Man of Steel-A Throwback Review
A fresh reboot for the Superman origin story, an amazing soundtrack from Hans Zimmer and over-the-top visual effects we hadn’t seen from a Superman movie, despite its flaws in character development and pacing.
It has been 4 years since the DCEU’s entry into what was the Golden Age of comic book movies. This was year after the Dark Knight Trilogy ended with the Dark Knight Rises and Marvel Studios entered Phase 2 by releasing Iron Man 3. Man of Steel was a movie that took a different perspective from previous Superman movies by being more action-packed, realistic and dark. This is an evolved Superman reflecting what the society is, an imperfect one, not a utopia-type of society.
The movie begins with the impressive visuals of the planet Krypton, Kal-El’s home planet, like we have never seen before. Jor-El, the chief advisor of Krypton’s supreme council recommends the council to give him control of the Codex (Krypton’s genetic stuff for the race of the Kryptonians) until he’s interrupted by General Zod and his followers who lead an attempted coup against the council.
And with Krypton doomed collapse due to the over-use of its resources, Jor-El escapes to steal the codex before Zod retrieves it and infuse into the DNA of his naturally-born son, Kal-El whom he puts into a Kryptonian rocket, that is sent to planet Earth. Zod kills Jor-El, Zod and his followers are sentenced into the Phantom Zone by the council and Jor-El’s wife, Lara Lor-Van has her last glance on Krypton’s apocalyptic destruction that wipes out everyone on the planet, including her.
Baby Kal-El lands on Earth to be named Clark Kent by his adoptive parents Jonathan and Martha Kent and the rest is history, narrated in flashbacks glimpses of his childhood and teenage life that closely relate with his adult life. It’s not long before Zod and his squad detect Kal-El’s presence on Earth with the intention of transforming Earth to Krypton (an evil intergalactic dominion kind of plan). So Kal-El has to make a choice of saving humans over his Kryptonians with the help of Lois Lane and the inevitable US Military.
The movie’s tone is close to noir from the use of the sepia tone, the massive destruction of Metropolis to a less bright Superman suit (which I think was cool).
The best part of the movie, though it still has some grave elements in it, was the dream sequence that takes place after Kal-El collapses in Zod’s ship. In Kal-El’s dream, we see him as a typical human being without his costume but rather his home clothes and Zod in his Kryptonian armor. This shows that Zod knows Kal-El’s secret human identity and that he is in charge. Later he explains that Kal led Zod and his Kyrptonians to Earth and with the scene where the skulls (end of humanity) drown him, I think that symbolically shows that Kal is responsible.
The movie’s main anchor was about choice, Kal-El’s choice to stand for humankind over his own kind. But the plot doesn’t give enough depth to justify Clark’s heroic acts of saving people as I’ll explain below:
1. Kal-El/ Clark Kent/Superman: A Kryptonian raised by two adoptive parents Jonathan and Martha Kent. For an origin story we get to see his heroic fetes through non-linear flashbacks but the only issue I had with this was, if Clark saves lives, (for example at the oil rig explosion scene), then there isn’t any growth or deep motivation as to why he is saving people. I think there was need of a character arc there.
Quoting from Robert McKee “True character is revealed in the choices a human being makes under pressure- the greater the pressure, the deeper the revelation, the truer the choice to the character’s essential nature”.
This is where DC’s Wonder Woman did a good job. I’ll just summarize her character arc to avoid going off topic and reviewing about Wonder Woman instead:
Diana Prince goes with Steve Trevor after she was told about the apocalyptic war that will lead to countless deaths and she believes that Ares, the god of war is behind this. With her mythological mind-set, she’s willing to use her heroism for the wrong reason. Later in the movie, her mythological ideology crumbles when Steve Trevor tells her, “Maybe it isn’t Ares. Maybe it’s just us”. With that, Diana’s thrown into a moral dilemma with the worth of humanity and her mythology ideology on the line.
But the perk about Kal-El’s character, that I think was kinda humanized was when he discovers his ability of flight. It was like a child-learning-to-walk-for-the-first-time scene when flies and falls and flies again looking excited and happy. That realistically shows that he isn’t perfect, this was the first time he knew he had this amazing abilities (other than super-strength).
2. General Zod: This is Superman’s nemesis, Jor-El’s old friend and a complete megalomaniac. He is a villain with a purpose, to ensure the continuity of the Kryptonian race, even if involves the elimination of the human race by distorting Earth’s gravity to be like Krypton’s. He wasn’t just aiming to set a personal vendetta with Superman.
3. Faora-Ul: This is General Zod’s sub-commander and she’s a badass. I think she was more menacing, badass and composed than Zod. In her first fight with Superman, she appears collected and calm as she taunted him saying, “You’re weak, son of El”.
4. Jor-El: Kal-El’s biological father and the advisor to the Krytponian Council. He wanted his son to be born naturally (unlike the engineered Kryptonian babies) and since Krypton was at the brink of destruction, he sends Kal-El to Earth after the Codex was infused into his DNA. He also plays an important role in explaining to his son about his origin, he showed him his awesome suit (no underwear outside, finally) while in the Kryptonian ship and helps Lois Lane escape Zod’s Kryptonian ship.
5. Jonathan Kent: Clark Kent’s adoptive father. He advises Clark not to reveal his powers because the world would not only reject him but it would prove there are other powerful beings out there (we are not alone). He’s trying to make Clark understand that the world will know about his abilities (as Superman of course), when he’s ready. This unfolds in the malefic tornado scene where Jonathan gives up his life rescuing the family dog. Clark would have single-handedly saved him but the onlookers at the scene could have known of his existence. It wasn’t his time to save his father, it was Jonathan Kent’s time.
This was consequently the ultimate lesson he could teach his son: “It is choice and free will that makes us human”
The visually stunning planet of Krypton and the awesome action sequences are my favorite parts of the film. Teams of guys from the following visual effects companies: Weta Digital, MPC (Moving Picture Company) and Double Negative provided the effects.
Weta Digital was involved in creating Krypton’s alien-like environment, creatures and probably the most outstanding technology called liquid geometry. This technology was used as a creative out-of-the-box way of presenting visual information in Krypton’s futuristic technology, rather than the use cliché holograms or screens. This was achieved through the use of animation, simulation and lighting in order to make the liquid geometry effect metallic, liquid for shape-shifting abilities and tactile.
MPC worked on the intense Smallville Battle and the explosive fight scene of Zod versus Superman in Metropolis. Two proprietary toolkits (Kali and Floatline) were used to handle demolition of digital elements including glass, wood and concrete and the generation of volumetric dust and fire around the destruction.
Zack Snyder had done a really good job on the camera work. The director from 300 is well-known for his slow-motion camera trickery but in this film, we get to see the camera zoom effects, for example where Kal-El flies at super-speed. This gives the feeling of how powerful Superman is.
This is a fun movie to watch. There are tons of action sequences with awesome visual effects we never go to see in previous Superman movies. It’s only flaws were the lack of enough character depth for the Superman that had resulted to an emotional disconnect for the Man of Steel.