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The UnPopular Opinion: Man of Steel

07.30.2014

THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!

****SOME SPOILERS ENSUE****

This past weekend, Warner Bros and DC Comics unveiled the first look at BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE to rabid crowds at San Diego Comic Con. The reveal of Gal Gadot in her Wonder Woman costume and seeing Batman and Superman share the screen for the first time in a movie was almost too much for most people to handle. Next summer, fans will finally get to see something they never thought would make it to the big screen. But, it all started with last year's MAN OF STEEL, possibly the best Superman movie of all time.

Purists are likely preparing their pitchforks for me after that statement, but in terms of technological achievement, visual prowess, and sheer scope, MAN OF STEEL is the greatest realization we have seen of Superman. As someone who grew up idolizing the Christopher Reeve SUPERMAN movies, I loved Bryan Singer's take on the series. SUPERMAN RETURNS was more of a nostalgic favorite rather than a great movie on it's own, but Zack Snyder brought something new and unique to the mythology of the Kryptonian hero that had been restricted to comic books for 75 years: a distinct and original take on the story.

As long as he doesn't break into song, Russell Crowe is absolutely brilliant as Jor-El.

MAN OF STEEL does not reinvent the wheel as there have been so many variations of the character in the pages of DC Comics that there really should have been nothing shocking about what Snyder, Christopher Nolan, and David S. Goyer did to the tale. Warner Bros clearly knew that MAN OF STEEL was their reboot point, a kick-off to a new cinematic universe that would tie together all of the different heroes similarly to what Marvel did with IRON MAN and then THE AVENGERS. The key to their approach was grounding MAN OF STEEL in a conceivably realistic world. While THE DARK KNIGHT trilogy served as inspiration, this new landscape would obviously be inhabited by incredibly unrealistic characters with unfathomable powers. But, the world had to feel real and Snyder achieves that.

Many were annoyed at having to endure another origin story, but the approach to showcasing a fully fleshed out Krypton allowed us, as viewers, a deeper look into the world that Kal-el came from. Unlike Richard Donner's crystalline planet, Snyder's Krypton is a highly evolved world on the brink of destruction. While we only see this place for a short time, it is enough to truly grasp what these people were like and how General Zod (Michael Shannon) became the despot that would attempt to destroy Earth. The xenophobia that Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) experiences growing up in Smallville was not far removed from the brutal class strictures on his birth planet.

I would have the same reaction after getting a bowl cut like that.

Much like how Batman's origin is haunted by the spectre of Thomas Wayne, MAN OF STEEL features two strong father figures in Jor-El and Jonathan Kent. Russell Crowe and Kevin Costner knock their roles out of the park, providing two of the strongest origin characters in any superhero film. As much of an impact that Uncle Ben and Howard Stark represent in the lives of their children, these two paternal figures are so fully developed that you feel the same connection to them from an audience standpoint than any other iteration of the characters through history. Both actors delivered their best performances in years with Costner continuing the restart to his acting career. On the other side, Russell Crowe's delivery as Jor-el is indelibly felt through the entire film, culminating in the fan rumors of a potential prequel focusing on Jor-el and Krypton prior to the destruction of the planet. I for one would welcome such a film as this brief opening glimpse deserves to be fleshed out further.

The entire supporting cast here is solid with Amy Adams playing Lois Lane like a strong woman and yet still incredibly sexy. Margot Kidder and Kate Bosworth both had qualities to their portrayals that fit the films they were in and yet neither fully captured the Lois from the comics. Adams plays well against Cavill as well as Laurence Fishburne's Perry White. It is impossible to dislike Fishburne despite his playing of every character virtually identically in recent years. Diane Lane plays Martha Kent as a much younger mother and more relatable parent to this modern Superman. Harry Lennix and Christopher Meloni play their fearful military roles to the two-dimensional limit but that is all they are needed for in this film. On the villain side, Antje Traue is a great secondary foe as Faora while Michael Shannon brings a menace that is unduly cut short in the final minutes of the film.

Superman was incredibly disappointed by the Mandarin twist in IRON MAN 3.

But it is the ending of MAN OF STEEL that holds the genius of the film. Complaints of the mass destruction of Metropolis and Superman killing Zod are part of an overall plan. Whether that plan included the concrete story that is BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE or the JUSTICE LEAGUE film beyond is unlikely, but Snyder, Nolan, and Goyer knew what they were doing. The sheer annihilation of a major city was not a coincidence and was meant for us to question how Superman's actions could not have repercussions. It is also inherently part of a world grounded in reality that characters with virtually unlimited power would be responsible for unlimited devastation. It affected me watching the film seeing all of those deaths on screen, but it also represents a turning point at the birth of who Superman is that he could not save all those lives and must dedicate his power to never letting such an atrocity happen again.

MAN OF STEEL is dark, brooding, and absolutely not what Superman fans expected from their hero. But, it is also the genesis of what DC Comics will become. Where Marvel has built their Cinematic Universe on the backbone of human adventures rooted in the world of comic book heroes, DC has rooted theirs in a realistic world of heroes populated by humans. The difference will become more evident as these films continue to be released, but for now, Zack Snyder and company have won me over completely. I know the future of DC may seem to be lagging behind Marvel, but MAN OF STEEL is a much stronger debut for a multi-film franchise than IRON MAN was and BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE will hopefully build on that strong foundation.

Oh, and if you have any suggestions for The UnPopular Opinion I’m always happy to hear them. You can send along an email to [email protected], spell it out below, slap it up on my wall in Movie Fan Central, or send me a private message via Movie Fan Central. Provide me with as many movie suggestions as you like, with any reasoning you'd care to share, and if I agree then you may one day see it featured in this very column!
Source: JoBlo.com

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