150 Movies in 90 Days: Man of Steel

June 15: #17, Man of Steel

By the way, when Superman flies, it's really just telekinesis

With fan reaction (if not critic reaction) having been positive by the time I saw Man of Steel yesterday, I figured I would end up liking the movie. After all, I generally like superhero films, and I’m one of the few that actually liked Superman Returns. What I wondered was whether the film could live up to the promises delivered by the trailers, which showed a subtle, personal take on Superman’s origin story.

For the most part, the answer was “yes”.

To me, the most interesting parts of the movie were in the first half, when Clark Kent was not yet Superman and instead was drifting from place to place, unsure how to life his life and occasionally having flashbacks to the even earlier times of his childhood. Kevin Costner is perfect as a Kansas farmer and Superdad who imparts the values in Clark that he’s known for almost as much as his superpowers.

Diane Lane is great too, although to me, she still looks too good to be a simple farmer’s wife who’s supposed to be pushing 60 by the time the story starts picking up in the modern day. That’s Hollywood, though, where men get to play a decade younger and women have to play senior citizens by the time they hit their mid-40s.

The action sequences are amazing, which we all expect by now. Warner Bros. spared no expense, either, with very liberal amounts of flying, fighting, and fiery explosions throughout the movie. Whether young Clark is lifting a bus out of a lake, young adult Clark is single-handedly holding up an oil rig to allow workers to escape, or Clark has become Superman and is battling Zod (played mostly effectively by Michael Shannon), everything is top-notch and often jaw-dropping.

In fact, one of the questions left behind by Man of Steel is how quickly the actual human beings inhabiting Earth could trust or forgive him after the billions of dollars of wreckage that is caused by his battles with Zod in the film. After all, while Zod clearly isn’t someone who can be trusted, the fact is that if Superman hadn’t landed on Earth, Zod wouldn’t have followed and knocked over a dozen skyscrapers years later.

Where Man of Steel falls short of earning elite status among comic book superhero movies is the rivalry between Zod and Superman. If the pacing feels off, it’s likely because the moment that Clark dons the iconic cape, Zod shows up and demands he turn himself over to them. Though Zod claims that he will not harm anyone if Superman complies, Supes doesn’t trust him. Why? We don’t know. He’d known him for all of zero seconds at that point and had only discovered his own true origin just before Zod showed up.

Zod was himself sentenced to what would have seemed to be an eternity’s worth of imprisonment, and I’m not entirely sure how he escaped in the first place. Anybody who knows anything about Superman knows that his home planet explodes, but Zod’s escape is kind of glossed over. I believe the escape had something to do with Krypton blowing up, but they knew Krypton was going to blow up. By sending Zod off to the Phantom Zone, they actually allowed him to live while all of the law-abiding citizens of Krypton died. Now that’s being tough on crime, right?

Let's be honest: it's kinda hard to follow TERENCE FUCKING STAMP, though
Another problem with Zod’s quick arrival is that the predictable romance between Clark and Lois Lane seems very forced as a result. Ultimately, it’s just kind of a shame that once we get deeper into the film, the personal element of the film is ditched in favor of action set piece after action set piece.

I’m nit-picking, though. What doesn’t bother me is the end of the film, which I won’t spoil on the off chance that you haven’t seen it yet. Suffice to say that we’re back in the same old argument about what a superhero who’s been around for decades “would” or “should” do, with comic book fans crying foul about one of their icons acting in a way they deem to be incompatible with the character himself.

Well, deal with it, fanboys. Interpretations of characters change, and there are dozens of examples I don’t even need to cite here, including plenty of changes that have been made to Superman himself over the decades. Ultimately, I had no problem with that, although Clark showing up at the Daily Planet with glasses and a bad haircut hardly makes sense. Isn’t there supposed to be at least a half-assed explanation of how people magically can’t recognize Clark as Superman or something? Instead, someone who would have been the world’s most famous person after the events of Man of Steel walks around anonymously because he puts on some glasses. Still a great movie, though. Grade: B+

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