Steel Man. The Man of Steel, Man.
Having now watched Man of Steel, the 2013 film staring Henry Cavill, three times recently, I've managed to come up with a collection of thoughts about the movie. What fascinates me, and what spurred me to watch the movie three times (although not all in a row, thank goodness) is the amount of hate leveled at the movie. "It's too dark." "It's too violent." "Superman doesn't act like Superman." I can't say I necessarily agree with the hate (even if some of their points are fair), and I certainly can't agree with the sentiment that it's a terrible movie (let alone the worst Superman production ever).
Regardless of how thick your rose colored glasses may be about the classic 70s Superman movies, I think we can all agree they don't necessarily hold up now. While the Christopher Reeve run was great for the time (especially the first two movies), they aren't easy to watch anymore. The pacing is slow and uneven, the effects are not spectacular any more. And this Lex Luthor is not an effective villain. Sure, a lot of that can be attributed to the 70s, and we can't judge the movie against current blockbusters (hell, making a superhero movie back that was sure to be thought of as a gamble). But as good as they were for superhero movies at the time, they are, let's be honest, crap.
Not to knock Christopher Revee. He was a great Superman. One of the all time best. His movies were just awful.
Not that modern adaptations have all fared better. DC has a slew of Superman animated movies out there, and they're pretty uneven at best. All-Star Superman is certainly the best of the lot, with the rest ranging from tolerable (Superman vs. The Elite) to largely unwatchable (Superman: Doomsday). Even on TV he hasn't done very well, with the 90s Superman cartoon being decent, and a good addition to the DC Animated Universe, but Smallville was so bad it makes the Superman show from the 50s (where Superman just fought a bunch of low level thugs and everyone swooned) look like high art.
No, Superman is one of those characters that just seems unfilmable. The best of the bunch are decent, but it's hard to make a man that seems all but invincible look like he can be beaten. Plus, his powers are hard to really grasp -- sure, you can watch bullets fly off him, but if he doesn't flinch (and why would he need to?) then it's just empty effects. He can fly, sure, but we know it's fake, and there's no sense that the flight takes effort. He's just too powerful and too hard to realize as a human being.
I think that's what really struck me most about Man of Steel. Superman has heft, his powers have weight. He really feels like he's pushing himself with his powers, that they take effort to use. Watch when he first learns to fly and, as he puts his fist to the ground to gain power, the pebbles and dust fly up around his hand. The power builds up, and he get a sense of how and what happens. Sure, it's all still so much CGI, but if give you a sense of weight. Of power.
Most of his powers are like that. Using his strength takes effort and he bends under large weight. He can shoot fire from his eyes, but then he has to blink through the after images -- he can't jut fire them off and suddenly see afterwards. And while he can deflect a lot of damage, he still gets battered around a lot in the movie -- there's a sense of physics to an extent, and he's not just an immoveable wall.
Sure, there are flaws in the way his powers are used some times. The number of people he catches, at a horizontal angle, is ludicrous -- as the Big Bang Theory put it, they'd slice into three neat halves the second they hit his steel-like arms." And I hate the number of times he's flying around in space and yet there's still an aura of air around him (let alone that you can hear sound out there). There are some scientific issues I have with the film (even if we accept a man that can fly and shoot frickin' lasers from his eyes).
Is the movie dark? I don't necessarily think so. Sure, Superman's costume is a little muted, but considering the dark outfits every one of his villains wears in the movie, his dark blue and red costume looks positively vivid by comparison (and I'm sure it'll be the same with Wonder Woman in Batman v. Superman when that comes out -- no need to pre-judge just yet). And most of the movie takes place out in the sun, a clear contrast to the Batman movies we've had recently.
Is the movie violent? I wouldn't any more so than most superhero movies. These are god-like being that we pay to watch move around each other like action figures, punching and kicking each other for our amusement. Superhero movies are like fights in a coliseum -- we want the violence along with the story. Yes, a lot of buildings get destroyed, and a few of those are Superman's fault (especially in Smallville), but this raises a point I think a lot of people miss with the movie:
This is Superman's first time being a hero on this level. Before this he was in the shadows, doing heroic deeds and then fading away (leaving only the fresh scent of pine). He's never had to stop and apocalypse before, or be a hero in the public eye. He's still new to it, still finding his feet. If he's still this green in the next movie in the series, then I think we can really start to complain about how cavalier Superman is about the chaos he wreaks. But for now, cut the dude a little slack.
This movie presents a Superman that's flawed, sure, but that's what we need in a Superman movie. If he was perfect, the golden god sent from Krypton who does no wrong, we'd be back where we started with an unbelievable character that no one can film right. This movie may be flawed, but for my money it's the best Superman flick we've gotten yet.
I should know -- I've watched it three times recently.