Weekend Update: Superman: The Man of Steel Review

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Ok, full disclosure.  I am a big Superman fan.

I mean let’s face it, in the pantheon of superheroes, Superman stands head and shoulders above the rest.  While some may prefer Batman to Superman, this is something I have never quite understood.  With Superman you get the ultimate superhero without all of Batman’s endless brooding and angst.  It’s like passing on the steak for a hotdog!

 

Of course, being a fan though I especially love the 1978 classic film starring Christopher Reeve as well as Bryan Singer’s update of the “Donner Universe” in 2006’s Superman Returns.  But after the 2006 sequel studio executives decided to go in a different direction and “re-boot” the franchise to make Superman “darker and grittier”.

 

Darker and Grittier?  Superman?  What’s next, a “darker and grittier” Santa Claus?

 

So as you can imagine I went into the new Man of Steel film last weekend with a mixture of anticipation … and dread!

 

The verdict?  I give it a B-  ( and that’s being generous being a Superman fan…honestly it was probably a C+)

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The first half of the movie I could appreciate.  The film re-imagines the origin story of the demise of Krypton and the events leading Jor-El to send his son to Earth.  He is of course adopted by the Kent’s played by Kevin Costner and Diane Lane.  Costner does a fine job providing the moral compass Clark (aka Superman) will need to control his god-like powers as he grows into manhood.  Probably his best role in a while.

 

British actor Henry Cavill plays the Man of Steel himself and does a fine job.  He balances the uncertainty of a young man coming of age with the determination of a superhero guided by an ethics fixed on “true north”.

 

Also noteworthy is Russell Crowe as Jor-El, Superman’s real father.  Following in the footsteps of Marlon Brando can not be easy, but as Brando is no longer with us, Crowe can arguably be the next best thing.  He brings a gravitas to the role that is needed but few actors can provide.

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The movie really falls apart though in the second half when the battle between Superman and the villainous General Zod seemingly goes on forever!  I mean it, it is literally an hour of your life being sucked out of you as you watch a computer generated city being leveled.  Superman and Zod knock each other through various building of Metropolis again…and again…and again…and again….and again. ( You get the picture).   After a while you begin to feel you’re watching a video game.

 

When the actors actually talked in this film, it generally made the Man of Steel a much better movie.  My bother commented to me that it would be interesting to see the dialogue per minute from the 1978 version vs. the current incarnation.  A movie loses all credibility when it’s director believes special effects can substitute for character interaction and development.

 

Of course a Superman movie wouldn’t be complete with the not so veiled comparisons to Jesus Christ.  The Superman mythology has always been seen to be a analogous Christ story; a father from another world sends his only son to Earth to show mankind the way.  He is adopted by human parents and raised as their own.  As he enters adulthood he once again is in communication with his real father who guides him in the way to becoming Earth’s savior through the use of extraordinary powers.

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Yep, sounds familiar…and The Man of Steel is no exception.  At one point of the story Clark seeks out counsel from a pastor in a church.  As Clark discusses what he needs to do to save all mankind, which essentially will mean surrendering himself to his enemy, the stained glass mural of Jesus is strategically on display just over his shoulder.

 

The lack of the familiar John William’s music score also meant some key moments lacked the emotional energy to connect with the audience.  In one scene when the U.S military lowers their weapons on Superman and the ranking officer declares to everyone that “this man is not our enemy” I was waiting for the music to drive the moment home…it didn’t.

 

In the end The Man of Steel is a good movie…just not a great movie.  Returning home from the theater Gabriel and I decided to watch Superman Returns and compare the two movies.  Watching Brandon Routh gracefully fly through the air in the 2006 film in contrast to Henry Cavill’s jerky and explosive CGI flight, my son summed it up well;

“The new movie just lacked “majesty”.

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