Friday, March 31, 2017

'Man of Steel' review/retro-review: It gets better with each viewing

"Man of Steel" is one of those movies that I've enjoyed more each time I saw it, especially after it first came out on DVD and Blu-ray. 

Although the ending changes the tone and pacing of the film drastically — something director Zack Snyder also did in "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice," "Man of Steel" is a thoughtful and intriguing take on Superman. It's just a shame Team Snyder gypped Supes from being the star of his own sequel ("BvS") — and of getting much character development. Regardless, check out this flashback/retro-review I did of "Man of Steel" for The POP! Shop shortly after its June 14, 2013 opening weekend — posted here for the first time. …

This Superman has Daddy and identity issues.

Clark Kent has been raised since infancy as the son of Smallville, Kansas farmer Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner, who delivers a heartfelt, down-to-earth performance). But Clark was born Kal-El, the son of scientist Jor-El (Russell Crowe, also putting in an earnest portrayal), who correctly predicted their planet Krypton was doomed to die.

So when Kal-El comes to Earth in Jor-El’s space pod, the inevitable questions is how will he fit it on a planet where’s he’s raised an Earthling, where in fact he is an alien?

The sun gives Kal-El’s Kryptonian body the ability to fly, be invulnerable, have super speed, X-ray vision and heat vision plus super strength.

This leads to another question — with all this power, will Earthlings accept or reject/fear him?

These are issues director Zack Snyder tackles in “Man of Steel”, starring Henry Cavill as the main character.
“Welcome to The Planet” is the next-to-last line in the film. Gutsy DAILY PLANET investigative reporter Lois Lane (delightfully played by Amy Adams) tells Clark Kent this when he is introduced as the newspaper’s latest “stringer”— Snyder’s none-too-subtle way of telling us where Kent ends up on his personal journey.

Cavill’s earnest Kent is a young man who is wrestling with who he is — something I predicted would happen when I reviewed an early “Man of Steel” trailer, but he is always compelled to help others. That’s even the case as a youngster and teenager, when Kent is played by other actors, who do impressive dramatic work with their short time onscreen.

Jonathan Kent repeatedly tells his son he is destined for great things, but until then, he needs to hide his powers from others. That day comes when Krypton’s terrorist/coup leader General Zod (a menacing Michael Shannon, who is a bit over the top at times) reaches Earth 33 years after Krypton’s destruction.

When it comes time for Clark Kent/Kal-El to embrace his Kryptonian heritage as Superman, he shows he’s made of tough enough stuff — literally and figuratively — to be who the world needs. 

“Man of Steel” feels like an alien invasion-meets-”first contact” movie – with an emphasis on recent disaster movies during the action blitzes in Smallville and Metropolis. (Those scenes would make 9-11 seem like a bad day.)

Snyder also throws in a bit of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” with a heavy dose of Richard Donner’s two “Superman” films. The director also borrows in spiration from such stellar Superman comic-book story lines such as writer/artist John Byrne’s MAN OF STEEL, writer Geoff Johns’ SECRET ORIGIN, writer J. Michael Straczynski’s EARTH ONE and Mark Waid’s BIRTHRIGHT.

And because “Man of Steel” deals with Kent/Kal-El’s dual, non-exclusive heritage, there are plenty of Christ-figure references.

A little help from my friends

Needless to say, getting a handle on the film is a challenge. So to paraphrase a line from The Beatles, I’m going to need a little help from two of my good friends.

Sandusky, Ohio resident Andrew Gates and David Hudson, of Roanoke, Va., are lifelong, knowledgeable comics fans who love a variety of film genres.

“Their hearts were in the right place,” said Gates, who saw “Man of Steel” with his wife and me.

On the other end of the spectrum, Hudson calls it “the greatest Superman film ever made” and the best movie he’s seen this summer. (Since then, I've called him on going overboard and being caught up in the moment of the new-ness of seeing a new film Superman film.)

An avid Superman fan who adores Donner’s iconic take on the character, Hudson said fans will see style similarities with “The Dark Knight Trilogy” (directed by Christopher Nolan, who wrote the “Man of Steel” and Batman stories with David S. Goyer), especially in the use of flashbacks.

Gates, who primarily is a Marvel Comics fan, said “Man of Steel” didn’t meet his high expectations and it did too much telling, not enough showing. His biggest critiques are not buying the romance between Cavill and Adams and he believes the Zod-Superman showdown made the film go on too long.

Yup, that's Marvel Comics writer Brian Michael Bendis on the left!
He was gracious enough to take a picture — which he hates —
with my good buddy Andrew Gates (right) and me
during a 2014 rare appearance at a comic book shop in Cleveland.
CARY'S COMICS CRAZE file photo, Meme by AARON DEES 
However, Gates enjoyed the cinematography, special effects and sound editing.

My biggest problem is pacing. It takes much too long for Snyder to find the film’s momentum.

The Superman-Zod battle is a doozie and I agree with Gates that parts of it look too much like a video game. Plus, it’s way too convenient for Lane to show up just as the pair’s Metropolis-spanning smack-down reaches its finale.

“Man of Steel” could have used a bit more levity. To use one of Hudson’s ideas, Warner Bros. Entertainment is a bit too focused on making art instead of fun films. There’s nothing wrong with taking film making seriously, but about 30 minutes goes by before there’s a moment that made me chuckle.

Ultimately, Snyder’s movie isn’t nearly “the greatest Superman film ever made.” That honor still belongs to Donner’s “Superman: The Movie.” Grade: B

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