Man of Steel (2013)
Respect the cape, son.
Man of Steel is the story of Kal-El, a boy who crash-landed on Earth after his homeworld of Krypton was destroyed by the arrogance of its creators. He grows up in the rural town of Smallville and is raised as a son by a pair of humble farmers. They name him Clark, and before long, he discovers that he has powers far beyond those of normal humans, powers that his father urges him to hide for fear of the public repercussion. So he grows up hiding in plain sight, going from job to job, place to place without ever revealing his true self to anyone. And after years of searching, he finally makes contact with the people of Krypton. Unfortunately for him, they’re less interested in assimilating with humanity as they are completely wiping it out. So with the survival of two races resting on his shoulders, Kal-El must choose which side he’s on.
As you’ve likely already gathered, I liked this one quite a bit. As I quickly gathered thereafter, I liked it more than most. On that note, I should probably get to justifying that Verdict up there. So without further ado, let’s take a trip back to the glory days of ’97.
I was 11-years-old, in sixth grade if I’m not mistaken. Girls were terrifying, Goldeneye was king and my after-school ritual was always the same: put off homework, grab Doritos and watch cartoons on the WB. Like I said, the glory days. It was one year after the debut of Superman: The Animated Series, two years after the last episode of Batman: The Animated Series, and as much as I enjoyed those reruns of Batman, Superman was tops, no question whatsoever. It was obvious to me, how could anyone possibly think otherwise? I mean, dudes, on the one hand you’ve got the Last Son of Krypton. On the other, a mere mortal who can’t even so much as fly. A for effort, Bruce. A for effort.
As far as I was concerned, Superman was of such an incomparable nature that everyone else would naturally be on the same page. Why even bother asking around? And I was awfully comfortable in this mindset, that is until one life-altering day when the WB held a contest, a contest where viewers like me could vote on who was better: The Man of Steel or The Dark Knight. So confident was I that I didn’t even vote, I just sat there licking the Cool Ranch dust off my fingers, waiting expectantly for the victor to be named. It was only seconds later that I realized my worldview was a sham, and to this very day, I do not understand it.
Before you grab your pitchfork and get a posse together, don’t mistake this as a slight against Bats. Bats is a great superhero in his own right and he’s only gotten better with time. The point of this story is that, at the ripe young age of 11, I realized that the world hadn’t given Superman a fair shake. Now that I’m 26, not much has changed, and I guess that’s one reason I was so taken with Man of Steel. After six trips to the big screen, we finally had a movie that fit the bill, one that treated the guy with the respect he deserved.
So why the love? What is it about Superman that puts him up on this tallest of pedestals? Well, part of it is probably ’cause I was born and raised Catholic, and you know how us Catholics love us some Jesus figures. Haven’t been to church in a spell, so I’m thinking that’s one of them subconscious reasons. But the main reason for the love goes back to something Superman Returns hit smack on the head, that Superman is more than just a hero. I know, the same can be said for Batman, but we don’t need Bruce Wayne in our world like we need Kal-El. To me, Superman is more than just someone whose mere existence renders all other powers moot by comparison. Whereas Batman is a symbol for justice, Superman is the personification of all that is good and right with humanity. Superman is the archetype, Superman is the best of us, Superman is a call to action.
Needless to say, screw the WB.
All the same, it’d been a while since I’d seen a Superman movie, so I figured I’d amend the situation by giving Superman II a go last week. Always heard good things and given the presence of General Zod here, it seemed like required viewing. So like the good blogger I am, I gave it a fair shake, and at the very real risk of digging myself deeper, I’m sorry to say that it was a pretty rough time. It was dated, it was sloppy, and after a while, it honestly felt like a joke. I’ll go into more detail in a bit, but with all that in mind, I went into Man of Steel.
I’ll admit, Man of Steel has its problems. The dialogue can feel forced, an extra dose of subtlety would have gone a long way, and Henry Cavill is fine as Supes. He looks the part, he gets it done, but it’s hard to deny that the guy’s kind of a stiff. Definitely not helping with the street cred. Still, it’s a whole lot better than Superman II.
See, back in 1980, Clark Kent was a clown and everyone else was an idiot. Through the power of bifocals and acting like a dumbass, Kal-El was able to fool us all into believing he was one of us. That’s some Moleculo shit right there, and I don’t know about you, but it was always a hard pill to swallow. Lo and behold, that nonsense is gone. Now, in the glorious dawn of 2013, Clark Kent is a mild-mannered fella’ with a badass beard who wanders the country from one odd job to the next. For all intents and purposes, Clark Kent is Bruce Banner, and it is a much more fitting look.
Back in 1980, Superman felt like a superhero living in a make-believe world. Now, he’s starting to feel like an actual person with superpowers. Lois Lane isn’t a damsel in distress, Jor-El is a total boss, and these figures in Kal-El’s life have purpose to them that go beyond their stock roles. And that, dear readers, is what I’m talkin’ about.
With that said, there are just so many interesting avenues you can go down with a character like Superman, the complex nature of his place in this world being one of them. Given how campy some of his past stories have been, I loved the way David S. Goyer wrote something so meaningful for the guy. It might get kinda muddled at times, but Kal-El’s search for belonging on a planet where he doesn’t was both a great place to reboot this franchise and a perfect place to weave in Zod.
The thing about Zod is that, once upon a time, Zod was a one-note character with a one-track mind with two loyal henchmen that weren’t any deeper. They were an obstacle and that was all. And while there are similarities in both his persona and agenda, this new Zod is the Zod I always imagined. This time around, there’s a reason behind his single-minded nature that actually ties back into Kal-El. This time around, he’s a destroyer of worlds, not the Pissing Contest Champion of the Universe that he once was. Not only that, but he’s played by Michael Shannon. Could have toned it down on the yelling a bit, but yeah, Michael Shannon says it all. Like many aspects of this movie, it is an noted improvement, and from Amy Adams to Russell Crowe, there are some damn good performances to boot.
But in going back to that “muddled” comment, let’s get to talking about those last 45 minutes. If you haven’t seen it, I won’t spoil it for you, but a lot of things go boom in those last 45 minutes, more so than most might have expected. It’s a big shift in tone and to say that it’s like watching 45 minutes of “Tekken with Kryptonians” isn’t exactly a stretch. It seems like this is where things went downhill for some folks, but in defense of those 45 minutes, was it really all that surprising? When you take a guy who’s so unfathomably powerful that he can punch through dimensions and then pit him against dudes who could all do the same, destruction’s on the menu, big time.
Plus, it’s a Zack Snyder movie. This kind of stuff comes with the territory. I don’t know, maybe it’s because I was so disappointed by the way ridiculous way Superman bested these guys back 1980, but I ate those 45 minutes right up. Although it was a pretty outrageous level of destruction.
Speaking of Zack Snyder, also nice to see him ease up on the slow-mo and let the art direction take center stage. Holy crap, does it reek of Lovecraft, but holy crap, is it easy on the eyes. Way to recover from Sucker Punch, man.
Alright, this is getting long. I fully realize that a big part of why I liked this movie is ’cause I’m a total sucker for Superman. If this movie didn’t do it for you, I don’t expect to have convinced you otherwise. Then again, that was never really the point. Different strokes for different folks. For me, Man of Steel was a long time coming, a much-deserved fair shake that continually moved and amazed. I’m excited to see where this new direction goes, I’m elated by the way it’s gone so far, and regardless of how you felt about it, I think we can agree that it’s all uphill from here. Until then, I’ll just be here, worshiping at the altar.
Now if only we could get Jimmy Olsen up in this piece…