Wal-Mart stores offered a special screening of “Man of Steel” to anyone able to purchase tickets the day before it saw general theater release. I’m very happy to say that I managed to score one of those tickets and, so, was sitting in a dark movie theater at 7 PM to watch the movie unspool with breathless anticipation. I’m still using the word unspool because that’s the terminology that I’m used to. There is a whole generation of kids out there who have no idea what a film projector is which is totally mind-boggling to me.
Previews of “Man of Steel” have been running for months now. When the first images were released of Henry Cavill wearing the redesigned suit, I actually got goosebumps. Of course, I grew up with Christopher Reeve as Superman. I kind of thought that he would be the be-all and end-all for the Superman look forever. Could anyone have looked more perfect for the part? On the other hand, I didn’t really consider myself a purist, either. I’ve dabbled without shame in other Supermen. I watched “Lois & Clark” almost religiously for the first couple of seasons. Occasionally, I could be found catching an episode or two of “Smallville”. Cartoon Supermen don’t count as disloyalty to the Superman to which you’ve become accustomed. Or, at least, I don’t believe that they do.
The trailers kept running and they offered the same glimpses of the same scenes. I’ll admit, I was starting to get a little bit of “Man of Steel” fatigue. Still, though, I wanted to see how Cavill was going to fill that suit. The comic book geek in me needed to know if he would meet my expectations. My inner starry-eyed little sprocket was hoping that he would.
“Man of Steel” is rated PG-13. That’s a pretty good thing to pay attention to if you’re thinking of taking this movie in with kids in tow. You may be pretty sure that you know exactly what Superman is all about and, to be fair, if you’ve read enough of the comics or watched enough of the movies, yeah, you’ve got a pretty good grasp of the basics. But you need to also keep in mind, this is Superman by way of Zack Snyder and Christopher Nolan. Remember “Watchmen” and the Dark Knight Trilogy? They’re darker superheroes for a darker age. They’re comic book movies that strip away all the glossy color print and leave you with the sooty, smudged newsprint.
Someone brought a toddler to the screening of “Man of Steel” that I saw. That child didn’t even make it a half an hour into the movie before he started crying loudly that he wanted to leave. Fortunately, the parents did take him outside. This is a Superman movie, but if you want to get your small children excited about the Man of Steel, then start them off with some of the friendlier cartoons from Fleischer studios. There’s going to be a lot less trauma involved, I promise, and you can get quite a few of them, especially if your kid decides to totally geek out over them for a very small price.
As for “Man of Steel”, it’s a great superhero movie. This is a Superman who’s asking who he is and how he fits into the world that he knows. Do I think you’re going to have a lot of people who can identify with that? Absolutely. This is a more accessible Superman. He’s the kind of guy that teenagers can understand. The movie really does play up that sense of alienation and loneliness that Superman experiences as he looks for answers. It’s an origin story and a really good reboot of the franchise. Sure, he’s still got all of the bells and whistles, his superpowers are fully operational, but he struggles to learn how to deal with them.
Russell Crowe plays Jor-El. It seems a little bit like he got a fantastic shot at an Obi-wan Kenobi sort of character and took it for all it was worth. There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, he seems both wise and resigned to a degree that is worthy of his part in the story. He carries a gravity about him that lends itself well to his story arc.
Diane Lane is Martha Kent. I did notice that there were a couple of times where she seemed confused about where she learned to talk, switching between Midwestern vowels and a Southern twang almost at random. It did jar me out of the movie experience a little, so I feel that it’s worth mentioning. She had some great scenes, especially towards the beginning of the movie where she gave Superman some pivotal advice.
Kevin Costner plays Jonathan Kent. He plays a very patient and loving dad, erring on the side of caution because he wants his son to be safe. There is a lot of reiteration that while Jonathan believes Clark is capable of great things, he also believes that there will be a time and a place when Clark can reveal himself to the world. Until then, it’s better for him to pretend that he’s an ordinary guy.
The Big Bad this go-round is General Zod, as played by Michael Shannon. I’m used to seeing Shannon play frenetic madmen hovering on a razor’s edge of sanity. He ends up shouting a lot in the movies that I’ve seen him in. Zod is a more nuanced performance. He’s still plenty insane, but it’s a much more controlled level of madness. There’s some effort to make Zod less of an evil for evil’s sake bad guy and more of a sympathetic character. That illumination of his personality is brief and dim, but it is at least there. Zod makes for a quintessential popcorn-flick bad guy and the movie is none the worse for wear for that.
Henry Cavill makes an amazing Superman. He gives him an air o f longing without making him seem like a sad whiner. He wears the suit with a dignity befitting the character. There’s also a good sense of that upstanding moral code the Kents instilled in Clark from an early age. He’s believable as a good guy who lies out of necessity rather than because he likes it. He’s both heroic and conflicted and it makes for a much more watchable superhero.
One of the things that I particularly liked about “Man of Steel” was how they portrayed Lois Lane. Amy Adams makes her a smart, fierce reporter who takes on challenges and goes with what she feels is right. Lois Lane is no damsel in distress. She’s investigating rumors of a strange object found encased in 20,000 year old ice and doing it without a single comment about the mistreatment she gets at the hand of the military personnel already on site. She tries to get herself out of trouble and doesn’t rely on Superman to bail her out, which is really nice to see in this kind of movie. Lois was just as likely to argue as any of her male counterparts and she didn’t act like she expected any kind of preferential treatment because she was female. Instead, she was brave and intelligent and strong.
Content-wise, the big watchword here is, naturally, violence. There are a lot of fights and explosions in this movie. There are scenes of bullying. Most of the fights actually involve hand-to-hand combat. There are gun fights and bombs, but there’s also a whole lot of hitting. I’m talking full-on punching here, not a few light slaps now and then.
Those fight scenes also get intense. They last for several minutes and, while there isn’t a lot of blood spatter or gore, there are some heavy blows traded. The collateral property damage that takes place in this movie is staggering. It’s no surprise that buildings get shattered like so many sheets of thin ice, but the sheer number of them that get decimated is highly impressive. There is a female Kryptonian soldier who proves that in this universe, at least, the women give as good as they get. “Man of Steel” is not full of violence without consequences, but there is a whole lot more fighting than there is turning the other cheek and walking away.
Any good Superman movie has to have those bigger themes about family, loyalty, and privacy in it. Clark Kent leads a double life and it’s difficult for him. He has to lie about who he is, where he’s from, and what jobs he’s had just to escape the rumors that follow him around. Ultimately, he has to face the choice about whether the secret of his identity is worth revealing and the price he’ll pay in doing so. Underlying that whole story is the question of what it means to be a good person and how much destiny and genetics actually contribute to who a person becomes.
I have to say that “Man of Steel” makes Superman a more human character. His problems are magnified by the challenge of who he is, but they’re, for the most part, the kinds of problems that most people can empathize with. He’s been updated and carried into relevancy with modern questions of privacy and self-identity more thoroughly in this adaptation.
Language-wise, it was pretty mild. There were a few little snippets of swearing, but it was actually milder than you’d hear on an average weekday at seven pm on major network primetime.
There was also a pretty noticeable absence of raciness. There wasn’t much dialogue that could be considered questionable. There were a couple of scenes to offer Clark some character development that did contain some inappropriate behavior towards a woman, but those forwarded the story and they were handled with at least a sense of tact.
Ultimately, I’d say that this is one to steer the younger kids away from, but the tweens and teenagers in your crew will probably really enjoy it. Keep in mind that while this isn’t a horror flick at its heart, the core story really is about an alien invasion and fighting to save the world. “Man of Steel” did make me a happy Geek. It’s a good summer action flick and a good comic book movie. Not only would I recommend it, I’m probably going to go see it again in the not so distant future.