This is an installment for a series on this blog where Joe Brown, Regional Editor for RiverTown Multimedia, and I have a back-and-forth review of a movie. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, Brown picked “Man of Steel.”
The Movie: “Man of Steel”
Starring: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon
Director: Zack Snyder
Plot Summary: (From IMDB) Clark Kent, one of the last of an extinguished race disguised as an unremarkable human, is forced to reveal his identity when Earth is invaded by an army of survivors who threaten to bring the planet to the brink of destruction.
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 55 percent
Brown: So, we all live in Marvel’s world now.
With a string of successful movies over a decade, 2018 may be the banner year for the comic juggernaut, with “Black Panther” being the third highest-grossing movie of all time in the US at $696 million. Not far behind is “Avengers: Infinity War,” which had the highest grossing opening weekend of all time worldwide at $641 million.
And then there’s DC.
Between “Batman v. Superman” and “Suicide Squad,” the JOE-DOWN hasn’t been the most kind to the other comic book empire. Me, especially. Somehow, Froemming saw redeeming value in “Batman v. Superman.”
Now, after the “Suicide Squad” review, I said I was done with DC. But I watched “Wonder Woman” (took my oldest nieces to their first PG-13 movie in the process) and thoroughly enjoyed that one. So, let’s give DC one more chance.
And with their attempt at an extended universe, let’s go to the genesis of it with “Man of Steel,” a movie I had never seen before.
Critics were torn on it, with a 55-percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Audiences were more forgiving at 75 percent.
How will it fare on the JOE-DOWN, I don’t know. Froemming, be my Jor-El and guide us through your thoughts before we start.
Froemming: I hadn’t seen this before. After sitting through the three-hour extended cut of “BvS” which while paves over many plot holes, was still a slog. So I wasn’t exactly excited to revisit Zack Snyder (full disclosure: I loved “Wonder Woman” and thought “Justice League” was a step in the right direction, CGI mustache and all).
And…I liked this film. It wasn’t perfect, but it was much more entertaining than the two films that followed it.
Even with Snyder’s attempt at being the next Michael Bay, with American flags, Jesus iconography and 90 percent explosions, this film was at least entertaining to sit through.
Now Brown, as I suit up to commit high treason against the DC Universe for the good of the people, why don’t you kick this off in washed-out colors.
Brown: So, imagine you’re a kid and you love Superman. You’re ready to see your hero in action, using his super strength, flying and laser eyes. The opening credits roll and the first thing you see in this movie is… Superman’s mom in labor!
I’m sure the parents in the crowd were a little less than thrilled. But, we need an origin story, so we get the literal origin of Kal-El/Clark Kent/Superman. Well, we could have seen the true origin, but this is a PG-13 movie.
Froemming: Well, Snyder did envision a Batman movie where the Caped Crusader gets raped in prison.
Brown: Leave Batman movies to Christopher Nolan, who just so happened to be a producer on this film.
We’re on the dying planet of Krypton, which has been mined to its extinction point. And honestly, Krypton looks a little like Zack Snyder took a peek at J. J. Abram’s idea journal for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and decided that’s what Superman’s home planet should look like.
It’s fine though. New Superman, they made Krypton a sci-fi sort of place, that’s fine.
As it turns out, Krypton is also like “The Matrix” in that babies are born in artificial wombs and given specific jobs at birth, much like “Futurama.” Except for Jor-El and Lara’s child, Kal-El. He is the first natural-born child on the planet in centuries.
As this happens, we get an uprising by the military’s leader, General Zod.
Missed opportunity here: No one is forced to kneel before Zod in this entire movie.
Froemming: Zod and his crew decide to take over Krypton to save it…somehow. There is a lot of mumbo-jumbo about something called the codex, and I began to get dizzy thinking this movie was going to go in a boring-ass “Star Trek” direction. It doesn’t, thankfully.
As Zod and his gang are taking over the city, Russell Crowe decides to keep up his fightin’ around the world scheme and launches his baby into the cosmos while fighting off this band of treasonist military weirdos who look like the Trent Reznor’s backup crew in Nine Inch Nails.
Brown: In order to get the codex, Jor-El (Crowe) dives underwater and grabs a skull that somehow is the codex? I don’t know, this whole thing was confusing to me.
And while escaping Zod’s minions, Jor-El jumps off a ledge and onto the back of a dragon because we are apparently in Harry Potter’s world? I don’t actually know: I’ve never seen a Harry Potter movie.
After Kal-El is sent away to Earth (a scout ship in the past found Earth at least habitable for the folks of Krypton), Zod comes in and kills Jor-El. Zod is arrested for his treason and will be sent to the Phantom Zone. But not before vowing that he will find Kal-El in the most humorous way possible.
This is seriously one of my favorite parts of this movie. I like Michael Shannon as an actor, but this is such a cartoonish read, much like Christopher Walken’s “THE ICE IS GONNA BREAK” from “The Dead Zone.”
Frozen in ice, Zod and co. are sent upward to what I can only describe as the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
Froemming: Zod describes it as a black hole, which science has told me nothing survives, but this is a comic book movie about aliens who shoot lasers from their eyes, so you know…whatevs.
And Kal is sent through space and lands in, of all places, Kansas.
Boy Brown, your home state has been getting quite the beating these past few weeks.
Brown: I’m just glad Kansas is getting talked about at all.
Froemming: Not much to talk about when the No. 1 job is dirt farming.
Brown: Still better than Oklahoma.
Anyway, it’s not like we go to Kal-El’s childhood right away, because this movie likes to jump around in time A LOT. We actually get our first look at life on Earth when Kal-El (now Clark Kent) is
part of the cast of “The Deadliest Catch” working on a crab boat. Real missed opportunity to not introduce adult Clark Kent with Bon Jovi’s “Dead or Alive.”
Froemming: Quick question: Who has the better beard, Cavill in this or Travolta in “Urban Cowboy?”
Brown: Good question. I’m going Travolta. If only because Cavill is jacked in this movie and that took me away from looking at his beard.
We have devolved into talking about men’s physiques here on the JOE-DOWN like we’re Mac and Dennis discussing “Predator.”
Froemming: Clark is drifting from job to job, wandering the planet like Jules dreamed of in “Pulp Fiction.” We even see him almost get into a bar brawl, which gave me flashbacks of Gilley’s from “Urban Cowboy,” though instead of beating up a rude patron who dumps a pitcher of beer on his head, Clark walks away…to ram the guy’s semi with telephone poles.
Brown: He doesn’t just ram the truck with telephone poles. He crucifies the damn semi truck. Because this is Superman and we need to jam savior symbolism into EVERYTHING.
Froemming: This should have been the theme song of the movie:
Brown: We also get a glimpse into Clark’s childhood as he starts developing his powers. In class one day, he starts seeing in x-ray vision (which is pretty freaky) and can hear everything. It’s sensory overload. It gets to a point where he hides in a closet until his mom gets there. And we hear kids talking negatively about Clark because he’s an outcast.
Hey teacher, you know how you help a kid not get bullied? Don’t let the class watch this out in the hallway. Let the principal/other adults in the building get a hold of Martha Kent and let them deal with it with no kids around.
Quick question Froemming: Between all these flashbacks, especially with a rough-around-the-edges Clark traveling around the world trying to find a purpose, did you have to double-check to see if you were watching “Man of Steel” and not “Batman Begins”? Because I did.
Froemming: No, because “Batman Begins” kept it at a minimum. Nolan didn’t need to follow every embarrassing moment of Bruce’s growing up, like his first pimple. But, Bruce didn’t have super powers, so I sort of get why they did it.
Now one of these flashbacks gives us a glimpse of the goodness in Clark and the cruelty of his sociopathic father. While on a bus ride for school, the vehicle swerves off a bridge, probably because of a banana peel Billy Madison threw out the window earlier in the film. And it crashes into a river, and the kids are on the brink of death. Clark uses his powers, which we need to add is fueled by Earth’s yellow sun, and pushes the bus to safety. The problem is, some of the children see this.
Pa Kent, after brushing off the stories the kids told their parents at the Kent home, suggests perhaps Clark should have let everyone die.
Zack Snyder, ladies and gentlemen!
Brown: OK, Jonathan Kent, played by Kevin Costner, is off his meds.
This was the most awkward of his scenes. When your son asks if he should have let the kids on the bus die and your response is “Maybe”… my god, man.
He’s so heavy-handed. When he isn’t yelling at his kid for not protecting himself or degrading generations of family farmers, he goes into somber monologues about how Clark is a god and when he reveals his true self it’ll change everything.
Like, what do you want out of him, Jon? Make up your damn mind. You’re not protecting Clark. You’re confusing him. And us.
Froemming: I can see Jon as the dad in “Walk Hard.” If there was another child in the Clark family who perished, he’d be telling Clark “Wrong kid died” every chance he got.
Now, because Kansas is apparently always swarmed with tornadoes and people still choose to live there anyway, a twister comes OUT OF NOWHERE as the Kent family is driving around and Clark is being a moody teen, played by a 30-something actor.
And everyone panics and runs off, but Jon goes back for the family dog. And instead of being saved after getting stuck in his own car and spraining his foot, he motions to Clark to let him be.
I imagine Jon landed in Oz, killing a witch in the process and learns a valuable lesson about brains, heart and courage.
Brown: It’s here we see that Jon is also a dummy. Your son is basically an adult by this point, but you won’t let him reveal himself as a God man. So instead of understanding his own mortality and letting Clark be everyone’s savior in the tornado’s path, he stays back and becomes a martyr because of his own selfishness. Glad the dog survived and this indecisive dad met his maker.
OK, quick thing that really bugged me with Jon… not his fault in this case. So he shows Clark the pod he came onto Earth in and shows him the codex (complete with Superman S!). Jon mentions that he brought it to a mineralist at Kansas State and the guy said the material was not of this planet.
… How does ANY SCIENTIST let Jon just walk away with that thing?! That is just poor sciencing! That’s like being a cop, seeing a person covered in someone else’s blood brandishing a knife and just walking by.
Froemming: It’s Kansas. The scientist probably also manages an IHOP.
Brown: Well, Kansas State is the party school…
Let’s go from tornado alley to the Arctic, where we meet Lois Lane (Adams). I like this Lois. At least until she meets Superman and becomes the same babbling savior hype man that Jon Kent was.
Working as a Pulitzer-prize reporter for the Daily Planet, Lois is sent to the Arctic to do a report on some anomaly that has shown up in the ice. Clark (under a different alias) is there working one of his odd jobs.
Lois is no-nonsense to the military, but she clearly is not used to cold weather. She is woefully underdressed for a place where someone tells her that nighttime falls to minus-40 degrees. You need more than a down coat and a winter hat. Also, no way her camera equipment is working correctly in those extreme conditions.
In one of her photos, Lois sees an even-more underdressed Clark, who has carved a tunnel to the anomaly with his laser eyes. Turns out, it’s the Krypton scout ship, where Clark uses the codex (which is actually the thing with the Superman S on it) and that activates the ship. And a simulation of Jor-El’s consciousness that reveals Clark’s origin.
Froemming: Jor-El dumps a lot of information on Clark and gives him his trademark suit (thankfully without the underwear on the outside).
Now this is what I really liked: Superman learning his powers. Learning how to fly (he crashes and burns). He is awkward and stumbling.
And now Lois has the weirdest (REDACTED) story of the century: Space God Who Saved Her!
Now, much like “BvS,” the journalism in this movie makes zero sense. She has a first-person column she submitted as a story? Nope. Her editor rightly chooses not to print such gibberish without any evidence.
So she goes to the darkest of all places: Nerds on the internet!
Brown: For Lois’ story being a column, I can agree with not running it for that reason. But what editor will tell someone “Wait, you have corroborated info on a story of life on other planets? Ehh, no don’t run it” … I have a harder time believing that. Also, later on, the editor Perry White (Laurence Fishburne) gives his own somber speech about how unveiling Superman’s existence will change everything.
WE GET IT! SUPERMAN IS A (REDACTED) GOD.
The Jesus worship and savior symbolism in this movie is so heavy-handed that it doesn’t hit you over the head, it leaves you in a bloody heap like Joe Pesci’s character at the end of “Casino.”
With the ship being activated, it also sends out a beacon that alerts Zod and co. Turns out, when Krypton was destroyed, they were freed from the Phantom Zone and have looked for 33 years to set up a new Krypton.
Hey, Zod said he would find Clark. HE HAS FOUND HIM!
Froemming: My other favorite baffling part: Once the story is leaked, Perry tells Lois that the publisher wants him to sue her. Um, this makes little sense to me. Fire her? Sure. The publisher firing her then suing her? Maybe, but good (REDACTED) luck. But asking an editor to sue his own reporter? That makes zero (REDACTED) sense. I’m guessing the publisher’s lawyer is Michael Cohen.
Brown: They mention at one point where Lois says to print the story or she walks that she can’t because she’s under contract. That’s cute. I’ve never known a reporter that works under a contract.
Froemming: Maybe at the New York TImes, but I’m not going to get into that. Let’s just agree the most realistic part of journalism in this movie is when Lois can’t find the toner for the printer. That I can relate to!
Lois has tracked this mystery man, going to all the odd jobs he has worked and finally to Martha (WHY DID YOU SAY THAT NAME????) Kent. This is when Clark steps in and tells her he doesn’t want his story told. Dressed as a trucker in a graveyard. Of course, Lois decides to keep the secret.
Brown: While Lois is trying to get said copier to work, there is a worldwide blackout. A message from Zod plays in all languages (nice touch) that demands that Kal-El surrender or else they will go to war with Earth. Because the planet is in danger
and Fry isn’t around the play a real-life game of “Space Invaders” to save us all Superman agrees to go with Zod. For reasons I still don’t get, they demand Lois as well.
And so now, Superman is face-to-face with Zod, sporting a fresh goatee that I used to have in high school/early in college to make up for the fact I couldn’t grow a mustache. Still can’t.
All Zod needs is a ratty Korn shirt and he could complete the look. Seriously, Zod is a military man. How does a military man have what amounts to a teenage goatee and a bowl cut?
Froemming: Here Zod lays down his plans: Earth will be the new Krypton. And the humans will be eradicated because everything needs a foundation. And because Zod and his industrial rock band also shares the superpowers as Clark, there a trouble a brewin’.
Except Zod doesn’t take into consideration Jor-El’s force ghost helping Lois out and informing her on how to stop all of this.
I’ll share this again:
Jor-El, fightin’ around the world!
Brown: Real talk: This was my favorite scene in the movie. It was witty to see Jor-El’s intelligence telling Lois when and where to shoot, much like Morpheus in “The Matrix.” And when she reaches the escape pod, Jor-El tells Lois to move left to avoid being punched by Faora, one of Zod’s henchmen.
Enjoy the scene for yourself.
Froemming: Yup, this whole sequence was great. He may not be a great story teller, but Snyder knows how to make (REDACTED) look cool. Hence my love of “The Watchmen.”
Now Lois’ escape pod is damaged on its way out, and she is hurtling through fire and certain death when our hero defies Zod and saves her.
Zod, now in search of the codex, sends his goons to Kansas, where if boredom doesn’t kill them, Superman and Gene from “Wet Hot American Summer” certainly will!
Brown: Superman saves Lois, but only after blowing a hole in Zod’s ship and doing a literal Jesus pose as he falls into Earth’s atmosphere.
WE. (REDACTED). GET. IT.
Brown: I’ll let the Nostalgia Critic review drive the point home here.
So we have a fight on Earth where one of my biggest annoyances of this movie take place: Advertising.
If you didn’t get an eyeful of it before with Lois using Nikon camera equipment, we see Smallville being destroyed by Superman, Zod and co. and the military as they wantonly destroy everything. Namely, IHOP, Sears and 7-Eleven.
The only more egregious product placement I’ve seen is in “Double Team” where Jean-Claude Van Damme survives an explosion via Coke machine.
Froemming: The best use of product placement in film: The movie “Idiocracy.” Welcome to Costco, I love you.
Smallville is being torn to shreds by an alien invasion, the only interesting thing to ever happen to Kansas since the hit “Dust in the Wind.”
But the joke is on Zod, because the codex he seeks IS Clark Kent. Though this would have been a better twist if we were not told at the very start of the film.
Brown: OK, this bugged me: How did Zod and his goons get super powers? Like, OK, Earth is by a new star so Clark soaks up the radiation and that creates his powers. But, it took years for Clark to focus his abilities. He says as much. And it took him a long time to adjust to Earth’s atmosphere. Zod and his Kryptonian army gain powers and adjust in, what, a day?
I’ll buy that as an adult it’s easier to focus, but I’m not at all buying that he can do it in a day.
Froemming: Maybe they were juicing?
Anyway, Zod deploys the World Engine, the doodad (technical term) that Lex Luthor finds and we slog through in the too-long sequel to this.
It is in the Indian Ocean and shoots a whatchamacallit (technical term) through the Earth and up to Zod’s ship, tearing the planet apart.
Brown: It’s used to terraform the planet so Kryptonians can live there and not have to adjust to YEARS of painful adaptation that Zod performed in a day.
Again: Stupid. This makes more sense.
Froemming: Yeah, I don’t get it either. And how are they going to repopulate Earth as Krypton? That is more of a JOE-DOWN Nights question.
Anyway, now Metropolis is crumbling as is the world. This is a lot of work for genocide on Zod’s part, he should have found some magic stones like Thanos. A lot less messier and a lot less work.
Well, the goons are defeated and we get to this big showdown between the last two sons of Krypton and the root cause of complaints of this move.
Complaint one: Too many people died in the battle of Metropolis. Though it wasn’t a big deal when New York was almost destroyed in “The Avengers.” I found that argument just stupid. There has to be a sacrifice, otherwise what’s the point?
Complaint two: Superman kills. He has in the comics. Like Batman has killed in the comics. I know it isn’t in character with the Man of Steel, but I thought it was done well here to show that it wasn’t the easiest decision he has ever made. He sacrifices his moral code to save the world.
Now the battle between Supes and Zod is well done. We know the hero will win, because the villain is a pager away from 1997, so he is out of touch. But Zod puts up a hell of a fight.
Brown: Superman should not have beaten Zod.
So we see that Zod has the same abilities as Superman since he somehow overcame evolution and years of adaptation to benefit from the sun’s radiation like our Man of Steel. So let’s say they have equal abilities. Zod says that he’s been trained as a soldier his whole life. He has combat training. Superman was raised on a farm with a loony father and a mother who worked at Sears.
But no, Sups gets the upper hand and appears to stop Zod. He saves a couple Daily Planet folks and gets a kiss from Lois. Which leads to the dumbest line in the movie: “They say it’s all downhill after the first kiss.”
No one has ever said that, Lois. Ever. That is more moronic than the line in “Love Story” that “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”
Froemming: Has Zack Snyder never met a real person before?
Brown: At least Snyder is better at using women in movies than Michael Bay?
Froemming: So what is your stance on Superman’s “Mortal Kombat” Fatality on Zod?
Brown: OK, for you folks reading, Superman wins the fight with Zod after breaking the dude’s neck.
I’m not a Superman fan, so I don’t know the lore like I do with Batman. And this movie never established that Superman was against killing. So yeah, I had no problem with it at all.
What I had a problem with is that the destruction of Metropolis and the ship falling into the Indian Ocean led to the events of “Batman v. Superman.”
Froemming: I also liked how it was traumatic for him to do so. If you are going to go against the grain of a hero like this, make it difficult for him.
Now, having saved the world and creating a frenemy with Bruce Wayne, Clark moves to the big city where he becomes — stringer for the Daily Planet? Dude, how are you going to pay rent?
Brown: If the landlord doesn’t get his rent from Clark, he will find him. He will find him. HE WILL FIND HIM!
On that note, let’s go to recommendations before anymore superheroes destroy another national chain restaurant/store.
WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?
Brown: There’s a lot to pick apart, but I would recommend it. The action scenes are good, the actor choices were good (except for Costner). There’s plenty that’s stupid, but it’s a comic book movie. There’s supposed to be some stupid. It’s not “Wonder Woman” or Marvel levels good. But it’s a way more enjoyable experience than the other DC movies we’ve seen here.
Froemming: Yes. I went in expecting the dumpster fire that was “BvS,” but it turned out to be a stupid-fun action film. It isn’t “Batman Begins” that takes a more complex look at the character, but it is good for its own reasons. I say watch this, “Wonder Woman” and have low expectations going in for “Justice League” and it is not a bad trilogy for the DCU. Not great, but not bad either.
Hey DC, you can put that on the DVD boxes as a ringing endorsement!