Warning: Though the plot is not described, there are spoilers
I have always maintained that I can review a superhero movie as a niche comic movie and as a regular movie. This implies you can forgive certain comic tropes seeping into film, that you just have to accept because of the subject matter. Then I realised after watching some phenomenal superhero films that they can stand up to any movie genre. Every comic movie needs to aspire to this and not just be a good superhero movie but a good movie in itself. Man of Steel tries to do this as it ignores an incredible amount of Superman folklore. It needs forgiving by comic fans because it is a new Superman story told from a different perspective, with so many aspects of the characters changed. This is hard fact to let go of because there is an incredible Superman body of work, which is on the whole consistent and ingrained in our hearts, despite numerous retellings and retcons. As soon as you can do that, then you can watch Man of Steel from another angle. You have to forget everything you know.
The movie on the whole was directed at such fast pace with little time to breath. Even the conversations are rapidly paced and they seem to splice any gaps in conversation. The first interactions between Lois, the military and Superman are so rapid fire, it seems like a conversation highlight reel. This was my criticism of Dark Knight Rises, as it was so fast despite being too long. This new age way of directing does not lend to deep meaningful conversations and so the dialogue has to be good. Unfortunately scripting was average, where the scenes on Krypton, though incredibly rushed, were sound, however on Earth, they lacked any real substance or credibility.
The first half of the movie depended on the acting of Henry Cavill to show a Clark full of angst and introspection, and was on the whole well produced. The second half of the film was an all out actionfest with less time to deliberate on the individual events that were meant to cause an impact. This was certainly pertinent when we are asked to care for the Daily Planet Staff in jeopardy. The actual CGI was pretty impressive and I was amazed at their persistence with the level of impact of Superman’s punches. Kal-El makes a point to ask Lois to stand back when he flies off, to avoid the aftershock, and the fight scenes were suitably destructive with collateral damage. The punching and running appeared a little to computer game-like but it remained throughout and I began to enjoy it.
The cast selection and acting was also impressive with brilliant performances from Russell Crowe and Michael Shannon as Jor-El and Zod respectively. Once you forget what Lois looks like and her personality, then you can accept Amy Adams as a good Lois Lane. I enjoyed that they had Laurence Fishburne play Perry and his personality was a decent fit. I found Martha Kent a little cold and distant and Jonathan Kent too protective and not fatherly enough. This is no fault of the acting of Kevin Costner or Diane Lane but the way they were scripted. The balance of the two fathers has certainly shifted from what we know, and Jor-El was certainly more kind and caring than normal. This works within the context of the film.
I found it interesting that the name Kal-El was used more than Clark because this was a film about him accepting himself as a human, despite a world that is cold and scared of him. This was the whole premise of Pa Kent and his son’s relationship and why I say he was more protective than expected. Even to the point where Clark almost rejects Jonathan as his father, and is excited to tell his mother about finding his real parents. Clark has not had the All American Boy Scout childhood we are used to. It’s a place of fear, bullying and rejection, which fits with the alienation of an alien. From his childhood, his work experiences and the military interactions, it is clear that as a race, humans appear to be devoid of positive emotion. Which plays into the central theme of acceptance of home that is not your own, and weighs in with incredible importance at the end of the movie. Pa Kent is so committed to hiding his son’s ability for fear of rejection, that he essentially sacrifices his own life for it. A father becoming a martyr for his son is clearly a noble deed but not when it becomes completely unfeasible in the context of the scene in which it happens. Once again we can compare deaths of Pa Kent in the comics and movie, but we are trying not to do that.
The scenes in Krypton were fascinating as the themes of genetic selection and the cast system took a major role. This was refreshing and well done with Jor-El developing an amazingly reasonable plan for the future of Kryptonians. He sees the beliefs of Zod and the high council abhorrent and self-limiting. He wants Clark to move forward and to learn from Earth and not make the same mistakes he failed to correct. Zod’s dedication is admirable, and very relatable to most military general on Earth today. His final declaration was emotional, intense, and firmly believable. This impacts heavily on Clark in making his decision to reject his homeworld. The balance between the ethos of Krypton and Earth is lost, it would be helpful for us to believe Clark made the correct decision in protecting humans. We barely see positive reactions to Superman or any real friendships develop, except for Lois who proved trust goes a long way. Eventually Clark has to make the ultimate choice based on a world that fears him.
Despite the destruction of a city, the negligible effect of a gravity weapon on humans but only on cars, the destruction of an oil tanker we see little of humans being saved by Clark. He is too busy fighting the good fight and seems to have focused his powers so intensely that he can ignore the screams of millions. Zod and Clark end up together in a train station and the General realises he can beat Clark because he cares for humans. Once they are threatened Clark is vulnerable and he makes a very courageous choice. The choice is less based upon the survival of a humans but the ending of the Kryptonian race. In killing Zod he has destroyed his lineage, he is the last son of Krypton. His scream and despair post murder was poignant and upsetting. Now I told you to forget what you know about Superman. Can you really do this? Can I do this? I am not sure I can. Superman saves everyone and it is a cardinal sin that they allowed him to kill Zod. Even if you were to forget this fact, then we must deliberate the act within the context of the film. A city is completely destroyed and people have clearly died over the last half hour of the movie, so the decision to finally kill Zod is hardly based upon that. Clark also never had the opportunity to kill him prior to this and so it could be argued, the decision was not there until the final moments. If he can generate enough force to snap his neck, then he could easily avert his gaze. Superman would be able to find a way but he does not even try. His decision is more likely to be reliant on committing genocide of the Kryptonian race. Once final inconsistency with the murder of Zod, is that Jonathan Kent wanted Clark to wait for the right time, and that he does reveal himself, he will be able to change the world and save everyone. If the film wants us to believe in Zod’s death then it has to be from a Kal-El viewpoint and not a Clark one. The revelation of, a not so well disguised, Clark Kent starting a job at the Daily Planet is testament to this. But there just is not enough depth in the journey, despite Clark travelling a lot, for us to believe in his choice.
Overall, despite the heavy critique, I actually enjoyed watching Man of Steel.