After having seen Man of Steel early last week and mulling over the film with a few friends, I think it is safe to make the claim that it is a videogame movie. Sure, there are a ton of comic book-based movies – they are beginning to grow like weeds at this point – but Man of Steel feels different. With its overwhelming focus on over the top action, Man of Steel feels like an homage to the type of action sequences that make many popular video games so memorable.
Man of Steel is a mostly straightforward retelling of the Superman origin story. As one of the most well-known superheroes of all time, Superman’s absence in Hollywood was a real sore spot considering the successes of lesser known superheroes like Thor and Iron Man. Given the tepid reception of the last Superman movie, Superman Returns, which itself was a sort of sequel, it was about time we saw Superman’s origin again on the silver screen.
Still, Superman’s mythology and origin are well-known to most people, at least in bits and pieces. A point for point retelling would have been a potential snoozefest. Thankfully Man of Steel spares us the trouble by instead focusing on fleshing out a little more of Krypton’s backstory (which also introduces us to the movie’s villain, General Zod, early) and covers the rest of Superman’s origins in brief flashbacks. It works, but like Man of Steel’ overall attempt at story and plot, it feels a little flat.
Not unlike most video game stories, Man of Steel’s is a skeleton riddled with plot holes that does a great job of setting up some of the most amazing action sequences you have ever seen, but does little else. Given the movie’s length or the pedigree of its handlers, I may have expected something more. The Dark Knight Trilogy, despite its own plot holes, at least attempted to address some serious questions and themes. In contrast, Man of Steel’s only addresses the nature of Superman’s situation in the world, where he belongs, and vaguely attempts to explain how he became the man that he has become. It has no deeper or more insightful thing to say, but that can be somewhat excused by the fact that it is afterall a reboot of Superman’s film presence.
Beyond being a mildly okay reboot, Man of Steel does handle the individual parts of the narrative well. As more of a spectacle-first sort of summer blockbuster, the visuals and cinematography do an great job breathing life into an already well-established setting. Krypton feels like a dying alien world, Metropolis looks and feels like any other major American city, and Smallville helps relate you to Superman’s all-American upbringing. The characters and performances are solid and do a respectable job of introducing Superman’s supporting cast without dwelling on anyone for too long. Superman’s childhood friend back in Smallville, Pete Ross, is particularly well done without wasting your time.
Despite the stories lackluster nature, Man of Steel is still one of my favorite movies of the year, one of my favorite comic book movies ever, and one I wholeheartedly recommend for everyone to see. The simple fact is that Man of Steel features the best ever scenes of superhero action yet and does so with a reckless abandon. While I often do favor plot and substance over glitz and spectacle, Man of Steel’s action is a rare example where the execution is so beyond perfect that it can completely carry the rest of the film.
Taking more than a few pages from animated media like cartoons and videogames, Man of Steel’s action packs a ton of visceral and explosive punch into each action sequence. While most movies are content with martial arts and various types of gun-fu, Man of Steel feels like the sort of over the top action you’d experience in God of War or DC Comic’s own Injustice brought to life with real actors. The punches feel superhuman, cars and trains and buildings literally get tossed around, and it is by far some of the cleanest looking fight choreography I have seen yet. The movie doesn’t rely on motion blur to hide the movie’s inability to bring its source material to life. Instead, it slows it down just enough so you can see every punch, dodge, and grapple.
More than that, movies have finally advanced enough in technology and in style to give movies based on games a better fighting chance. The current trend of comic book movies now culminating in the fully realized action sequences of Man of Steel prove that we’ve got the technology and minds to bring something like a God of War or a Halo to life. As games have become more cinematic and more like movies, its fun to finally see movies become a little more like games.
Maybe that means that a real break out, successful videogame movie is right on the horizon. Until then, I’ll take more movies like Man of Steel which, despite some general shallowness, faithfully bring the detailed mythology of its source to life, and are a fucking fun thrill ride in doing so.
Go see it already.