“Thank God for Zod”- Man of Steel Spoiler Review
There are SPOILERS in this review so avoid the SPOILERS. They’ll get yah.
There are two major issues regarding this film one must face before Man of Steel even begins. The first is that people are putting far too much stock in this movie, both as a starting point for an almost-assuredly never going to happen Justice League franchise and as the cinematic salvation for their beloved Last Son of Krypton. The early Superman films, respectable though they might be as the prelude to something greater, don’t hold up well at all nowadays, and Superman Returns managed to rekill the franchise for another seven years.
There’s also the major hold-up that all of the trailers leading up to this film have been absolutely astounding, predicting something that is both a Terrence Malick-esque meditation on what it means to be a superhero and a really cool Zack Snyder movie where lots of things blow up and women similar to or who are Lena Hedley take their tops off while things explode. Of course, this flick’s for the kiddies, so there will be no Amy Adams full frontal today, but that also doesn’t stop this Superman movie from making multiple dick jokes. Also, Christopher Nolan’s name is on this thing, and since people really, really, really, really like his Batman movies, that only complicates things.
In summation, people expected this movie to be good, the major problem with that being that this movie is not good.
The second major issue surrounding this film is that Superman is one boring son of a Crowe. He’s bland as bland can be without much motivation beyond “I like people and do not want to see them crushed by the bad guy from Boardwalk Empire.” He’s stupidly heroic and is also never in any danger, considering that he is invincible, with super strength and speed, the ability to fly, a variety of dangerous things he can call out of his face at a moment’s notice, and also can’t die unless apparently someone snaps his neck or something. It’s hard for us to be involved in something where the life and death of the character are the central focus and concern when we know emphatically that he cannot die.
But I do suppose I’ve rambled on enough about this movie without actually talking about it, so let’s get down and funky with the actual review. Since this movie moves at such a blistering and unnecessary pace, never letting us get acclimated to one situation before we are immediately thrusted into the next by Superman’s ever-present cod piece, let’s take this one bit by bit.
I Wonder How Much Russell Crowe was Paid for Both the Minutes He’s on Screen
I was fine with this trend at first, its initial appearance in the Paul Greengrass Bourne films not bothering me an awful lot, as it was pretty much the only horse running in that particular race. But Mr. Greengrass has opened up a terrible gateway to a hell I don’t even think he was aware could ever exist, a hell depicting a world where now every scene, no matter whether or not it needs the tension that comes with a Cerebral Palsy-induced camera man aiming a lens at Katniss Everdeen, must bear the unmistakable mark of a Cerebral Palsy-induced camera man aiming a lens at Katniss Everdeen.
This is the sort of opening sequence that can only be done with a universe that is already established. Man of Steel, rightly so, assumes that you are familiar enough with the Superman mythos to not need a full explanation. Things like the departure from Krypton and Lois Lane are treated more as things you already now than as anything that is new information. We are not introduced to Lois Lane so much as are told “Here’s Lois Lane, enjoy.”
It’s also of note that Kryptonians use guns. Of course, this makes absolutely perfect sense, but is something that I’ve never thought about because my history with Kryptonians has either been an overexposed Marlon Brando or a small city in a jar.
So after Russell Crowe meets with a council that for no explicable reason dresses exactly like Xerxes from 300, he goes through a fairly incomprehensible escape sequence that makes me long for a time when Russell Crowe acted. Does anyone else remember that? When Gladiator was a thing? Crowe’s been so busy lately appearing in dreadful Robin Hood films, and playing supporting characters in kung fu films directed by members of the Wu Tang Clan that he seems to have forgotten what acting used to be. He tried recently to get back into things with Les Miserables, but ooooooooooooh boy do we all remember how that turned out. And now he’s appearing in a film that occasionally exactly apes its terrible camerawork, with a special emphasis on constant closeups and making us feel like we’re on a boat with how much the camera shakes.
We’re also introduced to Zod, who is cool and stuff, and watch Superman’s mom die in a fire that feels eight notches above unnecessary.
Random Acts of Kindness
The next section of the film is just Superman doing kindly, Supermanly things and by the time he does about the fourth I was ready to scream “I get it, you are Superman! This has been adequately established long before this juncture!” This is also the sequence where it becomes apparent that this movie will not pick a damn tone.
In the first act of kindness, Superman, missing out on the incredible opportunity for a Deadliest Catch crossover, saves a bunch of people on a burning oil rig, which isn’t so much a sequence as it is a thing that happens in about three shots.
There’s also a sequence where he saves a bus full of pleasant school children from drowning, which doesn’t serve much of a purpose beyond looking really cool in the trailers. It’s also this moment, however, that introduces one of three or so ideas in this movie that really work. Kevin Costner, still unable to wrap his head around the concept of “acting,” tells young Clark Kent not to be a superhero, to fight he urges he has to save humanity because both he and the world are not yet ready to deal with it. I think that’s actually a great direction to take here, and would have played phenomenally if this movie were about anything other than the senseless destruction of literally everyone in Metropolis.
This is an idea almost totally underwritten by itself only a few minutes later during a very stupid sequence where Kevin Costner hugs a tornado. Not wanting Clark to jump onto the whole “hero” thing too quickly, even though he has indestructible skin and could make that tornado his bitch should he so much as look at it funny Costner teaches his surrogate alien son how to be a hero by saving a dog from an impending tornado and by giving him a tutorial on proper tornado safety from the inside out. Admittedly, probably the worst way to teach a lesson to your cowering son and soon-to-be widowed wife as they huddle with a bunch of recently-rescued hillbillies is from within a dusty spire of ferocious wind, but I guess you learn a few things after becoming a father that I am just not ready to accept.
Also, I am fairly certain that the moment a tornado picks you up is not the moment it literally walks over you, but in fact long before that moment, probably while you’re faffing about with a dog in a truck.
This whole section of the film is one oddly reminiscent of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, a film I don’t enjoy thinking about and is a comparison I don’t throw out lightly.
The Ice Planet Hoth
Welcome, Amy Adams, to the thankless role they hopefully at least paid you well for. And what is the Daily Planet’s jurisdiction exactly? Are they a regional paper, or more of a national rag? Does Christopher Meloni often give foxy reporters permission to sit in on secret excavation projects? These are the questions I require answers to, people! And the questions that won’t be answers since the Daily Planet is really only tangibly relevant to this story at all.
I think this story suffers in the same way that BBC’s Sherlock suffers, being enslaved to a canon and a cast of characters it didn’t create that it is almost required by law to shoehorn into situations in which they don’t belong.
Anyway, with no explanation, Superman is now faffing around in the arctic, having maybe joined the Air Force? Why is he allowed to help out? Is he Scientist Superman, the Action Figure with Real Wound Cauterizing Action?
Anyway, Superman and Lois go poking around a spaceship frozen in ice, a spaceship that I am not at all positive why it’s there. In a movie where the most obvious things are explained down to their most explicit detail, these are the things I question. And after a really drawn-out sequence where Lois Lane becomes the victim of sudden tentacle porn, Superman finally becomes Superman. After using the razor Russell Crowe assumedly left in the unseen bathroom of that ship, we get a moment where Superman emerges onto the scene in his dress blues, ready to punch the world’s villains into a slimy pulp, a moment that would work phenomenally well if I had bonded at all with Clark Kent as a character before this point.
Then there’s a sequence of Superman learning to fly that lasts all of about thirty seconds and then he flies around the world, which would be way cooler if the camera ever got further than two feet from him at any given time.
It’s also amazing that Henry Cavill manages to sound exactly like every Superman ever.
O-Zod-a bin Laden
Praise the Lord that Zod finally shows back up in this biz!
With almost every actor in this piece managing to simultaneously try too hard and still phone it in, Michael Shannon is Zod really is the only piece of this movie that works. Despite the fact that his hood looks like a zipper, giving his head the odd appearance of looking slightly reminiscent of a penis, he still brings in a classically over-the-top baddie performance that will live on as one of the all-time comic book greats, even when Man of Steel is remembered for having a bit of stink on it.
In other news, Zod comes on all the TVs asking for Superman to surrender so that no one will get hurt, taking Page 1 out of the Voldemort handbook but neglecting to infuse his face on the back of Jimmy Olsen’s head. And like the true Harry Potter doppelganger that he is, Superman isn’t sure whether or not to turn himself in so he goes to… a priest. A previously to this unestablished priest. I suppose it makes some sense why he’d go there, and not that I’m against the use of Christianity as a plot device (as a Christian, it’s actually nice to see someone of my faith portrayed well on screen), but this scene comes out of blood nowhere. All the priest ends up doing is telling Supes to make a “leap of faith,” an idea that, yes, has the word “faith” in it, but could have easily been conveyed to him by Lois Lane or his own mother, who gets even more underserved than Lois.
After taking advice from a priest whose name we never learn, Superman decides to make fun of the army for a bit and turn himself in. Superman and Lois get their big parting scene that would be way more effective if they had had more than two scenes together before this point. And then the movie, in perhaps the most inexplicable narrative turn it takes, immediately throws Lois and Clark back together after forcing them to part. Not a minute passes between the time they say goodbye and the time they are back together again. It’s really something else.
Then we go onboard Zod’s ship and encounter what is my major major major major problem with this movie: Everyone is just cool with all of this alien jazz. Lois Lane, who before the start of this film has encountered precisely zero aliens, enters two alien spaceships without really batting an eye. She’s not taken aback at all by any of this extraterrestrial nonsensery, so neither are we the audience. Since Lois doesn’t sit back and go, “Aw, cool, alien stuff” I, the money-dispensing audience member in the second row also does not go, “Aw, cool, alien stuff.”
I truly believe, in my heart of hearts, that this whole business would work better if Zod were a trifle more mysterious. Not in his actions. I like that he’s straight-forward and militaristic. But like I said before, absolutely everything in this movie that doesn’t need explaining is explained in astounding detail and thus Zod just seems like a straight-forward madman, as opposed to someone with a bit more to chew on in terms of neat things going on in his goateed noggin. I don’t know if it’s common military practice to explain your entire plan to a hero who hasn’t agreed to help you like the world’s most punchy Bond villain, but Zod seems to be doing that in spades, Michael Shannon doing the absolute best he can with a really dreadful script.
Then some other stuff happens, and the baddies leave Lois Lane unattended for some unexplained reason, and then Superman has to save her because Russell Crowe’s brain put her in an escape pod (It’s pretty simple, you see, because his brain lives on inside a rock). The pod rescue scene is all very thrilling and that, but I’m still not totally onboard with the Adams/Cavill romance. They’re not totally devoid of romantic chemistry, but they have what I rather like to call Intro to Chemistry, the fledgling of something fun but doesn’t quite get to get there since this romance is almost exactly the romance out of Thor, a movie I largely dislike because it relies on a romance that doesn’t exist or interest anyone.
A Frankly Irresponsible Amount of Destruction
To directly quote Sergeant Nicholas Angel from the film Hot Fuzz: “I won’t argue that it was a no-holds-barred adrenaline fuelled thrill-ride, but there’s no way that you could perpetrate that amount of carnage and mayhem and not incur a considerable amount of paperwork.”
I’ve been hearing for days about the sheer amount of destruction in this film. Some went so far as to write up pieces about whether or not we should be concerned about it all. I originally scoffed it off, asking what people were expecting from a summer blockbuster and why people were taking this all so seriously.
Now that I’ve seen it, I have to admit that I found the sheer amount of destruction to be incredibly disconcerting.
There has to be literally no one left alive in Smallville at this point. Multiple jets crash there, tankers are exploded, THERE’S A FIGHT IN AN IHOP! All of the buildings in both Metropolis and Smallville are destroyed and I see no evidence to the contrary. I feel as if the villain actually won this one because they killed theoretically millions of people. Yes, the last of the Kryptonians are wiped out, but that was like ten people. They took with them approximately one billion times that amount.
That’s my major problem with Superman joining the Daily Planet at the end. Not because that’s not something Superman would do, but because that building was destroyed along with EVERYONE INSIDE! ALL OF THEM! THEY HAVE TO BE DEAD!
By the time Zod and Superman actually square off face to face, you’re so tired and exhausted from being beaten over the head with pretty colors and explosions that it doesn’t matter. It’s the exact reaction everyone had to the appearance of Nega Scott at the end of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, except this fight actually happens and goes on forever.
In the end, when Superman snaps Zod’s neck to keep him from killing a nice, multiethnic family with his laser eyes, you’re relieved. Not because Superman saved the world, but because the movie finally gets to end and Superman gets to cry very loudly in the middle of a train station.
And then we cut immediately from that to a comedy scene where an Air Force commander asks Superman “what the eff” he thinks he’s doing.
I’m done. That is the moment where I left this movie forever. I’m done and so is Metropolis, which now looks like the Limbo sequence at the end of Inception. We then go through the same voiceover narration that must end every single one of these damn superhero movies nowadays and, finally, it’s all over.
The standout moment of the whole film is one of the minor characters, amidst the broken, body-strewn remains of the universe’s major city, looks up at Superman and says, “He saved us,” at which point I laughed out loud in the middle of the theatre.
Anyone who says I don’t like this movie because I hate fun should just read my Iron Man 3 review.
Also, nowhere in this movie is the line “Kneel before Zod!” uttered, so this was all just a total waste.
C – The only saving grace of this movie is Michael Shannon, and how cute I find Amy Adams to be.
Chekhov’s Gunman is a film and television blog moderated by Kevin Lanigan, a future writer of movies and TV and current writer of impassioned letters to the editor of Vogue. Be sure to follow or subscribe above. Check back for even more movie reviews, and the best I have to say about television, as well as a weekly Mexican Standoff, and some other Good Stuff.
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He saved us!