Man of Steel

Posted on June 12, 2013 at 6:00 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence, action and destruction, and for some language
Profanity: Mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Some drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Extensive sci-fi/action violence including acts of terrorism, characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie, diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: June 14, 2013

man of steelCome on, guys, can’t you give us one superhero who is not all angsty and conflicted? Director Zack Snyder, who presided over the ultimate superhero deconstruction in Watchmen, and producer/co-screenwriter Christopher Nolan, who put the cinematic “dark” in Batman’s Dark Knight have taken the original superhero, the one all the others are a reaction to, the one who never needed to be reminded that with great power comes great responsibility, and saddled him with an existential crisis.

This is less an updating of Superman than a downgrade.

That is not the fault of British actor Henry Cavill, who plays Clark Kent and Superman with a lot of heart behind that flawlessly heroic jaw, cleft chin, and broad shoulders.  It is the sour tone of the script and the drab look of the film, with completely unnecessary post-production 3D adding a greyish cast over the bleached-out images.

And a reboot really does not require yet another retelling of the origin story.  We all know about the little spaceship sent off from Krypton by Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and Lara (Ayelet Zurer) before the planet exploded, and the baby who was discovered by the childless Kents, honest farmers who called their new son Clark.  Here the re-telling is used to lay the foundation for a battle of former Kryptonians, with towering rage specialist Michael Shannon as General Zod (memorably played in “Superman II” by Terrence Stamp).  A new wrinkle: as in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and “Gattaca”, the decadent, depleted Kryptonian society genetically programs fetuses for particular purposes.

In defiance of this system, Jor-El and Lara produce a child the old-fashioned way, the first such birth in generations.  But it is too late.  Krypton has ignored its inconvenient truths for too long.  The world, including technology that features a phone that looks like a talking pomegranate, is about to end.  General Zod, once Jor-El’s friend, rebels, killing Jor-El, and vowing revenge as he and his followers are sent to the Phantom Zone.  (And by the way, the Phantom Zone here is not nearly as cool as the rotating glass plane in “Superman II.”

After the Kryptonian prologue, we get a distractingly disjointed story, beginning with Clark as an adult, saving the day in secret and disappearing before he can be identified.  In flashbacks, we see that Martha Kent (Diane Lane) teaches him how to manage his super-senses without getting overwhelmed.  Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner) tells his adopted son not to reveal his powers because the world is not ready to understand and appreciate him.  Though he loves his parents, Clark feels isolated and anguished.  He cannot help stepping in when rescue is needed (and in one case when a bully needs a comeuppance), but then he has to move on so his secret cannot be uncovered.

Lois Lane (Amy Adams), spunky as ever (“What can I say, I get writer’s block if I’m not wearing a flack jacket”) finds out Clark’s secret immediately.  She is not someone who is going to be fooled by a pair of glasses and a timid demeanor.  Indeed, one reason this story seems so sterile is that it leaves out some of the core elements of the Superman story.  No kryptonite.  Instead of graceful soaring through the sky, he takes off like a jumping bean.  He does not call himself Superman and is only called it once.  Instead of the iconic bright red and blue uniform, he wears a textured supersuit with a dramatic but not very practical  ankle-length cape.  Edna Mode, where are you when Superman needs you?

Clark keeps his secret, with tragic consequences, until General Zod arrives and insists that Earth surrender its lone Kryptonian.  This leads to a half-hour fight sequence that is ably staged but empty in spirit.  Post-production 3D effects are applied indiscriminately, with the pores of the actors’ skin unsettlingly immersive.  The action is indiscriminate and overblown.  Perhaps some day we will be able to appreciate mass destruction without painful associations.  But here and now, it feels gratuitous.  Clark Kent/Kal-El gets so caught up in his own existential angst he overlooks some complex moral issues in his fight with Zod.  The plot draws too heavily from “Star Trek” (in at least two places) and not enough from Superman’s decades of history.  What about Mr. Myxlplyx?  The City of Kandor?  Bizarro World?  Don’t make Superman into another Dark Knight.  Let Superman be his own super-self.

Parents should know that this film includes extended scenes of comic book-style action violence with fights, chases, explosions, tornado, planet annihilated, sad deaths of parents, crashes, and massive city-wide destruction. Many characters are injured and killed including fetuses. There is a non-explicit childbirth scene, some strong and crude insults, and some drinking.

Family discussion: Was Clark’s father right to tell him to keep his powers secret, no matter what the cost? How does this Superman differ from other portrayals and why? Is morality an “evolutionary advantage?” What would you pick for the symbol of your house?

If you like this, try: “Superman” and “Superman II” and the new book about the teenagers who created the character of Superman: Super Boys: The Amazing Adventures of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster

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The Teenagers Who Created Superman

Posted on June 11, 2013 at 8:00 am

action comics 1 supermanSeventy-five years ago, two teenage boys created Superman, the most enduring superhero of all time.  He has appeared with great success in every possible form of media, starting in comic books and radio and then in movies and several television series.  He has inspired analysis from scholars of popular culture and narrative, and is one of the iconic figures of 20th century fiction.  A mint copy of that first Superman comic is worth more than $2 million.

Super Boys: The Amazing Adventures of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster—the Creators of Superman is a new book that tells the story of his creation and what happened after the two boys signed away their rights for just $130.  (This inspired the Michael Chabon best-seller The Amazing Adventures of Cavalier and Clay, itself soon to be a feature film.)

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The New Superman: Henry Cavill

Posted on February 3, 2011 at 3:53 pm

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English actor Henry Cavill has been cast as Superman in the new movie to be directed by Zack Snyder (“300,” “Watchmen”). This is fourth-time lucky for Cavill, as he reportedly was an almost-choice for Edward in “Twilight,” James Bond, Batman and even the most recent Superman movie. Viewers may know him as Charles Brandon in television’s “The Tudors.”

Superman was the creation of then-teenagers Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. He first appeared in Action Comics #1. Look in your attic and see if you can find a copy — in excellent condition, it’s worth at least one million dollars.

Action_Comics_1.jpg

He is probably the most popular comic book character of all time and one of the most recognizable characters in the world. Superman has appeared on radio, television, and movies. Cavill’s predecessors in that role include George Reeves, Christopher Reeve, Dean Cain, Tom Welling, and Brandon Routh.

Any suggestions for Lois, Jimmy, Perry White, Lex Luthor, and Ma and Pa Kent? Which is your favorite version of Superman?

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