Man of Steel Review

Ha! Just got back from Midnight Premiere screening of Man of Steel. This time, this is the real review. No joke.

By Chongchen Saelee

I’m always hesitant to attend these midnight premieres of big blockbuster movies, simply because the audience tends to be more rowdy. I sat next to a bunch of college kids who talked incessantly, and when I didn’t conform to their idea of what they thought Superman movie-goers looked like, they started throwing out racist slurs to bait me (as though they were entitled to familiarity; I couldn’t just be another random movie goer). So, here I was, supporting the epitome of American propaganda by being there in the theatre seat which I paid for ($11!), and these young Americans reflect EXACTLY how America is. Would they learn by the end of the film the proper themes and morals that Superman should teach? I hope so.

Man of Steel is a mix of Star Wars, District 9, all sorts of anime, Smallville, Superman 2, leftover designs from The Matrix, and absolute mayhem. At first, I thought early reviewers were exaggerating at the scale of destruction in this film. Well. A LOT OF PEOPLE DIE. COMPLETE DEVASTATION (a term people throw around as a figure of speech, but never quite realize the gravity of the word). In the final act, Superman and Zod level Metropolis, so much so, the skies are gray with ash and the streets are nothing but debris. These are GODS battling it out.

A problem I had with this film was how little developed the relationship was between Superman and Lois Lane. Because the movie plays out like a montage, let’s be honest, the editing isn’t bad, but the it really relies on the audience being pre-conditioned with existing knowledge of the characters to feel the full effect. If you didn’t know anything about Superman, you would totally be confused as to the significance of the flashbacks (or anything at all, actually). It would seem self-important.

Anyway, by the end of the movie, Superman and Lois passionately kiss (and she probably got knocked-up later, just by this context, she wanted his baby). It was contrived. So the contrived romance was a flaw.

However, I liked the flashbacks. It’s not done as well as Kung Fu, but it’s satisfactory. Man of Steel is Smallville on steroids, so it had to rush the flashbacks a bit. I feel like Man of Steel could have played better as a mini-series so that the character development was more justified. Again, there’s only emotional resonance if you understand the actors’ existing typecast. If you didn’t know that Kevin Costner was “Dances with Wolves” or that Russell Crowe was “Gladiator”, then they would come off as generic archetypes. Young white men would find the most emotion in them.

I am surprised at Henry Cavill as Superman. I watched Immortals and I just wasn’t buying him as a lead. Cavill’s Superman comes off as incredibly humble, earnest, almost down-to-earth. He’s got Bruce Lee written all over his performance. And I liked how they presented the Superman suit, as though it wasn’t that important. It’s just a suit. It doesn’t get a hero shot like in Batman, which is all about the suit. Instead, Superman, the man, the being, is what makes the character. The suit is just something he wears. When he exits out of the ship for the first time, like Jesus emerging from the tomb, there’s no tilt shot from toe to head of the suit, it’s just him, Superman, reinvigorated. That’s very humanizing. That’s important (even though all the marketing was about the suit).

I liked how Faora fights. For the first time you see what it would look like if anime was live action. If you’ve played Shinobi or Yoshimitsu in the Tekken games, you’ll know what I’m talking about. And it doesn’t look “fake” or “cartoony”. It’s photo-realistic, and when you see a being move like that, you have to be in awe. The last time someone could move that fast in real life would have been Bruce Lee. Wow.

The cinematography is beautiful. It looks “real”. At times, the blending of the green screens doesn’t quite match, but any other time when there is no destruction and mayhem, this movie looks “real”.

I’m surprised the music was so subdued this time around. It wasn’t as obnoxious as The Dark Knight Rises. But the music was very important in keeping the action flowing.

As for the action… WOW. It’s the way it was edited and framed. Some directors don’t know how to stage action (Nolan, hint-hint). I’m surprised it didn’t come off as “exhausting” as early reviewers have claimed. It’s because the camera MOVES. There is a real sense of urgency or escalation. This is what gods fighting in the real world would look like and it is brutal.

And let’s talk a bit about “the scene”. Man o man. When Superman outright murders Zod, the audience was silent. Holy cripes. It was as though this audience wasn’t anticipating this. Mind you, I gather most of these people were college students and they’ve never seen a Bruce Lee movie. I’m going to assume they represent the general population. If they went dead silent after Superman did the deed, imagine the whole country. I was shocked myself, too. I spoiled myself knowing this by reading the early reviews, and when I witnessed it myself, my heart sank a bit. Yes, it is a brutal scene, in the context of Superman. What the fuck is Superman doing killing someone like that?

You can argue that Superman was reluctant to do so, as Zod was about to outright kill innocent civilians. And Superman pleads and pleads for Zod to stop. But when the camera pulls back, and Superman has that look on his face, full of Van Dammage or Bruce Lee kill-look right out of BloodSport or something, it’s disheartening. Here’s the symbol of hope and good, but he’s reduced down to what a “desperate human” would do. In reality, our reality (lest we forget Superman isn’t real), we kinda have a responsibility to teach virtue. It is within the power of the filmmakers to make Superman virtuous, and in that, we teach what is right from wrong. By showing Superman being “forced” to murder Zod (it’s murder, don’t spin it), then we’re saying it’s okay for the average Joe in real life to take someone else’s life if they had that kind of grandeur on their mind. And there will be people in the real world who think they are Superman, who have the right to kill. Trust me, the average person doesn’t want to kill. So, Superman as a murderer is BAD. I was loving everything up until he outright murders Zod. Man, o, man. What does that say about our culture and where it has come that we have to make Superman a murderer? What a super-punch to the gut.

Anyway, it’s not quite as romantic as StarMan. It’s not quite as revenge-appropriate as any Bruce Lee movie. It’s not quite as sci-fi-rific as any Star Wars movie. But it ISN’T a bad movie. In fact, now I know for sure, it has to be one, if not THE BEST, superhero movies ever made. If only Superman didn’t kill Zod. This will make an incredible character study, and maybe even cultural study, for years to come.

Again, it is the epitome of superhero movies. It isn’t Transformers (which is a huge relief). Transformers tried too hard to come up with exposition or plot. Man of Steel is just about showing the action. Heck, it’s not really dialogue heavy anyway. Zod’s dialogue is redundant and flat. “Point the laser”, “open the door”, “drive the ship”, etc. That’s how the dialogue is. You’re not watching a Superman film for the dialogue anyway.

In summary, Man of Steel is NOT OSCAR WORTHY. But that’s not a bad thing. However, it IS THE BEST SUPERHERO MOVIE EVER MADE. It is a dumb, summer blockbuster. It is what it is and you can embrace that. It is probably THE BEST PIECE OF AMERICAN PROPAGANDA I have ever seen. Damn you, Zack Snyder.

As a “film”, Rotten Tomato is right on the money. I’d say it is about a 65 out of 100. There is no story. The aliens come and Superman beats them up. That’s literally the story.

As a “movie”, or pure Superhero film, I’m going to give it a 92 out of 100. Points off simply because Superman kills Zod. Man, how you going to fix that, culturally speaking. That’s like Jesus taking revenge with guns and tanks, all sporting a fancy red bandanna.

And when the movie ended, the audience erupted in applause. I was surprised. Wow. It’s something I learned about how the American hive-mind works. If Superman represents Americans’ hope and good, as I left the theatre, surrounded by darkness of night (it was 2:30 am by the time the movie was done), I wonder what “they” picked up from it. There will be those who would be hyped to see their symbol represented like, and then there will be those who are weary like I am. If Superman represents America, then what the heck has happened to America?

And here’s a companion video:

All comments welcome!

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