The Movie Scab Reviews: "Man of Steel."
"The scab you're picking at is called execution."
--American film producer Scott Rudin.
Man of Steel: Ack! Ack! Ack!
Monkey Boy gives Man of Steel 3 Acks! out of 5!
Man of Steel.
Monkey Boy and I say Superman has (finally) returned in Man of Steel.
But sizeable chunks of the movie critic world, along with the oh-so-reliable Rotten Tomato Meter over at Rotten Tomatoes and metacritic stats from Metacritic, have informed us that we’re wrong. They don’t agree with us. They think Man of Steel stinks. (Yes, and Rotten Tomato and Metacritic have given the abysmal and unfunny crap-fest This is the End a very positive 68%.) Well. Like Anthony Hopkins said in the movie Legends of the Fall, middle finger raised: “Screw ‘em!”
Now, don’t get your panties in a bunch. Don’t get all Sally Field-excited and go, “Monkey Boy and Blue Phillips like it! They really, really like it!” We liked Iron Man 3 too, which is to say, Man of Steel ain’t perfect. It’s flawed. But it does satisfy and this is why, like Iron Man 3, Monkey Boy gave it 3 Acks! out of 5.
That’s not bad, considering that Hollywood pushes an enormous amount of crap out of its crap-colon and dumps it on our heads every summer in the guise of blockbusters “we have to see!” Most of them never merit a single Ack! from Monkey Boy.
The reason Man of Steel merits 3 Acks! out of 5 is because it's kind of refreshing in a familiar kind of way—and I’ll explain what I mean by that in a moment.
But first, I need to address the Superman fanboys and fangirls out there, the ones that have attached themselves to the sinking ship of professional critics and movie rating websites, joining them in their hatred for this movie: fannies, I understand you wanted something new, but methinks you protest too much. The only thing a storyteller can do is retell the same old Superman origin story a little different. The storyteller cannot, however, rewrite the origin story so that, for example, Kal-El comes from Planet Claire instead of Planet Krypton, and it doesn’t matter how much Superman likes The B-52s. I think we all can agree on that, yes?
If not, then there’s nothing Monkey Boy and I can do for you except encourage you to seek help. Reach out. Don’t be afraid. We’ll still love you, even after the frontal lobotomy.
Now, in defense of said fanboys and fangirls, reboots are difficult to pull off, especially when they happen a number of times in our lifetimes, like last year's Spider-Man reboot, for example, which retold the exact same origin story a mere five years after the previous Spider-Man trilogy ended. Reboots are a setup for disappointment.
Furthermore, it is crazy for Hollywood to expect us not to want something new when they do stuff like this, and true enough, it can drive you crazy like it has clearly driven the fanboys and fangirls crazy.
I mean, think about it. Hollywood wants us to get excited about a remake of a movie we just saw a few years ago and then, when we fail to get excited because it didn’t meet our expectations, Hollywood decides that what they need to do is remake it again. Something’s not quite right there. Something’s not quite sane. In the end, this kind of thinking and moviemaking is going to destroy Hollywood and bring it crashing down.
But we’re not there quite yet.
As I said, Superman’s origin story cannot be rewritten. It can be re-imagined, but not fundamentally altered because that would be like the President of the United States saying that he wants to fundamentally alter the way government in America works or like saying the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are living and breathing documents that change over time, you know, like President Obama claims. Well, the President may be able to erase the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, but you can’t erase Superman’s origin story, and it’s not only because the story has 75 years of mythology behind it. It’s his origin story. You can’t rewrite Jesus’ origin story either.
At the end of the day, the only way you could rewrite Superman’s origin story is to do what J.J. Abrams did with the Trek reboot—he erased Trek history. Do that and then you can change whatever you want. (Of course, after giving himself the ability to do that, Abrams didn’t do that and made a remake of a Trek classic instead, and that’s such a stupid, and more to the point, lazy choice that… oh well, never mind.)
But here’s what makes Man of Steel refreshing (in a familiar kind of way): it tells the same old Superman origin story different, or at least, it’s told different enough to satisfy. So what it all comes down to is how well the same old story has been retold, and that’s hard to do, especially since we just saw a reboot of Superman in 2006.
Batman Begins pulled it off, however, and I think Man of Steel comes close—not quite, but close enough for me to enjoy it and recommend it.
To be fair, Man of Steel had so much betting against it right from the get-go that it’s, well, kind of crazy: 75 years of mythology, the high expectations of fanboys and fangirls setup for disappointment, a failed reboot released a mere six years ago that’s firmly planted in the minds of moviegoers and, finally, Christopher Reeve’s Superman. That’s the movie everyone is going to compare it to, especially the opening scenes on Planet Krypton (not Planet Claire).
Monkey Boy and I watched Reeve’s Superman recently and I have to tell you, there are moments of storytelling and moviemaking genius, and, yes, Christopher Reeve is awesome, but on the whole it’s a sentimental and silly stinker of a movie, far too silly for me. That floating/singing bit with Margo Kidder? Can you read my mind? Holy crap! I’d forgotten about that scene and with good reason: it sucks so bad that it nearly kills the movie dead.
The 1978 imagining of Krytpon, however, is still pretty cool and visually powerful. Man of Steel falls short in this regard, and I don’t think it’s because of the re-imagined Krypton with its dragons and beetle-shaped spaceships and whatever else they threw in there. Since I went in expecting to see the same old story, but hoping it might be told a little different (unlike the our crazy, disappointed fanboys and fangirls), the re-imagined Krypton was pretty cool to me and so I was just fine with it. Dragons? Sure, why not? I don’t care. I’m no fanboy. I’m sane and therefore reasonable.
Without a doubt, the coolest and most effective Krypton moment in 1978’s Superman is the sentencing of General Zod, the spinning jail-wheels and that weird, freaky, scary, square-window-glass prison-thingy that takes them away screaming—the entire segment still retains an enormous emotional power, even to this day. It cannot be said of the same “sentencing of General Zod” moments in Man of Steel, which are far less powerful and much less satisfying, but I know why: Zack Snyder, the director, got carried away with brightly lit CGI. (Prometheus anyone?)
Clearly, sometimes simpler is better. Sometimes less is more.
As to the re-imagined same old story, well, I don’t know about you, but it’s what I expected. It’s the Superman origin story, only told a little different—and if you whine and complain, comparing it to the 1978 movie, remember that Christopher Reeve’s Superman 1 and Superman 2 were made as one origin movie, shot simultaneously and intended to be one origin story, but then there was a bunch of tension between director Richard Donner and the producers and that ultimately altered the telling of the original origin tale. So there you go. Man of Steel is simply retelling the same origin story in one movie.
That this version told the same old Superman origin story with flashforwards and flashbacks, a seemingly disjointed form of storytelling (so the professional critics say), was totally cool and, yep, refreshing. Listen: if you’re going to tell the same old Superman origin story, why tell it linearly like they’ve done in past films? At least come up with a different way to tell the same old story, and ol’ Zack Snyder and screenwriter David S. Goyer (The Dark Knight Rises, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, The Dark Knight, The Unborn, Jumper, Batman Begins, Blade: Trinity, Blade 2, Dark City) do exactly that. The method of storytelling is just fine.
And here’s one of the things I really appreciated: Snyder and Goyer have returned Superman to his American roots. When Superman said that he was about as American as you can get, Monkey Boy was so surprised and excited (he may be a fanmonkey too, God help me) that he spilled his Coke on the drooling woman to his left. (Pumped up Englishman Henry Cavill, a.k.a., Superman, appears shirtless in the movie, which explains the drool.) This was a respectful and clever way to alter the old line “Truth, justice and the American way.”
If you recall, the morons who brought us Superman Returns (2006) went with “Truth, justice and all that crap.” Or was it “stuff”? Well, it doesn’t matter because it means the same thing: they changed it and that’s crap, crap, crap! That ill-fated Superman reboot failed, at least in part, because they bowed to the PC gods and tried to globalize and, perhaps unintentionally, feminize Superman, turn him into a sensitive New Age kind of world guy: Clark Kent, the globalist metrosexual who doesn’t want to offend anyone.
What I liked about Man of Steel’s Superman is that he’s more like Christopher Reeve’s Superman, unapologetically American, good-hearted, pure and… freakin’ tough. Henry Cavill’s Superman will kick your ass if he has to. He doesn’t bow to the politically correct gods. His balls hang low and they bong, bong, bong when he walks because they’re so freakin’ big. The PC gods bow to him. Woo-hoo, Henry Cavill!
And there’s also the added benefit the Henry Cavill can act. Yes, he looks hot with his big bulging pecks, but he’s a talented actor too. There’s more to him than just his muscles, you know. (But at the end of the day, does it even matter with muscles like that? The drooling woman sitting next to me didn’t think so.)
And, OK, sure, the action scenes in Man of Steel are frantic, but in defense of the movie, it does try to balance the frantic action with thoughtful human moments that slow the action down, enough not to give me a headache anyway.
And then there’s General Zod.
Casting Michael Shannon as Zod was a risky move, one that turns out to be brilliant because Shannon rocks as Zod.
I’ll say it again so that it’s clear: Michael Shannon rocks as Zod.
And make no mistake, this is a serious movie. It has a couple of light moments, but by and large, it’s the Dark Knighting of Superman, which makes sense since Christopher Nolan, a.k.a., the genius behind The Dark Knight, and screenwriter David S. Goyer were involved. There is not one second of silliness in this movie, which I found, yep, refreshing. No sir, you won’t find Amy Adams (Lois Lane) flying around with Henry Cavill and thinking “Can you read my mind?” You will, however, see Superman having a chat with a priest in a church as they discuss trust and faithfulness--serious stuff--and yep, Snyder upped the Superman/Jesus metaphor (which is part of Superman’s mythology) big time in this movie and I think the messianic visuals work great.
Add to this that the special effects are excellent, the supporting cast does their best with what they’re given and the score is pure Hans Zimmer (The Dark Knight) at his uplifting best, and you’ve got a pretty good bit of entertainment. And kudos to the costume designers for some of the coolest, most menacing (and believable) space helmets and spacesuits seen in a scifi movie in a long time.
Finally, I’d like to point out an emotionally powerful moment: the death of Clark Kent’s father. When Kevin Costner puts his hand out, telling Superman not to save him? Fantastic storytelling. The movie could have used more moments like that, sure, but I’m happy that one excellent moment survived the cut and is in there.
So Monkey Boy and I conclude: with all its faults, this is the best Superman movie made thus far.
My rating: hook up with Iron Man Tony Stark at the bar, down some Manhattans and pharmaceuticals, drink three Supermans (blue Curacao, gin, rum, triple sec and vodka, shaken, not stirred) and then, once you feel like you can fly high and save the world and that you have a strong moral compass and a sense of the messianic, you are ready to see Man of Steel.