I have a problem with movie remakes and reboots these days, in that I was but a wee lad when the originals came out and I’m viewing things through the rose-tinted awesomegoggles that comes standard with being that age. There are things labeled as “awesome” and “the definitive one” in my mind that really ought not to be. Accordingly, if you say “James Bond”, Roger Moore instantly comes to mind. Adult me knows several others have been better. (Adult me is confused as to how Remington Steele didn’t turn out to be the best Bond ever, but that’s another story.) Superman movies fall squarely in this realm for me.
I know full well that each and every Superman movie starring Christopher Reeve is intensely cheesy. As a kid, the cheese was not even remotely detected. A dude who could fly who had heat vision was detected. It certainly didn’t help that this was the incredibly-overpowered Silver Age Superman. Little me couldn’t figure out why flying superfast to make the Earth turn the other way made time go backwards. Despite that, if I see any of the old Superman movies on, I’ll sit and watch. Even Superman IV: The Quest For Retractable Nucular-Nails.
Superman Returns was such a weird move to bring the Big Red Cheese back to the big screen. I remember everyone being so confused with Routh and Spacey trying their damnedest to be Reeve and Hackman, except the movie itself is more modern and less cheesy, and holy crap there’s a superkid? and Lex Luthor is actually trying to break a piece of California off via sheer cognitive dissonance. It was like they were shooting for being a fresh movie with a healthy side of homage and wound up being a high-budget issue of Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane.
I am happy to say Zack Snyder has has finally brought a modern Superman movie to the big screen with Man of Steel. Only took you 75 years, guys.
It’s modern, but is it good?
Henry Cavill worked out far better for the leading role than I ever could have imagined. I remembered him from The Tudors, and I just wasn’t seeing it. Part of it was that he wasn’t comic-book-level ripped back then. Seriously, it’s like his parents were a male underwear model and a she-bear forced to do bicep curls every day for ten years. Dude wears a supersuit like nobody before. The prerequisite cleft chin and steely blue eyes are present. He very much looks the part, and he acts the part too — both of them. Cavill’s Superman is very softspoken until the superpoop hits the fan, and then the straining and the yelling and the emotion come out. It’s a little over the top, but considering the show is about a guy who flies around wearing a red cape, it’s still pretty normal. Clark Kent comes off as a guy who really just wants to fit in, is afraid of his destiny, and is trying desperately to find his way and it works wonderfully. (Which is a good thing, because that’s about 75% of the movie.)
Amy Adams was a great choice for Lois Lane. Lois has embodied so many horrible ideas about women and their role in society over the years that I was really glad to see they didn’t go completely Business Vamp Barbie like she is in the comics these days. The attraction for Supes is certainly there, but there’s no romantic flying in her nightgown and forget-kisses like before. She’s portrayed as a real and very competent person trying to do her job and winding up way over her head. It’s great to have Lois be a part of the plot as something besides “love interest” and “in need of rescue”.
I liked Michael Shannon as General Zod. He fit well in the movie and when he’d get angry the little monkey in my brain had to make a will save. They definitely needed to leave him in the armor the whole movie, though. The guy was certainly fit, but he was squaring off against a guy whose bicep was the size of a Ford Pinto. Kid-me kind of ruined this one for me, though. Nobody feels like Zod to me except Terence Stamp. So I just sort of renamed him internally. To, well, Teneral Tod. I just have to make sure not to say that when I talk to people about the movie.
The rest of the casting was quite good. Seeing Kevin Costner as Pa Kent was a little strange, but anything after John Schneider felt positively normal. I never expected Laurence Fishburne as Perry White, but it worked. I kept expecting Ma Kent to turn around and to see Sally Field as Aunt May. Stupid salt-and-pepper hair. There were times when I kept thinking of Russell Crowe’s Jor-El as the Doctor from Voyager. That was a little weird.
If you were coming for the special effects, you’re definitely in the right place. It takes a lot for the visual effects in a movie to impress me, and I sat there utterly slack-jawed during some of the city battles. It was the best portrayal of super-speed combat I’ve ever seen, and the resulting destruction made me flinch a couple times. There were a few other neat things, including the Kryptonian magnetic displays. I didn’t truly feel sorry for them as a people until I realized their videogames would suck in only one color. I’d definitely recommend seeing this one in the theatre. I didn’t see it in 3D, but the 2D was enough to nearly require a change of pants.
I was surprised to see the plot held up pretty well and there was very little cheese. The story about Krypton’s fall leading to the battle on Earth was interesting and fleshed out Zod’s character and the reasons everything was happening. Clark’s struggle to find himself was believable, as was Kevin Costner’s ability to look like a farmer. The only place things got a little weird was at the end, when things started to coalesce into the Superman scenario we’re all familiar with where Clark works at the Daily Planet to keep his secret identity. They’d just spent the entire movie showing how the cat was already out of the bag for anybody willing to look long enough, and here Clark is using his real name at his new job. Maybe the next movie will be about identity theft. Regardless, if that’s my biggest complaint, I’m pretty happy. There was also the matter of Superman’s origin story being sort of like Batman’s but involving a tornado and some very poor decisions, but I guess that worked too. It did feel on occasion that the amount of backstory early on and the amount of action later didn’t leave much room for drama in the present. I think the movie might have been better had they done this, but at nearly 2 1/2 hours run time, I suspect it existed at one point and was cut. Here’s hoping it shows up on DVD.
Honestly, my biggest complaint was with the music. I’ve been playing John Williams’ Superman Theme from the old movies for my son and he’s barely even interested in Superman and it makes us both fly around the house making whooshing noises. I think Hans Zimmer’s score would have been just fine in any other movie franchise, but Superman deserves something that makes you want to stand with your chest out and elbows pointed to the side. I remember endlessly humming that music as a kid during countless backyard super-adventures. For me, a movie could be really good, but it never locks in my memory forever without a great theme.
I’d heard a few reviews say Man of Steel was “good, but not great”. I’m probably going to throw my hat into this ring as well, but it’s really good. I’m happy that I didn’t have much to complain about, but the pacing was a little weird and I would have liked a little more emotional tension between the characters (even at the expense of a few buildings staying upright). And no iconic music. ARRRGH.
All that said, I’m comfortable saying this is probably the best big-budget Superman movie in existence. Unfortunately, I’m worried it may well be the best one for the forseeable future. Warner Bros. is seeing dollar signs after Marvel’s massive success with Iron Man and The Avengers, and they have reportedly fast-tracked the sequel for 2014 – and a Justice League movie (both with Cavill as Superman) for 2015. Insane timeframe aside, I seem to recall WB closing up shop on their Batman franchise just last year, and I’ll be impressed if each member of the JLA gets their own movie and it’s not unbelievably crappy. This is something that needs time to do right. I hope they do it, but I’d bet money what we get next is Jack Black in a Mxyzptlk costume and Superman having to disguise himself as an old lady to infiltrate a sorority house.
For now, I’m pretty happy. I’m just not super happy.