Before we do this, let me just say that the press screening I attended on June 12th 2013 was in 3D. You don’t really need the 3D to enjoy the action; it’s the standard 3D conversion that adds a false sense of depth to the screen. I would also like to thank Montreal’s own Carsleys Comics for the opportunity of seeing the film early.
Dues paid, on with the review.
How do you remake a legend? Really, that’s the question here, considering the huge impact of Richard Donner’s 1978 Superman film, a film that so completely got its main character and transferred him from the comic book pages to the silver screen.
How do you remake a legend? By doing the exact same thing Donner did, but for a modern audience. And that’s a loaded sentence if I ever wrote one. The same exact thing? Modern aundience? Doesn’t sound so good, but it is. Donner’s film was an ode to a legend created during the Great Depression, crafted in such a way that it could bring hope to a post-Vietnam/Watergate public.
Let me tell you a secret: We live in a world of terrorist attacks, surveillance drones and general fear. Yeah, we need a Superman film.
And we got one.
The movie opens on Krypton, and I think I can skip this right here since, well, my grandma knows what happened to Krypton.
We flash forward 33 years in the future and Clark Kent roams the Earth hiding in plain sight by taking on small jobs here and there. These are short gigs as the anonymous worker disappears every time someone is in need of a hero. I’ll come back to that.
Then follows the scene in which Clark learns of his Kryptonian origins.
Oh, and a villain shows up, but, overall, the story isn’t important. And that’s something I learned through the film’s editing. Scenes follow each other in a distinct chaotic order, sometimes without much transition. It might be a flaw, in fact it is one, but on the other hand, as I said earlier, my grandma knows Superman’s origin story and this is very much a ‘’We’re rebooting the series in the hopes of getting our own cinematic universe like Marvel’s, so we kinda have to do an origin story’’ sort of deal.
So what is the team of director Zack Snyder, producer Christopher Nolan and scriptwriter David S. Goyer doing until such time as we get a Man of Steel 2 or a Justice League movie? As I said earlier, they’re giving us the Superman movie we need right now, one that acts a shining beacon of hope in a distrusting world, and they’re doing so by doing what Donner did: Pulling different cinematic concepts together and applying them to Superman and his comic book world.The scenes on Krypton are very much influenced by The Lord of the Rings and H.R. Giger, the scenes in Smallville have the dream-like quality of Beast of the Southern Wild with a touch of indie drama, the action scenes are where we know we’re watching a 2013 big budget action film and I dare say the final fight between Superman and General Zod gives the last battle in The Avengers a run for its money and the rest of the film has a distinct feeling of post-9/11 paranoia which reminded me a lot of 1951’s The Day the Earth Stood Still.
Despite all that, this is very much a comic book movie.
Krypton has always been represented as an alien world, Smallville will forever be an idyllic Norman Rockwell painting, comic book fights are even more Earth-shattering than before and real world anxieties creep more and more in what were once colorful and carefree universes of costumed heroes.
Hans Zimmer’s score is an opera and it’s very fitting of the movie, but John Williams’ theme is still what I’ll hear in my head whenever I think of Superman.
That’s all well and good, but what about the acting? Well, everyone does a great job bringing their respective characters to life, but I wonder if there is enough connection between those characters. The film jumps around so much that long exchanges between actors are hard to come by. None one is wooden though and the few times we do get two characters talking to each other, they are not talking at each other. I will tip my hat at Michael Shannon, General Zod, and Kevin Costner, Jonathan Kent, for being able to say a lot through facial expressions. Michael Shannon especially outclasses the feeling of dread that Terence Stamp brought to General Zod in a scene ripped straight out of your worst apocalyptic nightmares.
Speaking of General Zod, the movie plays a lot on the ideas of free will and destiny and the fact that he was engineered from birth as a warrior is important to his and Superman’s character.
See, Kal-El’s birth was unique as it was the first natural birth on Krypton in centuries. Jor-El felt Krypton’s artificial birthing process, programmed to feed its caste system, was wrong as it stunted its society’s potential. Superman is then born with complete free will over his destiny. This is important, because every time we see Clark Kent deciding to use his powers to help, it’s of his own free will.
I bring this up, because it is the indication that this movie gets Superman: Presented with all this power, he chooses to do good. He represents what we can aspire to be, what we really are beneath the grimy surface of fear, hatred and distrust. He’s not here to rule us, not here to take power. He’s here to guide us, to give us the power to accomplish wonders. This movie may not have the heart of the 1978 movie, but it is still a good adaptation that understands why the myth of the Last Son of Krypton has endured to this day.