Monday, June 17, 2013

Monday Review: Man of Steel

(NOTE:  Comic Captions has been pushed to Thursday this week.)

My Tweet-friendly review of "Man of Steel" is:  It's a good alien invasion movie.  Superman movie?  Not so much.  That pretty much sums it up.  Most of the movie is more an alien invasion flick than a superhero origin flick.  That's not entirely a bad thing, but it means a lot of the things people associate with Superman are missing:  Kryptonite, Lex Luthor, the Fortress of Solitude, and Jimmy Oleon for starters.  Oh and Lois Lane knows Superman's "secret" identity already.  She figured it out before he even was officially Superman.  Though in a way that's good because it makes Lois less of a dupe than most of the time in the comics and movies, except those comics where he finally tells her and they get married until the next reboot.

Anyway, the lengthy prologue was reminiscent of the 2009 "Star Trek" movie where we start out with the main character being born.  Apparently Kal-El (aka Clark Kent, aka Superman) is the first natural birth on Krypton for centuries.  The Kryptonians have a super advanced society, one that can mine their core for energy and yet they sit idly by while their whole planet goes BOOM!  Well not all of them.  Superman's father Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and his wife Lara put their son into a spaceship and send him to Earth.

Meanwhile, General Zod (Michael Shannon, more low-key crazy than "Premium Rush" or "Bug") unsuccessfully tries to overthrow the Kryptonian government.  This government banishes him and his minions into a black hole or something.  (And yet again they don't have the means to move somewhere other than Krypton?  That black hole is a giant plot hole. Zing!)

We skip forward 33 years (incidentally wasn't Jesus 33 when he was killed in the Bible?  Symbolism, bitches!) to where Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) is working on a fishing boat trying to live off the grid.  It's his bad luck that an oil rig nearby is going up, so he has to step in to rescue everybody and then beat a hasty retreat.

He eventually ends up in the Arctic at some military installation.  Lois Lane (Amy Adams) shows up there to investigate the mysterious thing buried beneath ancient ice.  But Clark beats her to it, using his heat vision to burrow underground until he finds a ship.  He's able to bring it to life with the key from his ship, which also brings to life a hologram of his daddy, who explains what happened to Krypton.

Remember when I said Lois Lane figures out who Superman is?  She does this after Clark saves her when she sticks her nose where it shouldn't be on the Kryptonian ship.  Too bad he can't use a memory-wiping kiss like "Superman 2" right?  She pretty easily tracks him down to Smallville, but agrees not to blow the whistle on him.

But not long after, General Zod and his minions show up and demand Superman surrender to them.  Which he does, after he surrenders to the US Army, who stupidly put him in handcuffs.  From there the Kryptonian invasion is on with a lot of battles between Superman and the Kryptonians along with stupid humans who can't seem to get that their bullets and missiles can't kill the aliens.  (And sadly Jeff Goldblum isn't around to give the aliens a computer virus, though something similar does help Lois escape from the Kryptonians to tell Superman how to defeat them.)

Basically if you were looking for a remake of "Superman" or "Superman 2" then you're going to be hugely disappointed.  Of course I thought those movies were pretty corny, but a lot of people liked them and many critics seem to think those are the definitive superhero movies.  There's some romance, but no flying through the night sky to the strains of John Williams music.  And like I said at the beginning a lot of the traditional Superman elements are missing.  I expect though we'll see some of those crop up in the sequel.

I don't usually get into cinematography or anything like that, but there was one thing that kind of annoyed me.  Director Zack Snyder kept shooting things far away and then zooming in really quick, which made it look as if the movie were being filmed on a camcorder like a "found footage" movie like "Chronicle" or something.  A lot of these shots were mostly CGI too, so why do that?

Anyway, despite that it's more "Independence Day" than "Superman" there's still enough action and excitement to keep you entertained.  A lot of the audience applauded afterwards so I guess they liked it well enough.  I'll be interested to see what happens in the sequel now that we've got Clark/Superman established.  I suspect Lex Luthor will be making an appearance then and maybe some of the other stuff that was missing from this one too.

Since I was one of those rare people who didn't hate "Superman Returns" I don't think this was really an improvement overall.  Though we didn't have the creepiness of Superman knocking up Lois and it was good they dialed down Superman's powers a little so he wasn't lifting continents or turning the Earth backwards.  Still, instead of believing a man can fly, you're more likely to come away from this thinking "Gee, being Superman really sucks."  Really I think Grant Morrison's first few Action Comics from 2011 were how they should have done a Superman reboot.  Maybe after this latest reboot series peters out they can do that.

Overall I'd give it 2.5/4 stars.  There's definitely room for this franchise to go Up, up and away!  (Punny!)

Now here's a brain teaser for you.  A lot of people were focusing on how Superman shaves, but as I was watching "Superman Returns" yesterday I got to wondering:  how does Superman keep that cape of his under his clothes when he's Clark Kent?  Wouldn't that be really uncomfortable when he sits down?  Almost like getting a wedgie I'd imagine.  And then when Clark goes to the bathroom, wouldn't he always have to use the stalls?  But what does he do with the cape then?  Hang it up in the stall?  Though I guess since he can fly almost at the speed of light maybe he can just fly up to the Fortress of Solitude to do his business.  Or maybe he uses diapers like the astronauts.


  1. I saw Superman yesterday and I'd give it a solid "B' grade. I did miss the vintage 1930s quality of the Christopher Reeve Superman beginning. And this picture had far too many special effects at the expense of character development.

    Question: I know this is your field of expertise so you might know. Wasn't there an explanation as to why people can't recognize Clark Kent as Superman? The glasses wouldn't hide his identity but I thought I read that Superman can contort the muscles in his face so, as Clark Kent, he looks different. Can you confirm this?

    1. I am not that well versed in Superman lore, but it does sound like as plausible an explanation as any.

  2. I didn't really enjoy the film. I guess I didn't like how dark it was. It kind of left me feeling "meh" when I left because there was nothing inspiring about it. Thousands of people died, billions of dollars in damage was done, skyscrapers fell like Legos.

    I thought the stakes were too high in this one.

  3. First, glasses on someone's face generally make you focus on the glasses rather than the face itself, which is how Superman hides in plain sight, and why you don't need "face blindness" as Slate or IO9 or someone recently proposed because everyone just watched "Arrested Development" and now knows that's a thing. A common trick among spies is to give you something big to focus on on the face -- a scar, moustache, glasses, etc. -- to get you to ignore the rest of the (nonchangeable) face.

    As for Jesus being 33, so far almost nobody has commented on how Superman decides what he should do by going and talking to a priest (with Jesus LITERALLY looking over his shoulder, via stained-glass window) and the moviemakers followed that up with a quote about how Krypton represents evolution and evolution always wins, only IT DOESN'T, in the end, right? Superman-as-Jesus, or vice versa, I thought might have been the theme of the first part of the movie. More on that maybe in my own thoughts on it later.

    Anyway, I liked it, as I've said. More than you did, apparently, but I thought the "Superman Is An Alien" twist was a good way to bring a bit of dimensionality (?) to Superman, without making him all dark all the time, only they did that, a little, too.

    As for how he hides his cape, I thought the comics had a way to do that, but let me give a few quick ideas of my own that may or may not be memories dredged up from years ago:

    Don't they have stuff that is able to be twisted, turned, etc., but then is superhard when zapped with electricity? They do:

    So his cape could be liquid, contained in the collar of his shirt. Unveil the suit, send a tiny current of electricity through it, and zappo! you've got a cape.

    That's my number one choice, and if they did that it would be cool because when a villain grabs him by the cape, another charge would liquify it and he'd be free, which eliminates the cape liability commented on in "The Incredibles."

    Number two option has to do with having his suit crammed into a microcase, like those little towels you get that you unfold and they're actual full-sized washcloths. That's less satisfying for me, because it also requires that Superman find a place to change or that he change so fast that nobody can see him do it, and having him able to move that fast is annoying.

    I'm with Michael on the damage: I was watching it and at one point thought "This would take hundreds of trillions of dollars to clean up."

    9/11 cleanup cost $1.3 billion. Sandy cleanup was a relatively cheap $177,000,000 at least at first, but Planet Money had higher costs, I think. However, much of the lowered cost of cleanup after a hurricane is that building codes protect buildings. They don't do much for superpowered people fighting, and I thought it looked like a four-or-five block area, at least, was leveled, which means not only do you have to rebuild about a 1/2-mile square block of city from the ground up, but all those people died.

    I guess we should just hope that the fight took place on a Sunday and those were mainly office buildings, so that only the cleaning crews or some people who were behind on their work were killed. "Hope" being sarcastic, there.

  4. Superman doesn't go to the bathroom; that's how super he is. He just holds it. But that's a good question about the cape. At least, it makes sense that Spider-Man can have his costume under his clothes. Batman doesn't try to wear a cape under his clothes.

    I liked the opening of the movie with the stuff on Krypton and that there was an actual background for Zod. However, at the end of the movie, since they really skipped over introducing us to Clark in more than a cursory manner, I felt it was really about Zod, and I didn't go to see a movie about Zod even if Michael Shannon did do an excellent job.

  5. The Jesus symbolism was a little too obvious. I like more subtle images.

    You're right, it was pretty much Independence Day. It was fun, but a little dark. But I was pretty disappointed with the last reboot. At least Superman wasn't a wimpy crybaby in this one.

    I assume Lex Luthor will be in the next one, as there was an allusion to that in one of the fight scenes. A big truck with LEX LUTHOR on the side made it pretty obvious.

    1. I noticed that too. I suppose the presence of LexCorp means it will be the evil business mogul version of Lex Luthor from the 80s and Smallville and not the evil mad scientist one from earlier comics, which really that does jive with a Nolan-type Superman universe.

  6. Hopefully now that they have gotten their origin story out of the way, the series can pick up some steam from here. Good review Pat.

  7. 2.5 stars?! This movie had been very polarizing for critics. The Phantom Zone thing isn't a huge plot hole since the place were they sent them is a desolate wasteland. Still, I'll have a review on Friday and we can see if we agree. :)

  8. My thoughts echoed yours almost completely. I walked away thinking, "Wow, I didn't know that a movie could have this much action and be so boring." I also felt the same way about Man of Steel as I felt about Green Lantern: the characters were spot on, the script and plot was fairly awful.

    Dwayne Johnston (Seward Fishing)



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