Let's talk about Man of Steel, shall we?
I would rate Man of Steel as a fair movie, maybe 5 or 6 out of 10 stars. For comparison, I'd rate it just a smidgen higher than this season's Iron Man 3, though I could be convinced otherwise -- I'm more partial to Superman, but Iron Man had a villain twist and better humor than Man of Steel. Surely, Man of Steel doesn't hold a candle to such superhero movie greats as Dark Knight or Dark Knight Rises, nor Avengers or the years ago first X-Men or Spider-Man films. At the same time, Man of Steel was definitely a head and shoulders improvement over the Green Lantern movie.
Probably my biggest knock against Man of Steel is that I thought it was just too long. That fight with Faora and Non in Smallville, and even the climactic battle with Zod, just went on and on. It's a superhero action flick, sure, but at times the action became so chaotic (I saw it in 3D) that I couldn't necessarily tell who was beating on whom, and in all the movie seemed to devolve into a typical superhero flick at these moments -- there was little in one guy punching another that really said "Superman" to me, whereas I didn't think the action sequences in the Dark Knight movies suffered from the same problem.
In all, I was often bored. And while I liked some of the changes the movie team made to the Superman mythos, I was surprised, with the opportunity to completely reinvent Superman for the twenty-first century, just how much they left alone. The destruction of Krypton, the banishment of Zod, Clark gets in trouble at school and then Pa shows him the spaceship that, yep, they're still keeping in the barn. As an introduction to Superman, I can see how an unfamiliar audience might enjoy seeing Clark Kent in Smallville, how he gets his costume, how he learns of his heritage, etc., a la Batman Begins (which I thought was the least of the three Dark Knight movies, for similar reasons), but as a tried and true fan, I felt I'd seen a lot of this before, many, many times.
I did like the cast very much, though I wished they'd had a better script to work with. Henry Cavill did fine as Superman and, turning back to the script, I appreciated that the movie team did seem to know who Superman was (or, seemed to share my perception of who I believe Superman to be) -- that this was not a dark or angsty Superman, but rather a good-humored Superman who earns the trust of the US military, who takes the time to tell the people on the Smallville streets to take cover because it isn't safe. I felt comfortable with this movie Superman as a descendent of the Christopher Reeve Superman, the controversial end of the movie aside.
Amy Adams comported herself well as Lois Lane throughout; I enjoyed that the movie thought to pair Adams and Jor-El Russell Crowe for a few scenes (this might've been the most surprising moments of the movie). Adams and Cavill have good chemistry, and the movie's other inspired change (the kind of risk I wish they'd taken more of) was having Lois be smart enough to uncover Clark's identity from the start, and then to stick with it and not "kiss it away" in homage to Superman II (I did appreciate immeasurably that Man of Steel was not to Superman II what Star Trek Into Darkness was to Wrath of Khan). There's a Lois and Clark vibe to the closing scene (and how has no one used the line "Welcome to the Planet" before?!) that I liked and that I look forward to being built upon in the inevitable sequel.
Lawrence Fishburne was a fine Perry White with good interplay with Adams; I have questioned whether the Superman mythos really needs Perry White, but he offered a good "man on the street" perspective. Certainly I chuckled when I understood this other Planet reporter was Steve Lombard, and it was a nice call-out to fans -- but then again, with the inclusion of Emil Hamilton, Pete Ross, Lana Lang, even Whitney Fordham for crying out loud (plus Kenny Braverman in the credits), I again rather wished the team had made up their own stuff instead of working to hew so close to what had come before.
And then, of course, Superman breaks Zod's neck. Now can we have a collection of John Byrne's "Supergirl Saga," DC?
Thematically, I totally get it. Clark was raised human, he feels human, but he's got Krypton's whole genetic code (or something) inside of him, he's been fighting the last survivors of his home planet, and when it comes down to it, he has to choose -- let the humans he's adopted die, or kill the very last existing member of his own species. Clark chooses the humans, of course, and he effectively orphans himself a second time. The triumph and tragedy of being Superman.
But Superman doesn't kill ("Supergirl Saga" notwithstanding), as those of us know who've been around long enough to have seen Clark find that darn spaceship in that darn barn at least three or four times. And there's no way the movie team didn't know that, too. Which, if we want to be cynical about it, makes this kind of a funny Superman recreation -- the team does enough fan service to include Steve Lombard and Whitney Fordham, and then wham! -- a bit of adolescent violence at the end just to underline this isn't your grandma's Superman, "suckerz." I don't think that's quite the truth, but it's one way of looking at it and to that extent, I find Man of Steel vaguely insulting in that vein.
But moreover, I think it was bad moviemaking. For one thing, if you're going to have a scene where Superman has no choice but to kill his enemy, you really need Superman to have no choice. Zod was spraying the people with his heat vision because Superman had him in a headlock, so maybe Superman should have let him out of the headlock -- it's not the best option, but it's an option. Another would've been for Superman to have put his hands over Zod's eyes. I'm sure the team has explanations for why all of these wouldn't work, but the bottom line is that the moment needed to be airtight, and it very clearly wasn't. The audience needed to feel Superman had no other choice, and I don't think they did.
The perhaps greater problem, however, is that even as I understand the moment thematically, it's not well built in the movie. Clark never has a moment where he's interested in Zod or his disciples as representatives of Krypton, so we don't really feel Clark's loss here (Man of Steel's Zod is also too one-dimensional, a far cry from Geoff Johns's recent take on the character). We have absolutely no idea, either, how Clark feels about killing his enemies before this point, nor how Ma or Pa Kent would feel about him doing it. Clark doesn't want to kill Zod, but then he does, and then he screams, but it's hard to say which of these things Clark is necessarily screaming about. And then the movie immediately cuts to a happy-go-lucky Superman in a scene where a female serviceman calls him "hot"; Superman's killing of his enemy in this way holds no more consequence than a moment's hug with Lois.
I don't expect this, but it would go a long way toward redeeming Man of Steel in my eyes if the next movie actually dealt with the consequences -- actual or emotional -- of Clark killing Zod (this you can say of "Supergirl Saga"; they surely made a lot out of it). If this is meant to be "Superman Begins," as it were, then perhaps we can hope Man of Steel is the first part in Superman's evolution toward deciding not to kill -- he killed once, didn't like the hero it made him, vows never to do it again, and then that vow would be tested, say, in battle with Lex Luthor, where Superman is in a position to kill Lex but then finds another way. (There, I wrote the sequel for them.)
That would be worthwhile to me -- not a movie where Superman kills his enemy in the end as is modern fashion, but a trilogy where Superman comes out the other end understanding that killing is not the answer. Again, I don't expect it, but that's the hope I'm holding in my heart now.
Man of Steel accomplishes its goal of giving DC Comics a new movie franchise on which it can hang its hat after the end of the Dark Knight movies, and that's a good thing that I'm happy about. But strangely enough for a comic book fan, between Man of Steel, Iron Man 3, and Star Trek Into Darkness, I'm beginning to think superhero/big budget sci-fi movies just aren't for me; they're not impressing me this season the way they once were. Help me, Wolverine, I guess -- you're my only hope.
What did you think of Man of Steel? (Bonus: enjoy frequent guest reviewer Zack King's review of Man of Steel.)