-like-superman

J.D. Balthazar said...

Well, honestly, NONE of those apply in this film.

J.D. Balthazar said...

Well except for the fact that he isn't human.

sunbunny said...

ooh. okay. I'll see it then! :)

Patrick said...

I LOVED this movie! It ended up being every bit as awesome as I hoped it would be. And nothing about it pleased me more than its star, Henry Cavill. He completely owned the role of Kal-El like no one has since Reeve. He just "gets" Superman. I also have to give props to the boys who played the younger Clarks, they did very well in their scenes.

The supporting cast were all good, I don't think there was anyone who dragged things down(the way some folks thought Katie Holmes did in Batman Begins). I think my favorites were his parents though, both sets. All four of them did a great job.

I loved the look of Krypton, and I'm glad they didn't recycle the "crystal palace" aesthetic, this Krypton was more reminiscent of the post-Crisis version John Byrne gave us in the late 80's. I think it was important that they make a clean break from the art direction of the earlier films. They needed a completely fresh start.

As they show in the trailers, Kryptonian fighting can happen at VERY high speed, and I like that they didn't go all Matrix-y and use a bunch of slow-motion. It really sells that we puny humans are TOTALLY out of our depth if we try to fight them. We can't even keep up.

The music was very impressive, I did not find myself wishing they'd used any elements of the old John Williams score. I don't think it would have fit this movie anyway. Hans Zimmer's music tends not to be as heavily "themed" as John Williams' is, but there are definitely recurring motifs.

Oh, and I just gotta say this. Best. Heat Vision Effects. EVER! Smallville's were probably closest to what it would ACTUALLY look like if someone had it, but Man Of Steel's heat vision was just so bad-ass. :)

Some folks may lament the more serious tone this movie took compared to the old Superman movies, and I get that. Superman's not supposed to be Batman. But I think "serious" is not the same thing as "dark", and they definitely went with the former. With the scope of the story they were telling, I think trying to put more humor in would've felt wrong. That and other gripes folks are likely to have about the movie pretty much boil down to one thing, "They didn't just do the 1978 movie over again". Except one. My ONLY complaint about this movie is that once the wanton destruction starts happening, there's a little too much. They could've trimmed about 10 minutes out to tighten up the pace. How many buildings to we have to see them crash through, really?

I'm gonna take a moment to discuss some technical points about the presentation. I've seen the movie twice now. The first time was in a 2D theater with a standard digital projection screen and standard sound system. The second time was in one of AMC's "ETX" theaters. Really big screen, RealD 3D projection, and Dolby Atmos sound. My ideal format for viewing this would've been all of the ETX whiz-bangs without the 3D. I don't hate 3D, but not enough movies make good use of it. The ONLY movies I've seen that really shine in 3D are either fully-CGI like Pixar movies or were shot in native 3D like Avatar or Tron: Legacy. Man Of Steel, like most 3D movies these days, was post-converted. The conversion process has gotten much better, it doesn't screw things up like it used to, but it RARELY brings any true enhancement to the image, imho. And fast-moving action sequences don't lend themselves well to current 3D projection, it's hard for the eyes to keep a lock on it(this in my opinion was greatly helped by the high-framerate 3D of The Hobbit). On the other hand, the Dolby Atmos sound system? OMGWTFBBQ!!1! All movies need to be mixed using Atmos, and it needs to be installed in every movie theater. Like NOW. So if 3D is iffy for you, in my opinion you can take it or leave it with Man Of Steel. But if there's an Atmos-equipped theater near you, GO.

Anonymous said...

This movie was EPIC. Cant describe how much i loved it. The story, acting, visual effects, music you name it were all 10/10. If am honest there were a lot of things that were similar to smallville. Clark walking away from a fight and destroyin the bullies car/truck, clark saving someones life after they speed off a bridge, clark growing a beard (thought it was kinda funny) tornado hitting smallville, perry white being black (ano perry wasnt black on smallville but an editor of the daily planet was) Amy adams being in smallville, trying to make zod symapathetic character.e a general trying to protect his people, clark being unable to a just to his powers thay theme was covered alot on smallville. I know me saying this will probably annoy people but i loved smallville so it didnt bother me at all..

Billie Doux said...

I do love Superman in nearly all of his different iterations and I'll definitely see this movie, although I probably won't for awhile. It does sound like they did a good job.

Have to pass on the latest tweet by one of my favorite people on Twitter, Tim Carvell:

After "Iron Man" and "Man of Steel," right now, some studio executive is desperately trying to option the periodic table of the elements.

Miguel said...

Sadly I was a little disappointed. Yes the visual effects were fantastic! The whole movie was visually stunning and beautiful to look at, and the action scenes were some of the best I've seen in a long time. I really was in awe at some of them and it reminded me why I go to the movies in the first place.

But I thought they could have done so much more with the story. I love me some dark and serious drama, but I thought almost all the characters felt flat. There were no real character beats along the way, the story just moved from one action set piece to the next, advancing the story along but in my opinion, at the expense of spending time developing the characters. I love Amy Adams, but didn't feel like Lois a 3-dimensional character or Clark Kent for that matter either. Other than being a reporter and a super-alien from another planet, I didn't feel like I really got to know them as human beings. Also, I thought Zod was just too over the top. Some of his dialogue made me cringe.

In the end, I think this movie had the potential to be fantastic, but ended up just being good. The action was unbelievable, but I couldn't help but wanting more. It was no Dark Knight that's for sure, but I guess that's tough shoes to fill.

MIguel said...

I read a review that said the movie left him "dazzled but unmoved". That's pretty much the best way to sum up how I felt.

Kenneth Serenyi said...

Honestly I was a little bored with the movie. The big fight scenes and technology effects seemed taken right out of the Matrix 3 (it didn't help that the human General was played by the same actor in both movies), and some from Dark City. All the military stuff reminded me a little too much of Independence Day and the Transformers movies. I wanted to like this movie but I felt like I've seen most of it before and it fell a little flat for me.

Kenneth Serenyi said...

BTW, I believe that Iron Man 3 was purposefully trying to move away from another 'Hero fighting evil version of himself' movie climax. Man of Steel follows that plot device but does it better than most. IM3 wasn't trying to be as special effects driven as the previous movies and decided to focus more on the human side of the hero. The new Superman franchise will probably go there too.

sunbunny said...

I saw it! Aren't you all proud. I didn't hate it! True, I didn't exactly like it, but I saw it and isn't that what counts? It would've been much better with more shirtless Henry Cavill, although that's true of anything. Holy crap that is one freaking handsome man.

Like everyone else, I was annoyed at how serious the movie took itself. They missed so many opportunities to bring a little levity into the two hours of awesome special effects. Which were awesome, but I tired of them quickly. Very quickly. I kept checking my phone for the time...

Things I did actually like: Diane Lane and Kevin Costner (especially the latter). Excellent performances and managed to convey a lot of backstory in a relatively small amount of screentime. And the tornado scene, which *almost* made me cry! I'm so glad they didn't cut it although I definitely get why they considered doing so. Also, I really liked the last scene when Clark puts on his glasses and shows up for work. Awww.

And! AND! They fixed Lois Lane. She's smart, she's independent, she's successful, and she's not an idiot. Bravo. In other versions, I frequently wished Superman would drop her as he carries her away from disasters. I did not this time.

Henry Cavill did a really great job. His accent was good, his acting was good, and also, omg so handsome I want him to marry me right now because those eyes and that chin and the scruff and the shoulders and the arms and the chest! I DIE. /end gushing

CrazyCris said...

Bravo Sunbunny!!!

And ROFL on your Henry Cavill fixation!

Can't wait to see this!!! :o)

Mark Greig said...

Not as good as Iron Man 3, but definitely on par with Star Trek Into Darkness as far as I'm concerned. Even though the script didn’t really give them anything challenging to do, Cavill and Adams made for a likeable Clark and Lois. Coster and Lane were as good I as expected them to be as Jonathan and Martha Kent and Crowe really impressed as Jor-El. Michael Shannon was probably the cast’s only weak link. I found his Zod boring. Antje Traue was far more impressive as Faora (fingers-crosses she returns for the sequel).

And there aren't enough words to describe how much I love Hans Zimmer's score. I never thought in a million years that anyone could some up with something to match John Williams' work. Boy, was I wrong.

J.D. Balthazar said...

Gratz on sitting through it Sunbunny.

Mark, I agree with you about Cavill and Adams (although I wish they had more chemistry). I'm not sure about Michael Shannon. I'm not sure if it was the script, or the actor, or just that he wasn't the right fit for the story. Although I loved Faora. I love the idea of Antje Traue taking over the role of Wonder Woman. Still, I hope she's in a sequel either way.

I didn't mention the score, which was very impressive, although I wish they hadn't overused that piano cue quite as much as they did (the sentimental notes when the Kents appeared on screen).

Mark Greig said...

I expect DC will be fast tracking a Wonder Woman and possible Batman reboot in the run up to the Justice League movie that is now almost certain to happen.

CrazyCris said...

Question for those who have seen it: how long does it REALLY last? Without the whole credit sequence (those last easily 10' nowadays).
I finally have the schedule for Friday's showings, I wanted to go see it right after lunch at 4pm and then have my dad drop me off at the airport, but the showing is at 4:15pm which makes it quite a bit tighter depending on how long it lasts... I might have to wait a week. :o(

J.D. Balthazar said...

If it starts at 4:15, you have to add 20 minutes for Previews, then you are still looking at at least 2 hours and 35 minutes for the movie itself (which clocks in at 143 minutes). So don't expect to be done with it until at least 7pm.

Also, I didn't mention it in the review, but there is no post credits scene.

J.D. Balthazar said...

more like 7:10-7:20pm now that I think about it.

CrazyCris said...

Damn! Looks like I'm stuck waiting another week then! :o(

Thanks for the info! And it's good to know there's no post-credits scene! I hate waiting through 10' of credits hopeing for soemthing that never comes...

celticmarc said...

CCris

I ALWAYS stay until the last second, just to listen to the music !

CrazyCris said...

I often stay through part of the credits, but how long depends on whom I'm with! It's hard to get other people to stick around once the room is empty.

(and sometimes the music isn't that great!)

I have learned with Marvel films to ALWAYS stick around until the very end! ;o)

celticmarc said...

If there's heavy metal, then I leave !

CrazyCris said...

Just got back from seeing it (finally decided not to risk it before my flight last week) and I thought it was BRILLIANT!!! I took my dad and both really loved it!

Krypton was fascinating! I could feel a huge grin on my face, like a kid in the candy store, for quite a while there... it was that awesome! One detail I really liked was the fact that their smaller attack ships seemed to be modelled after those flying creatures, which makes perfect sense to me! Brilliant little detail! And Zod was much more realised a character, with a better motivation that in the old films. I almost felt sorry for the guy when he said Kal El had destroyed his soul, his reason for existing! And yeah, that tornado scene! *sob*

Loved the fact that Lois knows, her obliviousness always seemed a bit ridiculous to me (glasses as a disguise, really?). And she was a brilliant character in her own right, even if not at the level of Erica Durance on Smallville.

And I'm with Sunbunny, more shirtless Henry Cavill please!!! ;o) But even with his shirt on he was quite a presence, really lived the role! And nice to be able to appreciate Crowe in a role again! And of course that type of character is Costner's strong suit.

I heard about the Wayne satellite being destroyed in orbit (lol!), but did anyone else catch the Lexcorp truck? *hint, hint*

T-6 to Star Trek! I'll be there for the first show next Friday, at long last!!! :p

topher darling said...

I'm a superhero geek so I was compelled to see this movie which was unfortunate because it was terrible. The writing was full of holes, the tone was way too serious and OMG, the destruction at the end was way too real and I just kept thinking about all of the people that Superman didn't save.

Plus, why can't Hollywood bring new villains to the Superman lore? There are 80+ years of material to use in the form of comics. C'mon, be original. After seeing the latest Star Trek and then watching Man of Steel, I feel like it's all about directors who grew up watching these movies (Wrath of Khan and Superman II) and decided that they could make it a little better now with an over-reliance on special effects and sexy costumes.

That being said, Henry Cavill is one damn fine Superman. I just wish he would have had a better director and writing team.

Anonymous said...

Why has no one mentioned the epic and beautiful FAORA. She was the best thing about the film. Gave Supes a beatdown before her atmospheric mask was broken.

Billie Doux said...

I finally saw it and quite honestly, I was bored and disappointed. Even though it was a quality production and Cavill did a good job, they didn't give him anywhere near enough to do in the character department. It was a lot of destruction and explosions, and I didn't care at all for the way Krypton looked (you're right, J.D., they could have taken out the Supes part and it was just an alien invasion movie). I thought the best part of it was Russell Crowe. It's too bad, because I'm a Superman fan. I really am. You'd have to be to review ten seasons of Smallville.

Terrific review, though, J.D. You pointed out its strengths and its flaws. And I can see how people could come away with completely different levels of enthusiasm from this movie.