Man of Steel: A DVD worth renting ... (oh, and the best of the Superman movies)

Man of Steel: A DVD worth renting ... (oh, and the best of the Superman movies)

I don't care about Superman. I've always thought he was a sort of boring and unfair character. He can shoot heat lasers from his eyes. He can blow freeze-breath. He can fly. He's bulletproof. He's fireproof. He can lift/bend/break anything. He probably poops magical acorns that eventually grow into Krackens.


It's unfair for anything to fight him. Because he's Superfreakingman. So hearing about a new Superman movie made me go, "...ehhh." But then I heard Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight trilogy) was producing it. And that Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen) was directing it. OK. That intrigued me.

Saw the first trailers. Less intrigued.

Saw the last couple trailers. OK, very excited.

Then people saw it before me and I heard a muttering of responses such as "it's disappointing" and "it's freaking terrible." Crap. So then I saw it. And holycrapIactuallycareaboutaSupermanmovie. (Translation: It's awesome. And it made me forget completely about the awful taste left in my mouth by Superman Returns.)

This film, which came out on DVD on Nov. 12, acts mostly just as a reboot, but doesn't really bother with focusing on an origin story for Supes (Henry Cavill). We see his birth and the ramifications of such, as well as the current rapid state of decline on his home planet Krypton. Jor-El (Russell Crowe) shoots his newborn spawn Kal-El off to Earth before General Zod (an insanely devilish Michael Shannon) can capture him, just before the planet is destroyed. From there, we get intermittent flashbacks of Supes as Clark Kent as he encounters situations calling upon him to use his powers. He saves a bus full of kids, saves some more people in varying states of peril, resists getting into fights (since he'd obliterate anyone with a single punch),and the like. This is all shown interspersed with present day as he eventually discovers who he really is, where he's from and ultimately dons the famous cape for superbattle. It's an interesting narrative structure, one which I've heard some stout attacking of, but one that I personally found quite engaging.

What grounds all the flashback stuff is Clark's relationship with Humandad, Jonathan (Pa) Kent, played with an earnest sincerity by Kevin Costner, who reminds us exactly why he needs to be in more films all of the time, always. Upon his dad revealing to him the spaceship on which he arrived and explaining how he's special (read: not human), Clark asks his dad, "Can't I just keep pretending I'm your son?" To which Jonathan tightly hugs his boy while fighting back tears and utters, "You are my son." Little moments like that inject a warmth and humanity into the cinematic mythos here that is greatly needed.

Sure, the original Superman had elements of this, but Man of Steel just works better for me. Also: Diane Lane is excellent as Clark's Humanmom. Like, break-your-heart excellent. Grounding things on the other end is Superdad Kal-El. Crowe brings a pragmatic, yet emotional gravity to the destiny of his son that works hand-in-hand with the family Kent moments. These dual father figure entities help shape Superman on screen in a relatable way.

Cavill was born to play Superman. The dude is perfect in the role. He has the look, the mannerisms and is just excellent. As for Michael Shannon, it was glorious to see him as a true villain. Few things are more rewarding in cinema than seeing that man simply chew the crap out of scenery. He makes Zod something of a revelation and a true menacing force.

Do NOT mess with Zod before he has had his Fruit Loops in the morning.

Do NOT mess with Zod before he has had his Fruit Loops in the morning.

The cinematography is grand. It's been criticized as bad, too shaky and out-of-control. I disagree. There's a lot of handheld photography at play here, but it works to bring a sort of unrestrained documentary-like quality to the film that adds a certain level of immediacy and grit. And despite the freneticism, what's in frame is controlled and polished.

One of the chief complaints is the massive loss of life on display in the film, particularly in the crescendo-building second half. A town gets LEVELED. A city gets DEMOLISHED. Zod comes to Earth with his little Kryptonian army, and the fights that erupt with Superman are epic. They pummel each other at blistering speeds, tossing each other through buildings, which get cut in half and topple over, destroying everything around them like dominos. Everything around them becomes collateral damage, eviscerated in behemoth-like explosions of fire, metal and glass, which rain down without discretion. Essentially, we see massive destruction which results in no doubt, innumerable deaths.

Here's the thing: I don't get the complaint. Don't misunderstand me – I'm not saying it's OK, or no big deal. At all. And I get that Superman SAVES people, he doesn't let them get hurt (yay hero! et al). But we have a fresh Superman, still learning his true powers. And we have a villain whose plan is going to essentially DESTROY THE ENTIRE PLANET. And we have beings who are essentially gods battling each other with immeasurable powers amidst human society, which is frail by comparison. So ... things are going to break. And stuff gets broken. Bad. Seriously. I can't describe enough the amount of chaos and catstrophe on display in this film. But the action is tense, lavish, and viscerally executed. Some of the best action I've seen in a film in awhile. But again, aside from the "yeah, but it LOOKS cool" argument (and ohhhhh does it ever), I felt it made sense within the spectrum of the story. Still – a caution to parents wanting their kids to see this: It's hyperviolent and does get very dark.

Which brings me to Snyder's direction. I've been a longtime proponent of the guy. I think he films action in a very unique way and his cinematography is just so damn gorgeous. He's restrained himself a bit this time out, not utilizing such gimmicks as his trademarked speed ramping (which I would've actually liked to see on display here). But he's focused his sights on making his action almost Grand Guignol-level tapestries of mayhem. Basically , he directed the crap out of this thing visually. And for the most part, I felt the film was paced quite well. It's a breezy two-and-a-half hours, which is no easy feat.

My main criticisms lie with the script. There are lots of holes and awkward motivations, a lot of which I can't fully get into without treading too far into spoiler territory. There are a lot of characters that are unnecessary, yet they're given awkward amounts of focus. There are several emotional moments, interesting character bits and story elements that are touched on, but breezed over. I would've liked them to delve more into Clark's individual character. They set up Superman alright, but we don't fully develop him as a sympathetic character or inject him with enough humanity (yeah, I know he's an alien, but ... still). And despite a solid performance from Amy Adams (who is always excellent), Lois is too clichéd and disregarded in this film for me to at all realistically believe there's a love story between her and Clark/Superman. And I could've used far more developing of Zod. We're told a lot, but shown very little.

Overall, I have to admit that the good far outweighs the bad here. I've heard some people outright hating on this film. I don't get it. I've heard some people proclaim this as literally one of the worst movies they've ever seen. That's just ridiculous.

While several marks are missed here, I easily proclaim Man of Steel as the best Superman film yet. I was genuinely excited after this film to see where they go next. They've set up some great things in this first film that open the doors to an exciting sequel in the franchise, where Snyder could explore all sorts of new and wonderful facets of the character and his mythos. But now they've announced the sequel will have Batman in it. To which the geek in me is freaking out over, because it's awesome.

Not the Batman who will be included in the next movie.

Not the Batman who will be included in the next movie.

But it's far too soon of a move. They needed more time to develop this franchise as its own before crossing the streams. But we shall see. The point is Man of Steel is very good and absolutely worth checking out. More than once. Solid 2013 summer fare that's now available for you to revel in from the comfort of your home.

My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Jakob Bilinski is a writer at Going for Gusto. Please like or share this post if you enjoyed it.

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