Man of Steel Movie Review
In the week since man of Steel came out I read a lot of differing comments on it, mostly about how terrible it was with some fans desperately trying to defend it. So I went not expecting much, ready to hate it even, and then left with little ability to care that much about it. In a short nonspolier answer, the film was’ meh’ with lots of stupid moments. It doesn’t even have compelling action scenes. The story is a mess with nothing to really redeem it.
Spoiler filled thoughts after the cut.
The film starts on Krypton as we see Kal-El being born, then we get a 10 minute coup by General Zod before he’s stopped and they send the baby to Earth. The coup is just an action sequence to start things off but doesn’t actually accomplish much in terms of plot, Krypton was still blowing up and all we get is a reason Zod and his people were sent to the Phantom Zone. In this version Krypton is an isolationist society that uses genetic engineering to make up their society, with Kal being Krypton’s first natural birth in quite some time. Their consumption of the planet’s natural resources and getting rid of their space exploration program is what leads to their downfall. That’s a major part of why the storytelling is badly done, it’s not subtle in the slightest when it has something to say. Also the genetically engineered society still believes in evolution, because the writer wanted a ‘witty’ dialogue exchange even though it makes no sense with established characterisation.
The majority of the young days of Superman are told in flashback form, intercut with the main story, and they just keep coming up. Just as it seems like they are going to stop doing flashbacks and just get on with the story another one starts. Some of them are mostly good, like Clark’s first experience with x-ray vision and super-hearing and him freaking out till his mom calmed him down. However after a while they get grating since they just keep happening. The really stupid one is where Jonathan Kent dies. He walks into a tornado area to rescue their dog and tells Clark not to save him in order to teach him a lesson about keeping his identity a secret, that his life is more important than the lives of others. Instead of learning that life is precious and he can’t save everyone he learns, pretty much nothing actually. He does a very poor job of hiding his identity in this; to the point that the media and the government should have figured out that he’s Clark by the end. He even tells a high ranking general actively looking for his home that he was raised in Kansas.
The big thing they keeping beating us over the head with is that Clark has both free will and a big destiny to live up to, add that to all the Christ imagery and we get very mixed character moments. The destiny talk wins out and it really takes away any good character moments he could have had. We’re not allowed to see him make up his own mind or find out things on his own. He gets told by his dads that he must do things and Space Dad just gives him the suit and tells him, after 33 years with these powers, that he should experiment with them. Superman in this movie can’t seem to make up his mind unless he’s told what he has to do. All that free will talk was for nothing.
Even when he gets the suit he doesn’t do anything with it till Zod shows up demanding he give himself up. It just feels like they went to a lot of effort to get Superman to actually do something at times because he just wouldn’t act unless told to by Space Dad or Zod. He is a very dull and bland character here and while Henry Cavill does try he’s clearly hampered by the poor script. The best moment was when he was learning to fly and we could see on his face that this was the best feeling in his entire life. That’s what this movie needed more of; instead we got only one moment like that. We only really saw him save people at the very beginning and in the flashbacks, but for most of the movie it was about him keeping his secret and being told about his big destiny. It could benefited from having him going out in the suit for the first time and helping people instead of just not doing anything till Zod came around.
The major difference between the Marvel films and the DC ones seem to be that rather than the “Marvel’s about people, DC’s about gods” split from the comics its that Marvel remembers to have some fun and that superheroes save people, DC is about trying to be realistic and their heroes are depressed. In Avengers there’s effort put in to show that the heroes are trying to save civilians and minimise the alien attack area. In Man of Steel there is none of that, Superman didn’t seem to care about the people in the buildings he was throwing Kryptonians through, except to tell them to get safely inside before hand. In Avengers at the end we get a glimpse of memorials to those who died during the alien invasion, here there is nothing mentioned of after the fight is over with Zod is dead. Not one mention that hundreds of thousands of civilians are casualties in this city wide fight, ones that Superman doesn’t even try to save.
I didn’t have much problem with Superman killing Zod. It did need to be handled better and it should’ve had a bit more weight to it being the last option for him. It didn’t feel like they earned that moment, maybe if they did a better job with Clark it would’ve worked better. That could be said for most of the big moments they tried to have. I did like how Zod wanted to die after everything failed for him and no matter what he said it was clear it was suicide by Superman. Then again Superman seemed more broken up by killing Zod than the hundreds of thousands that were killed in Metropolis. I suppose it’s still better than in Superman II where he casually kills the Phantom Zone criminals and drops them into an icy pit after he strips them of their powers. But that’s not saying much obviously.
One of the things that did work was Lois and Amy Adams’ great portrayal of her. Lois had agency here and did a lot more than what they usually give her to do. She does more here to solve the plot than anyone else does in this movie. Because of the ‘let’s make Superman as inactive as possible’ plot Lois is the one to do the most of the leg work and not only tracks Clark all over the world but does as much, if not more, world saving as Superman. The only black spot is the forced romance between her and Superman, which is more taken as a given that everyone expected it so the filmmakers didn’t build towards it at all.
A lot of this film was just expecting the audience to care over things from the mythos and not bothering to set up or expand on characters or concepts. We see the Daily Planet staff but aren’t given any reason to care when they’re in danger, and there is a sequence where Perry and Steve Lombard have to rescue Jenny Olson, so we were supposed to give a damn about characters we knew nothing about. I doubt anyone other than comic fans knew who Steve was and the film didn’t say Jenny’s full name so no one could tell she was meant to be a gender swapped Jimmy. Even Pa Kent wasn’t given anything to make us mourn for his death other than being Clark’s dad. All we got of him was telling Clark his life is more important than his secret, even saying he maybe should’ve let a bus full of kids die to protect it, and then saying what a big destiny he has. Nothing to connect with him as a father or a character.
One of the good things was the action however. We get to see massive big scale action and it does look pretty nice, especially after Superman Returns. But it all lacked weight because we don’t care about Metropolis or the people in it getting killed by the thousands. There is also too much shaky cam being used, especially in random places like the personal moment between a young Clark and Jonathon Kent.
Overall the movie isn’t anything good, it’s a rather bland ball that’s made of a lot of Superman references that was just a mess. It’s not terrible, Green Lantern was a lot worse, but there’s not much of anything there to enjoy. You might like it for the action and if you can ignore the blandness, plot holes, lack of subtly, and lack of character writing, but it’s not worth it if you want anything of substance.