Home » Years » 2013 » Man of Steel •••½

Man of Steel •••½

ManofSteelFinalPosterStarring: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon
Director: Zack Snyder
Screenplay: David S. Goyer
Action/Adventure/Fantasy, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 143 minutes


(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Well, Greg, the Man of Steel just flew into town.

And boy are his arms tired. Let’s review.

The movie begins with the planet Krypton facing imminent destruction as its core disintegrates. Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and his wife Lara (Ayelet Zurer) plan to save their race of people by launching their infant son, Kal-El, into space with a genetic codex of Kryptonians. General Zod (Michael Shannon), however, has other plans and kills Jor-El for stealing the codex. As punishment, Zod is exiled. Meanwhile, Kal-El lands on earth and is adopted by Jonathan and Martha Kent (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane), who name him Clark (Henry Cavill). They witness Clark’s superpowers and discourage him from using them them so that he will fit into human society.

Clark grows into a man and hides by staying on the run and taking odd jobs. Everywhere he goes, he saves someone using his super powers. And each time he exposes himself, he moves on. Clark finds an abandoned Kryptonian ship that he brings to life with a key that was found on his person when he first fell to Earth. An avatar of Jor-El explains to Clark that he is to be a protector of humankind and to use his powers for only good.

Meanwhile, evil Zod has escaped from his prison and found his way to Earth…

Greg, I have mixed feelings about Man of Steel. On the positive side, there is more detailed backstory than we’ve ever seen before in a Superman movie, and it is very good. We learn about the man of steel’s home planet of Krypton and its political and planetary struggles. The movie features an excellent villain in General Zod and a sweet love interest in Lois Lane (Amy Adams). We also see Superman receiving superb mentoring from three sources: his biological father Jor-El, and his adopted parents Martha Kent and Jonathan Kent.

Another aspect of the film that I liked was the old-school code of ethics that so many of the characters seemed to live by. Lois has the story of the century for the Daily Planet but pulls the story for ethical reasons. Superman’s adopted father sacrifices his life to allow his son Clark to retain his secret identity. Even General Zod, in a ruthlessly warped way, has an honorable motive in trying to preserve the race of Kryptonians.

I thought this was a much more thorough and thoughtful origin story than we’ve ever seen for Superman. He is portrayed as not just an alien, but alienated from the rest of humanity. Surely. this is a feeling most of us have felt. He has to hide his amazing gifts for fear of what it would mean if humans realized we are not alone in the universe. And he is given a choice to use his powers for good or for evil. It is his earthly father who guides him toward the path of goodness. And it is this father who sacrifices himself to protect Clark’s secret. These are two emotional traumas that give this Superman more depth of character than any who came before him.

I agree, Greg, But I do have a few issues with Man of Steel that prevent me from giving it a higher rating. While there are incredible CGI effects illustrating Superman’s speed and strength, these effects are used to bloated excess. It’s as if the filmmakers were so madly in love with their computerized effects that they decided that more – and MUCH more — is always better. How many fight scenes do we need to see between Superman and General Zod? And we must ask ourselves: Does it really make sense for two indestructible beings to fight at all? Don’t they each realize that repeatedly slamming each other through skyscrapers is not having the intended effect? The fighting grew tiresome.

Another problem I had with the film was the absurd way that Superman’s battle with General Zod was resolved. I won’t give away the ending, but let’s just say that if you look up the word ‘anticlimactic’ in the dictionary, you’ll see an image of this scene in the movie. The word ‘illogical’ also comes to mind, as we’re expected to forget the massive violence of their earlier fighting that both characters easily survived.

I would have to differ with you on the special effects, Scott. For a movie this long (2 hours and 23 minutes) I thought the special effects were used to good effect and in good proportion. The fight scenes were constantly underscored by Superman’s restraint as a man who turned to violence only as a last resort. And as a man who had never killed anyone, at least as far as this movie showed us. Superman’s greatest weakness was the strong desire to protect the people of Earth – not only as a group, but as individuals.

My only complaint about Man Of Steel was Lois Lane. Amy Adams came off as very cute, perky, and a tough journalist. She was perfect in that respect. But this reboot has Lois Lane aware of Superman’s secret identity. One of the hallmarks of Supermen gone by has been the sexual tension within the Clark-Lois-Superman love triangle. I’m not sure I understand why that was dropped.

The decision to reveal Clark’s identity to Lois is a curious one, for sure. I didn’t mind it too much, but now that you mention it, this revelation does limit what this version of Superman does with the two characters in the future.

Man of Steel is an ambitious film that works on several levels but fails on several as well. It succeeds in portraying Superman’s origin story in heartfelt detail and with a superb cast that moves us. The movie fails by subjecting us to incessant fight-and-chase scenes and by ending the story in a ridiculous and baffling manner. I give Man of Steel 3 Reels out of 5.

The hero’s journey is commendable in that we have many of the classic elements that we look for in a good story, such as Kal-El’s entry into a new and dangerous world and his encounter with effective father figures, mentors, and a love interest. But I’m not convinced that Superman undergoes any significant transformation as a character. Clark Kent seems to be the same Clark Kent at the end that he was when he was a little boy. I give the movie 3 Heroes out of 5.

Movie: reel-3 Heroes: superman-3

I found Man of Steel to be an excellent reboot of the Superman franchise. It held true to the original story and fleshed out the hero’s backstory. We met a Superman who was less than flawless, tormented and challenged. Compared to Christopher Reeve’s Superman, Henry Cavill’s story is less campy and much more adult. This is a darker Superman which I welcome. I appreciated this more than the almost giddy mood of last May’s Star Trek Into Darkness. Still, I don’t feel the need to rush back to the theater and get a second helping. I give Man of Steel 4 out of 5 Reels.

The hero’s journey is there. Clark starts out as an outcast, uncertain about his powers and all alone even in a crowd. With the guidance of his Earthly father and his Kryptonian father’s image he finds his center and emerges whole and confident in his abilities and his place on the Earth. I give Clark Kent 4 out of 5 Heroes.

Movie: reel-4 Heroes: superman-4


  1. Marian says:

    I haven’t yet seen it, but I wanted to say, I am ALL FOR Lois Lane being aware of Superman’s true identity. In the modern world, it is really, really hard to believe that she can honestly not tell the difference between the guy because he’s wearing a fancy outfit one minute and glasses the next. (Because I don’t know about guys, but I personally expect my -imaginary- boyfriend to recognize me when I come home, get into PJs and put on glasses, you know?)

    Unless the filmmakers were going to have him actually change his face when he became Superman, a Lois Lane of the year 2013 who can’t figure it out would come across as really, realy idiotic. I could barely buy it in the 80s, as a 7-year-old. 🙂

  2. Thanks for your comment, Marian. At least Batman’s disguise covers 95% of his face! Only The Supremely Oblivious would be fooled by Superman’s glasses, and we were happy to see ‘Man of Steel’ actually poke fun of this obliviousness at the end of the film.

    But if there are sequels to this version of Superman (and we hope there are), the mystery and lure of the romance between Lois and Superman is now gone. Let’s hope there are creative screenplay writers who can concoct new romantic issues for Lois and Superman that will hold our attention.

    • Marian says:

      Didn’t she eventually find out in the comics? It can’t be easy being in love with a superhero…. (I feel like that’s gotta be a name of a song!)

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