Man of Meh- A Film Review of Man of Steel

Opening to great hype and a legion of future movie deals on its back is the Man of Steel, DC Comics’ Hail Mary pass to try and keep its film franchise relevant. Unfortunately, do to a Swiss cheese-like plot and cringe-inducing dialogue, this modern day Messiah falls well short to its potential.

Let’s start with the good. Henry Cavill as the title hero is fantastic. Cavill’s portrayal of Kal-El, Clark Kent/Superman is epically perfect and he both looks and plays the part the way it should be. Discretely humble, every moment he fills the screen you simply can’t take your eyes off of him. Every moment he is allowed to be “super” is breathtaking and it’s a shame that this film does not live up to his performance. At the same time, Antje Traue (Pandorum) is strikingly gorgeous as she is deadly. As the heavy’s right hand enforcer, Faora-Ul chews up the screen with her limited time and, next to Cavill, steals the show. I was smitten with her villainy.

Along with that, surprisingly Kevin Costner gives an emotionally strong turn as Jonathon Kent – Kal-El/Clark’s adopted father. I was both surprised and pleased to see such sweet exchanges between a boy and his father that I honestly felt a little teary-eyed during one scene in particular.

In terms of the special effects – wow! Superman flying has never looked this good and the massive amounts of destruction that occurs is spectacular. While more restrained in terms of his visual style for this film, Zach Snyder (300, The Watchmen) knows how to sculpt a scene. Substance … well that’s another thing.

Unfortunately, now it’s time to move on to the not so positive aspects. Pretty much everything else.

More “alien invasion” than super hero film, Man of Steel spends so much time setting itself up and jumping from one set piece to the next that it never really allows the audience to get comfortable. In some genres, this is a good thing. But not here. Instead of a simple roller coaster ride of entertainment, detail after monotonous detail is thrown at the audience making it difficult to just enjoy the film. Every moment leads back to the same father/son lesson, repeated over and over again throughout the hero’s lifespan while overly complicated DNA genetics crap buries the moments making the audience either irritatingly say “OK, I got it!” or “Who cares?”

The plot falls a part so easily that it is nearly laughable. Convenience is the best (and possible only way) to describe the story arc which works directly against how the the filmmaking team of Synder and Christopher Nolan (with writer David S. Goyer) described their motivations for the film. “A more realistic look” or some other buzz-filled quote was what we were promised but the delivered product was not even close. Yes, I know it’s a character based on a comic book, but nothing from the way military acts to even the mass destruction and death of thousands of people seems realistic or believable. Why was Lois Lane allowed on the ship? Oh, just so she can do that. Why is the ship over Metropolis? Oh, just so these characters can seem in harm’s way. It’s all just matters of convenience versus real motivations.

Speaking of Lois … what a waste! Not that Amy Adams does a bad job with what she is given, but she is never really allowed to be the Lois Lane fans would both expect or want to see. Sure, they give her a gun for part of it, but it’s not even close to enough. At the same time, Michael Shannon as General Zod is never really given the chance to be the badass he needs to be. Confused zealot is possibly the best way to describe him in the film and unfortunately, we’ve seen this before. Nearly the exact same character as Agent Nelson Van Alden from Boardwalk Empire, I expected to him to go into his spaceship and begin flogging himself for his sins.

However, the most glaringly negative aspect that can’t be denied is how much this film steals from the Matrix film franchise. With an art direction that looks stolen from Geof Darrows’ rejection pile from 1998 and the exact character template as Keanu Reeves’ Neo, Man of Steel is extremely lacking in the originality department. Babies get harvested by machines, Christ-like overtones (not even undertones) and a final fight scene that is such a complete retread that if Neo and Agent Smith were inserted into this film, you wouldn’t even notice. There’s even a machine that looks exactly like the squid-like robots that Superman has to fight near the end. Save for the near 60 minutes of explosions that Man of Steel pours into your eyeballs, this film falls just a short of its promised potential as Matrix: Revolutions. Other creative properties that were pick-pocketed include, but are not limited too Avatar, Invincible (the comic book which kind of stole from Superman but then was robbed for this film) and Alien.

Too long in terms of run time and too little in terms of substantial story, Man of Steel comes nowhere close to representing the 75 years of legendary character that DC Comics has built. Is it a better film than Superman Returns? Most definitely. Can it contend with Marvel’s wave of super hero films? Not really. Lacking fun and vibrancy, Man of Steel is as dull as the metallic black and grey color palette that overwhelms the film.

I will say, even with all of these negative aspects, I was still entertained. I can’t say enough about how Cavill and his performance and presence helped keep the film engaging. This really is impressive considering the lagging moments of boredom that occur and a character decision that the story has Superman make that is exactly the same thing that he is trying to stop Zod from doing. (No spoilers.)

Also – there is no reason to see this movie in 3D. Headache inducing hand-held camera work and nearly zero 3D effects make that a waste of money.

Overall, while nowhere near what we were hoping for, Man of Steel will probably still make its money. Flocks of people want to see this film and hopefully some of them enjoy the experience more than I did. Word on the street is that they are already fast tracking a sequel … so good for them. Bad for Superman aficionados. My heart skipped a beat when Clark wears both a Royals and University of Kansas shirt (Rock Chalk!) in the film, but that just wasn’t enough to win me over. Poor storytelling, heavy dialogue and a lack of originality kept this Man of Steel from being my summer movie hero.

3 out of 5 Flying Krypton Creatures

  1. Tim Prott says:


    Mr. Morales is a dear friend of mine and, while we share a love of movies and geekdom, we can disagree from time to time. With that said, I give you my . . .

    Review of a Review

    We all watch movies with different agenda. Some go in expecting nothing and are pleasantly surprised. Others expect the finest piece of filmmaking the universe has ever created and get let down. I purposely kept myself on a media black out regarding this film because of what it could represent. (It helps to have gotten rid of cable months earlier) As I told my wife and my brother, there has never been a film (or anything for that matter) that I was so, simultaneously, excited and scared.

    I’m a life long DC comic’s fan. Not so much a Superman fan but I know more about him than Joe Blow on the street. It is true that DC has not had the success in the Movie realm as their chief rival, Marvel, but comparing DC Movies to Marvel Movies is a tad unfair.
    Everyone is looking at Superhero movies through, what I call, “the Marvel Mirror”. So Man of Steel is no different in that respect. So I can understand if you are looking at DC through the same mirror. But on its own merits, it stands and it did a good job. As a DC fan, it’s one of the better DC movies out there, but putting it against Marvel Movies is unfair. Putting Man of Steel against other DC movies is.

    So with the Man of Steel movie, I was excited that this character was getting a better treatment on film but I was TERRIFIED that if this film were not successful, we would be subjected to my beloved DC comic’s characters in cartoon form for the rest of my life. (Teen Titans Go! Makes me want to vomit on my shoes but I digress). I don’t think I can handle that.

    So let’s review this review…

    Alien Invasion comment—You do realize that Superman is not human, right? It was destined that someday, somewhere…aliens would come to Earth looking for another alien. This aspect has been explored at great lengths in the comics. It was explored in Superman II. So since the Kryptonians (aliens) come in ships (they cannot fly on the planet) instead of flying around, you have an issue with this? I think it’s much more realistic that they have ships.

    “…simple roller coaster of entertainment…” comment—I have a 12 year old son who (if you know kids) has a million questions about things he doesn’t get. I’ve tried to educate him as much as I can about superheroes. He’s good but he still doesn’t get the nuance of cinema. He’s never been truly exposed to Superman, mainly due to no movies. (He can tell you everything there is to know about Marvel characters but I excuse this because all superheroes are cool). In this film, he only asked me one question “What happened?” and that was when he missed part of the film because he had to pee. He thought the film was really good. So when you say the movie jumps around and bombards the viewer with too much info, if it’s not too much for a child with the attention span of gnat, then it shouldn’t be hard for the average moviegoer.

    I don’t quite understand how one can enjoy the performances of Costner/Cavill and criticize the “father/son lesson, repeated over and over” when that lesson was represented in the performances you claim to enjoy. That’s like saying, “I enjoy spaghetti noodles and I love what marinara sauce brings in flavor, but when I’m eating I’m upset how my Spaghetti Bolognese keeps throwing the same flavors at me, over and over. I get it…you are delicious and savory but ‘Geez’. Oh, and the character of ‘Garlic Bread’ brought nothing new to the meal. Where was the depth? It just sat there.”

    Laughable Plot/realism comment— We’ve all seen laughable plots. Snakes on a Plane…really. A love story on a sinking boat…seriously. We’ve all seen plots stolen direct from previous source material (cough, cough…Into Darkness…cough, cough) with ruthless aplomb. Now you’re just nitpicking to nitpick.
    The realism, to me, comes not from sets or location or amount of destruction. The realism comes from the emotional journey of the lead character. How can a regular person with no superpowers relate to Superman? Emotion. We do know that most (if not) all movies bend realism, right? But when you nitpick things down to how the military behaves, what was your real purpose for watching the movie?

    And “Lois on the ship”…Did you miss the part where they probed her mind for information on the alien who only confided in her? How else where they going to find the DNA device they sought? Circle the globe while flying at Superspeed? Well we all know how that would have turned out. Again, nitpicking to nitpick.

    Lois Lane’s part — What the (bleep) were you expecting? The movie was not called “Lois and Clark” or “Man of Steel and the Plucky Reporter Gal”! It wasn’t her story. She is never meant to be a focal point of any decent Superman story. She is ancillary at best. That’s like saying Perry White should have played more of a role. Or Steve Lombard needed to have more depth. They are SECONDARY. In fact, I would say she played more of a role than I would have ever expected. I would even argue that we needed LESS Lois, not more. You can’t take Lois from 10 years of knowing Superman and thrust her into an origin story. She was exactly what she needed to be for her story. So I ask again, What Lois did you expect to see? If you go into a movie expecting but don’t receive, that harkens back to motivations for watching in the first place.

    Zod – Once again, what other iteration of Zod have you seen to expect him to be “more of a badass”? He explained his motivations.
    “He was bred to protect Krypton at all costs, even to his end”
    I think he did just that. And destructively terraforming that planet with a massive machine is not “badass” enough? Did you want him to do it with his bare hands? He’s not a homicidal maniac who kills for the sake of seeing others in pain. Sure he didn’t take over the White House (ala Superman II) so how “badass” do you want him? What actually defines being a “badass”? I don’t think anyone would go up to him and say, “Excuse me, sir. I realize you are flattening a major metropolitan city and killing thousands, but I’m just not feeling the ruthlessness. Can you bring it up a notch?”
    He’s not designed to be over the top. He’s subtle. He wants what’s best for his people. The best villain is the one who does what he thinks is right, even if it hurts people. If you want the “twist the mustache” villain, then there are plenty of other examples you could find. Zod is not one of them. Oh, and I never saw Boardwalk Empire, so I think you might have expected something that they didn’t give you. I honestly cannot remember the last movie I saw Michael Shannon in, so maybe going in with no point of reference was to my benefit.

    Stealing from the Matrix — Ok. This is another example of seeing what you want to see or expecting. You saw the babies in the beginning and thought, “Hmm, that’s kinda like the Matrix.” But then you wouldn’t let it drop. You started looking for every Matrix similarity you could find to justify your article. It’s like saying, “Hey, they destroyed a town…that’s too much like (insert any Michael Bay movie here) so they stole from (afore mentioned Bay movie). Or “Hey, he walking around barefoot with a gun . . . they stole from the first Die hard!” Nitpick. *Sigh

    Christ overtones – Superman was the originator of Christ like overtones in a medium other than the church. Hell, I’d even go as far as to say, the Matrix stole from him, not vice versa.

    And the Final fight Scene from the Matrix…. I’ve watched the travesty that is Matrix III and other than flying around, I saw no justifiable similarities. Again, what do you expect to super powered enemies to fight like? At least they weren’t fighting at night in the rain. Did we really need them fighting in the rain, Wachowski Brothers? Really? But I digress.

    Property you claim the movie stole from: I saw all most of the movies you name. I’m just not feeling you. I admit, I don’t know Invincible but how can a comic book steal from Superman then be stolen back by Superman. Isn’t that just reclaiming what’s already yours? Like Kool Moe Dee rapped in “How Ya Like Me Now” in his legendary battle with a younger LL Cool J.

    “You took my style, I’m taking it back.”

    Your issue with the 3D: I’m having eye problems currently (allergies) that are causing my left eye to cloud a bit from excessive watering. I was worried it would cloud my 3D experience. Halfway through the film, I forgot I was wearing the glasses, allergies and all. 3D is not supposed to be campy with the obligatory “thing flying at the screen” shots we always see, that makes the average movie goer exclaim, “Oh, they put that in for the 3D.” 3D is now more for depth and scope, rather than cheesy gimmicks. I like it for what it was. When I watch a movie and the main character is looking out at a vast scenic view, I want to see the depth and distance more than an errant truck tire flying at the camera during a fight scene. 3D should be subtle, not in your face…as weird as that sounds.

    Rebut of your last paragraph: I don’t go in buying the hype. Again, I was excited and terrified of what this film could mean for DC and Superman both. I had so many expectations but I tempered them. I went in expecting the worst and I liked the movie. Most, I suspect, were expecting the pinnacle of Supermanliness (yes, that’s a word) and were probably let down. I had hope that it was gonna be good but I never expected it. In regards to your comment on “lack of originality”, here’s where I don’t understand you at all. You championed “Into Darkness”, a film that not subtly but blatantly took from another movie, from plotline to actual dialogue, and you say “Man of Steel” was lacking in originality?
    I don’t consider myself an aficionado: not by any means. That being said, I have seen no less than 5 different versions of the Superman origin stories dating back to (a copy) of the original origin comic. Each one took a different take. This film was no different. Story was different from the other movies and (most) of the comics. If you want something completely new, you know you are never gonna find it. Even “Into Darkness” borrowed from other films. Most namely, it’s own (See “space free fall” scene). Not in the Hollywood, the land of the rehashed premises and lame sequels. As Humans, we will always compare this to that. As a critic, that’s what you are bred for, but every now and then we need to distance ourselves and view things as a child does. Not with preconceived notions or a clingy sense of what came before (that we thought was cool), but with innocence and wonder.

  2. Alex Morales says:

    Caution civilians – there be spoilers ahead.

    Thanks for the comment Tim. I really loved Cavill, he’s perfect, I just think the story was lacking. Same thing with Costner. There are plenty of ways to applaud a performance but not like the movie. How many times has the best actor winner been in the actual best film of the year? Not often. (Before you look it up – it’s 26. Some say 25 but only because Brando refused it for the Godfather in 1973.)

    But here’s the thing – what’s wrong with me expecting more? I expect to believe in what I am seeing – just like I did when I was 12 – that a man can fly, that aliens are real and that dinosaurs can walk the earth. Do you consider Star Wars Episodes 1 -3 good? 8 to 13 year old’s loved it. I did not. Me expecting more from this should not be far fetched considering the writing talents that have lent themselves to 75 years worth of storytelling in the comic books.

    With this film, I just didn’t believe it. Superman as a character set the roots for how all heroes are understood in our culture. Always compared too and always built against, it’s a burden of the character to be more than just average. It’s the details of his story and why he is the way he is.

    Unfortunately, it’s in the details where this film was flawed.

    Here are a few specifics:

    Detail 1 and Specific Retort to Lois Lane:
    Do I want more Lois? No. But even with the random mind reading thing that they never really ever show, her being on the ship is just convenience and leaves an audience member open to ask – why? She truly knows nothing about him, save what he wanted her to know so in essence – she is worthless to them. This is specially true when you consider that they enter his mind and get everything they needed anyway. Lois is only on the ship to help him escape – that equates to convenience. This could have been an opportunity to show her worth on the ground. She uses her connections, finds a way to help, persuades the military into action – something that shows who she is – an aggressive reporter that can get the details and the story she needs.

    And that’s just the beginning for me. While nothing is ever perfect – the details in this film irritated the hell out of me. I understand what you’re saying about being nit-picky – but that’s my job. To look at the details and weigh them against the entertainment value of the experience. Sometimes, the flaws don’t interfere with the experience. With this film, they did.

    Detail 2 – Massive Spoiler if you have not seen the film:
    They made Superman cause the mass genocide of his own race of people! What the hell?!? His father put the hope and future of Krypton in his cells and he completely destroys a way from them to survive from existence. Why? He did the exact thing that everyone was condemning Zod for. Why?

    Detail 3:
    Speaking of Zod – why does he turn the World Machine against the humans? Just in our solar system there are 7 other planets he could have used. The choice to have him turn against humanity is ridiculous because, by his own pedigree he is a protector of people. Even when he went against his own on Krypton, he was doing so in order to protect the people. Was he wrong in how he did it? Who can say because Jor’El causes as much treason as Zod does and his Lara’El is still allowed to sit in with the high council when they sentence Zod to the negative zone. Speaking of his treason-like activities – if he’s in charge of the military – how did he get stopped again? 12 to 13 Zod-followers are sent into the Negative Zone, but there was out war on the planet. Everything is blowing up, war is escalating, but somehow, the council stops the guy who has all the power of the military behind him. Nit-picky? Hell yes. Because it stopped me from enjoying the film and made me question the motives.

    In comparison to Zod – Faora was way more effective and, as a character, she loved her new found powers and allowed them to shape her in terms of motive, dialogue and enforcement. Zod on the other hand, still just wants to save his people but is made – by the story – to attack the humans even after they give him what he is asking for. No motive. He’s not crazy so that can’t be an argument. Zod’s nearly the most rational person in the movie – he knows what he needs, knows where to find it and gives proper response time to the humans. If he was just a power hungry planet thief, why do any of that?

    Man of Steel just was not a superhero film. In comparison to the Avengers, this film really lacks that heroic feeling. Do the details matter yes? Is there a template for superhero films – no – but you know you are watching one when you do. Hellboy 1 and 2, the first Matrix film, the Dark Knight, even Captain America (a film that I did like as much as I wanted but was still an average superhero story) – they all make you want to be that hero – flawed, self-conscious and powerful. Personally, I just didn’t feel that here.

    Sure he can fly and has super strength, but in the end it’s just a bunch of aliens using earth as a battlefield. Superman causes just as much destruction as the other super criminals. In the Avengers, half the team is protecting civilians while the other half is containing the threat. Sure, he saves the day by stopping Zod, but never does he as a character connect to the people and truly be the hero for them. He just stayed being what he always was – an alien. That’s not what Superman is. He’s not just an alien. He’s a Kansas! He’s our champion. He’s our self-actualization. He’s the good guy that saves lives. He’s not just an alien.

    In terms of how I review – here’s a little more insight in how I formed my thinking –
    Let’s compare – The Dark Knight is, in my opinion, by far a superior film – okay, why? There are huge plot details in TDK that are just as silly as in Man of Steel – however, never, when first watching the film or when rewatching are you as an audience member allowed to focus on those details. You enjoy what you see and you never get tangled in them. That is the basis of my reviews. Can I sit and just enjoy? If the film makes me think, is it slowing the experience or is it enhancing the experience? There’s huge undertones in TDK about the greater good and the means to that good, but it never smacks you over the head. It presents it, allows you to absorb it and then ends it.

    Another example – Fast and Furious 6. Silly, over the top ridiculousness with dialogue that is horrible, but, while watching, you never get lost in those details and you are forced to enjoy the ride. I know it’s bad. Everyone in the audience knows it’s bad. Even the cast is winking at us when they say the stuff they do, but that’s the point and that’s why you can enjoy it.

    One more example – and I know you are going to roll your eyes and want to smack me over the head – Into Darkness. Did it suffer from originality – yes – something I point out that fans of the series would not appreciate – however, the pacing, story experience and fun was for me – as a non-trekkie incredible and the inner 12-year old boy in me was able to just go along for the ride. I would argue that it actually opens the story of Kahn up more and gives more depth to him and his motive for revenge. How can I say that? Because I never saw the original episode with him in it and, after watching Star Trek: The Wrath of Kahn over again, that Kahn was kind of a power-hungry idiot how got pwned by a smarter, calmer leader. Did I enjoy that film? You bet.

    I couldn’t do that with Man of Steel. I kept getting stopped from enjoying it with the details. Maybe that’s a fault of mine.

    Did the movie look great? Yes. Was Cavill good? Yes – perfect even. But that was not our Superman. He was an just alien on earth and the movie didn’t make me want to be him. It just made me feel sorry for him.

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