A movie review from a novice

Christopher Reeve really was Clark Kent. Superman was just his day job.

Superman was just a temp job. Christopher Reeve really was Clark Kent

I have to admit before I went to see the Man of Steel movie this weekend, I’m a bit worn thin on fantastical-super-hero movies and long for a movie that has…

a – a plot not involving large explosions or big smack downs.

b – script not based on fantasy, a comic book or video game.

Neither of these wishes are going to be true in the foreseeable movie blockbuster future. Before you read further, you can play this totally unrelated youtube music in the background which is probably a lot more entertaining than my following review of the Man of Steel.

Knowing that up front, I just wanted this movie to live up to the excitement and feel good thrill present in the first two Christopher Reeve, Superman movies. The first hurdle for any super hero movie is like the laundry sniff test, does the super whose-it look the part? Christopher Reeve easily flew over that bar and Henry Cavill makes it look easy. One look at him and he doesn’t even have to fly to know this guy can play the part. They did give the actor a small challenge outside of the script, he had to turn off the Brit speak and carry on with an American accent. This wouldn’t be easy because as most of us from the midwest know, vocalizing the great state of Kansas is American news anchor lack of accent territory. Since Superman’s father is only from Krypton, he can get away with a familiar Australian accent but somehow, General Zod hailing from the same locale still sounds American. I guess on Krypton they are even more regionalized than Earth.

Superman then & Now

The suit may have changed but they’re still Super.

There are two other requirements for this genre, it has to be an origin story of the character and a lot more money and time spent on special effects than the script, or so it seems. Reboots are all the rage and as this one goes, it’s done well with a lot more examination of the psychological perspective of a boy growing up where he’s the only one that can bench press a school bus or truly look into someones heart.

There’s a noticeable effort to make the person be more believable by showing the challenges anyone without a mature adult background would face trying to come to terms with these capabilities while everyone around you is considered clever if they can add fractions, tie their shoes and pick up heavy bags of groceries. Faced with these challenges and a lot more the youthful Clark Kent makes a few slip ups along the way including (SLIGHT SPOILER ALERT) saving the lives of those in harms way while trying not to call attention to his super-hero-ness. Eventually he finds a way to learn more about himself and where he came from just in time to have a full coming out of the proverbial phone booth party when the bad boys & girl come on to the scene.

This is the part even with someone with no X-Ray vision knew was coming. Just as he was starting to be able to strap on the skates take a few turns around the block with his super powers, along come the rejects from Kryptonia (or whatever). These people have attitude that makes Ordell Robbie / Jackie Brown look tame.

They have automatic weapons and they don’t care if Michael Bloomberg wants to ban them. Their goals are fairly straight forward. First, they want to find one of the former members of the hood. To do this they intimidate everyone on earth to give their boy up or there’s going to be a smack down so severe even Chuck Norris would cry momma. Next they try friendly persuasion to see things their way with Mr. Kal El. As expected, they find he’s been hanging with his local homeys too long and has become attached to them in a sort of friendly Poo Bear meets Godzilla way.

Brandon Routh Premiere Superman

Brandon Routh at his Superman Premiere

As advanced civilizations, these wayward Kryptonians are about as medieval as you want to go and they proceed to fulfill every fan boy’s wishes. They are going to kick some earth bound butt and along the way school Kal El on the finer points of what can you really do if you’re from an advanced super-bad gang and want to literally knock over a 7-11…

Of course a fight ensues and people have to be rescued, fortunately some of the earth bound clods still remember how to take care of themselves despite any leftover residuals of the Obama administration. Here we see what you came for, it’s Jackie Chan vs. Bruce Lee vs. Chuck Norris along with a little Rocky thrown in for good measure. We’ve come a long way in special effects since the days of chromium droids of the Terminator. Here is where the money is spent on making characters more powerful and faster than several speeding locomotives.

So after about 2.5 hours was it worth it? To me the answer is yes and no and this is where everyone’s opinion will vary.

To begin with, Superman is probably the superhero with the greatest number of superpowers, although not to be out done, Marvel has released a large quantity of characters with powers often debated by fans as to which one can beat the other including Superman. Superman started out as a character dreamed up by two Jews who in retrospect, really needed a hero of their ethnicity to overcome the hatred and genocide of their era. It wasn’t intended to be that sort of vehicle for the world but it certainly demonstrated a need at a soon to be low point in history.

supe vs bats

Superman reveals he has a dark side after all

I liked the Man of Steel writers attempt at examining what it might be like to live in a world where you are the only one of your kind (that you know) and don’t want everyone to hate or avoid you because of talents, skills or powers way beyond everyone else. This isn’t the X-Men / Marvel level of examination with an obvious compare to racism or gender identity. It’s closer to, I can hit a ball out of the park, win every race type of feeling while being bullied for some hidden differences. Kevin Costner portrays a man which I as a father could relate to because I was willing to do anything to protect my children and provide a message of you can succeed in spite of the opposition. Costner also displays the practical side of caring for yourself & family by doing whatever it takes.

The other area which I found interesting but a little perplexing in the manner the writers chose to handle it, was his vulnerability. Certainly for me as a child growing up, DC Comics and especially Superman took a back seat to Marvel when it came to super-heroes. Right from the start Marvel recognized the human element with everyday problems and initially they didn’t get caught up in the game of who is stronger and more invulnerable. Of course that went away rather quickly, as they kept ramping up the Hulk powers and eventually setting aside all laws of physics. The original creation of Superman had enhanced limits of strength and invulnerability. He only leapt, not flew over tall buildings with a single bound. Later, they too succumbed to creating an ever stronger, faster and more impregnable hero which I and a lot of other kids couldn’t relate.

Roy Rogers & Trigger

My heroes were cowboys

Oh sure we had our make believe cowboy heroes that could shoot faster and more accurately than the bad guys but they didn’t kiss girls and were kind to their animals. They even got the tar smacked out of them once in awhile but they came back and won the final battle. So it was in the imaginary world of the 50’s & 60’s. Now all of these fantasy characters have to face a sophisticated audience weaned on super powers and time traveling space vehicles sometimes in the shape of public utility appliances.

Does this new super duper exceed the flight pattern of his predecessor Brandon Routh? Well when you have a name as long as Henry William Dalgliesh Cavill, you darn well and aw shucks better. The movie succeeds in gaining an early audience emotional link portrayed by Messieurs Cavill, Costner and heart throb, Diane Lane. OK, I can still remember what it was like to have a heart that throbbed. I still think Mr. Routh if given a better script was up to the task of taking on such an iconic role and this is where Mr. Cavill had a starting chance to make a lasting impression. It quickly lost ground for me when they didn’t invest this emotional time in, how do you come to grips with ego when you know everyone else is not even a close second. Clearly us mere mortals don’t do well with this type of challenge yet possess nowhere near this much power. We have numerous bad examples in sports, entertainment and politics to show us just that. I could buy into the message of Cavill’s portrayal of invincibility and vulnerability as he sold it on screen.

Next we get rushed into the Lois Lane (Amy Adams) meet and greet. Here’s where script and perhaps actress let me down. Margot Kidder (Lois Lane) was a tough take no prisoners reporter in an era of Mike Royko, Woodward & Bernstein world. You believed she had inner steel and that perhaps is what superman sans X-Ray vision saw in her. In this latest version, Ms. Adams not only doesn’t come out swinging, she isn’t even given the opportunity. She is seemingly brought in and becomes an integral part of the plot, more than a Gal-Friday, but there isn’t adequate attention to detail of her role and somehow, all we know is it works. Just how they carry that off I’m not going to reveal just like some of my other criticism of the film. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone that wants to view it. I’m a father of two women and they aren’t this milk toast let alone less likely to be the significant squeeze of the man from, well you know where by now.

Christopher Reeve looked forward to Stem Cell break thru

Christopher Reeve looked forward to potential benefits of stem cell research at a MIT conference. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

All I can say are all of these new super-hero movies leave gaping holes in important segments of how things can work within the mortal time-line. When a significant vulnerability is revealed in this movie, somehow by sheer will power, Superman (Cavill) overcomes it to win the day, twice. That my friends is true fantasy but of course just sit back and enjoy the ride because in this one there’s going to be a few bumps along the way.

One other slight spoiler alert. Nowhere in the movie does it show how Superman shaved his beard. Fans will be disappointed I’m sure. In case anyone forgets, Christopher Reeve may have acted as Superman, but in truth he was more of a Superman than many of us will ever hope to be.

Related connections and what have you…

How Superman Would Have Won the War (a look into comic book fantasy of WWII)

Meet one of the World’s Greatest Stuntmen (How do they really get action heroes to come to life?)

Man of Steel: does Hollywood need saving from superheroes? (I guess they think so)

Americans spend to much time being diagnosed (the medications aren’t working people)

Warren Zevon – My Stuff is Messed Up (OK the title is a bit more X rated than that)

Inviting super heroes to your party. (Who invited him?)

Man of Steel Poster

From the German Nazi Propaganda Archive

If you want to understand the cultural relevance in the early era of Superman, here’s how much it bothered the Nazis. Their propaganda department worked their magic with another thoroughly enlightening piece. Modern politicians might take a few pointers. (Sarcasm is wasted on them)

Jerry Siegel, an intellectually and physically circumcised chap who has his headquarters in New York, is the inventor of a colorful figure with an impressive appearance, a powerful body, and a red swim suit who enjoys the ability to fly through the ether.

The inventive Israelite named this pleasant guy with an overdeveloped body and underdeveloped mind “Superman.” He advertised widely Superman’s sense of justice, well-suited for imitation by the American youth.

As you can see, there is nothing the Sadducee’s won’t do for money!

Jerry looked about the world and saw things happening in the distance, some of which alarmed him. He heard of Germany’s reawakening, of Italy’s revival, in short of a resurgence of the manly virtues of Rome and Greece. “That’s fine,” thought Jerry, and decided to import the idea of manly virtue and spread them among young Americans. Thus was born this “Superman.”

We see Superman, lacking all strategic sense and tactical ability, storming the West Wall in shorts. We see several German soldiers in a bunker, who in order to receive the American guest have borrowed old uniforms from a military museum. Their faces express at once both desperation and cheerfulness. We see this bicepped wonder in a rather odd pose, bending the barrels of Krupp guns like spaghetti. “Concrete can’t stop me,” he shouts in another picture as he knocks the tops off pill boxes like overripe tomatoes. His true strength only shows itself in flight, however. He leaps into the air to tear the propeller from a passing German airplane. As we can see from the next frame, however, Superman has apparently made a mistake, since he seems to have encountered a Yid pilot. No German would say what the pilot says: “Himmel! Vos is diss?”

A triumphant final frame shows Superman, the conquerer of death, dropping in at the headquarters of the chatterboxes at the League of Nations in Geneva. Although the rules of the establishment probably prohibit people in bathing suits from participating in their deliberations, Superman ignores them as well as the other laws of physics, logic, and life in general. He brings with him the evil German enemy along with Soviet Russia.

Instead of using the chance to encourage really useful virtues, he sows hate, suspicion, evil, laziness, and criminality in their young hearts.

Jerry Siegel stinks. Woe to the American youth, who must live in such a poisoned atmosphere and don’t even notice the poison they swallow daily.

Careful these contain spoilers.