You can call me old-fashioned. You can call me an MCU fanboy brainwashed by Stan Lee. You can say I wouldn’t know a good movie if it hit me in the head. You can say You can call me a moron, a member of the liberal establishment, an idiot, an SJW, a guy who’s just trying to fit in with the critics, and the like. Your poor grammar is not only allowed but also encouraged. But I don’t think Man of Steel is a good movie. It’s not a bad movie and definitely has its moments of greatness but there are many things that keep me from enjoying it. This article takes a look at the best and worst parts of Man of Steel.
Great: Russel Crowe as Jor-El
Marlon Brando is a fantastic actor and brought a sense of seriousness and dignity to this character. But in spite of all his talent he very much took a disinterested approach to this role in spite of that which makes it surprising of how good it was. While the original Jor-El certainly had more of a commanding presence this version of him is far more active and far more direct in saving his son and guiding him through his endeavors to become the titular character. And Crowe’s performance brought good passion to all of it.
Great: The overall visual style
If there’s one thing that shines in any Zack Snyder movie even when it’s not good it’s that he knows how to give good visuals even if they aren’t always the right kind at a given time. My personal favorite shining point of the visual style in this movie is the overall look of Krypton. It’s a very interesting sci-fi/medieval mix with interesting wildlife that really makes it stand out from being just another alien planet. While the look of Krypton in the original was good technology wasn’t at its strongest and there’s not much, they could do with it back then. On top of that Krypton’s history is given a tad more layers and its destruction is a far more tragic with it being a result of their own people. It’s a perfect mix of style and substance that…I really wish was in the rest of the movie.
Great: The Action
The first Superman movie had Lex Luthor who really simply cannot match Superman in terms of physical prowess and as a result there wasn’t much in the way of action. Superman 2 brought in Zod which improved on the action but it pales in comparison to Man of Steel’s which is far bigger in scale and stakes and with years of improvements in special effects there’s a lot more to do with it and all of it is very well shot. But of course, there is a downside to this epic scaled action which I’ll get to.
Great: Earth’s reaction to Superman
In the original Superman movies when Superman first arrives aside from Lex Luthor the public is more than happy to welcome him. This movie has more of a realistic response of viewing him with fear and suspicion to the point that the government was more than happy to hand him over to Zod when he demands Superman be brought to him. Is it something that comes full circle by the end? Not completely. Is it definitely a somewhat realistic response? Absolutely!
Great: General Zod
I saved this one for last because personally I find Michael Shannon’s General Zod the best performance (and best part) of this movie. He’s not just an evil guy bent on world domination. He has legitimate and sympathetic motivations in trying to save Krypton and its people with some moderate depth to them. There are only two real downsides to his character: One is something I’ll get to in a moment and the other is well… his performance did go a tad too over the top to the point that he is chewing the scenery at some point and I do think his character could have done without this because it makes his threat practically laughable.
Okay we’ve run through the good stuff now it’s time to get to the worst parts. I am warning you if you have nothing but love for this movie, please close this window right now and/or type your comments of hatred for me. You still here? You ready? Let’s go.
Problem: Non-linear childhood
The movie flashes back and forth between Clark’s childhood and adulthood and while I’m not against a nonlinear narrative particularly with a superhero story (MCU Spider-Man while I like it a lot, could do very well with this) it’s not well utilized here. There’s very little time devoted to talk about what Clark is going through. Some scenes of Clark learning to get accustomed to his powers do well without dialogue but they’re very much scenes that work on their own but when it comes to combining it together, we’re getting background on man whose personality we don’t know anything about. We’re not given time to understand him.
Problem: A lack of distinctness
Actors like Amy Adams and Laurence Fishburne are actors that have done great work in the past and seem like perfect choices to play the classic characters of Lois Lane and Perry White. And at first it seemed like Snyder wanted to put a fresh new fun spin with these guys. But as the movie progressed most of their dialogue amounted to mere exposition with almost no emotion or heart. Fishburne’s role in this movie almost rivals that of his role as Bill Foster in the MCU (and I say this as someone who likes the movie, the villains of Ant Man and the Wasp are the weakest part of it). As for Amy Adams as Lois Lane, outside of being able to piece together that Clark is Superman using her journalistic skills (which admittedly is impressive) there’s not much else she does. That one aspect goes nowhere which makes it all the more confusing as to why Zod demanded that she be brought on board when Superman turns himself over to him. The only reason she was brought on board was to make a plot device to help Superman escape later. She served no purpose of being brought on board other than that. Characters like these (and some others others) have no unique identity. If these characters weren’t given names you wouldn’t know they were these comic book characters.
Problem: Death and Destruction
Remember how I said there was a downside to magnitude of the action? Well yeah here it is. In fighting off these guys Superman is no better than the villains he fights. As Superman fights Zod and his men throughout Smallville and Metropolis, the damage he leaves behind is downright brutal. Metropolis in particular is reduced to rubble which makes it all the more hilarious when the army accepts Superman as a friend (which seems more out of fear than anything) and when the citizens claim “Superman saved them.” Like you guys simply got lucky. Pretty sure Superman would have fried you if it meant stopping Zod.
Problem: A New Krypton
This one is more personal than anything but it always confused me. Zod tells Kal-El that he has the Codex for all living things on Krypton and thus has a chance to let the planet live again. Kal questions what will become of Earth if he gives up the Codex to which Zod responds “the foundation has to be built on something” with a scene of skulls implying that he’s going to commit mass genocide against Earth and the people to build Krypton from Earth’s ashes. I mean is it really wise to tell your only hope for the future of your kind that you’re going to destroy his planet and the people he loves? I mean that’d make him more resistant and the and make the process of bringing back Krypton harder right? Also, couldn’t Zod have chosen to terraform some other planet? Feel free to correct me on this one.
Problem: Jonathan Kent
Oh boy. No matter what wrong Man of Steel did, nothing is going to match everything to do with this character. It’s always been my understanding of Superman lore that young Clark’s ideals as Superman came foremost from his adopted parents. They instilled a strong moral background in him. I had nothing against Diane Lane’s portrayal of Martha Kent and in both this movie and Batman v. Superman she was actually okay. Jonathan Kent on the other hand…oh boy. Throughout the movie he goes telling Clark to never use his powers even to as much as help anybody. Granted he does explain this outlook but he takes it too far. There’s a scene where young Clark saves a bus full of kids and when his dad scolds him for using his powers, he’s responds “what was I supposed to do let them let them die?” To which Jonathan replies “maybe.” That’s probably the most screwed up response ever. And before anyone says anything there was a scene in season 1 of the Supergirl TV show whether you like it or hate it that had a very similar situation but one that Kara’s adopted father handled a lot better. That aside most of Jonathan’s dialogue is mostly building him up as a symbol destined for greatness and less as a person. And of course, there’s his tragic death in a tornado in trying to save the family dog where he keeps Clark from saving his life out of fear of his son being outted even though Clark probably could have done it within minutes without there being that many questions and it all evokes nothing. Let’s just say that those two minutes of Glenn Ford’s Jonathan Kent talking to Clark in the original Superman movie spoke far more volumes than anything this version did. It may think it did but really all it did was make Jonathan Kent look bad.
The simple truth is at this moment now I will always see the original Donner/Lester movies better than Man of Steel. They aren’t perfect, they are campy, and the effects certainly don’t hold up. However, the narrative is stronger, the performances were better, and most of all the characters were a lot more likable. It has a charm that Man of Steel just doesn’t have. In fact the original 1978 Superman is such a widely regarded masterpiece that Kevin Feige has recommended that several Marvel employees watch the movie before getting to work on a Marvel movie. And that shows: Beneath all the CGI whether it’s good or bad are core parts of what made the original Superman so likable: Charming characters, compelling performances, and (for the most part) strong narratives. Are there any other good or bad parts you think I missed regarding this movie? Any you disagree with? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.