After watching six theatrical Superman movies with three different lead actors spanning more than half a century the Krypton Kountdown is over. Man of Steel has finally opened to a box office record for the month of June: $125.1 million in just four days. Yes, apparently it’s cool to be Superman again.
I’ll avoid all spoilers in this review since I’m sure many people are waiting for the crowds to die down. However, I’ll be offering up my comments as usual and know that Superman was really one of my first two superheroes. Growing up in the 70s, we didn’t have comic book stores yet. Well, at least not in the small town I grew up in. My comic book purchases came from whatever the spinning racks offered or what waited for me in those wonderful 3-in-1 grab bags. I can’t remember which came first but Batman and Superman comics were a big part of my early collection, alongside Justice League of America, which routinely featured both. Over the years, I’ve seen Superman’s origin evolve. The Man of Steel mini-series back in the 80s bothered some longtime readers as it altered some long-standing aspects of his origin. Then there was the death of Superman in the 90s, which again turned off some but also brought many readers into, or back into, the comic shops. After years of floating in and out of comics, I was finally living in a town with multiple comic book shops. So that storyline got me hooked and made me a weekly visitor to my local shop until last fall. After a year of struggling with the New 52 revamp, I decided I was staying old school, concentrating on older comics while only staying aware of what new stuff was out there. So, I went into Man of Steel fully aware that the costume would be different and the storyline more contemporary. It wasn’t going to be Christopher Reeve’s Superman anymore.
With all that background, I went in with level expectations…and I really enjoyed Man of Steel. It’s not perfect but considering how disappointing the last two movies with Christopher Reeve were and how lackluster Superman Returns was, Man of Steel is a huge step in the right direction. Henry Cavill (Immortals) really worked for me as Clark Kent aka Superman. He brought a charm to the role without going into an over smiling Boy Scout performance. That is not who Superman is anymore, be that good or bad. Amy Adams worked for me as Lois Lane and left me wanting to see a little more. She’s far better than Kate Bosworth was in Superman Returns. She’s a Lois for the 21st century. Michael Shannon (Mud, Jonah Hex) was fantastic as General Zod, balancing between a man who wanted the best for Krypton and being a homicidal maniac. Kevin Costner and Diane Lane were great as Jonathan and Martha Kent; stronger characters for a different time. Some people may complain that Perry White is played by Laurence Fishburne since Perry is not African American in the comics. Not an issue with me at all, other than Perry had very little to do. I also thought Russell Crowe did a good job as Jor-El. I don’t think he walked his way through the role at all. He played Jor-El as a Kryptonian, somewhat cold yet warm and compassionate in matters relating to his son. Sorry but I can’t Marlon Brando doing some of the things Crowe brought to the role.
The opening scenes on Krypton alter the background a little but not significantly. We get to see more of Krypton, visualizing just how alien this advanced civilization was. As the story progresses, we see young Clark grow into his powers and the struggles he had against his Earth father in deciding when he should use his powers and when not to. I liked how the story fluctuated back and forth between the main story and flashbacks. It wasn’t confusing and told a story that revealed details in relation to how other events were developing on screen. Ultimately, this movie is about the confrontation between Superman and General Zod over the future of Earth. I liked how the authorities were more realistic in how they dealt with and, eventually, accepted Superman. It was realistic in a movie that is clearly based on fantasy.
Man of Steel is darker than any version of Superman we’ve seen before. That’s going to turn some people off. However, the old school Superman doesn’t exist anymore in the comic books. If you want to appeal to a younger audience, you have to bring the character to life as he is being interpreted in the comics. The older, more lighthearted Superman stories are still there to discover in your local comic book shop just as the old movies are still there on the DVD shelf. Both versions can co-exist just as the Adam West Batman can co-exist with the Christian Bale Batman. They are two very different portrayals of an iconic character from two different eras, yet both equally enjoyable depending on your mood.
If I had any complaint against Man of Steel it is that it could have had about 10-15 minutes shaved off the running time. I have no problem with a movie running over two hours as long as it is needed. The battle sequences here go on a little long. Director Zack Snyder (Watchmen, 300) goes a little frenetic at times but didn’t turn me off from the action. The long battle scenes don’t ruin the movie but a slighter tighter hand at the editing wheel would have made the movie that much better. Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight Rises) does a solid job as both producer and screen writer.
I thoroughly enjoyed Man of Steel. It looks like DC Comics has finally revived this franchise. Now, the question is what comes next. The word seems to be that Warner Brothers wants to fast track a sequel by the end of 2014. I really hope that smarter heads prevail. Rushing a sequel into production is never a good idea. The cast is all locked in for a sequel, so at least we have that. Time will tell what lies next but what we do know is that Man of Steel is a huge hit. With Superman and Batman going strong, will we finally see the Justice League movie many of us have pondered about for years?