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The Slate

Man of Steel: Super Uneven

In 1978, Warner Bros. Pictures released Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie. Superman was not only the feature film debut of the Last Son of Krypton, but also the first ever big budget superhero film. Now, in the midst of one of the biggest superhero movie crazes ever, director Zack Snyder has created a new Superman flick for the modern era. The result is an uneven mix of amazing visuals and flimsy narrative.

 Man of Steel brings some new twists on the classic Superman origin. In this version, Krypton was a once sprawling galactic empire until the resources became scarce and the Kryptonians were forced to return to their home planet, mine the planet’s core for energy, and adopt a system of birthing where citizens were artificially born to fit specific roles in society. Unfortunately, Krypton begins to collapse due to the mining of its core. In the midst of a military coup started by General Zod (Michael Shannon), a Kryptonian scientist named Jor El (Russel Crowe) sends his naturally born son, Kal El (Henry Cavill) to Earth, where Kal El develops superpowers. As Kal El tries to figure out how to best use his powers to serve humanity, General Zod invades Earth, seeking to convert the planet into a new Krypton. Now, Kal El must stop Zod’s plans before humanity is annihilated.
In terms of pure spectacle, Man of Steel is amazing. Its Krypton, while clearly a hodgepodge of sci-fi ideas from other movies, is charming in its comic book-like ridiculousness.  And the action sets a new standard for superhero movie fights. Snyder has finally captured the raw power of Superman’s abilities. Kryptonians collide into each other with earth-shattering ferocity, and the film makes you feel every moment of it.
The cast really brings the iconic Superman characters to life. Cavill brings real energy to his role as Superman, and Amy Adams manages to capture the tenacity and strength of what has to be one of the most proactive versions of Lois Lane. Russell Crowe and Kevin Costner are great as Jor El and Jonathen Kent respectively. Micheal Shannon is perfect as General Zod. Shannon brings a barely contained rage to the performance, as if Zod is one small push away from destroying everything around him. Together, these performances really help to give energy and gravitas to the film.
But while the movie has fantastic visuals and a note-perfect cast, its story is severely lacking. The film attempts to give Krypton a far more complex backstory than other interpretations have. This forces a far more elaborate exposition than otherwise necessary in order to detail the new version of Krypton. As a result, whole scenes are dedicated just to explaining Krypton’s new history. While the film tries to incorporate some interesting visuals in order to liven up these scenes, it still doesn’t change the fact that it feels like the audience is listening to a class lecture instead of watching a film.
The excess exposition wouldn’t be so bad if the film gave the rest of the story room to breathe, but Man of Steel is in such as rush to get to its superhero fights that the story becomes truncated. As a result, characters and themes are thinly sketched, and what little plot is there is told in rote speeches given almost directly to the camera.
In addition, the superhero flick doesn’t seem to truly understand the character of Superman. Without giving away any spoilers, there is a lot of implied civilian deaths in the film. Plenty of buildings topple during the fights, and the movie makes it clear that people are in those buildings. And yet, Superman doesn’t really seem to care. He never attempts to save anyone during the fights, nor does he seem to try to get the fights out of populated areas. One could argue that focusing completely on the fight will ultimately save more lives in the long run, but such pragmatism is for other superheroes, not Superman. Though he may not always succeed, the Man of Tomorrow tries to save everyone no matter what, and the films inability to capture that is what makes it a failure as a Superman adaptation.
Don't fret, superfans, Man of Steel still delivers. It is well acted, and boasts some spectacular superhero combat. But with such a huge emphasis on its action, the film fails to craft a satisfying Superman story. While the movie is worth seeing, it’s exposition-heavy narrative prevents it from being a truly great superhero film.

Comments (3)

  1. Mark:
    Jun 19, 2013 at 12:48 AM

    Nice one Reed, you obviously liked it more than I did.

    Plot flaws for me were:
    Superman was never introduced to the world through deeds of heroism. He never had a chance to be adopted and beloved by Earth as their hero for anyone to care that General Zod wanted him for whatever reason. And after that fight with Zod leveled the whole city of Metroplolis why would anyone want him to stay on Earth?

    A ship from Krypton came to Earth 20,000 years ago, but none of the inhabitants became supermen or woman? They somehow died? And this ship was suppose to be the Fortress of Solitude? And the Krypton portrayed in this movie was evil, why have outposts throughout the galaxy and planet converter doohickies unless you are imposing Krypton's beliefs on everyone else? I'm glad it blew up that place sucked.

    It took Superman 33 years muddling about on earth to finally become superman? He struggles with flying? He can't put out a an oil rig fire? He has super breath, he could have made a water funnel and drenched the thing , He couldn't save his dad from a tornado? He should have been able to hear it, see it, and stop it before it even came near them. And even if his dad went back after a dog of all things, the people there would have been huddles together with their eyes closed from all the dust. He could have ran there and back again a hundred times before anyone saw him. And besides everyone under the underpass except Clark would have got sucked out like milk through a straw.

    The only thing I thought was plausible in this version was when Krypton blew up it somehow freed the Phantom Zone criminals. I would have liked to have seen this explored more and see other criminals besides Zod leaving and going there own way maybe setting up possible future villains. Brainiac, Parasite, I dunno Staro Starfish Conqueror? lol


    1. maryam:
      Jun 19, 2013 at 10:51 PM

      i completely agree with your view. couldn't they have made his dad die of natural causes?. superman has always fought with the mortality of humans he is super but he cant save people from cancer.
      furthermore the new krypton origin story is completely bogus and unnecessary.
      i agree with the reviewer that the storyline is uneven. the idea that superman is unknown before the fight with zod defeats the purpose of superman, frankly the people of metropolis should hate superman for all the trouble he's caused.
      he needed to be well loved and established in the world before his fight with zod


  2. Drew:
    Jun 20, 2013 at 11:10 PM

    soooooo... no one understood that this is essentially Act One of Three? Expecting this movie to answer every question is totally unrealistic.

    In this movie the 'Man of Steel', isn't 'Superman' to the world, yet. What makes this movie so compelling is it approached the mythos from a fresh perspective.

    I'm sorry but cute 'one-liners' and pulling cats from trees died w/Reeves (with all due respect).

    He's just begun to grasp his powers and understand his place on an alien planet, give him a minute to get his bearings - and remember... it's a COMIC BOOK.

    I fully expect the follow-up to show his 'human' development towards the boy-scout that will play nicely against future interactions w/Bruce Wayne/Batman. I think Lois will be a big part of this adjustment of temperament - behind every strong man is a stronger woman type of deal.

    So yeah, not a perfect movie - but a strong 8.

    Good article.


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