|Print | Back||June 28, 2013|
Shark Bite TheatreMan of Steel: Man, That Was Super
by Andrew E. Lindsay
I still remember as a kid watching the syndicated reruns of the Superman TV show with George Reeves. I always thought Reeves made a great looking Clark Kent, but kind of a chunky Superman. The sets were cheap, the special effects less-than-convincing, and the stories were not terribly complicated.
Still, I loved watching them, enthralled with the idea of this “strange visitor from another planet with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. And who, disguised as Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, fights a never-ending battle for truth, justice, and the American way!”
Every kid I knew growing up (and most of the ones I’ve known since) had, at some point, tied a beach towel or an old blanket around his neck and ran around the yard pretending to fly. But it was also true long before I was born; generations of kids have grown up idolizing Superman since his debut in Action Comics number one in June of 1938.
For a mere ten-cent investment, you could’ve been mesmerized by the very first adventures of the Man of Steel. And, if you’d held on to it, you could’ve sold it and retired on the proceeds.
Superman is the gold standard of superheroes, and since his comic book debut he’s also been featured in dozens of hundreds of radio shows, movie serials, newspaper comic strips, animated cartoons, novels, video games, movies, TV shows, and of course, lots and lots of comic books.
Christopher Reeve brought him to life on the big screen in 1978, along with three more sequels. In 2006, Superman Returns hit theaters with a super thud. The special effects were phenomenally better than anything fans had seen before, but the story was a stinker, and DVDs have been collecting dust in bargain bins and yard sales ever since. Naturally, the only way to wash the super-bad taste out of everyone’s mouth is to make yet another Superman movie, which brings us to Man of Steel.
With a story from David Goyer and Christopher Nolan, Zack Snyder set out to direct a very different kind of Superman movie. He succeeded, although there were several minutes early on where it was so different, I thought I might’ve accidentally walked into a Wolverine movie. Although it jumps around a bit, the early part of the film shows us Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) as a young man trying to find himself. He’s a bit of a loner, wandering from job to job, working on an oil rig, at a truck stop, and then a military base in Canada.
And although I never saw any adamantium claws pop out of his hands, we did get several Wolverine-like glimpses of him without a shirt on and with lots of very manly chest hair. And facial hair (which reminds me, how in the world did he get so clean shaven? I don’t think Gillette makes any blades out of Kryptonite).
Before that, we also got to see his dying home world, Krypton, in its final hours. His father, Jor-El (Russell Crowe), is a brilliant scientist who is trying to save the planet from destruction, but the planet’s Council of very wise Kryptonian politicians with funny hats won’t listen to him, right up to the moment where a disgruntled government employee, General Zod (Michael Shannon), interrupts their powwow and starts killing them.
Zod is a military leader who is also trying to save the planet, but his motives are not quite as pure as Jor-El’s.
So there’s a lot of fighting, and people fly around on some sort of dragons and shoot very advanced-looking guns at one another. The Krypton sets seemed predictably boring, like they might’ve been picked up at a set clearance sale with a tag “one size alien planet fits all.” This was the least interesting part of the movie to me, and I wish it had been shorter. A lot shorter.
I know I’ve already compared this movie to a Marvel superhero movie (Wolverine), but the opening also reminded me of another Marvel movie, Thor. So much time spent on Asgard when the really interesting stuff happened after Thor got banished to Earth and had to interact with mere mortals. Same for the superbaby bound for Earth. Launch the rocket already and blow up Krypton so we can get on with the movie.
The baby, Kal-El, is rocketed safely to Earth, where he is found and adopted by the kindly Jonathan and Martha Kent (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane). They are farmers from Smallville, Kansas, and raise the boy, whom they name Clark, as their own. Through a series of flashbacks, we learn that as Clark’s powers began to manifest themselves, his adoptive parents patiently helped him cope with things that no other midwestern farm boy ever had to. Things like x-ray vision, super-hearing, and herculean strength.
Clark does some pretty super-heroic things as a small boy, like saving a school bus full of children after it crashes into a river, but the Kents try to keep Clark’s exploits hush-hush, fearing that the world is not prepared to accept him.
In fact, it is Jonathan Kent’s dying wish to protect his son from those who will not understand, and he ultimately sacrifices himself to keep Clark from blowing his cover. It is a moving scene, subtly played by Costner and Cavill.
My one regret with this scene is that I wish that it was a person, perhaps a child, rather than a dog, for whom Jonathan sacrifices himself. Look, I love dogs as much as anybody, and dogs sacrificing themselves for humans is a beautiful act of canine love, but people should not be dying for their pets. Other than that, it’s a very nice moment in the movie where we feel the powerful emotional bond of father and son.
Lois Lane is played with spunk and charm by Amy Adams, and she does a lot of investigative reporting to figure out who this mysterious stranger is she first ran into in Canada. Her boss at the Daily Planet, Perry White (Laurence Fishburne), doesn’t want to run her story about an alien visitor, so she resorts to publishing it online and incurs the wrath of an angry editor.
About this time, General Zod and his cronies arrive on Earth. It seems that after their attempted coup d’état on Krypton, they were banished to a place called The Phantom Zone, despite the fact that the whole planet is about to be blown to smithereens. So after Krypton explodes, they escape and make their way to Earth to settle a score with Kal-El, now known as Clark Kent, but soon to be known as Superman.
The Pentagon gets involved, troops are dispatched, and the whole world is trying to figure out who the guy is in the blue pajamas and red cape, and just what are the other outer space creepers planning to do to Earth after they kill the guy in the cape. Lots of fighting ensues.
I don’t mean to keep comparing this to Marvel movies, but the closer this film gets to the end, the more it seems like The Avengers movie. If you recall, in an effort to fight off a seemingly endless horde of alien bug creatures, the Avengers pretty much leveled several square blocks of Manhattan.
But there were five of them, so you’d expect some significant collateral damage as they battled thousands of giant caterpillars, or whatever they were.
In this movie, Superman and Zod attempt to match the destruction level of the Avengers, and then up the ante. Block after block of Metropolis is pulverized in the process, and it kinda left me scratching my head as to why Superman didn’t take the fight elsewhere. You know, the middle of the desert, or the ocean, or the moon. Somewhere where millions of innocent people wouldn’t be vaporized as skyscraper after skyscraper was razed in their one-on-one wrestling match. But it’s a minor quibble.
Man of Steel was fun, even if there were a number of improbabilities along the way. But then, if you weren’t prepared to deal with improbability in a movie about a guy born on another planet who gets rocketed to Earth as a baby and grows up bulletproof and flies around with a cape, well ...
I liked the tone of this story, and the struggle Clark went through to understand who he was, where he came from, and what he was capable of becoming. I loved his conversations with Jonathan, which, while brief, were as good as anything Kevin Costner has done.
I appreciated the fact that we got to see glimpses of Clark’s adopted parents teaching him, with love and patience, how to be a man. They taught him compassion and gave him moral guidelines. They didn’t have any kind of manual for how to raise an alien who could crush you like a peanut, and they had no point of reference for seeing through walls or hearing internal organs at work.
What Jonathan and Martha Kent taught their son was, ironically, how to be the best human being he could be. So when the world needed a hero, there was someone ready to step up, someone qualified for the job in every way.
Our world is full of ambiguity and flawed heroes and so many shades of grey. It is refreshing that this a story where it’s pretty clear who the bad guys are and who the good guys are. In fact, this is a really good movie about the ultimate good guy. They don’t call him Superman for nothing.
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