CINEMA: News Weekly
Man of Steel (rated M)
, July 20, 2013
Man of Steel (rated M), a 3D superhero science-fiction film, is reviewed by Symeon Thompson.
Returning to historical origins, Man of Steel darts back and forth in time, to explore how a child from another world, raised by decent folk in Kansas, might become the most-well known hero of the modern mythos.
The planet Krypton is nearing annihilation. While chief scientist Jor-El (Russell Crowe) is seeking an honourable way to save his people, military commander General Zod (Michael Shannon) decides on the easier solution of a coup.
Jor-El escapes to retrieve a genetic codex of the planet’s entire race, and send it off with his son, Kal-El, to the far-away planet of Earth. He dies protecting his son. Zod and his forces are captured and banished to the Phantom-Zone — and then Krypton explodes.
Thirty-three years later, on planet Earth, Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) is trying to discover his identity, while saving people when he can.
When a strange object, i.e., a Kryptonian scoutship, is found, Lois Lane (Amy Adams) sneaks aboard to investigate it, but is almost killed by an alien contraption. Clark saves her before disappearing with the ship, on board which he learns the truth from the Artificial Intelligence hologram of his father.
Meanwhile, Lois Lane is keen to track down her mysterious “superhuman” rescuer. And Zod arrives on the scene with a sinister agenda.
Zack Snyder has finally made a good movie. His past films made one think that he was completely incompetent at shooting anything other than some lavish spectacle. And, unlike pretty much all his previous works, Man of Steel does not consider barely-dressed women to be an essential part of the visual design.
There are a lot of explosions and over-the-top dramatics; but this is blended with surprising scenes of delicacy and tenderness, all with surprisingly well-handled 3D cinematography.
Christopher Nolan has produced this latest Superman movie and brought to the picture his trademark iciness and obsession with plot. We probably have to thank not only him, but also his long-time writing associate David S. Goyer, for restraining Snyder.
The art design is striking. Krypton’s preferred decor seems a sci-fi blend of art deco with Lovecraftian horrors, ordered towards the idea that Krypton had become so obsessed with termite-style conformity, shown by the insectoid Kryptonian ships, that it engineered itself into decay.
This reinforces a central theme — that Krypton became so keen on its mastery of everything that, Atlantis-style, it destroyed itself.
Kal-El is the first natural birth on Krypton in centuries. Everyone else has been eugenically bred for a specific purpose. Jor-El states that artificial population control was the beginning of the end.
Jor-El introduces the other crucial theme — that of fatherhood and manliness. He readily sacrifices himself for his son, as does Clark’s foster-father Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner).
In keeping with this, while the women are no wilting damsels, they lack the contemporary obsession with “empowerment” that requires them to brandish heavy weapons, so clearly shown by Snyder’s early film Sucker-Punch (2011), or wander around barely-dressed — Sucker-Punch again, and Watchmen (2009), and 300 (2007).
Lois Lane is a strong woman, but she doesn’t pretend to be a man. Clark’s foster-mother, Martha Kent (Diane Lane), is a farming matriarch, who can look after herself, but trusts her husband and son to be men and do what’s right by her.
Any remotely red-blooded male, who’s not been emasculated by a “complex” relationship with his mother, ought to be cheering at Superman’s rapid and decisive defence of his mother.
Likewise, his words to Lois about her belief in him being all he needs from her shows that, for us mere mortals, we do not follow abstractions and generalities. Rather, it is those we care for who inspire us to act for the best of all. God alone can care for the whole of existence in such an absolute manner.
And Superman is not God. This cannot be said enough. Despite the deliberate Christian symbolism — key scenes in a Church, lifespan on Earth, noble adoptive parents, the martyr-red and Marian-blue of his costume, the logo meaning Hope — Superman is a man, although not an earth-man.
Some of the conservative chatterati have responded peculiarly to Man of Steel. They seem to take “pro-life” as meaning that killing an enemy in order to defend the innocent is almost immoral.
It is as if a neurotic and saccharine pacifism is the only acceptable response to wickedness, such that there should never be an option to take life. While this has been a common trope of the modern hero mythos, it is scarcely a conservative principle.
This idea ignores traditional natural law theory and downgrades the possibility of “justified violence” to “almost never”, which jars somewhat with the Christian tradition.
Refreshingly, this film goes against that Dr Who-style grain, but without resorting to Torchwood-style depravity.
Man of Steel offers an intelligent and emotive vision of virtue and heroism, and does so in spectacularly watchable style.
Symeon Thompson is a member of the Film Critics Circle of Australia (FCCA).