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Movie Review: “Man of Steel” (Jon Sobel)

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man-of-steelThere are good Superman movies and bad Superman movies, but Man of Steel is more than a bad Superman movie. It’s an epically bad film, among the worst big-budget Hollywood productions I’ve ever seen. More’s the pity because a promising start hints at a thoughtful re-imagining of the Superman myth.

A childbirth scene expands via whizbang sci-fi effects into a backstory of the politics and destruction of the planet Krypton, culminating in the dramatic rocketing of baby Kal-El towards Earth as his home world explodes. We jump ahead a couple of decades to find a young bearded loner at work on an oil rig supply ship – a young man with stupendous strength who saves lives amid disaster. A variety of flashbacks introduce us to the only character who evokes even a whit of audience sympathy: little Clark Kent, a young Kansas farm boy discovering, and suffering from, his evolving powers. The psychological insight isn’t deep here, but it’s briefly compelling.

Then grown-up Clark (Henry Cavill), devoid of personality except for a hard-won ability to repress urges to go all Superman on bullies, finds his way (I wasn’t sure how) to the site of a mysterious craft buried in ancient Arctic ice. Intrepid reporter Lois Lane – played by Amy Adams, who is unable to bring anything but perkiness to her major but underwritten role – is there too, covering the story and fatefully sneaking after Clark as he investigates his heritage.

Left unexplored, alas, are various scraps of the classic Superman story scattered through the film. And after the prologue sections described above, all bets are off as Man of Steel turns into a different movie entirely: an hour and a half or so of epileptic pacing, difficult-to-follow handheld-camera action footage, and an excruciating cacophony of sound effects accompanying explosions and crashes, crumbling office towers (even 12 years after 9-11, such scenes can really take you out of the movie), and combat that grows pointless unto absurdity.

Along with Adams, the star-studded cast includes Laurence Fishburne as Perry White; Diane Lane as Clark’s oh-so-heartland-sweet Kansas mother; and Kevin Costner as his dusty, melodramatic dad. Michael Shannon glowers with all his might as the evil General Zod, but can’t conjure an interesting villain out of a robotic script.superman

For no apparent reason, Zod demands that Lois accompany Kal-El on board his ship in return for not destroying Earth immediately (the film’s “Surrender Dorothy” moment); later, a military pilot played by Christopher Meloni even more inexplicably takes Lois along on a climactic bombing mission to foil Zod’s plan to terraform Earth into a new Krypton. (It’s no spoiler in a Superman movie to reveal that the good guys win; I only wish the movie had revealed just how they did it.) And Russell Crowe is Kal-El’s farseeing father Jor-El, the super-scientist who keeps popping up in ethereal form, Obi-Wan Kenobi-like, to rail against Zod’s mission, dispense advice, and, for some inadequately explained reason, to complete the Lois-on-a-mission trifecta by sending her screaming to Earth in a pod, I wasn’t sure why.

The plot is full of spoiled soft spots like on a bruised fruit, and the characters hold no human interest. The story does give our hero a fresh secret, and Zod a new, more complex reason for pursuing him. But that plot, thin as it is, gets lost in a nonsensical storm of pounding action sequences and technically impressive but comically over-the-top special effects, all adding up to something that director Zack Snyder and the writers, who include Christopher Nolan, venture to present to us as a Superman movie.

I don’t demand depth and sensitivity from movies about comic book characters, but I deserve an entertaining two hours with a story I can follow (and sound effects I don’t have to cover my ears against). Maybe next time.

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About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is an Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Culture, where he reviews NYC theater; he also covers interesting music releases. He writes the blog Park Odyssey, for which he is visiting and blogging every park in New York City—over a thousand of them. Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires. By night he's a working musician: lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado, a member of other bands as well, and a sideman.
  • actionfigureplanet

    How much money did Marvel pay you? Really? Or you were not really that focused when you watched the movie.

    • BenjaminBrown

      Having just watched the movie, how could you say that mess that is Man of Steel is a good movie? >.>

      • Red

        What was so interesting about Iron Man 3 that made it so good? Nothing, Man of Steel brought up actual philosophical and moral questions, things that are very important in films. Reading a lot of the negative reviews for this film is like losing brain cells.

        • BenjaminBrown

          No, the reviews were negative for a reason. The film is dumb, and if you like dumb films that’s fine but at least admit that you like dumb films. As for Iron Man 3, at least that movie was trying to be fun. Superman in Man of Steel was brooding all the time and surely kills more people than he saves as he helps destroy Metropolis. Yet we’re suppose to care about that one family that Zod might kill.

          Oh, and Johnathon Kent kills himself over a stupid dog.

  • bob

    totally agreed, one of the worst movies i had ever watched, it was torturing me and almost left not even halfway mark…pls, stop those “flashbacks”, no humor, no Clark Kent as mild mannered reporter, Zod actor just talks and talks and shouts, basically it looks more like an alien invasion movie rather than a superhero movie..and Cavill doesnt look like Superman at all…the dead Jor El how can he guide people from the grave??

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000677845944 Pablo Grant

      Not every film needs yo have comedy though, I liked it just as much as Iron Man 3. People keep comparing movies to each other, instead of appreciating what they are for.

  • Chaz Lipp

    Extremely concise and accurate summary of a waste of $225 million. Couldn’t agree more on all points.

    • bawwa

      just like ironman 3,according to you

  • Archie

    I completely agree with your review. I just finished watching the movie and I didn’t know if I was gonna doze off in boredom or should’ve just walked out instead of wasting more than 2 hours of my life watching this atrocity. I can’t believe some people are actually giving praise to this film.

  • animechadz

    ur review sucksssss it clearly shows u have bad taste in a movie. Man of steel was epic

  • Electromarcon

    SUPERMAN RETURNS = The Critics Loved it while regular moviegoers hated it.

    MAN OF STEEL = Some Critics hated it while the regular moviegoers loved it.

    • Kforbes

      Regular movie goer: the film was shit

  • Cerone

    I can’t even take this critic seriously, go watch your Kings Speech, and I loved that film, but son, your way too young to give up XD

  • nagaraj veerannan

    I agree one of worst superhero movies in the last 15 years or ever… paper thin plot, no humor, filled with plot holes, over the top mindless action and music score which was not even enjoyable… ONE OF THE MOST DULL, BORING AND WORST SUPERHERO MOVIE… Period!!

    • bawwa

      f*ck you……..go watch the piece of sh*t known as iron man 3,it has lame cheesy humour,overacting,good but sooo unrealistic CGI, worst plot, dumbest superhero(who cant use atleast one of the many suit at 3 helicopters without getting himself almost killed)

      • nagaraj veerannan

        I don’t know why if anyone says if a movie made from a DC comic was not good they immediately reply in talking shit about Marvel movies… It is clear that they can’t accept the fact that Marvel are truly well ahead when it comes to transforming comics superheroes into movies… When I said that MOS was not good I just told u the fact that u can’t accept… as a matter I didn’t like Iron man 3 either and I am Marvel fan… so stop whining and accept the fact or go “Fuck yourself!!!”

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/barbara-barnett Barbara Barnett

    Jon–just saw it, and I couldn’t agree more. I won’t spoil it, but there is a scene at the end at the Daily Planet that absolutely makes no sense in the context of all the death and destruction wrought. To say I was disappointed after Nolan’s epic Dark Knight trilogy is an understatement. I was going to write my own review, but you have said it all for me.

    • gona gonson

      ^one more b*tch…..go watch your F*cking, king’s speech

    • Neenturnew9724

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    • John J Wyres-Smith

      The final scene in the Daily Planet makes zero sense. It just comes out of the blue.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000677845944 Pablo Grant

    I liked the movie a lot, I could also follow the plot very well. So I never had any problems with the plot.

  • moviereality

    The Man of Steel, is without a shadow of a doubt, one of the worst action movies ever. Firstly, the script has no genuine characters or development, the dilemmas are not real dilemmas – as an eg a super kid saves people throughout his childhood, there is a tornado and his father sends him to take his mother to safety when he knows he is indestructible. Is the scriptwriter telling us the kid chooses to do nothing and that the father wanted to commit suicide? These non-dilemmas and poor plot ideas make up this entire movie. The acting is comical. The lead actor has three faces and slides around alot and this is supposed to be meaningful action. Russell Crowe’s acting was the only saving grace of this movie but the scripted character preaches ideas not to abuse power or kill people but then does whatever he likes. Sounds like hypocrisy because it is hypocrisy. On top of this, the film has a confused sense of morality, confused ideas, confused script, confused characters, terrible acting and terrible references to cult movies. There are unwritten rules if you are going to use references – respect your audience is intelligent, be surprising, give us a USP. Man of Steel’s clumsy references to Superman being a farm boy (aka Luke Skywalker of Star Wars) is thrown in the script to later be used in some pointless insult. The farm in Star Wars was a symbol, a representation of nurturing that Luke had enjoyed from his family, his mentors – all except Harrison Ford who clashes with his ideals and his father Darth who killed such ideals and must be saved by his son – yes saved. Movies that steal badly from Star Wars always fail to understand that the original movies hold mythic power because the character development was an intelligent sophisticated way to move the plot forward in a way that made room for the viewer. Man of Steel’s movie’s writers should study movies and deliver plots with complex characters that not only have purpose but make room for intelligent viewers. The original Lois Lane, a bold career girl who is not that into blokes has to be wooed by Clark Kent/Superman. Conflict is the result. This couple had no charisma and in their defence, the script was to blame. They had no conflicts with each other except nonsensical reasons that served no purpose such as Lois must come with us. Why? Man of Steel is RRRRRAAAHHHH bang bang GRUNT GRUNT. Not a brain in sight. Logical sequences that bored the pants off the six people in the audience. Quite frankly I was ashamed to be in a cinema hosting this movie let alone be one of the people watching it. Ashamed but never again.

  • Guest

    Probably the best review I read so far, excluding Mark Waid’s though his is more based on a fan/author’s point of view. Congratulation, sir. You nailed it.
    And I say that as a fan/collector of Superman for 32 years now. This is by far the worst Superman movie out there. Be it as adaptation, be it as movie.
    I will only disagree regarding Zod, the character was very faithful to his comics roots, especially in the last continuity pre-2011. In the end, Zod made Superman looks like a a** when he destroyed the birth chambers hence failing to fulfill what Jor-El himself planned for him. D’uh!
    Seriously, I wanted to love this. I tried. A lot. But I truly think that is impossible for anyone who knows the character even a little bit. Or like good, well crafted stories/movies. This one isnt neither.

  • Guest

    Probably the best review I read so far, excluding Mark Waid’s though his is more based on a fan/author’s point of view. Congratulation, sir. You nailed it.
    And I say that as a fan/collector of Superman for over 32 years now. This is by far the worst Superman movie out there be it as adaptation, be it as movie.
    I will only disagree regarding Zod, the character was very faithful to his comics roots and Shannon stole the movie. In the end, Zod made Superman looks like an a** when he destroyed the birth chambers, hence failing to fulfill what Jor-El himself planned for him. So think again, Superman is not only a killer, he is a genocide according to this movie twisted logic. D’uh!
    Seriously, I wanted to love this. I tried. A lot. But I truly think that is impossible for anyone who knows the character even a little bit. Or like good, well crafted stories/movies. This one isnt neither.

  • Guest

    Probably the best review I read so far, excluding Mark Waid’s though his is more based on a fan/author’s point of view. Congratulation, sir. You nailed it.
    And I say that as a fan/collector of Superman for over 32 years now. This is by far the worst Superman movie out there be it as adaptation, be it as movie.
    I will only disagree regarding Zod, the character was very faithful to his comics roots and Shannon stole the movie. In the end, Zod made Superman looks like an a** when he destroyed the birth chambers, hence failing to fulfill what Jor-El himself planned for him. So think again, Superman is not only a killer, he is a genocide according to this movie twisted logic. D’uh!
    Seriously, I wanted to love this movie. I tried. A lot. But I truly think that is impossible for anyone who knows the character even a little bit. Or like good, well crafted stories/movies. This one isnt neither.

  • Jack Cole

    Let’s just agree to disagree. I think the movie was awesome. A lot better than any superhero movie i’ve seen. Did not have a problem with it.

  • DeepthroatGhoul

    Jon Sobel, what exactly do you want to see instead of Superman being super and battling supervillains? More real estate scams from Lex Luthor? Richard Pryor skiing down a skyscraper? Superman getting drunk off bad Kryptonite and being a superjerk? Otis?? Nuclear Man?!?

    Just think about what you’re saying. People bitched since 1983 about how the Superman movies are weak because he basically never punches anyone or does much other than lift heavy things. Now, we get a movie that is a direct response to 30 years of Superman movies (60 if you go back to George Reeves) where he doesn’t do a god-damned thing.

    I’ve come to accept how nerds are always going to be greener on the other side of the crowd. Nothing will ever make you happy. “The movie was too serious!” What, so we need more cutting room floor Richard Pryor stand-up and slapstick routines in the opening credits? More “rebuild the Great Wall of China rays” coming out of Superman’s eyes? Big celophane S’s being hurled off of Superman’s chest and turning into big plastic nets?!? I mean really, listen to yourself.

    Is Man of Steel perfect? No, absolutely not. But is it good? Yes. Was it made with a love and respect for the character? Yes. And there is nothing in this movie that people have been bitching about instensely that wasn’t in the original Christopher Reeve movies. That thing about what happens with Zod in the end… Yeah hate to tell you, but it also happened in Superman 2 (both versions I might add), and way worse, in a manner that made Supes out to be way more of an asshole, to be honest.

    Was it too long? Maybe, but it’s the same length as the Richard Donner version, which as much as I love, I find way more of a snooze to watch these days.

    Everyone says “It’s a fucking hour before Clark puts on that suit!” Again… way longer in the Donner version. At the one hour mark, Clark’s stil hanging around Smallville… a Smallville we DIDN’T get the benefit of being abridged… just one straight long-ass shot. Same with Krypton, yeah, they both take up a half hour at the beginning, but the first time in 1978, it was a half-hour of standing around and mispronouncing “Krypton”.

    Lois having no real business in the second act… Hell, in Superman Returns, Lois has no purpose in the entire narrative at all, except to be a loathsome attempt to market her as the ultimate single mom working girl, despite that not being anything close to what Lois Lane is all about.

    I could go on and on, but my point is if all of you are going to whine and complain about things in this movie, you MUST hold the older films responsible as well when they do the exact same thing. It’s the same argument that can be made about the Amazing Spider-Man film from 2012. Fine, dislike the choices they made, but don’t stand there and go on about how perfect the originals are when they do the exact same shit.

    I do hate that reboots and remakes lately force people to take such a strong stand that you can only like one or the other. I love the originals, but I feel myself having to bash them to defend my point against the people bashing the new one. It just seems stupid to me. I think people need to start being happier things aren’t as bad as they could have been and stop bitching how it wasn’t as good as you wanted.