I can count on one hand how many superhero movies I’ve seen. I’m not “big” into the genre and never have been. I can enjoy it (see: Captain America), but I’ve always been more of the history/fantasy kind of person.
That said, I am now going to make a shocking statement. Man of Steel was the best movie I’ve seen since Valkyrie, and that was the best movie I’d seen since Les Miserables. It is also one of my new favorites, right up there with the first three Rocky movies (and those are worthy of another review entirely!).
It. Was. So. Good.
Prepare yourself for a long review; I’m sorry, but when you get so much out of a movie, it’s hard to keep a review short (*coughmyLesMisreviewcough*).
Please be aware of a few other things. One, I haven’t read the comic books so I’m not familiar with Superman canon; don’t kill me if I commit some unpardonable sin against said canon!
Two, Man of Steel came highly recommended to me from a friend and from our family’s favorite radio talk show host, Steve Deace.
And three, I saw this after I saw The Avengers and much preferred this one. (*digging in heels against barrage of flying tomatoes*)
Okay. Review starts now.
Man of Steel begins with the birth of a baby, the first natural birth in centuries on the decaying Planet Krypton. The baby’s parents, Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and Lara, didn’t want their child’s future to be genetically engineered by the totalitarian government, so they’ve conceived and delivered their baby in secret. With Krypton about to explode, they decide to send him to safety on Planet Earth.
Before sending Baby Kal off, however, Jor-El steals the Codex, which contains the entire genetic identity of Krypton, and embeds it into his son. When the scheming General Zod discovers this, he’s enraged; he is attempting a coup and wants the Codex so he can rebuild the Krypton race by the same artificial means used by the government he wants to overthrow. In his fury he kills Jor-El, and although he’s finally arrested, he swears he’ll find Baby Kal and claim the Codex again.
Kal, meanwhile, crash-lands in a little Kansas town. He is adopted by Jonathan and Martha Kent (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane) and named “Clark.” The rest of the movie is about
1) Clark’s quest to find out who he really is,
2) His struggle to understand what he was created to do,
3) His relationships with his adoptive parents, with his biological father’s “preserved consciousness,” and with Lois Lane,
4) And lastly, his fight against General Zod, who pursues him in order to find the Codex and take over Earth for his own evil purposes.
What I didn’t like about Man of Steel
Anyone who’s been reading me for a while knows I always like to give my disclaimers and caveats first. That’s because I don’t want you to think I’ve watched this with my brain turned off (no matter how much I enjoyed it). It also counterbalances (somewhat) the big bouquet of very nice things I’m about to say about it.
After instructing Clark to encourage the people of Earth not to make the same mistakes the people of Krypton did (big government, genetic engineering, etc.), Jor-El tells him that “The symbol of the House of El means hope. Embodied within that hope is the fundamental belief in the potential of every person to be a force for good. That’s what you can bring them.” Well, the concept of “every person having the potential to be a force for good” is humanistic if the grace of God on that person is not involved; we humans can do no good apart from the Lord. This was my big worldview caveat with the film.
There were also a few bad words–but just a few and nothing that made your ears bleed.
What I liked about Man of Steel
There is a strong pro-life message of protecting the defenseless and valuing babies. We have a flawed but noble, compassionate hero and a flawed but courageous helpmeet-heroine. Between said Hero and Heroine, you have a good, clean romance that actually develops over time rather than it being love-at-first-sight.
The villain is truly villainous and the lines are clearly drawn between good and evil. There is an unashamed pro-freedom, anti-tyranny message. God is acknowledged either in dialogue or in a symbolic setting. We hear that every individual has a purpose. The Biblical family is upheld as a precious thing. Fatherhood is revered. You see two fathers (one biological, one adoptive) giving up their lives for their son, and the son later showing the same self-sacrifice.
Clark (perfectly–per-fect-ly–played by Henry Cavill) reminded me a lot of Steve Rogers/Captain America, just on a grander scale. He isn’t perfect, not by a long shot. There’s one scene where, after having most of his clothing practically burned to shreds in an accident, he steals some clothes; in another scene a few minutes later, his temper gets the better of him.
In spite of his flaws, however, he’s very admirable and Christ-like. He defends women and children. He really tries to be self-controlled and usually succeeds. He’s oh-so-kind. He loves America and his family. He’s a gentleman (with not a breath of effeminacy about him). And he is prepared to die so others might live.
In my personal opinion, the “goodness” of Clark was part of why liberal critics spewed so much vitriol over this film. I think that’s why they were so disgusted with Captain America, too. This kind of hero challenges the secular-humanist-postmodern system and bears too much affinity with the Christian worldview for comfort.
One of my fears, however, was that they were going to take the Christ-like aspect of Clark’s character too far and make him out to be God or God-like in a blasphemous way. There are, after all, certain things about him, his character, and his history that are similar and even parallel to Jesus. He’s sent to Earth as a baby, he gives himself up for the sake of mankind, etc. But at NO point is he worshipped or omnipotent. Jor-El says “He’ll be a god to them,” but in the context of the scene, he’s talking about how Kal/Clark will be invincible, NOT a deity. And Clark certainly doesn’t save Earth spiritually.
Clark is a defender of good and a physical savior; that is all. As I said in my caveats above, Jor-El does say that Clark can show people “the fundamental belief in the potential of every person to be a force for good,” and I didn’t like the humanism of that statement. But in the same scene, Jor-El also instructs Clark to encourage the people of Earth not to make the same mistakes the people of Krypton did (big government, government controlling the destinies of citizens, etc.).
So, Superman is not saving people from their sins in this film–au contraire. Superman is showing people that freedom is a priceless gift that they’d better protect at all costs. And his purpose is to help them protect it when they are up against superior forces.
On a related note: throughout the movie, the God of the Bible and His Providence are acknowledged, which further nullifies any idea that Clark is God or some kind of sovereign power. When Clark rescues a school bus as a boy, a friend describes it as “an act of God” and “Providence.” Clark, frustrated as a child with his “weirdness,” asks his adopted father, “Why did God do this to me?” And later in the movie, when Zod is threatening the earth, Clark goes into a church and receives counsel from the minister/priest, with the cross and a stained glass image of Jesus in the background, foreshadowing Clark’s own sacrifice a few minutes later.
The concept of each person having a purpose is also an over-arching message and one that Jonathan Kent is always hammering into Clark.
Lois Lane (played by the adorable Amy Adams) is a wonderful heroine! She’s smart, adventurous, and feisty, but gentle and kindhearted as well. She’s also the kind of girl who grits her teeth in the villain’s face and defends herself against his cronies. Yay!!!
I’m sure some people complain because she needs rescuing on three major occasions, but let’s admit it, anyone would need emergency help if they got shot in a God-forsaken Arctic wasteland. And if you were falling off a plane you’d need rescuing, right–and who’d be a better rescuer than the guy who can get there the fastest and flying to boot?
In all seriousness, Lois proves herself so useful throughout the movie that the rescues didn’t bother me–and you know I hate useless crybaby heroines. If she was always waiting to be rescued, I’d feel differently. Lois, however, is a capable, intelligent heroine who does a lot for herself and for others.
But here’s the best part about Lois’ character: she is a true helpmeet-heroine. Lois believes in Clark. This gives him motivation and strength to carry out the hardest part of his mission. She encourages him, she’s determined to help him in any way she can, she’s considerate of his need for secrecy, and she comforts him at his lowest point.
By the end of the film it was very clear that this romance was going places. I was thrilled out of my mind to hear Amy Adams will be in the sequel. May Clark and Lois get married and live happily ever after, hallelujah amen.
“And I’m Javert! Do not forget my name! Do not forget me, 24601!”
Hehehe. No, seriously, it was wonderful to see Russell Crowe playing a nice man after Les Mis. Jor-El was my third-favorite character after Clark and Lois. He won my heart as soon as I saw him holding his baby son for the first time; my admiration was secured when he stood up to tyrants with such calm boldness.
For most of the movie he’s appearing to Clark and Lois in spirit-form a la Obi-Wan Kenobi, but he’s still a rock of calm and wisdom for both of them. I loved it when he helped Lois get out of General Zod’s ship, giving her cool, concise directions on where her enemies are lurking so she can quickly dispose of them. It was very awesome.
Zod (Michael Shannon) was . . . disturbing. There was no Loki-like charm about him; he was cold-blooded and brutal. Zod was also very Machiavellian, believing the ends justified the means. “I exist only to protect Krypton. That is the sole purpose for which I was born. And every action I take, no matter how violent or how cruel, is for the greater good of my people.”
Interestingly, General Zod and his cronies are big proponents of evolution. This isn’t specifically a Zod line, but in one scene when his female sidekick Faora is fighting Clark, she says:
You are weak, Son of El, unsure of yourself. The fact that you possess a sense of morality, and we do not, gives us an evolutionary advantage. And if history has proven anything, it is that evolution always wins.
So evolution, big government, population control, and dictating the lives of individuals from babyhood–these are upheld by the villains–while the good guys believe in God, liberty, valuing life, and self-government. Methinks this is a conservative film.
BIG SPOILERS: apparently the scene where Clark kills Zod was controversial; some people thought Clark shouldn’t have done it because Superman is supposed to be a pacifist. Huh? Clark only killed him in order to protect innocent people Zod was about to murder. How was the fight going to end anyway? Either Clark or Zod was going to die; Zod said so. I mean, come on. His death was plain old-fashioned justice.
Jonathan & Martha Kent
Last but not least, Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner) and his wife Martha (Diane Lane) were wonderful characters. I think Jonathan was probably too over-protective of Clark, but he was also wise, encouraging Clark to wait until the proper time to reveal his strength. And he loved his son so much, he died so Clark could keep his secret. That scene was very moving for me; I know some people thought it was stupid but I didn’t think so watching it.
Martha made me laugh. Sometimes she reminded me of my mom: very practical, yet warm and loving. It was especially fun to see Diane Lane again after watching Secretariat. And yes, she’s supposed to be in the sequel too–yay!
Man of Steel, while it had its flaws, was a wonderful film that blessed and excited me on a long, tiring plane ride. I think the fact that I watched it twice in a row says more about it than anything 2,000+ word review I could write. Maybe writing a space opera of my own increased my appreciation for it, I don’t know–but the film resonated with me and I can’t wait until it comes out on DVD in November, when I can finally share it with my family.
Rating: 4.9 out of 5 stars.
Age Recommendation: Man of Steel is rated PG-13, but I think mature 12-year-olds could easily handle it, especially if they’ve already seen Marvel films.
P.S. I’m supposed to get the soundtrack today. Hans Zimmer, peoples! If you want a taste of the awesomeness, go to iTunes and listen to the sample of “What Are You Going To Do When You’re Not Saving the World?” There was no after-the-credits scene like in a Marvel movie but I watched the credits (twice) just so I could listen to the music 😉