I went into “Man of Steel” with low expectations, which might be the way to approach any superhero movie that isn’t a Marvel production or directed by Joss Whedon.
I was pleasantly surprised. I liked the movie. it’s better than “Superman Returns” from 2006. It’s leaps ahead of “Green Lantern” – although that’s the very definition of damning with faint praise – and I think I liked it maybe even better than Christopher Nolan’s Batman finale.
There’s no point in rehashing the plot. You know that director Zack Snyder and producer Nolan remade the Superman story with a darker, edgier feel.
So here’s some observations. And a big spoiler warning if you haven’t seen “Man of Steel” already.
I’m glad they didn’t go too edgy. Superman isn’t Batman. The movie strikes about the right tone, to me, of making Superman an outsider and Clark feeling like he has to keep a lid on his real self.
Part of that feeling was communicated by Kevin Costner’s Pa Kent. Costner is solid and affecting throughout the flashbacks. I do feel like the screenplay makes a mistake in one scene: After people start gossiping about Clark when the boy saves the other occupants of a school bus that crashes into a river, Clark and Jonathan Kent have a conversation that they’ve plainly been expecting to have: What would happen when people find out that Clark is “special?” Young Clark asks, in effect, if he should have let the other kids die and his father says, in effect, “I don’t know. Maybe.” I don’t believe Pa Kent would have expressed that thought out loud even if he felt it because of his fear for his son’s secrets being exposed. It’s a false note, but maybe it’s instrumental in Clark’s later decision to come forward when Zod is threatening the Earth. In other words, even bad advice from Jonathan helped Clark make the right decision later.
I thought Henry Cavill and Amy Adams were fine as Clark/Superman and Lois and the supporting cast was good. I feel like the movie suffered, like all opening chapters do, from having to move characters around like chess pieces until they’re in place for the real climax of the movie – or for the sequel.
The climax of the showdown between Superman and Zod has been controversial. The idea that Superman would kill Zod is a hard thing for some people to take.
But my feeling about the climax is that Superman was justified in snapping Zod’s neck. Zod, desperate and bitter that his plan to recreate Krypton on Earth had failed, was lashing out, preparing to fry a family with his heat vision. Superman was grappling with him, trying to direct his gaze away from the family. He even begged him not to kill them. But Zod refuses and Superman kills him.
Short of Superman plucking Zod’s eyes out – and what an image that would have been in a comic book movie – I’m not sure there was another way.
Now considering the untold thousands of people who likely died in the movie thanks in great part to the battles between Superman and Zod in Smallville and Metropolis, Superman’s effort to save a small group of people might seem paltry. But while we have no idea how many people died when buildings were toppled and explosions were set off, we did see that family in harm’s way and saw how high the stakes were at that moment. Superman made a decision, and it was a painful one for him.
Much has been made about the wanton destruction caused by Superman and Zod’s battles and I have to say it all disturbed me too. I agree with critics who say Superman should have tried to take the fight to an area with fewer bystanders.
I can say that I didn’t feel, as acutely as some other critics did, the lack of compassion Superman showed for bystanders. I agree that he seemed to let anger toward Zod color his decisions in battle, undoubtedly causing more destruction and perhaps death than should have occurred. But there was a scene in which Superman catches a soldier falling from a helicopter and even asks if he is okay. I feel like another, similar scene might have addressed the “callous” accusations.
I thought the movie did a pretty good job with telling Superman’s story without a long retelling of his origin and Smallville years. Flashbacks to formative incidents in his life – the onset of extra senses like X-ray vision and a school bus rescue – were handled pretty well.
I still don’t get the scene, in flashback, when young Clark is playing among Martha Kent’s laundry, puts a red towel around his neck and stands, fists on hips, in a classic Superman pose. Did the pose, in Nolan’s world without heroes to emulate, just pop into Clark’s head? I think it’s an effort to trade on that iconic Superman image without a good explanation. It’s a mistake.
I don’t know if “Man of Steel” will be a success or lead to more DC movie adaptations. I’d like to see this world return and I’d be fine if Henry Cavill and Zack Snyder were part of it.