Hello again, my geeky friends. I have been trying to write this review for a few days now. I have started and stopped, erased what I wrote, wrote something different. This has happened a few times. During one break in writing, a couple of nagging questions about the film were ringing through my head, so I went to see it again. This is an advantage of working at a theatre and having access to the Imax anytime you want (during regular showtimes I mean, not any time).
I have read a lot of reviews for the film. I have read guys I respect and read every week and I’ve read some reviews from people I’m not sure actually saw the same film I did. I have also talked to a lot of people about the film, both in person, through email and online in different venues and the one thing that is certain, people do have a lot of opinions about the film. They have a lot of opinions about everything actually, but this film in particular seems to have people talking.
Yes, I can hear you thinking, so what do YOU think about the film? That’s the reason we’re here reading your review. I will tell you upfront that I loved the film. Top to bottom, front to back, I loved the film. The more I see it (I’ve seen it three complete times, seen parts of it more than that) the more I appreciate what the filmmakers were going for and what they actually achieved. You are beginning to get a feel for me as a writer (I hope) and you have read my reviews for other films in the past and I hope you read my weekly Theater Thursday articles here at CharlotteGeeks.com so you know I usually don’t tread water like this. I like to be to the point and witty in my writing and hopefully give you an angle that others do not. I am trying to do that here, but I can’t go into too much without venturing into spoiler territory and I never want to ruin a films surprises for people.
I will do the best I can and hope I can pull it off. Let me start this by giving you my background with this character. I grew up in a very religious family. My father is a preacher and yes, I am a preachers kid. My father changed as I grew older and the rigid rules loosened a lot and by the time I was 13 or so, I went to the movies weekly. When I was young though, movies were not permitted. We watched them on tv (home video was still in the future) but actually going to the theatre was not allowed. I say this to let you know that as a kid, I didn’t see the original Superman:The Movie in a theatre. I saw bits and pieces on tv and I watched the original At the movies with Siskel and Ebert episode where they either reviewed the film or did a special on it and I watched mesmerized as Superman landed in the street, told everyone to stand back, and spun around, digging a hole in the ground and dropping into a tunnel to go and face Lex Luthor.
It was years later before I saw how that scene played out in full. My imagination filled in a very different storyline after he dropped into the tunnel and I’m pretty sure mine had a lot more action in it.
I read the comic version, I listened to the story record of the movie and I had almost all of the trading cards. I loved Superman. I used to watch the re-runs of the old Adventures of Superman show with George Reeves when I was little and I ran around the house with a towel around my neck and in my mind, I saved my family and friends a thousand times from some evil doer or another.
It was an Event in my life when in 1981, at the age of 10, my dad decided that our souls would not be lost if we ventured to a theater and saw one certain film. It was THE film. I loved Star Wars and the force was strong with me, but for some reason, the only thing that mattered to me, the movie I would die if I didn’t get to see, that film was the one my dad decided to take me to. You have already figured this out I’m sure, but just for clarity, that film was Superman II.
I may be wrong but I believe we were actually in Kansas when this happened. We traveled a lot, so I could have the location wrong but that feels right. Later in life I realized that my dad was indeed being a great dad (and make no mistake, he is a great dad. My life was no horror show, it was wonderful. My father was and is the greatest man I’ve ever known and I love him.) but one reason we went was because he wanted to see it almost as much as I did.
My small mind was reeling as I munched my popcorn and dad smiled at me and ate his whoppers and we watched this epic film un-spool in front of us. Watching Superman battle the 3 villains was the most thrilling thing I had ever seen. Seeing Superman throw one of them into the giant coke sign was awesome. That whole battle was breathtaking. It was epic. It made me believe in heroes. It made me want to stand for Truth, Justice and the American way too. Over the summer of ’81 I saw that film more times than I can count. That summer I saw Raiders of the Lost Ark as well, but that was later. Films came out slower then, not in the massive saturation releases like they do now.
For me, that was the pinnacle of Superman. Superman 3 was okay as a kid, now it is a curiosity at best. By then, the magic had passed though, at least for me. I had moved on. The less said about Superman 4 the better. It was just sad. It was a joke. Part of me found that heartbreaking. Heartbreaking because I remembered the joy. The AWE of the second film. The late 80’s and early 90’s were not kind to Superman. There were no further big screen adventures for him. I thought the show Lois and Clark was fine, but it wasn’t for me. It was a love story. Superman was about action and adventure (to me) and this television version was so…earth bound.
I thought Smallville was really good. I enjoyed their take on the mythology. It felt grounded in the modern world. Tom Welling was great but it wasn’t a story about Superman, it was a story about Clark Kent and his journey to adulthood. Michael Rosenbaum may have given the definitive version of Lex Luthor so far. He was smart and charming and had a nice edge to him.
Like most of geekdom, I was excited by the news in 2005 that director Bryan Singer was bringing Superman back to the big screen. It seemed like the time was right. Bryan Singer had done what they said was impossible and brought X-Men to life not once but twice, and the second film was brilliant and better than the first. He was on fire and it seemed he could do no wrong. It is easy to forget this now, but at the time, his decision to not reboot the character completely but to instead do a soft reboot and pick up after Superman II was met with excitement. It will spare us a retelling of his origin story is what we all said. Setting the film in Richard Donner’s world was the right thing to do, we said. It shows the respect to the man who created the screen Superman that we all grew up with and loved.
I think it’s fair to say that the resulting film, Superman Returns, was something of a disappointment. It was too reverential to the films that Donner had made and the world he had built. The film felt like it was running at half-speed through the projector. Everyone moved at normal speed but nothing happened for (what felt like) hours at a time. Superman flew but he didn’t soar. I will not lay the blame on the actors though. They were saddled with a script that didn’t give them anything to do. Superman was on-screen but he didn’t seem to know he had any powers. Brandon Routh was good. He was doing exactly what he was being asked to do. He was doing his best impression of Christopher Reeves. What had seemed like a great idea (keeping the film in Donner’s universe) turned out to be shackles that the film could never free itself from. I could go into a whole list of problems with this film but I have spent enough time laying down all the back story, its time to get to the story at hand.
When I went into the Imax theatre on Thursday night, I was going through the films one by one, much like I have done here. I can honestly say that the last time I had been transported by a Superman film…had truley felt transported and felt the awe…was Superman II. In a world of breathtaking cinematic film like The Dark Knight and jaw dropping spectacle like The Avengers, Superman felt quaint. It felt corny. It felt hopelessly out of touch with the modern world. Then the lights went down. Over the next 2 hours and 23 minutes, something amazing happened. I was transformed. Somewhere during the film I realized I was 10 years old again. I believed again.
From the first moments, as Hans Zimmer’s soon-to-be iconic score began and we hear a woman giving birth, I knew the film was in good hands. Russell Crowe gives his best performance in years as Jor-El, Superman’s father, and there is wisdom in his eyes and certainty in his voice as he tells the council that Krypton is doomed and the only hope for their people lay in the stars.
I am not going to give you a beat by beat recounting of the storyline, but the film knows that the story of Superman’s birth and the death of his home world are almost in our cultural dna now and it plays with that. The best compliment I can give the production designers is that I wanted the film to stay on Krypton for as long as possible. The world is absolutely stunning. Gone is the cold ice-like crystalline world of the 1978 film. This Krypton feels alive. It feels fully thought out. From the creatures that roam the landscape to the dragon that Jor-El flies on to the A.I assistants that follow him and Lara (Ayelet Zurer) around giving information and stats as needed. The world building here is just stunning on almost every level. The thing that I love most about Krypton is that it is so unabashedly science fiction. It’s the pulpy sci-fi from the 1950’s that we remember fondly. They don’t stop to explain how things work in this world, but it feels like someone did work it all out. It makes sense in a weird way.
Here on Krypton we learn there hasn’t been a natural birth in centuries. Here children are bred to be warriors or scientist or doctors or what-have you. Everyone has a purpose from birth. From before birth. We see the farms, called Genesis Chambers where babies are grown and here the film does owe a debt to The Matrix and its human farms, but where that was dark and creepy, this is just…well creepy. Everything is very well-lit on Krypton.
The fact that Jor-El and Lara Lor-Van have gone against a thousand years of tight control and had a natural birth is talked about but not in great detail. Jor-El has decided to hide the future of the Kryptonian race (something called a Codex) with his newborn son, Kal-El and send him to the relatively new world of Earth where he will grow and have a chance to be whatever he wants to be. He will be given a chance to live.
All of this happens during an attempted coup by the military leader of Krypton, General Zod, played to perfection by the always compelling Michael Shannon. The coup is stopped at the last-minute and Zod and his second in command Faora-UI (Antje Traue) and several other nameless villains are tried and sentenced to 300 cycles (something else on this world that feels thought out but not explained) in the Phantom Zone.
Not long after the small ship containing young Kal-El is launched towards Earth and our villains are shot into their own high-tech prison, Krypton does exactly what Jor-El said it would do and implodes/explodes in what is a very understated but effective sequence.
I have described to you what is the first 12-15 minutes of the film. As I said, the filmmakers know that we know the origin story of Superman and it is here that they begin to play with it. The small ship crashes through the atmosphere of Earth and we jump 33 years into the future to a bearded Clark Kent working on a fishing boat in the middle of the sea. We are used to seeing these kinds of stories told in sequence and in order. But we all know the story to a degree so the film feels comfortable in mixing things up. It is a bold choice and one that works very well. For one thing it allows the story to move along at a good click and not get bogged down and for another, it throws us off-balance for a minute. We are used to seeing these films in a certain order after all and it feels like the film just skipped a reel or two.
It gives us the chance to meet Clark Kent before we’ve seen him grow up. Its subtle but it does something interesting. We know that Clark is going to be Superman. We know that he is a good guy who cares about people. But by skipping seeing that up front, we are seeing this character for the first time the way the people in this world are seeing him for the first time: Bearded and bedraggled. He is a good-looking fellow to be sure, but he is also quiet and keeps to himself. When the fishing boat receives a distress call from an oil rig on fire, they race to help out and when they look around for their new deck hand, he is nowhere to be found. Of course he is already on the rig helping to save complete strangers. We are in a small room in the interior of the rig where several men are trapped. They are scared and desperate. Their only way out is a door that has a raging fire on the other side of it. The door starts to bulge inwards and they brace for death, but the door is ripped off its hinges and a bearded man, with the fire having burned away his shirt and the flames licking at his skin but seeming to just fall away without burning him, steps in and waves them out.
This is our first view of Superman. It is thrilling. It is a man doing extraordinary things without giving thought to his own safety because he knows that his safety is never in question. Then, when he has saved them all and the rig explodes flinging him into the water, as he floats with his eyes closed, we flashback to what I am assuming is the day his powers first started to show themselves.
I knew from the first scene we were in good hands, but it was here that I started to feel that feeling down in my stomach. I started to feel the character being reborn. We were in the hands of a brilliant filmmaker and he was making what I believe will be one of his defining films. It is an amazing feeling to be there on opening night, at the midnight show, with a packed theatre full of people ready to be transported and to have the film deliver the goods and actually be transporting.
Henry Cavill is everything you want Superman to be. He is chiseled and cut. He is good-looking. He is charming and disarming in manner. When he speaks, he has that quality of voice that says he is sure of who he is and the quality of his own character. When he smiles, he has the dimples and the twinkle in his eyes that Superman just has to have to be successful on-screen. I know it sounds like I’m a love-struck teenage girl writing a fan letter, but there are just so many ways they could have gotten this wrong.
Take Brandon Routh for example. I said earlier that he was good as Superman. I mean that. The one thing he was though was too young. His Superman felt too much like Superboy. Tom Welling was more rugged looking and would have been a better fit. Much was made early on that Henry Cavill was the first British actor to play the iconic American hero. I will say that anyone who doesn’t know better will swear up and down that he was born and raised in Kansas after seeing this film. His accent is dead on and never wavers one bit through-out the films running time.
Much like the first film in 1978, this film is stacked top to bottom with great actors turning in great performances. In addition to Russell Crowe, Michael Shannon and Henry Cavill, there are great showings from Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, Amy Adams, Christopher Meloni, Laurence Fishburn, Richard Schiff, Harry Lennix and Michael Kelly.
Special praise should also be given to two young actors who I’ve never seen before. Cooper Timberline plays Clark at 9 years old, and Dylan Sprayberry plays him at 13. Both give amazing performances. After years of suffering through the mugging that passes for “acting” on any number of shows on Disney Channel and Nickelodeon its nice to see that there are still great young actors who know how to play real scenes with real emotion.
During the first flashback, when we see Clark seeing things with his x-ray vision, you can see how this would be a nightmare if you didn’t know what was happening. It’s not the x-ray vision we all wished we had when we were young and dreamed of seeing into the girls locker-room at school. This is true x-ray vision. Clark sees through people. Not just through their clothes, through them. Seeing someones organs, blood and heart beating as well at their brains and back-bone would certainly be disconcerting. All the more horrific if you didn’t know why you were seeing these things.
By placing Clark’s younger years in flashback, the film gets to have it both ways. It doesn’t have to rush though them at the front of the film and give the audience a fast and thinly drawn sketch of his childhood and it breaks up the locomotive like nature of the second and third acts of the film. We get to see key moments in his young life and it feels like its filling in the pieces of what made him the man he is little by little. After the movie is over you realize that we have seen very little of his formative years but it feels like we’ve seen what we need to see,
I realize that this review is starting to feel as long as the shooting script of the film but to be fair, I told you at the beginning of this (Like 64 hours ago) that I was having trouble with how to put it all into words. I am giving some thought to maybe splitting this into 2 separate articles. Maybe a Man of Steel Review pt1: Preamble and Man of Steel Review pt2 :Get to the bloody point already. I guess we’ll see how many words I wind up typing and go from there, deal?
I think Kevin Costner and Diane Lane do a great deal with not a lot. Costner especially. I read somewhere else and I agree with the sentiment that it would be the best of both worlds in every sense of the word to have Russell Crowe and Kevin Costner as your two fathers. Crowe has the authority of a warrior in his voice and Costner has the world-weary and down home wisdom of a different kind but equally effective warrior in his. You can see in Costner’s few scenes that this man truly did shape Clark’s character and made him the man he grew up to be. I have seen it in trailers since late last year but when Costner tells him “You have to decide what kind of man you want to be, Clark. Because that man, good character or bad…is going to change the World.” I got chills down my spine. Costner has always had this ability but here it is more potent than its been in years, that when he says something on-screen, you know it’s the truth.
Diane Lane doesn’t say a lot during the flashback scenes, where it is mostly left to Costner to impart the wisdom, but once his character is out of the picture, she takes a more direct role in the film. You can see that both of his earthly parents have had an impact on the man that he is. His mothers love and un-complicated understanding and simple acceptance ground him.
Another thing the film gets right is Lois Lane. Speaking just in terms of the films that have come before, Lois Lane might be the single worst reporter to ever have a story printed. Lets over look the fact that she couldn’t deduce that the tall guy who just happened to come to work at the paper a few weeks before Superman appears on the scene, saving her life and knowing her name, might be the said same Superman, she is just a bad reporter. She is always getting into situations that, if it were not for Superman, she would die horrible deaths in, so how she stayed alive long enough to actually meet Superman is beyond me.
Here, we meet Lois as she steps off a helicopter and shakes hands with Helo…um…I mean a guy who works for Arctic Transport. Let me throw this in as an aside for some of my fellow nerds/geeks out there. The beginning of this film features a reunion of sorts of Battlestar Galactica actors. In a bar scene where Clark is working, one of the soldiers talking about the vessel found in the arctic is played by Mike Dopud who played one of the Pegasus soldiers in season 2 of Battlestar. The aforementioned Arctic Transport guy is played by Helo himself, Tahmoh Penikett and the main radar guy at the arctic base is played by Alessandro Juliani who played Lt. Felix Gaeta. Okay, aside over.
From the moment we meet her in this film, Lois is in the thick of things. She is smart, sharp and able to hold her own in both a drinking contest and in the middle of a crisis when things start to fall to pieces during the last act. As played by Amy Adams, she is also a beautiful redhead, which I think is a first for the character. The redhead part I mean, not the beautiful part. One of the things that made me happy in the film is that we get to see her being an actual, honest to god investigative reporter. She does a masterful job of tracking this ghost of a stranger who goes around helping people and then disappearing into thin air all the way back to Smallville, Kansas and the home of one Martha Kent. She doesn’t need any superpowers to do it, no help from anyone, just her brain and her talent.
I realize that I can do this all day: I can go actor by actor and character by character and beat by beat through out the film. I am tempted to do just that because it’s so thrilling when a film gets so many things right. But I’m not going to. I’m going to stop myself because that is boring. Let me just say this, the cast is fantastic. All the parts, big and small, are cast with capable and good actors doing great work. No one “phones” it in, as they say.
Let me spend just a few paragraphs talking about the people behind the scenes.
There was some concern around the interwebs when Zack Snyder was given the reigns of this film. He had done good work to be sure, but some had said, with some justification, that he was all style and no substance. His adaptation of Watchmen had been almost too true to the source material. It had been so slavish to the graphic novel that it didn’t quite work on its own terms. There was also the usual mutterings that there would be too much speed ramping and that the film would feel set bound. I happen to really like Snyder as a filmmaker and even I was a little concerned about this at first. 300 was a great film but it did have the feel of something shot with green screens on a set. This was because it was shot with green screens on a set. To a certain degree this was also true of Watchmen even though a lot more of that was shot on actual sets than it might appear. It was however, shot on a lot of soundstages.
His last film before this, Sucker Punch was also set and green screen bound, but his first film, the 2004 re-make of Dawn of the Dead did not feature any speed ramping, it was shot almost entirely on location and there is almost no green screens anywhere to be found. I can say (as if it wasn’t already apparent from the trailers) that Man of Steel bares almost no marks of being a Zack Snyder film. Well, that is if you didn’t see his first film and only know him from his other work.
Snyder has beautiful control of his frame. He knows where to put the camera and during a lot of the battle scenes, it makes you feel like you are in the middle of the action. This movement gives the illusion of truth. In other words, it makes the un-believability of what is happening seem more real. This is most true during the mid-film battle of Smallville. The action has the chaotic feel of a real battle, but geographically, we always know where we are in relation to what is happening on-screen. As a comparison, I offer you the utter chaos of the final battles in either Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen or Transformers: Dark of the Moon. In those films, it seemed as if the director of photography had a nervous breakdown during the last act of the film and the cameras just skittered around in all directions and it gave the audiences motion sickness. There is none of that here. Even during the most chaotic scenes, we know what is happening where and to whom.
This brings me to the action. I mentioned both the last two Transformers films above, but they can’t hold a candle to the last act of this film. I know what you’re thinking. Those films were complete garbage. This is true, but to audiences at large, they still are the standard bearers for large-scale action. There are other, more discerning members of the audiences, like myself, who hold The Avengers in very high regard. I have let it be known to all who care that I am a Whedon acolyte and I have loved all the Marvel films and I loved that one above all others. Until last Thursday night, I too felt that the last act of The Avengers raised the bar on what an action film could be.
Man of Steel has taken that bar and raised it yet again. It was here, during the battle of Smallville and then going into the final act of the film that my transformation to a giddy 10-year-old was complete. As a child I was floored at the action in Superman II because it was the one film where Superman actually got to punch people. Its one thing to be able to fly faster than a speeding bullet and bend steel and lift cars. Unfortunately, when you are the strongest man on earth, and you punch a regular earthling, your fist tends to go right through them and you are now less of a superhero and more of a, you know, murderer.
That has always been one of the things that made Superman a boring character to watch on-screen. It is here that the filmmakers made another of their really good decisions. By having General Zod and his soldiers show up over the planet and force Superman to show himself to the world, it draws a very clear line between them for both us, the audience and the people in the film. We know that Zod is a villain because the film has made that clear by his actions at the beginning of the film. To the people of Earth in the film, he is many things at once: he is a General. We know what that is, it’s a military man. It’s an authority figure. He is also, and above all else, an Alien.
The one aspect that every single cinematic version of the character has skipped over is the First Contact angle. He is an alien among us. He has superpowers, yes. He can fly, sure. But as Kevin Costner says in the film “You are the answer, Clark. The answer to are we alone in the universe”. This is a huge event in the film, as it should be. The first time the world at large knows there is this alien among us, this man who will become a savior. This man they will begin to call Superman because of the amazing things he can do. The first time they are aware of him is when an Alien Ship appears in the sky, overrides all television and satellite communication on the planet and tells them he is here. “He will look like you, but he is not one of you” Zod says in his transmission. By asking the human race to “Return him to my custody” Zod is implying without saying it, that the alien is a criminal. That he is hiding because he is here for nefarious reasons. It is a masterful piece of screenwriting.
Where the 1981 film played Zod as a power mad maniac bent on revenge, this film plays him much different. He seems reasonable at first. The onus is on Superman to show himself and prove that he is not a criminal out to do us harm. I like that the film puts Superman back on his heels at this first meeting. The U.S goverment and military act exactly like they would in real life: they agree to surrender Kal-El to the General and hope that he goes away and leaves us in peace. Of course, had Superman just said no and refused then things would have gone a lot different. Yes, it would have probably turned out the same in the end, but right from the start, Superman lays himself down for us. Right from the start he knows that we are scared and weak and it is in that moment, that trial by fire if you will, that I think the boy becomes a man and the real hero that we know is born.
I believe that from the moment the camera pans away from the tanks and soldiers with guns towards the classic image of him in the suit and floating 20-30 feet above the desert, he truly becomes Superman.
I won’t go through the twists and turns that the plot takes through the last part of the film, but suffice it to say that things do not go well once Superman surrenders to Zod and goes back to face him on the ship above the planet. I was both surprised and pleased with how well Lois is integrated into the action during this part of the film and with how much of a hand we have as a species in saving our own skin during the endgame of the film. You can tell from trailers (if you know what you’re looking at) that the military is involved in the battles and I am happy to say that by the time we get to the final, apocalyptic battle over, under and in the middle of Metropolis, both the military and Superman are fighting together and in tandem to free the planet from Zod’s final solution to the human problem.
As I alluded to earlier, this final battle is one for the ages. Much has been written over the last week about the sheer scale of the destruction in the last act. There has been some vocal critics of the wanton violence seen here. They say that its hard to enjoy a film where it is obvious that the death toll is in the thousands if you’re being conservative, hundreds of thousands if you’re being more honest.
Is this something to think about? Yes, of course it is. And it is here that I have wrestled the most with what to say, and how much to say for fear of kicking open the doors on spoilers. I have come to the conclusion that if you have read the preceding 5663 words and are still with me, you either have already seen the film and are interested in my thoughts, or you have read the front page of Yahoo.com and countless other websites trolling for views and have already had the end of the film spoiled for you. Either way, I offer this one large SPOILER WARNING….SPOILER WARNING…..SPOILER WARNING…..SPOILER WARNING…..SPOILER WARNING…..SPOILER WARNING.
Okay, are you still with me? Good. I thought you might be. So now I’m going to talk about the ending of the film. Both the general mayhem that is the battle of Metropolis and the other thing that happens at the end. That thing that people are up in arms over and saying it betrays everything that Superman stands for.
First, the battle. Yes, it is brutal. It is beyond brutal actually. It is the very definition of Apocalyptic. I say that because that is exactly what’s at stake. It isn’t about ruling us. Zod isn’t interested in setting himself up as leader of the world. He can’t breathe our air without it causing him pain. Kal-El has spent his entire life here, growing accustomed to our atmosphere. That is what makes him Superman. In this telling of the mythology, it isn’t just our young yellow Sun that gives him power, it’s the very molecules in the air. Those molecules are what made him “Fight for every breath” as Martha tells him. The computer image/shadow consciousness of Jor-El tries to reason with Zod on Zod’s ship as the World Engine begins its Terraforming of the planet, turning Earth into a new Krypton. He says that they could live in peace, to which Zod snorts in derision “And suffer through years of pain, like your son did?”. It’s clear from his manner that this is not even an option worth thinking about. When Doctor Emil Hamilton realizes what is happening and says the machine in the Indian Ocean is Terraforming the Earth into a new Krypton, the young Corp. asks “What happens to us?” to which he replies “There won’t be an us”.
No, this is the end of all life on this planet. Every man, woman, child, animal, plant, everything…..all of it dies. It all dies violently and forever. THAT is what is at stake in the last act of the film. So, yes, I am sure that hundreds of thousands of innocent people died in the rubble of that battle. Yes, in classic Superman lore, he always went out of his way to save every single human and tried to pull the battles out of the city. Lets think about this for just a second though. This is the first time he has taken on the mantle of Superman. He has always moved from place to place, helping who he could and then moving on. This is different. His father, or the image of his father, Jor-El tells him “You can save them. You can save ALL of them” before he launches himself towards the planet and into the battle of Smallville. He is trying to do just that. He is trying to save the entire planet. Not just the people here now, but every person who has yet to be born from now until the end of time.
So, yes. I know this is all Big Picture stuff, but I am trying to answer a lot of things I’ve been asked in person myself this weekend and things that I’ve read in reviews on-line. Reviews by people I respect and admire. But people who seem to be missing the forest for the trees on this issue. Something I’ve read a few places and was asked by a friend during a casual conversation about the film on Saturday night was about the World Engine. They wanted to know why Superman went to destroy the one in the Indian Ocean first and not the one in Metropolis where it seemed that people were being flattened by the thousands.
I was thrown by this at first. Went to destroy the one in the Indian Ocean first? There was always only one World Engine. During the film this is made clear. When they retrofit the Phantom Drives in the ship he arrived here in, it is plainly said that the small ship and its Phantom Drive will act as a bomb and collide with the Phantom Drive in Zod’s ship and create a black hole, sucking the entire ship into it in the process. This can only be done when the World Engine has been destroyed. That is why all through the plane ride from the base to the city, Col. Hardy keeps asking command if it’s been done yet, and they keep saying not yet.
Zod’s ship is slaved to the World Engine but the film makes it clear that the Terraformer is working with or without it being slaved. The read out that Emil Hamilton is looking at shows the pulses emanating from the World Engine up through the planet. That is what is effecting the gravity in Metropolis, causing the cars to flatten out. Did being slaved to the ship make things go faster? Without doubt. If I had to take a guess, I would say that Superman knew he had to take out the Terraformer anyway and since the Phantom bomb wouldn’t do it’s thing while the World Engine was operational, he figured it was a safe bet to go after that one first.
It’s the little things like this that drive me crazy. People don’t pay attention or miss key details and then use that to point fingers at the film and say Stupid screenwriting. Lazy writer should have worked harder and I would have enjoyed it more. And don’t tell me that it should have been made clearer and been told and re-told again to make it clear. When screenwriters do make things obvious and overly clear, you say that they don’t trust the audience to keep up. Listen to your own advice and keep up. I did.
Yes, when he finally gets past all the nano-snakes that are guarding the World Engine and destroys it, they yell it over the radio. They tell them that he did it and they are clear for their approach. That is when all hell breaks loose on this side of the battlefront. I like the way flying is handled in this film. When Superman takes off, its like a launch. He goes almost faster than the eye can track him. The same is true for the Kryptonian villains as well.
I will digress here for just a second. In the battle of Smallville when Faora starts taking apart the soldiers in the streets, its like she is a ghost moving. You don’t track her from one spot to the next, she is just here and then she is here. You get the feeling that Superman doesn’t even really know how fast he can go, just that he hasn’t reached his limits yet.
When he is laying on the beach after destroying the Terraformer, he just seems to look up and then we cut back to Metropolis and the chaos on the plane, but it seems like only minutes until Superman is blasting into Zod’s ship. I have said in one way or another several times in this review, but this is the first film where we’ve seen Superman doing truly Superman like things. He is, in essence, a god on Earth and this film shows him doing almost god-like things.
This brings us to the final showdown between Superman and Zod. People seem to forget that Superman doesn’t even get to Metropolis until the end of the battle. He gets there in time to disable Zod’s ship and save Lois after she falls out of the back of the plane. It’s after this, after he thinks they are all gone and he is standing amidst the ruins of the city that Zod shows himself for their last face to face.
Yes, this is a brutal battle. Yes, it seems very unsafe as they knock each other into, through the middle of and all over many buildings during the course of this battle. I am going to go out on a limb here and say that right around the time the World Engine started flattening cars, busses and lets face it, people, the city started evacuating itself. We never see any kind of concerted effort being done, but Perry White cannot have been the only human to look out the window and said We are leaving. We are leaving the building now! In fact, when Zod and Superman face off in the middle of one building, it is desolate. They are alone. I’m going to take this as the filmmakers subtle hint that this part of the city, at least the high rises, are empty by this point.
It is right in this area of the film where Zod says something that I think compels Superman to do the thing he does. Zod tells him that he was bred to be a protector of his people. Any action that he took, no matter how violent or cruel, was done to protect his people. He also says that now, since Kal-El has destroyed all of his soldiers and the last of his hopes for a new Krypton, he has no people. He says that Kal-El has taken his very soul.
Then he says the first of two things that seal his fate. He says that since Kal-El has chosen these people over his own, that he (Zod) will take every single one of them, one at a time, away. He will kill them all. He will never stop. He will never rest. He will never give up. Remember, the longer Zod is on Earth, the stronger he gets. The more he realizes how strong he is, the more dangerous he will become. He cannot be reasoned with. He cannot be bargained with, to borrow a phrase from The Terminator. He was bred to be a warrior. He is cruel by nature. Jor-El said at the beginning of the film that he had become a monster. Now, Kal-El has taken his very reason for existence. Now it has become about revenge. Now it is personal.
Then, during the battle he says the second of two things that seal his fate. He says plainly. There is only one way this ends, Kal. Either you die or I do. It doesn’t get much clearer than that. Superman has to be thinking through the different senarios. Can I take him away from the city? Can I lock him away somewhere? If so, where? He is getting stronger. He is cruel and filled with hate for me and this planet and everyone on it. What if we fight and he finds a way to hurt me? What if he kills me? His next stop will be to tear Lois in half. Then my Mother. Then the rest.
Zod taunts him with this: I was born to be a warrior. Trained since birth in the art of it. Where were you trained? A farm??
How long before he gets the upper hand? He is a warrior. How long before the rage subsides and he truly does become cruel?
Then they slam through the top of what I am assuming is Grand Central Station and for a single moment, Superman gets the upper hand and he has Zod in a headlock. Zod knows his weakness for human life and he also realizes he has this amazing new power to fry things with his eyes and the simple will to do it. He sees the family huddled against the wall. I can hurt them and in the process I can hurt Kal-El as well. If you love these people so much, you can mourn them. You can mourn them all. And he fires this amazing fire against the people, but Kal-El pulls his head to the side. It’s okay, he thinks, let them scream. Let Kal scream too.
Superman screams and tries one last time to reason with Zod. Stop this. Don’t do this. Stop this! he is yelling. Then the one last word from Zod that opens the path to the final answer, no matter how horrible it is to even consider. With this final word, Zod puts the final nail in his own coffin. Never.
Superman does the only thing he can do. He has sworn to both of his fathers to protect this world and its people. This war will never end. Zod will never stop. He will never stop. It will never end. The world will burn. In the end, it will all burn. People will die, and the world will eventually turn on Kal-El as well. They will live in so much fear and with so much death that they will grow to hate their protector, they will hate this alien. They will hate this Superman.
In that instant, the choice is made. With a scream, he twists and breaks Zods neck. Even as Zod falls dead to the ground, the enormity of what he has done hits him and he drops to his knees and screams. It is a primal scream. A scream of loss that no human can even comprehend. Zod was the last. He has just killed the very last of his people. He is alone.
I have inbued the above paragraphs with a little writers flurish, its true, but in my mind as I watched the film for the first time, that is what went through my head. That is the story I saw. I think the screenwriter David S. Goyer and his story partner Christopher Nolan trusted the audience enough to give us that ending. I think they layered in enough clues in the final moments of the film for us to arrive at the conclusion I have just put down. I didn’t make any of that up, that was the dialog from the film. Those things happened in that order.
Now, in the past has Superman always found a way? I guess so, I’m not really sure to be honest. I have made no secret that aside from some GI:Joe in the early 80’s, I never really read comic books, but based on what I have heard from people who know, he always found a way to not kill someone. Maybe an older Superman in this very film series will learn things about say, Kryptonite that will make him realize that he could have shackled Zod and kept him alive. I don’t know. Maybe that realization will drive him to swear against killing in the future. I don’t know, but in any event, in this film and in this situation, there was no other answer. Not in the moment.
I have tried my best to answer the biggest charges leveled against the film, but what I want to leave you with if you have defied the odds and made it this far is this: This film made me giddy. It turned me into a 10 year old boy who loved the idea of a Superman who could do the things he did. He helped people. He cared. He always tried to do the best he could.
Superman was the first superhero and in many ways, he was left behind by all the other flashier heros in the last few decades. In a world of Dark Knights and Billionaire playboys with their metal suits, Superman seemed trapped in the amber of the 1978 film version. It seemed corny and quaint to like Superman.
I have left out so many little moments. Sweet and cool little things that you will marvel (sorry) at when you see the film. The true joy in this kind of film is not knowing the spoilers or not not knowing them. Its in just letting the story wash over you in the cool dark theatre and being transported to another world. A world where men can fly and do astounding things.
This film has done in 143 minutes what felt like an almost herculean task only Months ago: It has made Superman cool again.
It is the Superman film I dreamed about when I was little with that towel around my neck and pretended to save people because it was the right thing to do. Also, it seemed cool. In 1981, Superman II came as close as any Superman film ever came, but now it’s easy to see just how far off the mark it really was.
Man of Steel is the Superman film I’ve waited my entire life to see. It is pure magic in the old hollywood sense of the word.
To paraphrase what Lois says to Clark in the final moments of the film:
Hello, Superman. Welcome to the Planet. It is so good to see you again.
5 stars out of 5. Pure magic, front to back and top to bottom.
Until next time, keep the projector threaded.