Review By Mike DeAngelo:
Well, folks…Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice is nearly here. Before we sink our teeth into the second entry in Warner Brother’s DC Cinematic Universe later this week, perhaps it’s best that we look back with fresh eyes on what was their first entry into that new world, Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel.
Never has a superhero movie been so wildly divisive amongst comic book film aficionados than this very movie. If you bring it up in a comic book shop, you’re guaranteed to start a war of the words, or, perhaps more appropriately, a war of the nerds – some rushing to throw it under the bus, others rallying to defend it. I personally left the theater smiling like a little boy on Christmas, and, while I admit the film definitely has its weaknesses, I still believe it to be the best Superman movie we’ve seen yet.
Some people are going to read that last sentence and cry foul, but as someone who re-watched all of the Superman movies just before seeing Man of Steel, I stick with that statement. Superman fans that grew up with the Christopher Reeves Superman films tend to look back on those movies with rose-colored glasses. I was one of them until re-watching them myself. Yes, Christopher Reeves plays a damn good old-school Clark Kent and even does some great things as Supes himself, but compared to modern superhero films, the 1978 Superman movie and it’s sequels are dated and, at times, just downright bad. Need I bring up the scene in which Superman flies Lois around Metropolis while she spouts out cringeworthy mind-poetry? Or Superman turning back time by flying backwards around the earth? Or how about Superman defeating Zod by throwing a plastic-looking Superman symbol at him? And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Somehow, people ate it all up back in the 70’s and 80’s (myself included), but really the only thing that keeps me pausing on a channel playing any of those Superman films today is strictly nostalgia.
As superhero movies became a more serious medium, fans hungered for a more modern take on their beloved boy in blue. The first attempt came in the form of Bryan Singer’s 2006 film, Superman Returns. While that film had its moments, it was ultimately nothing more than a disappointing and largely action-less love letter to the Superman films of old. I like to call it Superman Broods & Lifts A Lot Of Stuff. It was old Hollywood in a time where audiences were desperately searching for something new. So, how did Warner Brothers react to the critical and box office failure that was Superman Returns? They asked the team behind their recent successful superhero franchise of the bat variety (Christopher Nolan and David Goyer) and director Zack Snyder to come up with an idea for a more modern, Nolan-esque Superman story.
I’d argue that this task is much more daunting than adapting Batman for modern audiences. Where Batman is inherently darker and more grounded, Superman is traditionally bright and alien. Audiences relate more easily to Batman because, while his journey is a heightened one, it is still one of the more human superhero tales. Batman has volumes of books that could be adapted directly from page to screen, while Superman is a bit comic book-y and fantastical for modern audiences. Yes, the fantastical bits are needed, but it’s a delicate balancing act to actually pull off on film. On this point I think that Zack Snyder and crew actually do quite well in Man of Steel. They establish his fantastical alien roots while also making Superman himself quite relatable and human, despite his otherworldly elements.
The film itself gets a lot of things right. The casting is pretty fantastic – no Kate Bosworth-esque performances this time around. Henry Cavill himself shows a mixture of “that’ll work” acting to some fairly impressive moments throughout the film. Also, say what you will about Zack Snyder, the guy knows how to make a movie look neat-o. The FX and action scenes were intense and immersive. Most importantly, we finally get to see Superman go hog wild with his powers – something the previous movies have been sorely missing. How about that initial flight scene?! Or Superman punching Zod through the air in the climactic battle?!
Now, let’s address the big issues people constantly tend to have with Man of Steel:
(Spoiler Alert –but, seriously? Why are you reading this if you haven’t seen Man of Steel?!)
1.) The massive amount of destruction & Superman’s part in it.
2.) The bleak coloration of the film.
3.) Superman doesn’t kill!!!!!
4.) He let Jonathan Kent die.
OK –The destruction. Yes, like many argue, it was preventable to a point. The only problem with that argument is you’re not dealing with an experienced, battle-worn Superman – you’re dealing with Superman on day freakin’ 1. He has no concept of strategy. He’s a sloppy brawler that doesn’t know his own limits. Not only that, he’s wildly outmatched by enemies with the same abilities and far better combat training. Villains that direct the battles into the most destruction possible. Could he have directed Zod, Zaora (or Faora-Ul in MoS), and company into an open field instead of assorted buildings? Again, absolutely – but, this is a Superman that’s still very much learning about his responsibilities and abilities. Honestly, it would feel a bit false for him to go from zero to the perfect blue Boy Scout in a day. He’s still learning. Give the guy a break.
Next point! The bleak coloration – on this point, I wholeheartedly agree. It worked great for Batman – and, while I loved the tone on Krypton, the muted colors on Earth are a bit out of place in a Superman movie. I’ve seen the re-color corrected clips on YouTube and far prefer this look to the final product. Regardless, should we write off the whole movie for being dark? I think not.
On to the big one: “Superman doesn’t kill.” There’s a certain faction of Superman fans that just can’t forgive this movie for having Superman kill Zod. They cite an old code that Superman lives by in the comics in which he refuses to kill. The only problem with that? He breaks it multiple times in both the movies and the comics. Even more hilarious, he even kills Zod himself in the comics (issue #22 of the 80’s reboot) AND the beloved Richard Donner Cut of Superman II. Yet, people stomp around, plug their ears, and yell, “NOT MY SUPERMAN!!!” Not only is their argument invalid, it’s been disproven multiple times.
Even if the code was unbroken, wouldn’t it give the code more weight if it had an actual inception point? Just because he kills Zod in Man of Steel doesn’t mean that he is prevented from developing this code down the line – perhaps for that very reason. Again, we’re dealing with Superman on day one here.
There’s also the point that Zod gave Superman absolutely no choice. Some say that Superman could have flown straight up or covered Zod’s eyes and prevented the endangered family from dying just as easily. But, then what? He’s still stuck in an impossible situation with an enemy that outmatches him and has said multiple times already that he will not stop until all of humanity is dead. Bottom line, he did what he had to do. Code or no code – much like a police officer in the line of duty or a person defending themselves and their loved ones from a frenzied and violent home invader. Even then, we’re shown the moment after the deed is done where Superman cries out in pain - clearly devastated by having killed the last of his ancestors to save his adoptive species, giving the scene even more emotional weight.
Finally, we’re onto poor Jonathan Kent, who meets his end not due to a heart attack like in the books, but a big ol’ Kansas tornado…all while his super-powered son looks on. I hear you, I hear you…Clark could have saved him, but that’s why the scene works so well. After just telling Jonathan, “You’re not my father!” Clark allows Jonathan to make the ultimate sacrifice. Why? Because, it’s Clark’s moment to show his father that he not only does love him, but that he has learned from him and trusts him in that moment. It’s a painful and beautiful scene that would have been undermined by a super-heroic rescue.
Outside of those moments, there actually are some faulty logic bits here and there, but nothing that completely sinks the movie for me. Is it a perfect movie? No. But, it inserts Superman into the modern world, tests his limits, and leaves room for him to grow into the hero we all know and love. Some call it Superman Begins - I can’t ask any more than that.
OVERALL RATING: 8/10 Zod Neck Snaps
Bring on Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice! (Review coming this THURSDAY!)