Man of Steel - The Good and Bad
Sunday, June 23, 2013
Hubs and I went to see "Man of Steel" yesterday. I'll start off with the non-spoiler bottom line first: it was good, but not great. I give it a B- overall because it introduced thought provoking elements to a very old American tale. However, it falls short because it introduced too many ideas, and failed to develop the thoughtful elements in favor of excessive CGI city destruction.
If you don't like 'spoilers,' then stop here. The Superman story is one very familiar to most of us, but I don't know what some might consider spoilers or not. If you haven't seen it and feel I gave away the plot, then please don't yell at me! You have been warned!
The beginning of the movie starts with the background story of Kal-El's origin on Krypton. Political strife and an attempted military coup by Zod in the dying moments of Krypton were very interesting. Krypton's downfall is partially due to the ethics of eugenics: all Kryptonians are born into a caste where they serve one purpose with no choice for another. Jor-El and Lara-El defy this with the first live birth of Kal-El in centuries. Before Krypton dies, they shuttle their hopes and dreams for him to choose his path on Earth.
All very, very interesting...but unnecessary. The film spent too much time trying to develop the backstory of Krypton at the expense of other ideas they introduce later. Zod's eugenics was to be the military commander of Krypton, and I definitely wanted to know more - but not in this movie. This would be an excellent basis for a prequel story. Spending as much time as they did at the beginning turned out to be redundant because later when Clark Kent meets Jor-El for the first time, Jor-El has to explain the story to Clark. At this point, the audience already has this information. They could have cut the Krypton sequence completely, and have Jor-El tell it all. It would not have disrupted the story's cohesiveness.
The movie is really supposed to be about Kal-El's discovery of who he is. It would have been better if they started the movie solely with Kal-El's spacecraft crash in Kansas, the Kents' discovery of him, then his discovery of Jor-El all from his perspective. (Oddly, the crash landing in Kansas and the Kents' finding him was completely missing.)
I really liked the new angle they take with Clark's conflict about not knowing who he is or what he's supposed to do. This is why I give the movie an A in theme. He seems to go from job to job, unsure about his purpose in life. Henry Cavill does a marvelous job of portraying someone with godlike abilities, and yet restrains himself from harming anyone (even if they probably deserve it). In tradition with the Superman legend, this is supposed to be due to Jonathan and Martha Kent setting Clark's moral compass towards using his abilities to help, rather than harm. A man who is invincible could rule the world through tyranny, and yet the Clarks guide him towards benevolence. This wasn't fleshed out quite so well. Kevin Costner does a surprisingly good job with the character, but the script did not do him justice. His dying to conceal Clark's identity put Clark in a position of helplessness and guilt, but I can't help but feel the same idea could be conveyed in a less ridiculous setup.
I've read numerous reviews, and it seems I am in the minority on this, but I did not like Amy Adams as Lois Lane. She didn't strike me as a fiesty reporter. The scene where she's supposed to show how tough she is with a military commander didn't throw much authority. I couldn't help but imagine how different that scene would have been with a Sigourney Weaver type actress. In the end, I felt Adams was a pretty Lois Lane, but not one who intimidated Generals in the least. Among the current field of popular actresses, I'm not sure who I would have cast. There seems to be a lack of Sigourney Weavers or Linda Hamiltons in this generation. The use of profanity with the "D" word to establish her as tough was cringe-worthy and a little awkward as I sat next to an 8 year old. I think they were trying to make Superman a little more adult oriented in theme, but most people in our theater were families.
I wasn't too pleased with the scene where Clark discovers a derelict Kryptonian ship and meets Jor-El for the first time. Russel Crowe does the role justice, but the writers made his presence a sentient ghost-in-the-machine. That is a very complicated subject, and the writers obviously thought the audience should just accept it and not think on why or how. This is one of the areas where they introduce a potentially very thought provoking concept, but it needed to be dropped because there was no time to develop it. It should have been portrayed more as a self-aware AI that has Jor-El's memories and likeness, but is not Jor-El. Going with the ghost-in-the-machine was a can of worms where they didn't need to go. Jor-El basically repeats the information that was shown at the beginning, hence the redundancy. Krypton's background could have all coalesced here.
When Zod and company are reintroduced to the plot, it is a little contrived and forced. However, I particularly liked how they managed to portray Superman as the underdog against General Zod and Faora (probably more commonly recognized as Ursa). Explaining why Superman has super powers by our sun was a nice detail (Earth's sun is younger than Krypton's, so Kal-El's body is amplified by the increased radiation). Since Clark was raised on Earth, his body adapted to our gravitation and environment - again, a nice touch. When Zod and company arrive, they are aliens with alien physiology. They wear armored suits and helmets to protect them. The armor blocks the sun's radiation, so their powers are more limited than Superman's - they can jump very far, but can't fly like Superman. However, they are all experienced trained military warriors. Thanks to Krypton's eugenics, they are superior fighting machines because they were bred to be that way. Despite having weaker abilities, they wipe the floor with Superman. How the film managed to depict a sense of fear for a physically invincible man was impressive.
The film also succeeds with setting up cooperation between Superman, the military generals, and a scientist. Superman can't die, but he can't save Earth alone. This was nicely done.
Superman's battles with Zod, though, were way over the top. There was far more CGI building and city destruction than there needed to be. Zod was a very interesting character, and they could have spent more time in thoughtful dialogue in favor of Independence Day type wanton destruction. A more thoughtful movie was possible if they spent more time with Zod trying to convince Kal-El to rejoin his people. He spent so much of his life feeling like an outsider, he could finally be rejoined with people like him. There was a foundation laid where Kal-El might have felt morally conflicted, but this was one of those great ideas that was glossed over too quickly. If I was editor, I would have heavily cut the beginning sequences, and added more meat here.
The conclusion of the conflict has Superman making a choice: Krypton or Earth. He chooses Earth and kills Zod. There is a brief scene where Superman screams, and Lois comforts him. Then...that's it. Wow. Superman kills someone, and they don't explore his feelings about this at all. Very unsatisfying.
Finally, I wasn't too happy with the ending. Clark discusses with his mom that he finally knows what he's going to do with his life. We then see him introduced as the newest reporter at the Daily Planet. Ok...so when did he get his journalism degree, finish an internship, then get the credentials for a staff job at the Planet? Did he fake his creds? I sure hope not. If there was an implied time shift here, I didn't get the message from the writers.
John Williams' iconic Superman score was missing. I understand they didn't want to use it for the reboot. However, I missed it. If I mention Superman, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Star Wars, Jaws or Jurassic Park, I bet every one of you can mentally 'hear' the theme song for all of them. That is the genius of John Williams. I honestly can't remember if any music played at all during "Man of Steel." If there was a score, I can't recall a single note.
So...with all these criticisms, you're probably thinking I hated the film - LOL! Actually, I enjoyed it. I was entertained. However, there were missed opportunities. They introduced some potentially wonderful ideas, and yet had no time to go into depth with any of them. With a book or mini series, you can explore a lot of topics. With a 2.5 hour film, they really needed to hone in on a couple of the most important. I think the whole Krypton sequence was very interesting, and yet it could have been cut. It would be a wonderful downfall of Krypton prequel, but I wanted more Superman.
I give it a B- for excellent theme and concepts, but marked down for choppy execution.