Jeff's Reviews

Thoughts on every movie I've ever seen.

Man of Steel (2013)

Directed by Zack Snyder

Starring Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Diane Lane


It’s a Zack Snyder movie. Wonderfully visual and violent, with lots of perfectly shot battles and explosions and destruction. Creative lighting, carefully timed slo-mo, and close-ups of Superman gritting his teeth enhance the action further. People like this kind of stuff, and Snyder’s got it down. But every confrontation is a high-octane, all-out, climactic battle sequence. Perhaps it’s better to build things up with a few less impressive but dramatically important confrontations? And to be honest, seeing indestructible people throwing each other into the ground and through buildings over and over and over again gets a bit boring.

What we’re really missing is the dramatic build. Whether it’s the action or the dramatic moments in-between, we don’t see the characters doing anything for us to really care about them. Aside from a few flashbacks, we never see Superman making an effort to fit in or be helpful. Instead, he’s a constant victim. A swerving car destroys his schoolbus, a tornado destroys his family, Zod destroys his home, the military destroys his credibility. In one scene, a roughneck pours beer over his head and destroys his beautiful hair. Here, we have a great opportunity to learn something about Superman by seeing how he reacts. Instead, he leaves the scene. The demolished truck is nice effect, but we’ve lost an opportunity to learn what kind of person Superman really is.

When it’s time to move the story forward, Superman gets really mad and smashes things. His battles wreak havoc on the surrounding cities and towns, surely killing dozens of bystanders. Where’s the honor, the nobility, the heroism? My favorite scene is when he rescues workers from an exploding rig in the middle of the ocean. It’s the only time he makes an effort to be nice, to do the right thing, to save people just to save them. With a few more scenes like that, we’d care a lot more about him.

A glaring omission is the almost complete lack of media coverage. Television broadcasts imply trouble, but there seems to be no interest in Superman’s identity or in capturing him in photo or film. Assuming the story takes place in the present day, helicopter crews would be everywhere, TV broadcasts would be showing live coverage of battle scenes, people would be lining the streets and leaning out of windows with their cameraphones. Where is all of that? Jimmy Olsen, a Daily Planet photographer in the original film series who could have at least partly addressed this, isn’t even in the movie.

I do appreciate the additional background we’re given on Krypton, but do they really all have to speak English? Sure, the other movies did the same, but here was a good opportunity to come up with something different. A modest effort is made to scientifically explain his strength, but how does he fly? It’s surely more than a really big jump. And how does he change into his suit? A look at Superman’s wardrobe changes would have been interesting or perhaps an opportunity for comedy, but we never get to see it.

Some misses. Why would Zod be given some sort of survivable punishment when the planet and everyone on it is facing inevitable death? When the “You Are Not Alone” message came through every TV on the planet, why is it nighttime everywhere? Did the family in museum really get vaporized by Zod’s heat vision? They didn’t show it, and Superman’s reaction is ambiguous. In the last scene, did Lois or anyone else in the office know who Clark was? One of the most important plot points of the whole franchise is left entirely up in the air.

Gone is the comedy, a cornerstone of just about all superhero movies. The fat, red-headed kid working at IHOP is a cheap joke. A junior military cadet calling Superman “hot” fell completely flat. We’re watching a story about a guy flying around in tights and a cape, and we’re really supposed to be taking everything seriously? A no-laughs delivery might be appropriate for a historical, real-life drama, but in a fantasy, we need some real laughs.

Also gone is the Superman theme. A hint of the iconic score, or an attempt to improve on it, would have been nice. It’s one of the things that helps separate Superman from other action movies. Droning trombones, a trademark from producer Christopher Nolan, seem to be the cool way to score superhero movies these days.

Cavill plays the part well. He’s handsome, athletic, and the upper body is ridiculous. He’s even got the all-American, masculine-but-friendly voice, perfected by Christopher Reeve, down pat. Not bad for a Brit. Amy Adams as Lois Lane is a disappointment. There’s nothing exceptional about her performance, her character, or her looks. She’s a pair of sweatpants away from being a soccer mom. (A brunette Malin Akerman, who in fact auditioned for the part, would have been reminiscent of Margot Kidder and a much better choice. She must have bombed the audition.) Crowe is good as Jor-El, and Shannon is OK as Zod, if not a bit stock as a villain. Costner and Lane are fine in the parent roles. Unfortunately for all, most of the dialogue is choppy, corny, and melodramatic.

In many respects, Superman II was better than this. I’m not particularly hopeful about a sequel from Snyder.

One Comment

  1. I like that this is a reboot, not a remake in any way. They tried the remake in Superman Returns. This Superman is different from his character to his origin being slightly different. The story line is darker (duh Nolan) I agree some of the battle scenes went on and on, especially the final (which could have been edited down 5-10min) but when I rethink about it I say good it shows his struggles to defeat his enemies. He’s fights more than just 3 Kryptonian this go around.

    When two powerful objects collide destruction will occur. They left nothing out with the amount of buildings falling down after hit by Superman & Zod. I think again this is a good way to show what would have happened in Superman II when they battled in the city. Now what will be upsetting when the do the sequel if Metropolis is rebuilt. If they are going to do it right those little details are important. Unless they show Superman himself rebuilding or jump ahead 8-10years there’s no way the city is what it was.

    At first I also wasn’t too fond of the flashback but as it started to tell the story of his childhood it got better. He would have been bullied as a child as we see kids are mean to each other. Your either in they click or out. I enjoyed the chemistry between Costner and the younger Clark.

    I enjoyed all of the characters. Liked General Zod a bit better than the previous. I agree there could have been a lot of choices for Lois Lane. Always time to pick another (i.e. Dark Knight’s Holmes/Gyllenhaal swap). In retelling this story there is a lot of room to grow. I look for a demented Lex Luther. Too bad they already used Spacey cause I enjoyed his Luther and think he could even get darker with this new direction. If the audience requires a little humor bring in a Jimmie Olsen.

    Finally the death of Zod…brilliant! This again isn’t the 1978 boyscout Superman. He snapped his neck and felt bad about it, much more emotional compared to Superman II’s throwing the powerless Zod down a ice cliff to his death. If I’m not mistaken I think he smiled after doing so!! No doubt thousands of innocent people were killed with the gravity machine adjusting earth’s atmosphere as well as the final battle. This Superman can’t save everyone or reverse time to bring people back. He surely should stop saving Lois though. I think he saves her 3-4 times in this movie. Maybe a little less saving her could have saved a couple hundred people. My challenge to the writers of the sequel is to get though a movie where she doesn’t have to be saved.

    There were some soft story line and plots like a hell of a lot more people who grew up with Clark would have recognized him as Superman. Lois knows who he is now and I don’t see him giving her the kiss of memory loss so it will be interesting to see where they go with it. They didn’t try to disguise Clark besides the glasses. He looks the same, talked the same…really. Reeves mastered it, Routh managed…Cavill needs to work on it!

    Overall I think why I liked it so much is they took it in another direction and I wasn’t looking at the same characters as we’ve grown use to. Superman and Superman II will always be great classics, but I look forward to seeing what they do next to show the evolution of the modern day Superman.

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