Up, Up, And … Almost Away
Review by Ken Burke Man of Steel
Superman is back in a lavish, loud reboot which retains most of the known elements of the story with a few twists. The battle scenes go on forever, although well-presented.
[Take care, curious readers, for plot spoilers gallop rampantly throughout the Two Guys’ brilliantly insightful reviews. This is how we write, so as to explore what must be said as art transcends commerce (although if anyone wants to pay us for doing this ...); therefore, be warned, beware, and read on when ready to be transported to—well, wherever we end up.]
Anyone who’s been able to keep up with all of the evolutions of Superman (and the rest of his superhero universe—which seems to not coexist with the Marvel universe, except when it does occasionally in crossover comic book special editions) either works for DC Comics or has a lot more free time than I do. I was a big fan of Superman, both of the printed page and the TV series (starring George Reeves; ABC, 1952-1958) when I was a kid (the time that the DC folks now refer to as the “Silver Age,” as differentiated from the “Golden Age,” generally of the 1940s when the first versions of Superman [beginning with Action Comics #1 in 1938], Batman, Wonder Woman, etc. appeared). However, from high school on I didn’t have as much time for my former DC stalwarts (especially the ones above and Green Lantern; I had only passing interest in the Flash and the other Justice League of America members, very little interest in the Marvel universe, although I found the pure mythological approach to a pop culture superhero with Thor fascinating when I was in graduate school, but that was also the time I finally read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings; thus, I was quite ready for the re-emergence of Superman in Richard Donner’s 1978 Superman with Christopher Reeve) so I could barely keep up with how the DC staff was also trying desperately themselves to keep up with their far-flung universe, which ultimately had to be explained as a multiverse, parallel existences (a concept not foreign to contemporary theory in physics) which led to occasional crossovers between the Golden Age heroes (oddly enough, living on Earth-Two, even though their characters had been first to the newsstands) and the ongoing print adventures of the Silver Age versions (with their focus on Earth-One characters, while those of us reading all of their exploits lived on Earth-Prime, a world without superheroes—except, in some minds, Joe DiMaggio and Walt Disney), then the climatic 1986 “Crises on Infinite Earths” miniseries which collapsed the whole overblown structure into one existence, removing some of the long-standing characters in the process (Flash and Supergirl, chief among them in my opinion) and setting the stories up for revision so that the protagonists who had been presented as being in their early 30s for over 30 years could somewhat start over as younger versions of their same selves (with few of them and none of the civilians during the war with the Anti-Monitor [look him up if you must—OK, I’ll do it for you; here’s more than you’d ever want to know at http://dc.wikia.com/wiki/Anti-Monitor_(Antimatter_Universe)] remembering what had gone on before). I read all of those “Crisis…” issues and crossovers, determined to get a grip on this new version of my childhood DC memories, but then they did it again with their Zero Hour: Crisis in Time mini-series in 1994 and the 2005-2006 Infinite Crisis, which brought back the multiverse and rebooted the characters’ histories and timelines once more, all of which left me largely unconnected to these massive, complicated revisions (which, I understand, are simply ongoing attempts to free the writers and artists from storylines that no longer are interesting to younger potential new readers, a basic need for an industry that struggles to maintain itself in an Internet age which has no metal distinctions—except platinum awards for successful sales).
Thus, when DC Comics once again re-launched themselves with their Flashpoint and “New 52” timeline-altering concept in mid-2011 I barely paid any attention except to note that this time the Superman story was quite different, with the demise of his Earthly parents and the absence of Lois Lane (which has allowed for a romance between Superman and Wonder Woman that I’m only vaguely aware of), just as I never bothered to try to see how the TV series of Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (ABC, 1993-1997) and Smallville (WB, 2001-2011) fit in with any of this (it was all tied to whatever needed to be connected in whatever manner within the most important universe of all—the Time Warner marketing one, so that just as Krypton evolved from a lush green planet in the 1950s comics to an ice-bound one in the 1978 Superman [in order to more easily tie in the needed story elements of the Arctic-based Fortress of Solitude—which probably won’t remain so isolated with today’s increasing global warming and disappearance of polar ice]). With all of that as prelude, I approached the new Man of Steel (Zack Snyder)—with the new man in the cape, Henry Cavill—with positive anticipation, hoping that something could be done to erase our memories of the silliness of the last two Reeve movies (Superman III [Richard Lester, 1983], where we devolved to the level of Richard Pryor as one of the villains—although we do get the introduction of the always-unpredictable red Kryptonite [this time splitting Supes into vicious and decent versions of himself who do battle]—and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace [Sidney J. Furie], a nobly-intentioned but silly campaign against nuclear weapons), along with the financially-successful-but-otherwise-lukewarmly-embraced Superman Returns (Bryan Singer, 2006—which provides its own shocking twist to the canon by having Lois Lane not only in a fiancé-based relationship with another man [Perry White’s nephew, Richard White (James Marsden)] but also with a 5-year-old out-of-wedlock son—whose father we later find out is actually Superman, a direct result of the lovemaking we witnessed between him and Lois in Superman II [begun by Donner, finished by Lester, 1980], a situation erased by the new movie’s once-again rebooted timeline although not out of the realm of possibility given that we end the new one just with Clark and Lois becoming colleagues at the Daily Planet, so who knows yet what will come of them into the future). In fact, through chance circumstances I got to see it twice last week, once at a preview screening then again with my wife, Nina, all of which leads me to appreciate the overall direction of the new version, wish desperately that something besides prolonged destruction derbies could occupy more of its lengthy 143-min. running time, and hopeful that it will be successful enough to keep the big guy on screen for awhile with Cavill in the form-fitting uniform, exploring more nuances of the character than his knockout-punch abilities. With all of that in mind, I’ll structure the rest of this review based on major categories of the Superman myth to see how this latest rehash works out, with its DC-sanctioned willingness to mess around once again with whatever we thought we knew about Superman’s origins and motivations while still retaining certain aspects from not only the general history that most of us have come to know but also remake elements of the Donner films, a tactic like that recently employed by J.J. Abrams in his continuing retelling of the original Star Trek maxi-narrative by borrowing from the older movies. So, let’s begin with the beginning:
Krypton. This time around instead of Marlon Brando as Jor-El we have another famous face, Russell Crowe, but in this version he’s not only a brilliant scientist but a good fighter as well, as he proves in escaping by force from the guard unit appointed by General Zod (Michael Shannon) during the failed attempt to take over the government of Krypton even as the planet is suffering its death throes from the collapse of its inner core. Because Krypton’s resources have been overtaxed (leading to the need to draw energy from the core, bringing about the planet’s destruction) this time we have Kal-El’s (Superman’s birth name) home planet as a rugged desert and mountainous environment rather than the forests and ice of times past, so that the whole thing resembles the final scene of the Stravinsky “Rite of Spring” segment in Disney’s Fantasia (1940) where the last of the struggling dinosaurs battle both each other and the overheated elements as immanent disaster looms (we even get a Triceratops-like creature howling in the foreground in one of these early Krypton scenes, furthering my analogy—although it’s extended to Lord of the Rings/Avatar territory when Jor-El later flies around on his pet dragon-like creature). The essential situation is the same, though, as Kal-El’s rocket shoots off into space toward Earth (where Jor-El says the inhabitants are “seemingly intelligent,” possibly just a scientific observation but one that brought some chuckles from the audience) not long before his planet self-destructs but after the troops of the remaining authorities catch up with Zod and his minions (after they killed members of the ruling Council, with commentary that harks to our own time about useless squabbling among lawmakers while disaster looms; this sentiment might have sparked some initial audience sympathy for Zod, except for his fatal miscalculation that there is still time to save Krypton’s crumbling infrastructure and his vicious stabbing of Jor-El). The government may be functionally paralyzed and the planet may be teetering on collapse but there’s still time to banish Zod and his small band of followers to the living hell of the Phantom Zone’s void (as I recall, there was no capital punishment on Krypton so this sentence was essentially even more devastating, because you just lived for the rest of your seemingly never-ending life in this Limbo-like prison dimension)—but not for as long as intended, as I’ll discuss below. A new twist in this history of the planet Krypton (at least for me, but I admit that I don’t even try to keep up with all of the new nuances of the Superman story in the comics over the past few decades) is that long ago Kryptonian astronauts set up colonies on far-flung planets, but they died out when resources became scarce at home and they had to be abandoned. This gives Jor-El the idea that Krypton’s doom is inevitable so that its leadership should be off-loaded to other planets and its population re-established through the genetic information contained in a central Codex (which appears like the upper part of a human skull, given the Kryptonians have a body structure seemingly identical to Earthlings); Zod, however, is intent on preserving Krypton as it is while eradicating the bloodlines of those too weak or over-intellectualized to provide proper dynamic leadership. Jor-El attempts to solve both problems by implanting the contents of the Codex into Kal-El’s cells prior to his launch into the stars, leading to Zod’s 33-year quest to find this organic repository once he and his crew are released from the Phantom Zone by the force of Krypton’s final explosion (so that Snyder has taken the Zod imprisonment and escape elements from the two Donner Superman movies, as this was never part of any older end-of-Krypton mythology that I'm aware of, just as he uses the brutal battles between Superman and these driven Phantom Zone escapees as the main focus of this new movie, a prime plot element straight from Superman II).
Both Brando’s and Crowe’s versions of Jor-El want their son to be a shining inspiration to his new planet-mates on Earth, but the previous Jor-El seems more determined to implant knowledge of the universe into a wise and fair-minded offspring (so that his holographic memory manifestation takes his son on a 12-Earth-years’ journey through the cosmos in order for him to become a living library) while Crowe’s version is more about instilling a model of active leadership in his son for the benefit of the new species he'll have to coexist with until somewhere, someday he’ll be the vehicle of resurrecting the Kryptonian race, but without destroying Earthlings in the process as Zod is determined to do—which may one day lead to a much more high-minded Superman sequel than this battle-heavy episode was able to explore, something along the lines of the Genesis-Device-reborn-planet at the end of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (Nicholas Meyer, 1982). Before leaving Krypton, I’ll also note one other minor change: a surname for Kal-El's mother, so that she’s fully Lara Lor-Van (at least in the credits; I can’t say I noticed that in the movie).
Smallville. In a structural—but not conceptual—departure from past Superman chronological presentations, we don’t go directly from Kal-El’s bare escape from his doomed biological home (moving at hyperdrive speed through the universe so that he’ll still be a baby when he lands on Earth) to his upbringing in rural Smallville, Kansas, but instead we jump ahead to his current 33-year-old wanderer, trying to stay below the radar but needing to constantly move on as the result of doing essentially-clandestine acts of valor while trying to heed the advice of his now-deceased Earthly father, Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner), to keep his talents hidden lest he create panic when humans are finally confronted with the evidence of life—and very advanced life at that—on other planets. We do get a couple of episodes of his Smallville life, but they’re just used as evidence of how he can’t be what he knows he’s capable of without revealing his mysterious existence (which the Kents have no explanation for, except that he arrived in a small rocket ship which was never investigated by our Air Defense System—a possibility for Reeve’s version whose arrival would have been in roughly 1948 but if the current Kal-El seemingly touched down in 1980 based on what we can patch together of this movie’s chronology [although if Pa Kent ranged from 1951-1997 as his headstone presents he looked awfully weather-beaten at 46 when he died in a tornado so that Clark would stay with and protect Ma Kent and others under a freeway overpass, thereby not revealing his superior physical powers] then we have to wonder what else has been flying around unexplored over the Midwest in recent decades). At age 9 he pushes a school bus back to shore that had fallen from a bridge into a river, saving everyone aboard but trying to act as if he was just hanging on to the back as it mysteriously rose from the water (an incident questioned of the Kents by an incredulous parent but also not really followed up on by anyone else involved—it’s amazing how easy it is to keep an identity secret in this country, unless you happen to be Justin Bieber or Lindsay Lohan); at age 13 he forces himself to keep his emotions in check when taunted by older, bigger boys although he knows he could easily have made mincemeat of them. Even on the day of his adoptive-father’s death, he’s urged by Pa Kent to keep in check his urges to reveal his powers, so as to more actively help his neighbors; Jonathan instead, advocates an end-of-millennium-type attitude of caution (that the world is not as predictable nor supposedly-stable as in those eras of post-WW II victory, followed by ‘50s isolationism, ‘60s and ‘70s idealism, post-Cold War “knowledge” about who the “enemies” are and what reactions to expect on the home front as well as internationally [all periods that had shaped what we previously knew of comic-book-and-Donner-movies Superman]), encouraging his son to help humanity with farming or other under-the-radar benefits, advice that Clark is still rejecting even as the non-Oz-related tornado blows into their lives but which he tries to adhere to after Jonathan’s death, although not on the farm with his adoptive-mother, Martha (Diane Lane), but as a drifter with concocted credentials, trying to understand human motivations and actions as he constantly encounters the decent and the decadent within our societies. Like other manifestations of Superman before him, Cavill’s version ultimately decides that a more public display of his abilities is what’s called for, but within the attitudes of the Midwestern American values he was raised with, rather than as some international citizen of the world—or even his original world, given that he makes the decision to protect the people of Earth rather than comply with General Zod's scheme to sacrifice our planet in order to re-create Krypton.
Metropolis. Kal-El is inspired to finally reveal himself to his unsuspecting new planet by a combination of factors: (1) He follows the trail to a discovery of an object that’s been surrounded by Canadian ice for 20,000 years which turns out to be an ancient Kryptonian spaceship whose technology is triggered alive by a little flash-drive-like device topped with the “S” crest (explained later as actually a symbol of hope in El family tradition) sent with him from Krypton that allows him to interact with the cyber-consciousness and holographic projection of Jor-El, who explains the essentials of his son’s origins in just a couple of minutes (unlike the 12-year interstellar journey of the 1978 movie); (2) While on this quest he meets up with and befriends Lois Lane (Amy Adams; already a Pulitzer Prize winner, which is a bit of an ironic borrowing from the 2006 movie where she was awarded such for her article on “Why the World Doesn’t Need Superman,” written during her frustration with his 5-year absence in search of the remains of Krypton) who writes a story about a superpowered alien visitor that her editor, Perry White (Laurence Fishburne), won’t print, but she drums up interest in this otherworldly visitor anyway by leaking the story through a controversial blog (she should never cooperate with anyone who writes blogs, though; take it from me, I know what low-lives they are); while on a 3-week unpaid suspension for that insubordination she continues her investigation that takes her through a good number of rural legends of mysterious events surrounding a ghost-like character until she connects it to Clark Kent, who verifies the situation upon her assurance that she won’t reveal his identity (no being fooled by the addition of a pair of glasses in this version—well, at least not for Lois, although no one else seems to be able to see the resemblance); and (3) General Zod’s sudden appearance after his long search for Kal-El, with the demand that he reveal and surrender himself so that Zod can retrieve the Codex DNA and start repopulating a new Krypton. By this time Clark has found what seems to be one of his family’s ceremonial red and blue uniforms (complete with the big S and a red cape) in the ice-encrusted spaceship (which he piloted off to another remote location) so he suits up and temporarily surrenders himself to the wicked General in order to save Earth from being attacked by Zod’s crew who now have the dual advantage of Kryptonian battle technology on their much larger spaceship and the sudden emergence of their own superpowers, now that they have the benefit of Earth’s lesser gravity and the energizing effects of our yellow sun. Once Superman (as he comes to be called by our military [although Lois almost gets the chance to christen him] after his routing of Zod’s forces when they invade Smallville looking for the Codex [not yet realizing that it’s been implanted in Kal-El]) has finally disposed of Zod and company (you didn’t think this was set up to be a one-shot, non-franchise story that leads to the tragic death of Superman, did you?), Clark gets the traditional timeline back on track by moving to Metropolis, cleverly disguising himself with the glasses, and somehow joining the Daily Planet staff along with Lois (who knows the secret without it being somehow magically kissed away, as was his solution to go back “undercover” [sadly enough for Clark, that also meant not back under the covers with Lois if he didn’t want to start the whole discovery problem over again] with some sort of a memory wipe at the end of Superman II) even though we have no idea why he has any sort of reporter’s credentials that would lead to such an immediate hire (but, just like Jesus, with whom Superman shares many mythical elements—more on that below—we aren’t given any information yet on what happened in his 20s so maybe he got a journalism degree from Kansas State [which, after all, is in Manhattan, KS, and we all understand that Metropolis is just a metaphorical version of Manhattan’s more appealing side with Gotham City as the symbolic version of its more dangerous elements, setting up the light/dark dichotomy that has forever linked Superman and Batman] before he went off the grid trying to figure out how to adjust to his secluded life on Earth). All in all, then, most of the adult Kal-El/Clark Kent/Superman story elements fall nicely into place in this incarnation (no Jimmy Olson—yet), although we now have the situation set up for a more direct Lois and Clark collaboration when this series surely continues.
The Villain. Once he was established as a deadly adversary in Superman’s comic book variations, General Zod made for the requisite formidable foe, given his superpowers equivalent to Kal-El’s when on Earth, so he and his evil mates in this new movie make for a useful continuation of the much longer introduction that this version gives us to the end time of Krypton compared to the usual baby-blast-off/planetary-blast-out that normally propels us quickly into Kal’s new life on Earth. Plus, they also force the newly-public Superman to push himself to the limits of his newly-emerging capacities (as few as such limits may be, especially without Kryptonite to interfere, as he joyously realizes he can fly, then delivers all manner of destruction while bouncing back after some of the most devastating hits that even a supposedly-invulnerable guy could absorb) to not only prove to his planetary neighbors what challenges he’s willing to endure for them but also to allow for special-effects scenes needed to show those of us stuck on Earth-Prime that he’s also got the superhero goods we should respect, despite our recent indoctrination into the powerful abilities of Iron Man, Thor, and The Incredible Hulk from those other costumed guys who’ve been showing off their physical superiority to Batman as the Hollywood corporate box-office wars also continue into the emerging 21st century (Green Lantern got an equally high-powered sendoff in his initial film [directed by Martin Campbell, 2011] also going up against his most powerful adversary, Parallax, right off the bat; never accuse the WB/DC guys of being afraid to throw too much too soon at you, even if it may not always work as well as it did in their best introduction/reboot so far, Batman Begins [Christopher Nolan, 2005]). Zod’s as dangerous and destructive here as he was in Superman II, although there he had only vicious Ursa and monstrous Non to back him up (as if he needed more than a 3-on-1 advantage over Superman until strategy won out over the brute force of numbers) rather than about a dozen followers in this new rendition if he’d chosen to unleash all of them, but instead he found that when Superman finally got riled enough to unleash his fury the blue-suited guy was able to stave off the attack of this movie’s wicked female warrior, Faora-Ul (Antje Traue), and an unnamed (in my comprehension) big hunk as well as overwhelm Zod by destroying his protective face mask which then brought on the discomfort of Earth’s atmosphere (which Kal-El had to adapt himself to over the years) and the overwhelming sensual assault that comes with un-modulated super-hearing and x-ray vision (the first a reasonable extension of bodily senses, the second—along with heat vision, which flares into flames of laser-powered destruction in this Superman tale-telling—have never made any sense to me, no matter how much they're connected to our yellow sun’s seemingly-magical powers for these particular red-sun-born aliens).
After much of Smallville has been obliterated by Superman warding off the first attack, Zod retreats to his more important task which is to use a gigantic World Engine device to increase Earth’s mass and gravity field to make it hospitable for the Kryptonians that he intends to spawn from the Genesis Chamber in his spaceship, the artificial species-generation device used for centuries to breed new members of their society for specific tasks (as with the planned social castes in Aldous Huxley’s 1932 Brave New World) once he extracts the Codex information from Kal-El’s lifeless body. So, rather than egomaniacal human villain Lex Luthor merely making himself rich by creating a new West Coast in Nevada in the 1978 movie (although that would create a lot of collateral damage, but just to a limited section of our planet) we begin the new saga of Superman with our world literally in peril of cosmic change, leading to the destruction of all humanity as we know it so that Zod could reign supreme over New Krypton—pretty heady stuff for a series’ first episode but one intended to give the appearance of sparing no expense and giving Superman the incentive he needs to overcome any sense of self-limitation or weakness, as he rallies himself from seeming defeat to smash the World Engine, then go into personal battle with General Zod that leaves a large area of Metropolis in ruins when it’s all over (as I’ve noted from previous comments about the Spider-Man and Avengers films, if nothing else in our recovering economy functions well the Public Works Department of NYC—or in this case, Metropolis—seems to have guaranteed incomes for life rebuilding the city after our extraordinary combatants smash through and topple skyscrapers, dig up miles of city streets, and single-handedly revive both Detroit and Tokyo with the need to replace all of the vehicles lost in the process of these battles). But you do have to admire the physics of the situation because if beings as powerful as Superman and Zod did crash into each other with the force behind their accelerated flight and megaton-packed punches the resulting reaction would drive either of them through a series of buildings or deep into the ground before their trajectory was finally halted. Therefore, as a compelling antagonist, Zod is a winner (but not as a combatant, when the rubble finally clears).
So, when all of this storm and fury is done, what are we left with? For one thing, we have clear allusions to the life and personage of Jesus Christ, although in a purely secular rendition, as noted in such analyses as provided by Jeff Jensen at the EW.com website in “Why the Superman of ‘Man of Steel’ is the Jesus we wish Jesus would be” (although the more traditionally devout among you would likely disagree) at http://popwatch.ew.com /2013/06/17/man-of-steel-jesus/ (I thank Terrence Seamon for calling attention to this article via a Linkedin posting but I warn you it's likely a sloowww download) and Eric Marrapodi’s CNN piece on “Superman: Flying to a church near you” at http://religion.blogs.cnn. com/2013/06/14/superman-coming-to-a-church-near-you/?hpt=hp_t1 (thanks to regular Two Guys contributor Richard Parker for this link). This is an argument I’ve made for decades in my Film and American Society class at different colleges, that Superman (ironically, the original creation of two Jewish teenagers in Cleveland, writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster) is the embodiment of the two major strands of cultural influence in modern Western societies (also taking root in their colonial holdings in other parts of the world), the Judeo-Christian concept of an ultimate savior (either the Messiah of the Jewish people or Christ liberating any sinner who will accept Him as the path to salvation) and the Greco-Roman “proud pagan” warrior (of Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces -type scholarship) who valiantly goes forth in battle, resulting in what has been explored as the contemporary sacrificial superhero who willingly gives of himself and his own needs in order to protect his chosen community (becoming psychotic in the process, both in the characters presented and the audiences influenced by them as explored by Robert Jewitt and John Sheldon Lawrence in The American Monomyth  and The Myth of the American Superhero ). Some feel that the secular Jesus image embodied by Superman is an effective means of encouraging comic book readers and movie audiences to embrace a higher consciousness, a “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” sense of communal sharing and caring that is often not heard or appreciated enough when delivered in Sunday sermons, while others find this concept of Superman to be simply an insidious method of promoting blind patriotism and personal deprivation in the name of a commanding “higher power,” whether that be a rigid vision of God or a heroization of Ronald Reagan-style politicians, so the stakes are higher here than simply WWE-gladiator-style hero vs. villain competition, with a context not often applied to fantasy superheroes.
Certainly the mission of a father far away in space to save the souls of Earthlings via his unique son who has a dual identity of an ordinary man and a god-like nature that encourages himself and us to follow the path of righteousness has many parallels to Gospel stories, but I commend this movie version, whether it aims to be this blatant in its references or not, for giving us a Pa Kent who may feel that his adopted son was sent to Earth for some special purpose but also has enough caution about human nature to not want that young man to show off those special talents for fear that he will be rejected as a dangerous freak or exploited by those who see him only as a commercial investment and for giving us a Superman who must make hard choices even when they contradict his preferred moral stance, so when faced with the difficult decision of continuing to battle General Zod in order to subdue him (although it’s not clear what Kal-El would do at that point, given that all the Kryptonian technology at his disposal had already been used to send the rest of Zod’s crew back into the Phantom Zone) or choose another option to keep the people of Earth safe from Zod's determined rampages, Superman makes the pragmatic choice of simply breaking Zod’s neck, an act which could be construed as self-defense necessary for all involved or dangerous vigilantism from a power whom we want to trust but must now consider with caution, given the significant decisions that he will continue to make on our behalf (a situation a bit imperial in its own right, even if not intended as such, so that this type of Superman may have more Nietzcheian overtones than any of us—including him—would like to admit). However, in addition to all of the conceptual aspects of this expensive exercise in myth-building and morality, there’s also the basic question of how well does this fascinating cluster of concepts function as a coherent narrative, even given the limitations of being an origin story as well, demanding that a lot of structures be established for both the clarity of this discourse and for the continuity of (presumed) future episodes. On that count, I’m more hesitant with praise because: (1) I think that the excessive use of the hand-held camera (that, for me, dysfunctionally mixes the implication of documentary with the clear creation of a fantasy world) may be intended to better invest us in this artificial environment but just comes across as an intrusion, and (2) at a climactic plot point, when we’ve reached a level of action-exhaustion after the titanic battles of both Superman to destroy the World Engine and the carefully-timed attack by his allies on Zod’s ship to open up the gates of the Phantom Zone (a strategy explained to Lois by holographic Jor-El) to swallow up Zod’s henchmen, then this combat is suddenly extended into a 3-out-of-3-falls Death Match with the prolonged personal battle between Superman and Zod, which stretches the special-effects aspect of this movie to a length just a bit too tedious for its own good. As a nice counterbalance to all of this grim action, though, at the very end we get a little levity when Clark enters the newsroom to be greeted by “Welcome to the Planet” from in-the-know Lois, a nice pun on the literal new job and the seeming resolution of the “illegal alien” rejection so feared by Pa Kent for his son.
Clearly this film, with its deep investment in contemporary American culture as constantly shaped by events of the past 75 years since that first cover of Action Comics, has touched a lot of audience sensibilities as evidenced by the wealth of comments—positive and negative—on blogs and chat sites. With this immense weight it carries because of viewer expectations it’d have a hard time pleasing the many demands of its potential admirers, even with the Watchmen (2009) and The Dark Knight (2008) superhero-redefining heritage of its director (Snyder) and most-acknowledged producer and concept coauthor (Christopher Nolan). I think that as a full cinematic experience—engaging story as well as marvelously-rendered special effects—this Man of Steel could have been a bit more successful overall (but even as much as I like superhero films I find that only a very few of them really hit the mark, mainly Donner’s first Superman, Nolan’s The Dark Knight, and Joss Whedon’s The Avengers ), but I admire the harder-edge direction that’s been established for the iconic Superman myth (emphasized by the combination of muted and deeply saturated colors, rather than the bright hues of earlier Superman renderings), I find a lot to like about this production, and I look forward to further episodes. To wrap this up, I’ll offer some of the frivolity that many critics of Man of Steel felt was missing from this movie by leaving you with a musical conclusion, Donovan’s psychedelic “Sunshine Superman” (from the 1966 album of the same name) at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ge5Gv7kJGUw—or if you’d prefer a different version, a live duet with Donovan backed by Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page (who was a studio session musician for the original recording) from a June 3, 2011 performance at London’s Royal Albert Hall (be forewarned, however, that it takes 2:05 of the 8:04 running time before the introduction of the song even begins—fast forward if you like—but once they get going it’s a great version) at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mFAyXF_XpVE.
If you want to explore Man of Steel further here are some suggested links:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6M5pYyW6lLw (an unofficial battle between Superman and Thor that’s amusing to watch and doesn’t take nearly as long as the smackdown between Supes and Zod in our movie)
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P.S. Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.