Saturday, June 22, 2013

Superman versus Man of Steel: A Movie Comparison

I saw Man of Steel a week ago yesterday in IMAX 3D at 0930 at the high cost of 50 cents after applying my 12 dollar General Mills movie certificate.  It basically cost me nothing but time.  And I was reasonably well rested the night before, so there was nothing to impede my enjoyment.  My children have come to expect some rather lackluster reviews whenever I come home from the latest blockbuster, so, this time I really wanted to say something more than just “It was okay” while shrugging my shoulders.  Instead I said, “It had some wonderful moments” and “It was really long”.  Jim declared this week that it was the best Superman movie of all time.  Now having once (regrettably) proclaimed the merits of (the now miserable) Superman Returns, I understand the sway a new film can have on you the first time around.  So, in an effort to give Jim (and anyone else) perspective on why Superman: The Movie is superior to any and all others, I offer up the following comparison.  Note there will be Man of Steel SPOILERS.

The abbreviated picture (wouldn’t fit on the scanner) this week is from the 1978 Collector’s Album of Superman: The Movie.  It is 64 pages of awesomeness, lovingly preserved with scotch tape from my childhood. There are wonderful pictures inside, but the coolest aspect is the comic book insets and how they were interpreted in the film.  Now the biggest visual change was the cold, frosty white version of Krypton and the flamboyant hairpieces of Lex Luthor.  Other than that, it’s so faithful to the original material – the fact that the source was still steeped in some of the lunacy of the Silver and Bronze Age (must explain Superman III) it’s remarkable that the movie was so “grounded” (pun intended).  Being a more of a Marvel fan at the time (and NOW!), I think it was better than any of the comics at the time.

Sure Man of Steel has its comic book (not comic – the film really lacks humor) elements, but it also borrows heavily from Superman: The Movie and Superman II.  Some of the dialogue is identical.  The origin story is pretty solid and open to slight interpretations, but the introduction of Zod and his cohorts as well as Superman’s relationship with Lois and the world marks the key differences.

Superman: The Movie is essentially two separate films that “go great together”.  The first part is the majestic coming of age origin story with great cinematography and a sweeping score.  The Krypton sequences are brief but poignant, the time with the Kents is heartfelt, and Clark’s isolation is well established and relatable.  I may not know what it’s like to feel alone because of super powers, but I can identify with not being a part of the popular crowd.  The transition between the two parts occurs inside the Fortress of Solitude, where Clark spends 18 years learning from his holographic father.  It culminates with him in costume ready to engage the world.  The last part introduces the status quo, his Daily Planet supporting cast and the villainous Lex Luthor.  Again the music by John Williams is perfect and compliments the spectacular special effects wonderfully.  Superman’s debut in Metropolis is dramatic and funny.  “Hey dude!  That’s a bad OUT-fit!”  He catches crooks and rescues kittens from trees.  While the choice of Margot Kidder as Lois Lane remains debatable for all time, I still like the chemistry between her and Christopher Reeves.  You can see why he’s interested in her, despite her hard exterior, which makes his grief when she dies all the more believable.  Can Superman really turn back the hands of time that way?  Probably not – but it still worked in the context of the movie.

Superman II is a favorite of mine as well.  I’ve only seen the Richard Donner cut once, so I don’t recall all the changes that should not have been, but I still like the original.  The set-up of Zod in the first film is a great lead-in (after the awesome Eiffel Tower rescue) to this sequel.  I loved the whole bit of Lois discovering who Clark really was too.  He takes some time to be selfish (to give up his powers for her) and it costs him dearly.  It’s good to see the hero torn down and then rise up again.  The super memory-wiping kiss may have been a bit much (and a little creepy if he ever wanted to do it again and again), but overall it was incredible to see him really cut loose with someone on the same power level.  The fact that it was three against one was even better.

The music for Man of Steel is nowhere near as powerful.  I can’t even recall what it sounded like.  The choice of a slight handy-cam feel for the cinematography was annoying – almost like a home movie.  That was obviously intentional, but I don’t see any reason for it or benefit from it.

The Krypton sequences were much too long.  It was also very different from anything I was used to before. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but seeing Jor-El riding a “dragon” was over-the-top.  I mean if you want to film a fantasy space epic than make a prequel or something.  It was also less effective to keep some of the important details as to why things were happening, a mystery for much of the movie.  Sure Clark didn’t know what was going on yet, but it made the film disjointed.  I did like that Zod was genetically programmed to be the protector of Krypton and his response to that purpose being obliterated was intense. This of course led up to Superman killing Zod, which I was uncomfortable with too, although Clark’s reaction to the necessary execution helped legitimize it. 

I didn’t care for the whole “the world fears and hates you” theme either.  Maybe that’s more realistic, and the people do rally around him by the end, but it just supported introducing Zod now rather than later.  It was almost like him fighting Doomsday first – once you stop that kind of power, how can Luthor’s schemes measure up?  This also accelerated his relationship with Lois.  I like the actress that played Lois (loved her in The Muppets), but having her already know who he is before he begins to work at the Daily Planet is really throwing away a lot of story potential.  I guess some feel the whole secret ID thing is passé nowadays, but just watch the first season or two of Lois and Clark to see how it can be done correctly.  This also made the Kents come off as less than honorable.  I thought the scene where Jonathan gets taken up by the tornado was very moving, if not pointless and unnecessary.  I didn’t like that he was advising Clark not to help people either.  My favorite image though was of Clark wearing a Kansas City Royals sweatshirt (since they’re my baseball team).

The interspersion of the Kansas backstory throughout the film helped keep it from feeling like two separate films and that was fine.  I thought the introduction of his uniform by programmed Jor-El was somewhat silly.  “Oh look here is your costume.”  The special effects were fantastic and we certainly saw Superman do things that we’ve NEVER seen on film before and that was VERY cool. However, the fight scenes were too drawn out (what happened to super speed).  G.I.Joe: Retaliation was a horrible movie that I slept through, but this movie is the first one in a while that I actually was eager for it to END! Someone needed to do some more editing.

I liked the guy who played Superman (sorry I’m not going to Google his name right now); especially when he smiled (only took an hour for that to happen).  He had a great presence like Reeves did. He’ll make an even better Superman next time when he actually gets to be a super hero and not just the hated alien.  The final scene of him joining the Daily Planet was both rewarding and aggravating.  It seemed like it belonged to an earlier script or something.  I wanted to see that movie more than the one I saw.  The “Welcome to the Planet” line would still have worked without Lois knowing who he was.  I’m surprised the Daily Planet was still standing after all the carnage in the streets.  It felt like it was shoe-horned in just to recreate the status quo after virtually NO build-up or rather anti-build up to reach that point.  The spy drone bit was another good, but didn’t quite fit scene.
Not a bad version of the costume, but the 1978 one is PERFECT!
I plan to see it again tomorrow (yesterday your time) and maybe I’ll appreciate some of the broader themes now that I know what to expect.  It’s really taken me two times for all the big movies this summer (Iron Man 3 and Star Trek into Darkness) to fully appreciate them.  Now if I can only sit through it again for that long.

It was MUCH better in 2D (digital)!  It's a great movie, but I still prefer the older one better.  The final two scenes (drone & planet) do not work well immediately following Zod's death.  The music by the great Reasonable Doubts composer (Hans Zimmer) was better than I remembered.  It goes well with the "hope" expectation -- you don't quite get there, but you're striving to make it.  Definitely one of the better comic book films.  Still longish and I blinked out at a few of the fight scenes.  I wish the current comic book Superman was this relatable.

NEXT WEEK – my last post before going on Summer Vacation (and most likely following Jim’s “retired” when-you-feel-like-it, non-deadline schedule as well when I return).

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