Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Man of Steel ~ Superman In The Age Of Reason

Man of Steel Review Banner | A Constantly Racing Mind

"The Hopes and Dreams of Krypton travel with you." ~ Jor-El

Zack Snyder's “Man of Steel” is Superman in the age of reason.  There comes a time when humanity turns its back on our myths and tries to explain our world logically.  Humanity has started to look for scientific explanations to our existence, and now is the cinematic trend where our beloved heroes and those dastardly villains seem wanting for a reason.  Superman, one of America's most iconic superheroes, is undergoing such a treatment.  The character of Clark Kent has always been one of some conflict and a touch of angst.  In the 1970's version of "Superman" played by Christopher Reeve, we witnessed a character always knowing the right thing to do without a lot of conflicts.  

Today, Henry Cavill of Showtime's "The Tudors" and 2011’s “Immortals” is now in the title role, as an even more deeply conflicted character.  Produced by "The Dark Knight" franchise director, Christopher Nolan, and with a story written by David S. Goyer, Zack Snyder ("Sucker Punch," "Watchmen," and "300") provide a new story of Kal-El. David S. Goyer's story takes the point of view of an alien living and growing up in the human world.  This treatment works well in drawing a fresh outline of a character that has been around since the first third of the last century.  However, most folks won't find too many issues with the story.  If anything, one may take issue with Henry Cavill taking on a role that for many, was very clearly 'owned' by Christopher Reeve.  Amy Adams, star of 2007's "Enchanted" is Lois Lane.  The “Man of Steel” runs 2 hours and 43 minutes and is Rated PG- 13.

Keeping with the tradition of not announcing Superman in the new iconic Superman outfit displayed proudly in promotional material for the last few months until about an hour into the film.  In fact, we start our reboot in glorious visions of the planet Krypton.  Snyder shows us, not the crystalline structures of Richard Donner's Krypton, but an alien world, where the people of Krypton, are at one with the creatures of their planet.  We come into this world in a time of great trouble.  Unlike their ancestors who traveled the holy void of space looking for worlds to colonize, the rulers of Krypton have turned inward to their own planet, searching for resources to maintain their planet.  Not unlike planet Earth, the planet Krypton not only starts to breakdown but also is at an advanced stage.  

We also learn that like Huxley's "Brave New World," Kryptonians are genetically bred for specific roles in society, thus removing the thing we humans cherish and struggle with all the time, the thing we call choice.  After pleading with Krypton's ruling council to stop the destruction of their planet, and realizing that the end draws nigh, the planet's head scientist, Jor-El (Russell Crowe), and his wife Lara (Ayelet Zurer) send their only begotten son to Earth.  Enter General Zod, a being bred for leadership.  In light of what he sees happening to his planet, he decides to take control of the Krypton in a military coup. He starts pogrom to cleanse the Kryptonian race.  Zod, played by Michael Shannon, plays the General more as a professional soldier rather than an insane evil villain.  I think Shannon's portrayal is spot on for this day and age, and in context with current world politics.

Man of Steel Up, Up, and Away | A Constantly Racing Mind
Some folks might find spending time on Superman's origins on Krypton, is a tired and unnecessary part of the Superman mythos.  I disagree, I have seen in my discussions of film, that a newer generation of young adults is unaware of the 1970 and 80’s franchise, which captured the imaginations of those of us now much older and wiser.  

As this is a reboot of a franchise, the origin story is necessary.  However, Snyder and Goyer make a smart choice in not telling this story linearly.  Instead, they use the flashback to keep the story moving forward, only pausing to reflect back to the character known for most of the film as both Clark (Kent) and Kal-El, or just Kal.  Avoiding the pop-cultural linking with the television show "Smallville," Snyder jumps directly to Clark Kent as a young man searching the world.  Like Bruce Wayne, traveling the world and searching for not only his identity, he is also searching for the reason for his existence in this world. Clark is also searching for his soul.

It, at this point, that the character of Lois Lane makes an appearance.  Unlike the starry-eyed Margot Kidder, Adams is down to earth, bright, and perky.  In the "Man of Steel," Clark doesn't play the mild-mannered reporter at the Daily Planet.  Instead, Lois Lane discovers Kent to be the alien among us, and the dynamic grows from there.  Reporting to her boss Perry White (Lawrence Fishburne), that she found an alien, White knows that the implications have deeper roots in culture and society in terms of the nature and existence of God.  Not wanting to throw the world into a moral crisis, he shuts Lane down.  

David Goyer's script examines the character of Superman as; what if an alien, illegal, or otherwise came to this world?  Would we welcome it, as we did in our innocence of the last century, embracing the man in the blue suit and red cape as a hero?  Or, as a potential threat to the existence of humankind.  Either way as theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking had said, "If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn't turn out very well for the Native Americans." 

Man of Steel S is for Hope | A Constantly Racing Mind

Existential in nature, but not lacking in action in any way, shape, or form, we find that a lot of the story deals with the relationships between Clark/Kal and his two fathers.  A deep conflict for Clark comes from having those two fathers.  At this point, as I am sure many other folks will, I mention that we have a film that gives us more science that explains, compares, and contrasts the differences and similarities between the people of both Krypton and Earth. We find a profound subtext of Judeo-Christian thought running throughout the film.  Gratefully, for humanity’s sake, Clark was found by the loving couple of Jonathan (Kevin Costner) and Martha (Diane Lane) Kent.  

The Kents teach him Bible belt values that are traditionally at the heart of who Superman is.  Clark's earthly father explains to him to control his emotions, to hide his strength, to hone his sense of morality, and wait for the day that the human race would come to accept him. Jonathon had a sense of destiny and that the time was coming when humanity would need a savior.  Using flashbacks as a storytelling technique is engaging in "The Man of Steel" because it allows us to see Jonathon Kent, who is no longer with us in the present time, but will enable us to view the impact that he has had in Clark's life. 

"You will give the people of Earth an ideal to strive towards.  They will race behind you.  They will stumble.  They will fall.  But in time, they will join you in the sun.  In time, you will help them accomplish wonders.”  — Jor-El

Man of Steel ~ Jor-El | A Constantly Racing MindHowever, Kal-El has an unearthly father.  Jor-El is kept alive as a preserved conscious (the least plausible idea in the film) discusses with Clark the nature of the cosmos, the history of Krypton, and who, and what General Zod’s plans are.  In the 1970s, Marlon Brando was approached to play the part of Jor-El in Richard Donner/Christopher Reeve's version of "Superman.”  Brando, as the story goes, refused, unless he too could wear the iconic "S" on his chest, as sort of a family crest.  Today, that family symbol has morphed into something more than just the peak of the house of El.  It is a symbol of hope.  

In keeping with the Judeo-Christian undercurrent, the name "El" is the supreme God in Canaanite tradition, and in Hebrew tradition, with various suffixes and prefixes mean roughly the God of Abraham before he revealed himself as Yahweh.  I just thought that you should know that.  Jor-El also discusses with his son the big questions of life, death, mortality, and the central theme of hope.  The balance of these two excellent actors playing Clark's fathers is done skillfully and deftly as they guide their son, give him the knowledge, and the support that he needs.  I found this aspect very intriguing.

Henry Cavill plays Clark Kent very differently than Reeve played him in the late '70s.  Chris Reeve was the lovable, clumsy, and humorous Clark Kent, however, when donning his cape, he became the confident man of steel, Superman, and this may be the hard part for some viewers.  Letting go of Christopher Reeve, with his charm, personality, his charisma, and, most of all, his bravery in his personal life may be the hard part in watching Cavill in this role.  I do think that Henry Cavill, while he fits the task, he seems to be always in deep thought, weighing out his choices.  I must admit I was happy with his performance.  His portrayal was less amusing, definitely earnest, yet convincing, and the role leaves Cavill/Clark/Superman with plenty of room for development, especially with the perky Lois Lane.

"No matter how violent, how cruel, every action I take is for the greater good of my people.”  ~ General Zod

When it comes to action scenes, Zack Snyder knows his way around digital effects, uses them effectively, and gives the “Man of Steel” a turbo boost in action as he zooms to do battle with General Zod.  From beginning to end, there is plenty of work.  In the action scenes on Krypton, Jor-El becomes Maximus for just a moment, in the fight for the life of his son.  Action scenes as Clark through his travels, and as a small boy, struggles to maintain an identity but finding it impossible to allow others to suffer or die.  It takes the man, Clark Kent, 33 years, to find his father, who comes from the heavens and don the suit with the symbol of the house of El and reveals himself to the world.  

If this sounds familiar, it is, you get 10 brownie points for remembering your Sunday school lessons.  Decked out in his Superman outfit, he does battle with Zod in space, in Kansas, and in the heart of Metropolis.  The collateral damage seemed like it was enough to send humanity back into the Stone Age.  Think "War of the Worlds" with someone actually being able to fight back.  Take the amount and speed of the action of "Iron Man 3" and "Star Trek" and roll them together and you have "The Man of Steel,” and at this point you may be thinking that this probably a bit too much, one begins to have a sense of visual and emotional overload.  I had this issue with Michael Bay's last "Transformer" film.  I started to get tired and bored.  Fortunately, Snyder's directing and Goyer's script keeps it from getting that far; barely.

Throughout the "Man of Steel," Hans Zimmer's score reflects the mood, anticipates the action, and delivers the crescendos with perfecting timing.  I liked the music very much, and the parts were memorable and moving.  When Krypton burns, the violins play sadly in the background as the planet consumes Kal-El's mother, Laura.  The brass booms as Zod confronts the son of Jor-El.  All this is good. However, there is one thing missing.  I have to admit, however, that as much as it is beautiful, as much as it reflects a dying planet, and yet hope for the future, Hans Zimmer's theme for the "Man of Steel" leaves me somewhat lacking.  What is missing is a memorable "Man of Steel" theme song.  When John William's brassy "Superman" theme came on, you knew damn well it was Superman.  I didn't find that here.  Oh, well.

There is already talk about a sequel to "The Man of Steel," and I don't blame them.  There is more to this Superman to explore, more profound thoughts, more science, less myth, and more chances of the Clark and Lois relationship to develop.  "The Man of Steel" is a fun film that sets down the roots properly to move the Superman character firmly into the 21st century.

The countdown is over "Man of Steel"  is in theaters now starting this Friday, June 14th.


Movie Data

Genre: Action, Sci-Fi
Year: 2013
Starring: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Russell Crowe, Michael Shannon, Laurence Fishburne
Director: Zack Snyder
Producer(s): Christopher Nolan, Charles Roven, Deborah Snyder, Emma Thomas
Writer: David S. Goyer
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 143 minutes
Release Date: 6/14/2013

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