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Movie Review: Man of Steel

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Posted June 14, 2013 by Will O'Keeffe in 2013
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Overview

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Release Date: 14 June 2013
 

Pros:

Beautiful looking, well-acted, Superman becomes more of a contender in the great line-up of comic book contenders.
 

Cons:

Clunky, unnecessary plot strive for substance but leave the film open to far more questions than praise.
 

The last son of Krypton has an Earth-destructing challenge to handle on his first week in the job as Superman.

by Will O'Keeffe
Full Article

Hey, movie-makers. It’s us, fans. The Christoper Nolan Batman movies did well; we enjoyed them, we admit it. Batman Begins had its plot holes, The Dark Knight was a masterpiece, Rises was insignificant but all-in they were enjoyable and a standard to meet. An important lesson to learn is that complexity should be embraced in small doses. Say for instance with Man of Steel, the most recent attempt to release the Superman franchise from paralysis, you can attempt to draw us into a framing theme of identity and belonging, with Superman’s Kryptonian ancestry expanded by millenia and the complexities of evolution, but please don’t do this as the expense of sense and our enjoyment.

Not once, but twice during Man of Steel we need to break away from the story for shots of background story to be filled in, akin to Jessica Fletcher explaining the entirely illogical reason someone was murdered. When the plot points can’t be woven into a narrative, then maybe their value should be questioned. The complexity in Man of Steel comes courtesy of  heavy handed sci-fi. We are worlds away, literally, from Lex Luthor type plans to reclaim land, this Superman movie is brought to you by terraforming, black holes, and Russell Crowe’s consciousness. The other-wordliness of events is immediately in place as we open on Krypton, nigh on destruction and the seeds are planted for the story to come, including of course baby Kal-El being sent to Earth. The structure to follow thereafter means we quickly get to Michael Shannon as a menacing General Zod and a fierce crew that trace Superman to Earth and and wreak holy structural damage.

This is an origin story, again. That said, Man of Steel is set apart, in that the the story of young Clark is told through flashback at various intervals; he is a bullied, uncertain, and unhappy future super-hero with his adoptive-father (Kevin Costner) a constant cautioning voice. This is a break from the traditional role of the Kents as supporting rather than restraining and it sets the serious tone to the film, and ultimately the movie comes dangerously close to being joyless. The inevitable Batman Begins comparison can be inserted here; but at times the Batman origin story seems light-hearted in comparison.

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One light in Superman’s life, and indeed in our viewing experience is Amy Adams as Lois Lane. Yes, she does fall from a height on numerous occasions but she is otherwise the worldly journalist of the comics and the story of her interaction with Superman takes a smart turn that along with ending the long-joked about red underpants seems to be part of a concerted effort to develop credibility for Superman. And of course the great rehabilitation of Superman includes the man landing a punch, many punches indeed and pretty much launching his body at any obstacle in an attempt to answer the question of what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object. Metropolis gets smashed to bits is what happens. The city never gets so much as an establishing shot, in contrast to the Terrence Mallick wide shots of the always beautifully-lit Kent homestead or the magisterial Krypton. The city is a clean-cut skyscraper battle ground for the ‘insert meaningless sci-fi plot device here’ and the mother of all scraps to follow. This is not to say, the smashy-smashy approach doesn’t work, there is an all-out 45 minute battle to close out the film that is satisfyingly brutal but the constant pummeling of bodies through buildings get stale. Brandon Routh’s Superman was derided for it’s lack of action – despite the pristine look to this movie there is nothing here as epic or dramatically shot as the plane sequence in Superman Returns. Equally, the smash-bang approach is actually at odds with the themes of the movie: great questions of re-building a lost race are resolved in a Street Fighter style face-off. Though none of us are inexperienced in story going away come the end of a movie.
Henry Cavill has a huge stake in this movie; there is no greater kryptonite for an acting career than to have worn the Superman ‘S’. He is fine here, more than capable of carrying the role, though the character is oddly quiet. He is admonished and challenged by Zod; his actions set in sequence the events of the movie and he has been primed for a great challenge by his parents but it seems has little to say for himself. The combined efforts of Jor-El and Jonathan Kent have produced an insecure bunny. Equally the busy story going on often has him play a central character with a bit role: at one point Lois is at the heart of action with a key role to play; Zod is having his purpose challenged, but Superman is in the South Indian sea and well, has to smash something. He almost has the least interesting part to play. This is not the reintroduction to the character we need. The final scenes are odd and sit poorly with the climax to the great battle however they pleadingly set up events for a sequel and suggest that we might see a fuller treatment of the complexity of the character.

About the Author

Will O'Keeffe

Will is a mild-mannered civil servant by day, Superman (fan) by night.

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