A hero movie that’s semi-Super
Movie: Man of Steel; Director: Zack Snyder; Studio: Warner Bros.; Rating: PG-13; My finding: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars.
Kal-El, as who we earthlings know as Superman/Clark Kent is named by his biological parents on the parent Krypton, was born into a world torn apart. Literally. The leadership of the planet has drilled their way into the core of the planet and it is splitting from the inside out, as the shell that once held those deep resources in collapses under its own weight – and that’s just their home planet.
Because of the lack of leadership, top military commander General Zod has taken it upon himself and his closest underlings to wage a coup against the world. The coup, though, is basically for nothing because, as Kal-El’s father, Jor-El, points out, there will not be a planet to save should the coup pan out.
Being born into such a world would be more than enough, but Jor-El has different plans for his newborn son, and infuses the cells of the baby with the future of the Krypton race. All this is done just to shoot the baby into another world (Earth, hastily picked out by Krypton’s sophisticated planetary location system, used for Krypton’s old imperialism) to start the Kryptonian race again under a hopefully more sympathetic system.
There’s much more to the sweeping backstory in this epic reboot of Superman, and then so much more.
That’s the damning thing about the film. Too much is going on for a single story, as it encapsulates Superman’s origins; his coming to terms with his abilities over humans; his moral conundrums about not displaying these gifts; discovering said origins; developing a relationship; training to become a superhero; and then becoming a superhero capable of saving Earth from hellish destruction when Zod comes to town to reclaim Krypton’s future from the cold, dead body of Clark Kent.
But that’s not to say General Zod is a bad man. While the primary antagonist of the film, he has been born to protect the interests and future of his people, and that is his “soul,” his only reason for being. Whereas Zod’s plans for repopulating Earth into a new Krypton amount to nothing less than ruthless genocide and environmental collapse, it is not attempted with a meanness nor an evil. It’s just his way.
And that’s the reason Jor-El sacrificed so much to send his son away from everything. The Kryptonian people had become so ingrained with singular purpose that they had lost all perspective in a greater world. In fact, the film goes through all steps to show the disgusting and destructive bent of the citizens of Krypton that the list of movies influencing its history seems to be without end.
The beginning of the film shows endless fields of infants incased in synthetic wombs as they are genetically modified for pre-destined purposes to serve the race. As Kal-El was designed in utero to be a great thinker, Zod was designed the same way to be a strong force for preserving his people. The idea of choice had long since been removed genetically from the race, as there have been no natural births for centuries – other than Kal-El.
It’s a statist, scorched-earth nightmare of a world, far removed from the cornfields and good, mid-American people Kal-El grows up around instead.
His Earth parents are wholesome and good, and instill that sense of decency into their son, knowing full well his abilities. They stop at nothing to make sure that their son, the vessel for this greatness, is destined for true greatness. But not yet.
Kevin Costner makes a truly touching turn here as Clark Kent’s father, a Smallville, Kan., corn farmer. It’s a performance the likes of which I haven’t seen from Costner for a very long time. The role is a small, supporting one, but it was crucial that we as an audience understand the influences Superman had as a child to understand the wholesome and purpose-driven man he will become for this to be a successful reboot.
And it is, but it’s not without its flaws.
It tries to do far too much for a first film, but still very nearly succeeds. It’s very long running time of 2 1/2 hours makes the room for all the plot points, dilemmas and discovery necessary to understanding what makes Superman kick, but it doesn’t perform in a perfect balance.
Executive producer Christopher Nolan was responsible for the Batman reboot saga starring Christian Bale, which have been the most celebrated superhero films of all time (with 2012’s “Marvel’s The Avengers” being the only film to equal the Batman films in that respect), and his hand looms heavily over this film, too. Gone is the light Superman of the Christopher Reeve era, and now we are once again presented a broken hero, torn apart on the inside about what it all means.
But if existential crises is the way Hollywood is rolling now, instead of presenting pure role models for children to help strive for greatness in themselves as its portrayal of superheroes once did, than this is a better turn than most.
Unfortunately, the pacing is hindered by Zack Snyder’s unending brilliance in action sequences. In fact, action scenes are so well done that they seem to know it and go on for far too long.
But that’s the initial problem with the Superman character all along. He’s practically an immortal specimen thrown to the earth, where hurt is nearly impossible, and any ability needed to combat any dilemma can be summoned by a writer, making Superman fit the bill. There’s no textbooks on the capabilities of the Kryptonian race within the parameters of Earth’s atmosphere, which has always made room for lazy writing in the development of Superman.
A small town in Kansas is called Smallville. The big city is named Metropolis. Superman can fly, leap, shoot lasers out of his eyes, can see through walls and X-Ray through skin. He is an unstoppable force.
And so, too, are his enemies, also Kryptonians on Earth with the same strength of a perfect behemoth.
The casting decisions are phenomenal, though. British actor Henry Cavill proves he’s more than just muscle, but can embody both the greatness of Superman, as well as the empathy and confusion. Also, Michael Shannon as General Zod couldn’t have been better. Shannon is one of the most intense screen presences in recent memory and his depth is almost unfathomable.
I will never be a fan of Superman, but if this is the way the reboot is going then I plan to stay along for the ride.
(Flint McColgan is a staff writer for The Minot Daily News. His movie reviews appear in Thursday’s Arts &?Entertainment section.)