Man of steel enters in infancy, along with a birthing scene of Superman(Henry Cavill), soon to be dubbed Kal El by his parents. Opening with a quickly unleashed spectacle, an introductory coup between the antagonist, Zod (Portrayed by Michael Shannon) , and the sacrificial father of Kal, Jor El, played by none other than Russel Crowe, defending the future of Krypton amongst the backdrop of a desperate battle on a dying planet. These introductory scenes have a unsettling air, as Russell Crowe’s, Michael Shannon, and less offensively, Ayelet Zurer’s, who plays Kal El’s mother, acting falls flat. Lacking any enthusiasm to excite for the 2 hours to come, or even give a sense of wonder in the spectacle of Krypton’s last moments.
Aside from the poor performances, the story is shoved at a increased pace from the get go, leaving little to no pause to catch the rising tension in a breath. Pushed along with little rhyme or reason for definition, I sense a rush to move forward, forcing the introduction to be compressed into quick bullet pointing of events. Jor El’s end is pretty weak as Zod reveals a sudden upper hand he could have used any moment before, only choosing the moment to make an stereotypical sacrificial scene. Yes, given the right context the scene is emotional, but given in the near-deadpan acting and overly-cliched circumstances, The moment falls flat.
Small tangent, Zoe’s coup in the beginning is embarrassing short, adding in logistics, there was no military might to justify the push he got. With the five men ever seen in Zod’s command, its a laugh he even got as close as he did. This is an example of my biggest complaint in the film: from a narrative perspective, nothing is held tightly. It’s evident that they need Zod to be banished, but they didn’t think hard on a proper way of getting him there.
Remembering It has to toss a relevant point somewhere in the debacle of the an intro, Zod, after appearingly seizing control of Krypton, is suddenly and instantly whipped back by the Council he just overthrew. Miraculously. Thrown into the now famous Phantom Zone (Remember that Mirror shit in the Superman II? Course ya do.) Zod and crew is banished for treason, (along with, I think, some case of murder for killing Russell Crowe, He was important, duh) sent to an alternate dimension of torture for centuries. As his farewell, Zod gives an obligatory “Ill get you speech”, which shortly destroys the reasons he introduced seconds before. Zod’s initial rhetoric during the duel with Jor El is driven by thoughts of a more pure krypton, clearing the weak, making way for the strong, but once captured and mere moments from being frozen in a Reflective Hell(read: mirror joke), His curse for a foreshadowed return is focused on “I will get your son”. They initially gave him a point, then forgot it.
This is my main complaint. I get the sense that things happen because as a story, it inherently needs them to happen, not because they’ve created a narrative, strong and healthy enough that it holds up on its own, that it can carry itself. The merits they originally pitch for the character’s symbolism in the first minutes are then abandoned for a second, weaker and more cliched one. Rather instantly as well:
- While Zod has a point early on he quickly abandons it for “I’ll get u superman”
- Jor El’s plan for Kal’s (superman) destiny to be the first great kryptonian by choice (instead of krypton’s typical cloned birth for a specific societal purpose) is abandoned by a second rate pitch halfway through the film to be the “symbol of hope for humanity”. Stating they essentially had a plan all along, Jor El gives Kal a typical pair of krytonian tights and classic cape (yes, I know the story is that the cape was a blanket for the infant Kal, but in this version, he literally hands him the superman outfit: jumpsuit, cape, boots and all) and essentially says “go be a superhero for them”.
Everything happens because the laws of storyline demand it, not because the story actually flows into a motion. Everything is slapped together with scotch tape, like they know where things need to go, but no cause to bring them there. The plot falls into place, It isn’t guided gracefully into position.
The action in the beginning is certainly a spectacle. It’s, plainly, always great seeing Russell Crowe fightin’, even if it does appear out of character with the diplomatic Jor El. Zod’s acting in this bit is confusing to nail down, caught between decently enjoyable ham and alittle too serious/ efficient narcissism. The sights of cruiser diving into each other around an escaping Jor El, and the explosion of Krypton where great scenes, albeit quick. The circumstances of Krypton’s demise is a excuse to show the planet then quickly shoo it away. It’s told its upon destruction, then suddenly it’s done, without any depiction of the cause, shooed away under the story hiding sofa.
After the quick flash focused on krypton’s affairs, things, quickly and abruptly, progress to earth. Clark Kent’s intro is skipped over, as its seen thousands of times before, instead choosing to drop a flash back wherever it seems perfect for the storyboard.
The first introduction to a human raised Kal El, of course renamed Clark Kent, is a odd introduction to Superman’s budding superhero start, well before dawning the tights. While Clark is an unknown crab fisherman, miraculously saving men from a burning Oil tanker, the costal guards he’s helping is totally non chalet for the perilous scene. Let me paint you a scene: When this random dude holds a giant tower from collapsing on them, instead of having any sort of astonishment, fear, anger or any sort of expected emotion at the sight, they simple say “alright” and fly away with the other survivors, perfectly content with letting this one idiot die holding up a tower of steel girders without looking back.
The next scenes to come are the dullest part of the film, the first hour of the movie spends its time watching Clark wander a spaceship and Lois Lane writing news articles about her search for a missing savior, while occasionally looking back on how Clark’s done super hero tasks all his life, completely void of progressing the narrative that we’re assumedly here for. I get each superman needs a different ‘Clark’ introduction from the past entries but Man of Steel’s is an embarrassment. Leaving the tale at a brink “you u know superman? Cool you’re good. move on,” then later deciding to sprinkle a flashback in whenever the moment needs some explaining.
Not to mention, this has just a bore so far. Nothing happens, and the pacing is sporadic. The first half hour is explosive to the point of suffocation. Then the next hour and a half are down right boring. The events as follows: Watch child Clark save some lives, Bearded Clark playing RoadHouse Swayze, Adolescent Clark avoiding bullies, and learn life lessons from his adopted father.
They lean on the symbolism that’s been carried throughout the Superman series, but they don’t build the theoritical monuments that such symbolism requires to hold its weight to mean something. Instead they form a lateral village of small points hoping to cling to the small messages instead of creating and weaving impossibly justifiable ideas that can’t be ignored. Im sorry for buying into a Superman movie, and expecting the world to be saved. Not a film of a man recall a life of being a joe shmo (besides the saving lives part shh)
Then all of a sudden they remember the movie they’re making and decide to drop Zod back in. At an hour&45, When the initial fight between Zod and Superman begins, things start to pick up. Subtle introduction of action scenes begin to awake the crowd from the lullabies of the lulls of exposition.
After Kal and Zod finally confront, Michael Shannon’s transformation into Zod begins to take effect, finally showing confidence in the role. The only bit of decent exposition of the film, zod’s explanation of his absence is the only decently thought out piece of the entire film. Explaining the past, and present of krypton and future of Earth he envisions upon Superman’s defeat, Zod finally gives the film, Kal, and the onlooker, a central point to focus. Something to look forward to: A Failure worth avoiding, A Villian worth seeing defeated, and something to get Superman out of his neuroses.
The final hour should have been the only piece saved from the cutting floor. As its the only part that is confident enough to prove its point. This movie is about Zod and Native Krypton vs Superman and all of humanity. Even all the random cliche scenes of ‘Lois lane saving’ are accepted in the new context of being something to fight against, because now its not Lois curiously finding herself in a bad situation(Like why is Clark kent walking in Antarctica in a shirt and jeans, and stumbling on an alien security cam), to genuinely being in catastrophic danger, with little else but needing a super hero to avoid death (like falling out of orbit in a dissipating escape pod). And on a smaller level, we have a reason we have to wait for the more irrelevant side scenes to be over.
Finally tired of wasting our time with irrelevant side points, Zod is unleashed. Beginning the torrent of excitement as the extraterrestrial soldiers battle out like an episode of Dragon Ball Z. The symphony of battles amongst Zod’s star fighters vs Air Force Jets, Superman vs Faora and Nam, Lois lane and the military searching for a cure from Zod’s impending doom, encroach you in crescendoed action. The speed in the fight scenes are a little jarring as they speed up certain motions to give the opponents an supernatural feel. It’s merely a nitpick as the these parts are really the sight worth seeing the film, regardless of which combatants.
Within the last half hour. They bring the pace back up to resonate with the introduction. Throwing endless action to the point of drowning in explosions and rubble. Don’t get me wrong, these are the moments I loved, in comparison, but pacing is a mess. Its unsure of what speed to travel at, It starts in a bang, quickly devolves into a large lull, tucking you comfortably in your seat, before smacking you back awake and dumping water on your head to avoid walking out the theater in a daze.
The climax of Superman and Zod’s duel is an excellent one, Beginning with Zod expressing the weight of his loss, fueled by his genetic purpose being denied, leading to more brilliant exposition that has more weight in a few well chosen lines than an hour’s worth of pointless flashbacks. The culmination of the fight, Zod’s death is a meaningful one, compounded by Superman’s conviction from killing, but also in the symbol in the pivotal moment. As the two last sons of Krypton, one choosing to restore a extinct race, the other choosing to defend a innocent one, the death of one is inevitable, unless the battle continue ad infinitum. The battle between them is evenly pivoted as either’s power is equally matched as gods, only divided in they’re motive on which people to save: Krypton’s past or Humanity’s future.
I wouldn’t say I loved Man of Steel, but I wouldn’t say I regret seeing it. The effects and tech shown are quite impressive. CGI scenes are brilliant, especially the outer space. The kryptonian tech and aesthetic are great, even if they look like they’re designed by H.R. Giger. And the last half definitely outweighs any complaints about the beginning, as with time, the ending will be all I focus on. Man of Steel is certainly a treat for the eyes, even if it doesnt make much sense. If you plan on seeing man of steel: buy your ticket, and wait an hour and half before entering, you wont regret much.
[Thanks to Arkeyana for the Ebert and Roeper Style Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down]