Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Man of Steel

Man of Steel (2013)
Directed by Zach Snyder
Screenplay by David S. Goyer, Story by David S. Goyer & Christopher Nolan
Superman created by Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster

A woman lies on the table in a high tech delivery room, yowling as she gives birth. Nothing unusual about that, except she’s wearing an elaborately embroidered Renaissance gown, so apparently her water broke during a Game of Thrones cosplay event and she probably feels a lot of pressure to commit infanticide in order to stay in character. But then she pushes out her progeny, and suddenly Russell Crowe appears between her thighs to field the baby!  Cut to the countryside, where a computer generated Kryptonian musk ox lifts its head and bellows a birth announcement to the sky like it’s the frigging Lion King.

After he towels off the amniotic fluid, Russell addresses the government, and we realize he must be Jor-El, Superman’s biological father, because he’s telling lawmakers the planet is about to implode and they must act immediately! But since three percent of Kryptonian scientists disagree with him, Republican members instead demand they “teach the controversy.”

General Zod bursts into the hearing room, guns down several members of the Permanent Sub-Committee on Impending Planetary Implosions, and suggests they use the imminent catastrophe as an excuse to purify the racial bloodlines, so I guess he symbolically represents a Tea Party primary challenger.

Russ-El objects to this plan, so he beats up Zod’s men and escapes on a dragonfly.  Then he dives into a municipal pool where babies in plastic hamster balls are being harvested by robot crabs, and surfaces in Hef’s grotto. He steals an ape skull engraved with the Kryptonian genome, downloads it into his newborn son, then puts the kid in a faster-than-light infant car-seat and shoots him into space.

Zod arrives to arrest Russ-El for monkey skull theft and breaking the laws of physics.  But Russ-El won't go quietly and dons his battle-armor, which certainly looks cool, but is basically a Frank Frazetta-style chain-mail bikini and doesn't cover his tummy, so Zod just stabs him.

But even though the world is literally falling apart, the Kryptonian council upholds their tradition of making really crappy decisions by sentencing Zod and his troops to exile, and then helpfully shooting them into space in a massive star ship that probably could have been used to evacuate a whole lot of non-murderers.

Cut to Earth, where Superman’s life has taken an unexpected turn. Instead of Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, he’s a bearded crab fisherman on the reality TV show Deadliest Catch.  But when a nearby oil rig catches on fire, he lends a hand by getting blown up, then drifting around the ocean having self-indulgent flashbacks about how hard it was to be a boy with x-ray vision, even at a time when the other boys were spending up to 75 cents and three proof-of-purchase seals for X-Ray Specs that didn’t even work!  Fortunately for us, a whale comes along and tells him to stop being a wuss and shake it off, so he swims to Dutch Harbor, Alaska, finds a poor, but honest working man, and steals his clothes.

As he makes his getaway, Superman notices a school bus, and because there aren’t any humpbacks around to request he keep the plot moving, Clark treats himself to a long flashback about the day his school bus drove off a bridge into a river, and how he rescued all his classmates -- including the bully who was tormenting him and calling him “dick splash" -- and how his father, Kevin Costner, became the true north of Superboy's moral compass by telling him he should’ve let those kids die.  Because Clark is really an alien! And if the world found out, the government would show up, and they'd probably get a lot of tourists driving out to the farm and trampling all over Kevin’s cornfields and haunted baseball diamond, and who needs the aggravation?

A logging truck pulls into a diner in Canada, where Clark works as a busboy and has implied alien-on-Canadian sex with the waitress.  The trucker promptly accosts Clark’s girlfriend, then pours beer on Superman’s head, which scores a 9.7 on the Jim Croce Scale.  But our hero remembers the words of his father, and when the trucker goes outside, he finds his 18-wheeler has been shish-kebobbed by trees.

Cut to the Arctic, where Lois Lane steps out of a helicopter.  Lois is a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for the Daily Planet and an insatiable adrenaline junkie. “What can I say,” she explains. “I get writer’s block if I’m not wearing a flak jacket.”  (Interestingly, I have the exact same problem, if you replace “flak jacket” with “flannel bathrobe and torn boxer shorts,” which made things awkward when I was a technical writer, at least according to the guy who shared my cubicle.)

Lois meets the commanding officer, Colonel...eh, I didn't catch his name; he's that guy from Law & Order: SVU -- and immediately challenges him to a "dick-measuring contest" (by the way, I'd like to be the first film historian to note that Man of Steel contains more penis and semen references than all previous Superman movies combined. Guinness Book take note).  The military has found a 20,000 year old spaceship buried in the ice and Lois has arrived with great fanfare so she can go sneak around in it. But she only succeeds in getting gut-shot by a robot. Fortunately, Clark arrives to save her! Sort of. Actually, he just tortures her, cauterizing the wound with his heat vision while she writhes and screams and gags at the smell of her own burning flesh.  Pa Kent would be proud.

Clark dumps Lois and her internal wound on an ice floe, then steals the space ship and flies away, flipping the Earthlings the bird.  He goes to the Holo Deck, where his computer-generated birth father tenderly bathes him in backstory in a scene that's eerily similar to the Fortress of Solitude sequence from the 1978 Superman, except the Huge Disembodied Marlon Brando Head has been replaced by Russell Crowe, so it's less like a reimagining and more like downloading a novelty voice for your GPS.

Back at the Daily Planet, Perry White won’t print Lois’s scoop about Superman because she’s been handing in the same story for the last seventy-five years and he’s getting sick of it. So she slips it instead to a sleazy blogger, because she wants Superman to see it and know she knows, thereby making her story a truly fresh new addition to the Superman Mythos: Super Clickbait.

Lois travels to Smallville and hangs around Kevin’s grave until Superman shows up and gives her an exclusive flashback: Clark is a wizened-looking teen riding in the car with Ma and Pa Kent and whining, “I don’t have to do what you say! You’re not my real parents!” Suddenly, Kevin spots a tornado in the distance, so he stops the car, and tells his wife and indestructible son to go cower under the overpass while he wanders through the stalled traffic looking for a stupid way to die.

Everyone else in Kansas makes it to the overpass safely, but the twister catches up to Kevin while he’s taking his impromptu constitutional. Clark is about to rescue him, when suddenly Kevin holds up his hand in a gesture that says, “Wait. Let’s just see how this plays out. I’ve got a bet with your mother.” Then he gets sucked up into the tornado like a dust bunny into a Dyson, so I guess Ma owes him a Coke. (Good grief, I just checked the time code, and there’s still 90 minutes of this thing to go! Glenn Ford had been dead for an hour by this point!)

“I let my father die,” Clark confesses to Lois, who gazes back at him with a tender expression that seems to say, “Yup. Sure did.”

Meanwhile, Zod arrives in the solar system thanks to that massive starship the Kryptonian Council punished him with, and goes on the air, issuing threats of genocide over every form of communication on earth --  television, radio, cell phones, and the Internet (to be fair, Zod’s Twitter feed is pretty funny).

The Army grabs Lois, so Clark puts on his circus acrobat costume and surrenders to Zod in order to free her.  But Zod knows about their tender, two-minute long romance, and abducts her too, then proves he’s every bit Superman’s equal by hitting him where he’s most vulnerable – right in the flashback.

Zod gives a long, boring presentation about how he and his troops came to Earth, then reveals that he wants the monkey skull engravings so he can repopulate the planet with Kryptonian hamster ball babies. But Superman thwarts him by secretly passing Lois the spaceship keys, knowing that she’ll eventually be thrown in a prison cell equipped with an ATM. Sure enough, she is, and after checking her balance, she boots up Holo Russ-El, who not only helps her escape, but tells her how to destroy these last few remaining members of his species because he’s really got no hometown pride.

Zod goes to the Kent farm to get the monkey skull from Clark’s interstellar bassinette, but it’s not there.  He threatens Ma, which enrages Superman so much that he knocks Zod into the heart of Smallville, and then picks a fight with the Kryptonian troops that demolishes half the town, and sets the other half on fire.

Zod activates a pair of giant machines designed to terraform (or Kryptoform) Earth so it’s more like their home planet, because who’d want to live on a world where you’re invulnerable and have the power of flight, when you could get papercuts and scrounge exact change for the bus instead?

Superman destroys the first kryptoformer, but it’s not easy; it involves punching Christmas lights and air pollution, and wrestling with a liquid metal Water Wiggle.

Meanwhile, Colonel Meloni destroys the machine hovering over Metropolis in a kamikaze attack, while Lois does her part by falling out of the plane so Superman can save her and they can neck in the ruins of the city.

But Zod survives, since there’s still a half hour to go, and at least some of Metropolis left standing. So let’s get ready to RUMBLE! And by “rumble,” I mean the sound a skyscraper makes as it topples after having been knocked over by Superman who couldn’t be bothered to move the fight to an uninhabited wilderness, or at least the Meadowlands.

After racking up so much collateral damage I began to suspect Superman was trying to beat the Chicxulub asteroid's high score, he gets his opponent in an illegal submission hold, and when Zod refuses to tap out, Superman snaps his neck.  Cut to Kansas, where Clark and Ma are visiting Kevin’s grave. “He always believed you were meant for great things,” she says, assuring her son that Pa would be so proud of him, now that he’d gotten his first kill.

Ma asks what he’s going to do now that he’s destroyed his home town and can no longer hang around the Dairy Queen. Clark announces that he’s figured out the best way to "keep [his] ear to the ground" so he can help people -- get a job in the dying print news industry, proving that he’s not only violent, but stupid.

The end.


Carl said...

Suddenly, Kevin spots a tornado in the distance, so he stops the car, and tells his wife and indestructible son to go cower under the overpass while he wanders through the stalled traffic looking for a stupid way to die.

When he points at Clark just before he's swept away, I channeled a scene in Bull Durham where he shouts at a ballplayer not to show him up because he just gave him a gift.

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

Clark announces that he’s figured out the best way to "keep [his] ear to the ground" so he can help people -- get a job in the dying print news industry, proving that he’s not only violent, but stupid.

And then Fred Hiatt hired him to war-monger at the Washington Post, the end.

Helmut Monotreme said...

So did the writers ever read a Superman comic growing up? It may have been an OK superhero movie but it sure as hell doesn't sound like superman. What a disaster.

BillyWitchDoctor said...

It's fun to read fanboy's denial-ridden defenses of the film ("Well, what about all the collateral damage in Avengers, huh? Same thing! Exact same thing!!" "He couldn't take the fight away from the city because Zod kept bringing the fight baaaa-aa-aaaa-aa-aaaack!!"), but they can't escape two points: Kev-In's idiotically pointless death, and the fact that Kal-El snapped a man's neck because he couldn't stop him turning his head.

Carl said...


The DC Universe, like the Marvel Universe, was rebooted. This film is pretty true to the 2011 version

Anonymous said...

"Chris Reeves, thou shouldst be living at this hour"
Needed scanning correction.Sorry.

Weird Dave said...


Thank you Scott.

U talking U2 to me? said...


Anonymous said...

Did you know that SA only got the "bioscope in a box" i.e. the teevee in the 70s because it was evil? No?
Knowing this now, will you old movie geeks forgive me for having Christopher Reeve as my definitive Superman when I know I should have Fred McSmurg from the 1940 TV series as my avatar?
Begging your collective pardons.

Meanie-meanie, tickle a person said...


[golf clap]

Now you've made me want to watch it again. WHY DID YOU DO THAT TO ME!!!

Well, what about all the collateral damage in Avengers, huh?

I get the feeling Snyder and Goyer both saw The Avengers and said (like a couple stoned guitar players) "I can do that". And we bought our tickets and sat down to watch A Hard day's Night and got the Rutles instead. There was no "real" Superman here. Nothing about this guy aligns in my head with the comix, TV, or other theatrical Supes. Like so much SF these days, this thing was all FX, and no story. And bad FX at that, seeing as how they served mostly to put the over-the-top violence over the fence and out of the park. But foul.
I will not be wasting any hard-earned money on Batman vs Superman, I can tell you that. Fool me once, won't get fooled again...

Meanie-meanie, tickle a person said...

Also too, TTFHB (Time to First Headbutt); 4:26.

Also three, I am heartily sick of orange and blue FX. Can we take up a collection and buy Holllllywood a couple new colors? There are at least 16.7 million of 'em...

grouchomarxist said...

... Kryptonian hamster ball babies

Wasn't that a Jim Henson series?

Thanks for filling me in on this one, Scott. I'm still skeptical that it could out-awful Sucker Punch, but I'll have to give it a whirl when it shows up on Netflix. If for no other reason than to see Kevin die stupidly.

Scott said...


Unfortunately, while these reviews are intended to frighten impressionable young viewers away, they all too often have the opposite effect. In other words, they're exactly as effective as those anti-drug films they used to show us in Junior High, so I guess I owe Keep Off The Grass and Drug Abuse: The Chemical Tomb an apology.

Suezee, I'm sure George Reeves has his partisans in Greater Crapperstan, but seeing how The Adventures of Superman came and went before I was born, I too fall into the Christopher Reeve camp (although I do have a soft spot for Kirk Alyn).

GM, I've got Sucker Punch in my queue, but now I'm thinking I might bump it up. Snyder really does deserve his own chapter in the next book, don't you think?