Man of Steel (2013) Review
Starring Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Kevin Costner, Russell Crowe, Antje Traue
Let me start off by saying that I am more of a DC fan than a Marvel fan. I’m saying this just so if any DC fans find this and write comments like “You just don’t get it!” then they will know that I do, at least to some extent. While I have only seen 2 DC movies (this and The Dark Knight Rises) and 2 Marvel movies (Thor and The Avengers), I own both Batman: Arkham City and Injustice: Gods Among Us, I own a bunch of DC comics, and my favorite superhero is Batman. I just find the DC universe more intriguing than Marvel. Marvel to me seems more kid-friendly, especially with their movies, while DC is dark and gritty. Nothing wrong with that! BUT, when it comes to the film adaptations of these comics, my thoughts on them are mixed.
If you exclude Man of Steel, Thor, out of all of them, is the best, then The Dark Knight Rises, and then The Avengers. Yes, I’m part of the minority that dislikes The Avengers. I just find it extremely overrated and I have no idea why it is held in such a high regard as “the best comic book movie ever!” Now, I am one of the dozens of fanboys/fangirls who freaked out every time a Man of Steel trailer popped up online. I desperately wanted this movie to be a success, critically and financially. I wanted it to kick The Avengers ass at the box office and be considered a great comic book film just like The Dark Knight, Iron Man, and the second X-Men movie. My excitement grew as the premiere drew nearer and nearer. I watched the live premiere from New York, got my Superman shirt ready, and read/watched as many reviews as possible. However, I was shocked to find that it wasn’t doing as well as I thought it would. The film was certified rotten at 56% percent on Rotten Tomatoes, most of the reviews I read/watched said it was disappointing, and it was considered more a typical action movie than a great comic book movie. After I saw it, I loved it. Then I thought about it more and more and while I still like it, I now recognize its many, many flaws.
Let’s begin with the plot. It’s the basic origin story. Protagonist goes through an experience that defines who they are (Clark Kent/Kal-El/Superman is sent to Earth, finds out he is from a different planet), decides to use their abilities to help the world, a villain emerges to take over the city and/or world (General Zod comes down from space with his cronies to capture Superman and turn Earth into Krypton 2.0), protagonist and villain battle, etcetera. The script feels like a rehash of what The Dark Knight was. Judging by the fact that David S. Goyer, the writer of the Dark Knight trilogy, also wrote this, that conclusion seems a lot more plausible. The difference though is that from what I’ve heard, The Dark Knight didn’t have the final 40-60 minutes become a ginormous action fest. Just like almost every other reviewer, I disliked how time that maybe could have been spent on developing these characters was spent destroying Smallville and Metropolis. I never cared for the characters because the script spent so much time throwing as much as action as possible at the audience. It felt like it was trying too hard to wipe the fact that Superman Returns had barely any action. And even when there isn’t any action it was SO boring. I left twice during the film because I just needed to do something better with my time. The Dark Knight Rises did that at times, but it never made me feel like leaving. To add to this, there are so many over-the-top moments and dialogue that just feels out of place. The only reason I actually thought about sticking around and not waiting outside for my sister and her friends for the next hour and a half is because Michael Shannon was in the movie and I wanted to see how he did (I’ll get to that later.) However, there were some good moments, specifically the opening at Krypton. You know how when writing books your opening line has to be able to hook the reader in? Well, if the opening scene to Man of Steel was a novel’s hook, then I would have continued reading. Just like how Monsters University’s third act effected my rating drastically, the opening scene here is the reason that I gave this film another half of a star. I didn’t mind the tornado scene as much as other people did and some of the action is pretty good, even if it was excessive. Overall, despite some good moments, the story and script is the second weakest part of the movie.
Acting wise, to me the film doesn’t have ok performances: there are only good performances and bad performances. Henry Cavill as Clark/Kal/Supes was forgettable. I remember nothing about him because, like all of the actors in this movie, he has no character to inhabit. Maybe if there was more of a character then Henry could have shone, or maybe he is just not a good enough actor. I haven’t seen any of his other work to know this so I can’t really judge on that criteria but I can say that out of all the actors, he wins the award for most forgettable. Who wins for the blandest actor? Amy Adams. I am not a fan of her work. I haven’t seen any of her Oscar-nominated roles, but judging on Enchanted, The Muppet Movie, Leap Year, Julie and Julia, and now Man of Steel, she to me is a very overrated actress. Lois Lane could have just been removed completely from the story and no one except Superman extremists would have cared, partly because of her performance. Lois Lane is spunky, always wanting to get the scoop no matter what. Adams plays her as another bland damsel in distress. She isn’t Lois Lane; she is really Mary Jane Watson from the original Spider Man films. To me, Russell Crowe and Kevin Costner were the best actors in this film. Jor-El and Jonathan Kent are the perfect father figures that Superman needed: wise, brave, and willing to give up everything just so their son is safe. Every time they came on screen, I was pleasantly surprised at how well they did, considering that the last film I saw Russell Crowe in was Les Miserables and I suffered through half of Waterworld. They were the MVP’s to me. Someone else who also surprised me in a good way was german actress Antje Traue, a relative unknown who’s only other notable credit is in Pandorum. She almost stole the show from Costner and Crowe (side note: that kind of sounds like a wine to me) as Faora, one of Zod’s cronies and the best out of all the villians. She was intense, intimidating, and everything Zod should have been. Please Hollywood, put her more movies. I would appreciate it very much if she didn’t float off into non-existence. Speaking of someone who I hope doesn’t float off into non-existence, let’s talk about the reason I didn’t make an escape plan out of the theater, Michael Shannon. I was hoping that he would do great in this film and while he probably has a bright future in Hollywood (if his current number 11 spot on the IMDb starmeter and list of upcoming projects says something,) I don’t think he was fantastic. Yes, he was intimidating (seeing Zod’s viral message to Earth on the big screen, in the dark no less, was scary as hell) but there were moments when his performance felt so cartooney and over-the-top. He was good, but compared to Traue, he wasn’t the best villain he could be. The rest of the cast also is either on one side of fence or the other. Diane Lane and Christopher Meloni did their jobs well, while I found Laurence Fishburne incredibly bland.
I haven’t seen anything of Zack Synder’s, mainly because I’m not allowed, but I will admit that at times the direction was good. There were some pretty well directed scenes (especially the opening, which I will forever be gushing over) but then others where he needed to say something. The visual effects were, like the direction and story, good in some scenes and others looked like they belonged in a video game. Really, most of the elements of the film were good in certain scenes and other times terrible. It’s a flawed movie and its bi-polar sense of wanting to succeed but usually failing. The only element that doesn’t do this is the character development, because it is none existent. There is never a moment where I thought “I hope *insert name here* is ok” or “I can’t believe that happened to *insert name here*” because these characters never go through any changes. You don’t care about these characters and seeing this happen in a script by a screenwriter who wrote the damn Dark Knight trilogy, where it makes you care about what will happen to a guy dressed as a bat, is really upsetting.
Now, just to warn anyone who hasn’t seen Man of Steel and hasn’t heard any of the spoilers to this movie, first of all I applaud you for that, and second please skip this paragraph because I am spoiling the end to this. What happens is Superman breaks Zod’s neck in order to save a family. That’s right; a superhero that doesn’t kill and has a high moral code kills the villain. When I first saw it the first thing I thought was, “why didn’t he do that before?” and that was it. I didn’t have a problem with it, I just moved on. As I watched spoiler videos for Man of Steel, though, did I realize how out of character this was. While I do read DC comics, I don’t read Superman comics, only Batman and some miscellaneous ones from other superheroes. I never knew that Superman didn’t kill until I watched those videos so I didn’t have the same reaction as hard core fans did. Frankly, I still don’t. I feel like if I was in that situation and had to choose between letting an innocent family die by laser eyes or snap the neck of someone who wants to turn the place you have lived your entire life on into a new planet, killing everyone on it, I would do the latter. I know it’s not something that I should be saying but it’s my honest opinion.
So the big question now is why on Earth did I give this movie 3 and a half stars when I clearly ripped it a new one in this review? Well, while it has flaws, I still liked it. Everything except the characters had their moments, the opening was fantastic, Kevin Costner, Russell Crowe, and Antje Traue made the movie extremely enjoyable, there were some really nice visuals, and overall it was a good action movie. Is it as good as The Dark Knight Rises? God no. Is it as bad as my opinion on The Avengers? No. It’s in the middle of the road for me. It wasn’t the movie I wanted but when it comes down to it, it’s the movie we got. I have to forget the hopes I had for it and judge it by what it is and while it has problems, what works works. All I have to say is that if Zack Synder and David S. Goyer do come back for the sequel, they better bring their a-game because we need another great trilogy to sit alongside The Dark Knight. Even if this installment wasn’t incredible, just remember this: Batman Begins lead to The Dark Knight. Second time has to be the charm.