Thursday, June 13, 2013

Man of Steel - This Is Not Your Mama's Superman

Whenever there is a reboot, there are the inevitable comparisons to the previous incarnation - Dark Knight vs. Batman, Quinto vs. Nimoy, and how many Incredible Hulks have there been?  So it's understandable that people of a certain age *cough* forties *cough* will bring their kids to see Man of Steel with a little bit of apprehension that Zack Snyder's take on our beloved Superman will not live up to the Richard Donner vision that captured our hearts as kids.

I saw Superman: The Movie when I was ten years old.  I was not (at that time) a huge comic book fan, but my brother and I had watched reruns of George Reeves' TV Superman.  We loved it - even though it was sorely dated.  The heart was there.  Superman was GOOD.  He just was.  He defended truth, justice and the American way.  My heart swells with pride just thinking about it!  And Richard Donner's 1978 version brought all of that idealism into the modern era.  Well, modern at the time.  Donner and his cast captured the flavor, the tone, the essence of what Superman was and what he needed to be in 1978.     

Zack Snyder's Superman has brought the franchise into the 21st Century with just as much style and finesse as Donner did in the 70s.

SPOILERS TO COME

Top to bottom, Man of Steel hits.  I loved the time spent on Krypton before it falls.  The backstory of fertility/reproduction, the politics, the strange flying creatures - all fantastic additions to the mythology.  I loved the way they told the story of Clark growing up through a tapestry of flashbacks (why had I never considered how difficult it would have been for him as a child to learn to handle things like x-ray vision and super hearing?) and present-day encounters (loved the way he handled the nasty truck driver) very nicely bringing us to his first interaction with Lois Lane.

The story is just complicated enough to keep you on your toes.  Things about which I had questions early on (why were Jor-El and Lara on their own when Kal was born?) were answered when they needed to be (because it was the first natural birth on Krypton in centuries).  There were ah-ha moments that were satisfactory and fun and maybe even a little poignant.  I enjoyed the twists and revelations (the majority of which I won't reveal here.)  

What struck me was the theme of sacrifice and salvation that ran through the film.  I don't know if Snyder or if David S. Goyer (screenwriter) are Christian, but they sure drew a lot of parallels between Clark/Kal and Christ.  There is a "heavenly father" (Jor-El) who sends him to Earth and guides him while there.  There is an earthly family (Jonathan and Martha - hmmm . . . Joseph and Mary) who raise him and who know he is different.  There is a "son" who must offer himself up as a sacrifice to save humanity.  Jesus was 33 when he offered himself up for sacrifice.  Clark/Kal says a couple of times that he's 33.  It's all there.  And it's pretty cool.  I might be reading too much in, but when Clark/Kal goes to the church to ask the priest if he should surrender to Zod, and there's a stained glass window of Jesus right behind him, I think someone's hinting at something.

The themes of family and loyalty run all through the film as well.  Is Clark/Kal going to be loyal to his adopted planet?  Or is Clark/Kal going to embrace his Kryptonian origin and help repopulate his people?  There are compelling reasons for both scenarios.  Yes, of course we know what he's going to choose.  He's Superman!  He's going to fight for truth, justice and the American way!  Zod be damned! 

Amy Adams is a perfect Lois Lane for 2013.  She's smart and capable and doesn't have that glass ceiling to deal with that Noel Neill's or Margot Kidder's Lois did.  She doesn't need to prove herself in the boys' club.  She's a reporter and she (and Perry White) know that she's a good one.

Speaking of Perry White - brilliant to cast Laurence Fishburne.  And extra points for letting him keep in his earring.  Love me some Laurence.

I also love me some Diane Lane.  She's wonderful in everything.  She's gorgeous, poised, tough and sweet.  I'd buy a ticket to watch her walk across the street.   

Now let's get to Henry Cavill.  Yep.  Yep, yep.  I approve.  He's got the classic Superman look - square jaw, dark hair, blue eyes, even the dimple in the chin.  But that's only the tip of the iceberg for Clark/Kal.  Cavill does a great job of showing us his alienation and his search for answers without becoming mopey or maudlin.  His internal struggle is apparent, but we can see him working toward something - being active in his pursuit of self.  It's not lost on me that the first time we really see him smile is when he flies for the first time.  He has found himself!  Also, true to the Superman of old, he is GOOD.  He is always GOOD.  His goodness is what makes his final choice in his fight with Zod - the choice to kill - so painful.  Cavill reaction to Zod's death was heartbreaking. Cavill captured the inner conflict and the pain associated with his actions incredibly well.

I did have a few of problems with the film, but they were pretty minor.

At times, the dialogue could get kinda corny.  I noticed it mostly when Jonathan (Kevin Costner) was talking with Clark.  Jonathan seemed to be pretty full o'cheese.  But you know, I'm willing to overlook that.  I think that this incarnation of the Superman myth is not 100% comfortable yet so I'm willing to give it a little slack.  The corniness did not impede my enjoyment, but it did bring me out of the story briefly.

The other problem that I had concerned the final battle between Clark/Kal and Zod.  I don't really have a problem with the fact that Zod chose Metropolis as the destination of his huge Ship of Destruction (my name, not the real name).  The gravity pulses were really cool and done very well.  What made me extremely uncomfortable was all of the destruction of Metropolis' skyscrapers by not only the Ship of Destruction, but by Superman and Zod's fistfight.  Granted, the effects were WAY COOL!  And it was really fun to watch them chase each other through the skyline, but . . . watching planes fly into buildings?  Watching skyscrapers collapse after Zod and Superman destroy the load bearing beams?  I had flashbacks to news reports of 9/11.  I was especially uncomfortable (actually, I was tense almost to the point of pain) when one of Perry and Lois' colleagues, Jenny, was trapped under concrete and steel beams.  She is reaching out to Perry White through rebar - both of them covered in a fine layer of dust - and she's crying for him not to leave her.  I could not help but think of the hundreds of people trapped like that on 9/11.  I know, I know it sounds a little off and maybe melodramatic, but I had a hard time watching that part.  I think that people out there who suffer from PTSD brought on by the events of 9/11 should know that this film might be a trigger for them.  I'm not sure if there should be a warning posted or what.  I just know that I was nowhere near NYC when the Towers came down, and I had a hard time with that section of the film.

In relation to the final battle - one more pet peeve.  To be 100% true to the character of Superman - a hero who will do anything (even take a life) to protect innocent people from harm - I think that placing the final fist fight battle between Zod and Clark/Kal in Metropolis and leaving it in Metropolis was a mistake.  I believe that after the first bought of destruction of property and the subsequent loss of life and injuries (not shown, but c'mon - dozens of buildings fall, do they believe that the audience thinks that all the people got out of them?), Clark/Kal would have led Zod out of the city and away from people.  I think he would have either flown with Zod chasing him or grabbed Zod and flown with him to a more sparsely populated area.  Yes, I know that would have robbed us of the wonderfully cool fight sequence through and around buildings (complete with Zod lobbing a "Lexcorp" truck at Superman - hmmm), but it would have been more true to Superman's character.  And it wouldn't have left me trying to tally the damage to the city monetarily.  Holy cow!  What's it going to take to rebuild Metropolis?!?!?!  And how are the people of Earth NOT going to at least try to place some (most?) of the blame on Superman?  I think that in this case - in this sequence - the ability to do way-cool effects won over being true to the characters and the story.  Yes, it worked to an extent - it was an awesome sequence - but still . . .

Overall, I highly recommend this movie.  It's fun.  It's relevant.  It's Superman for 2013.  Welcome to the 21st Century, Supes.  We love you. 

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