Monday, June 17, 2013

Movie Review: Man of Steel (2013) -- Overall Rating 3 / 5

Starring Henry Cavill as Superman & Richard Pryor as Lois Lane
Directed by Zack Snyder (the genius behind Sucker Punch)
Rated PG-13

Story: 3 / 5
Direction: 2 / 5
Acting: 3 / 5
Visual: 4 / 5
Overall Rating: 3 / 5
Explanation of rating categories appears at the bottom of each review posting.

Much like Stark Trek: Into Darkness, it’s a challenge for me to review this as a film first and a story about a character I love second, but I’m going to try.

Man of Steel is the first installment in what I assume is going to be the expanded DC universe of films, which ultimately means a Justice League movie at some point (damn them if they don’t include Aquaman). For the most part it succeeds in getting this new, grimmer, Superman off the ground (no pun intended) by borrowing elements from much better Superman stories written by talented people in years past. The story is somewhat coherent, but I couldn’t help but wonder if I was just filling in gaps because I knew a lot of this stuff, or if I was just taking everything without question because so few movies have a story that makes sense these days.

Zack Snyder is a hack director. I’m sorry to say that, but he is. The man can put together wonderful scenes, but fails to connect them all together. The opening credits of Watchmen is a great example of this. It’s remarkable. Also see the first teaser trailer for Man of Steel. I assume he had some hand in putting that together, because it has his hallmark of making something about 2 minutes long, soaked with sentimentality, really resonate with an audience. The action in this film is impossible to follow, though does it matter? It’s a bunch of people who can’t be hurt punching each other and throwing giant objects. Ok, we get it, they’re Kryptonian… move on. The fight doesn’t need to last 20 minutes. And near the end there’s a really jarring tonal shift, on par with Episode 1. Those who have seen it will know what I’m talking about. We go from something really devastating to some wacky hijinks with a joke about how hot Superman is. Steady yourselves, ladies, he’s spoken for! Whoooo!

It’s fun because millions just died.

The acting is fine, I guess. I really liked Michael Shannon as Zod, though hearing Viggo Mortensen was also up for that part immediately sent me into “what if?” mode. I actually liked Kevin Costner as Pa Kent. Kind of funny that 1990s Robin Hood played Superman’s adoptive father and 2010s Robin Hood played his birth father. Amy Adams is good in whatever she’s in. She conveys the more modern Lois Lane pretty well, and, if I remember correctly, only one of her “Superman, save me!” moments was her own making. Gone is the Lois Lane who just fumbles from one catastrophe to another (though that character has been gone in the comics for almost 30 years). But now we come to Henry Cavill as Superman. He has the physique, that’s for sure, but he lacks the character. For me the perfect Superman on film will always be Christopher Reeve. Sure, the movies were schlock, but he nailed that part. His transition from meek and fumbling Clark to strong and confident Superman was the most convincing. But this isn’t that Superman anyway. This Superman doesn’t rescue kittens from trees or put out fires with his super breath. Hell this Superman doesn’t rescue anyone in this film after he puts on the suit except Lois (three times).

Visually the movie is pretty good, even though the CGI went over the top more than a few times. Zack Snyder is good at visuals, I’ll give him that. While I found the film 300 repulsive, the style of the film still stands up. It could have done with less over the top blurry CGI fighting action and maybe some f**king color now and then, but it was otherwise pretty impressive looking.

Would I recommend this film? I would. It’s good summer popcorn fare. It’s on par with any of the Avengers era Marvel movies as far as entertainment value goes, but unlike the Nolan Batman films (whatever flaws people think those movies have) the narrative just won’t resonate with you for terribly long after.

The film borrows heavily from a few Superman stories from recent memory. Three of them I’ve read and would highly recommend. Even if you’ve never liked Superman, you’ve thought he was too “goody two shoes” or are stuck on the whole “big blue Boy Scout” thing, I highly recommend these three books. They are well worth the read.

Those are just a few. I also recommend Earth One Volume 2 and Superman Grounded, though those don’t have many connections to this film.

Explanation of Ratings

All ratings are on a 5 point scale where 1 is the lowest possible score. A score of 3 indicates the film was simply effective in this regard. A score of 5 indicates perfection in a given category. The overall rating is a simple average of the four scores.

  • Story -- How well the film was written?  Did the story make sense?  Were there plot holes?  Was the dialogue natural for the style/genre?
  • Direction -- How well was the film put together?  Did all of the elements come together properly?  How was the pacing?  Was the tone consistent and effective?  A subcategory of this would be editing, but for the purpose of these reviews it is combined into one category.
  • Acting -- How good were the performances?  In a drama did the lead actor/actress draw the audience in?  In a comedy where the performers funny?  This is an amalgam score of all the performances in the piece. A single great performance can elevate the entire score, but a bunch of bad performances can just as easily bring it down.
  • Visual -- How did the film look?  If there were visual effects were they used appropriately and did they look good?  Did the overall look enhance the telling of the story?


  1. Instead of being very, very happy with the movie, I was just optimistic that the sequels will probably expand on this universe and make it even better. Let’s hope that is actually the case. Good review Frank.

    1. Yeah, I wasn't really disappointed by the film. It suffers from the typical Super Hero origin story movie problem, that is to say 75% of the run time is devoted to explaining who he is and how he got his powers, and then they have to shoehorn in a reason for him to use his powers. But this wasn't as bad as most first super hero films. In this case the origin is pretty interesting (a lot of Earth One influence, I think). And I think it sets it up for what could be some fun sequels.

      I know everything is all about dark and gritty now, but Superman is a character that can have levity to him. We need to see more of him saving cats from trees, blowing out fires with his super breath, mixed in with scenes like this one from All Star Superman...

      Show us that he's the ultimate good guy. Show us that the act at the end of the movie isn't going to define him, but give him a greater resolve to do good and help others and hopefully never have to be in that situation again.

      Thanks for the reply!