CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: MAN OF STEEL (2013)|
By Michael Arruda
(THE SCENE: A diner. MICHAEL ARRUDA sits at the counter sipping coffee talking to a group of patrons about MAN OF STEEL.)
MICHAEL ARRUDA: Well, at least Russell Crowe doesn’t sing!
Normally I’d be meeting my Cinema Knife Fight partner L.L. Soares to co-review today’s movie with him, but he’s off winning himself a Stoker Award, so it looks like I’m doing this one solo.
If you folks would like to listen, I’ll review today’s movie, MAN OF STEEL (2013) right now.
(To WAITRESS) Everyone’s breakfast is on me. (The group utters a collective “thank you.”) Don’t mention it. I’ll put it on L.L.’s tab. (laughs.)
Anyway, MAN OF STEEL is the new reimagining of the Superman story by director Zach Snyder, screenwriter David S. Goyer, and producer Christopher Nolan, who also received story credit.
It begins where all Superman origin stories begin, on the planet Krypton. It’s a familiar story by now. Krypton is dying, and Jor-El (Russell Crowe) is trying to convince his elders that they need to save the planet. It’s a much more action-oriented opening than past Superman origin tales, as General Zod (Michael Shannon) leads a coup to take over the land, and Jor-El, while a scientist, seems to have gone to the “kick-ass” school of science, as he’s quite adept at kicking butt when he needs to.
You already know what happens, as Jor-El and his wife send their infant son Kal-El to Earth before Krypton is destroyed, while Zod and his followers are arrested and sentenced to prison in deep space, thus sparing them from Krypton’s destruction.
The next time we see Kal-El, he’s already an adult, going by his Earth name Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) having been found and adopted as an infant by Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner) and Martha Kent (Diane Lane). Fortunately, the story jumps around and we learn about Clark’s childhood via flashback, and so we’re spared the time it would normally take to explain the traditional back story, which again, unless you’ve been living under a rock, you already know.
But even with the creative spin put on the story this time around, there’s still no getting past the fact that the Superman tale has been told many many times, in the comics, in the movies, on TV, and even in cartoons. Can’t we just throw Superman into a new adventure and skip the back story?
I recognize that in this case, the whole idea was to reimagine the story, to reboot the whole thing, and screenwriter David S. Goyer does deserve credit for telling this tale from a totally new perspective, but the bottom line is it’s not enough to overcome the fact that MAN OF STEEL has little or no depth when it comes to its characters and its plot.
There were parts of the screenplay that I really enjoyed. Lois Lane (Amy Adams), for example, meets Clark before he even thinks about joining the Daily Planet. She also learns right away that he possesses superhuman powers. I also liked how the story utilized flashback. But one drawback to this style is the film never really establishes a sense of place. We never get a feel for life on the Kent farm, which is fine by me, but we also never get a feel for life in Metropolis, which is less fine by me. The story hops around all over the place, and it plays like a video game landscape.
Moving on to the characters, I enjoyed the General Zod character up to a point. The story makes it clear what his mission is. Right or wrong, he’s all about saving Krypton, and if it means destroying the human population of earth in the process, then so be it. I also really enjoyed Michael Shannon in the role. He makes a very cold General Zod.
(GENERAL ZOD approaches the counter)
ZOD: Glad to hear I was so enjoyable.
MA: But on the flip side, Shannon’s Zod is no fun. Compared to Terence Stamp’s portrayal of Zod in SUPERMAN II (1980), Shannon’s Zod is a bore with no personality. This is a problem the film has as well. It’s got no personality. There’s no joy to it. It’s soulless.
Russell Crowe as Jor-El.
ZOD: That I’m not glad to hear. I shall have to destroy you now.
MA: Can you at least wait until after the review? I really would like to finish this. If you stay and listen, you might hear some more good things said about you.
ZOD: Really? Okay.
MA: Where was I? Oh, yes. MAN OF STEEL has no camp, little humor, and ultimately it’s no fun.
ZOD: I don’t know how to take that. Is that good or bad?
MA: Well, if you’re evil, that’s probably good.
MA: I know they were going for a darker film, but this style worked better in THE DARK KNIGHT movies because Batman tends to be a darker character than Superman.
Russell Crowe fares very well as Jor-El. In fact, in his brief screen time, he was one of my favorite characters in the movie. He’s a much more active Jor-El than Marlon Brando was in the first Christopher Reeve SUPERMAN film (1978). It’s actually a superb performance by Crowe, who in a role like this, could have easily mailed it in, but he didn’t.
Superman meets Lois Lane….again!
I’ve become a huge Amy Adams fan of late, and I really enjoyed her here as Lois Lane. She’s strong, smart, and feisty, not to mention sexy, but one drawback is I didn’t think she and Henry Cavill shared much chemistry as Lois and Clark.
And that’s because Henry Cavill doesn’t generate much chemistry at all in this one.
ZOD: He’s a wuss.
MA: Quiet. I’m reviewing the movie, not you.
ZOD: How dare you hush Zod!
MA: He’s not the most engaging Superman ever to grace the screen. Yet, I have to believe, judging by the way this movie plays out, that he portrays Superman here exactly the way he was supposed to. But there’s something lacking. He doesn’t have much of a personality. He’s not the goodie-goodie Christopher Reeve Superman, but don’t expect a dark brooding superhero either. He’s not Christian Bale in a red cape. And that certainly is a problem. One of the strengths, for example, of the recent Marvel superhero movies is their superheroes are so full of personality. Cavill’s Superman is kinda boring.
ZOD: Zod is much more interesting.
MA: Kevin Costner enjoys some fine moments in his brief stint as Jonathan Kent, and Diane Lane is also memorable as Martha Kent. Laurence Fishburne makes for a less cranky Perry White, but the rest of the new characters, military types and scientists, are all largely forgettable.
The biggest problem I had with MAN OF STEEL is it suffers from the video game syndrome—it has that look of a video-game turned into a movie, and it contains long drawn out battle scenes that bored me to tears. For all its creativity with its story, MAN OF STEEL lacks grandness and cinematic vision. There’s no sweeping cinema here. It’s just CGI effects, and none of them stand out.
ZOD: I like long drawn out battle scenes! I could watch them all day!
MA: Well, I can’t.
The reaction I had to MAN OF STEEL was similar to the reaction I had with STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS (2013). I liked it, but I didn’t love it. There’s just so much going on in both films, you just want things to slow down a bit so you can get to know the characters more. Once the audience gets to know the characters in a movie, and if they like these characters, then they’ll follow them anywhere. But we have to get to know them first.
Give the characters some depth, and then we will enjoy the action.
Director Zach Snyder inundates us with special effects, none of which really wowed me. I wish he had spent more time on characterizations and plot.
I don’t really feel as if I knew Superman in this movie. He’s upset at a young age that he’s different, and later as an adult he goes off in search of his heritage. Once he learns the truth about his past, he goes off to fulfill his destiny. Along the way, does he like Lois Lane? Obviously, the answer is yes, but you wouldn’t know it from this movie. More effort should have been made to define this new Superman, because right now, he’s not all that exciting.
WOMAN: But he’s so hot!
MA: Okay, I’ll give you that. But I think Amy Adams is hot, too, but sex appeal isn’t enough to make a successful movie.
WOMAN: I think it is!
MA: Well, I’m sure you’re not alone in that opinion. But I need more.
One thing I don’t need, however, is more 3D. I didn’t see MAN OF STEEL in 3D, as I’m sick and tired of shelling out the extra money.
MAN OF STEEL is not as good as THE DARK KNIGHT (2008), THE AVENGERS (2012), or IRON MAN (2008), nor is it up to par with SUPERMAN (1978) with Christopher Reeve.
I wasn’t a big fan of the previous Superman movie, SUPERMAN RETURNS (2006), and I’m not a big fan of this new one.
MAN OF STEEL is ultimately about trust. Can Superman earn the trust of the world, or specifically in this movie, of the American government? It’s also about General Zod attacking Earth so he can conquer the planet and reestablish the Kryptonian race. Neither one of these two plot points did much for me.
Michael Shannon as General Zod!
I think Superman is a hard sell nowadays anyway because, one, his story is so familiar, and two, he’s so powerful it’s difficult to write interesting stories about him. If you really wanted to make Superman darker, he should have gotten involved in some predicament that troubled his conscience or something. About the only thing troubling Superman in MAN OF STEEL is whether or not the U.S. military thinks he’s good guy or not.
I wasn’t impressed.
I give it two and a half knives.
ZOD: Are you done?
ZOD: Then it’s time for me to destroy you.
MA: Wouldn’t you rather ask one of these fine young ladies out on a date?
ZOD: Huh? Do you really think they’d go out with me?
MA: You’re Zod! A great general! Of course they’d go out with you!
ZOD (blushing): Well, in that case—. (Turns to women next to him)
MA: Okay, while Zod is busy with his new dating reality show, I’ll slip out the back door so I can be around to review next week’s movie.
Thanks for joining me, everybody!
ZOD (to WOMAN): Did anyone ever tell you you’re the most beautiful woman to ever belong to an inferior race? (She rolls her eyes and turns away) What? Was it something I said?
© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda
Michael Arruda gives MAN OF STEEL ~ two and a half knives!