Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Man of Steel

It may seem odd to you, gentle reader, but I have never been a comic book fan. That being said, the only comics I ever owned were Superman comics. I've loved Superman as long as I can remember. I read the few comics I had over and over, watched George Reeves on TV, and spent most of my Saturday mornings glued to the TV. In fact if you ask me what the Superman theme music is, there's a 50/50 chance you'll hear me hum this tune:

What I loved about the old cartoons was there was none of this 'violence must never solve the problem' bullshit. If something, or someone was messing with Supes, they got a face full of invincible knuckles. Now that's not to say that I only dug that aspect of Superman. When Superman: The Movie came out in '78 I was so blown away by the charisma of Christopher Reeve, and the amazing (for the time) special effects that I did believe a man could fly, and there was relatively little in the way of fisticuffs by the Man of Steel in that film. I even enjoyed Reeve's second and third outings (yes, I enjoyed Superman 3, Richard Pryor and all). But then Superman 4 was a real let down and they stopped making Superman movies.

   When Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman premiered in '93 I watched, and I enjoyed, but it wasn't really what I wanted in a Superman series. Why I never watched any of the 'new' animated series I'm not sure. Maybe I just didn't know they were there. Oh, and I almost forgot The Superfriends. Well, maybe that should remain forgotten.

   Anyway, moving right along, 2006 brought the promise of a renewal of the Superman movies, but all it delivered was a wiry, emo Superman in low-rise stripper panties and yet another ludicrous Lex Luthor real estate caper. I gave up on ever seeing a decent Superman movie.

   Then, a couple of years ago, the buzz began that Zack Snyder was teaming up with Christopher Nolan to bring Supes back to the big screen. I held my breath. The production stills looked good. Henry Cavil looked buff and had muscles on his muscles, and I dared to hope. Well, today I saw Man of Steel, and I was not disappointed.

     ::::There be spoilers from here on:::::

   I went into the cinema with very mixed emotions. I wanted this movie to not suck, but I fully expected it to, and I was very relieved that it didn't. It rewrites the destruction of Krypton just a bit, so that the Kryptonian people themselves are responsible for the disaster that dooms their planet, but the basics are there. Jor-El, played with understated sincerity by Russel Crowe, warns the elders that the planet is about to go boom, but before they can tell Jor-El that he's full of it, General Zod, played with manic energy by Michael Shannon, stages a coup that sends Jor-El to steal an important artifact, secret it aboard Kal-El's ship, and launch the infant toward Earth. Then he dies, they die, everybody dies...well, except Zod who along with his army is banished to the Phantom Zone.

   Once on Earth we have the obligatory difficult childhood/adolescence stuff, but similar to Tim Burton's Batman we see it in flashbacks while more exciting stuff happens. Diane Lane and Kevin Costner turn in wonderful performances as Ma and Pa Kent, as do the kids who play Clark at various ages. And Cavil acquits himself admirably as the alien amongst us suddenly faced with the decision of whether or not to reveal himself to the people of Earth, or continue hiding behind a mask of normalcy. Of course he has the computer generated ghost of Jor-El guiding him at certain points, but Snyder and Nolan wisely worked things so that deus-ex-machina probably won't be around in future films.

   The other players were fine, too. I've already mentioned Zod, and Laurence Fishburne was an excellent choice for Perry White. No Jimmy Olson in this one, which is another mark in its favor in my book. The only real disappointment, and I think it was more in the writing than the performance, was Amy Adams as Lois Lane. I just didn't feel any force of personality from her. Yes she has lines that clearly show how she goes where she wants regardless of whether she was given permission or not, but maybe I'm just spoiled by Margot Kidder. She may make Sean Young look positively centered, but there's no denying that she made Lois Lane into far more than just a handy hostage or damsel in distress. Adams isn't bad as Lane, she just doesn't stand out that much.

   As for the story, all you really need to know is that Zod eventually finds his way to Earth, and the ensuing smack-down leaves Metropolis in ruins. I will say that the final battle between Superman and Zod gets a bit tedious, and they could have very easily taken five or more minutes out of it, but the effects are top-notch and breath-taking. You will have no doubt what a bunch of supermen and women trying to kill the crap out of each other will do to a city, and the ending is surprising. I won't spoil that, but I will say I'm very impressed that they went there, and with appropriate repercussions.

   The movie does suffer from being an origin story, so it seems to drag a bit at times, but overall it is a fast-paced thrill ride of a film that had yours truly totally enthralled. One warning, it is loud. I mean really loud. If you plan to take little ones to this, and they are sensitive to loud noises, do yourselves a favor and bring some earplugs. It is also long, two and a half hours, but it fills those hours well. I will warn you if you are expecting a fluffy, Christopher Reeve smirking and Gene Hackman hamming it up kind of movie you might not like Man of Steel. But if a more believable depiction of what a being like Kal-El might face in our current world appeals to you, not to mention city destroying Kryptonian vs Kryptonian action is what you want, then this is the Superman movie for you. I can't wait for the next one.

Up! Up! And Awaaaaaay!!!
(yeah, I'm glad he doesn't say that anymore, either)