Man of Adequacy

Please stand by for a special report.

martinansin_regular_largeWe interrupt our regularly scheduled Bible bash – I’ll pick up on polygamy et al as promised tomorrow – in order to bring you the Stallionic review of the movie that kept me up until 3:00 AM last night. I’m too old and crotchety for midnight screenings, but the Cornell clan made an exception for “Man of Steel,” which is only the most anticipated movie in recent memory and a do-or-die proposition for the future of DC Comics film adaptations. I have been quite eager to see this thing – so much so that I wrote a Deseret News column begging the producers to ensure that it didn’t suck.

And the good news? It didn’t suck. Indeed, it was altogether adequate.

That may seem like I’m damning the film with faint praise – “It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s adequate!” – but that’s an incredible accomplishment when you stop and think about the weight of all the expectations burdening this movie. Remember, this flick had to redeem a faltering Superman cinematic franchise that hadn’t produced a decent film in over three decades, along with making Superman relevant to an entirely new generation of jaded moviegoers who consider the original costumed hero to be nothing more than a Big Blue Boy Scout, while at the same time providing enough fan service to the diehard Supes aficionados like me who insist that they honor much of what has gone before and not stray too far from canonical elements of the Superman mythos, all the while establishing an onscreen DC universe that will be home to a number of crossover films a la Marvel’s Avengers formula, and in the process retell the fundamental Superman origin story that everyone knows in a way that feels fresh and exciting, topping it off with enough action and adventure that the whole thing doesn’t feel like a rehash or a plodding mess.

And I’ll be darned if they didn’t pull all that off.

This film truly managed to be all things to all people, although, in the process, it spread itself too thin to do any one of those things with any degree of panache or distinction. No, that’s not true. The action sequences, of which there are scads, are uniquely effective and unlike anything ever seen in a superhero adaptation before. And, really, the music was amazingly good – Hans Zimmer had to fashion a theme as inspiring as the iconic John Williams Superman fanfare without ripping off John Williams to do it, and, against all odds, he somehow did. Plus there’s the spot-on casting – Henry Cavill is note perfect as Superman, and Amy Adams was an inspired choice for Lois Lane. Her character is integral into the story in a way that gives Lois far more weight in the narrative than was ever had by Margot Kidder’s ditzy damsel in distress. Michael Shannon’s chilling Zod, Kevin Costner’s flinty Pa Kent, Russell Crowe’s stately Jor-El – all of them work better than anyone could have hoped for.

So why the adequate label? Why not an unqualified rave?

Because the parts never quite gelled into a cohesive whole. There’s so much that happens, and on such a grand scale, that it’s very difficult to take enough of a breath to gain any perspective on it. The film does have introspective moments – I was particularly struck by the poignancy of Clark’s childhood freakout when he can’t stop hearing and seeing everything in the world – but there’s not enough time to savor them. There’s just too much ground to cover, and you always get the sense that the production has miles to go before it sleeps. The film is very exposition heavy, and poor Russell Crowe spends most of his screen time as a Kryptonian Hermione Granger, spewing off plot points at a dizzying pace in order to bring everyone on and off screen up to speed. And even with all that, you never understand what Zod is so upset about – something about a Kryptonian codex that is mentioned early on, but not in a context that would give the audience a reason to care about it – until right before the last third of the picture, which sets aside narrative for sheer spectacle and bombast.

But, oh gosh, wow, do we get some nifty spectacle and bombast. One of the many complaints about 2006’s ponderous “Superman Returns” was that Brandon Routh’s Supes only lifted heavy objects and kicked no butt. In contrast, Cavill’s Man of Steel gets to really and truly beat people up. Hoo boy, does he ever.  Guys get punched through skyscrapers at supersonic velocities. It’s pretty cool. There’s just so, so much of it that it threatens to overwhelm and overshadow everything else.

And maybe that’s my biggest beef with this picture. It’s powerful, but it’s not particularly endearing. The Christopher Reeve series devolved into camp pretty quickly, but “Superman: The Movie” had an easy charm that seldom undermined the attempts at verisimilitude. The things you remember from that first film aren’t the big action set pieces, but rather the smaller character moments.  Clark giving an open phone booth the once over. “You’ve got me – who’s got you?” “Fly. Just… fly.” “Do you… eat?” “I like pink very much, Lois.” There was a respectful-yet-playful approach to the source material. In “Man of Steel,” there’s plenty of respect, but there’s not much in the way of playfulness. That makes you feel every minute of the movie’s 2-hour-and-23-minute running time.

With all that said, I walked away satisfied, not disappointed. I didn’t consider it a great film, and while I would certainly have preferred a great film, I think this movie has done enough heavy lifting that it has paved the way for great films down the road. The follow-up has all the groundwork laid for it, so it should be able to breathe a little easier than this one did.

I also think that, beyond the inevitable “Man of Steel 2,” the next logical step for DC is not a Justice League movie, but, rather, a World’s Finest movie – just Superman and Batman. There were rumblings not long ago that bringing back Christian Bale’s Dark Knight into this universe might not be out of the question, and, even though that character’s status post-TDKR presents some dramatic challenges as well as real-world financial ones, I think melding that world with this one would be a very smart and lucrative way to go. Rebooting Batman when you’ve already done the character so well and so recently would require a movie with the kind of expositional backstory dump you find in “Man of Steel,” and nobody needs another dose of that.

But don’t let me scare you away from this one. I don’t think I could if I tried. It’s worth seeing, and it’s worth supporting this movie despite its flaws, because it’s a first step in what could be a very promising direction.


Steer clear of this section until after you see the movie. Spoilers ahead. Severe ones.


Still here?

Good gravy, but Jonathan Kent’s death was stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid. There’s a tornado bearing down on him, and he gives his life… for the dog? How about, you know, letting the dog die? Or, better still, how about saying, “Hey, my invulnerable son – howsabout grabbing Fido on your way out? It’s not like this twister can even mess up your hair. Me, I’m going to hightail it over to the overpass with the rest of the mere mortals.” But, no, Jonathan just stands there and insists that Clark, who could have whisked him out of harm’s way in the blink of an eye, watch his father martyr himself for the greater good of a mutt too boneheaded to get out of a car. This was so mind-bogglingly asinine that it almost sank the movie for me. But since the film zipped along so quickly, I got over it. Sort of.

Why do Kryptonians have an entirely different written alphabet than earth does, but they still speak English? Granted, this is how it works in just about every science fiction film, but would it have killed them to throw in some kind of universal translator technobabble to smooth things over? They threw in every other kind of technobabble, so it would have fit right in.

They went out of their way to define the S shield as a Kryptonian symbol of hope, but did they ever explain the significance of the suit? Why was it in that ship in the first place? Kal-El put it on awfully quickly for no apparent reason. And the idea that that was a Kryptonian colonial scout ship wasn’t made clear until long after it would have been nice to know.

Is Jenny, the intern caught in the rubble, supposed to be a gender-shifted Jimmy Olsen? What a waste. Jimmy was missed. So were Clark’s glasses, although I’m glad we got them before the end. But how did Clark get a job at the Daily Planet? Newspapers aren’t hiring people off the streets these days, especially one in a market like Metropolis. Clark has no relevant experience or even any verifiable professional background. Except Superman tells that U.S. military dude that he grew up in Kansas, and, given all the eyewitnesses to the bus incident, it wouldn’t be hard at all to make the connections. In this iteration of the Supes mythos, the idea that only a pair of spectacles can provide any disguise at this point seems more ridiculous than usual, and it was always pretty ridiculous.

I didn’t miss the red external underwear, although I think the costume design in the new line of comic books, which includes a red belt, works better than the weird wing-like pattern down the sides of Cavill Superman’s abs. I missed the classic spit curl, but I think we got a hint of it near the end, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s dangling in front of Cavill’s forehead when the sequel comes around.

Did I mention Pa Kent’s death was stupid? Because it was stupid.

Many geeks are in an uproar over Superman breaking Zod’s neck. I had read the spoilers, and I was prepared, as a good little geek, to be upset myself. It didn’t bother me at all.  Superman did everything he could to prevent Zod from zapping those innocent people in Grand Central Station, and if he hadn’t done what he did, those people would have died. Classic self-defense. And Superman’s anguish at being forced to take a life was entirely consistent with who he is. I don’t think it compromised the integrity of the character.

Many think Clark’s confession in front of a stained-glass church window was symbolic overkill. I thought it was terrific. Religion is a huge part of many people’s live, but it doesn’t usually show up in summer blockbusters. But of course Clark would feel comfortable in a church – he grew up on a Kansas farm, for heaven’s sake. And I like the fact that the minister gave him thoughtful, appropriate advice and wasn’t portrayed as a buffoon.

According to Pa Kent’s gravestone, he was 46 when he died. Kevin Costner is 58, and I’m almost 46. I hope I don’t look nearly as old as Kevin Costner does.  And Costner did an outstanding job, even though his character’s death was really stupid.

That’s all for now.

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