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***SPOILER ALERT***
Spoilers will appear here and are welcome.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

A Review of Man of Steel - A Fresh Retelling of an Old Story



 ***The Spoiler Light Is On***

Man of Steel (2013)

Oh my, what a film.  I went into the theater with some very high expectations for this film; and was not disappointed in the slightest!  As a matter of fact, my expectations were well exceeded by this movie, and I will definitely be seeing it again before it leaves the theaters here.

I was not planning to see Man of Steel at all.  I have been repeatedly disappointed by superhero films time and again; most recently by Iron Man 3.  I had pretty much decided to give up on this particular branch of the genre, but I saw the trailer for Man of Steel earlier this spring.  The trailer looked so good that I figured I would give this one a try, and I am glad I did.

Everyone knows the basic plot of the Superman saga; Krypton is a dying planet, Jor-El sends Kal-El to Earth, where the air is less dense, and the gravity is lower, thus allowing Kal-El to have powers beyond that of mortal man.  Dubbed Superman by Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane, he faces numerous foes and defeats them in the name of “Truth, Justice and the American Way.”  The writers and director of Man of Steel do indeed preserve the basic Superman plot line, but they go for a more serious brand of movie-making focusing on the stories of the characters and their motivations.

The film opens on the planet Krypton whose population has overextended their natural resources resulting in the imminent destruction of the planet due to an unstable core.  While Jor-El meets with the ruling council of Krypton about how to save their race, General Zod enters the picture perpetrating a coup to take over.  Despite Jor-El’s appeals to Zod to focus on the problem from a scientific point of view, Zod proceeds to kill members of the council and take control.  Jor-El sees the futility of his efforts, retrieves the Codex (that which contains the genetic codes for all Kryptonians), and places it in a small spacecraft along with his naturally born son, Kal-El, and launches the craft to Earth.  Zod tries to stop the launch, but is too late.  He kills Jor-El and is captured by security forces and sentenced to a long period of imprisonment in the Phantom Zone.  Finally, Krypton explodes and releases Zod and his followers from the Phantom Zone.  They promptly go off in search of Kal-El to retrieve the Codex and revive the Kryptonite race.

Flash forward to a young Clark Kent, who begins discovering his powers, but he doesn’t know what is happening to him.  He has x-ray vision and super-strength and is not sure where it is coming from or why.  After several incidents being witnessed by others, John Kent (Ckark’s human surrogate father) shows Clark the vessel he arrived on Earth in and gives him a key which unlocks the powers of devices that appear throughout the movie.   This takes place during a series of flash back and forth scenes showing how Clark grows up.  John manages to convince Clark that even though he has these special abilities, he must keep them a secret for the time being.  The final act that John demonstrates his belief in secrecy is during a tornado scene where John is unable to save himself from being killed, but he prevents Clark, who would have been more than able to save him, from doing so.  This is a very poignant scene.  There are numerous scenes showing the development of Clark Kent as he grows into the man that would become Superman.

Clark, who is acting as a worker with a military expedition in an arctic region, discovers a ship that has been buried in the ice for thousands of years.  It was put there by the people of Krypton in anticipation of their planet’s demise as an attempt to find suitable places to colonize.  This ship also becomes Superman’s Fortress of Solitude.

In the last part of the film, Zod and his followers finally discover where Kal-El is because when Kal used the key to activate his Fortress, it also inadvertently set off a distress beacon that leads Zod to Earth.  A battle ensues between Zods forces and Superman, while the U.S. Army is trying to kill ALL of the aliens, including Superman.  While downing several aircraft, Superman manages to save several soldiers including the commander of the Army forces, who decides that Superman is actually fighting to save lives and destroy Zod.

Zod separates his ship into two parts that take places at opposite points on the globe and they begin to send a pulse through the planet in an attempt to terraform the Earth into a new Krypton.  The part of the ship that is parked above Metropolis contains unborn children of Krypton, but Zod needs the Codex that is discovered to be contained in the cells of Superman.  Superman, in the meantime flies to the other side of the Earth to destroy that part of Zod’s ship while the military takes Superman’s ship that brought him to Earth to use as a bomb to destroy the piece of Zod’s ship above Metropolis.  This strategy works by creating a small singularity (black hole) that destroys the ship, and swallows up all of Zod’s forces, as well as the seeds of the new Kryptonite race.  This leaves Zod alone to face Superman in a fight to the death.  Zod tells Superman that it is going to end with either the death of himself or that of Superman.  This turns out to be prophetic because as Zod declares and begins to carry out his new mission to eradicate all life on Earth, Superman is forced to snap his neck to prevent him from starting his genocidal plans with a family.  After killing Zod, Superman falls to his knees in anguish having killed the last of his kind, other than himself.

The movie ends with Superman posing as Clark Kent, a new reporter for the Daily Planet.  Roll Credits.

There are many reasons aside from the story that has been reworked and made into a completely new retelling of the Superman saga.  First in my mind are the performances turned in by the actors, especially the lead, Henry Cavill who portrays Superman as an unassuming character who is working to learn who he is and what his purpose in life is.  Jor-El portrayed by Russell Crowe turns in a performance that is beautifully done.  He not only appears in the beginning of the film, but comes back throughout the film to help Superman learn and grow as well as try to appeal to Zod one last time, however unsuccessfully.  Kevin Costner as John Kent gives a very convincing performance as a father who really wants to guide his son right to the end, finally sacrificing himself to keep Kal-El from exposing himself and his abilities too early.  And finally, Michael Shannon as Zod was absolutely brilliant in showing that his character was not just an evil nemesis for Superman, but rather someone who was charged with preserving his race, and was driven to do his job, no matter the cost.

While the scenery through most of the movie was good, the CGI created to show the Planet Kryptonite was some of the most impressive and imaginative to date.  There is so much to see in the vistas created by the CGI team that just that first 40 minutes of that film would be worth seeing again to see what was missed the first time around.
 

If there is a weakness to Man of Steel, I would have to say that the Character of Lois Lane would be the weak link.  I just didn’t think that the writers were sure of what to do with her and she was popping up n some very unrealistic places.  Her weakest link though was at the very end of the film when she was introduced to Clark Kent coming in as a new reporter for the Daily Planet, especially after she had met with Clark’s mother, and visited with him as Clark in several places in the film.  But, this is a Superman move and Lois had to be in there somewhere.

I would actually say that this was three films rolled into one with the first part depicting the origins of Kal-El, the destruction of Krypton, and the story of how Zod was chastised for doing what he was born to do.  The second part is the character development, especially that of Superman.  And finally the third part that is the battle to either resurrect the Kryptonite society, or preserve the people of the Earth.

In any case, this is an outstanding movie that runs the complete gambit of emotions, is packed full of life and death, and consequences of one’s actions.  This is one of those films that I think MUST be seen in a theater on a big screen at least once.  I viewed in in 2D and didn’t see very much that would be added by seeing it in 3D, with the possible exceptions of the CGI work in the first part of the film.

As I mentioned before, I have been very disappointed in the past with superhero films, but I think that Man of Steel sets the bar pretty high.  I will go as far as to say it is the best superhero film I have ever seen.  If I may be so bold as to quote myself from a post I made to Facebook right after I arrived home: “Hey Marvel and Disney, want to know how to make a great superhero film?  See Man of Steel!  Now That’s How It’s Done.”

Well, there it is…

QaplaH’

Coming Soon to Jim's SciFi Blog, a book review and some news on my favorite podcasts.