Friday, February 7, 2014

Movie Review: Man of Steel (2013)

Man of Steel (2013) directed by Zack Snyder

Part of my on-going catch-up with last summer's films (i.e. Pacific Rim, World War Z, Much Ado About Nothing,  and Evil Dead).

I watched this movie with medium to low expectations. Critics weren't too impressed with it; only one person I know raved about it. It sure looked like another clunky Superman film. Many complained about the modern revision of Superman.

We've seen these characters before, but they are all given some different twists. Clark Kent/Superman is interesting in that there is no big contrast between the two. Clark spends the first half of the movie in hiding and not knowing about his Kryptonian origins. He's a drifter with no life of his own--he'll work a job until something happen that causes him to use his powers. Then he moves on so people won't know what powers he has. Even after he gets his background story and his suit, he has almost no"Clark Kent" life. The "mild mannered reporter" is set up at the end of the film, so maybe in the future they will explore that duality. For this movie, he's a bit of a lost soul who finds his place on Earth.

Lois Lane is a lot smarter than in previous movies, though she does fill in the "damsel in distress" role. Jonathan Kent is less noble than in previous stories--he tells Clark it might be okay to let people die rather than reveal his secret (right after Clark saves a bus full of his fellow school students!). You can see how this Clark winds up drifting without a true sense of purpose or identity. General Zod is less colorful and over-the-top than Superman II's Terence Stamp, though that degradation seems driven by the "Krypton as Plato's Republic" theme running through the film, which no one comments on.

Several characters talk about Krypton's fall. One component of it is the genetically-engineered population. Zod explains how he was made to be a soldier and that's what he's done all his life, so Superman can't possibly beat him in a fight. Superman's Kryptonian parents decide to have a child naturally so that he will be free to do what he wants rather than be put in a distinct class all his life. Plato's Republic has a similar scheme--children are taken from their parents and raised in one of three classes to serve the state. The movie criticizes this on the grounds of personal freedom, which is interesting if not fully satisfactory.

Another component is the exploitation of resources, including Krypton's planetary core, which provided power but becomes unstable and soon explodes. The Kryptonians had tried to colonize other planets by terraforming them but were unsuccessful. Terraforming the Earth is Zod's plan to continue the Kryptonian race, even if that means killing all the humans. Superman decides to stop it since "Krypton had its chance."

The movie does end with a big fight between Zod and Superman which goes on long enough for viewers to get the idea that they will never really hurt each other no matter how many buildings they plow through. And then it goes on longer. The very end of the fight is a bit contrived but at least it ends things in a sensible way. It's a common problem with superhero movies that they end with a big battle that is more numbing than exciting.

The ending of the movie also injects some much needed humor. This movie could have used a little more levity sprinkled throughout. Even so, Man of Steel surprised me with how good it was. Though it gives a more somber Superman (the bad side of the modern revision), it vastly exceeds Superman III and IV and the failed reboot Superman Returns in writing quality.

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