Thursday, June 20, 2013

Summer Flix: Man of Steel

OK, I need to rant a bit about Man of Steel, the new Superman movie. It just needs to happen so here goes.

First off, I should say, they got the casting right. This guy?

I'd say he's pretty much a spot-on Superman. I loved Amy Adams as Lois Lane, Russell Crowe as Jor-El, and even the kid cast as young Clark/Kal-El... the casting was great!

Then, you ask, what's the issue?

I wanted some story. Man of Steel seemed to me like a collection of backstory-infodumping, flashbacks, and action sequences with a very muddled narrative, most of which felt very distant from the hero himself. If you're going to tell a hero's story, here is the ultimate hero. The whole time it seemed like looking in on a movie about him rather than ever fully engaging with the character.

But it was supposed to be dark and edgy! Plus it's Zack Snyder and freaking Christopher Nolan!

Yes, yes, I hear you. I know some fans loved this take on Superman. Ain't It Cool News loved it, an opinion I respect, and I'm glad some fans devoted to the legacy of Superman comics thought Man of Steel got it right. But for me this one had all the style and look but a story that was not engaging.

It was kind of like sitting through the first half of Phantom Menace and wondering, who is the main character here? Is there one? It's supposed to be that guy, I think but... For literally half of Man of Steel, I was waiting for the dang thing to get started.

Take the beginning. An extended backstory about Krypton and its troubles, the birth and sending off of Kal-El, followed by a brief trip to the present where Clark/Kal-El is literally on fire saving people, followed by more flashbacks of Clark as a kid saving kids and doing superhero-y stuff. We are now a good 30-40 minutes in and still no scene with our Hero himself having any meaningful dialogue in the present day. A brief tussle in a bar does not count for me, although it was a great scene. I am seeing you doing things Clark, but I don't know you.

But hey, didn't the Star Trek reboot start the same way? Why yes, it did! Star Trek opens with Kirk born at the same time Romulans are taking down the ship his father is the captain of. It is not extended exposition, and the Romulans are a key part of the story. Then it flashes to kid Kirk hassling the law, which then flashes to the present with scrappy Kirk getting into a bar fight and then recruited to Starfleet. The scenes are brief enough and related enough to give context, and then we move on. Man of Steel spends so much time on the backstory, I figured they just wanted to get the most out of Russell Crowe's massive paycheck, and if I'm thinking about that during the movie that means I'm not connecting.

Now, I've seen Zack Snyder's other movies so maybe I shouldn't be surprised. I thought Watchmen was a great representation of the graphic novel, some of the shots even mirrored the comic exactly. It was a tough story to adapt, but the feel of it fit. Sucker Punch on the other hand was all style, no substance. Schoolgirls with big guns masquerading as girl power. Well, the soundtrack was good at least. And Christopher Nolan--I loved Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, Inception. I was geeked about a grittier take on Superman. The scene (shown in previews) where Superman walks across snow, a shot from the back with his cape blowing aside, gave me chills. But geez, can you give this man some dialogue?!

I couldn't resist! From The Hawkeye Initiative 
The last half of the movie is an extended chain of Blowups. Superman crashing into all sorts of stuff, epic punches to Zod's face, a few PTSD-inducing  skyscraper collapses. Avengers did it too, so hey, I get it. But Avengers also gave each hero his or her scene to establish their story, and Tony Stark didn't even steal the show. Every one of the Avengers had a scene where they stole the show: Hulk smashing, Natasha tricking Loki out of information, Captain America's line about a reference he understands, Hawkeye being a badass with one last arrow. They each showcased their abilities, and we saw their character, and this is a film with no fewer than five leads.

I didn't hate Man of Steel. It's not the worst superhero movie by far, and in a lot of ways, it's pretty good. I liked the mythology and the absence of campy Daily Planet stuff. Henry Cavill sure was pretty to look at. His posing wasn't Tourist level bad (where Angelina Jolie, supposedly mid-chase on a boat, looked like she'd stepped off the cover of Vogue), but he seemed more the representation of Superman in an arms-length look at the hero. Some people might be fine with that. I just wanted to get inside his head, to know this man of steel a little better.


  1. My review of it should be up tomorrow. Some of what I'm going to say (already said, actually, since I've almost finished writing it already) is similar to what you're saying.
    The issue in MoS is that Superman is not the main character; Zod is.

  2. I put my review up a bit ago. I see some of what you are saying. Still I always find it funny when people compare this movie to Avengers...personally I enjoyed it more than Avengers, but for the average fan this isn't fair. Let's compare it to Ironman 1 or Batman Begins and it blows them away. This was the first movie in a series and as such has to be treated like it. Still enjoyed reading your views.

    1. You're right that a single hero comparison like Iron Man or Batman Begins seems more fair. My point was that Avengers had six leads and still showed a lot of character. I felt very distanced from Clark in this, although it had all the elements of a great story.

  3. @Brandon: It doesn't even compare to Iron Man or, even, Batman. MoS was sloppy and didn't bother to actually even include the origin. It just assumes you know it and leaves most of it out.

    1. Yeah that is the great thing about the many opinions. I found the movie better than all of them and enjoyed the fact we didn't have to sit through another full origin. We will have to agree to disagree here and I will just be happy going to see it a third time :).

  4. Just stumbled in here from Twitter... I think your take is spot-on. The flashbacks and info-dumping drove me crazy, and like you, I kept wondering when the movie was actually going to start.

    Another pet peeve of mine is when we have to re-hash a plot point for the benefit of another character. In this instance, we watch young Clark (and older Clark too, actually) discover what we already know about his past.

    If we've already seen the awesome space battle, seeing a space ship in a barn doesn't do it for us anymore. We're not with Clark, experiencing it for the first time the way he is, which seems to distance us from him again. There's a way to do this well, but I didn't feel his reaction warranted learning the same information all over again.

    I'll have to type up my own blog post about Christopher Nolan screenplays (I think they get pretty heavy handed in terms of theme), but I won't keep ranting here. Anyways, good thoughts! Glad to hear someone shares my opinion on this movie.


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