I was lucky enough to attend a private screening in Dallas last week of Man of Steel, the upcoming reboot of the Superman franchise. I try to attend as many summer blockbuster screenings as I can, but this one was a little odd. It was marketed to pastors only and when I showed up my customary 2.5 hours early, I found no one in line. (FIRST!) Once in the theater and ready to go, I realized that the theater wasn’t even close to full. Most screenings I go to end up turning people away after forcing everyone to find someone smaller to sit in their lap… so this was way more comfortable. Then the oddest part – they asked us not to say anything on social media at all until yesterday. Well, those of you that follow my twitter account know that I had already been tweeting about it all day and that I gave a giant thumbs up to the movie upon exiting the theater. Hey, I didn’t sign anything saying I wouldn’t talk! Anyway, I hope you all make plans to see this opening weekend and I’m going to try to sweeten the pot for you.
Fair warning, I have no idea what most people consider a spoiler. I knew that Benedict Cumberbatch‘s character in Star Trek: Into Darkness was Khan about 4 months before the movie came out, so I was shocked when people cried foul at my tweeting of “KHAAAAAAAAAAAN!” after the midnight showing… So, I will probably have some mild spoilers below, so caveat lector.
One last modifier – I am not a huge Superman comic buff. I have seen every screen incarnation there has ever been, but I was more of a TMNT and/or Marvel reader when I was still into comics. So die hard Supes fans will probably shoot holes in what I say all day long.
Christopher Nolan and Zack Snyder team up as executive producer/cowriter and director of the latest installment of the Superman franchise. However, let’s just get this out of the way… forget all the other Superman films, especially 2006′s Superman Returns. This is truly a reboot in every sense of the word. Every single aspect we see of the Superman mythos in Man of Steel has been completely thought through and held up to the light of our reality in 2013. Gone is the underwear outside of his tights, a holdover from Victorian era strongmen according to Snyder. For that matter, gone are the tights. Replaced with a high-tech looking Kryptonian armor base layer – again Snyder figures he should have a reason to be wearing such an outfit. Don’t worry, the “S” is still there – but now it’s a family crest that in Kryptonian stands for Hope (but not the Obama kind, from what I can tell).
The film opens on a Krypton unlike any we have seen on either the big or small screen before. It’s a real planet with flora and fauna. With realistic cities and people living in what was likely a near utopian society before a severe energy crisis lead to the attempted coup by General Zod that we open on. Jor El (Superman’s Kryptonian/biological father) is the head government scientist, trying desperately to save his planet and race. General Zod was bred for the sole purpose of protecting the Krypton. Their ideas on how to best do that differ. Jor El sees the writing on the wall and jettisons his son, Kal El (Supe’s Kryptonian name) towards Earth, with the hope of Krypton’s future with him. Krypton explodes, Kal El crashes.
We open on an idyllic field where Jonathan Kent… Nope, that’s what you were expecting, because that’s how it’s always been shown. Instead we crash cut to a fishing boat where a smouldering greenhorn is almost crushed by fishing gear. He’s mocked and he goes below deck. What follows is a dark, troubled, and barely restrained young man trying to find his place in this world. Flash backs fill us in on some key moments in Clark’s life – the focus of his powers, saving classmates, and an ethical discussion with his earthly adopted father, Jonathan Kent. This latter incident ends with Clark asking, “Should I have let them die?” and Jonathan trying to find a way to say “Maybe?” and still sound fatherly. This is the key change to Superman that I saw throughout the movie. Everyone from Kal El down to Perry White and some nameless people from the Daily Planet struggle with the notion of what is truly good and whether or not they should make the sacrifice to do good.
Previous incarnations of Superman that I have seen present good and evil in a very black and white sense, much like Star Wars and the Light and Dark sides of the Force. What is good is always self evident and Superman seems powerless to change the fact that he is bound to do good – or worse has no free will to choose anything other than good. While this can give us a warm feeling that good is so easy to find, it’s not very realistic and it leaves us with a near all-powerful being that comes off as naive. That changes in Man of Steel. There may be different opinions as to what is good, bad or best. Kal El constantly struggles with putting aside emotion and personal rights and has to wrestle with what is good in a given situation. It’s not just the titular character though – we see it constantly from supporting roles and even minor “background” roles. People have to choose to do good and live with the results. This is what makes this film so great – it shows us not that good is this great standard we can never achieve, but that we can all choose to do good and when we do, it makes a difference. This leads to an epic and game-changing finale that is Nolan and Snyder’s biggest departure from the Superman of the past. I for one feel like it’s long over due. Kal El feels more like an actual person in this film than I have ever seen him appear before. I can’t wait for another installment of this franchise with these guys at the helm.
The filmmaking in general is great in this film. There is a good balance of epic, beautiful vistas of Kal El flying and quick snappy action of him fighting other Kryptonians (excellent take on combat that involves super speed – loved it). Costume and set design are off the chain – creating a real world for Kal El to exist in that still has a certain flair all on it’s own. Where the production really shined though was casting. Every single character was phenomenally played – from Kal El down on to small bit parts. In fact, so many great actors filled relatively minor roles and did such an amazing job, that even the small characters felt fully rounded and fleshed out – they felt less like people milling in the background and more like we got to see a snippet of something that happened in a real person’s life. Amazing job all around on casting and acting.
I would make every effort to see this big blockbuster in the theaters. Find the best cinema house near you for picture and sound quality and treat yourself to a great film. It’s rated PG-13 for some mild language and some fairly intense imagery and violence, though it’s nothing gory or over-the-top, just big and intense. My kids won’t be seeing it yet, but they’re 6 and 4 – I’d say 8 and up is likely safe depending on the kid. For everyone else – change your plans for Friday and go see this opening weekend. As for me, I’ll be looking for an opportunity to see it again before it heads off to Blu Ray… at which point I will definitely buy it.