"Man of Steel" Review - With Spoilers[Date: June 21, 2013]
Reviewed by: Michael J. Petty
I've been asking myself this question for about 10 minutes while trying to start this SPOILER-filled review, and to be completely honest, I'm STILL not sure! I will tell you all this though right off the bat, this is the Superman film we have been asking for ever since Superman II was released into theaters. This is the Superman film we have been asking for since Smallville started in 2001, and for 10 years we waited for Superman. This is the Superman film we have been asking for ever since Bryan Singer's Superman Returns, and this is coming from a guy who actually enjoys watching that movie (major issues with it to be sure, but enjoyable for the most part nonetheless).
Steve has already reviewed this film, as has Scotty, and Marc (well, partially), and Shawn, and Jeffery, but as a proud member of the Homepage, as a fan of Superman, how could I not as well? Let me explain what my last two weeks have been like.
On June 6th I arrived in Metropolis, Illinois for the Superman Celebration. After hanging out with Steve for two days, I was even more pumped for Man of Steel than I was a whole month prior. After reading his review at the beginning of the next week (as he had been in New York City for the World Premiere) I was even more excited. I arrived in the theater myself, with my Wal-Mart exclusive tickets, on June 13th to watch Man of Steel for the first time. In all honesty, the first time I watched the film, I was not underwhelmed, but to quote Robin from Young Justice, "I was whelmed". I saw it again however the next day, and much to my enjoyment I was overwhelmed by Man of Steel, in a good way for sure! Why didn't I enjoy it as much the first time? I honestly have no clue, but I can tell you this, after recording two podcasts, for the DC Nation Podcast & "Tangent Time" Podcast, about the film and now writing my review, I am still excited to see it again!
Now, if I haven't lost you yet, let me actually talk about Man of Steel instead of my two week long Superman high...
First off, as Steve has said before, Henry Cavill is Superman. No matter if you grew up with George Reeves, Christopher Reeve, Dean Cain, Tom Welling, or even Brandon Routh, there is no denying the fact that Henry Cavill takes from each of these performances and uses them to enhance his own take on the Man of Steel. Not only does he play Kal-El marvelously, but he also plays a stunning Clark Kent, with both the glasses on and off.
Cavill is for sure my main highlight of Man of Steel. The grace and charm that he brings to the character of Superman, especially for a modern generation, is exactly what the doctor ordered after Superman Returns and Smallville. The cool part about this version of Clark Kent, this version of Superman, is that he's not only a legendary icon that makes Thor tremble in fear (which he is in this film), but he is also a relatable person with problems that everyone else (and some that nobody else) has. I think that this part of Clark Kent was touched on very well in television series' like Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman and Smallville as well as in comics such as Superman: Birthright and Superman: Earth One, which this film takes much inspiration from. But then again, Clark is done very well here, making him a guy who, although mysterious and a bit edgy, is someone who you would maybe want to be around.
On that note, I did not think I was going to like Amy Adams as Lois Lane at all. I had only ever seen her in the Smallville episode "Craving", Night at the Museum 2, and Enchanted before seeing her in Man of Steel, but let me tell you, she was exactly the kind of Lois Lane that this film needed. She didn't come off as needy or desperate, so-to-speak, as Margot Kidder did in the Donner films, but she also wasn't a "tomboy" like Smallville's Lois Lane was (at least in Seasons 4-7), which put her right where Lois Lane has been in the comics for years.
One of the things I hated that Smallville did in its 10th and final season was allowing Lois to know Clark's secret BEFORE he was Superman. Here in Man of Steel, they did it in a way that both worked and actually helped both of the characters in their journey to find out who they both are and will be in a world where aliens can exists and men can fly. That plot-line was done much better in Man of Steel than it was on Smallville, and this is coming from a 10 year fan.
There will be people who will always view Terrance Stamp or Callum Blue as General Zod. I am one of those people. But I must say, Michael Shannon IS the scariest Zod that we have ever seen in live-action format. Shannon's performance as Zod actually freaked me out in a way that I haven't felt since 2008 when Heath Ledger stole the show during The Dark Knight as the Joker. Shannon's eyes themselves tell the story of a half-crazed Kryptonian general looking to save his race, but without any concern for another (that being humanity). If you thought Zod's "I will find him!" was creepy (which it totally is), that final battle between him and Kal-El is absolutely nuts. I can see now why Goyer, Snyder, and Nolan chose General Zod as Superman's first foe in this new "DC Cinematic Universe" as Zod is basically what Superman could become if he had been raised on Krypton. Shannon's Zod is almost like this film's version of Bizarro to Cavill's Superman. No, I'm not saying that Zod IS Bizarro, that's not what I'm saying at all, but much like Batman & Ra's al Ghul in Batman Begins, Superman and General Zod are polar opposites of each other, one stands for good, the other for evil.
Now I was actually blown away by Russell Crowe's Jor-El in this film, because I did not think we were going to see as much of him as we did. His scene with Lois aboard the Black Zero was one of my favorite scenes in the entire film. Crowe's Jor-El had the sternness of Jon Byrne's Jor-El, but he also had the compassion and love for his son that the Birthright and Secret Origin Jor-El did. I was very pleased with how they handled him on Krypton and as an AI on Earth (much like Smallville and the Donner films). In fact, I was so pleased that I was legitimately shocked by Jor-El's death at Zod's hand and actually got upset over it. Not to mention I loved his scenes with Shannon's Zod and Cavill's Clark. They were exactly what they needed them to be in order for us to care about Jor-El.
Also, this may just be me being a total Superman nerd, but I LOVED the inclusion of both Kelex and Kelor as Jor-El and Lara Lor-Van's robot servants... That was just awesome.
As partial as I am to the Donner films and Smallville (I'm totally biased, I'll admit it), I think that Man of Steel gives Krypton one of the best looks I have ever seen. Whether we're talking about films, television, comics, or video games, I applaud Zack Snyder for making Krypton actually feel alien (it felt a lot like Byrne's and Superman: The Animated Series' Krypton to me); especially with the weapons, vehicles, and animals that we saw on the planet.
Smallville and Metropolis looked a lot like their comic counterparts as well. Smallville really looked like a small-town in the middle of Kansas, and Metropolis (although since I live right outside of Chicago I could totally tell that it was Chicago) looked a lot like Metropolis. To be completely honest, I was a little upset that we didn't get to see the Daily Planet globe on top of the building, but at least they had a globe in the main lobby. The Daily Planet staff was actually very cool as well. I really enjoyed Laurence Fishburne's Perry White. He may have not had that many lines, but what he did have made me wanna call him "Chief". Steve Lombard and Jenny (who is not credited as "Olsen" by the way...) were also a nice addition to the DP's staff for this film. I hope to see Ron Troupe and Cat Grant in the next film, along with some more Clark Kent in the Daily Planet with Lois, and hopefully a young Jimmy Olsen!
Now, before I get to the fights I have to say how skeptical I was about Kevin Costner's Jonathan Kent. Like I said before, I've seen this film twice, and the first time I saw it I did not like Costner all that much. But the second time I saw the film, I realized that if there could only be one tragic character in this film, it would be Jonathan Kent. Jonathan spent his life (well, not all of it, but a good chunk) trying to protect Clark from the world, and vice-versa, to the point where he sacrificed his life so that his son could live his own. That's very powerful. And I know he wasn't in all that many scenes, but without Jonathan Kent's influence on Clark, he would have never become Superman.
I can also say the same for Diane Lane's Martha Kent, who was (surprisingly) equally as good! I really enjoyed her interaction with Cavill, especially in the graveyard at the end of the movie. Maybe I liked her in this movie so much because she reminds me of my own, which she does, but I feel that she, like Lois, will be able to ground Clark back to humanity (in the next film more-so than this one) when he wants to seclude himself in his Fortress (which, I believe was never actually destroyed, it just crashed into Metropolis) because of his killing of Zod.
Now let's move onto one of the best parts of Man of Steel: the fights. I loved the fight scenes in this movie. This is what Smallville didn't have the budget for and what Superman Returns did not deliver. To an extent, I'm glad Superman Returns wasn't as big a success as Man of Steel, because if Returns hadn't flopped, Man of Steel would have never been made.
The fights in this film are absolutely fantastic. Much more destructive and yet productive than the fights in not only The Avengers, but I would think the Dark Knight Trilogy as well (yes, I know Batman doesn't have super-powers, but you know what I mean). Not only did Superman fly around fighting General Zod, Faora-Ul, and Nam-Ek, but he also used his super-strength, heat vision, super-speed, and even his keen intellect to defeat his foes. Both Smallville and Metropolis are almost completely decimated by the end of the film and my one thought is, "Who is going to re-build all of this?" Immediately, based off of all the Easter eggs we saw in the film, my mind goes to LexCorp, specifically, Lex Luthor. Although Bruce Wayne, based off of the Wayne Enterprises satellite seen during the end battle scene, could be a good candidate as well, I see Lex doing it only so he can boast about "owning half the city" like he does in Superman: The Animated Series.
But let's get back to the fights... The final fight between Superman and Zod is one of the coolest things I have ever seen in a comic book/super-hero/Superman film, EVER! Heat vision, super-strength, flight; all these amazing powers are used by both Superman and Zod against the other to see who will win. And in a way, I think Zod won. Obviously Superman won because he saved [the rest of] Metropolis and defeated Zod, but I think Zod also won because he made Kal-El kill him, therefore taking away his innocence.
I know there are a LOT of people who are for Superman killing Zod and a LOT of people who are against it, and quite honestly I fall in the category of the latter. I do not think Superman should kill. One of the reasons why this film was made, other than for the fans who were disappointed with Superman Returns, was because they wanted to make Superman "cool" for a modern-day audience. This may just be me, but I don't think killing anyone, ever, is cool. I know that The Avengers and the X-Men may not have an issue with killing, but members of the Justice League do, Superman included.
Now, I know that in Jon Byrne's Superman #22, Superman does in fact kill a General Zod (and his two cohorts). However, there is a difference between (at least in my opinion) these two instances. In Superman #22, Zod and his team destroyed an ENTIRE pocket universe, leaving no one but Superman to judge them for their crimes. Being the judge, jury, and executioner (because there was no one else left), Superman killed them with Kryptonite. However, this decision weighed on Superman for years and actually caused a psychotic break if I remember correctly, as well as forcing him to leave Earth for a while (Superman Returns?). Again, I think that that instance is different than the one in Man of Steel for a number of reasons, but the main one being in the comics he was trying to follow the law if that makes sense. In the film, there are at least five other ways he could have stopped Zod from killing that family without breaking his neck, but that's another discussion for another time.
Bottom-line, the only time I will ever accept Superman killing someone is if he himself dies while killing the other and that is why the "Death of Superman" is one of my all-time favorite Superman stories.
Over-all, Man of Steel is everything we could ever ask for when it comes to Superman on the big screen. We see Superman fight, Superman in love, Superman as Superman, Clark Kent, and Kal-El, and we have evidence that there is a whole universe of possibilities out there for future films (Justice League?...). I was very pleased with Man of Steel, in fact I'm hopeful to see it again in the next few days, and I am extremely excited for whatever film DC Comics decides to put out next (please be The Flash!).
I would give Man of Steel a 9/10 as it is exactly what we as Superman fans have been asking for many years, and it gives us hope that we can see other DC Comics films sooner than later.
Up, up, and away!
Michael J. Petty