Rant Alert: Man of Steel- A Spoiler Free Review

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Full disclosure: I wasn’t always a fan of Superman. As a kid, of course, I loved him. I’d watch the Reeve/Donner movies, and later the Bruce Timm animated series, and run around the house with a cape (usually a towel or blanket) around my neck. But as I got older and started getting into comics I just didn’t care for Superman as a character. I still loved the idea of him, but in execution I felt that he was bland. He was too powerful, too goodie-goodie, too perfect. He was the Gandhi, and in many cases, the Jesus, of DC comics, and when good stories revolve around conflict and you have a character who is perfection personified, that’s often a big problem. It’s one of the reasons why DC still has a hard time getting the character right in his own series.

That all changed while I was working on my first novel with my best friend, Mark Ruelius. He was a HUGE Superman fan, and when he heard my opinion on the character is was as though I had personally offended him. He made me promise to read three comic book trades: Kingdom Come by Mark Waid & Alex Ross (which I already owned and loved), Superman Birthright by Mark Waid and Leinil Francis Yu, and Superman: Secret Identity by Kurt Busiek and Stuart Immonen. He was right. After that, I was a fan. This made Superman Returns all the more painful for all of us, because we were hoping to get a Superman movie as good as what Batman was getting with Nolan or the Marvel movies were getting on the other side of the fence. Instead we got… well, I’m not going to go into that. This isn’t a review of that movie. So let’s just get into Man of Steel.

For me, this was a great foundation to build a untied DC cinematic universe on. This was DC’s Iron Man, in that way. Just about every aspect of the movie is inspired by the various Superman comics, Birthright being a heavy influence in particular. But there are a few things you need to know going in to help manage expectations (and I promise, no spoilers):

  1. This isn’t a Chris Reeve/Richard Donner Superman. The tone is different. There’s no comic relief character. There’s no goofy gags. This has been the biggest criticism most “negative reviews” have and I think it’s because those people are going in expecting a Donner or Marvel tone. It does have some humor and moments that’ll make you smile. MoS isn’t “dark and gritty” either, any more so than any of the best Superman comics are. Just about everything, event-wise, in MoS has precedent in the comics and animated movies.
  2. Again, this isn’t a Marvel movie. Marvel’s movies have a certain tone, just as their comics do. They’ve always been different than DC, and this movie is no exception. If you go in expecting a superhero movie with the same tone (lighthearted is probably too strong a word) then you’ll be disappointed. MoS takes itself, and the character, seriously. Again, it’s not The Dark Knight serious. This isn’t emo Superman, but they do approach the material and character in a serious, mature way- as they should. The movie is still a ton of fun, and I immediately wanted to watch it again, just as I did with Avengers or Iron Man. It’s just a different kind of fun/tone.
  3. This goes with the tone, but yes, it feels more like a sci-fi movie than a “superhero” movie. I think that’s a good thing in this case, given the story. That said, the movie ends perfectly and we have the Superman/Clark Kent we’re wanting to see. This has the potential to set up an amazing sequel the way that Batman Begins set up The Dark Knight.

This is very much Clark’s story, and the focus is on him discovering who he is and what his place in the world is. Henry Cavill nails the part and is by far the best embodiment of the character since Chris Reeve. Amy Adams also does an amazing job as Lois Lane. I have to say I was really impressed with how they handled Lois. She was smart, strong, and important to the plot without just being the damsel in distress. They also did away with a typical trope that has long since been played out and done to death (thank God for that), which makes me even more excited to see how they evolve the relationship between Lois and Clark. Some people may take issue with how they portray Jonathan Kent, but I think it was a great way to approach the character, and it made one scene in particular have that much more of an impact on Clark and how he makes the decisions he does.

I want to address Mark Waid’s review of the movie (caution, massive movie spoilers in the link ). As you can tell from my opening above, Mark Waid has written, in my opinion, some of the best Superman stories, and Birthright in particular was an influence on MoS. Waid wasn’t very happy with the movie for two reasons, one of which is a spoiler so I won’t go into it, other than to say that the way it was handled was VERY well done (and even Waid admitted as much) and that, yes, it’s not anything that hasn’t already done before in the comics and other movies, albeit not very often.

The other, and biggest, complaint that Waid had was he said that this version of Superman felt cold and that he didn’t care enough about protecting humans, given all the “destruction porn”. I will say there were times when I felt similar while watching, and it is one aspect that they could have handled better. Superman does go out of his way to help save people in the movie, but I would agree it needed to be emphasized more, and is probably the biggest weakness the movie has, especially given all the destruction and collateral damage that takes place. Again, it’s nothing that hasn’t been shown in the comics and animated tales countless times. This very much feels like a comic book come to life (or a live action version of a Bruce Timm animated feature); but because it is so realistic and lifelike it makes thinking about the innocent people being hurt that much more, where you don’t as much in the comics or animated features (or where it’s easier for them to just magically have people survive or evacuate in time, etc.) It’s something that needs to be improved upon in sequels, but it was far from a deal-breaker for me.

For me, Man of Steel is the best DC movie to date, and this is coming from a die-hard Batman fan. I’m not saying that Man of Steel is a technically superior movie than The Dark Knight, but for me it’s certainly more fun to watch. This is the Superman movie we’ve been waiting for, and it can only get better from here. Keep an open mind and don’t let the negative reviews keep you from checking it out. Go and see the movie for yourself and judge it by it’s own merits. I think you’ll be glad that you did, as it is, by-far, the best movie so far this summer.
I give it a 9/10.

J.R. Broadwater is the author of the non-fiction book Down with the Thickness: Viewing the World From a Fat Guy’s Perspective, the sci-fi detective novel You Only Die Twice, the fantasy novel The Chosen: Rebirthing Part 1-, and the superhero tale Just Super, all available now in digital and paperback formats. Sample chapters and more information about these books can be found here.  Check back each Saturday for a new chapter in the ongoing serial Moving On!

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10 Comments

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10 responses to “Rant Alert: Man of Steel- A Spoiler Free Review

  1. SPOILER ALERT DO NOT READ BELOW THIS LINE

    ######### SPOILER ##########

    He f’ing snapped Zod’s neck to save a family of three…to say he didn’t go out of his way to save people is ridiculous. Also, yea he caused massive destruction but it was in the act of trying to stop 3 Kryptonians who were hell bent on death and destruction. I always hated the older Superman films where he would always save EVERYONE even though there are thousands of crimes every friggin day..he was right there saving every single one. Please. People died in this movie, necks were snapped, punches were thrown that killed people…for the strength to human ratio that existed, it was “realistic”. Also, he was finding himself and realizing just how strong he needed to be at times, so as months / years progress he will handle his strength with much more grace and ease and focus on not destroying things all the time.

    just my 2 cents.

    • J.R.

      Thanks for posting! I don’t disagree. Like I said in my review, he did, several times, go out of his way to save people, but they probably could have emphasized his worry for the collateral damage a bit more. This was very much a movie showing Clark/Kal-El growing into the man we all know he will be, much as Batman Begins was about Bruce’s journey in becoming Batman. I don’t think there was a lot he could have done, for the most part, to save others or minimize the damage during a lot of the fights. As I said, what the movie showed was just a live action version of what happens in the comics and animated features all the time. However…

      *spoilers*

      The only time it really bothered me at all (and it wasn’t a huge deal for me, but I felt it was worth mentioning), and where I would agree with Mark Waid’s sentiment, was in Smallville when he slammed Zod into the gas station. He was emotional, and I love the rest of the scene, but that was a point where he could have steered things away from town, given that at that point he was the one steering the action while in flight (Zod hadn’t learned to fly yet). He put Zod there, and with that explosion he endangered a lot of people. Had he steered it away from town as he was pimp-slapping Zod it might have avoided all the collateral damage to Smallville with the ensuing fights afterwards, and whatever injuries might have happened to civilians as a result. Like I said, he was reacting emotionally and clearly wasn’t focused on anything but protecting his mother from Zod, and we can chalk that up to “learning experience”. Still, it’s something they can build on for the next time.

  2. I agree 100% with everything said in this review. I will add that the few ppl who are Superman aficionados, more so then myself tended to be somewhat disappointed. I think the filmmaker and director must give consideration to important theatrical elements. Also, to avoid pitfalls of other remakes. Making it more scifi and changing the story a little was necessary. I know I wondered about the relationship between Zod and Jal-el and more details as to how Krypton was destroyed. I think they were trying to make a connection with our society and means to look for more energy sources such as FRACKing.. Loved the movie and I want to see it again but no in 3D

    • J.R.

      I totally agree. I love the direction that they took with it. It was a smart new take on a very familiar story. I have several die-hard Superman fans as friends and they all loved it. One literally cried at the end. His girlfriend recorded it as evidence. 😉

  3. German

    una exelente pelicula en todo el sentido de la palabra

  4. Superman purists should stick with their source materials…this is a reboot and people should open their minds on all possibilities…i agree on some negative reviews (minors) but the positive elements (and there’s a lot of them) of the whole film absolutely outshines all that…i am happy to just see this childhood icon fly to the big screen again!!! More sequels? #YesPlease

    • J.R.

      Agreed. Goyer has stated that in a sequel they’re planning on introducing Batman and/or Wonder Woman to help lead into a Justice League. Perhaps inspired by Wagner’s Trinity in much the same way as this was inspired by Birthright (among others)? That’d be amazing.

  5. Travis Walts

    Loved the movie, it was everything I was hoping for in a Superman movie. I thought the characters nailed their parts and can’t wait to see the next installment. As for the criticism over the gas station scene, I don’t know of any person who would have been worried about others in the station, if they were protecting their mother. (Just my thoughts)…..kudos Henry Cavill, I loved your performance.

    • J.R.

      It definitely was an indicator that Clark is still human in how he thinks and feels, regardless of his actual origin. It was also a good example of how far he still has to go to become the icon we all know him to be. That’s not meant as a criticism. It’s supposed to make us feel a little uneasy. I think it’s necessary. It’s too easy to have Clark be perfect, right off the bat. You can’t have character growth if there’s nowhere for the character to progress. In that regard I think Man of Steel did a marvelous job, as did Mr. Cavill. Critics who say there was no characterization were obviously watching a different movie.

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