Okay, here we go, let me start by saying that Superman is my second favourite superhero behind Spider-Man. I haven’t really loved any of the Superman movies so far, I liked Christopher Reeve as Superman but I’m not a huge fan of the films he was in, and although I think Superman Returns was unfairly maligned I wouldn’t say it’s amazing. I did love Smallville, even though that had its problems too so I was very excited for Man of Steel as the reviews were really positive and it seemed like people were saying this was the Superman movie we were waiting for. As such it pains me to say that I was actually a little disappointed. As always with my movie reviews I’ll write a spoiler-free reaction and then I’ll discuss particular aspects of the movie.
Basically I was left feeling a little bit flat when the movie ended. I certainly wasn’t as buoyed as when the credits started rolling for Iron Man 3 or Star Trek Into Darkness. I thought there was a lot to like about Man of Steel – the casting was great, the action scenes were awesome, if a little too much at times, and the visual effects were good (I really liked the depiction of Krypton) but I’m not sure the actual story holds up that well. I also think the film took itself too seriously and some of the dialogue fell flat. Overall I think it’s a decent film and it’s worth a watch, but I wouldn’t go in expecting it to be perfect by any means.
I thought the film was a little disjointed. I think I would have preferred it had his story been told chronologically. I liked seeing him in various parts of America doing odd jobs and moving on when he did some obvious act of heroism. I liked the actors who played young Clark Kent, and I enjoyed Kevin Costner and Diane Lane as Jonathon and Martha. But where the flashbacks are placed throughout the movie they lose some of their impact, for example towards the end of the film we see Jonathon watching his son play in the garden wearing a cape. To me it would have felt more natural to have that towards the beginning to give us a taste of him becoming Superman. As an aside, I think the moment where he put on the costume wasn’t given the gravitas it should have been.
It was interesting to see young Clark struggle with his powers and how to restrain himself. I can understand why they didn’t explore that too much because we largely had 10 years of it in Smallville, but it does almost feel like they mashed two movies together. I think they could have had a whole movie of him roaming the world learning about the different facets of humanity and I thought they rushed through that.
I also felt the film was quite detached at times and it was quite hard to get inside the heads of the characters. When Henry Cavill got a chance to emote he was really good, and there were a couple of times when he smirked whilst using his powers and that was a nice touch, because I like it when heroes actually enjoy using their powers but if I had to sum it up it was quite a cold film, even in the colour palette they used there didn’t seem to be much warmth.
Zod was a good villain but I thought he was more tragic than they had intended. Superman called him a monster, but seeing as he only did what he did because he was programmed too he’s almost a victim. I’m not excusing his actions in any way, but it seemed that the film sided with the idea that Kryptonians didn’t really have a choice about how they lived, and it seemed a bit murky to me whether he was supposed to be a sympathetic villain or just a villain outright. I liked how Superman defeated Zod at first, by subjecting him to the sheer deluge of sensory information, and I liked the final fight. It was a powerful moment when Superman had to kill Zod, but in the film it hadn’t really been established that Superman had a strict ‘no killing rule’, one could infer it from his attitudes but I think the moment was a bigger deal if you were a fan and knew how much it went against his strict moral code.
The main thing which troubled me the most was the collateral damage. I don’t mind the fact that he didn’t save everyone, because part of the tragedy of the character is that he can’t no matter how hard he tries. But saying that I think it was a mistake to have him jet off to the Indian Sea to fight the big machine, I would have preferred it had they shown him flying around Metropolis trying to save people. I also think it was strange that nobody seemed to care that all these people were dying, it was just buildings collapsing without any sense of the deaths. In a way I hope they address this in a sequel, perhaps if they have Lex try and sever the bond that Superman has forged with humanity by pointing to the destruction and saying, ‘hey, all this stuff happened because of him, do we really need him?’ which I think would be quite interesting. To add to this point there were a couple of moments when Superman seemed to be a bit reckless, particularly in the battle in Smallville. At one point he made a petrol station blow up, and I was hoping that he’d then use his freeze breath to put out the fire but he just let it burn, and it seemed he wasn’t too concerned about the surrounding damage, I thought he may have tried to move the fight away to an unpopulated area.
They left it a bit late to explain what exactly the codex was and why it was so important, and to be honest that aspect seemed a bit tacked on. I also would have liked an explanation as to why Krypton decided to abandon space travel and initiate their genetic coding program. Now I feel a bit bad because I feel like I’m being really critical. I think it’s the case that because Superman means so much to me I’m more predisposed to look at the faults but in truth the film did a lot right.
Like I said the casting was superb. Henry Cavill was an excellent Superman and when he got a chance to emote he really sold it. There were two powerful moments where we got to feel his frustration and his helplessness that he had to do things he didn’t want to do but that he had to do. Faora was a good character and I’d say she was almost equal to Zod, but I thought the rest of Zod’s minions were under-used. The fight scenes were dynamic and intense, I particularly liked the shot of Superman and Zod fighting while flying. The other visual effects were great, especially the heat vision which looked awesome and powerful. I liked the Superman/Lois romance too, and I think it’s becoming a trend now that the love interests in superhero films are more involved in their partner’s superhero lives so it’ll be interesting to see how that develops into a sequel.
Speaking of a sequel it’s hard to see where they go from here, because the destruction was so big it’s hard to go bigger. I think they should take a cue from one of the lines in the film and make the world small. Lex is the obvious choice and the filmmakers seem to be wanting to do a version of Superman where the explore what impact he has on the world, so I’d like to really see that developed in the next film. I hope they go a bit deeper into his character and how he deals with being Superman now that he’s not just a drifter.
There have also been a lot of rumours that this film is going to be a springboard for a JLA movie, but I really don’t see that happening. It seems that this film was really made just to show what impact Superman would have. I suppose the only way that would make sense is that other people become superheroes because Superman inspired them, but it doesn’t really seem like they were seeding a bigger world outside of the Superman story.
So, yeah, I apologise if this review seems a little too critical because there were a few points where I geeked out and like I said there was a lot to like, but it just fell short of being great. That said, it certainly has promise and I think it was only a few missteps in the script that let it down, so hopefully they’ll have a clearer idea for a sequel and it will be a bit tighter.
World War Z comes out next week so that will probably be my next film review.
– Man of Yesterday