Movie Review: Man of Steel

You’ve seen the trailers. Everybody knows the story. It’s Superman. What can you really say about a Superman movie? Americans are more familiar with Kal-El’s origins than they are with the Bible. There’s nothing to spoil here. There’s nothing to do except comment on what worked and, unfortunately, everything that didn’t.

man of steel

The previous new Superman movie was so bad that I personally thought that the man in the red cape was going to be condemned to at least a twenty-year exile from the big screen. But no sooner did the tepid reviews of Superman Returns start trickling in than Hollywood announced plans for a reboot.

And then they teased it out like you can only tease out a big superhero movie. In any other genre, audiences won’t have the patience for these types of games. Like, a year before the release, they’ll show a glimpse of the costume’s shoulder pad. And then a month later a poster. This all culminated in the onslaught of trailers released in the past month or so.

Which, I’m sorry to say, kind of baited me in. The previews looked great. Everything felt cool and modern. I was actually sort of looking forward to a Superman movie, I couldn’t believe it. But then I saw it, and the cynical jaded part of my brain laughed at how gullible I’d been. Because a stunning three-minute trailer does not guarantee a whole two-plus-hour feature film.

It’s stupid to complain about the story, but I’ll do it anyway. How many times are we audiences expected to sit through another tried-and-true opening of Jor-El sending his infant son to escape from the dying planet Krypton? Russell Crowe gives a totally generic and bland performance as Superman’s biological dad. He tries warning the Kryptonian leaders about the planet’s imminent destruction. Nobody listens.

General Zod shows up. There’s a chase scene. There’s a flying bird thing that Jor-El rides around, and it’s almost exactly like the flight scenes from Avatar, only sepia-toned. General Zod gets banished to the Phantom Zone. Wow! So exciting. I really can’t imagine where they came up with such a novel idea for a Superman origin movie.

And then it’s just this weird out of order montage of Clark Kent growing up, learning about his powers, about himself. Even though Jor-El dies, he’s somehow still around the rest of the movie, talking to Superman in his weird Russell Crowe pseudo-English accent. General Zod has an American accent. I never understood why they don’t just streamline the accents at casting. It doesn’t matter, really, because everyone on Krypton speaks English I guess, that’s all that’s important.

You know what? I’m not even going to talk about the plot anymore. There are some cool scenes here and there, but ultimately it’s a boring, boring movie. It goes on forever. There are a lot of grandiose ideas and sweeping shots filled with a larger-than-life Superman-ish score. A lot of the more glaring plot holes are either casually written-off or more blatantly ignored. Like Kevin Costner talking about why the government didn’t show up to collect the spaceship. “I don’t know why they didn’t come. They just didn’t.” Or when a bearded Clark Kent shows up at Jor-El’s twenty-thousand year old spaceship and emerges in a Kryptonian Superman costume, totally clean-shaven.

And then it’s just punch, punch, fly, kick, hit, punch, heat-vision eyes, punch, shove, fly, swoop, kiss, punch, punch, punch, punch, fly, punch, fly for the rest of the movie.

And is it just me, or do the effects here feel kind of cheap? It’s like, maybe Avatar set the bar pretty high in terms of digital graphics, but every new CGI laden movie that comes out lately, it feels like the artists are just rushing through the film. Everything’s kind of blurry, just a little too intentionally soft around the edges. I keep seeing the preview for World War Z and it looks just the same, like a bad cartoon. Also, another note about cinematography here, they went for the whole shaky camera thing, which, I don’t know, I guess it was supposed to make me feel like I was chasing Superman or something? And what about those sun glare spots? That’s like the first thing that everybody makes fun of in modern movies. Why are they still doing it?

Whatever, I can make snarky comments about the production all I want. But I’m mostly kidding. This was a highly polished big budget Superman movie. It looked cool. It would have been good as a series of ten-minute installments. Really, the problem lies with the Superman story. We’re talking about a character that’s older than my dead grandfather here. His story is legend and as such it is immune to change.

So what do we have? Just this never-ending intro, an infinite origin story. Superman is all beginning, no end, not even a middle anywhere in sight. To make Superman relevant, to keep the character interesting, someone’s eventually going to have to do something wildly different. But in a good way, not in the blue electric Superman from the 90s. Otherwise he’s destined to a fate of obscurity. Maybe not immediately, maybe not this generation, but eventually there’s going to be another Superman origin movie released, and all the kids are going to look at this giant S and think, this is boring. Man of Steel was boring.