The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape
Send this page to Twitter!  

THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Man of Steel

Man of Steel is the Superman movie I've been hoping someone would eventually make. I've always liked the character in comic books and in some of his animated iterations. The Superman movies, however, have never really been a home run in my eyes. The first two Christopher Reeve pictures were pretty good, and Bryan Singer's Superman Returns was okay, yet I've never felt Superman was as complex on screen as he could have been; he often seemed like the least interesting person in his own movies. Man of Steel changes all that. Although by no means a perfect film either, it does find a way to complicate Superman while still delivering plenty of engaging adventure.

A lengthy prologue goes over the character's origin again. Noted scientist Jor-El (Russell Crowe) sends his infant son Kal-El away from the dying planet of Krypton in an effort to preserve their people, much to the chagrin of his nemesis, military leader General Zod (Michael Shannon). We then jump ahead in time, where the grown Kal-El, now dubbed Clark Kent (and played by Henry Cavill), is an itinerant worker, constantly running from place to place whenever something causes him to reveal his superpowers. Through flashbacks, we learn that Clark's adoptive father, Jonathan “Pa” Kent (Kevin Costner), encouraged him to keep those powers a secret until absolutely necessary, so as not to frighten the citizens of Earth. He can no longer follow that advice after Zod tracks him down, threatening to invade the planet if he doesn't surrender. Aside from the Kents, the one person who knows his true identity is reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams), who inadvertently catches a glimpse of his abilities while investigating a story. She agrees to help him fight Zod while looking for a way to protect his assumed identity.

Directed by Zack Snyder (Watchmen) and produced by Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight), Man of Steel finds a way to give Superman a compelling emotional crisis. He feels like an outcast, constantly forced to deny his authentic being. This creates a troubling internal conflict. He wants to use his powers to help people, yet he also realizes that revealing his origin as an alien will open up a Pandora's Box the good people of Earth may not be ready to handle. The use of flashbacks does a lot to emphasize the theme of duality. Pa Kent knows the time will come when Clark must step forward. He encourages his boy to be patient, to wait for the right moment when his gifts will bring a benefit that outweighs the risk. Clark, meanwhile, learns to develop a sense of morals. He starts to understand that – to borrow a line from another beloved superhero – with great power comes great responsibility. He's constantly weighing when to stay in the shadows and when to take a stand. Zod's arrival hastens that decision along. Giving Superman a personal struggle sets Man of Steel on a good course. It shows that flying, having heat vision, and being nearly indestructible aren't necessarily great things when they prevent you from having the freedom to be yourself.

The second half of Man of Steel pays off on the themes introduced in the first half. As Zod's threat grows more dire, Clark Kent realizes that he must embrace both the human and the Kryptonian aspects of himself in order to do what his morals tell him is right. This leads to a number of very thrilling action sequences, one set in downtown Smallville, another in the heart of Metropolis. The film perhaps goes a bit overboard in the destruction department, giving us lengthy scenes in which buildings crumble and things are smashed. Even so, the action is effectively executed, pausing every so often to provide a character-based moment so that we understand the weight and meaning behind Superman's full emergence. Man of Steel largely manages a nice balance between the action we expect in a summer superhero movie and the thematic development that makes us care about it.

Henry Cavill is a terrific Superman. His decency shines through, but there is also darkness there. The actor makes Clark Kent a confused, tormented soul. It's a quality I loved seeing in the character. Michael Shannon is – as anyone who knows his work would expect – a magnificent villain, all seething rage and hostile intensity. As for Lois Lane, casting Amy Adams was an inspired choice. In Man of Steel, Lois is not someone who stands around wide-eyed in disbelief at Superman. Instead, she is smart and shrewd, as much a defender in her own way as he is. Adams brings just the right spunkiness to the role. The MVP, though, is probably Kevin Costner. He gets the single most affecting moment in the picture (involving the simple wave of a hand) while also setting the story's moral compass. In another devastating scene, Pa Kent tells a young Clark that maybe he shouldn't save lives, that embracing heroics before the world is ready might backfire. Costner makes that uncomfortable advice believable.

Finally, we have a Superman movie where the hero struggles emotionally. His biggest fear isn't Kryptonite or wondering whether anyone will discover his true identity; it's being rejected by the citizens of his adoptive planet. Man of Steel absolutely delivers a lot of bang for your buck, but it never ignores the idea that being a superhero isn't necessarily a walk in the park. This is awesome popcorn entertainment that doesn't neglect substance.

( 1/2 out of four)

Blu-Ray Features:

Man of Steel
Man of Steel - Own it on Blu-Ray November 12!

Man of Steel will be released in a most impressive Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack on November 12. It contains over four hours of supplementary material. First and foremost is a separate disc housing “Journey of Discovery: Creating Man of Steel.” Director Zack Snyder is your host, although other cast and crew members appear as well. Instead of a typical audio commentary, behind-the-scenes and making-of features play in time with the main feature, so that you get an in-depth look at how it was created while you watch it. If you saw Snyder's “Maximum Movie Mode” edition of Watchmen, it's essentially the same thing. Watching Man of Steel in this format takes a little longer (nearly three hours), but it tells you just about everything you could want to know.

On the first disc, along with the movie itself, are many more bonus goodies. “Strong Characters, Legendary Roles” runs 25 minutes, and features background on the history and mythology of Superman, as well as discussions with the actors, who talk about bringing their own interpretations of the characters to the table. The little tweaks given to a number of the characters are explained, too.

“All-Out Action” is a 26-minute feature covering, as the title suggests, the heavy use of action in Man of Steel. This includes showing some of the six months of training Henry Cavill had to do to get in shape and prepare for stunts. Several minutes focus on the logistics of shooting a scene in a massive underwater tank. Stunt coordinators explain how they worked with each actor to find a fighting style he/she was comfortable with. The segment closes out with a look at the stunts and fighting in the Battle of Smallville and the climactic Superman/Zod duel.

The other two features are a little less meaty, but still fun. “Krypton Decoded” is hosted by Dylan Sprayberry, who plays the young Clark Kent. He interviews a member of the FX team to find out more about how Krypton was visually conceived and created for the movie. Finally, there's “Superman 75th Anniversary Animated Short,” which runs two minutes and takes the character through all his iterations: comics, TV, movies, etc. It's a very cool piece of animation.

Man of Steel is packed with good stuff to sweeten the deal. It's clear that a lot of care and thought went into creating a Blu-Ray that would both please and inform fans of the film.

Man of Steel is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence, action and destruction, and for some language . The running time is 2 hours and 23 minutes.

Buy a copy of my book, "Straight-Up Blatant: Musings From The Aisle Seat," on sale now at! Paperback and Kindle editions also available at!

Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.