I’ve had my doubts about Man of Steel, if I’m honest, even as I sat in the theater this morning waiting for the lights to go down, I was wondering if I hadn’t just made a big mistake. Maybe I should have gone to see This is The End instead. Last night my friends Mouse and Sumona said that it was awesome.
I made the right decision. Man of Steel doesn’t unseat The Dark Knight as the greatest comic book movie of all time, and it certainly can’t touch the MCU for fun factor. But it’s good. It’s very good, in fact. It’s interesting and complicated and heavy and very long. It isn’t perfect, but it’s very good.
In that way Man of Steel is very like the portrait of Clark Kent that it paints. I said once that Batman Begins was Bruce Wayne’s movie and The Dark Knight was Batman’s. (I apologize now for all of the comparisons, it’s very difficult to not make them.) This movie is Clark’s, whatever comes next, whether it’s a straight sequel to Man of Steel or a Justice League movie, it will be Superman’s.
Henry Cavill does a remarkable job with Clark, managing to balance the confusion over his origins, the mastering of his powers and the predictability of this guy. Clark’s “mild mannered” personality is not exactly a show, but it doesn’t come quite naturally to him either. The way that Cavill taps in to it is ingenious, you can almost see him counting to ten as he resists a bar fight in an early scene. He’s a man at odds with himself, wanting to disappear and blend in, but wanting to help people too. He wants to be Clark Kent, but he also wants to be Kal-El, even before he knows who Kal-El is.
Like any good superhero movie, the guy in the suit is the most important, but if you screw up the people around him, it doesn’t matter how good he is. (Superman Returns proved this. Brandon Routh was a wonderful choice. The world surrounding him was what wasn’t quite right.) and Man of Steel gets them right.
I was so excited to see Amy Adams play Lois Lane I could barely think straight. I knew even if the rest of the movie was a big turd, this was going to be something worth seeing. She didn’t disappoint. This version of Lois is a little less manic than her predecessors, but no less driven or confident. She makes her first appearance while chasing down a story about a military discovery of a mysterious mass in the arctic. When a Colonel (played by the awesome Christopher Meloni!) challengers her she takes him down, with her words, as she’s Lois Lane, and then says plainly, “Now that we’ve had our dick measuring contest, shall we proceed?” It’s an amazing moment, and one of the many clues that Christopher Nolan and Zach Snyder know exactly what they’re doing here. The rest of the Planet staff performs well. I love Lawrence Fishburn’s Perry White, playing the editor as a patient father type, tired of dealing with his “problem child” Lois. The gender switched Jenny Olsen is cute and fun, if a little bit useless, so actually, quite accurate and true to the original character.
Diane Lane does a beautiful job as Martha Kent, and the script an even better one. This is an important character but like most mothers in stories like this one she takes a back seat, but does it forcefully. The same goes for Ayelet Zurer as Lara. Whatever the adaptation, it’s always heartbreaking when Lara places baby Kal-El in his space ship for his long journey to Earth, but Zurer actually brought me to tears as she let the infant go.
Which brings me to the movie’s twin pillars: Superman’s two dads. Kevin Costner kills in his role as Jonathan Kent. Of course, we all know how at home he is in a cornfield. But he does an amazing job of another character that could just be a cardboard cut out, and is instead here, a conflicted father, terrified of losing his son, whether it’s because if people find out his secret or because he alienates the boy on his own. It’s a lovely contrast, and it becomes very clear at one point that Clark’s drive to be a hero comes from his father.
But this is nothing compared to Kal-El’s genetic legacy. Russell Crowe devours this movie in his portrayal of Jor-El. His worry over his planet’s destruction is palpable and his battle with General Zod amazing. How they handle his “consciousness” on Earth is neat and very original. Crowe and Cavill together make a great team.
Speaking of General Zod, Michael Shannon is well placed as the villain. He usually is.
The plot concerns more of Krypton than I expect, which I liked, Lois being the one to track Clark down halfway through the movie, which I loved, and Genesis Pods, which I couldn’t believe, (then again, it was produced by the man who found a way to make The Lazarus Pit viable without fantasy elements, so I don’t know why I was surprised.) and Lexcorp splashed all over every vehicle in Metropolis, which was absolutely fantastic.
The movie is very heavy, as I said before. Not just in tone, or approach, it’s a dense movie. There are a million ways to come at it. The moment where young Clark first discovers his powers and is overwhelmed by them, to the point where he runs out of his classroom and hides in a closet, where only his mother’s soothing voice and advice can coax him out is surely going to be relateable for children with special needs and their parents. Comparisons to Jesus Christ have always abounded in Superman stories, but this one takes it to the next level, Clark is 33 when he becomes Superman, sits with a priest trying to decide if he should turn himself over to Zod, in front of a picture of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. You could observe it through the eyes of the three women who love Superman, his two mothers and Lois, all of whom are stronger here than ever. (Lana Lang also appears for half a minute during one of the school flashbacks, but I hate her character so much, I don’t even care that she’s outright neglected.)
I quibble with the title not because it doesn’t include “Superman” but because if you’re going to choose one of his “titles” for the movie The Last Son of Krypton would have been far more appropriate than Man of Steel. Either way, it’s a very good movie, and I suggest checking it out. It’s going to be a hell of a franchise if they make the right moves.
Nothing new, but every time I see the Thor: The Dark World trailer I get more excited for it.
- The Great Gatsby
- Man of Steel
- Iron Man: 3
- Star Trek Into Darkness
- After Earth