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Man of Steel – Greatest American Hero

“It’s a (bleeping!) comic book for God’s sake. It’s not Othello,”

– Kevin Spacey (interview with Mike Cotton. Wizard  Magazine. July 2006)

Today is the 4th of July, a day we celebrate everything ‘American.’ Freedom, bbqs, apple pie and all  of that. If I may be so bold, before you indulge or after you do, go and feast your eyes on the visual desert that is ‘Man of Steel’. 

Anyone who knows me, knows my geek allegiance lies in camp Marvel. But if you are a true genre-geek, everyone wants to see the ‘Big Blue Boy’s Scout’ done right.

After Bryan Singer’s flawed nostalgic crack at it, some felt that maybe that was it. In this complex world we live in, is a character as simplistic as Superman appealing to a post ‘Watchmen’, ‘Dark Knight’, age? The answer is an emphatic “yes,” and though the movie is at times bent on throwing itself deep in to a well-protected wall of CGI fireworks,  ‘Man of Steel’ still manages to deliver soulful cinema and puts ‘Superman’, the granddaddy of all superheroes securely back into the 21th century. Helmed by the combo of Zack Snyder as director, David Goyer as writer and Christopher Nolan as Producer, some felt Nolan’s involvement might lean the project too far into the dark lands of ‘Batman’. 

Regrettably,  some of the Richard Donner charm and humor is lacking in this mostly stoic and iconic superhero-space opera, however, the filmmakers were faced with a few hurdles that needed to be addressed. Singer’s ‘Superman Returns’, stayed pretty faithful to the 70’s Christopher Reeves movies, but virtually ignored three decades of influences including everything from the ‘Superman’ animated series, to video games to comics.

Then there is the dark noire vibe of Nolan’s  own ‘Batman Trilogy’, the mix mess that is ‘Green Lantern’, and the daunting spectre of working toward a way of wrapping these characters together, to eventually achieve world box-office domination with the much anticipated ‘Justice League” movie. Marvel achieved this with their movies leading up to Joss Whedon’s billion dollar ‘Avengers’ coup d’état . It is definitely not lost on filmmakers that the fundamental differences here are DC characters relationships to Greek Gods as opposed to Marvel’s sardonic rock ‘n’ roll misfits, so care had to be taken. The filmmakers prevail for the most part, mostly because of a cast that, at least on the surface, seemed to want to be there, starting with Henry Cavill and Amy Adams. Don’t let anyone tell you different, you can splatter as many monsters or natural disasters as you want in a ‘Superman movie’, but if Lois and Clark don’t work, it’s gonna be a bumpy ride. Chemistry flashes and sparks, but the filmmakers are a little jumpy about letting it stay there too long, something I could of done with a little more of, yet these pros handled their business. Same goes for Kevin Costner and Diane Lane as Ma and Pa Kent. Kosner,  in one gesture, becomes my all time fave Pa Kent while Diane Lane, who was given substantially less to work with, still manages to bring depth to comic land’s most iconic Mom. The opening scenes on Krypton that feature a dying planet are amazing. We see Clark’s real parents, played with the right amount of mythic gravitas, with Russell Crowe as scientist Jor-El preparing to send their son off to a planet where they know the atmosphere will make him ….well, super. But while his mother worries of him being persecuted for being different,  Jor-El declares to Kal -El: “He will be a God to them”. There on Krypton is also where we are introduced to General Zod and his band of soldiers gone terrorist.  As their planet crumbles, different fractions fight for the right to run the planet, not listening to the warnings of Jor-El. Michael Shannon’s Zod is a ball of coiled sprung rage as he is being sentenced to prison for doing what he perceives as protecting his people. So when he and his crew show up on earth later looking for Krypton’s last son, it is profoundly ON!’

Superman movies, all except for Donner’s ‘Superman ll’, always seemed light on the action. This is not the case with “Man of Steel.” In fact,  sometimes it gets a little out of hand. The nuances of performances are almost drowned out by the bombast of fists and crashes. That being said , I was glad to see some straight-up Superman brawls for a change instead of him dealing with ‘baby momma’ issues or fighting a continent as he did in his last, big screen outing. The beauty of this movie is that, if we’re lucky, we’ll get three decent movies out of this now rebooted franchise. The spices of the actors performances will shine through. Add in the totally geeky, Easter eggs hidden throughout the movie and we got the best outing of Superman on the big screen ever.

So hey, this fourth of July weekend, do yourself a favor–treat yourself to ‘Man of Steel’, or take it in with the whole family. And no, it ain’t Othello…it’s Superman The’Greatest American Hero’, perfect for the 4th of July weekend.

About P.Downes

A Los Angeles-based Bajan, rude boy from Boston, P. Downes (Writer/Film & Independent Music Editor) is a card-carrying music and comic book geek with dreams of making movies. He's a published comic book writer, most notably "Killer Ape and Other City Stories," a collaboration with Greg Moutafis about a black, punk band who comes of age on the night of the LA Riots. Rumor has it that he types his articles in Spider-man Underoos for good luck.

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