Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Movie Review: Man of Steel

Since every other website that deals even tangentially with geekish issues already has a review of Man of Steel up, I suppose I'd better publish mine.

Spoilers are tucked away behind a button, so if you normally read the posts on a RSS feed, you'll have to come directly to the site and click on the button to read them. On the other hand, if you don't want spoilers, you won't accidentally read them. Yay! Everybody wins! 

I love Superman. I liked the movie a lot. In my opinion, for what that's worth, it's probably the best of the theatrical Superman movies. Not that it doesn't have issues, but the Reeve era Superman movies have issues of their own, issues, I would argue, that are more substantial than those in Man of Steel. (Turning back time, the cellophane S, Superman returning to the bar to kick the shit out of that guy for no reason, Lex Luthor's ridiculous real estate scam, the kiss of forgetfulness, and Lois Lane dangling herself over Niagara Falls so she could finally ensnare Superman in her matrimonial clutches once and for all, for starters.)

A lot of fans are moaning that the movie is not a retread of the Reeve era Superman. But A.) The same fans would be bitching that the movie is a retread of the Reeve era Superman if it were and B.) We got that with Singer's "Kevin Spacey and Kumar watch Superman lift successively heavier things" and that movie has not aged well. (Sorry fans of Deadbeat Dad Space Jesus Superman.)

When I hear those complaints calling for the return to the Reeve Superman, I think of the argument early in The Incredibles.

Helen: It is a bad thing, Bob! Uprooting our family *again* so that you can relive the glory days is a very bad thing!
Bob: [Defensively] Reliving the glory days is better than pretending they never happened!
Helen: Yes! They happened, but this; our family, is what's happening now, Bob! And you're missing this!

The Reeve/Donner movies were good. In spite of their flaws, they might even be great. But they happened, and I wouldn't want to see those movies redone with better effects.

I wasn't sold on the need for an origin story for Superman, because he's one of the most recognizable figures on Earth. "Doomed planet. Desperate scientists. Last hope. Kindly couple." Boom, you're done.

However, this worked, and it worked well. It's about Clark growing into Superman. He's been kind of half-assing it in the hero biz, just helping people willy-nilly, but it takes the events of the movie to move him from hero to SUPERhero.

Stuff I liked:

The Superman Shield: I heard the story that John Byrne is color blind and it shaped his understanding of the "S" Shield on his chest.

Since he is predominantly a penciler this doesn't come up very often - but it did shape his interpretation of Superman from his first glimpse. John Byrne (color blind) saw Superman's logo as a yellow design on a red background. Well, actually, two different shades of gray, but what I'm getting at is that Byrne was seeing the negative space of the design as the symbol, and the symbol (the S) as the background. Since he knew from the beginning that Superman was Kryptonian, he figured this abstract design was some Kryptonian glyph and thought it was pretty cool. To this day, when he draws Superman's logo (what we comics cognoscenti refer to as a chevron) he draws the two goldfish silhouettes and the little triangles that he has always seen, and which just happen to form an S shape to our eyes.

I had grown up thinking that it was the Crest of the House of El, which just happened to look like an S to us. I can't remember where I had first heard that, but it just made sense to me. I'm glad that they kept this bit of lore and expanded on it for the new movie. The impression that I get is that it's a symbol of hope that the House of El incorporated into its coat of arms, like in Game of Thrones, how the Lannisters have a Lion to represent their family or the Starks have Ned's head for theirs.

Wikipedia has some interesting background on the history and evolution of the Superman logo

Other stuff:

I don't often comment on men's shirtless scenes, but good god,  Henry Cavill is a BEAST.

Lois Lane's contact is named Woodburn. I assume it's some kind of oblique reference to Woodward and Bernstein, but it just seems...weird.

I saw two LexCorp trucks in the movie. I was talking with a friend, and we agreed that we don't want to see Luthor as the primary antagonist in the next movie. My reason is that the scale the movie on which the movie operates. Say what you like about Zach Snyder (I still haven't forgiven him for Sucker Punch ) , but he manages the convey the horrifying power involved in these battles. I complain about this a lot (most recently, at this link), but having Superman threatened by human characters rarely elevates them. It just diminishes him.

(For the record, my money is on Brainiac for the sequel. I could get behind that, as long as they get Corey Burton to do the voice)

Adam Adams was a great Lois Lane. Perhaps even the definitive Lois Lane.

Christopher Meloni. I warmed to his character over the course of the film. He's an Air Force Colonel who is initially hostile to both Lois Lane and Superman, but his opinion gradually changes. He also figures in what's probably my favorite exchange in the movie. Superman had been fighting with two Kryptonians, as well as suffering attacks from military forces who considered him a threat. He saved those soldiers that he could, at great personal risk, and when the battle is over, Meloni's character says "This man is not our enemy."

Superman nods slightly and smiles and says, "Thank you, Colonel," before flying away to continue. He doesn't snark off and say "Took you long enough to figure that out." It's a moment that gets Superman so right, just the belief that everyone deserves dignity and respect until they show him otherwise. 

I thought the movie was very measured in its treatment of the military, neither demonizing them nor fetishizing them. Should an entity like Superman appear, things would probably go down much as they did in the movie. The military people had their orders and they were doing their best to execute them, despite occasional misgivings. They were people in a difficult situation and they were doing the best they could. I like the bit in the interrogation room. They're aware that their precautions against Superman are woefully inadequate, but, as they say, they have to do something, and they're doing the best that they can.

I liked Michel Shannon as General Zod, but Terrance Stamp will always be saying "Kneel before Zod" in the little television that plays in my heart.

Richard Schiff is Dr. Emil Hamilton. It's a small role, but he's pretty great in it. Richard Schiff is always great, though.

I really liked Antje Traue as Faora.  She was wonderful, by the way. She kicked the shit out of Superman, and though she's a woman, there's none of the tired sexual subtext that usually goes along with female subordinates.

Laurence Fishburne was  wonderful Perry White. I never cared too much about Perry White until a scene in All Star Superman. Just two panels. Superman is dead, Lex Luthor has his powers and he's tearing the Daily Planet apart. He comments about an expose that led to him being sentenced to death, and comments, "The Daily Planet thought I should go to the electric chair," and Perry rages back, "The TRUTH sent you to the chair." He doesn't get any lines like that, but he embodies their essence with the character.



I liked it a lot. Despite the scope, it's a more personal tale in a lot of ways than any of the previous movies.

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