Film Views: Man of Steel

Warning: there be spoilers in this review…and I’m very late in posting this.


For Father’s Day, I got my wish:  to see Man of Steel.  Last Friday, I wanted to see the movie, but couldn’t get Julie or Maya to come with me, so I just figured I would wait ’til Sunday. Maya agreed to see it (though, she did say The Purge looked more interesting), so off we went to see the 3-D version of Man of Steel.

All things considered, the film was quite good.  Because we’ve been down this road before (i.e., Superman movies and TV shows — not to mention the comic books), filmmaker, Zack Synder, was in a difficult position: how to tell an origin story about Superman in a way that others haven’t before.  Thankfully, he was able to rise to the challenge by giving more time to what happened on Superman’s home world of Krypton before he came to Earth.  There we get to see a planet on the eve of destruction — a destruction caused by its inhabitants. There are warning signs all around them, but the citizens and power structure of Krypton are climate-change deniers, and only a few know that it’s just a matter of days before the plant goes “boom.”  Jor-El and Lara Lor-Van (Kal-El/Superman’s biological parents) are among the cognoscenti and execute a plan to send their newborn son to Earth so he may live — and preserve the best of Krypton so he can bridge the divide between the two worlds (i.e., Krypton and Earth).

Yeah, this kid has a lot of hopes and dream thrust upon him, so we know that he’s not going to have an easy time of it.

In Act I, we get to see the political and military battles on Krypton — along with an attempted coup by General Zod, who is trying to save Krypton as well, but it only doing so with the blood lines he thinks are worth saving.

Act II is less linear. Instead of seeing Kal-El/Clark Kent go from baby, to boy, to teen, to man, to Superman, we meet him as an adult working on a fishing vessel.  Clark is a loner who keeps his super strength secret, until it’s needed to save lives.  And yes, he does save lives: the lives of deep-sea oil rig workers who are trying to escape the destruction of their platform.  But this act of heroism is a catalyst to Clark’s early years where, as a boy, he was a loner-freak of a kid who would never fight back when picked on. We see that for all his powers (he saves his fellow classmates from drowning when their bus plunges into a river after a tire blew on the bus and the drive lost control), it’s his Earth father who tells him not to use his powers because people aren’t ready for the answer to the question, “are we alone in the universe?”  So, Clark sucks it up.  He doesn’t fight back. He endures the humiliation of bullies (even though he knows he can snap them in two), and he emotionally and physically withdraws from society.  He knows he’s different (and from another planet), but he can’t reconcile his “otherness” with his wish to fit in — until he is able to enter a spaceship from his home world where he meets a technology-generated facsimile of his father who explains who he is, where he came from, and what his (biological) parent’s hopes are for him.

Act III is the Big Conflict between the survivors of Krypton (who also happen to be the group who lead the coup against the Kryptonians in Act I) and Kal-El (he’s not really called “Superman” in the movie). General Zod is looking for a codex that Jor-El gave to Kal-El when he sent him to Earth 33 years ago, and it’s only after Kal activated the spaceship from his home world, did Zod and his crew learn where Kal was.  So, with warp speed, Zod and his minions descend upon Earth to find the codex so they can recreate the Kryptonian culture and environment on Earth.  Alas, this is where the film faltered. Instead of continuing with these internal struggles,  the film shifts gears to a long (something like 45 minutes) external battle sequence between Zod’s army and Kal — with Metropolis as the battlefield. This battle sequence went on and on and on leaving me pretty numb by the time it ended.  Kal is supposed to be a good guy (and he generally is), but he’s conflicted about his role in society. He wants to help humanity, but he’s also kind of ambivalent about people. Humans are a fickle lot, and Kal’s half-hearted desire to help them stems from his early childhood experience with bullying.

Overall, though, I thought Man of Steel was 2/3 of a good movie.  The last act was so overblown with careless and gratuitous fighting, that one had to wonder if Kal/Superman wasn’t ready to ignore humankind and just live in a fortress of solitude with Lois Lane.  Why not, from the amount internal and external conflict this guy goes through, he might be happier hanging out in a nice, quiet place for a while.

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