Review: Man of Steel

Jor El: What if a child dreamed of becoming something other than what society had intended? What if a child aspired to something greater?

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The only experience I’d had with Superman before seeing Man of Steel last night was reading the excellent All-Star Superman by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely. I love superheroes, but am more of a Marvel person. However, I was pleasantly surprised by Man of Steel. This is a reboot anyway (after Superman Returns didn’t do well), so you don’t need to know anything. Even if you don’t know anything about Superman (which is pretty difficult to pull off, honestly, since his powers are so ingrained in the collective culture), Man of Steel covers his origins.

Plot

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I feel like I’ve seen this shot somewhere before… (cough The Avengers cough Star Trek Into Darkness cough)

It’s pretty standard, which for a superhero movie, I’m fine with. From IMDB:

A young itinerant worker is forced to confront his secret extraterrestrial heritage when Earth is invaded by members of his race.

In its simplest form, yes. Clark is working odd jobs under false names so that no one knows he has superpowers – until he saves someone and then has to reinvent himself all over again in a new place. We learn about Clark’s origins through flashbacks that take us both back to Krypton and to his childhood on Earth. We all know this story. What I think is important about superhero movies, and why I don’t care that they make so many of them, is how they make us feel. I always leave feeling more optimistic and ready to make a difference after a superhero movie – and thankful for the everyday heroes we do have.

The character of Superman allows us to examine what family means, the significance of having free will and choices, and what it means to be a human. Superman could very easily use his powers for evil, and we see what happens when a Kryptonian decides to do that. We also see nature vs. nurture brought up when comparing General Zod and Superman. Clark was raised by the Kents to believe that he had choices about his future, and his birth parents explicitly gave him the ability to make those choices.

At one point in the film, a young Clark is seen reading Plato’s The Republic. This is quite interesting because of Plato’s theory of the world of the forms. Plato believed that there was a world of forms where everything was in its perfect, pure state. For example, there is a perfect chair in the world of the forms, and every other chair in our world is based off of that pure chair. Superman is a perfect man – super strong, super fast, blessed with super vision, etc. Plato talked about wise men in his works, who are perfect men he thought needed to be in charge of the world – and their traits are quite similar to Superman’s. Additionally, The Republic talks about the ideal city-state, a topic that is explored in the conflict between General Zod and Jor-El regarding Krypton.

The Christ/Savior allegory is extremely strong in this film. It’s not something I ever thought about before in relation to Superman, but the parallels are clear, especially as Man of Steel portrays them: a father sends his son down to Earth, where he is raised by human parents. This son is a savior of mankind who is supposed to lead them to greatness. Jor-El even says to Lara that humanity will look on Kal-El as a God. Throughout the film, Superman poses as if on the cross at least twice, and he also has a scene in a church where he is surrounded by stained glass portrayals of Jesus. He also mentions that he’s been on earth for thirty-three years – which is supposedly how old Christ was when crucified.

Yes, all of this symbolism is heavy-handed. But remember the source – it’s a seventy-five year old comic that has been ingrained into American culture. The symbolism has always been there. Superman has been saving humanity, selflessly, for that whole time. I like that this movie explicitly called out those themes – it made me think more about Superman and what he stands for than I ever had before.

Also, a lot of stuff blows up. A LOT. I don’t think I have ever seen as much destruction and property damage in a film. The last hour or so is basically non-stop things blowing up, which is fun, but it gets tiring after a while. They easily could have edited this part a little more. Tone-wise, it has a few jokes, and is absolutely lighter fare than Nolan’s Batman trilogy, but it’s not as light as a Marvel movie.

Cast

I was basically thinking, “Hey, it’s _______! the entire movie – there are SO MANY familiar faces in Man of Steel. Here are the major players:

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Henry Cavill as Clark Kent/Kal-El/Superman and Amy Adams as Lois Lane

I thought Henry and Amy were both great in their individual roles, but their chemistry was a little lacking – it felt more like they were supposed to be together than that they were attracted to each other. Lois has some action scenes and takes some bad guys out, which is great, and her part in the movie is pretty substantial. Henry looks like he stepped out of a Superman comic, down to the dimpled chin, and portrays Clark as both human and superhuman – a fine balance. The kids that play young Superman are also really good in their roles. 

general zod and faora

Michael Shannon as General Zod and Antje Traue as Faora-Ul

Michael Shannon is a wonderful scenery-chewer as General Zod. He goes WAY over the top, is a really fun villain, and still managed to make me feel sorry for him in the end. Faora-Ul is a major ass-kicker, has some good one-liners, and is a really tough women who gives Superman a run for his money. She’s basically the second villain.

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Kevin Costner and Diane Lane as as Jonathan and Martha Kent

Kevin Costner and Diane Lane are both wonderful, as you would expect them to be. Jonathan and Martha are grounded, supportive parents (considering they are raising an alien). Jonathan is cautious about Clark revealing his true nature to the world, and Martha is a guiding force for Clark throughout the film.

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Russell Crowe as Jor-El and Ayelet Zurer as Lara Lor-Van

Lara and Jor-El are not in the film for very long, but they make the most of their screen time. They both portray strong Kryptonian leaders who will do absolutely anything to keep their son and their people safe.

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Lawrence Fishburne as Perry White

Lawrence Fishburne is excellent as Perry White, head of The Daily Planet. I was really excited to see him cast, as I haven’t seen him in anything except The Matrix and I think he’s awesome.

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Harry Lennix as General Swanwick

Harry Lennix plays the typical general role in this kind of film – skeptical of Superman at first, but then willing to accept his help. He and Lawrence Fishburne do not have a scene together, much to the disappointment of fans of The Matrix everywhere.

Christopher Meloni as Colonal Nathan Hardy

Christopher Meloni has a nice supporting role as a heroic military colonal. I wanted to spotlight these last three characters because they all get a moment of heroism – I really liked that we got to see everyday people being heroic, not just Superman. It kind of reinforces that Superman learned from us as much as we learned from Superman.

Super geeky sidenote: two actors from the Battlestar Galactica reboot have brief roles: Tahmoh Penikett and Alessandro Juliani. I really wanted them to have a scene together, but alas, this did not happen – even though their characters were working in the same place! What a tease.

Special Effects and Music

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Special effects were great but overwhelming at times – there is only so much destruction and explosions I can see before it all starts to blur together for me. There is a really cool effect involving Kryptonian communication devices that I really liked watching, and I wish there had been a few more subtle things like that instead of LET’S BLOW UP A TRAIN AND A BUILDING AND ANOTHER BUILDING YAAAY EXPLOSIONS! Also, apparently there are giant lizards that are mounts on Krypton, which I thought was a little strange – it reminded me of Obi-Wan riding something similar in Revenge of the Sith. Superman flying didn’t look fake, and he and the other Kryptonians had cool jumping effects. I also really liked how they made the X-ray vision look, and I hoped that would get utilized more than it did. As I write this a few hours later, I am trying to recall any music, but I can’t – I don’t remember anything in particular standing out to me.

Final Thoughts

Score: A-

Man of Steel was a thoroughly enjoyable movie. I think it could have been pared down and edited a bit, but I had a very good time, thought about philosophical things, and was inspired – all marks of a great movie. We also got a nice setup for a sequel, and some easter eggs to look for on repeat viewings (if it wasn’t for one of the friends I saw it with, I wouldn’t have known about them at all!)

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