June 14 saw the US release of one of the most anticipated films of the year, and the latest interpretation of arguably the most symbolic superhero of all time. Superman has defined the superhero genre and has become integral to American culture and identity, but expecting a Superman reboot to live up to this image may have been setting the bar too high. Even though Man of Steel holds the #1 spot on the box office charts, reviews have been mixed to say the least. While challenging many of the stereotypes that have come to define Superman (for better and for worse), ultimately Man of Steel takes itself too seriously, and is missing the optimistic spark that has come to define the Superman franchise.
Now before I get melted by someone’s heat vision, I admit that there were some terrific aspects of this movie. I loved the Krypton lore. I’ve always longed to see more of Superman’s origins, and the scenes on his home planet were some of the film’s shining moments. Also, I think I liked Russell Crowe more than I liked Superman, and a part of me wishes the film had been a prequel and had taken place entirely on Krypton. So shoot me.
Zack Snyder, director of 300 and Watchmen, is known for his dramatic and drawn out action sequences, and Man of Steel is no exception. The visual direction was superb as always, and I can’t get enough of how exquisite Snyder’s films look. But I could tell that the theater was getting antsy when there was no break in the action. Yes Zack, there is such a thing as too many explosions, and you managed to surpass that threshold with at least an hour left of the film. My eardrums are thanking me that I didn’t see this in IMAX.
I have mixed feelings about General Zod (the film’s main baddie, if you couldn’t tell by his name). I appreciated the depth of his character and the legitimacy of his mission (to restore Krypton and save his people). His motives were certainly grander than anything Lex Luthor could have ever conjured up, but I just couldn’t feel any sympathy for him, considering he wanted to destroy humanity in order to achieve his goals. There were a few moments that touched on something deeper, and while it could have been worse, the fact that the entire movie was basically nonstop action involving this guy who just wouldn’t die made it hard for me not to find Zod a tad bit annoying.
My feminist radar definitely went off a few times, particularly pertaining to how women in the military were portrayed. First, maybe I’m just a geek, but who doesn’t know what “terraforming” means? And even if you don’t, it’s not hard to deduce if you know your Latin roots. Why did the only woman in the room need to inquire about it in a way that made her look ignorant? Also, to add insult to injury, this was the same woman who, at the end of the film, was dumbstruck by Superman, saying (with rather poor timing) that he was “really hot.” I could sense the entire theater shifting uncomfortably in their seats as viewers around me laughed uneasily.
All hope is not lost for women, however. Both of Clark’s mothers were each great in their own right, and I was pleasantly surprised by the character redesign of Lois Lane (Amy Adams). Lois Lane is always an idiot (see: 2006 reboot, failure to recognize the father of your child because he is wearing glasses). In this most recent interpretation, Lois is independent, and even though helpless at times (who wasn’t), for the most part she holds her own. This doesn’t mean, however, that there weren’t nauseating moments. Need I mention the line–SPOILERS–after their kiss, when Lois says something along the lines of, “They say it’s all downhill after the first kiss.” Metropolis has just been destroyed, thousands of people have died, the air probably reeks of burning flesh, and you crack a joke about a kiss? Zack Snyder, you’re not funny. Stop trying to be.
In other news, Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack does not disappoint, and his characteristically brass- and percussion-heavy score was several times the only thing carrying the action. It’s only to be expected that the Inception and Dark Knight Trilogy composer would give a darker tone to the franchise, which he has succeeded in doing without (shockingly) copy-pasting Pirates of the Caribbean themes. This man is very quickly defining film scores of the 21st century, and I don’t think I mind at all.
And maybe this is because I am an unemployed recent college graduate, but I couldn’t help but wondering: how in God’s name did Clark Kent get a job at the Daily Planet? Did he ever go to college? He grew up on a farm. He was a bartender. He was on like, Deadliest Catch, or something. He’s Superman. When did he have the time to learn how to be a top-notch journalist? What are his credentials? I can accept the flying and the super strength and the x-ray vision. But this? Explain this.
So is Man of Steel worth the watch? I think it depends. As a Superman and comic book fan, I would say yes, if for nothing but the Krypton scenes (pro tip: forego 3D and IMAX). As a casual moviegoer who wants a feel-good superhero flick? You’re better off watching The Amazing Spider-Man or Thor (sorry DC). Don’t get me wrong; Man of Steel was nowhere near as cringeworthy as DC flops like Green Lantern. But if the company is going to compete with Marvel in the film industry, it’s going to have to do something besides ride on the success of Christopher Nolan. Unfortunately, this release means we won’t have another Superman reboot for at least a decade, and I am beginning to wonder if Superman will ever again be made accessible to the American public.