I’ve been thinking about writing a post about the state of modern superhero movies, and that includes Man of Steel and DC’s upcoming slate of films. Then I realized that I never did write a full review of this film. I’ve meant to do so for awhile, after finally seeing it for free on HBO. After all, I’ve reviewed all the other Superman films here, so I should complete the list, right? But I kept putting it off. I’ve been extremely clear about my feelings regarding Superman killing Zod in this film, so I figured most folks would dismiss any criticism I had anyway, assuming I was already prematurely biased before watching it. Well, to some degree, that is true. But I swear, cross my heart and hope to die, stick a needle in my eye, that I tried to be as open-minded as I possibly could be when viewing this. As I tried to explain before, I really am open to a LOT of changes when it comes to the “canon” of fictional characters. Heck, my all-time favorite T.V. show once wrote-off an ENTIRE SEASON as just being a dream. And I accepted that, which means I can accept almost anything. Okay, knowing that ending scene in advance does automatically kill a lot of potential enjoyment for me. Basically I’d say it means that even if everything else about the film was PERFECT, the highest grade I could give this film would be a B+, because the ending would automatically knock the film down a grade.
So here we go, I’ll try to be as concise as possible, and just go over what I liked and didn’t like.
I like the look of Krypton and it’s technology. Sort of an advanced yet Mid-evil appearance to it, with flying animals and spaceships. The idea of it being a society based on a genetically engineered caste system is interesting (although I never cared for the notion that Superman’s symbol is some kind of El family crest that just so happens to look like the English letter “S”). Still, the opening scenes did seem a little rushed, with the concurrent plots of Jor-El trying to warn of Krypton’s impending destruction and his plan to save his son and Zod and his army’s attempt to overthrow the Kryptonian government. Zod killing Jor-El felt unnecessarily cliche to me, the villain who killed the hero’s father, an obvious attempt to add some greater meaning to the eventual clash between Zod and Superman. It’s like when Tim Burton’s Batman film revealed that The Joker killed Batman’s parents. And it also seemed like they missed one of the most emotional aspects of Superman’s origin by not having Jor-El and Lara standing together watching Kal-El’s ship flying away as Krypton explodes around them, instead of having Lara standing by herself, with Jor-El dead and Kal-El already gone, by the time Krypton explodes.
The way they chose to handle showing Clark’s childhood, through random flashbacks inter-cut with the present day, instead of strictly linear, was a good storytelling choice. But I do have a problem with the way they had him being raised. Jonathan’s insistence that Clark should just hide his powers, even being upset when Clark saved everyone in the bus?!? Yeah, I get why he’d want Clark to be careful when he was a kid, but as he got older where was the strong moral guidance about teaching him to use his abilities for the good of the world? Where was the lesson of with great power comes great responsibility? Speaking of which, all of that stuff of Clark being this shy lonely kid, constantly bullied (even into adulthood), that just didn’t feel right. And Jonathan’s death scene (coming right after the idiotic “You’re not my dad” fight)? There was just no emotional impact for that at all. That was too stupid. Clark could have, and should have, saved him easily.
I liked Lois’ story in this film. I don’t really have any complaints about how that was shown, with her on the trail of this mysterious man with with super-powers. No, I don’t know how Clark managed to get a job in that secret military installation in the North Pole, but I’ll let that slide. The way the Jor-El hologram was used in this film was little over-the-top. It seemed like a cop-out way to use Russell Crowe even after his character was killed.
But when Clark gets his costume and flies for the first time? That. Was. AWESOME.
Seriously, I could just rewatch that clip all day. I get chills.
That’s the part where the film score finally grew on me. I used to think that nothing could replace the classic John Williams score, and that they should just always used that, like they always use the same score for James Bond no matter who’s playing him. But Hans Zimmer did a good job coming up with someone that’s almost as memorable.
But even after getting the costume, and learning to fly (& shave), Clark still has no apparent plans to go public. Was he still going to keep hiding? He took the Lexcorp Truck back home to Martha, instead of just flying there. Even after the other Kryptonians appear in their spaceship and threaten the world to turn him over, what does Clark do? He goes to talk to a Priest?!? He should have immediately put the suit on and flown out to confront them. That’s the heroic thing to do. But not here. Oh well.
Speaking of which, did anyone else notice the public’s lack of significant reaction to the existence of alien life? The film kept beating us over the head with Jonathan Kent’s stance that the world would freak out if they knew of Clark’s existence. Even Perry makes the same declaration, when refusing to print Lois’ story. Yet there’s the spaceship broadcasting a threat all across the world at once, and I didn’t see any riots or anything. So what the bloody hell did Jonathan have to sacrifice his life for?!?
I’m afraid it all just went downhill from there. Faora demanding Lois come along on the spaceship made no sense (& Superman just stood there, didn’t even say anything about it). The big battle in Smallville was visually exciting, I’ll admit. But, yeah, it seemed over the top. All the destruction was just overwhelming. I also noticed that when Superman first got there and flew after Zod, he just rammed him through all those silos, destroying them, without any concern for the property. Okay, maybe he wasn’t thinking clearly because he was so angry to see Zod threatening Martha…but, speaking of Martha, when Superman flew away with Zod, he still left Faora and the others with Martha back at her house. Duh, shouldn’t he have gotten his mother to safety first? They could have grabbed her and held her hostage, or just snapped her neck, if they wanted to. It didn’t get better as the action switched to Metropolis. I did like that Superman was working with the military in their plan to stop the Kryptonians. But, again, the destruction (while visually exciting), was too much. Even when the Daily Planet cast was in danger, like when Jenny got trapped, I didn’t feel anything, because those characters hadn’t been established much in the film before that. I had no emotional investment in Jenny’s well-being, so that scene fell flat. Then there’s the big Matrix Revolutions rip-off fight between Superman and Zod, yadda yadda yadda and the neck-snap.
No, it didn’t seem any more justified to me after seeing it “in context.” I think part of the problem is that other than when he caught that one soldier who fell out of the helicopter, and saving that Colonel from Faora, Superman didn’t seem overly concerned with preventing deaths when fighting in Smallville or Metropolis before that. Maybe if during those big battles we’d seen Superman struggling to get civilians out of the way while also fighting the Kryptonians it would have looked like Superman had exhausted every other option to protect people, and this was his last resort. But it just came out of nowhere. They’re fighting back and forth, smashing each other into buildingS, etc., and now here’s Zod’s heat vision aiming at a conveniently-placed family. SNAP!
And then just like that, with no explanation for how much time has passed, it looks like Metropolis is all rebuilt and everything is back to normal, and then Clark Kent shows up for work at the Daily Planet. How did he get that job? What qualifications did he have? Oh nevermind.
Bottom line: This was not a very good movie, IN MY OPINION. Not a good superhero movie, and definitely not a good Superman movie. The only really good things that I have to praise are the cast. Every single person in this film, including Henry Cavill, was perfectly cast. And the special effects. Even if I didn’t care for all of the destruction, I’ve gotta admit that it LOOKED great. So the best I can give this film is:
I was originally going to give it a D, but then I remembered that’s what I gave Superman II and Superman Returns. And if given the choice, I’d rather re-watch this movie than than either of those, so I figure it deserved a higher grade.