I’m a Superman fan. My dad got me hooked on Superman when I was a child and I’d watch the Superfriends ever Saturday morning as I’d eat my Fruit Loops or Frosted Flakes (hey…it was the late 70’s and early 80’s so sugar was in!). I’d run around the neighborhood in my Superman “S” shirt with a red towel as my cape and pretend to fly and save the day. I remember watching the black and white TV show staring George Reeves and laughing when the bad guys would throw their gun at him when it ran out of bullets. Heck, growing up when I did, I Love Lucy was always on Fox 5 from DC and how could you not like the episode with Superman when he saves Lucy from the building ledge. Best line of the episode was Superman to Ricky after saving Lucy from her recent hair-brain scheme, “…and they call me Superman.” Even then Superman was larger then life and could do no wrong.
Then in 1978 what is now considered the grandaddy of all super hero movies was released – Superman: The Motion Picture – and we saw what a director with a vision could do in making Superman fly. He rescued Lois, fought Lex Luthor, and if you’ve seen the Director’s Cut of the movie he went through a gauntlet that tested his durability against fire, ice, and lots of bullets. This was the movie that showed us what Krypton could be like, how Jor-El and Lara sent Kal-El to Earth where he was found by the Kents – John and Martha. We got a movie that for YEARS became the cornerstone of what a Super Hero movie should be.
Then in 1980 a Richard Lester directed Superman II was released (with some footage that had been shot by Richard Donner as this was to be a continued sequel to the original – do a wiki search for the history on that one). Superman got to fight the general that brought down the destruction of Krypton – Zod. Terrance Stamp put his mark on a lesser-known villain and made him an icon. The last act really showed us a Superman that was in a toe-to-toe battle with three villains that all have the same powers and strength as him….they just don’t have the control or training that he learned while growing up on Earth.
Lastly we have three movies that kept the franchise going and had little to do with Superman and more to do with marketing and branding. I’m skipping the Richard Prior and Quest for Peace movies to focus on Superman Returns right now. This was to be the big return of Superman to the big screen. Bryan Singer was brought in to direct and his track record at the time was near perfect with his take on Marvel Comic’s X-Men and the incredible X-Men and X2. So what happened with what would become a big mess of a movie? He stayed too close to his love of the original in trying to mimic the tone and feel of Superman: The Motion Picture but bring into a modern world. He brought Richard Donner in as a consultant, cast Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor with Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane and Brandon Routh who did a great job of channeling Christopher Reeves’ performance as Clark Kent/Superman. Again, staying too close to the original and almost being a pseudo-remake of that source material. Yet he made Superman a real dick in terms of his relationship with Lois. Superman would never leave and not say good-bye or tell Lois what was going on. He’d never stalk Lois and get jealous that she moved on while he moved away. And don’t even get me started on “the kid” plot! But I will give Singer credit in that he made changes to how we see Superman use his abilities, with X-Ray Vision being used not to see through things but to cut the layer away to see. The airplane sequence is some of the best use of Superman and the John Williams/John Ottman score in the entire movie. The threat, the challenge, the heroics are all there. And there were some great almost-there-but-not-quite-yet-Superman moments like when he was shattering the falling glass with his heat vision while flying back to the ground. The only thing missing is an original plot and Superman fighting someone let alone being in the same scene with the villain prior to the last act. Oh, and the ending that just couldn’t figure out where to end made a long film seem longer to the point that you just wanted it to end and end soon so you can go home and re-watch Superman: The Motion Picture or Superman II and wash away the bad taste that Superman Returns became.
Here we are in 2013 and Zach Snyder, the man that brought us 300 and Watchmen, was tapped to recreate Superman for a new generation. Man of Steel by far is not a perfect movie but overall it delivers what we’ve been waiting for since 1980 – a movie with Superman doing all the Superman-like things we’ve been waiting to see him do. Check after the break for the full breakdown as I do another edition of The Good, The Bad, and The Geeky.
- From the start you know that this is not going to be the same old same old that has been done before. Gone is a Krypton of ice and snow and a populace that is living inside the planet. Let’s welcome a Krypton that has the feel of being lived on and is very reminiscent to a Tatooine mixed with Coruscant in appearance and feel. We see technological wonderment in large inter-planet ships, robots that offer a nano-technology to create a 3-D like image, and a military presence that was never shown until now. We get a Krypton that was greatly influenced by various entries into the Superman mythos including the Golden Age comics and Kevin Andersons Last Days of Krypton novel. We get a Krypton that has a society that is generated by birthing matrixes that “develop” the populace into what is needed – warrior, scientist, artist – and a society that is seeing it’s first real birth of a child in eons in the form of Kal-El.
- The dynamic between Jor-El and Zod is also explored. We see that these two have a past history and it is explored throughout the movie. This is also something that had never been really explored before. Just as we get to witness Zod’s coup as him and his military try to replace the Kryptonian Council for failing to protect the citizen from the oncoming destruction. Again I’ll mention that you should read The Last Days of Krypton if you get a chance as it really goes into the relationship that Zod and Jor-El have with each other
- We get LOTS and I mean LOTS of action. One of the major complaints of Superman Returns was that there really was no action. Yes we got that great rescue sequence with the airplane and the sequences where he is stopping the destruction in Metropolis but we really have not seen him go toe-to-toe with anyone since Superman II. One of the first sequences we see is action on Krypton as Zod’s forces stage their coup. And of course there is the build-up of confrontation with Superman and Zod’s forces on Earth (sorry if you think that this is a spoiler but it should be considered gospel – see next entry).
- As The Doctor puts it (yes I am referencing Doctor Who – I’m such a geek) – “there are events throughout time that are locked in place and can not be changed or altered.” We know that Krypton will explode. We know that a rocket ship will carry baby Kal-El to Earth. We know that Clark Kent is to Superman as Superman is to Clark Kent, we know that Zod will be coming after Kal-El to avenge his imprisonment into the Phantom Zone, and we know that a character named Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and Perry White (Lawrence Fishburn) will be shown at some time.
- The casting choices of Adams as Lois was just brilliant on Snyder’s part. Both get the character and understand that Lois is an award winning journalist who is like a pitbull who got hold of a nice piece of meat – she won’t let go until she’s uncovered her story. Lois is someone that should be able to find the story when it’s being hidden and Snyder plays this up with how Lois eventually comes into contact with Kal-El/Clark for the first time. And I loved that Fishburn was cast as Perry White when it was first announced and seeing his performance solidified that selection. Fishburn can command the screen and also understood what it meant to play that iconic character. Michael Shannon as Zod gave Zod an anger that was missed in the 80’s and again when the character showed up twice in the TV series Smallville. Zod really needs to be a WARRIOR and Shannon was able to give Zod the voice that had been missing. Lastly the choice to go with a lesser known actor to play the iconic role of Clark/Superman/Kal-El paid out big times. Henry Cavill understands that at the heart of the character it is a boy trying to fit in and be normal. A boy with extraordinary abilities that has to be taught to control or else risk being alienated causing fear among the mortals. Lucky for Clark that Jonathan (Kevin Costner) and Martha Kent (Diane Lane) were there to give him the advice that would shape the boy into a man. Yet that man still just wanted to blend in but knew that protecting people, using his powers for good alibit in secret, was what his father would have wanted. Cavill nailed the character and made you care about him, about his struggles, his plight, and his trying to find who he is among who the world thinks he should be.
- The musical score from Hans Zimmer also shaped the tone of the film by giving us loud basses and strings that moved with the action on-screen. It also helped that, as much as it is a staple, that the John Williams score and famous theme song were not used. This movie had to reset the bar and push the past behind in order to move forward.
- Call this the geek in me but I wasn’t happy with how Kal-El was finally given the Superman name. It was cheep and a throw-a-way line. Like I said, maybe this was the geek in me and I was looking for Lois giving him the name as she has done in many of the comics including the 1984 reboot Man of Steel #1 and Superman: The Animated Series.
- There is lots of devastation in Metropolis and Smallville and it is completely glossed over. I know, I know, I liked the action that happend and when major action pieces take place there is generally lots of destruction (ie: see last year’s The Avengers). But it seems that after the last act concludes there isn’t anything reflecting what happened. There is a lot of lives lost in the background of the fighting both on Earth and Krypton – well, ok, Krypton’s loss is explained (planet go BOOM) – but the destruction that takes place in Metropolis and Smallville seem to never get acknowledged.
- I really liked what they did with Superman and giving him a weakness that fit in with the Kryptonite mythos.
- Emil Hamilton (Richard Schiff) from Star Labs!! Very cool to see an important B-level character show up.
- Birthing Matrix – can we say Eradicator for a future appearance??? Also while we’re at it, those robots had some major Artificial Intelligence so might we see Branic at some point as well???
- I like the suit! It holds the colors of the traditional and also goes more toward the New 52 Superman from the current run of comics. I also liked the battle suits that Zod and his army wore as it gave them a more physical presence on top of their warrior personalities.
- Pete Ross and Lana Lang – come on…can’t have Smallville and not have them.
- This is not the origin you’re looking for! Nolan and Goyer do to this as they did with Batman Begins in that they tell a story and use the “origin” or early years as flashback to reflect the current situational parallel that Clark is in. I also liked that all parties finally understand that there is a dual identity here for Clark. Who is he really? Is he Clark Kent from Kansas or Kal-El from Krypton? And what’s the real secret identity – Clark or Superman? When Kal-El/Clark finds his true self, we get the answer to which is the real secret identity.
- Did I mention that there are LOTS of action sequences here and we finally get to see Superman use his abilities as they’ve never been shown before. This new world of Superman is fresh and removes the stale taste that has been lingering around since 1980 (and the plane rescue from Superman Returns is a great scene up till the end when no one runs from the plane that is about to crash into the baseball stadium in a world where Superman had left and no one knew he was back). See….every action as an equal reaction that all flows with the action and the story and the character development.
- One cool sequence is where Kal-El learns to fly for the first time and it pays homage to the Gold, Silver, and Modern incarnations of Superman.
- Did I see a Wayne Enterprises satellite on screen? Hmmmmm….where could this lead to?
Man of Steel is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence, action and destruction, and for some language and has a run time of 2-hour and 23-minutes. This is a fresh take to a classic character. There is a lot to like and very little not to like. Nolan, Goyer, and Snyder give you a story that makes you care about Superman/Clark Kent and feel for him and his growth.