Man of Steel: Evolution Wins
June 16, 2013 § 4 Comments
Man of Steel: Evolution Wins
(– ***Spoilers For All The Above*** –)
This Superman issue has been a problem for a while now. It has taken quite a long time to produce a film that adequately presented Superman on screen in a fashion that resembles the comic book while simultaneously representing his powers in a realistic fashion. The word of the last ten years in comic book films and fantasy or science fiction films in general has been gritty. Gritty used as a substitute for some kind of realism that was lacking in these genres prior to Blade. Some say X-Men, I think Blade was the original “gritty” comic book movie. Regardless, I think we can all agree that the previous Superman films were lacking in this grittiness factor, and thus lacking the realism required for an audience to become invested in such a fantastical world. Finally with this incarnation of the Superhero of all Superheroes, we can rest assured, he has been done right.
Zach Snyder has created something visually that is quite unlike anything I have ever seen, and that is not the first time I’ve said this about him as a director. It’s clear that he has taken from his experiences on his past films of varying artistic and financial success, which were all visually gorgeous, and presented some of the most not only efficient and technically proficient action set pieces I’ve ever seen on film, but also accomplishing this with an artistic integrity that is sorely lacking in blockbuster film making. Yes this thing is full of cgi so if that automatically turns you off then do not go see this, but you will be missing out on some of the most beautiful CGI work to date. What irks me about people that simply hate CGI just because it’s CGI is that they do not take into account the technical aspects of making CGI that not only works, is seamless and fits with the tone and flow of the film. Someone has to plan those shots, someone has to frame and set up the shots and light and get the actors to give believable performances and block and edit. It’s not as if the computers are creating the movie, you can have the greatest CGI generator in the world but if you don’t know how to use those images to tell a compelling story in a visually interesting and believable way than you do not have a movie. This is a movie. A damn good one.
That isn’t to say it’s without its faults. The film is riddled with bad dialogue, it’s just a little too on the nose. Some of Zod’s lines come to mind, however it is not bad enough to make the film bad. There is so much good here that negatives are mostly nitpicks. I wish Lois Lane had more of a story, she has plenty of screen time, but we never really get to invest in her arc, it happens too fast and is all but over before the third act begins, and its an extended third act to be sure. Also an issue for a grumpy cinephile like myself is I’m still not sure Henry Cavill can act. He’s not asked to do much here except grit his teeth and lock his jaw and look exhausted, all of which he does a fine job of, but there is never a moment when I feel like we get a peek into who he really is, who Clark really is under the determination and duty. Even before he is Superman we get glimpses at his life but we never really get to hear him tell his side of things, he mostly just holds his tongue and slinks away silently, allowing his actions to speak for him. And actions do speak louder than words, but it makes for an uneven portrait of a character and a question mark as to whether the actor can actually act.
Everyone else is spot on, I fully expected Michael Shannon to go way over the top with this, and he has his moments, but that’s all they are, moments, flashes of going too far, which makes sense given the character motivations. He actually gives a nuanced and subtle performance of a murderous villain, at points we sympathize with his plight as he is only carrying out his duty as was passed to him through his DNA. This is one of a plethora of ideas bulging this films belly. A kind of Nietzschean philosophy runs throughout this film, obviously, this is Superman after all. A character actually says, “…evolution always wins.” This idea that evolutionary perfection is the goal of a species, or perhaps the Universe, pervades the motivation of the films Villains, which is essentially all of Krypton. This is juxtaposed with Clark’s own evolution, as he is the top of the evolutionary scale on Earth, it causes him to be ostracized, and alone, and for his Earth Father to sacrifice everything, including his life, for his son to hold onto his anonymity. To have Clark burry his superiority so that the regular earthlings will accept him, countered with Zod’s literal unearthing of the weaker species, the weaker planet as to supplant or transform it into Krypton or a superior species. It’s quite a compelling idea that is tied into tighter and tighter knots until we have the two representatives of the two sides wrapped around each other in a fight to the death.
A quick side note, there is a dream sequence here rendered beautifully and executed to perfection, that is full of the surrealism that was sorely lacking in Nolan’s own Inception. The influence of Nolan elsewhere in this film is unmistakable, most notably with the narration and narrative discontinuity. There are other Nolanesque moments, such as the dead wife theory that keeps popping up in his films. Obviously a necessary death, but here framed in such a way as to call attention to itself, and thus the theory.
There are moments when Superman is flying around the globe and the film looks grainy and old, like shots from the old Technicolor show from the 50’s, I’m not sure if that was the intent, but that’s what I saw. I also noticed quite a bit of Matrix imagery, especially in the final battle between Superman and Zod. There is also the shot of the embryo fields, with one of the embryos being plucked by a spider robot. The fields are utilized many times. Also there are spider robots drilling into earth while missiles are shot at them, reminiscent of Revolutions . More interestingly Laurence Fishburne has two Matrixy moments, one involving Lois Lane. While he is on the phone with her, FBI agents show up at her building and are trying to apprehend her. There is another, towards the end after the planet-destroying device has been stopped, he looks up and realizes that Superman/Neo has saved humanity. Again not sure this was intentional, just something I thought was interesting.
This is a story brimming with ideas. It is the Antithesis to The Avengers, which had no ideas, or maybe one. Man of Steel has so many ideas; it can’t even fit in enough character development for our two protagonists. There’s the idea that evolution with efficiency as its sole purpose, can lead to destruction. As Krypton is destroyed by the efficiency of its own perfected society. This is never explicitly stated, but the subtext is there. In the hunt for natural resources, the artificially crafted society of beings perfectly suited to accomplish their jobs with the highest level of efficiency and duty, they began harvesting from the core of the planet, and set off a chain reaction that destroyed Krypton. It was this idea of evolutionary perfection that caused their planet to be destroyed. It is the same reason Zod was destroyed, he was bred down to the cellular level to protect Krypton, everyone of his actions, down to his final attempt at villainy, were motivated by the protection of Krypton.
The destruction of Krypton an obvious connection to the natural resource mining on Earth, but also the idea of DNA ownership that has come up over the last few years. Will we begin moving into the arena of human being construction? Engineering a race of people? There are many many more ideas flowing out of this film, and I look forward to seeing it again to catch them, more fully. However there was one last thing I’d like to talk about, this continuing 9/11 imagery, of New Yorkers running away from falling building amidst rushing clouds of dust and cement. It’s really sad that Hollywood continues to use this image of death and destruction as an entertainment tool. I’ve seen it over and over again, more frequently as of late; the first to my memory was Cloverfield. I felt it was in poor taste then, and now I find it appalling. I wish to never see that kind of set piece used in a blockbuster again.
4 out of 5 stars
- Review: Man of Steel (cineastes.wordpress.com)
- Man of Steel Review: Kal-El, Clark Kent, or Superman? (thehollywoodgossip.com)
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- Review: ‘Man of Steel’ Stinks (foxnews.com)
- Movie Review: Man of Steel (whnt.com)
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- ‘Man Of Steel’ film review: Lots of havoc, not enough heart (kdvr.com)
- Man of Steel: Worth It Just For The Super-Powered Combat (io9.com)
- If The Wachowski’s directed Man of Steel it might’ve looked just like Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel (mitng.org)
- You: Man of Steel – review (guardian.co.uk)