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Man of Steel (2013)

Why Man of Steel is Good but not Great

July 5th, 2013
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It’s been fascinating, over the past few weeks, reading all of the varied reactions to Man of Steel.  It has proved to be a tremendously divisive film, with some loving it and some really loathing it.  Personally, I am somewhere in between.  I had a great time seeing it in theatres for the first time (an experience enhanced not only by the crowd’s opening-weekend excitement but also by awesome Imax 3-D), and my initial review (click here) written the next day was very positive.

I stand by that review, but in the days that followed when people asked me what I thought of the film, I found myself not being quite as excited as I had expected to be.  Nothing makes me happier than seeing an awesome super-hero film, and I remember how evangelical I was about the first Iron Man (click here for my review) and about The Dark Knight (click here for my review).  As much as I enjoyed Man of Steel, I didn’t feel the same way about it as I had about those other amazing films.  The more I thought about Man of Steel, the more the problems that I mentioned towards the end of my first review seemed to impact my over-all evaluation of the film.

I still think Man of Steel is a fun, enjoyable film.  It is very good.  But it’s not great.  Here are the two main reasons why:

1.  The film does not pay off its central question.  All of the trailers culminated with Clark’s question: “My father believed that if the world found out who I really was, they’d reject me… What do you think?”  The entire first two-thirds of the film is focused on that issue.  Clark allows his father to die because he honors Pa Kent’s wishes that he not reveal his super-powers to the world.  Ultimately, Clark decides to put on that super-suit, and he reveals himself to the world in spectacular fashion, with a super-fight that wreaks havoc on Smallville and Metropolis.  At the end of Man of Steel, the whole world knows that aliens exist, and that one has been living among them.

And yet the movie doesn’t bother to tell us what anyone thinks of that!  We don’t get any indication as to the world’s reaction to those revelations.  Do they love Superman?  Do they fear him?  After the death of Zod, there is one epilogue scene before we get to the film’s (great) final scene in which Clark enters the offices of the Daily Planet.  That scene is the jokey moment in which Superman tells General Swanson to stop trying to find out “where he hangs his … [continued]

 

Josh Kneels Before Man of Steel

I love Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie from 1978, and for much of my life I thought Superman II was even better.  (My preference has swung back slightly, in recent years, towards the original film.)  Those two movies were a huge part of my childhood, and more than any Superman comic book I have ever read (and I have read a lot), they shaped in my mind the quintessential depiction of Superman.  I stand by my love of Bryan Singer’s homage to the Donner films, 2006’s Superman Returns (has it been that long since Superman Returns came out???  Crazy!!), and I remain bitterly disappointed that we never saw a sequel to that film.

I was excited, though, by the news that Zack Snyder would be directing a new Superman film, working with the Batman Begins team of Christopher Nolan (serving as producer) and writer David S. Goyer.  I love both 300 and Watchmen (particularly the super-long Ultimate Cut of Watchmen) — I think they’re both terrific adaptations of very difficult-to-adapt comic books — and so I was eager to see what Mr. Snyder could do when playing in the bigger sandbox of the Superman mythos.  I suspected he could bring a new energy to  the depiction of Superman on film, and his involvement certainly promised an increase in the action quotient (something that even I admit was sorely lacking in Superman Returns).  

My enthusiasm for the Superman reboot dipped when I heard that they were planning on re-telling Superman’s origin.  That seemed silly to me, as Superman has probably the most famous origin of any comic book character ever.  Why waste time re-telling, yet again, an origin story that everyone on the planet already knows?  Just cut to the chase and tell a great Superman story!  My enthusiasm grew again when the first trailers for Man of Steel began to surface.  I was dazzled by the visual spectacle, and really started to get excited for what seemed to be a very different depiction of Superman on film.

I just left an IMAX screening of Man of Steel, and I am delighted to report that Mr. Snyder and his team have delivered on that promise.  They have threaded the difficult needle of delivering a dramatic reinterpretation of the character and his origin, while at the same time presenting us with a depiction that is, without question, iconically Superman.

The film opens with Jor-El on Krypton, and we spend a lot more time on Krypton than I would have expected.  I loved every second, and almost wish we had a whole film set on Krypton, chronicling the breaking of the friendship between Jor-El and Zod.  (The idea that Jor-El and Zod … [continued]