Sunday, June 30, 2013

Man of Steel: Movie of... Something Less Substantial

image from IMDb
Yeah, that's about how I felt too, Clark.
I love midnight movies.  I don’t know whether it’s the idea of seeing a movie the minute it comes out, or the adrenaline that comes from knowing how late I’m going to be out and that most sane people have been asleep for at least an hour.  Maybe it’s having to get there an hour early to get seats and watching the theater slowly fill up around me that makes me feel like it’s a big deal.

Man of Steel was supposed to be a big deal.  I get excited for the majority of movie trailers I see, but I was extra excited for this one.  On the scale of movie-trailer-excitement, this one was probably slightly above Lone Ranger and below Thor 2 (I could do an entire post on how excited I am for Thor 2, but I’ll spare you).

I had meant to be finished with Smallville by the time Man of Steel hit theaters, so that I would be totally caught up on the Superman mythos.  Smallville, for all its imperfections and downright grievous errors, provides a mostly-faithful account of Clark Kent’s journey, and for better or worse, it’s my only exposure to Superman, since I haven’t seen the Christopher Reeve movies or read any of the comics.  But I persevered through eight seasons of Smallville before I couldn’t take it anymore, and I couldn’t help comparing Man of Steel back to it.

It shouldn’t have been a tough battle.

The movie opened strongly, with the war ripping through Krypton and Lara and Jor-El fighting to save the life of their son.  Zod was well-cast and chillingly evil, even if his goons were lackluster.  Kal-El gets Fed-Exed to Earth in a pod that looks like it belonged in Avatar, Zod and his goons are locked away “forever,” and Krypton explodes.  This is the last good part of the movie.

We are first introduced to Clark Kent as an adult, blazing in both senses, shirtlessly saving sailors from a burning rig.  We see his childhood in a series of awkwardly placed flashbacks, rather than in chronological order.  This is a bad way to get someone to invest emotionally in a character, because the importance of each scene is explained as it happens, rather than building a solid character from the bottom up.  Man of Steel’s Superman is a leaning Jenga tower of character development.

The death of Jonathan Kent was supposed to be a hugely distressing event in Clark Kent’s life, and it was completely passed over in this movie, with only a brooding Superman looking at a gravestone to tell us that Pa Kent had died.  This would be more upsetting if not for the fact that Jonathan is devoid of any personality the few times we see him.  Maybe I’m unfairly comparing him to the Jonathan Kent in Smallville, who was a strong and upstanding father to Clark, and whose death haunted Clark for a long time afterward.

Superman enters a ship in a shirt and pants and meets biological father’s a hologram.  Jor-El explains to his son where he came from and why he’s special.  Then Superman walks out of the ship/cave in a spandex suit and cape without any explanation whatsoever as to where those wardrobe items came from.  Maybe the writers couldn’t think of a way to have him see the suit for the first time and keep a straight face so they skipped over its introduction altogether.  The flight scene that follows is almost as awkward as the suit transition.  Did he not know he could fly?  How did he discover any of his other powers?

I was excited by the prospect of Amy Adams playing Lois Lane, because I get hives whenever Erica Durance appears onscreen in Smallville, and I thought Adams’ portrayal would be far more tolerable.  While not as grating as Durance, Adams’ performance slides all the way to the other extreme, and we get another bran muffin of a character in Lane.  At least she matches the rest of the cast.  The kiss scene at the end of the big fight was so forced it was comical.  Everything we see of Superman up to that point tells us he’s an emotionally distant loner, and certainly not the type of person to take a minute after a huge battle to smooch a damsel he just met.

The poor character development is illustrated nicely by the scene where a woman whom we’ve seen perhaps twice before is trapped beneath rubble and about to die, and two male peripheral characters are trying desperately to free her, and it’s supposed to be gut-wrenching because she’s terrified and pretty and crying and the music gets minor and dissonant, except that I don’t even know her name or if she’s romantically or otherwise connected to either of the men trying to get her out.

There were parts of this movie that were cool.  For all the screen time that should probably have been used developing characters, there are lots of explosions and fight scenes.  The gravity weapon that Zod was using to terra-form Earth for the Kryptonians (wouldn’t that be “krypto-forming”?) was a neat idea. Henry Cavill is one attractive human being, and spends copious amounts of screen time reminding us of that.  And I guess lens flares are the latest filmmaking fad, because at one point there were so many on the screen that I was honestly surprised JJ Abrams wasn’t the director (wasn’t Michael Bay, either).

I walked into the theater totally prepared for Man of Steel to prove me wrong about DC’s movies, but the truth is it couldn’t even outshine Smallville, and didn’t hold a candle to Avengers or Iron Man 3.


  1. Explosion AficionadoJuly 1, 2013 at 12:19 AM

    The explosion to seriousness ratio was out of whack. Where Avengers had mass carnage, it also had a much lighter tone than what Man of Steel was shooting for. The two elements worked well together. Man of Steel was going for a Dark Knight level of seriousness while also having a over the top level of destruction. It did not mix well.

  2. Agreed on most points. The fight scenes and general direction were pretty amazing, but the script was dreck.

    Lois: They say all relationships go downhill after the first kiss
    Superman: Well, you're kissing ... AN ALIEN! OH YEAH BABY!

  3. Haven't seen it yet, but it sounds like it's suffering from something similar to Eragon's movie issues. Marvel stays on top I suppose.

  4. Love your movie reviews. "leaning Jenga tower of character development...?" Where does she come up with such word pictures? Anyway, from the perspective of a grandfather, I thought there were way too many explosions. And what's the fun in watching the irresistible force smash into the immovable object time after time after time there toward the end? I like a good story. This wasn't it. Oh BTW...If you didn't see the original Christopher Reeve Superman you missed the essence. It didn't take itself so seriously and wasn't trying to be dark and meaningful. Nice write, young Padawan. May the farce be with you.