Jun 24, 2013

[Movies] Man of Steel (2013)

I've never been that big of a Superman fan, but it's hard to escape him. He's definitely one of the most iconic superheroes of all time and it's rare to encounter someone without at least a basic inkling of who he is. He's just one of those heroes.

But in the post Christopher Nolan world, we have to face the fact that Hollywood is now convinced that we want our heroes to be reimagined as realistic as possible. The side effect is that I feel we're in a phase in entertainment that feels like the anti-hero trend in the 90's where comic book heroes had to be edgier and not so squeaky clean across various comic book publishers. Now the same thing seems to be happening with movies.

I feel that a movie reimagining like Batman Begins and related movies truly work when the movie manages to distill the character to his or her core principles - to the very essence that defines the character. One's ability to enjoy this movie sort of depends on how you define Superman - what makes him the hero that he is? Is it just his superpowers? Is it the costume? Is it his planet of origin? Is it his values and ideals? There are many directions to go - it's just a question of which one matters to you more. And that in turn will define your movie experience.

Synopsis: Man of Steel is 2013 superhero movie directed by Zack Snyder. Christopher Nolan was a producer for this movie while the screenplay was written by David S. Goyer.

The movie begins on the alien world of Krypton. Lead scientists Jor-el (Russell Crowe) has determined that the planet is doomed to destruction due to instability in the planet's core. The council had long ignored his warnings and now it's too late. At this time, General Zod (Michael Shannon) decides to lead a military coup to usurp rule of the planet and punish the world's leaders for their negligence. Jor-el then implements his own plan to save the Kryptonian race by sending his son Kal-el - the first natural born Kryptonian in too far long a tie - off to the remote planet of Earth. Together with Kal-el is the Kryptonian genetic codex that holds the keys to repopulating their race somehow.

In following in the classic tale, the infant Kal-el is discovered by the Kents, Jonathan (Kevin Costner) and Martha (Diane Lane) who raise him as their own son. In a series of flashbacks, we learn more about his upbringing with the Kents as he comes to terms with his superhuman powers being activated because of our yellow sun while we also follow "Clark" (Henry Cavill) as he pursues a nomadic life traveling across America while saving people when he can. But always he struggles to come to terms with his origins and to keep his identity secret as much as possible.

Now the opening sequence of this movie was a great way of stressing that at its core, the Superman story has always been a science fiction story. He is, after all, an alien sent to Earth by a dying world. And thus it was pretty cool to see them update things with modern movie technology, although there was a distinctly Brainiac-style approach to a lot of the designs I felt. Well, I say Brainiac because of the obsessions with tripods which was then mixed in with some H. R. Geiger given the highly organic look of a lot of their technology.

As a movie living independent of all other versions of Superman that had come before it (including the prior movies, TV shows and comics), it's not an overly bad movie. We follow the struggle with identity of a young man who happens to be able to leap all buildings in a single bound. He has a interesting enough "villain" of sorts in General Zod, who ultimately just wants to do what he thinks is best for his people. Throw in one of the most amazingly choreographed fight scenes in movie history. In this regard, it's a great popcorn movie and a lot of Hollywood fun.

However, when we think of Superman's core identity over the years - the key elements that make Superman who he is, then I start to have issues with the movie. POTENTIAL SPOILERS IN THE NEXT PARAGRAPH.

First there's the Kents - and while they were still the loving farmers who accepted Kal-el / Clark with open arms, Jonathan Kent certainly had somewhat odd principles in life. The key moment is when they talk about the bus accident and for some reason he's more willing to let other kids die as opposed to risking Clark's secret of his super powers. What kind of a moral compass is that? And while his death scene was somewhat moving, it also didn't make sense and there was no true reason for him to perish! And this twisted morality helps explain Superman's eventual disregard for the loss of human life while fighting the other Kryptonians. Sure, he was a fairly novice hero but he had also been using his powers consistently over the years. And the Superman we all know would have done his best to avoid risking further loss of life by either trying to take the fight away from population centers or just surrendering in order to avoid the risk of his enemies killing more people. This Superman did not have that core and thus the big finale decision was just the cherry on top that made me feel that this was not truly about Superman. Even to use this as an origin story of sorts didn't really fly with me - the celebrated Batman movies didn't have Bruce Wayne wantonly killing people or letting them die due to inaction or ignorance.


To be fair, Henry Cavill certainly made for a very interesting Superman. He brought a strong sense of intensity to the role and certainly seemed pretty conflicted. And I'm sure a lot of fan girls (and boys) loved the fact that he was (1) physically impressive and (2) rather fuzzy, which is rather accurate to many depictions of Superman in the comic books. In other words the man looked pretty good in the suit.

Amy Adams was certainly an interesting Lois Lane as well. I liked the fact that she was written as a character that was pretty true to her role as a journalist and her tenacity to pursue any story to the ends of the Earth. And while she was a tough character for the most part, there were a lot of sequences that still had her standing around doing nothing or just being the damsel in distress. A bit of a waste of a perfectly good character.

Beyond my spoilery issues with the core principles and motivations of this version of Superman, the movie had a lot of weird plot holes that made the experience all the more annoying for me. Characters kept making weird decisions with no logical reason other than plot demands such as wanting Lois Lane involved in almost every scene or even some of the motivations of the Kyptonians themselves. And don't get me started on the nature of Superman's powers in this version of things - that really gets to me. I won't go into detail - I've shared enough spoiler points in this article.

The aspect of the movie that I loved the most was probably the character of Faora (Antje Traue). She was probably the most interesting character of all with some of the best lines in the movie. And yes, she was pretty much limited to being a supporting character on the side of the "villains" - but in many ways I would have bought into her being the lead villain and not just a sub-commander.

Man of Steel is not the best Superman movie for every single Superman fan out there. It's certainly a significant reboot of the franchise and takes things in a rather disturbing new direction. And thus the very strong opinions about the movie whether for or against, which in the long run just benefits the movie studios themselves. And I think it pretty much cements the certainty of a sequel being made. As for this movie, I'd rate it a decent 3 flashbacks to Clark's childhood (given how many of them were there in the movie as a whole!) out of a possible 5.

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