“Man of Steel” Directed By Zack Snyder

By on June 29, 2013


film icon  Dan Walker on Film

Action Comics #1, the first appearance of Superman, June 1938


Zack Snyder (“300” and “Watchmen” but this is a Christopher Nolan – on speed – movie )


Henry Caville (“Stardust”, “Whatever Works”)

Amy Adams (“Enchanted” and Oscar nominations for “Doubt”, “The Fighter”, and “The Master”)

Michael Shannon (“Revolutionary Road”, “Take Shelter”, “Mud”)

All the actors take a back seat to the real stars: the Effects and the Violence.

Running Time:  143 Minutes


2013 07 02 Man of Steel posterJust to get this clear and out of the way, I could be built like that guy but I don’t wanna.

I was looking forward to this movie because I was a big Superman fan as a kid and religiously read issues of Superman, Action, Adventure (featuring the Legion of Super-Heroes), The Justice League of America, Superboy, issues of World’s Finest where Superman was featured and, to a lesser extent, Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane.  (Call me a chauvinist, but I thought Supergirl comics were overkill and uninteresting and had the weakest storylines.)  I read them until the early 70’s when the stories and art were simple and before:

-they became printed versions of dark video games

-they became visually and thematically complicated

-all the characters had psychological problems or emotional baggage

Today’s superhero comics only bear a basic resemblance to what I grew up reading.  More and more, I’m glad I grew up when I did and for every reason.

Susannah York and Marlon Brando in the Krypton destruction scene from Richard Donner’s 1978 “Superman”

“Man of Steel”’s Krypton origin, despite how well-written and technically impressive it was in this movie, just isn’t necessary since a huge percentage of people seeing the movie have already seen at least one version of it.  I just wanted the Superman story to begin. For the next writers and directors that re-introduce Superman to us, just touch on his origin and get the movie going.  If I see one more depiction of Superman as an infant and the destruction of Krypton, I’ll scream (if I knew how to scream, that is. If I tried, I know I’d rupture something or it would come out sounding like Bea Arthur or Selma or Patty Bouvier yelling).  Mario Puzo, Richard Donner, Marlon Brando, Susannah York and the Oscar-winning effects guys nailed it in 1978 and set the bar too high for anyone to feel a need to try to improve on it.  Remember how jarring it was to see all those people falling in all that space during Krypton’s destruction?  I guess Hollywood thinks enough time has passed since the 2006 “Superman Returns” that we need to be re-reminded of Superman’s origin.

Since I’m sure you’ve never seen it before, here is the Superman symbol as designed for “Man of Steel”

And I still don’t like that they gave the “S” on Superman’s chest a Kryptonian meaning and the symbol for that meaning – “hope” in this case — coincidentally looks like a fancy version of the first letter of the English language version of his name instead of simply being the first letter in “Superman” (which is actually an egotistical name if you think about it).  Even the conversation in the movie pertaining to this topic made me squirm in my seat.

More than anything, this movie makes me want to see the 1978 Christopher Reeve / Gene Hackman / Margot Kidder / Ned Beatty / Valerie Perrine “Superman” and I just put it on my Netflix queue to get the memory of “Man of Steel” out of my mind as quickly as possible.  Like every other Superman fan at the time, I felt like that movie was made just for me.

Henry Cavill with the star of “Man of Steel”, the special effects

I’m way past a point where I think bigger, faster, brighter, louder, more violent and more of anything in general is better (as it is, I’ve backed off both of my HD monitors and feel better about it).  This is a movie geared toward gamers and where non-gamers are collateral damage.  I wasn’t sure it was safe for me to drive after I left the theatre, it was so numbing.  What this movie emphasizes are the effects and the effects emphasize size, intricacy, altitude, violence, destruction and, most of all, impact and velocity, all but the last of which are Christopher Nolan trademarks.  Another is the detailed falling / crumbling of big buildings.  There is even that rhythmic pounding that seems to have the strategic and psychological effect of indicating an urgent but not-too-fast and not-too-subtle heartbeat.  Remember that pounding that was still in your head when you left the theatre after you saw “Inception” and “The Dark Knight Rises”?  That.  It might even be the signature sound of Syncopy, Nolan’s production company, and it plays – not too loudly but it’s there — over the logo at the beginning of the movie.  Foreboding.  It’s like a warning to leave the theatre while you have the chance and before the movie starts.

Amy Adams emerging from a Times Square manhole in Kevin Lima’s 2007 “Enchanted”

I don’t even know if the acting is good because it’s so constricted by the one-dimensional characters and the dialogue, which is distracting in how bad it is.  If dialogue is going to be distracting, I’d much rather have it be distracting in a good way, like it was in “Lincoln.”  Here’s how bad the dialogue is: Russell Crowe (Jor-El) never once sounds good which, had I thought about it, would have seemed impossible before watching this movie.  Everyone’s dialogue is clumsy and obvious and I wanted every sentence to mercifully end before it did.  I especially feel badly for Adams (Lois Lane), one of my favorite actors, regardless of the size of her still well-deserved paycheck considering what she’s given to work with.  This is the first time I’ve seen her not have one good scene.  In the other movies I’ve seen her in, all her scenes are, at minimum, good (I haven’t seen “Junebug”, for which she earned a fourth Oscar nomination) and you don’t think of what she’s doing as acting because she’s so convincing.  When you do think of her as an actress while you watch her, you feel like you’re watching someone who is very, very good at what they do.  Even “The Master”, which I didn’t like, utilized and treated her better than this movie does.  I should have included “Bad Dialogue” as a main cast member.

Michael Shannon as Zod. My ATM card and car keys are in the mail, buddy. Just leave me alone.

Only Shannon sounds good, mostly because his character has more dimension (not hard in this movie), focus, emotion and volume than everyone else.  Besides, the main villain is always the best role.  Plus, he has that great face; the one you never want focused on you.  I have to give the writers (of which Nolan was one and he also produced and it seems really directed the movie) credit for making Shannon’s super-villain, Zod, also less one-dimensional than previous superman villains in that he really does want to preserve his (and Superman/Kal-El’s) race, although his means are destructive and at all costs.  The Earth and, specifically, Metropolis just happen to be in the way of this goal.  By comparison, the 1978 Zod played by Terence Stamp just wanted to rule the universe and be an otherwise pointless and egomaniacal jerk (with a great delivery).*  Other actors in “Man of Steel” saddled with one-dimensional characters and bad dialogue and interspersed throughout the movie are Kevin Costner (Jonathan Kent), Diane Lane (Martha Kent), Laurence Fishburne (in a nice casting choice as Perry White), Richard Schiff, and Christopher Meloni.

Henry Cavill in “Man of Steel”. Does a bearded guy in this pose remind you of anyone?

Any more, it doesn’t even make sense to say “the effects are good” because it’s the standard now, but they are.  Seamless and dazzling (not a word I usually use), even though they aren’t enough to save the movie and actually worked against me enjoying it because they’re just too much (the word that comes to mind is “blitzkrieg”).  The thing about Nolan’s movies is that the scripts are smart – the basic “Man of Steel” storyline is uncomplicated but its components are not and I was confused throughout a lot of the movie – and the films are technically and visually tight and impressive and everything is well done but they all have a dark, overly serious, ominous, hopeless feeling.  I first noticed this with 2005’s “Batman Begins” (although Nolan’s 2000 “Memento” has the same feel), which really loomed over me as I left the theatre.  Good things are generally not described with any variation of the phrase “loom over”.   I was outside in sunlight and still felt claustrophobic while I stood in front of the theatre.  That was a movie I had to work to shake off.  All his movies are like that for me.  It’s like they all lack a soul.

Henry Cavill as Jesus, I mean Superman.

And then there’s the Jesus thing.  We were given a little bit of that vibe in the trailers with the close-up of the title guy looking up slowly and closing his eyes, as if basking in his own loveliness or self-importance, not that I think the real JC was ever remotely self-important.  It’s just not right for the character.  Then there’s the scene where sliding doors open and he emerges from a blinding light.  If anyone doesn’t need a dramatic entrance, it’s Superman.  His entrances are inherently dramatic.  That costume alone is enough of a statement.  The only thing missing is Michael Buffer announcing him.  In that shot, he not only steps on JC’s toes, he steps on MJ’s as well.

Throughout the movie, the theme is that Kal-El was put on Earth to save the world.  Every significant character (except, I think, the bad guys). and some that weren’t significant, says it in some form.  The choir screeching during the intense scenes focusing on Superman — usually flying — echoes that sentiment.  Most especially and blatantly, after he talks to the physical form of the conscience of his father, Jor-El, on a ship, he steps outside, levitating in outer space with his arms outstretched in a not-subtle-at-all crucifix/iron-cross position, which he holds for an uncomfortably long time (you expect Jor-el, especially since Crowe plays him, to ask, “Why are you doing that?”), before flying down to earth to save us all from Satan’s power.

Yes, this bothered me enough that I’m putting up three pictures to emphasize my point.

I can’t find a place to put this so I’ll just make a separate paragraph to say the flashbacks are distracting and disrupting and, for me, don’t add enough value to justify using them.

I liked Snyder’s “300” and liked “Watchmen” even more and that was another reason I anticipated seeing this movie but, again, it really does have more of Nolan’s touch than Snyder’s.

When I started reviewing movies for this site I did it not thinking of it as being a movie “critic”, because of the negative connotation.  Plus, having worked in the film industry, I understand how much thought, planning, and work is involved in every aspect of the process of making and releasing a movie.  I want to be objective and, even if I don’t like a movie,  I want to be diplomatic about it.  If you like this type of movie (special effects and violence), especially if you are a gamer, you’ll really like “Man of Steel”, since I can objectively say it was very well-made and visually impressive, especially when Superman punches something or someone.  As I was watching it I kept thinking that I’d want to watch it again to see what it was I missed or didn’t quite understand and that still may be the case.  In the meantime, it’ll take me some time to shake it off.


June 29, 2013

*While I’m on the subject, Kevin Spacey, a good actor and a two-time Oscar winner, was miscast in the 2006 movie.  Lex Luthor is supposed to be evil, not bitchy.

In writing about the lack of necessity of elaborating on Superman’s origin and out of curiousity, I checked out the running time of two other movies, “The Avengers” and the recent version of “The Great Gatsby”.  The running time for “Man of Steel” and those two movies is the same, 143 minutes.  Is that a new minimum for big-budget films?  I guess we get our money’s worth but that’s long for a movie.

Michelle Pfeiffer in "Stardust"

Michelle Pfeiffer in “Stardust”


I just realized that, other than the pictures, I never connected the title role to its actor, Henry Caville.  I’ll bet no one else who reviewed the movie made that omission.  I liked Matthew Vaughn’s 2007 fantasy “Stardust” but don’t remember Caville in it.  Besides being an enjoyable movie, “Stardust” has two great roles for and performances by Michelle Pfeiffer as a witch and Robert DeNiro as a closeted but flaming-when-his-crew-isn’t-looking gay pirate captain.

Robert De Niro in "Stardust"

Robert De Niro in “Stardust”

I guess Caville plays the romantic lead but who can remember with Pfeiffer and DeNiro in the roles they both milk?  In Woody Allen’s 2009 “Whatever Works”, Caville, a handsome young actor with a British accent (he’s actually from Jersey in the Channel Islands), plays Randy, a handsome young actor with a British accent that wrecks the home of the lead, played by Larry David.  He does well in a role that doesn’t give him much range or screen time.  David, Patricia Clarkson, Ed Begley, Jr. and Evan Rachel Wood are all good in roles they seem to enjoy.  The movie shares three elements with Allen’s wonderful 1987 40’s nostalgia movie, “Radio Days” as follows:

I remember Larry David from the ABC 1980-82 late night sketch comedy show, "Fridays".  He looked nothing like this 33 years ago.

I remember Larry David from the ABC 1980-82 late night sketch comedy show, “Fridays”. He looked nothing like this yearbook photo 33 years ago.

1)Larry David is in both movies, although his appearance in “Radio Days” is very brief with no close-ups so you can’t really know it’s him unless you recognize his voice, which you can do because his short scene is nothing but arguing.

2) The phrase “smells from formaldehyde” is used.

3) Both movies end with a New Year’s Eve party.

It also shares an element with “The Purple Rose of Cairo”, my favorite Allen movie until “Crimes and Misdemeanors” came out, in that David’s character acknowledges the movie audience and even explains to the other NYE partiers its existence, which they can’t see.

One thing I’ve always wanted to address is the way Superman saves falling people, and I thought of it immediately the first time Christopher Reeve did it with Margot Kidder and again with Cavill/Adams.  When the Loises fall, they do so vertically – makes sense – at a constantly increasing velocity (the 32 feet per second per second thing).

Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder in 1978's "Superman"

Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder in 1978’s “Superman”

When Superman saves them, he’s flying (more or less) horizontally, also at a high speed and he doesn’t veer from that horizontal path after catching the falling Lois and there’s minimal to no disruption in his own velocity.  I’m not a physics expert but, at those speeds, wouldn’t the impact of the moment Lois’ motion abruptly goes from vertical to horizontal shatter every bone and damage every organ in her body?  Doesn’t the moment he abruptly stops someone’s momentum and increasingly accelerated descent constitute high-speed impact?  The smarter way to save her is to fly next to her, match the speed of her downward descent, grab her and continue the descent and gradually – a relative term since the transition can be blink-of-an-eye quick and still be safe and effective – change her path and momentum from vertical downward to that of an arc until it becomes horizontal.  He can also continue downward after catching her and, if the distance to the ground allows for it, slow down at a rate that’s non-endangering and just set her down.   It’s split-second but check out around 2:25 of this trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T6DJcgm3wNY    Because it’s so fast, I don’t know if that’s Lois he’s saving in that scene.  Now I want to see the Lois Lane rescue scene in”Man of Steel” again.  In looking back at Christopher Reeve saving Margot Kidder, he actually comes from the street to catch her after she falls out of the helicopter and they compensate a bit by having him cushion her fall once she’s in his arms and he slows her descent before flying upward.   I still think the physics are misrepresented but just to show I’m happy to prove myself wrong:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jCLi3_-iXHk

I had a similar thought during the Will Smith parachute landing scene in “Independence Day”.   The strange thing about that scene is that it emphasizes the impact of his landing.  I could almost feel my legs breaking when I watched that scene.  I took a parachute jumping class when I was about ten and the very first thing you learn, like in judo, is how to fall.  You roll when you hit the ground so your body doesn’t absorb the full impact.  Check it out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4D2_RZZ8hx4

Here’s my gift to you classic DC and Superman fans.


2013 06 27 Superman and Action 2013 06 27 Superboy 2013 06 27 Lois Lane 2013 06 27 JLA 2013 06 27 Jimmy Olsen 2013 06 27 Adventure Comics 2013 06 27 World's Finest


About Dan Walker

As part of an Air Force family, I went to elementary school in Great Falls, MT, junior high in Cheyenne, WY and high school and college in the San Francisco Bay Area, graduating from San Francisco State University with a degree in business. I was fortunate to have worked for great companies in Silicon Valley (Oracle Corp) and Hollywood (Miramax Films). I also lived and worked (primarily in financial services, which has no great companies) for eight years in Manhattan, New York City. I now reside in New York's beautiful Hudson Valley.

5 comments on ““Man of Steel” Directed By Zack Snyder

  1. John Necci on said:

    I am going to go one step further and say that I miss the 1950’s series “The Adventures of Superman” for its simplicity and human stories absent the over computerized technology of movies today and of course, 1940’s Superman cartoons.
    “Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound”
    I am so happy I was a able to experience the real art of Superman.


    • Dan Walker on said:

      Thanks for bringing all that up, John. Had I included it, my review would never have ended. I have all the Max Fleisher 1941-1943 Superman cartoons on DVD and will watch a couple every now and then. It’s like going back in time. Men wore suits, women wore hats. Max Fleischer competed with Disney in terms of innovation in animation and the Superman series is high-quality animation and true to the look and spirit of the comic, which had only been around 3 years when the animated series started. The George Reeves series was similarly fun, despite not having the highest production value.

      I also watch the 1967-1970 animated Spider-Man series on Netflix streaming. While the animation is limited and the storylines follow a similar pattern, the voice acting, music score (even better than I remember)and the nostalgia make for a very enjoyable watch.

  2. Lucy Vilato-Walker on said:

    Have not seen the movie, and will reserve my judgement till I do.

  3. Scott Staub on said:

    Once again, Dan has written a thoughtful and detailed critique of a movie. While I agree with many of his points, I disagree with some others. As someone whose been collecting comic books, especially the Superman and Batman lines for 49 years, Superman does save the world, often with other superheroes. Thanks by the way for the very cool comic book covers. When I started collecting, comics were 12 cents. I can see the parallel with Jesus Christ, but I didn’t find it as blatant as Dan did. The Superman I grew up and this contemporary Superman both embody the virtues of self sacrifice, trustworthiness, honesty, etc., i.e., super Boy Scouts. I’m digging through my old Superman comics, but I vaguely recall that Superman was drawn fairly dramatically, so seeing Henry Caville suspended in space with his arms out, isn’t too far from the original.

    Another point of divergence for me is the dialogue. I didn’t find it stilted, or that bad which may be one reason Dan’s a critic and I’m not. I’m not going to see action movies for their dialogue. I’m going to see them for their action, unlike something like Dangerous Liaisons for example which the dialogue was essential, not to mention the superb acting of John Malkovich and Glenn Close.

    Unlike Dan, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, and walked out feeling entertained and looking forward to seeing it again on a DVD. I should also disclose that I’m an avid World of Warcraft player, so perhaps as Dan suggests, gamers like me, are wired differently from non-gamers like Dan, so we won’t get the same charge. See Superman yourself, and join the conversation.

    • Dan Walker on said:

      The nerve of this guy. NERD.

      I thought about the dialogue after I wrote that segment. When you go into a movie, especially one like “Man of Steel”, you can only enjoy it if you suspend disbelief and just go with it and let it be itself so your comment on the dialogue is well taken. For this movie, however, I couldn’t go with it for the reasons I mentioned. If one or the other of the dialogue being better (more dimension and taking itself less seriously) and the visuals being less of a lightning-paced bombardment, I might have been able to see past them. Now that I’ve seen it, know what to expect, and will look at it with a much less critical eye, I’m looking forward to the movie’s DVD release. Subsequent viewings, especially with movies as visually dense as “Man of Steel”, always reveal things I missed the first time, although there’s no guarantee a second viewing won’t just emphasize how I felt during that first one.

      While I’m at it, will someone please point out one character in any Christopher Nolan movie that isn’t serious and self-important so I stop feeling so badly toward his movies? I watch them all because they’re smart and well made but I always leave them feeling unsatisfied. I’m not asking that question rhetorically or sarcastically at all. Maybe I’m trying to get blood out of a turnip.

      You proved my point that this is a gamer’s movie. My aversion to video games isn’t by choice; I actually get nauseous when I’m exposed to them (I was never interested in pinball machines, either). The same thing happens when I watch daytime talk shows, Judge Judy-type shows and “American Idol”-type singing/dancing competitions. I don’t think daytime TV geared toward housewives is healthy and it seems to be addicting. Much of it is about sticking your nose in someone else’s business, which doesn’t interest me at all and is a cheap endorphin rush, if that’s what it is. The judge shows are just confrontational, voyeuristic, and negative and all on an uninteresting level. When I watch TV, it’s to watch sports (I get depressed when the NFL season is over) or things that inform me – like news or documentaries, especially the ones about nature — or make me laugh, like “Arrested Development”, “Modern Family”, “Family Guy”, South Park”, “Seinfeld” and “Frasier” reruns, and “The Sopranos” on DVD. I’ll still watch “The Simpsons” but it’s impossible to sustain the edge it had those first ten or so years. I actually see “The Sopranos” as great comedy with dramatic elements, which I touch on in the article I wrote after James Gandolfini’s passing. I recently discovered TBS plays “Married with Children” reruns at 5:00am and they can be a great way to start my day. The show is shamelessly more punch lines than setups and the audience hoots and howls are as much a part of the show as the cast. I watch “Jeopardy!” religiously because it’s like having a diverse conversation with a group of well-rounded people and it’s more about what I don’t know than what I know. All those things stimulate me in ways I like being stimulated.

      I’ve actually backed off CNN Headline News, which used to be a great news recap show, and CNN, since both are now looking more like Court TV. Regular news clearly doesn’t get high enough ratings. When I hear about the NSA leaker or the murder trial in Florida I block it out or mute the sound.

      If you’ve been collecting Superman comic books for almost 50 years, I want to visit you. I’d love to see your pre-1970 collection, which has to be amazing and would be incredibly nostalgic for me. Curt Swan was my favorite comic book artist, which explains my aversion to anything more detailed. I just thought his style was clean and uncluttered. He’s the artist who did most of the covers I put at the bottom of the “Man of Steel” review. Going to the comics section of the bookstore in downtown Great Falls, Montana as a kid (after I was all out of the newspapers I sold on the nearby corner Monday-Friday late afternoons) was my version of porno – an appropriate analogy since the comics were in the very back – and I’d browse for a long while, always anticipating the newest issues of my favorites. Especially compared to what’s going on now, I feel like I lived a Norman Rockwell childhood; sports/playing, fishing and comic books. I wasn’t a collector, though and, with five brothers, comics get shredded pretty quickly and none survived my childhood. I’ve picked up a few issues I remember from Ebay and a buddy gave me a book of consolidated Adventure Comics issues, all of which I’ll pull out and enjoy from time to time.

      Now that the technology with visuals is where it is and seeing how well velocity was conveyed in “Man of Steel”, maybe someone will give The Flash the treatment he deserves. For a stretch, I was a bigger Flash fan (and fan of the artist who drew him when I read the comics, Carmine Infantino) than Superman fan.

      Thanks for the comments, Scott, especially the ones where you didn’t agree with my assessment and preferences. I like hearing opposing opinions.


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