Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Movie Review - Man of Steel

I haven't watched most of the old Christopher Reeve Superman movies in ages but I have fond memories of watching them with family and friends growing up. I've watched one of them (I think it was #3) with my kids a few years back. The movie was definitely dated but still fun in it's 80s corny way. Since then I've had fun with the various superman TV Shows (Lois and Clark, Smallville). When they made "Superman Returns" a few years ago I had fun with it, but it didn't really catch the nostalgic enjoyment that I had from the originals. So I was a little anxious about this Man of Steel reboot. The trailer revealed very little of the plot and I'll try to keep my review spoiler free as well though I suspect some high level spoilers might sneak in…I'll make sure there's nothing vital or ultra surprising.

The first thing I noticed is a lot more focus about the destruction of Krypton and the nature of the people of Krypton prior to Superman being launched to Earth. I enjoyed Russell Crowe as Jor-El and even though he had some significant screen time, I was left wanting something "more" from him.. We get a very lengthy sequence where we are introduced to Superman's parents, the Kryptonian council as well our favorite evil Kryptonian General Zod. If you've seen the earlier movies, you know the basic gist of what happens on Krypton and with regards to Superman / Kal-El as well as to Zod and his cronies. Still, it was interesting to have the filmmakers expand this usually short sequence into a lengthier set of scenes. It provided some fun and interesting displays of sci-fi special effects as they showed some of the technologies, practices and even wildlife of Krypton. It was also interesting the way they modified the storyline to actually give Zod motivation for seeking out Kal-El rather than just happening across Earth as he did in the previous film.

Once we arrive on Earth, the initial storytelling gets a little more disjointed. We are immediately thrown to a "present day" Clark Kent wandering around America as a loaner 30-something. He seems to be searching for some sense of identity or purpose and ends up doing good for people along the way.

We get to see moments of his childhood through a bunch of flashback sequences interspersed with his wanderings. We see a few happy moments but a lot of the flashbacks and the modern-day sequences are a bit more stark and depressing. Well into adulthood Clark Kent feels like an outcast and does his best to stay on the outskirts of society just trying to disappear. I felt like that grim "outcast" feeling sort of enveloped the tone of large parts of the film. A lot of the scenes were dim, gray or colorless. The mood generally felt a little sad and lonely.

As time goes on, we're introduced to Lois Lane played by Amy Adams. She felt fairly vibrant and enthusiastic but didn't quite feel as forceful or feisty as I expected Lois to be. I think Amy did a great job but I think perhaps the writers were pulling their punches a little bit with her. She demonstrated some good investigative skills as she tracked down stories and she was willing to spit out some strong words to stand up to authority but I had a hard time thinking she'd put up a real fight for her story if it came right down to it.

I think perhaps the writers/director kept her back a little bit due to the somewhat different way they intended to have her relate with Clark Kent and Superman. That relationship change was probably the most stark change in the story. I won't spoil it here but I can say that the way they decided to create the relationship between Clark Kent, Lois Lane and Superman was much different than I expected and I'm not sure I quite like it. At the same time, I find the change a little refreshing because growing up watching Superman I was always a little confused that she interacted with Clark Kent and Superman the way she did without doing what she did in this movie….hopefully that's vague enough to not spoil it for new viewers but specific enough that those who have seen the movie will understand what I mean. The change makes sense and it really feels more logical than the previous behavior, but I think the previous behavior is so engrained in culture that it may be a hard bite to swallow.

I did like the transition to the moment that Clark finally became Superman. I enjoyed the way the Kryptonian technology and mythos played into it. It was a fun and interesting twist. I found it interesting that even once he discovered his heritage and embraced who he was that Clark sought to keep his powers and identity secret from humanity. Fortunately for the story, General Zod showed up and forced his hand.

The final third of the movie exploded into your stereotypical summer blockbuster with huge action scenes and plenty of destruction. I did find it funny that Superman (who is always so concerned about human life) allows as much damage and destruction as happens. It seems like he would have been smart enough to take some of the battles out away from the human population, but I guess the battle scenes wouldn't have been quite as spectacular without destroying half of Metropolis in the process. *grin* Some of the sci-fi technology and explanations broke down a bit for me once Zod was on the scene. They changed another small aspect of the Superman mythos with regards to the exact cause of his powers and lack thereof. It was subtle but it does eliminate that specific handicap from being used in the future, which really felt like a big departure from the original story.

Overall, I enjoyed the movie. It was a lot of fun and is an exciting summer adventure film. I really enjoyed the extended scenes on Krypton. With the amount of detail they created, I think they may have potential for some pre-Superman spin offs that could potentially be compelling. I don't think it would happen because the budget wouldn't be there (and maybe the audience wouldn't either) but if they do make a sequel to this particular reboot I would fully anticipate more Krypton screen time. I am a little uncomfortable and dissatisfied with the two significant changes they made to the Superman mythos with regards to his relationship with Lois Lane and the nature of his powers and weaknesses. I felt like these changes were logical and a natural fit to a more "realistic" Superman, but with them so much a part of the Superman story it just feels very disconcerting. I did find the change from the depressive, loner Clark Kent to the savior of the world Superman to be a little abrupt and as a result the movie felt a little disjointed when it transitioned from Clark-only to Superman- heavy. I liked the backstory and the depth of character that it gave to Clark but it just felt a little unbalanced when we moved into Superman mode.

Bottom line, this is a fun, exciting and intriguing reboot. It had enough changes and cool new ideas to make it fresh and interesting. It had plenty of big excitement to keep you cheering on the hero until the end of the film. There are some changes that may not sit well with die-hard fans but those new to the franchise should find them more logical than the original. I think this film will get a better reception than the previous recent film Superman Returns but I'm not sure its quite enough for a successful reboot of the franchise. It's definitely a fun movie but amid other stellar superhero films of the past year or two it's got some stark competition and I'm not sure it stands up as well as it could. I suspect we'll see at least one sequel attempt and they'll probably try to "up their game" which could actually be a strike against them. Superman as a franchise needs more heart and soul and I just don't feel like this film quite captured that though it gave it a good effort.

3 out of 5 stars

1 comment:

Brian Miller said...

my son and i have been rewatching smallville...and the old reeves movies this summer....waiting on it to get to our dollar theatre...probably early sounds good...i hear the fight scene in the end is a little long...but how can i pass up superman you know...smiles.