‘Man of Steel’ – worst Superman movie until the last three minutes

By Eleanor Ringel Cater

“Man of Steel” may not be the worst summer blockbuster I’ve ever seen.

But I’m pretty sure it’s the worst “Superman” movie I’ve ever seen.

Worse than the pathetic “Superman Returns,” starring Brandon Routh, the George Lazenby of Supermans. And worse than the pretentious “Superman IV: The Quest for Peace,” Christopher Reeve’s rather sad (albeit well-intentioned) attempt to bankroll his superhero celebrity into a plea for the eco-future of the planet.

I will give it this, though: “Man of Steel’s” last three minutes are among the best I’ve seen in many a movie, summer blockbuster or not.

But Lord, what you have to go through before that magical coda.

Directed by Zak Snyder, a sort of Michael Bay wannabe, and based on an concept partly dreamed up by Christopher Nolan, (who brought Batman back from the dead), “Man of Steel” isn’t shy about borrowing a few iconic movie images: Mr. If-You-Build-It-They-Will-Come, Kevin Costner, stands in front of a field of dreams…I mean, corn.  A menacing squad of  “Apocalypse Now” helicopters hovers in front of an angry red sun. There’s even a sinking school bus from “The Sweet Hereafter.”

What I liked best about “Man of Steel” is the way it hints at a sweet hereafter. Or a New Beginning, as “Stars Wars” puts it.

But that only happens at the aforementioned very, very, very end.

“Man of Steel” literally births its franchise creds in the opening scene. A sweaty, straining Lara pumps out Baby Kal-el, in the planet’s first natural (virgin?) birth in eons. As Krypton implodes, choking on its own vain-gloriousness, Russell Crowe, Our Father Who Art In Outer Space, places his Only Son into a space rocket/manger/basket made of bulrushes and speeds him to Earth.

Now, the similarities to the Old and/or New Testament are too noticeable to be discounted. Take the “natural birth” just for starters. When we catch up with Kal-el on Earth, he’s a bearded 33-year-old (kinda like…) named Clark Kent, played by a spectacularly ripped Henry Cavill (who proved his acting bonafides in “The Tudors”)

One niggling thing about this dual Biblical incarnation:  Superman was created in the 1930s by a pair of nice Jewish boys named Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, and I have to believe they were thinking Moses, not Jesus — though Cavill does strike a perfect crucifixion stance at one point and is introduced all but walking on water as if he were a bit player in “The Deadliest Catch” series.

Well, why not? Cavill looks super-hunky in a macho Eminem knit cap and he seems just as lost at sea as our old pal, Jason Bourne. After the surprisingly  (and annoyingly) long prelude on Krypton, we stay on Earth, awaiting intermittent appearances by The Wise Father (Crowe) and meeting the Daily Planet crew: fearless reporter, Lois Lane (Amy Adams, as game here as she was in “The Master’), Perry White  (Laurence Fishbourne, mostly looking relieved he’s nabbed a post-“Matrix’ franchise”) and intern Jenny…I have no idea… maybe a transgendered Jimmy Olsen?

Given a few moments or so to actually act, Cavill proves more than satisfactory. Better than Christopher Reeves? Well, it’s an unfair comparison.  As you’ll see (SPOILER ALERT), the whole dual identity fulcrum — which Reeves did to a turn in the 1978 version — doesn’t even come into play until the last bit of “Man of Steel,” which leaves us with one of the best double-entendres in movie history. “Welcome to the Planet,’ Lane says, as Clark Kent steps off the elevator and into his alter ego as a mild-mannered reporter for the Daily Planet.

But for the most part, Superman’s mission, along with his soul-searching adjustment to his illegal alien status, is to protect his adopted planet from a trio of miscreants who’ve survived Krypton’s demise. They’re led by General Zod; a homicidal dandy, when played by Terence Stamp in the Reeves movies, he’s now embodied by Michael Sheen as an intergalactic thug with anger-management issues and some off-course Aryan ideas.

Everything the movie lacks can be seen in those final minutes I keep obsessing about: humanity, a sense of humor, a respect for and embrace of the earthly part of the Superman myth as opposed to his Krypton origins. The scenes on the Kent family farm in Kansas are like Norman Rockwell Life Magazine covers — or, if you want to get smarty-pants film-critic-y, scenes from Jack Fisk’s little-seen gem, “Raggedy Man,” starring Sissy Spacek and a pre-disfigurement Eric Roberts (as in Julia). More to the point, perhaps, Fisk was the art director on “Badlands,” “Days of Heaven” and several of Terrence Malick’s more recent pictures.

A good 45 minutes of smashing, crashing and overdone fisticuffs could be slashed from “Man of Steel.” There’s only so much bone-crushing filler that even the most action-glazed fan can take.

This is also one of those pictures in which an entire city is pretty much blown to bits, but somehow, Lois, Mr. White and Jenny the intern manage to scramble out of the mountainous rubble to right where Superman is standing. Is that luck…coincidence… or merely condescension?

I don’t want to leave out poor Diane Lane, a splendid actress who keeps missing the brass ring (though she came close in “Unfaithful”). Unconvincingly aged as Ma Kent, she has almost nothing to do, but, as the best ones always manage, she creates an affecting little something out of absolutely nothing.

The most surprising thing, perhaps, about “Man of the Steel” is that it’s the first movie I absolutely abhorred that left me eager to see the sequel.  Talk about a tease…

Eleanor Ringel, Movie Critic, was the film critic for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for almost 30 years. She was nominated multiple times for a Pulitzer Prize. She won the Best of Cox Critic, IMAGE Film & Video and Women In Film awards. An Atlanta native, she graduated from Westminster and Brown University. She was the critic on WXIA’s Noonday, a member of Entertainment Weekly's Critics Grid and wrote TV Guide’s movie/DVD. She is member of the National Society of Film Critics and currently talks about movies on WMLB and writes the Time Out column for the Atlanta Business Chronicle.

16 replies
  1. Brandon says:

    Kill yourself. You’re obviously not a Superman fan otherwise you might have appreciated the emotional and powerful Superman story. You basically shit out of the mouth when you wrote this, and barely did any research on the Superman mythos. And nothing happened in the last 3 minutes except a quiet conclusion. And you say this is the worst blockbuster you’ve ever seen? What about Batman and Robin? Iron Man 3? You are blatantly an unexperienced reviewer and had no idea what you were talking about while writing this shit review.Report

    • darkan says:

      @Brandon this is by far the WORST superman movie!! acting ZERO character building ZERO story ZERO. I was waiting for zod to say MR ANDERSON as its copied off so many other poor movies. wheres the plot?? ive grow up on superman movies and i just want to wipe this from my memory and have been angry for a full week im that disappointed!  it was the BORING iron man 3 wiped the floor with this! people where laughing and smiling the only thing that keep me awake during this was the NOISE. Im so angry hopefully this awful director NEVER gets to touch a superman movie again!  i actually think he films 100 hours of footage throws it up in the air then films it where it lands!Report

  2. dhaoracle says:

    I think it is either the critics are just plain stupid or they are just giving the  Man of Steel bad reviews because they know that it will people will come flocking to their site.Report

  3. EricHpachec says:

    You are about a week and 207 reviews late to the party. The people have spoken and Man of steel won, thanks for playing your efforts are noted however futile they may be.Report

  4. amywinns says:

    Thanks Eleanor, I appreciate your snark and the movie references I missed… can’t believe how derivative yet senseless this movie is. I hated it too. (And I think we can all easily assess the collective brainpower of these troglodyte commenters, who can’t even form a sentence.)Report

    • EricHpachec says:

      Derivative, troglodyte, collective brainpower? Are you serious? I would agree with the fact that there is no need to attack the writer of this review just because you disagree with her opinion of the movie, but there is also no need to post comments using words you obviously believe will make you sound intelligent and refer to those peoples intelligence in a diminutive manner. They and perhaps even myself may sound like jackass but you two sound like assholes.Report

      • amywinns says:

        EricHpachec I actually use all/any of those words in casual conversation when appropriate, as they are here. And somebody tells Eleanor to kill herself and ridiculously calls her an “unexperienced reviewer” but I’M the asshole? Yeah, OK.Report

        • EricHpachec says:

          The only reason you are using those words in a thread arguing about the value of a movie about superman is because you want to make yourself sound more intelligent than the people attacking Eleanor, which as I said before only makes you sound like an asshole…it just makes you seem self righteous. To go back to the review, I think Eleanor could have written this review with about 15 words or less “I think the movie sucked, except for the last 3 minutes…what a tease” because everything else just seems like bashing for bashings sake.Report

  5. Adrianne Harmon says:

    Sometimes, when I watch films, I think “The filmmakers must know their audience is smarter than they’re acting”. I read reviews and see people agree with me. But then I read comments like the ones on this review and sigh, because the underestimating filmmakers were right, and they are why people will never take superhero movies seriously as an art-form (I think they deserve to be, but when a sizable chunk of your target audience are idiotic jackasses, it’s hard to expect much)Report

  6. Jackargus says:

    I thought the one thing that stunted your credibility was calling it, “the worst superman movie”.  I’m positive that you didn’t watch III & IV.  Sit through them now and its unwatchable.  In preparation of the Man of Steel, I watched the movies with my 8 & 9 year old sons.  Read the rotten tomatoes reviews, ratings and even the wiki synopsis.  Maybe a bit of research beforehand would limit the hyperbole.Report

  7. darkan says:

    thats funny because my 3 brothers went to see it and they all came out disappointed! one of which has read all the original books comics etc etc. He agreed, in fact he gave it a 1 out of 10 i gave it a five out of 10. They should scrap this rubbish and stop all the cgi this crap is just matrix revolutions and star wars! emotional and powerful give me a break! there was NO ACTING and as for the suit?? and superman looking like he was fit to burst like the hulk or wolverine what a joke! and as for lois lame i felt sorry for her watch the fighter or night of the museum 2 at least shes allowed to say 2 words. And yes i would rather sit through superman 3 or 4 maybe not batman and robin though! come on be honest this movie is for kids only brain dead adults could give this steaming pile of crap more than a 5. superman and superman 2 wiped the floor with it (richard donner cut). yes they have tried to go in a different direction but dont serve up this spoon fed cgi shite for CHILDREN. I can see this getting rebooted again this time allowing actors to act with a great plot and the correct casting and most of all a GOOD DIRECTOR who is worthy of this great story. and what was with the suit on zod? i think hes been playing mass effect on the xbox 360! i went in expecting this to be great finally the superman we deserve i thought! the movie ends and all you hear is people leaning over others saying what you you think?? response CRAP SHIT RUBBISH. I would advise anyone who wants to see this and has seen superman and superman 2 DONT BOTHER YOU WILL HATE IT. nolan should of been handed this on his own just look at batman christian bale liam neelson morgan freeman thats how you cast a movie. I wish superman would sucker punch this shite director.Report

    • platinum_476 says:

      You want to complain about the CGI being shit in man of steel, then go back to watching Christopher Reeve’s version. I’m also a DC fan and read the Superman origin comic books, so I already have an insight of what the story is all about. So why the hell I must complain about the little things you guys take too serious. The only flaw this film had was the story, if the script improved better for the characters then it wouldn’t get much negative criticism it’s getting now. But overall it was enjoyable to watch, the actors did their part in portraying the characters and done a very good job. The action scenes fit perfectly as a Superman film because that’s how it is being depicted from the Superman comics. How do you expect them to do all that massive destruction, extreme fighting, and scenes from outer space without using the CGI since you think it was crap? Without the CGI it would’ve been crap, so for you to make that excuse up is even more idiotic. And this film shouldn’t be even compared to the Christopher Reeve’s Superman because those are outdated and timeless.Report

  8. torenceanderson says:

    I thought the movie despite the long drawn krypton I thought it was pretty decent they went to much upon the beginning then getting to the  grit and grim of what is superman. I also expected to see the fortress of solitude but instead got a ship. so the viewing approach wasn’t all there but I quite enjoyed it a lot better then the mess of work done to supermans image in superman returns which seemed quite stalkerish and by far one if the smallest supermans ive seen in a very long time whom looked as if he could hold lois lane up even as clark kent let alone superman not to mention the horrible acting of lex luther. this movie left it open to the next superman by laying so much though to much of the ground work. I will watch the second despite the appearance of ben Affleck as batman im curious to see where this goes next and though this has a lot of negative nagging about how horrible the movie was im sure quite a few will be doing the same. I personally thought this film gave superman back to his fans after the mockery of superman return and if this offend someone who loved that movie watch it again then watch man of steel though it was a totally different approach I consider is a success at least this film wouldn’t make me instantly eject and destroy the dvd and dvd player id watch it again.Report

  9. Rick says:

    Agreed.. Man of Steel was horrible.  No story, bland colors, constant knocking someone into tomorrow, and total nonsense.  Being a fan of the comic, the Reeve series and even the old TV series, I found this movie to be a total waste of time and money.Report


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