As I mentioned on my Facebook fanbase page earlier last week, I was planning to review all of the live-action Superman movies, including the recently-released “Man of Steel”. Because of the mixed reception “Man of Steel” received so far, I saw it fit to address the public on my personal opinion of the movie. Therefore, instead of me going into lengthy detail on the previous Superman movies, I’ll simply talk about them in my intro to today’s post, and follow that up with my fair and balanced “Man of Steel” review.
With the exception of the feature-length animated films which were mostly, if not always, pretty decent in their own rights, the live-action Superman movies were always hit-and-miss, with more misses (3) than hits (2). 1978’s “Superman”, directed by Richard Donner, is still the definitive superhero origin story and is one of, if not the, greatest superhero movies ever conceived. It has a strong cast including Marlon (“The Godfather”) Brando (SIDE NOTE: I could never understand why the guy says “Kripten”. It’s “KRYPTON”, not Kripten. Sounds like the name of a fucking cereal! Jeez!), Gene Hackman, Margot Kidder and Christopher Reeve (who was literally born to play Clark Kent/Superman), a great script written by Mario Puzo (author of “The Godfather”) and a timeless musical score by John Williams (the iconic “Superman March” theme song alone gives me goosebumps every time I hear it). Its follow-up, “Superman II”, found the character of Superman in a perilous situation where, after sacrificing his Kryptonian powers for the opportunity to live a human life with his love interest Lois Lane, he’s forced to battle three Kryptonian criminals (General Zod, Ursa and Non) bent on conquering Earth. Yes, there was a greater emphasis on action sequences (made apparent in a ridiculously over-the-top, but VERY BAD-ASS, battle between Superman and the three Kryptonians), and it wasn’t as emotionally moving as its predecessor, but “Superman II” was, and still remains, a solid entry in the Superman movie franchise.
“Superman III”, directed by Richard Lester, abandoned the emotional beats and cinematic magic that the previous films provided, and, in a controversial and altogether bitch move, supplied slapstick humour. Yes folks, before “Batman Forever”, “Batman & Robin” and “Spider-Man 3”, “Superman III” was the first superhero movie sequel to add cheesy, unneeded comedy into its story. The talents of the late, great comedian/actor Richard Pryor (the inspiration behind nearly every African-American comedian/comic actor out there) is wasted as he plays the bumbling co-star to Christopher Reeve (though they only get less than five minutes of screen time together). The plot, involving an evil businessman and his quest to create a supercomputer to rule the world financially, is poorly-written and poorly-executed. There was an unexpected turn of events when Superman turns “evil” thanks to some manufactured Kryptonite, and it results in the film’s best scene where the “evil” Superman fights the “good” Clark Kent (Metaphysically? I’m still not sure) in a junkyard. But everything else is either corny (like when Superman freezes a lake with his ice breath, LIFTS the motherfucker and drops it onto a chemical plant engulfed in flames), eye-rollingly boring (like the moments where Clark tries to rekindle a friendship/romance with high-school sweetheart Lana Lang – played by a pretty-looking Annette O’ Toole who played Clark’s mother in the recent Superman
soap opera TV show “Smallville”) and facepalm-worthy (the most famous example being Pryor giving Superman a bro-shake! It’s in the trailer. You really don’t need to sit through 2 hours of this movie to see it).
In 1987, the Superman movie franchise fell with the force of a meteor the size of Texas (Yeeeeeah, that was an “Armageddon” reference. Don’t ask me how that got here!) and crash-landed into the nether regions of Earth, thanks to Sidney J. Furie’s (who?) infamous “Superman IV: The Quest for Peace”. Produced by Cannon Films (the company behind some of the 1980s’ most godawful action movies – a few of which starring Chuck Norris….hmmmmmm), “The Quest for Peace” takes Christopher Reeve’s seemingly interesting premise (yeah, he WROTE the story) of Superman acting as a world ambassador against the nuclear powers of America and Russia, and turns into a celluloid disaster where he fights a solar-powered Superman clone (made by a strand of Superman’s hair, which he DONATED to a museum, in case you give a shit) by the name of Nuclear Man. This movie, cinematic eye torture that it is, is insanely funny – unintentionally, that is. There are moments that defy logic, gravity and intelligence, like when Superman collects ALL the world’s nuclear missiles into a gigantic net and hurls it into the sun, the fake-looking sequences of Superman flying in the air (they use this particular image of Superman in flight about EIGHT times or so throughout the entire movie)….
…. the fight scenes between Superman and Nuclear Man where bits of green-screen encapsulates each combatant, a sleep-and-you-miss-it moment where Nuclear Man’s female prisoner/damsel in distress BREATHES in outer space, and of course, Superman pushing the moon with his bare hands to create a solar eclipse. Wow. The end was indeed nigh for Superman.
In the 1990s, he found new life in the fairly decent (but not that memorable) TV series “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman” and the EXCELLENT “Superman: The Animated Series”. In late 2001, the
soap opera TV show “Smallville” , which focused on the teenage years of Clark Kent before he became Superman, came out. But it was 2006 that saw Supes’ triumphant return to the big screen with director Bryan Singer’s “Superman Returns”. Starring Brandon Routh as Clark Kent/Superman, Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane and Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor, “Superman Returns” serves as a sequel after “Superman II”, completely ignoring “Superman III” and “Superman IV”. The movie touches on…well….Superman’s return to Earth after he left it for five years to search for distant remains of his home-world Krypton, which, as you should know, was destroyed in “Superman”. He tries to re-establish himself as a hero and saviour to the masses who’ve basically moved on with their lives following his “disappearance”. The problem with “Superman Returns” is that, like the “masses” in the movie, the world has moved on from the first two Superman films. The movie itself lacked the joy, humour and fun of the films that Bryan paid homage to, and tried desperately to keep itself afloat with pathetic attempts to tug at the viewer’s heartstrings (Superman in a coma at a HOSPITAL, guys? REALLY?!), a great abundance of peril as opposed to action (’cause it was 2006 – and audiences really wanted to see Superman kick ass, not see a bullet bounce off his fucking eyeball) and a continual “dumbing down” of Superman, making him come across like a mopey, depressed alien with a stalker complex (I swear: the scene where he gazes at Lois’ son while he’s sleeping is STRAIGHT-UP CREEPY, yo!).
In retrospect, “Superman Returns” wasn’t terrible, and I give credit to Bryan Singer for paying homage to the first two Superman films. I mean, he got Brandon Routh (who was aight as Superman) to look and act like Christopher Reeve. However, it was light years away from being the Superman film that modern audiences desired. Which leads us to director Zack Snyder and producer Christopher Nolan’s highly-anticipated and admittedly over-hyped “Man of Steel”. Is it the Superman film to end all Superman films, or is it just another futile effort to make the Man of Steel relevant in this generation? Time to find out!
“MAN OF STEEL” (2013) – Not to be confused with country singer Hank Williams Jr.’s 1983 album of the same name, “Man of Steel” reboots the Superman movie franchise and re-visits the origin story presented in the first film. While Krypton faces imminent destruction, scientist Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and his wife Lara (Ayelet Zurer) become the proud parents of a baby boy that they call Kal-El. When the vicious General Zod (Michael Shannon) stages a coup d’état against the ruling council to acquire a genetic codex that will preserve the Kryptonian race, Jor-El and Lara place Kal-El in a spaceship bound for Earth. Though it’s not shown in the film, but is already part of Superman’s lore, the spaceship crash-lands near a farm in Smallville, Kansas. Kal-El is discovered by Jonathan (Kevin Costner) and Martha Kent (Diane Lane) and they adopt him as their own child. During his adult years, Clark Kent (Kal-El’s new name given by his Earth parents) becomes a drifter of sorts, helping individuals, if need be, with his superhuman abilities while keeping them at bay. In the Arctic region, Clark discovers a Kryptonian scout ship, and a hologram of Jor-El (think of it like the hologram image of 2Pac at last year’s Coachella event in Los Angeles) inside, which informs him of his Kryptonian heritage and reveals to him the Superman suit – which….duh…. he puts on. Lois Lane (Amy Adams), a newspaper journalist from the city of Metropolis sent to investigate the ship, later stumbles onto Clark and realizes that he’s the mysterious “superhuman saviour” she’s been obsessing over. Shit gets real when General Zod and his army arrive on Earth, looking for the genetic codex which they believe Clark Kent has in his possession. They will stop at nothing to get it back – even if it means wiping out Metropolis and its populace. Now the last son of Krypton must reveal himself to the world, and subsequently save it from the forces of the maniacal General Zod.
Like I mentioned earlier, “Man of Steel” received mixed reception upon its release. Some reviewers fell over themselves to praise this movie, while others were underwhelmed by what the kind folks at Warner Bros., DC Entertainment and Syncopy Inc. offered to them on a silver platter. Because of the reception it received, I was forced to lower my “hype” levels (which were off the Richter scale since the Nokia trailer came out a few weeks ago) and approach the movie with medium expectations. And for the most part, I appreciated “Man of Steel” for what it tried to do. The story by David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan (who collaborated on the stories for Nolan’s critically-acclaimed Batman films i.e. “The Dark Knight Trilogy”) literally deconstructs that of the origin of Superman. The intention behind sending Kal-El to Earth is changed, General Zod has a goal now and doesn’t come across as a conqueror with delusions of grandeur like in “Superman II”, and the dual identity of Clark Kent and Superman is, at long last, presented in a plausible, non-cliched, manner. The special effects and visuals were SPECTACULAR, and the sound design was very impressive. On the subject of acting, Kevin Costner and Russell Crowe, the two father figures of Superman, are the best performers in the movie, with everyone else (even Henry Cavill who was quite good as Superman) gunning for second and third place.
I must admit there are flaws in “Man of Steel”. Keep in mind: I don’t intend to be bitchy and nit-pick every wrong thing about the film. That’s not what this blog is about. Besides, every fucking movie has flaws. Fortunately, there aren’t that many flaws in this movie, but there are enough to challenge your overall enjoyment of the movie. Firstly, the main problem I had with the film was the way the story and how it was told. I appreciated the idea of foregoing the traditional linear narrative and relying on flashbacks to fill in the gaps between the fall of Krypton to present day. But I felt that the pacing was off in a number of instances, and the editing certainly didn’t improve the situation. Also, there were little moments where you got to really understand the characters, more particularly Superman himself, and their motivations. They seem to be propelled forward into this story because they’re expected to. Clark must become Superman, Superman must save Lois, Superman must fight Zod and so forth because they’re expected to – since this is a Superman movie and all that shit. Second problem I had was the camerawork. I appreciated the idea of director Zack Snyder deviating from his visually stylized directorial style that he perfected in films like “300”, “Watchmen” (still the best superhero team movie ever made. UP YOURS, FANS OF “The Avengers”!!) and quite recently “Sucker Punch” (*cough* BULLSHIT! *cough*) and instead, opting for a pseudo-realistic, hand-held-like approach to the film. However, the lack of stability in the camera in certain scenes looks sloppy and unprofessional, and the unnecessary quick zooms into objects in the middle of the frame look and feel like a rip-off of director Joss Whedon’s similar, but better-executed, camera technique that he popularized in his CLASSIC TV show “Firefly”, its spin-off movie “Serenity” and, of course, last year’s “The Avengers”. Third problem was the over-scoring. Composer Hans Zimmer creates yet another PHENOMENAL musical score in his career with “Man of Steel”. Problem is, his music is used to an annoying degree in like 90% of the film’s 143-minute running time. In the emotional moments, there’s music. In the fast-paced moments, there’s music. Even in the quiet moments, there’s fucking music! No wonder the soundtrack album is so goddamned long! Finally, I felt that the heart and emotion in the movie were severely lacking, as compared to the first two Superman films. Don’t get me wrong! There are emotional, heartfelt moments, especially in the flashback scenes (and quite a number of them in this movie, I might add) involving Kevin Costner and Diane Lane. But they come too far and few between thanks to a large number of intense action sequences. I will admit these scenes were jaw-droppingly BAD-ASS and fun to watch on the big screen. The climatic fight scene between Superman and Zod alone (cartoonishly over-the-top as it was at times) is worth the admission price, and it was the one thing that audiences expected to see in “Superman Returns”, but instead got a mopey, depressed alien with a stalker complex. Now when I say emotion, I don’t mean another Superman hospital scene. What I’m referring to is emotional investment in the characters. For example, the action-packed section of the third act would’ve worked better (and stood out more) if the audience was aware of how Superman felt when he valiantly put his life on the line to save the citizens of Metropolis. Some may argue that it’s just a comic-book movie and you don’t need emotion in a comic-book movie. But even films like “Iron Man”, “The Dark Knight Trilogy” and “The Avengers” had characters that you connected with on an emotional level, and you were invested in their actions because of this connection. To me, I didn’t feel any emotional attachment to Superman and I couldn’t help but feel detached from his character as a whole.
Ultimately, “Man of Steel” is far from the best Superman movie ever made, but it’s also far from the worst. Apart from the over-abundance of action sequences and downplaying of emotion and actual substance, this movie does show promise of what the future of the Superman movie franchise holds. With a 2014 sequel and a possible “Justice League” live-action movie in the works, I expect to see more character development in this new Superman, and a greater emphasis on story rather than spectacle. Despite the flaws that I mentioned above, “Man of Steel” is still a worthy summer blockbuster/popcorn flick and will be one of the most talked-about and memorable films of the year. Personally, I have no problem watching this movie again. Maybe I’ll appreciate the movie a lot more after a second viewing. Who knows? I can safely say that “Man of Steel” won’t claim the Number 1 spot in my “Best Films of 2013” list – which is unfortunate since I was rooting for it to be the best movie of this year. However, I do think it will find a spot on my list – but not in the Top 5. But then again, that’s my point of view. My criticisms of the film shouldn’t stop you from seeing it (again – if you’re like me) so please check it out as soon as you can. And feel free to drop a comment or two on your thoughts on “Man of Steel”.
MY RATING – 3 1/2 out of 5 stars (“Worth a look”).