Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Why Man of Steel is a great movie and why all the mixed reviews you've heard about it are wrong

You should listen to me because I'm an expert.  Don't believe me?  Just ask Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.  Who are they you ask?  Only the creators of Superman.  Check and mate.

Typically, I am pretty content to keep my comic book knowledge on the d.l., only revealing it during crucial moments when someone, usually a loud-mouth hipster/faux nerd who likes to pretend that he knows everything about everything, starts running his mouth about this superhero or that superhero's back story.  I encountered this particular type guy a lot in college and nothing satisfied me more than to put this smug bastard in his place.  Much like a superhero, I like to think that I used my secret power for the greater good.

Now, on to the Man of Steel.  I am really sorry if you didn't like it.  Nothing is worse than spending $13+, only to learn the bitter truth that the world will always betray you (because naturally everyone is as dramatic as I am).    That sure is terrible and I would feel bad for you except that you are wrong.  The Man of Steel is a great movie and here is why:

First, Superman is not Batman. You need to just get over it.  Superman will never have the oh-so-compelling internal struggles and tortured psyche that the Dark Knight does.  Nor will he have the tragic back story or the seductive inclinations towards brooding.  That's just not his character.  It was always going to be a different movie than Batman Begins and if you went into it with those expectations than you were bound to be disappointed.

Second, Superman needs some subtly if we are going to get any complexity.  The danger with Superman (and Batman to some extent) is that he can so easily become a one dimensional snore-fest of a character.  He is strong.  He is perfect.  He will win every fight unless krypotonite is involved and then he will either become totally incapacitated (booooring) or go cuckoo for cocoa puffs (less boring but equally stupid).

A lot of people seemed to take issue with how long the movie is and how many dull, quiet scenes it has.  But never once when I was sitting in the chilly darkened theater did I ever feel its length and I'm a relatively antsy movie-goer (especially when I can't pepper my fellow movie-goer with my trademark obnoxious line of questioning).

Also, it is in all those "dull, quiet" moments that we really learn about Kal-El, that his character begins to take shape, that we glimpse both intricacy and depth.  We see that even from a young age he has a strong moral center, instilled in part by his adoptive parents but at times, at odds with his adoptive parents'.  We see how self-conscious he is about being different.  He doesn't have an easy life in Smallville; he is teased and taunted by his classmates but that doesn't harden him.  We see how conflicted he is as a teenager about leading a small insignificant life.  He wants to do something greater, yet is not fully able to understand what that means.  We see all the sacrifices he makes for anonymity and how without laud, without recompense, he risks exposing himself  in an effort to help others.

Maybe this is all very tedious to you.  Maybe you think the good guy archetype is always less interesting than the villain.  And in most cases you'd be right; you need only look at Iago or Satan from Paradise Lost.  But I would argue that magnanimity is always interesting, because it requires so much.  Why would anyone choose to act outside of their self-interest?  What does it cost them and what do they ultimately gain?  When Superman rescues the men from the oil rig, there is nothing in it for him and while he is not in danger of dying, he is in danger of losing his life.  After all Superman is a freak, an alien, and we all know how accepting human beings generally are of those who are different...


Third, Henry Cavill.  The role of Superman has been entirely miscast up until this point.  He has either been too wimpy or too gangly or too from the Keanu Reeves School of Acting.  There was even brief but horrific talk of Nick Cage playing Superman in Tim Burton weirdfest reboot.

The first time I ever saw Henry Cavill in a movie I thought: he would make a great Superman.  And he did.  He is the essence of Superman from his jet black hair to his cleft chin to the square cut of this jaw to his burly build.  Even hard hearted Moses fawned a little bit when he saw stills of Cavill's Superman before the film's release.

Gosh, hit the gym already Cavill.  You have some BIG shoes to fill.

Fourth, Superman's relationship with his adoptive father.  If you had told me when I was watching Message in a Bottle last weekend that Kevin Costner could act and would make an excellent Pa Kent, I would have asked you who you are and what you are doing in my apartment while I am watching my stories.  Then I would have recommended that you cut down on your regiment of crazy pills.

But I would have been wrong.

Pa Kent often serves as a catalyst for Clark but I wasn't expecting to find Clark's relationship with his father to be so illuminating, so tender, and so humanizing.  So much about Superman's character is developed through his conversations with Pa Kent, which is fitting because who are we really without the influence of our parents?  And Pa Kent's understated midwestern wisdom is just so...real. I feel like I grew up knowing strong, soft-spoken, hard working men like Pa Kent.  I cannot stress enough just how amazed I am that Kevin Costner of Robin Hood Prince of Thieves fame elicited any emotional response from me besides amusement or pity.

And last, SPOILER ALERT!!!!, a loooot of people were unhappy that Superman kills Zod because, as the argument goes, everyone knows that Superman never kills anyone.  Well, it didn't shock me at all when it happened.  The Phantom Zone was out and Zod was getting pretty genocide-y; the only way to stop him was to kill him.  And I think they made it quite clear that Superman was very distraught in having to do this.  It was about on par with this...

I was certainly glad to not have to deal with any bumbling version of Clark Kent and I'm really hopeful that for the next one they will portray the public as still leery of Superman, especially considering that he caused trillions of dollars of property damage to Metropolis during his epic fight with Zod.  I think the tension created by this distrust adds an interesting dynamic to Superman's story.

So for those of you who haven't seen it: don't believe a word of the critics who say that "Superman fails to take flight."  I would caution you in general to remain dubious of any criticism relying on puns.

For those of you who have seen it and have not liked it: I hope that my time preaching from this soapbox/blog post has shown you the errors of your ways and that you are now converted to the right way of thinking.   If not, I will ask you to kindly take your blaspheming elsewhere

Now I will end this entry before it officially reaches bible length.

Too late.

1 comment:

  1. Could have been so much better, but fun and exciting for what it was. Good review Wendy.