So, after all the talk about Superman, how did this story stack up?
Well… the best way I can explain it is that it’s a pretty good “Elseworlds” story. A lot of the basics of Superman are there but there is a lot of “fiddling around” with it too.
Which I don’t mind. Like his costume, you can make adjustments to the outer trappings, as long as it’s still recognizably Superman in the costume. So is it? …
Well some people still don’t want spoilers so I’ll put a thorough discussion past the grade. Although there shouldn’t be any “surprises” in this movie if you’re at all familiar with Supes or story structure.
How attached you are to certain details of Superman will raise or lower your own score. This really does feel like a Superman movie made for people who don’t know or like Superman, so keep that mind even if you normally dislike him.
ALSO NOTE (IMPORTANT): There are NO scenes post or during the credits. Once those names role, feel free to head out.
Links to other reviews and my thoughts on them:
Actually my biggest problem with this movie has nothing to do with the mythos but those things relating purely from a structural standpoint.
The first third/half of the movie is told in a very non-linear fashion. Nothing wrong with that, like all story tools it’s not innately good or bad, just right or wrong for each individual case. While not “bad” in this movie, one quickly gets the sense that a lot of these flashbacks are having trouble fitting in; they’re not organically growing from the story. Which becomes ironic because they cease right as the proper structure for them is finally put in place. At one point, Lois Lane joins a military arctic expedition. While there she meets Clark/Superman (who was just working a job, seeing if a possibly alien discovery was related to him) then she begins investigating his past, trying to track him down. Had the movie started there, then showed us flashbacks as Lois “hunted” Superman (and learned about his story) it would have been flawlessly executed. Cliché? A little, but then the reason things become cliché are because they work. Note to writers: Don’t avoid a cliché ONLY because it’s a cliché. If it fits and is the best option, embrace it! This is especially apparent because the movie truly starts out on Krypton showing the story of Jor-El & Zod (ok, that’s like the original). But then we sort of see it again when Supes is informed about his past. Why they didn’t table the Krypton scene and then insert it as flashback under the guise of Russ-El teaching Clark about where he came from I have no idea.
The other large storytelling problem is that a lot of the movie hinges upon Superman’s birth. See, in this universe Krypton has a bit of eugenics with each baby being a “designer one” created for an express purpose a la Brave New World. Kal-El is the first “natural-born” Kryptonian in awhile meaning he has no pre-programmed purpose. Later in the film, Zod, who claims that “defense of Krypton (and its people)” is his purpose, loses his “job/meaning” he pretty much goes into a manic rage. I liked these ideas, but I didn’t find them well executed as it’s not reinforced much in the film and is a lot of “telling” us, not “showing” us. But then how would you “show” something like that? It’s not like you can do a scene of a Kryptonian “struggling” against his genes like the old trope of a robot struggling against its programming. Part of it wasn’t helped with Russ-El’s admonishments to Superman, “You will give the people of earth something to aspire to.” Uh… ‘dad’ whatever happened to a child being able to choose his own destiny?
The movie also has 3 Kryptonian ships involved in it which can get confusing for some people (even I lost track a few times). There’s Kal-El’s ship, an old Kryptonian scout ship, and Zod’s ship. Diferentating them can lead to weirdness at times. (Like where did Supes get his suit? Did Russ-El have the ship assemble it while he lecturing? Was it really onboard that ancient colony ship all this time?)
Special effects wise, the movie is beautiful to look at. I do like how one gets a sense of impact and things really being flung around. When a train is thrown at Superman, it has a feeling of weight and power. However, because the movie wants to keep things somewhat realistic, when the Kryptonians fight, it starts going “shaky cam” though I don’t believe it’s an action choice as much as just the “camera” trying to keep up with how fast things are moving. This is where I wish they had utilized the effects of Jet Li’s movie the One (note: NOT a romcom) whereby the rest of the world slows down and the fighters move normal speed, or actually used ramping. Yes, I know Zack Synder WAY over used it in 300 (he may also have overused it in Sucker Punch but I haven’t seen that movie yet) but here it was actually needed to give us “mere mortals” in the audience a chance to catch up (as well as allow the story to establish the action) before resuming things at superspeed.
Finally, let me just say, the church scene just PISSED me off. Look, I admit that I would like to see more religion in movies/tv, but not if it’s going to be done this poorly. Seriously the priest there tells Clark to “go with his gut”? He doesn’t have ANYTHING else to offer? Not a single quote or reference to how the last visitor who came to earth from above was killed by us in a brutal way? Well… that probably wouldn’t have been a good pep talk but that’s why I’m not a preacher. There are thousands who turn the “downer” of the cross into a “good message” (one might even call it a ‘gospel’ if you will) and the script writers couldn’t even find ONE to consult with on what the priest should say in this scene? “Listen to your gut”? Really? Not even the slightest, “Doesn’t matter what people deserve, it matters what’s right”? Argh! (Oh, and making Superman “33” in the film? Rarely have I wanted to slap someone so much.)
Oh canon…. Let’s start with characters. Only those within Superman’s immediate circle are given much screen time in this so some of the other characters (like Perry White) I’m going to gloss over since we saw very little about them.
CK/SM – Henry Cavill does pretty good, even if he is missing the curl on his forehead. We don’t see much of him as traditional “Clark Kent” secret identity so no ruling yet on how convincingly he can separate the identities. Some may call him a bit broody but I disagree. Yeah, he’s a big serious if you think Supes should ALWAYS be happy but allowing the character some emotional range does not automatically make him “dark”. Except as a kid, he’s almost competing with Batman on brooding during the flashbacks. He works convincingly enough as an action star as my usual rule (“You’re not an action star if you don’t get your face injured on screen, even if it’s just effects.”) does not quite apply when dealing with Superman. It’s somewhat meta as this movie is a lot about Superman “finding himself” so there is a sense that Henry is trying to find his take on the role as well. Not a bad start, I’d like to see where he takes it if there is a future in this franchise.
Lois – Well it’s no secret that I love Amy Adams (redheads are my kryptonite) but even setting that aside, I thought she did pretty good as Lois. I’ve seen some complaining that she “gave up” some stories in this movie but to be fair, I think Lois Lane’s pursuit of stories has become flanderized over the years. While she did pull a few foolish stunts in this movie in pursuit of said stories, she was at least a human being lots of other times and didn’t allow such a simple-minded goal blind her to things like… people’s feelings. I also liked that they gave her SOME things to help out with in the movie, even if the biggest was not adequately capitalized on. When Zod “takes” Superman, he demands Lois Lane come along as well. Why? Well we can guess it might be to act as a “leash” for the big blue but since they don’t do any more with it, that all falls flat and ventures into plot hole territory.
Zod – I wasn’t liking Michael Shannon’s performance during the first part of the movie as he didn’t seem to be able to pull off the operatic threat that Terence Stamp could (btw, if we were to do a contest, no question, MS would kneel before TS). But later in the movie where he begins to become more of a quiet, slow boiling threat, it works much much better. I ended up liking his take a lot.
Jor-El – For a guy that’s dead most of it, we get a surprising amount of Russell Crowe in this film. I didn’t mind it and thought he did a pretty good job though I wish they had allowed him to talk more about the whole “we’ve given you freedom, son” than “we’ve given earth, hope” during his scenes with Supes.
Jonathan & Martha Kent – Say what you will about it, but I still say Smallville had the best Pa of any Supes medium so far (though several have put in very respectable performances). Kevin Costner is no John Schneider and while the former does put in a lot of effort… I just didn’t connect with him. And I’m usually a sucker for father/son stuff (cry every time during Finding Nemo & Taken). I liked that his death was a bit sacrificing for Clark’s sake but it was a little over cliché this time (yes, I realize how that sounds considering what I said earlier). And I know about that trope “women in refrigerators” but what about “fathers in fridges”? If one of his earth parents are going to die, why is it always Jonathan? Why not keep both alive or let both die? Now if he had been killed standing up to Zod, THAT would have been awesome and fitting for the character. Ma Kent was ok, not really much of a role there for Diane Lane to work with. Really with their arcs it feels less like Superman was turned into Batman with this film as much as he was turned into the Amazing Spider-man. (yes, not the ORIGINAL trilogy, the recent reboot)
So… now to the big issue… I think agony booth put it best:
So the fact that Superman smashes stuff isn’t the issue. The issue is that they got so focused on Superman smashing stuff that they neglected the larger implications of Superman smashing stuff. The film has two major battlefields in which Superman engages Zod’s men: Smallville and Metropolis. Both of which are filled with people, and both of which are so thoroughly decimated that it’s impossible to buy that, at minimum, dozens and likely thousands of people weren’t killed in the ensuing carnage. But the film consistently ignores this very real tragedy in favor of focusing on just making Superman punching stuff look really cool. Sure, there’s a handful of moments where he stops to catch someone falling, but they’re few and far between, and thus feel very token. It’s like they knew they had to show Superman saving people, but they were reluctant to do so. Superman makes no real effort to move the fight away from the city, and it’s a while before anyone tries evacuating the area, and even then there’s always plenty of people waiting around to flee from falling debris.
That is the single BIGGEST issue with this film, and what handicaps it from being one of the truly greatest movies of at least this year (if not in recent years). Superman, the very KEY to him, is about saving people. Say what you will about his 2nd movie, or even the arc where he died, but my favorite parts of both were when he was having to put off the fight to try and help people caught in the middle of it. Even if it allowed the villains to get in a sucker punch. It annoyed me even more when we see some Daily Planet staff trapped by some rubble, a deadly gravity wave getting closer, making the attack & tragedy more personal, human and real; only to then NOT have Superman help them out. Yes I can understand being distracted with Amy Adams in your arms, clinging to you but… dammit that’s what makes him Superman! Every time, EVER. TIME. in media we are shown a civilian or someone else in trouble, we also get to see Superman save them.
That really hurt this film. Which is ironic because the climax, where Superman snaps Zod’s neck, while it was written great from a story perspective, the impact of the moment is lost because we haven’t seen Superman working that hard to save people. It wasn’t properly reinforced. And that is the biggest failing of this movie.