Note: There will be SPOILERS here. Be warned!
Also, this is essentially a first draft. Because of grad school and other commitments, my time is very scarce. I haven’t added any images, or have even really re-read it. My apologies on any lost thoughts. Someday, I may revise it and repost. But for now, because a few people have actually asked me to write this…
In 2013, shortly after seeing Man of Steel, I wrote:
Overall, I really liked Man of Steel. It’s not as good as I’d hoped it would be, but it’s the best Superman movie we’ve had since Donner’s 1978 film, and it’s just different enough to be its own thing. I’m looking forward to what happens next. If Goyer and Snyder were smart (and they are) they’d go with a more personal story instead of the spectacle.
Well, David S. Goyer, Chris Terrio (who joined Goyer as a writer), and Zack Snyder didn’t go as personal as I’d hoped back then, but then, my views changed as well. After seeing Man of Steel a few more times on Blu Ray, my opinion of the film changed: I loved it. I find parts of it a masterpiece of fantasy/science fiction filmmaking. I understand why fans might not like the movie, but I don’t understand the vitriol the film has garnered in the last three years, either.
Naturally, I was excited when Warner Bros., DC, and Snyder announced Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. And now here it is and with it…well…a real clusterfuck of press. I saw it this morning as I write this sentence (11 hours after the film started), so my thoughts may change over time. Still, here we go….
The Super/The Day
Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne/Batman. I’ve been a Ben Affleck fan since I first saw him and Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting. I haven’t seen everything he’s been in but I like him as an actor and director. He’s a talented guy who should option my Boston-based horror novel. I mean…um…. Anyway, here is a suave Bruce Wayne in public, a haunted, obsessed Bruce Wayne/Batman when he’s not, and a mean Batman. Affleck brings an urgency to the character that it needs. He is also the most Batman-looking of all the Batmen there’ve been. The opening scene of him racing through Metropolis to that city’s branch of his company as the end battle of Man of Steel plays out is great to watch. The dogged obsession he has over taking down Superman, who he sees as a global threat, is palpable. And, finally, the realization that he’s wrong is superb. His Bruce Wayne/Batman may be, in many ways, the most realistic one we’ve seen, which is something considering the juxtaposition of the fantasy elements of this film.
Jeremy Irons’s portrayal of Alfred makes me forget about Michael Caine’s Alfred, which I really don’t want to do. Irons plays a different Alfred and yet hits the essential notes of the character. It’s a thankless role in many ways since Alfred rarely sees action, yet this version seems as though he may loom large in the future Affleck-written/directed/starred Batman film. Either way, I loved the character and the portrayal.
Henry Cavill’s Clark Kent/Superman is still one I love. As was the case in Man of Steel, this Superman is conflicted, though he is growing into the role of the Superman fans love. He wants to do right by the world, and by those he loves in the world, but lives in a fucked-up time period. On the one hand, he’s the most powerful man in the world, on the other, no matter how hard he tries, he’s an outsider. The difference between him and Bruce Wayne is that Clark Kent is willing to let his feelings be known and attempt to become better. Wayne is fine with allowing his obsession and issues reign over his life.
Wonder Woman. Gal Gadot did a very good job as Diana Prince and the eventual reveal of Wonder Woman. I enjoyed watching the character come to life and make Superman and Batman look a little silly.
The rest of the supporting cast is great, too. Amy Adams turns in another great performance as Lois Lane, Laurence Fishburne’s Perry White remains a favorite, and I really liked Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor. There are other great performances in this film, as well, like Holly Hunter and Diane Lane.
I liked the story. Look, it was all over the place, I’ll admit, but there was enough there for me to follow along and I liked it. I liked the way Lex Luthor manipulated things and the arrival of Doomsday. I even liked the–albeit forced–Justice League characters. I even liked the way it ended, with a giant question at the end of what can happen next. It made me happy.
Zack Snyder’s direction is heavy-handed. He is not a subtle filmmaker and he can’t pass up a frame that may look like a comic book frame. He’s a fan and it shows. I liked that. I also liked that he and the screenwriters are really trying to show the mythological components of these characters. Yes, it’s a little too Christian for my tastes at times, but it’s okay.
Vacant places. I’m going to throw in that whenever mass destruction is about to happen, we’re notified that no one lives in the place it’s going to happen. It’s ridiculous but it made me smile.
Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL did a great score. I loved it. Loved it. Loved it. I may have to get the soundtrack.
The Kryptonite/The Dark
Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor is under-utilized. I mean, he’s a major source of the conflict and I love what they did with him, but his ending was a little too Jokerish for my tastes. Maybe that’ll change.
The story is weak overall. Look, I liked the story, but considering the movie is 2 hours and 31 minutes, it could’ve been a little stronger. I would’ve liked to learn more about Superman/Clark Kent and his relationships with his Earth friends, and maybe see a little more Wonder Woman considering how important to the ending she was. There’s a lot going on, but it’s all very much at the surface without much depth.
Doomsday was a little weak in the looks department. That said, I still liked him. It’s weird, huh?
As I said before, the introduction to the other Justice Leaguers felt forced. I get what they’re doing, but I think it could’ve been handled in other ways.
It’s too dark. And I’m not talking about the look of it, though it is a bit too dark, but rather, the feel. There were small children at the viewing I went to and I felt bad for them. I’m going to write about this soon, by the way. So this is my little coming attraction, I guess.
The Dawn After the Battle
Like I said, I really enjoyed this movie. I enjoyed the characters, the situations, and the whole movie. It amazes me how many bad reviews this is getting. I have theories. I think that there’s a percentage of people who are growing tired of the superhero movie and at the very announcement of this movie, they began to dislike it. I think that even the stars of it are fashionable to dislike for some reason. I think that a lot of people go into the movie with preconceived notions of who these characters should be and aren’t willing to accept adaptations that fall outside that vision. In the end, it promised me a chance to see the two best superheroes onscreen together for the first time, excuse me, three best superheroes onscreen together for the first time, and they delivered it. Yes, it’s over-the-top in places. Yes, it takes itself too seriously. But so do most comic book fans, most nerds. We are the target audience, after all.
I really liked Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, and recommend seeing it without all the balderdash on the ‘net in your head. See it on its own terms. If you still dislike it, then so be it. But me? I loved this movie. I can’t remember the last time I left the theater this happy.
Author’s Note: BEWARE! Here there be SPOILERS. You have been warned.
Despite pulling in pretty good box office and fairly decent reviews, the sequel to Superman Returns was abandoned. I can’t say that this was a surprise. In a world where Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins (2005) and The Dark Knight (2008) existed, as well as the Marvel movies leading to The Avengers (2012), it seems appropriate that Bryan Singer’s version of Superman never went anywhere. So it was announced that Superman would get another reboot. (Though it could be argued that Bryan Singer’s reboot wasn’t really a reboot but rather a sequel…but we discussed that, didn’t we?). Another problem that Warner Bros. and DC Comics had on its hands was the abysmal failure of 2011’s Green Lantern. The film opened strong but sunk quickly and the movie won over not even the most ardent comic book fans. That was okay, because there was another card up their sleeves by the time Green Lantern opened.
Based on concepts discussed during the story phase of The Dark Knight Rises (2012), David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan came up with a story for new version of Superman, one that would be more in line with the success achieved by Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy. Warner Bros. and DC went for it and announced in 2010 that Man of Steel was a go. Many names were bandied about as director but finally Zack Snyder was announced. As I’m sure many people were, I was unimpressed by this announcement. Snyder showed great potential in films like Dawn of the Dead (2004) and 300 (2007), as well as the ability to carry off an epic-sized production with Watchmen (2009), but he seemed mostly style and no substance. And Superman needs substance. With Christopher Nolan on board as producer as well as working on the story with screenwriter David S. Goyer, it seemed as though maybe a new Superman would come for today’s audiences.
The first look at the new Superman was released in 2011, during filming of Man of Steel. There’d already been some location-shooting leaks and the official first look featured Henry Cavill in the suit. I was unimpressed. It was dark, and rubber, and just too damn much for Superman. Still, I held out hope.
And here is where I give you, my friend, another note. Unlike most of the essays/commentaries/whathaveyous I’ve posted in this series, I have only seen this movie one time. It’s not the only one I’ve seen only the one time; the cartoons, 1948 and 1950 serials, and Superman and the Mole Men have all only been viewed once. Where those differ than this is that they were all way before my time. Beginning with 1978’s Superman: The Movie, these essays began to get real personal because they were the movies that, in some small way (and sometimes big way), have meant something to me.
Back in November, my wife gave birth to my second daughter. She is now soon-to-be-8 months old. As such, I couldn’t get out to this movie opening weekend or the weeks that followed until today (as I write this paragraph on July 2nd, 2013). I would like to see it again but probably won’t be able to until the Blu Ray comes out later this year. So this is a first-time viewing write-up, with only just under 12 hours to digest what I’ve seen.
You have been warned….
Henry Cavill as Clark Kent/Superman is superb. I was worried by the previews and the photographs that his Superman would be dark, would be moody, and would be a drag to watch like his predecessor Brandon Routh. This is not the case. Well, not entirely. He is dark. He is moody. But he’s also real good. The moment he takes flight (for the second time) and goes, the natural smile that breaks out on his face is priceless. He is young enough to really enjoy this newfound sensation but old enough to know he’s the only one who can feel this. It is a moment when all the preceding worries slip away, and all the succeeding worries are too far away to worry about. For that moment, for the first time, he knows who he is and he’s happy. From his wandering, lost soul that we meet onscreen early on, to his final horror at what he has done to the only other member of his species toward the end, Cavill doesn’t just embody Superman, but a Superman for our time. And, if I may, let’s talk about his physique for a moment. Wow. I want to look like that. I won’t. I’m too lazy with too much of a predisposition for cheeseburgers and pizza, and I’m too short, but if I could look like any actor working right now…yeah. Henry Cavill. If Christopher Reeve was the embodiment of Superman for his generation, then Henry Cavill is the embodiment of Superman for his.
Michael Shannon deserves mentioning because he’s becoming one of my favorite actors. Like many people, I first took note of him as the scary Federal Prohibition agent Nelson Van Alden. I need to see more of his work because I find him mesmerizing. And he does just such a job here as General Zod. For a generation, Terence Stamp’s portrayal of General Zod was so deeply ingrained in our minds, it seemed foolhardy to put anyone else in the role. Even the comic books began to shape General Zod after him. But when it was announced that Shannon would play Zod, I knew it would be fine. Shannon brings a passion that is quite opposite to Stamp’s cold, emotionless approach. Both men are able to use their respective takes on the character to make General Zod chilling. Shannon’s General Zod is not evil for the sake of being evil, but a man who is so convinced of his rightness that he will not be dissuaded. Reason won’t work with him. Pleading will not work. Zod wants only to bring the Kryptonian way of life back into existence that he will destroy a whole other species to do so.
If Henry Cavill is the Superman of his generation, then so Amy Adams is its Lois Lane. Intelligent, girl-next-door beautiful, and not willing to take shit from anybody, Adams gives a great performance. She owns this Lois Lane. If I have any complaint about her, it’s that I wish there was just a little more character building for her. I want to know more about her. But that’s not Adams’s fault. She brings a realism to the role and her love for Clark Kent/Superman grows naturally, not in some quick, school girl way.
The rest of the cast is really good, too. Russell Crowe as Jor-El, Lawrence Fishburn as Perry White, Kevin Costner and Diane Lane as Jonathan and Martha Kent, and all the others were just really good. They gave great performances and I bought them all in their roles, which says something because I’m no fan of either Crowe or Costner.
David S. Goyer’s and Christopher Nolan’s story (Goyer’s screenplay) is really good. It’s not perfect, which I’ll get to soon enough, but I liked it a lot. They tell an origin story for this Superman that’s familiar but different. They spend about the same amount of time on Krypton as Donner did back in 1978, but this Krypton is much different and action-packed. The costumes for the Krypton Council were wonderful. Then the decision to go through Clark Kent’s past in flashbacks (like they did with Bruce Wayne’s past in Batman Begins) was good. We get to see Cavill in action sooner but still get examples of where he came from throughout the story. General Zod and Jor-El are given a backstory that tightens their relationship and makes the happenings when Zod comes to Earth that much more personal. And the decision (SPOILER) to have Lois Lane know Clark Kent is Superman through her research before he even becomes Superman is a good one. I don’t know what the reaction of it is by other people, because I haven’t read a goddamn thing about this movie (if I could help it–and let me tell you, that’s hard these days) but I’d guess that Superman purists are unhappy with this decision. I loved it. It made me love Lois even more.
Of course, the biggest upset in their story is the ending, the final moments between Superman and General Zod. Let me say this about it: It was spoiled by a relatively well-known science fiction writer who I follow on Facebook. He posted something about heroes and heroism and I began reading it. It wasn’t until the fourth paragraph that he mentions this scene, which shocked me. He had nothing at the beginning indicating that he was writing about Man of Steel or would give away the goddamn ending. Since then, there have been other instances of this scene mentioned, sometimes in headlines. Today’s culture assumes that we all go to the movies right away. There’s no time for people to go and see anything except right now because if you don’t, nudniks on Facebook, Twitter, and the goddamn nerd presses will ruin it for you. I’ll stop my rant here and go on about this new culture we find ourselves in another time. From what I can gather, there seems to be a backlash about (SPOILER–this is the last time I’m posting that. If you haven’t figured it out by now, just go to another website) Superman breaking General Zod’s neck.
Now, if this were an ending that happened because Superman suddenly became Rambo, I’d be upset. But I thought it was handled really well. Cavill’s emotions in this scene are great. Here he is at the beginning of his career as superhero, and he is really given no choice but to kill the only other member of his species that remains. He doesn’t want to, and maybe if this were the second movie of the series, he wouldn’t have gone there, but he does what he has to. One can argue about the lameness of what was going down in the museum in the moments before and all that, but the fact is, where would Zod have been held? He’s as powerful as Superman but without the ethics. There’s no molecular restructuring in this version. There really is no choice. But Superman always has the choice, you may argue. My response: Bullshit. I’m as against capital punishment as much as the next guy, but sometimes, there really is no choice. I’m sorry.
Finally, I’m going to lump Zack Snyder’s direction with the special effects. Krypton looks amazing. The feats Superman pulled off were really super. Oh, and I really liked Superman’s suit. I didn’t think I would but I found it to be closer to the original comic book suit than Superman Returns‘s suit but in line with this story’s needs. Well done. It turned a disbeliever into a believer. Snyder, for once, doesn’t get in the way of himself (300), nor does he go so purist that he misses the chance to adapt a story cinematically (Watchmen). I really feel like what I saw onscreen was a modern version of what Joe Schuster and Jerry Siegel created 75 years ago.
It’s a little choppy in places. I’d like to give examples but I can’t. As I said, I’ve only seen the movie one time but I remember thinking at one point, How’d we get here? Maybe another viewing would change that.
The flying dildoes were an issue for me. General Zod’s people are punished for their crimes on Krypton and are placed in pods that go onto a spaceship that goes to the Phantom Zone. These pods fly up to the awaiting spaceship and look like a bunch of dildoes. It’s ridiculous. Did no one notice this throughout preproduction? Did no one point this out during the various viewings? How could no one look at these pods ascending toward the spaceship, stand up, and shout, “That looks like my junk!” But, alas, Zod and his crew gets put on the Phantom Zone spaceship in flying dildoes.
The destruction is stupid. I know I’m not the only one to say so since a quick Google Search brought up many articles that are only about the destruction. Days ago, this one from BuzzFeed crossed my feed and I ignored it because I hadn’t seen the movie, but knew I wanted to give it a looksee. The destruction was staggering. It was as though Goyer, Nolan, Snyder, Warner Bros., and DC watched The Avengers and said, “We’s gotsta go bigger!” It was ridiculous. I know we live in a Post-9/11 world where the imagery of falling cities is supposed to be cathartic in some way, but can all agree we’ve had enough? If this were the sequel, I could almost understand the reason to go so goddamn big, but it’s the first movie of (hopefully) a good series. What’s going to happen in the next movie? Will half the planet be wiped out? And the worst part about it is that there’s no follow-up to the destruction. We get a scene between Superman and a United States general, a touching scene between Clark and Mom, and Clark Kent donning the glasses as he arrives at the Daily Planet to “meet” Lois Lane and begin work as a reporter. This is all well and good, but about the damage? The lives lost? Shouldn’t Superman be out helping rescuers and clean stuff up? Will that be brought up in the sequel? Either way, I found the destruction of Metropolis too much and it detracted from my overall enjoyment of the movie.
After the Battle
Overall, I really liked Man of Steel. It’s not as good as I’d hoped it would be, but it’s the best Superman movie we’ve had since Donner’s 1978 film, and it’s just different enough to be its own thing. I’m looking forward to what happens next. If Goyer and Snyder were smart (and they are) they’d go with a more personal story instead of the spectacle. A Superman story will inherently have spectacle, whether he’s fighting a rogue Kryptonian or a street thug. And if they follow The Dark Knight Trilogy in the way that Man of Steel used the template set up in Batman Begins, then the next movie will be a more personal. And judging by some of the LexCorp logos on buildings and tankers, I have a feeling we know where they’ll go.