As with all reviews on my little blog, spoilers, spoilers, and more spoilers.
This one is going to be tough; do I review this as a movie? Do I review it as a Superman movie? It’s no secret that I hold an almost religious reverence for Superman, and that certainly affected how I perceived this film. OK, here’s the quick “just plain movie review.” An overall very cool science fiction story with a great cast gets bogged down in the last 30 minutes with so much destruction the audio in IMAX actually left my ears ringing for a couple of hours afterward, as if I had just spent a couple of hours on a C-130. A satisfying overall experience though. B-
Now let’s talk Superman.
Here’s what’s good about this movie—and there is quite a bit—as a fan:
The cast. I didn’t find anyone out of place here (but for one exception I will get to in a minute) and in some cases got the best versions of these characters we have ever seen. Henry Cavill is very good in this role and a welcome addition to the rolls of Supermen. His Clark is great and though I expected him to be all emo, it really does work and play out pretty well.
The real high point here though is Amy Adams as Lois Lane. She is simply wonderful. Smart, quick thinking, not a damsel, resourceful, and I say again, SMART. There’s a marvelous bypass of the whole “glasses disguise him” thing with her, and though it accelerates their relationship quite a bit, it works here and I didn’t mind a bit. I also want to say how good Michael Shannon is as Zod. He brings great, great gravitas and motivation to the role.
Antje Traue as the Kryptonian villainess Faora steals nearly every scene she is in with utter ruthlessness. Kevin Costner’s Jonathan Kent is wonderful (and part of what is in my opinion the best scene in the film). Diane Lane give Ma Kent a real heart. Russell Crowe brings some Maximus to Jor-El, but that’s not a bad thing.
I definitely want to mention Christopher Meloni though; his Colonel Hardy has a wonderful arc and gives us one of the great examples of human heroism we see in this film as well. Some players are a little underused (Perry White), but they are great where you see them.
Krypton is more fleshed out here and gives Zod a wonderful motivation and backstory. There’s enough borrowed from various comic incarnations here to be instantly recognizable, yet unique to this version, and I loved every minute of the tech and style.
Jonathan Kent’s death. Not unlike All-Star Superman, I cried here when Jonathan died, and the circumstances are so emotionally involving, you will too. Jonathan, in full view of Clark and Martha is going to be swept away by a tornado. Clark could easily save him, but Jonathan waves him off to protect Clark’s secret. How marvelous that whole scene is, and how much does that bring to the origin? Lots and lots. Terrific.
The First Two Hours. Honestly, though I have already pointed some things out, let me wrap it up like this: The first two hours of this movie are as perfect a film as Richard Donner’s “Superman: The Movie.” Perhaps more so, as we get a Superman at once relatable and realistic without losing the ethics or grandeur of the character. The oil rig rescue, the diner scene, Clark’s relationship with Pete Ross, all wonderful. Lois is AMAZING as she does what no prior version of the character has done and TRACKS DOWN SUPERMAN. Her decision to keep his secret is not only integral to the plot, it speaks volumes her character. As I said, this is the best Lois has ever been, and I normally don’t even really like Amy Adams. She’s just about perfect here. The Science Fiction heavy plot plays out, and you start to get a hint of the capabilities of these beings and it’s just great. For two hours.
Then there are 30 more minutes, and here we get not-so-great. Most of that time is spent killing several million people in the most exhausting ways possible. Really, I walked out feeling shell-shocked there was so much destruction. I am not even sure the next movie can be set in Metropolis as I don’t think there can be much left. No really, where does the coda at the Daily Planet even happen; have they rebuilt EVERYTHING already? The destruction was where the Nolan realism should have reigned in Zack Snyder some more. And this is where we start to lose Superman as a character as well. He is so involved in fighting the bad guys that he stops saving the good guys. We lost characters who should by all rights have made it, and Superman should have saved them. When we have the big Superman/Zod fight that we know is coming, they slam through and around buildings, and thousands must be at least endangered if not outright killed. That’s not even my real complaint though: it’s just too much. The scope gets so big as to become irrelevant. In my theater’s viewing, people actually started laughing. We got tired of it. I would gladly trade ten of those minutes for ten more minutes of Krypton, or Jonathan, or Lois, Clark doing some more heroic stuff in the suit. Indeed, Man of Steel could have used a bit more Man of Steel.
There’s another issue for me in the post action coda as well. This movie paints a pretty honest picture of the military. They detain Superman because they have to, but COL Hardy recognizes “this man is not our enemy.” Soldiers walk into or fly into certain death to save their world. We don’t see stupid soldiers, or cowardly soldiers, or evil soldiers; we see soldiers, doing their best with what they have…until. We get this female Air Force Captain—and you probably saw her in the commercials—who when faced with Superman gets all giggly and states, “he’s kinda hot.” It is completely out of the tone of the rest of the film and really paints her—the only speaking female Earth military service member—as a bimbo. That was a shame considering how well they portrayed the Military up until then.
So what’s possibly the worst this in this film, or maybe even in the modern history of Superman? Superman kills Zod. Snaps his neck. Yes, in the scene Superman is forced to do it, or allow more civilians to die (how about the previous ten minutes, Clark?), and yes IN THE COMICS in 1988 Superman executed a version of Zod with Kryptonite. I know. But you can’t tell me a smart writer who got the first two hours SO right with SO much from various incarnations of the character couldn’t have found a better way to end this without Superman having to brutally snap Zod’s neck. Yes, it works in the context of the movie, but this is a “new generation’s” Superman. Reinvented for people now in the 21st Century. This movie will be for eight to ten year olds now what Donner’s Superman was for my generation. Henry Cavill will be THEIR Superman.
And he snaps bad guys’ necks. He’s Superman, there has to be a better way. Yes Goyer and Nolan, you did manage to maneuver your story to a “he had to do it” point. Just because you could doesn’t mean you should. What affect are you going to have on the mythological Superman? You’ve made Superman a killer, not in some obscure 30 year old comic, but in what will be the cornerstone of the DC movie universe for the next decade. And for decades hence. My grandkids will see that as their Superman, unless I work really hard to get to them first. This was a conscious choice on the part of the writers, and I really think it could have gone a better direction.* Does it ruin the movie for me? No, overall I did enjoy the film; only time will tell though if they have ruined Superman.
I suppose Tim Burton making Batman a killer didn’t alter The Dark Knight forever; oddly the same writer as Man of Steel made Batman’s reluctance to kill a major plot point in Batman Begins. But I feel sorry they did this. They should have done better because Superman deserves it, and there is so much here as a Superman fan to love.
It took Nolan three films to show me Christian Bale was not THE Batman. Instead he was a broken person who put on a suit for about 18 months and divorced himself entirely from his responsibility by faking his death. Nolan may have saved me time here and only waited two hours to show me he wasn’t making a movie about THE Superman but rather a superman. Perhaps, sequels to this film will do the opposite of the Batman series and get better with successive additions. I need to see this dealt with, I need to see it become a lesson learned for Superman on why he needs to find the better path. I need to see that because those eight year olds watching need to see it too. This series can be salvaged; this Superman can be redeemed. I hope sequels will do that.
After all, Superman is about Hope.
*So, I hear you: “All right, smart guy; if they could have done it better, what would be better?” Reprinted here, verbatim, is a message I sent to a good friend within about 30 minutes of seeing the film. Pardon personal message typos:
1) "You've ripped out my soul El; you're no Kryptonian. With me, Krypton dies." Kills self.
2) *Zod, flying into Metropolis sees the Phantom Zone generator destroy his ship.* "No, El- with us dies Krypton!" *Crashes scout ship into Superman, he tries to stop the crash, Zod is killed by the Kryptonian tech/engine/metal and Supes barely escapes.*
3) Faora escapes being pulled into the zone, realizes that if Kal-El is dead there is no chance to raise Krypton, takes Zod away herself allowing that specter of return to hang over them.
4) Kal clamps his hand over Zod's face, and beats him into unconsciousness. Then:
a) Uses the hyperdrive that MUST still be on the leftover Kryptonian scoutship to reopen the Zone and cast him in (possibly saving the Colonel and Doctor Hamilton in the process).
b) Imprisons Zod using the material from the scout and asks the Gov to help him build a ship to take Zod to a planet with a red sun: they recruit Lexcorp to help. Sequel prepped.