Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Semi-Heroic Reviews: Man of Steel

It seems odd to think of and look at Superman as a figure of controversy. But in our exceedingly social age little does escape controversy. And when the subject has been around for over 75 years, everyone has an opinion about how to tell their story right.

So when Superman returned...again, and the decision was made to not emulate iconic 30 year films, conflict follows.

Now, 5 years on, the "Internet consensus" would be happy to close the book on this film, and dismiss it. Man of Steel was bad. It's didn't work. It was made wrong. The movie got Superman completely wrong. End of story. Close the book.

And that seeming consensus has a strong hove to it. After Man of Steel's follow up, Batman vs Superman, came out, I found myself avoiding watching Man of Steel. I had enjoyed the film when I went to the theater. And when I rewatched it. And when I bought the DVD. The negative push that came after the release and over the intervening time had weeded it's way into my memory.

So let's keep that book open, and reexamine this film.

It wasn't until mid-2016, when I was rewatching Man of Steel that I was reminded how well this film worked for me. The re-imagining of Krypton. The lost and questing Clark Kent. Lois Lane sniffing out Superman before he even existed. Zod, and his unbending will, keeping Krypton's culture and ideology alive, no matter what it cost.

It was in many ways borrowing from the long history of Superman. And in other ways, it added new takes and ideas. A respect for lore, with a willingness to go beyond as needed. When it comes to beloved lore, it's exactly what is needed to help it live and grow.

Let's take flight then, and see the power of...

Man of Steel

The DC Comics movies (DCEU, or whatever name people choose) of the past 5 years face a range of reactions. Often second guessed, there have been an overall desire to strike a unique note with film-goers.. The effort to begin a new era of DC movies started up in the wake of the Christopher Nolan trilogy of Batman films.

At first the idea of interlocking movies was not so clearly set. Marvel was 5 years into it's new cinematic universe, The Avengers had come out, and the MCU was establishing expectations for Comic Book Movies. So, like many studios, a bigger vision was on the cusp. And Man of Steel would a least leave some hints.

The Nolan films were an attempt to tell the story of Batman is a more realistic setting. No fantastical elements. No superhumans, or metahumans, or aliens. The birth of a hero leading through his struggles against shifting and escalating villains. It reflected the view of superhero films that largely was in place since the 90's.

But changing effects technology, and a move in taste in audiences opened up tales less grounded, more amazing, uncanny, and just super. So it was a matter of how to get the Man of Tomorrow back to us.

Nolan, choose to work again with David Goyer. He'd previously worked on Nolan's trilogy (As well, he worked on Dark City, the Blade movies, the Constantine series, and helped develop the Krypton series.) Together they began to develop the aspects of the tale they wanted to tell about Superman.

Soon, the story was developing and they needed to choose someone to helm the film. The choice they made was Zack Snyder. He'd had experience with comic book movies, and adaptation of stories with his work on Watchmen and 300. And he'd successfully remade the horror classic, Dawn of the Dead. He is someone with a unique style and take. (Though that has been deemed more notorious by some over time.)

With him on board the film could move forward into pre-production.

The cast comes together nicely in the film. Three characters are key to the film. The film centers on Clark Kent/Kal El/Superman (played by Henry Cavill) and his quest to discover his origins and place in the world. But we also follow the adventures of Lois Lane (played by Amy Adams). And we come to see the events and actions that drive General Zod (played by Michael Shannon).

Cavill leads the way anchoring the film first as wanderer who would be a hero and grows through the film to become more confident in the need for him to stand out before the world as it's protector.

The film offers a chance to see Clark Kent/Superman's humanity. His struggle to figure out who he is, who he can be, and just who he wants to be.

In a world without superheroes it a hard question to deal with. He wants to belong, be a part of humanity. But being different leaves him uncertain, and afraid a whole world will reject him. But if he just keeps his head down...

It'd be safer, for his heart, but with all he can do, he can't just stand back. He has to act.

And when he learns of his birth parents and people, and is offered a chance to inspire the world, while doing good...It's time for Superman to arrive.

The symbol of the House of El means hope. Embodied in that hope is the fundamental belief in the potential of every person to be a force for good.

You will give the people of Earth an ideal to strive towards. They will race behind you. They will stumble. They will fall. But in time they will join you in the sun, Kal. In time, you will help them accomplish wonders.

Then we have Lois Lane. Amy Adams slides into this role and brings the character to life with all her sharp and engaging love of life and The Story.

Lane enters the film at a running pace and never seems to stop, always chasing her lead. And when she meets a man with laser eyes, she doesn't stop until she has him worked out. And then, she shows her capacity to empathize, when she backs off that story to spare Clark Kent from the exposure.

From there she is drawn further into events, as the world is sent into a panic and she faces generals from Earth and Krypton. Lois needs to stand in the face of danger to help save humanity, and she won't back down.

And in the process she gains the deepest understanding of the strange visitor from another planet, cementing a bond.

Then we have Zod. Shannon helps instill Zod with a nobility of purpose that is sincere, but scarily zealous. Where Jor El wanted Kryptonian society to evolve, Zod was the status quo. Where Clark had a human upbringing and an openness to his people's ways, Zod had no time to entertain alternatives. For Zod there is only the one true way. He was made to enforce this. He lived a life of excellence preserving it. And he betrayed his leaders to try and save it, though his view was clearly twisting as he was eager to wipe out whole bloodlines to achieve his solution.

And, in the end, his treason, his technology, his army, and his will couldn't save Krypton. And when Jor El enacts his plan to save something of Krypton, Zod only sees heresy and perversion. But he is always sincere in his desire to save his people.

But by the end there is nothing left for him to save. It is just him, Superman, and heavily damaged scout ship. Zod has had his life taken from him. Nothing is left, but vengeance and death.

Between Clark and Zod, you have two ends of a story. Clark is trying to learn about his people, and decide on the life he is just starting. Zod, is fighting entropy, trying to keep a dead world alive, which was lost due to it's own short sightedness and arrogance. Zod is the end of the last cycle. Clark/Superman is the beginning of the next cycle.

And Lois is there to help Clark along as he finds his way. Without her, things would have ended very badly.

There is so much to discuss with this movie. But we will stop here for now. Next time we should discuss the big controversy of the movie. Is this Superman?

Yes it is, but we will look at this anyway. Superman and the Choice.

What if a child dreamed of becoming something other than what society had intended for him or her? What if a child aspired to something greater? You were the embodiment of that belief, Kal.” 

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