It’s been a while since I’ve posted a movie review. I suppose that’s in part just because of my general decline in posting to this blog period, but it is also because I’ve not really felt any reason to share my thoughts about most of the recent movies I’ve seen. I just don’t think I have much to add to the commentary already expressed.
So why am I reviewing “Man of Steel?”
I dunno really. There are just a whole lot of things about the movie that have gotten under my skin enough that I feel a need to vent, and this is the best place I have to vent.
This movie is at best schizophrenic and at worst it is incomprehensible in any symbolic, metaphorical or morality play perspective. Whether this is intentional or simply due to a creative team that simply could not figure out what story they actually wanted to tell, I have no idea. And that’s odd because I usually feel like I can figure out the motivations of most writers, directors or producers based on the end result they create.
Not this time. This movie is an impenetrable fog of contradictory moral lessons, incomplete story lines, conflicting ideological platitudes and, perhaps worst of all, some of the worst acting and camera work I have seen in a long, long, long time.
And yet there is something there that is still worth seeing. Fragments of momentary brilliance and clarity that shine amidst the muck like pearls cast before swine.
I’m not a Superman fan. When I was a very young boy I read Superman, but I lost track of the comic book man of steel when Jack Kirby rewrote him as a flawed and conflicted reduced version of Superman and I never really picked it back up again. I watched a few of the Superman movies, and thought the first Christopher Reeve version was a watchable movie, although nothing I would miss if I never saw it. The main reason I don’t really care for Superman as a concept is because the only way to provide Superman with a challenge worth turning into a story is to create something even more implausible and fantastic than a man who can fly, shoot laser beams out his eyes, move entire planets and cannot be harmed by virtually anything except the ridiculous notion of kryptonite.
By the way, there will be spoilers.
So why did I even go see this movie when I skipped the entire last series of Superman movies and never even saw all the Christopher Reeve movies? I dunno. Because I was tired of working day and night on the house and wanted to escape and relax for a few hours I suppose.
So there I was, in the theater when Jor-el, Superman’s Kryptonian father, attempted to convince his rulers that their world was about to implode gravitationally because they had exhausted its natural resources. The sheer physical impossibility of what they were describing was already making my eyes glaze over when suddenly all of Krypton, on the verge of utter destruction, was thrown into violent civil war by General Zod.
But it wasn’t long before the absurd notion of gravitational collapse of the planet’s core seemed the height of reasonableness as Jor-el maneuvered from one wholly absurd event to another, culminating in Jor-el revealing himself to be some sort of combination of Rambo and Albert Einstein. All of this gave plenty of opportunity to showcase the awesome computer generated landscapes in the act of being torn to bits by whatever mysterious forces the Kryptonians had unleashed by tapping into the energy of the planet’s core. A core that seemed more than energetic enough in spite of having been depleted for thousands of years.
The sheer length of time the movie spent on this extraneous, implausible and wholly ridiculous destruction of Krypton was only made worth watching by the remarkable, and perhaps completely unintentional, presentation of the Kryptonian world-state as a dysfuntional nanny state on steroids with Jor-el and his wife rejecting thousands of years of Kryptonian state planning by choosing to have a natural born child in an attempt to regain some remnant of the vigor and purity long ago swallowed up and forgotten by the imposition of central planning and social engineering.
I’m sure it was unintentional. But there it was.
Of course their natural born son was to become Superman, and for some bizarre reason a world that once colonized half the galaxy could no longer even make a spaceship large enough for two adults and a child. But hey, they had to work with the material they were given, and as ridiculous as it most assuredly is, the only option Jor-el had was to send his newborn son into the unknown in the interstellar equivalent of a foundling basket. Oh well.
Then we get to earth and spend another half hour bouncing back and forth along several timelines involving Superman of several different ages, but all of whom are lectured over and over again by “Pa” Kent about how the world is not ready for his secret to be revealed, even if that means young “Clark” has to act like a craven coward instead of even once standing up for himself. In fact this lesson is so important that Pa Kent even allows his son to be bullied by a gang of punks in broad daylight just a few yards away.
But again, buried in the confusing flotsam and jetsam of confused morality and ludicrous notions of how to deal with bullies, we discover that Pa Kent is a remarkable man. A man of unusual pragmatism, and one whose ideals are so firm and ingrained that he is not only willing to die for them, but he suggests that it might in fact be best for a schoolbus full of children to die for those ideals. A truly unusual reading of the Pa Kent I remember. A cold and calculating man who has run the numbers in his head and decided that for his “son” to truly realize his ultimate destiny as mankind’s champion and savior in the long run, some sacrifices simply have to be made in the short run. Then, after this steely utilitarianism is revealed and reinforced, Pa Kent eventually gives his own life to save the family dog.
As I said, pearls before swine, jewels embedded in swill. Unfathomable. Schizophrenic.
And we haven’t even gotten to Superman himself yet.
We get to see Superman grow into his powers. The purpose of this is to suggest that Superman has to adapt to earth’s environment and customs before he can master his powers. And that this adaptation achieves Jor-el’s goal to have Kal-el (Superman’s Kryptonian name) merge the best of both worlds into one superior whole. Smart man that Jor-el. Although it is never revealed how Jor-el knows so much about earth and humankind.
The big Maguffin of the movie is that Jor-el has somehow managed to embed the DNA potential of the entire kryptonian race into Superman’s cells. And for that reason General Zod tracks Superman to earth to retrieve that potential, called the “codex” in the movie. Or I think it was called the “codex.”
From that point on the movie goes from incomprehensible to utter chaos and insanity. Nothing makes any sense. Superman is supposed to be the key to reviving the race of Kryptonians, but there’s a whole friggin spaceship full of Kryptonians in stasis on earth already. Not only is the potential for the revival of these Kryptonians utterly ignored, but in the final battle, the ship is used against Superman, resulting in the destruction of all the in stasis Kryptonians on board. Then, once they are destroyed, General Zod bemoans that with the destruction that he just ensured, there is no longer a race of Kryptonians to serve, somehow forgetting the whole Maguffin plot point that Superman has the codex still embedded in his cells.
So they have a big climactic final battle where Superman eventually manages to prevail.
But again there are these odd moments of clarity and brilliance. Having Amy Adams portray Lois Lane is a downright inspired casting choice. Amy (a Colorado resident, btw) is perhaps best known for her turn as the ditzy singing cartoon princess banished to our mundane and unpleasant world in the movie “Enchanted.”
Amy gives us a Lois Lane that is down to earth, a bit frazzled around the edges, less than glamerous and, again, strangely pragmatic, in some ways reminiscent of Pa Kent. This Lois is no hard-bitten, hard-driven reporter willing to do anything for a scoop. Nor is she a damsel in distress looking to be saved by the hero (although, of course, she is). Of all the characters in the movie, Amy manages to give us a nuanced, multi-dimensional version of Lois Lane. Which is all the more obvious in contrast with her muscle-flexing screen partner whose “man of steel” appellation could just as well refer to his acting style as his role.
In the end Superman wins the day and the world somehow cheers his efforts in spite of the fact that the entire city of New York was reduced to rubble simply because his father decided to send his baby to this planet instead of some other planet somewhere.
So if you want to spend a few hours shaking your head in consternation and befuddlement with moments of sudden, inexplicable clarity, you could do worse than watch this movie.