Friday, June 14, 2013

Film Review: Man of Steel (2013)

Feeling a little more awake and alert after my tumble with Godzilla, I thought I'd give the review a go. Already, though, I can feel the weariness eating into me, making my eyes grow heavier with each passing second. I'll try to fight through it, because I'm afraid that if I sleep on this one I'll lose some of it during the night. If you'll kindly bear with me, we'll let the praise commence!

I understand that a lot of die hard Superman fans might not be particularly thrilled with this film's leniency to the source material, but you kind of have to accept it as part of what the Nolanverse is doing here. I mean, they made Barbara Gordon the wife of Jim Gordon in the Dark Knight trilogy, and I don't think Bane was Hispanic, either. So Jimmy Olsen's been switched out for his sister Jenny, a character I didn't even know was an Olsen until doing some reading tonight and simply regarded as "Just another kid at the Daily Planet", and whose character I actually enjoyed. Perry White's now a Black man, and I can understand the frustration here. If Blade, or Hancock, or Tekken's Raven were suddenly made White it just wouldn't feel right to me, being so familiar with the characters as they are and all that. However, while this might not be the perfect adaptation of Perry for the avid comic book fan, the character, despite his pathetic amount of screen time, is very powerfully portrayed, and you get a real good sense for the kind of strong and honest man that he is. And I genuinely feel that this character could not have performed to the demands of this script without the talents of Laurence Fishburne.

Controversial gender-bending and race-shifting aside, the film is pretty damn close to being the perfect movie. The acting is all top notch (although there was one bit where Faora's actress, Antje Traue, lapsed into a terribly fake and over-acted expression of agony, which was more painful for me than it was for the character), and the effects are superb. The world constructed here, while very different from a Superman-styled world, feels very solid and real. Despite my dislike for the heavier, armored-looking costumes DC is so fond of, I know that the majority of the scenes in this movie wouldn't have had the same weight behind them had Henry Cavill been clad in spandex.

This really is a different way to go about the Superman mythos, and the movie really goes out of its way to make the Kryptonians and their technology feel alien. You can tell at a glance that there's something off about them, they do not belong on Earth, and that's a good thing. Typically Kryptonians and their devices are indistinguishable from Earth concepts, and that's done a good job of masking the fact that Superman is an alien, which is actually a pretty bad thing. The drastic contrast between the Kryptonians and the people of Earth has never been so apparent, and while I typically hate how powerful the Superman character is, this movie achieves what most writers and artists have been unable to with the character: it gives you a true appreciation for the gravity of this situation. Until you've seen Kal-El accidentally level half a city while trying to dispose of a much greater threat, you can't truly appreciate any of it. Sure, there's Superman and Zod pounding away at each other, but there's this almost horror-movie-like element of fear throughout the whole ordeal: "I am not watching two men pummel each other to death; I am watching two gods bring destruction to Heaven and Hell."

That gripping fear does bring its own drama, although this is greatly helped by finally giving us an enemy that Superman can punch. You get it from the human side (mainly because you are most likely a human) of: "Does it matter who wins? I am a speck to both of these men, and I am helpless to resist them." You get the threat of: "If Zod defeats Superman, all hope is lost." You get the feeling: "Superman might win, but at what cost to the planet? At this rate, there won't be any humans left to protect."

Not only do you get all of that fear, but you then get backhanded with the stress put on Kal-El. "If I can't win, everybody will die. If I can't win, my whole life will have been for nothing." Not only that, but you do truly get a sense for how outclassed Kal-El is when fighting Zod and his generals, who have been trained and conditioned since birth to be masters of combat. Kal's just a guy who grew up tossing hay, and the only thing going for him is that he has a better handle on the abilities granted to Kryptonian's by the yellow sun radiation, but is that going to be enough for him to stop Zod? If the General gets a handle of his powers soon enough, Superman has absolutely no hope in ever beating him.

This film seriously hits home on a lot of levels. It's not a feel-good movie like the other Superman attempts have been, but a movie that takes pleasure in kicking your feels in the groin again, and again, and again, and stringing you along with just a faint bit of hope so you keep on suffering and don't simply roll over and die.

--Side tangent: Zod looks like Black Adam when he strips away his armor, which was kind of cool because it was like seeing an additional character on the big screen. Made me wonder how a Captain Marvel movie would turn out in this universe.--

Everything that can be done with Superman on an emotional level is done (well, not everything. Get to that in a minute). We feel his anguish and his pain, and we feel that of his mother and his father (both sets of them). The climactic confrontation literally brought me to tears with the sheer and utter torment Superman had to fight through to protect us, who are no more important to him than a small colony of ants.

To be totally blunt: this movie was incredible. The action sequences were all outstanding, breathtaking, and often clever. I honestly can't imagine how they could possibly make a sequel to this. The Justice League movie is already going to be trivial by comparison, and trying to include Lex Luthor in any further films simply will not do. Lex cannot follow this act. The only possible storyline I can think of that will hit our hearts in a few new directions would be the Death of Superman storyline, and we've seen that adapted so many times that I don't feel like it's really up to the task of being something this epic (and I don't mean that in the newish douche way, I mean that in the classical epic tale way. Any sequel to this film will not be an epic, while this one most definitely is).

The one other thing a sequel could do is develop Lois Lane a lot more, because this film kind of didn't. A lot of her actions are... illogical, and her development is too rushed. I really felt like she was just the girl to be kissed for this movie, and not the tough-as-nails reporter that she was meant to be. However, looking at this solely as a potential series, developing her character further in potential future films could help to rectify this minor situation, so I'll hold final judgment for the next couple years until we get some new DC action going on.

Final verdict: like the Dark Knight trilogy, Man of Steel doesn't have the superhero vibe of past attempts  or of Marvel's recent line of films. Instead it tries to transcend from pulp icon to epic hero's tale, which it accomplishes masterfully. The exposition is not completely straight forward and it is broken up with bouts of intense action which will leave you wishing that just a drop of Kryptonian blood ran through your veins. Ultimately I feel like this is one of the best movies I've ever watched, and ever will watch, and I will be more than thrilled to see it a dozen times more. Ten out of ten.

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