Let's get a few things clear:
- I don't really set out to do movie reviews here. You have your opinions. I have mine.
- I only go to see very few movies at the theater for a few socio-economic reasons that I'll be happy to detail if you like.
- I think I had a third thing, but I don't remember what it was.
Anyway, Superman movies are usually going to get me into the theater because...well, my first flight efforts had me airborne off the dining room table at age three. The launch platforms escalated from there till my parents (though they deny it to this day) made the cape my grandmother made me disappear. My first comics were kid comics (literal funny books) and Superman. When I was able, lots of old comics, kid comics, etc were sold or traded for more "Superman" comics...and "Superboy" and "Adventure" (starring either Superboy or Superboy and the Legion of Super-heroes). I love superheroes, but I still haven't seen Iron Man 3 or Amazing Spiderman yet. The point is, you make a Superman movie, go ahead and get a ticket ready for me.
This one really must've made an impact on me because I want to talk about it. I don't want to tie-up Twitter and Facebook timelines with my blather. This is where I'm supposed to blather. If you've come here, you were looking for my blather. So, here it is and don't blame me. You came looking for it, after all.
I've been saying for a while that Superman needed a movie that wasn't putting him on a pedestal and showcasing his majesty, instead giving us a display of the power embodied in the world's greatest superhero. I wanted to see him square off against some villain who wasn't Lex Luthor in bone-jarring fight scenes rather than ballet choreographies. You don't rocket him at an opponent at mach five only to slow down for a jaw tap or a toe kick. Man of Steel covered all that. All the fighting that wasn't in Superman the Movie, Superman II, and Superman Returns (Bryan Singer's sequel/tribute to the other two) found its way into Man of Steel. Superman gets to break a few sweats this time out, having multiple skirmishes against multiple Kryptonians and Kryptonian tech. He gets to dig deep to bring out his hero. It's the sort of challenge he needed. Even Jor-El managed to get in a little action. And he was a badass. I've always considered him to be Krypton's non-artistic DaVinci. This time, they also made him a little bit of a hippie, not too far from John Byrne's post-Crisis conception (Lara moreso), breaking the rules to have a kid the way he and Lara wanted, and then get him off-planet. Plus, Jor-El got to put Born-to-be-a-general Zod on his ass, something Zod pretty much deserves whenever possible. I suppose that means what we used to say at IBM was true: you can do anything you want on your last day.
Lara Lor-Van also came off as a bit of a hippie, which is something of a stretch for her. Jor-El's always been an out-of-the-box thinker known to disagree with the Science Council on occasion, but Lara? She was an astronaut and a rocket scientist, so her opening scene really seemed odd till Jor-El explained their anti-establishment ways. I was watching and wondering why they didn't have a way to make her more comfortable till they explained that the couple was trying something that hadn't been done in centuries.
Anyway, great fights. They were gritty, visceral and full of inertia. You can feel the punches all the way in the cheap seats. If Kryptonian biology possesses a super hormone equivalent to testosterone, Metropolis and Smallville (besides looking worse than the City of Townsville after a busy day for the Powerpuff Girls) are going to be thick with the scent of tough guys. Better than putting him on a pedestal, he was shown as being able to earn the trust of the suspicious and paranoid and to inspire hope in the most desperate hearts. These are qualities that make him our greatest hero, best of the best, willing to sacrifice himself for the people as well as fight for them.
He also has that big heart. He's compassionate and self-sacrificing, making the hard choices rather than the easy ones. What Would Superman Do? The right thing. I always trust that. It also informs me to keep an eye on anyone who doesn't like Superman or says they can't relate to him because he's "too good". If you feel like he's too good, then you know you can be better than you are. He's inspiration, the ultimate role model. I wish Zack Snyder could've understood that.
The Kryptonian technology and Krypton itself were distinctively stylish, sort of a melding of Byrne's post-Crisis Krypton and Gallifrey, shaped by the nanotech and ultra-physics of an ancient people who were squeezing all they could from their world but forgot to use their mastery of fundamental forces to renew and recycle. Oh, it was so sad. Krypton was dying and there was just no talking her leaders back from the precipice. There's a Klingon adage that says "Only a fool fights in a burning house," but heeding advice was a low priority on doomsday. Jor-El and Lara, were you the last of Krypton's abandoned wisdom? I guess I'll look to sequels to see if our favorite farm boy is able to harness his lost world's technologies or pull any special surprises out of his nanotech fabricated super suit.
SO MANY KRYPTONIANS
Like the fights, more Kryptonian survivors than in all the other films combined. I wish I hadn't had to wait for the credits for all the names because you only put the characters they did in a film like this to thrill fans who know them. If you're going to do that, find a way to name them in the film so I know who you're trying to show me. Remembering that Faora Hu-Ul is a dangerous badass (second longest sentence in the phantom zone, folks) was something I was glad wasn't overlooked. In the comics, she was a solo act. People who grow to be serial killers usually are. Faora was a man-hating sexual predator, practitioner of klurkor (Kryptonian unarmed combat) with mastery of horo-kanu (a martial style focusing on pressure point manipulation) and kept a freezer that would've put a scare into Jeffrey Dahmer. On top of all that, her oft-forgotten psychic pain induction power doesn't contribute to her tolerating men who think themselves her equal or more, either. Putting her in the military or teaming her with Zod, which has become popular, holds her back. She's given Superman (and the other phantom zone felons) plenty of trouble on her own and is proud of it.
About the villains, let me also say this: Zod's head. General Dru Zod (portrayed by Michael Shannon) has got a positively striking head. I don't know how else to say it. I just love it. It's a great villain head. In fact, it may be one of the best villain heads ever. It looks like an angry block of stone sitting atop his mass of armored warrior. He was also well-played. Both he and Superman are going to pull emotion from an audience.
It's not perfect. It's far from perfect. I was a little disappointed that there was no one speaking Kryptonian. Let's just say that it's overdue. As arrogant as most of Zod's pack was, it would've made more sense than learning to gibber like a bunch of primitives they were planning to kill in a few minutes anyway. Oh, that's right, the surviving Kryptonians intend to restore their lost civilization on Earth, but without the annoying part about sharing the world. As if the genocide weren't bad enough, I don't know how they intended to succeed. They made mention of Krypton's many colony attempts on other worlds that had all failed dismally without Krypton's support. That 100% failure rate didn't seem to bother them, though, they were ready to make another stab at it here. They were devoted to the party line instilled by genetic engineering and nurture, but practicing on Venus or Mars would've made more sense.
I wasn't thrilled with whatever they thought they were doing with the phantom zone, making Jor-El's cheap and easy system of incarceration into a complicated quantum mechanics ordeal that probably shouldn't have been experimented with near any home worlds. It seems an interesting Kryptonian hobbyist project, but it just doesn't sit well with me as a "phantom zone". Even when it was a flying crystal cage or mobile dimensional inversion (also wrong), it resulted in Zod holding Jor-El responsible for his banishment. With Jor-El the developer of the projector (comics) and a member of the Science Council, he was directly connected with the extradimensional exile of every one of Krypton's worst. Later, his son would draw their enmity by either continuing to keep them imprisoned or thwarting their escape attempts. Worse still, Jor-El didn't find a realm of sunny beaches and lollipops. Time in the zone isn't going to make anyone less crazy. Regretful maybe, but not less crazy.
I could certainly have done without Superman failing to live up to his full heroic stature. He has it for a bit, but then loses his grip on it. By that, I mean that the most painful parts for me to watch came in his failure to protect so very many lives and then killing Zod. He's Superman. People may die, but not because he didn't try to save them and he certainly doesn't kill. He makes the hard choices and uses the options his powers and intellect afford him to find another way. The bad guys try to kill. Superman opposes them. Hollywood seems to get that on TV (good guys are falling all over themselves to not kill on TV), but not in the movies. Stop taking shortcuts, especially with the superheroes. Being a hero means something special and that's one thing that defines Superman. He doesn't just go crazy and stop being Superman, especially not just because the director of the week can relate better to a character who kills than to a hero who doesn't. There are reasons he's the outstanding, shining example. Killing is not among these.
Speaking of crazy, I'm not crazy about all the monkeying with Superman's suit that's been going on for the last couple of decades. I love the classic suit, but not having it here didn't hurt the film. No one seems to know what to do with a secret ID anymore, though. This film included, but it plays on both sides of the fence. Clark seems to care a bit about it in regard to the world-at-large, but I also get the feeling that it became the worst-kept secret in Smallville. For a minute, I was reminded of watching the TV series with people pressing for full disclosure of secrets that were none of their damned business. Tediously cheap attempt at drama. Learn to say "Thank you" and leave the guy alone; stop trying to kill the golden goose. And do something about the teeth. There are some folks, including some of the "perfect" Kryptonians, who have some...distracting teeth. Either cast better, stop doing close-ups, fit them with prosthetics or CGI the damned things, but WOW. I'm also pretty sure that it wasn't a political statement (Superman doesn't do those), but he takes a hilariously clear position on the domestic use of surveillance drones. HA!
Hollywood will make me happier if they stop making reboots. I find them lazy and as annoying as the comic companies glutting their market with #1 issues. We know our superheroes. I probably won't see this one in the theater again, but I will get a home version eventually and I'm sure I'll watch it at least as much as Superman Returns (which isn't often, but every now and again). If you've read this far, you should check it out, too.