After I saw Man of Steel for the first time, I kept thinking about it. It stuck in my mind and most movies don’t – even movies I really like. I started questioning my initial reactions to things and wondering if I didn’t need to give it a second chance. I did, after all, walk into it expecting something nigh-on miraculous. So with the experience of the initial viewing and no expectations other than to take it in as a Superman movie rebooting everything, I went to see it again. My reaction the second time was much different. I liked it. I really liked it. It’s still flawed and not the home run I wanted, but I’ve come around on a lot of things, so much so that I thought another review was in order; my first ‘second-chance’ review since I’ve started KT. I’ll reprint my initial viewing review first and then outline my feelings after the second go-round.
If Batman’s story is one of fear; Superman’s is one of hope. He’s an ideal of hope; something to which humanity should aspire. He makes people’s lives better by being around. Man of Steel is utterly devoid of any joy or hope, trades character building for chaos and misses the point of its protagonist altogether.
What’s surprising to me is that the movie’s glaring flaw is not Zack Snyder’s direction nor any out-of-tune performance by the cast. The problem is the script. After a fantastic opening sequence on Krypton, the movie opts for a non-linear story where the current thread is constantly and randomly flashing back to vignettes of Clark at different points in his maturation. It’s trying to ape Batman Begins (which MoS screenwriter David Goyer co-wrote) and at the same time trying to deliver a massive bombardment of action. The reason Batman Begins works in the context of the trilogy is that we spend a long time with Bruce Wayne as he gets to the point where he’s Batman. He actually doesn’t have nearly as much screen time in the other films, but we get and feel when giant events happen because we’ve gotten to know him so well. I have no idea who this Superman is. He’s 33 by the time he reveals himself; having spent a long time wandering the globe, doing what he can to help and searching for answers about where he came from. THAT should have been most of the movie. Jonathan Kent instills in him an absolute belief that his revelation will be the undoing of everyone (which it kind of does end up doing). The glimpses we see of the journey of Clark as a child to the Man of Steel aren’t enough. I want to learn more about what he was doing with all that time and what’s driving him so I can care later when he’s being pounded by a gravity hammer. Henry Cavill is an extremely likable Clark and Superman, but he has an astonishing lack of dialogue. He barely gets to talk. I want to know and love this guy, but aside from one scene when he allows himself to be taken into custody by the army, he doesn’t have a genuine conversation with anyone.
The reason why he doesn’t have time for gabbing is that General Zod and company (why did they change Ursa’s name to Faora?) show up in Earth orbit, having survived Krypton’s destruction by being imprisoned in the Phantom Zone, and out Kal-El to the entire population of Earth. This sets into motion a series of confrontations between the Kryptonians and Superman that sets a cinematic record for most explosions in one movie. It ends up being just a lot of noise though because, after dozens of super hero films, we’ve seen this stuff. There may be more of it here and it all looks fantastic, but I honestly didn’t feel anything the whole movie. It fails to make a connection to earn your involvement in what culminates in pretty much the destruction of Metropolis. The film just happens and never brings you on-board.
What was good? The score by Hans Zimmer was fantastic. To take on the challenge of the legacy of John Williams and to deliver a multi-layered beautiful score is a fantastic achievement. The cast is solid. Amy Adams is a good Lois (though we don’t get to know anything about her either). The entire Daily Planet wasn’t really necessary in the movie. Laurence Fishburne had maybe ten lines as Perry White. Michael Shannon’s Zod is a little less dynamic than I’d like, but he’s certainly menacing. Diane Lane is a great Ma Kent. Kevin Costner’s Pa Kent is kind of a puzzle to me. He’s a very different interpretation of the character than any before and this includes how he dies (of COURSE he dies; there is no character in comics more killable than Jonathan Kent). That death should be pivotal, but it’s just another flashback in-between frenetic battle sequences. Russell Crowe is more a Superman in this movie than Henry Cavill; he has more dialogue. Between the prologue on Krypton where he makes Marlon Brando’s Jor-El look like Liberace and his essence in the ship Clark finds, he’s a regal and powerful figure. He’s absolutely the kind of father you would think Superman would have.
Also good were a lot of the flashbacks. The moment when Clark’s powers start to overwhelm him as a child. Deadliest Catch Clark saving the oil rig. The quiet moment of Clark just sitting in the back of his church trying to decide what to do and having a moment with the pastor. One of the few scenes of genuine wonder and joy was when Clark learns he can fly and zips around the world laughing and smiling. That’s Superman.
I’m not sure what Christopher Nolan’s actual involvement in this film was, because there’s nothing of him and his style or scripting that translates insofar as I could see. Maybe he gave them the end, because the last scene sets up things very nicely for the sequel, which given the massive opening week, Warner Brothers will try to get out as quickly as possible. In the end, I just felt deflated. This was a missed opportunity. Tonally, the next film needs to instill the hope that’s at the center of the character. Perhaps the most disturbing thing about the whole arc of the first film is that, Superman landing on Earth is pretty much the worst thing that ever happened to the planet. Millions upon millions of people die in the carnage wrought worldwide and I walked out of the theater wondering why that world wouldn’t
This time, I was into it. I still find the Krypton opening to be the film’s strongest sequence and I love Russell Crowe as Jor-El. The flashback origin tactic that put me off so much the first time, didn’t bother me as much this time. Maybe because I was expecting it, but I still wish we could have seen more of Clark’s journey from when Jonathan dies to when he reveals himself. If you go by the date on his (Jonathan’s) tombstone to where Clark says he’s 33 now, that’s a 16-year gap. What else was going on then that shaped him? That’s the main thing I still feel the movie lacks. Henry Cavill is so damn charismatic and likable as Clark though that I never have a problem accepting him in the role.
As a consequence perhaps of liking the character, I was a lot more invested in the action and mayhem of the film’s denoument. This is a modern Superman; a Superman for the world we live in here and now, full of fear and suspicion. That Jonathan raises Clark to be so paranoid of trusting anyone with his secret or using his powers (to the point where he’d rather die than allow Clark to save him and expose himself) gives the character a dynamic that previous incarnations haven’t had. This Superman has a massive fear of rejection and a reluctance to use his power. This aspect is heightened by what has been post-release the greatest controversy: Clark killing Zod.
The killing of Zod did not have Chris Nolan’s initial blessing and has been publicly blasted by some, most vocally former Superman writer Mark Waid. Zack Snyder said of the decision, “In the original version of the script, Zod just got zapped into the Phantom Zone,” Snyder explains on the podcast, “But David [S. Goyer], Chris[topher Nolan] and I had long talks about it, and I said that I really feel like we should kill Zod, and that Superman should kill him. The ‘Why?’ of it for me was that if was truly an origin story, his aversion to killing is unexplained… I wanted to create a scenario where Superman, either he’s going to see [Metropolis’ citizens] chopped in half, or he’s gotta do what he’s gotta do. [Chris] originally said, ‘There’s no way you can do this.’ After checking in with DC Comics about the change, to which they responded positively, Goyer was spurred forward. “I came up with this idea of heat vision and these people about to die, and I wrote the scene, gave it to Chris, and he said, ‘Okay you’ve convinced me.’”
The other side is Waid’s, “Some crazy guy in front of us was muttering ‘Don’t do it…don’t do it…DON’T DO IT…’ and then Superman snapped Zod’s neck and that guy stood up and said in a very loud voice, ‘THAT’S IT, YOU LOST ME, I’M OUT,’ and his girlfriend had to literally pull him back into his seat and keep him from walking out and that crazy guy was me.”
I think that, given the situation he was in, lethal force was the only option. Zod had lost all reason to live beyond killing every human he could. He was never going to stop and he was a better warrior than Clark getting stronger every minute. But the thing that makes the decision so heart-wrenching and character developing for this Superman already afraid of his powers and his world, is that he’s not just choosing to kill Zod; he’s choosing to eliminate the last tie and connection to Krypton. He’s chosen humanity in the harshest possible way. This is his experience with lethal force, so given that, it makes perfect sense that he would never take another life. That he has that just inherently built into him because he’s Superman makes less sense to me.
Man of Steel is not Batman Begins and it’s not as dear to me as Superman Returns is. But, in putting aside what I think I brought into the theater the first time, and allowing the film to stand as a new beginning, I enjoyed it much more. I’m extremely interested in where they take the sequel because I’ve never seen a Lex Luthor who was any kind of a credible threat. We have a Metropolis that’s devastated and I’m sure Luthercorp will be happy to sweep in and rebuild the city and put its leader into prominence. I’ve also noticed that those Kryptonian armor suits look a lot like the power suit Lex wears when he physically confronts Superman. Pieces are in place for a great sequel, but the Lex factor is going to be the key to its success or failure.
Original Score 6.25/10
Second Chance Score 8.5/10