For me, one of the most striking images after 9/11 was on a local news report. The reporters did a regular feature on paintings and drawings made by Elementary School kids, based on current events. One child, after witnessing the terrorist attacks on New York, drew a crayon colored picture of Superman, stopping one of the planes from crashing into one of the towers, having arrived just in the nick of time. Sad that there is no real superhero in our world, but hopeful because potential for good exist within all of us. This meant more to me than President Bush standing on top of rubble, calling for payback.
You see, Superman is about doing the right thing, even in the face of unimaginable horror. He doesn’t give in to senseless rage, nor does he use his powers for selfish reasons. Well… except for when he turned back time to save Lois Lane. And does breaking a man’s neck count as rage if done to save a group of people?
It’s hard making such decisions, especially when you can do almost anything. But, that’s part of what makes the character so compelling. In his latest film adaptation Man of Steel, we get an origin story laden with this.
Before he was Clark Kent, he was named Kal-El, the first and last naturally born child of the planet Krypton. Knowing the destruction of that world was imminent, his parents launched him into space, sending the craft to Earth. There, he is raised by a kind hearted Kansas couple. He spends his youth struggling to do what comes naturally to him (saving the day) and trying to keep his abilities a secret (what his Earth parents want). Eventually, after years of drifting from place to place, he discovers a relic of his home world and learns his true destiny, just when we need him the most.
At first glance, this movie is merely a feast for the eyes. From Russell Crowe riding a dragon to a New York like Metropolis falling apart building by building, the level of visual candy and destruction is absolutely overwhelming. Punches, kicks, sonic booms and explosions are louder than in any superhero film I’ve seen recently. Leaving the theater, it felt like Director Zack Snyder out did his own style to the point of detriment. “A Superman movie for a new era” this was called. Fine, but what does it say of this era? Bigger is not necessarily better. They tried a slow moving drama with Superman Returns, and people complained that it lacked action. Well dummy, now you got it.
At second glance and after conversations with colleagues, I realized the enormous visuals distracted me from what was under the surface. Themes of self discovery, doubt and making difficult choices are strewn throughout. Clark spends many years learning just who he is exactly. He finally uncovers the truth (and his suit), and goes home to tell his mother, still confused as to what should happen next, but momentarily happy to have some answers. When General Zod, a Kryptonian with ties to his birth family, threatens Earth, Clark is given the reality check of a lifetime. Sometimes, the only way to get someone out of an existential rut is to shake them out of it.
From there, Clark puts on the suit, tries things out for the first time, and learns along the way just what he is made of. We don’t get many scenes of dialogue expositing lessons learned, but we do get to see them as they happen. At one moment, he is forced to do an act he’ll hopefully never have to do again, and gets emotional afterwards (you’ll know it when you see it). He didn’t do something as grand as turning back time, but it was just as jaw dropping to witness, and may haunt him for some time. This Superman is not yet whole as an individual, but is finally ready for the next phase of his life. Is the world ready?
Thrown headfirst into the dilemma of fighting against people of his past, to protect the people of his present, Clark’s internal problems have become external, for everyone to see. He experiences one nightmare, only to wake into a real one. Using all of his powers to their fullest capabilities for the first time, he wings the situation, learning as he goes. Sure, it all comes naturally to him, and he is no longer holding back, but you get the sense that he may be uncertain (and possibly afraid) as how to win the day. Where Captain America is confident and steadfast, this Superman is powerful yet doubtful. He flies through the air with heavy emotion on his face, like someone rushing to complete multiple food orders (maybe more dramatic than that). He WANTS to save everyone, but doesn’t really know HOW. It’s the coming of age story of a lifetime, when you think about it. It’s not going to be easy Supes, but just know we’re all behind you.
In preparing this review, I doubted not only my rating of this movie, but also that of Star Trek Into Darkness, which I think shares something in common — both are big, loud, and on the surface deviate from the source material. It might appear that spectacle trumps smarts, but brain and brawn work side by side in both (to varying degrees). Still, what I would give for a 1970’s style sci fi flick. We can handle it, Hollywood! Give me a depthful crayola drawing over a shallow photo op any day.
4/5–5/5 *s, depending on how I feel at a given time.
Originally published at billreviewsfilm.blogspot.com on June 15, 2013.