Apropos of Nothing: Man of Steel

For the first time in a long time, I made it out to a movie in the actual theater.

I love Superman, and have for a long time. I was a reasonable fan of the Christopher Reeve movies (well, the first two), and enjoyed Lois and Clark and Smallville well enough. I thought Brandon Routh made a very good Superman in Superman Returns.

I had high hopes for Man of Steel, not the least of which is because the trailers were damn effective (three links), and very evocative. Even in the Minecraft version.

It may be hard to avoid spoilers as I discuss this. Be warned.

So, how did it actually work?

+Fred Brackin over in the SJGGames Geek Culture forum posts a pretty devastating (and spoiler-filled) review. I think most of what he says strikes true to me, but let me go through my impressions, since I went to the movie predisposed to like the film.

First off, we spend a lot of time on Krypton in the beginning of the movie. And when things do start to happen, you get the first taste of the frenetic action that seems to characterize a lot of this era of cinematography – shaky cameras and purposefully out-of-focus, sometimes even out-of-frame, action.

I did like the hints of a previous friendship between Zod and Jor-El, and a long life of mutual respect. I did find it odd, as Fred did, that Jor-El went toe-to-toe with Zod and his troops and more or less kicked ass. Apparently the greatest Scientist on Krypton spent his spare time in MMA classes. Or Russel Crowe forgot he wasn’t on the set of Gladiator (or a Kryptonian version of Robin Hood, perhaps).

So, then, we flash forward to Earth, and an adult Clark Kent is on a boat, filming an episode of The Deadliest Catch, with a cameo from The Guardian. That actually was almost a nice touch, since you see that no matter where Clark goes, he can’t help himself from helping people, but he pays the price each time, having to move on.

You also see him steal. Hmm.

The thing is, as soon as I saw the film start with him on the boat, I’ll admit that the only thing I thought at the time was “oh, crap. They’re going to do his entire upbringing in Kansas in flashback.”

And so they did. The chronology was terribly disjointed.

Actually, I think overall, that was the issue with the entire movie, and Fred captures it well: it wasn’t sure what it wanted to be, and therefore neither was I.

Were there good fight scenes between Kryptonians? Yes . . . but the shaky-cam did not help. Could you see homages to other movies and some comic arcs? Well, in addition to Zod, there was the petite female brunette (formerly Ursa, now Faora-Ul), and a nameless giant male, presumably Non.

Lex Luthor was completely absent, though Lexcorp made an appearance as a logo.

Some of the changes made in the reboot made more sense – I liked what they did, sort of, with Superman’s weaknesses. They’re a bit more tightly integrated than the thought of bits of Krypton flung across intergalactic space.

Set Properly Damage to “Holy God.”

I’ll say this for Kryptonians – they are sure helpful when it comes to urban renovation. They destroy so much of the City of Metropolis as collateral damage that it left me with a very, very strong sense of “enough.”  Smallville got its share too.

And the thing that got me is that Clark didn’t really seem to care. Perhaps he didn’t own his role as Earth’s mightiest Hero yet, but honestly, his parents raised him better.

Oh, right. We only saw Dad Costner in a few flashbacks. That explains it.

Parting Shot

I’m still not sure how I feel about this one, honestly. I left the theater after Superman Returns feeling like I could fly myself. I felt Routh owned the character pretty well, nearly channeled Reeve as Kent, and was, well, properly heroic.

I didn’t walk out of the theater feeling that way this time. Maybe if there’s a sequel (and all the setups are there, of course) we’ll get more of that. There’s the roster of villians to be dealt with, and of course we need to meet Lex Luthor at some point. But in terms of how I felt?

Batman Begins was a brilliant re-imagination of the Batman origin story. Really well done, I thought. Hell, though I felt it was too soon, The Amazing Spider Man was a good reboot of the series following the stint Tobey Maguire did (I liked the first two, not so much the third). This one?

I think what it’s leaving me with is “not iconic enough.” I don’t know that makes it a bad film; but it did muck with my expectations of the Big Blue Boy Scout a bit as he’s introduced to the world.

Mulling further on this, a conversation with my wife crystallized some of my discomfort with the movie. By the time he dons the cape in the stories with which I am familiar, Superman is respectful and careful of people’s lives and property. Always. In Man of Steel? Not so much. He steals. He vandalizes people’s property. He deliberately throws some of his nemeses through buildings, destroying them and likely causing people to be injured or killed. And in the end, for laughs, he destroys a piece of Air Force hardware.

OK, that was admittedly funny.

But what I saw in the movie was him figuring out is own character at the same time as he put on the suit. I’m not sure I was ready for that, and honestly, his father raised him better – at least in canon.

10 thoughts on “Apropos of Nothing: Man of Steel

  1. I thought my review was actually mixed. 🙂

    Something could be made out of Cavill with a better director. Also tell Cavill to stop screaming even if he does have an amazingly mobile face and his mouth gets big enough to swallow grapefruit whole when he does.

    Like you I would have been happier if after he did you know what to Zod he looked up and started rescuing some of the people trapped by in all those collapsed buildings.

    He could have neatly turned that truck upside down but left it intact and it would have been funny rather than disturbing and hinting at Hulk-like rage issues.

    Eh, it was kind of sloppy and had too much of a Summer Action Movie!!! imperative but it wasn't as bas as…….let's see, Green Hornet? No I like that better than this. Jonah Hex might be the last movie I saw in the theaters but liked less. Man of Steel was better than Ghost Rider too. I liked Green Lantern and Thor better though.

    Well shoot, I'm back to praising with faint damns. 🙂

  2. Spoilers or no, the description of the camera work will keep me out of the theater for this one. I had to go and stand in the back of the theater during the third Bourne movie due to all the hand-cam action – had to have the whole picture in my field of vision – to avoid nausea. This sounds like it might be similarly inclined. DVD I suppose.

    I'd like to think that, knowing that it is his story taken from a different place, where he's not sure who he is yet, and is remarkably flawed, it might it easier to watch. And easier to like him, as he isn't always perfect.

  3. Okay, I broke down and read this without seeing the film.

    My take: it sounds like they gave him the Peter Jackson Aragorn treatment.

    If I'm going to go see superman, I want to see unflinching heroism. I don't want to see "becoming." I don't want to see an identity crisis. I don't want to see the tongue go the the cheek and I don't want to see the slightest hint of irony.

    1. No detectable irony, and no tongue in cheek at all. If they make you doubt what Superman's choices might be by actually posing them as choices, I don't necessarily fault any of the decisions in the bold actions, though some of the things that they have him do casually rub me wrong a bit.

      If you have the time, I'd go see it, if for no other reason than I want to discuss it with you at length. 🙂

    2. There's rather a lot of role-playing relevance here, particularly if you've been following some of Robin Laws' recent work. The distinction between the dramatic hero (the "becoming", the hero's journey path, the guy who changes as the story progresses) and the iconic hero (the serial-type character, who changes everything else by being true to himself) is fairly clear, and if you're trying to run one sort of game with a player who wants to play the other it rarely works well.

      Film school is all about the dramatic hero.

  4. The superheroes-and-mass-casualties-and-not-caring thing is actually pretty endemic in modern comics. The most recent Avengers #1 casually obliterated Perth and Regina, with very little in the way of measurable impact on anyone, other than to get the Avengers to go seek the villains. It's like the creators don't know what it is that their heroes are supposed to be doing, why people call them heroes. Star Trek Into Darkness had the same problem with its ending.

    It sounds like I liked Man of Steel more than either Fred or Doug, though it was in spite of the semi, and the destruction of Smallville and Metropolis. Maybe because Superman isn't one of my favorites.

  5. I probably dislike the people responsible for Man of Steel more than I dislike the movie itself. They could have taken some (though perhaps not all) of the elements in Man of Steel and made a much better movie.

    They could have not pushed their PG-13 rating so far either.

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