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'Man of Steel' (2013) A Swell Movie Review

Man of Steel

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Turning to the Man in Blue

In 2012, audiences finally saw the epic conclusion of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy, thus ending the only DC comic book movie property capable of carrying a franchise in the last decade. So where can the studio turn to now? With failed attempts along the way such as the likes of Jonah Hex, Green Lantern, and Superman Returns, there seemed to be little hope to spark another DC franchise. So in their search for a saving grace, DC asked themselves a question. Why not reboot their other highly successful character, Superman, again? The man of steel, in the past, was able to carry an entire film series spanning decades with significant acclaim from the Richard Donner entries. Maybe what DC needed now was to inject a Christopher Nolan-styled reboot in order to bring Superman back to the forefront.

In Comes the Dynamic Trio!

I couldn't find one including David S. Goyer, so imagine he's that piece of equipment standing behind Christopher Nolan and Zack Snyder.

I couldn't find one including David S. Goyer, so imagine he's that piece of equipment standing behind Christopher Nolan and Zack Snyder.

I’m more than positive that when DC decided they wanted to revive Superman cinematically, Christopher Nolan was always their first choice to write and produce after his success in the Dark Knight trilogy. Then of course DC had to include the writer who’s had his hands dabbling within the comic book movie genre since the mid-90s, while also contributing to Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy as well, David S. Goyer. Finally, to complete our trio, we had the director Zack Snyder, the man who supplied some comic book movie hits with Watchmen and 300. From the sounds of things, this collaboration to bring forth a new era for Superman seemed fairly bright.

Pretend he says "Superman" instead... it's funnier... yeah.

Pretend he says "Superman" instead... it's funnier... yeah.

2013…

Man of Steel became one of the most divisive comic book flicks ever made; either viewers absolutely adored or loathed the picture. Admittedly, I fell in the latter category as I detested the whole damn film and still do frankly. Audiences were split right down the middle on whether or not Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel was a masterpiece or a hollow shell with a shiny coat of paint. Regardless of the critical consensus being positive or negative, it was a financial hit that launched what we now know to be the DC cinematic universe, a.k.a. the DCEU.

The Plot

An alien child is evacuated from his dying world and sent to Earth to live among humans. When Kal-El, now named Clark Kent (Henry Cavill), grows up he discovers that he was gifted with superhuman capabilities. Finding his place in the world proves difficult as he roams the planet to figure out what he is destined for. On his journey he finds that everything he holds dear to be threatened by a genocidal general from his home planet known as Zod (Michael Shannon) who lands on Earth in search for Kal-El/Clark. Clark must now become something more than just a man, but a hero of the people before General Zod destroys everything.

Revisiting the Past

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Upon my most recent viewing of this title, I did rediscover a few elements that I currently admire about the picture, but my overall negative opinion hasn’t changed. So in the spirit of positivity, I would like to start off my review with acknowledging the aspects I genuinely liked before touching on the downfalls that ruin the experience altogether. For anyone hoping this is a review to kiss Zack Snyder’s or Christopher Nolan’s ass, I’m sorry, but that’s not happening here.

Opening the film on the planet Krypton mere days away from its destruction while concurrently having its government being overthrown by General Zod is a sequence that is actually quite solid. Providing an appropriately fast paced introduction of significantly chaotic drama really works well for the action and even the story, providing an exciting jumping point which is bombastic yet still extremely easy to follow. There’s not much need for any sort of character development or copious amounts of dialog as the visual storytelling and quick moments of dread work wonderfully enough to carry us through these apocalyptic events. Russell Crowe and Michael Shannon perform fantastically in introducing badass new interpretations of their characters that are still reminiscent of what we’ve seen before, but are undoubtedly their own personal renditions. The action is epic and the visual effects bringing this world to life are about as perfect as one could get. Part of me wishes that these first twenty minutes were a short film instead, but I’m glad that it exists nonetheless.

The Look

If there is one fact that no one can deny, it’s that Zack Snyder has an eye for beautiful cinematography and implementing terrific looking visual effects. Man of Steel is undeniably a gorgeous looking picture with cinematography that balances classic film techniques with documentary influenced aesthetics. Both perfectly framing yet imperfectly framing its subject throughout, especially within the action beats, engrossing the viewer as though we’re actually there in the middle of these Gods battling. Outside of simply the cinematography basically always being at an A+, the special effects used through the majority of the runtime also look great. Most of the time anyways, there are one or two times where the effects aren’t exactly what I would call perfect, setting those minor moments aside this is still a visually striking film through and through.

Henry Cavill (Not Superman)

The man, not the soup.

The man, not the soup.

I want to make this nice and sparkling clear that I am praising Henry Cavill’s performance alone, not the writing that went into his character. In terms of strictly Cavill’s acting, the script only allows glimpses of a great new interpretation of Superman/Clark Kent. Sadly much of his screen time is spent exuding heavy amounts of exposition rather than any real character development, but it is still very apparent of how much heart and effort Cavill is injecting into this role when given the opportunity. Making fantastic little gestures within his delivery where we can see that iconic Superman charm and also moments of sheer sorrowful pain as the drama hits.

Truth be told, I couldn’t think of a better actor taking on the mantle after Christopher Reeve portrayed the same character flawlessly so many years ago. Without a doubt, I will say that I’m thoroughly glad Man of Steel was a financial hit solely to give Henry Cavill more chances to wear the cape. Plus, physically speaking, he is practically Superman come to life straight from the comics with an impressive as hell muscular physique. I certainly commend his commitment to embodying everything about Superman we all know and love.

Michael Shannon – General Zod

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General Zod, originally portrayed by Terence Stamp in the Richard Donner films, is possibly one of the most recognizable and iconic movie villains of all time. His stoic demeanor with flashes of a crazed madman are beyond captivating to watch. Much of that very same spirit is carried over effortlessly by Michael Shannon, yet with his own personal flare of intimidating screen presence. Again, setting aside the unfortunate excessive abundance of exposition bestowed onto the character’s dialog, Shannon does phenomenally encapsulating a man driven to the edge with only the one goal of protecting his people’s future; even incorporating methods going too far to accomplish his insane mission to rebuild Krypton by replacing Earth. There’s enough inspiration taken from Stamp’s version of simply wanting to rule a planet of slaves and adding a layer to the antagonist that is more empathetic despite his sociopathic morals.

One of the more effective scenes in the entire film is the arrival of Zod and his army on Earth when Zod projects a global message which is honestly quite haunting due to Shannon’s terrifying vocal performance and the creepy sound design built around the broadcast. In the end, we are still given that familiar tyrannical overlord of the classic Zod along with a new Zod who feels slightly more “human” in his motives to bring his dead planet back to life. Shannon even tries showing remorse for the character’s wrongful actions in his eyes which is a great touch as well. The ideas for this antagonist are definitely there with solid groundwork made by Shannon, but the actual development of Zod is lost because he is mostly a vessel for exposition rather than fleshing him out more as a character. A problem I’ll be delving more into later as the review continues.

This is basically the face that everyone in this movie makes as it turns them all into exposition robots.

This is basically the face that everyone in this movie makes as it turns them all into exposition robots.

The Music

Of course the score is good, it was composed by Hans Zimmer. The dude could fart on a mic and still come out with another musical masterpiece.

Positives Over

That’s it, the train of positivity is over, now time to get into why all of those constructive elements are completely deconstructed by the rest of the feature.

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The biggest issue I still find in the film after all these seven years is that there are no real characters to be seen anywhere here, only one-dimensional cardboard cutouts whose sole purpose is to spout out exposition and on-the-nose metaphors that a kindergartener could come up with while making a poopy. Any form of fleshing out these characters with personality or charisma or even flawed traits to round them out as three-dimensional individuals is totally scrapped in favor of forcing the actors to explain literally everything to the audience. It becomes so mind-numbingly tedious that by the end, I couldn’t tell you one tiny detail to describe a single person within the cast to differentiate them from the rest. Everyone eventually gets stuck speaking in a monotone voice while explaining everything under the sun that is going on in the narrative, backstories reduced down to pages worth of exposition, and themes not even remotely interwoven with any kind of subtlety as it is rather jammed into scenes as lazily as possible.

The actors are clearly doing their best to turn in solid performances, there’s just nothing to them though because the script won’t allow their characters to be developed. It’s as if Nolan and Goyer forgot the heart which made the dialog so impactful in their Dark Knight series and only focused on talking the audience’s ears off. We need characters we can understand and sympathize with, or are charmed by in some way, or at the very least invest us somehow into what is going on. That never happens here, they just talk endlessly to explain the plot while the viewers are stuck not giving a sh*t.

With a gun to my head, I struggle finding one defining personality trait about Superman… Ya know, our lead hero! Yet nothing comes to mind other than “he’s the good guy.” A far cry from knowing who this guy truly is, yet I don’t get a sense of who this man is in the slightest or what he actually stands for. How about Lois Lane? Surely our romantic interest should have some emotional presence in this narrative, right? Well, she starts off on a strong note with a funny line about measuring dicks, giving us an impression that she’s strong willed and spunky; not too drastically far off from the Lois Lane portrayed by Margot Kidder. Then she, like the rest of the cast, becomes an exposition bot with no human emotion whatsoever and we’re trapped in an empty void until the credits roll. I can see why Clark and Lois are so attracted to each other… both their personalities resemble a plank of wood.

We're so in love because the script says we are.

We're so in love because the script says we are.

The Story / Editing

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In terms of speaking strictly on the story department, this isn’t necessarily a bad story at all. There are good ideas here and the base of the screenplay does hold potential. It’s obvious that the intentions of this script were to bring that level of gritty, real-world tone of Nolan’s take on Batman over to Superman, with many similar story tactics borrowed as well; such as jumping back and forth in the timeline for journeying through our protagonist’s origin story. The biggest issue in the story though comes down to the editing. Once Kal-El literally crash lands on Earth, the editing also crashes. Going back and forth in our hero’s life with no real rhyme or reason, no paralleling of events or anything like that. It simply feels random with no flow going on through the scenes. We grind to a screeching halt from one sequence to the next.

I will be your less interesting Christian Bale of the movie!

I will be your less interesting Christian Bale of the movie!

Because the structure of the narrative is so jumbled and jarring, I can’t get a grasp of what is going on or why. We go from Kal-El/Clark crash landing on Earth as a baby to immediately 33 years later (without it saying so) with Clark all grown up saving a bunch of people on an oil rig exploding in the middle of the ocean, then back to him as a kid in class having a mental breakdown as he’s unable to control his senses, then back to him as a grown man hitchhiking, and back to him as a kid saving his school bus from drowning in a lake and his Earth daddy lecturing Clark about how he should have let those kids die, then back to present day when an patron in a bar is trying to start a fight with Clark only to see Clark leave and the patron later finding his truck utterly destroyed in the parking lot, then back to I guess Clark finding a space ship from his people mysteriously buried in the Arctic where Lois Lane so happens to also be investigating, and so on and so forth. Basically this is if Batman Begins lacked focus and it is wildly frustrating.

In theory, I do like the individual ideas presented in the screenplay and with more time dedicated to creating a solid through line to follow, these could have worked in a film together. As it is, they’re randomly inserted without any care or thought given. These aren’t bad ideas to have Clark being a lost soul in the world who stumbles in attempts finding his true calling as he grows up and discovering himself, I know these aren’t bad ideas because it worked with Christian Bale’s interpretation of Batman only eight years prior. Biggest difference being that Bale had a structurally sound script to work with while this man of steel doesn’t. The editing could have been more straightforward and all the better for it, instead the director chose to legitimately break the film for what I assume to be a misguided artistic choice.

Kevin Costner – Jonathan Kent

Son, I thought I told you to let all your fellow classmates die in a terrible bus accident... I'm so disappointed in you.

Son, I thought I told you to let all your fellow classmates die in a terrible bus accident... I'm so disappointed in you.

Kevin Costner is a great actor and I am in no way questioning his talents. His character of Jonathan Kent, on the other hand, is terrible. The writing of Jonathan seems to have the goal in mind to interpret him as being somewhat flawed when trying to give Clark advice, which is fine to change up the formula and not make the ‘old timer’ archetype too perfect. Except this ‘imperfect mentor’ doesn’t quite work when Jonathan starts telling his 13-year-old son to let a bus full of kids die. I don’t care how bad someone is at giving advice, no one with a brain cell is going to ever tell their child that they should just let innocent people die if he can prevent it. One can only imagine how much that would f*ck someone’s psyche up, let alone a 13-year-old boy’s.

Not only is Jonathan a bad mentor, his morals and ideals that he’s trying to instill into Clark are so convoluted I’m not even sure what he’s trying to teach him; “the world isn’t ready to know about Clark so he needs to stay hidden and let people die until one day he’ll become their savior? Because he’s not meant to save people right now, though possibly in his future, yet Jonathan wants him to grow up as a farmer?” It comes across as confused and needlessly mentally damaging towards our protagonist rather than a flawed father trying his best to raise his gifted son. Especially when Jonathan moronically sacrifices his own life when a tornado rampages through town, forcing his son to leave his mom a widow instead of accepting his son’s help because I guess it “wasn’t time to reveal his powers to the world just yet.” Therefore, his wife has to raise their son on her own because Jonathan’s dumbass pride was too big to let himself be saved by his superpowered son who will also obviously be forever traumatized by the event. Let’s count ourselves lucky that this detrimental event didn’t lead Clark down a path to becoming a homicidal maniac or depressively suicidal. This interpretation of Jonathan Kent sucks!

Superman (Not Henry Cavill)

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Here it is, that time to talk about the man of steel himself! I’m not going to sugarcoat this, Superman, in this movie, is possibly the worst superhero of all time. The amount of casualties and destruction caused by this man alone, not even by Zod or any of his crew, but the damage and death caused by Superman has to legitimately be in the hundreds of thousands range. Minimum! He practically singlehandedly destroys a small town with one of the first acts of “heroism” he commits on planet Earth by crashing Zod through a silo and a crowded gas station; both of which explode on impact. Then later on, Zod pushes a semi-truck that slowly progresses towards Superman in the middle of the street. Then Superman proceeds to, instead of stopping the truck from colliding with the building behind him, casually jumps over the truck which combusts and obliterates the structure he could have easily saved. So many people are dead because Superman would rather blow sh*t up than actually save anyone. By the time everything is said and done, a woman declares that Superman saved everyone as she stands in the center of a dusty wasteland that used to be Metropolis! He didn’t save jack sh*t, lady!!

Breaking Zod’s Neck

Why Superman didn't do this an hour earlier I'll never know.

Why Superman didn't do this an hour earlier I'll never know.

Maybe a spoiler warning was warranted here, but this movie is nearing eight years old at this point so… Yeah. Who cares. Superman snaps Zod’s neck. Why do I have a problem with this? Well, it’s not because I believe the Superman character should never kill or something like that. One of my favorite superhero interpretations of all time is Michael Keaton’s Batman and he murders a lot of criminals. A LOT. I have no problem if a hero typically known not to kill in their respective lore goes on a murder spree. No, that’s definitely not my problem at all. My problem is that apparently Superman could have done that the whole time, but waited to kill Zod the very last second after millions of people have already perished because of Zod’s actions… Why? Because a small, idiotic family couldn’t figure out how to run away from a slow moving lazer beam approaching?! Then immediately after killing Zod he seemingly grieves for his death? Supposedly this was to signify that Superman holds morals not to take a life, but that isn’t once set up or remotely mentioned in the two and a half hours we spent with this guy. Unlike The Dark Knight trilogy which explores practically every avenue of Batman to flesh out those morals in sparing lives. Turns out those themes are too difficult to be explored in over two hours’ worth of screen time for Supes.

Destruction Porn

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When describing the action of this picture, there’s only one term that comes to mind. Yes, you guessed it; destruction porn! Every frame of action seen here is a flimsy excuse to destroy anything and everything in our hero’s path. Not to say that it’s ever necessarily bad action, but it’s so overly excessive in the action that the insanity becomes laughable. I will say that the action is one of the few aspects of levity I get out of the entire flick, so for that I’m grateful. It’s just so silly how in love with carnage the director becomes in the third act especially.

Product Placement

Sears. Nokia. IHOP. Bud Light. Nikon. U-Haul. 7-Eleven. Dodge. Ford. Probably others that aren’t coming to mind who have sponsored your disappointing origin story here… Enjoy.

Overall

Man of Steel is the hollow shell with the fresh coat of paint I mentioned earlier. There are fantastic ideas, but no structure to rely on and no characters to emotionally invest in, there’s nothing to care about and no reason to try. The action goes above and beyond to deliver as much eye candy possible and the actors do their damn best to bring something out of the flat and soulless material. Henry Cavill is acting his heart out, unfortunately there’s no character depth for him to work with and Superman himself is about as bloodthirsty as Zod. Filmmaking wise, it is a good looking film with solid special effects. Put a cute bowtie atop an empty box, what do we have? Nothing.

If anyone is wondering about my personal feelings on some other DC films, then I will be leaving links down below. I hope you enjoy!

Favorite of the DCEU

That’s All Folks…

Man of Steel… Definitely not as solid as steel. What do you think though? Like or dislike? Agree or disagree? Ever debate merits of genocide with a ghost? Comment down below and let me know! Also, if you so happened to have enjoyed my review then please do me a favor and share this article around the social media world. Thank you all so much for reading and have yourselves a super day!

© 2020 John Plocar