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Movie Review: “Man of Steel”

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In pertaining to recent developments, I believe it is safe to say that Hollywood is officially obsessed with

Man of Steel "S"-symbol

Duh-da-da-da-duh-DUH-duh-duuuuh…
Duh-da-da-da-duh
DUH-DA-DUUUUUH!
[I can't help it, everytime I see the Superman symbol I think of that song]

superheroes.

Brand new comic book franchises are getting launched at an increasingly rapid rate. And it’s not only the popular comics that feature the jocks that are hogging the spotlight and box-office glory. These days, even the nerdy oddballs and/or the uber-serious, intelligent graphic novels are getting a shot, as well.

It literally seems that every week that a comic book film is being released. In just this summer season alone, the number of these kind of films is staggering. We’ve already seen “Iron Man 3” and “Oblivion” hit the big screens, but… oh no… it ain’t over, true believers. Not by a long shot.

In the next two months, we have “R.I.P.D,” which features Ryan Reynolds and Jeff Bridges as heaven-sent law enforcement officers that battle the undead. We have Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg in the buddy-cop flick, “2 Guns,”  which doesn’t LOOK like it came from a comic book, but it did. And then, the sequels start coming. Oh… those inevitable sequels.

Besides the aforementioned box-office juggernaut ,“Iron Man 3,” we’ll witness the following comic book-based franchises grow by one film this summer (in no particular order):  “Kick-Ass 2,” “The Wolverine,” “Red 2” (why?), and one film that seemingly came out of nowhere – “300: Rise of an Empire,” which is the sequel  to “300” – which was directed by Zack Snyder.

Speaking of Snyder, this brings me around to his newest film, which happens to be one of the most highly-anticipated comic book flicks since… well… the last time Superman (in the form of Brandon Routh – can you say missss-taaaake?) hit the big screen in 2006. That film was “Superman Returns.”  Snyder’s latest take on the life of Kal-El, this time around, is simply titled “Man of Steel.”

Earlier I implied that Hollywood has been obsessed with ALL comic books – within the last decade or so. However, there are certain comic book franchises that Hollywood has been infatuated with for decades – period. They represent the superhero cream-of-the-crop. Of course, this infatuation leads to remake… after remake… after remake. Not to mention all of the re-imaginings and rebirths and so-on and so-on. It’s exhausting.

However, the newest form of franchise flattery is called the “reboot.” This is not quite a remake, a rebirth, nor is it a re-imagining. It’s simply just one filmmaker telling another filmmaker, “I can do anything better than you can,” in the nicest possible way, of course.

It happened with Batman. It happened with The Incredible Hulk. And more recently, it happened with Spider-Man. And now, no less than seven years after director Bryan Singer missed the mark on “Superman Returns” – it’s happening with Superman.

So, that’s enough of all the informative and analytical mumbo-jumbo. The people simply want to know:  Did Snyder deliver on his promise to make a Superman project that was completely different from any Superman project we’ve ever seen? AND, the people want to know:  Is it any good?

I know this will come as a disappointment to the millions of fans that have been waiting their whole life for an accurate and  definitive representation of Kaptain Krypton, but the answers to these questions are – Yeah… I guess (to the first one) and No… not really (to the second).

Now, there were some genuinely entertaining moments in “Man of Steel.” I mean, it is a summer movie being released in the teeth of the summer movie season, for Zod’s sake. However, these “entertaining” moments I speak of are of the action sequence and special effects variety. As far as the plot and the story go, I must say, it all gets pretty confusing and at times,  even– dare I say – boring.

This surprises me, mainly because the screenplay came from the mind of David S. Goyer, who has dozens of impressive screenwriting credits (including a slew of comic book adaptations) to his name – including all three films in Christopher Nolan’s “Batman” trilogy, all three “Blade” films, as well as the upcoming “Godzilla” reboot (there’s that word again) and “Metal Gear Solid” movie. Plus, he created the awesome Da Vinci’s Demons for Starz AND he even dabbles in the videogame medium, as he’s responsible for both of the storylines for “Call of Duty: Black Ops 1 & 2.” Wait, did I mention that Christopher Nolan also has a credit for helping with the “story?”  Now, if you add Goyer and Nolan’s contributions to the ultra-talented cast and the seasoned eyes of director Snyder, you simply have to wonder…

Where did it all go wrong?

Well, like I said, it wasn’t a problem with casting. Henry Cavill is a pretty solid choice to take on the

Henry Cavill as Superman in "Man of Steel"

Seriously guys… does this outfit make me look fat?

role of Clark Kent/Kal-El (he’s never officially referred to as “Superman” in this film). He definitely looks the part, muscle-wise, more than Routh and the late Christopher Reeve did. However, he’s much more compelling as the mysterious “Joe” character – that travels from town-to-town helping people with their problems, yet trying to stay incognito. I wonder if this might be a negative, in the upcoming inevitable sequels, that this character of “the strange drifter” will no longer be featured. Cavill will have to split his time playing Superman and the mild-mannered, reporter version of Clark Kent and if his work in “Man of Steel” is any indication – donning the cape and boots is not his strong-suit (pun intended) and, I’ll put it out there, sporting the specs and journalist pad probably won’t work either.

Personally, I’d like to see more of that lumberjack-style character of “Joe,” that rocks a woofin’ beard and (literally) walks around on-fire and covered in flames.  Even though he’s more like the “Brawny Paper Towel guy” than the Man of Steel, I want more of that dude.

Amy Adams is kind of blase as Lois Lane. In my humble opinion, Adams is just too much of a “Plain Jane, and I also didn’t dig that Lois already knows who Superman’s secret identity is, right from the jump. This takes away one of the more entertaining story dynamics from the Richard Donner “Superman” flicks:  that Lois Lane didn’t know if Clark Kent, who she worked beside every day at The Daily Planet, was Superman or not. Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder did a fantastic job playing with our emotions, as we never knew if or when Clark would finally be “outed” by Lois. The “Man of Steel” storyline made sure that this dynamic would never happen. Well, that is, unless Snyder reboots the franchise again in five years – instead of going with the whole sequel thing.

As for the Kryptonian Kontingnecy in the film – Russell Crowe is super-serious in the role of Superman’s daddy, Jor-El. Even though Jor-El doesn’t make it much further than the opening credits (if there were any, that is – AND – I swear that wasn’t just a SPOILER!!), that does not stop him from making more appearances in the film – a lot more. In fact, if you’re expecting Crowe’s role to be like more Marlon Brando’s brief cameo was as Jor-El was in the original “Superman,” you’ll either be pleasantly surprised or super-pissed.

As for the parents of Superman when he’s Clark Kent – Martha (played by the ageless and still gorgeous Diane Lane) and Jonathan Kent (played by the “damn-he’s-getting-old” Kevin Costner),  let’s just say that the scenes that feature these two – especially Costner, who is statuesque (and not in a good way – more like, he had the emotional range of a statue) – are a good time to go to the bathroom, get a soda refill, get some delicious Corndog Nuggets, etc. Actually, this goes for all of the flashback scenes (the main story really features Superman as a 33-year old man, but the childhood in Smallville part of his tale is told through – you guessed it – flashbacks), as they don’t really divulge any info that you probably didn’t figure out for yourself, already.

The main crew of villains from Krypton is menacing enough, I guess. Wait, no. I can’t keep this

Michael Shannon as Genearl Zod in "Man of Steel"

Kneel before… Michael Shannon!!! Just doesn’t have that same ring to it.

up. Actually, they just didn’t seem all that scary or interesting to me. I’m especially disappointed in the usually reliable Michael Shannon as the treasonous General Zod. In the opening scene, where the situation on Krypton (which looks like a cross between the Pandora planet in “Avatar” and the way Earth was recently presented in “After Earth”) quickly gets biblical and apocalyptic (the apocalypse seems to be another trendy Hollywood topic)  and Supe’s mom and pops are trying to send him to Earth, Zod tries to interrupt the process. On Krypton – when he is without a goatee – he is easily defeated. This early defeat, mixed with Shannon’s lack of physical prowess, ruined the threat level of Zod for me – for the entire movie.

Even when he comes to earth (with a new and improved goatee) and kicks major ass all over the place, he’s just not that threatening of a bad guy. The thing is, Michael Shannon’s facial expressions and overall demeanor are more CREEPY, than they are THREATENING. I simply don’t buy the fact that he can kick Henry Cavill’s ass, let alone Superman’s. 

On the other hand, Zod’s female enforcer Faora-Ul  (played by the deadly, yet equally beautiful Antje Traue of “Pandorum”) is absolutely terrifying. SHE, I am positive, can whoop Superman’s butt, as well as Cavill’s in real life. People that grew up in the 1980′s like me will probably remember General Zod (awesomely played by Terence Stamp) and his two henchman from the 1980 film “Superman II,” in which all three of them wore billowy and glittery black suits and tried to destroy the planet. I have to say, I liked the cheesy, 1980′s bad guy trio much better than the new and improved version. Oh yeah, there’s also a third villain, who’s huge and behemoth-like in both “Superman II” and “Man of Steel” – hands down, the one from “Superman II” wins the battle - simply for te fact that he’s played by the weird-looking, Andre the Giant-esque Richard Kiel - who also played Jaws in 007 flick “Moonraker,” as well as the guy who wants to beat up Shooter McGavin in “Happy Gilmore.”

It is in these opening scenes on Krypton that we are introduced to some sacred object called “the Codex,” which is kind of like a DNA-encoded device that Jor-El acquires after he “gets his Michael Phelps on” and swims through a pod-filled pool (think that scene in the underground cave in the “Piranha” remake – if you actually saw it, that is) to get it, so he apparantly can save the Kryptonian race. This is why he sends the Codex with baby Kal-El on his one-way spaceship to Earth, because both items are extremely important.

I understood why the baby was important. I mean, he’s the future Superman for Zod’s sake. However, the Codex… Well, I’ll just say it. I couldn’t comprehend as to why I was supposed to care about that stupid Kryptonian thumb-drive with                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             the “S” symbol (which stands for “hope” on Krypton) on it. I don’t care if I come off as an idiot right now, but this whole plot device was over my head.  I would’ve liked the film A LOT more if this Codes was left out of it. Then, there was some stuff that happened at the end – that piggybacked off the Codex concept – which I really could’ve done without, as well.

As far as Snyder’s direction goes – it’s all over the place. He handles some of the more poignant moments with a tender beauty and his establishing shots never fail to remind me of his commercial background. He especially excels at displaying the beauty that lies within the heart of Middle America, as his shots of Kansas have a haunted and forgotten aura about them. It’s almost as if he was trying to depict Kansas as the perfect spot for an alien to hide in plain sight. I wonder why that is?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

His depiction of Metropolis, however, is bland and devoid of personality.  One of the more brilliant aspects of Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy was the fact that he established Gotham City as a central character in the films, not just a place that the other characters lived. Snyder never manages to treat Metropolis with the same dignity and respect that he treats Kansas with. Therefore, when Metropolis is inevitably torn apart and utterly destroyed during the epic, WWE-style smackdown between Zod and Superman, I gotta admit, I really could’ve cared less. So if Metropolis gets rebuilt in future sequels (I’m pretty sure it will, although those two fightin’dudes must’ve caused trillions of dollars worth of damage – for real), Snyder should spend a lot more time personifying it and not neglecting it. If he took the time to do that in “Man of Steel,” it would’ve added a heaviness and sadness to the ending that just wasn’t there for me this time around.

But in the long run, do my thoughts regarding ONE superhero movie really matter?

Not really, considering five more comic book movies – just like it – will be hitting theaters within the next few weeks, anyway.

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