THE AUTHOR

Ian Casselberry is a freelance writer, currently based in Asheville, NC. He is an editor at The Comeback and Awful Announcing

Previously, he has been a contributing writer for Yahoo! Sports' Big League Stew, MLive.com and SB Nation. In addition, he was a lead baseball writer for Bleacher Report. 

You can also find him on Twitter and Facebook, where he craves your attention.

He still plans to write that novel someday. 

("Pearls Before Swine" © 2005 Stephan Pastis)
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Entries in Man of Steel (5)

Monday
Nov182013

Defending 'Man of Steel' and its new version of Superman

As anyone who knows or follows me might expect, I had plenty to say about Man of Steel when it hit theaters back in June. (Hell, I had plenty to say in the years and months before the movie came out. Reading movie blogs and news sites is one of my favorite hobbies.) 

I wrote a review of the film, but always wanted to write a follow-up or complimentary post responding to so many of the criticisms that were leveled at this new Superman movie. As the weeks and months passed by, however, I thought I'd let it go and maybe revisit that idea when Man of Steel came out on video. 

With the DVD and Blu-ray release last week, I had my chance. Even better, I arguably had a bigger outlet now that I'm writing for The AP Party, Bloguin's pop culture site. So here we are again with this movie. 

I get that people have an idea of what Superman is supposed to be: Truth, justice, the American way and all that. But is that concept so preserved in amber that newer interpretations aren't allowed? Why can Batman go from campy 60's pop icon to the surly Dark Knight of the 2000's, and both portrayals of the character are seen as acceptable? Maybe it's because Batman is just a better character. But I don't buy it. 

You can read the full article here. 

I acknowledge the flaws in Man of Steel. It is hardly a perfect movie and I think director Zack Snyder and screenwriter David Goyer could have taken some simple steps to avoid some of the criticisms directed their way. But that's also presuming they thought they were doing something wrong. Superman was a character in need of a modernization, and this film did it. Somewhere along the way, however, it became fashionable to shit on the movie for what it wasn't. 

Thursday
Jun202013

Movie review: Man of Steel 

Typically, my biggest fear with a movie like Man of Steel is that I've anticipated it so much and for so long that I'm bound to set myself up for disappointment. 

But the newest Superman movie definitely lives up to expectations. All the cool visual spectacles weren't used in the trailers. (Although maybe most of the good emotional scenes were already shown.) There are certainly some surprises. If there's one thing director Zack Snyder can do, it's create some memorable, beautiful shots. 

Yet I don't think the story flowed as smoothly as it could have. It wasn't because of frequent flashbacks and bouncing from the present to the past. But it felt like Snyder and screenwriter David Goyer just wanted to bull through the origin story so we could get to Superman (Henry Cavill) flying and trading punches with equally superpowered villains. 

However, I liked the choice not to tell a straightforward story and cover familiar territory. 

We know Clark Kent left Smallville for Metropolis and eventually became Superman. But what happened in between the small town and the big city? Like Batman Begins, this is the story that largely hasn't been told.

Read More >>

What may be most surprising is that Man of Steel is a science fiction tale more than a superhero fable. But how can it not be when you're telling a story about an alien? The beginning of the film that takes place on Superman's home planet of Krypton is not a prologue. It's a significant part of the story because it fuels so much of what comes afterwards.

Though a Superman movie obviously can't be realistic, he can be made to seem plausible. The Krypton part of the story is meant to explain why Superman wears his costume. The "S" on the suit's chest is supposed to be a symbol of hope. Superman's natural father, Jor-El (Russell Crowe), envisions his son being an inspirational figure for the people of Earth.

But depicting an otherworldly culture doesn't just demonstrate that Superman is an alien. It informs the worldview of the movie's villain, General Zod (Michael Shannon), making him more than a mustache-twisting megalomaniac. This is a man who's lost his home, his way of life, and wants to recreate it on Earth. 

Zod doesn't just challenge Superman physically, resulting in the best superhero fights we've ever seen on screen. (No one is ever again going to complain, as with Superman Returns, that Superman doesn't throw a punch.) But he also challenges the hero's values, leading to a painful decision later in the movie.

The choice Superman makes is impossible to fully discuss without giving away a major spoiler in the story. But it's a shocking moment because it's so unlike what we believe this character — the big blue boy scout — would do.

Superman is always supposed to do the right thing. This violated his moral code, the pledge he presumably took when deciding to use his abilities for good and set an example for the world to follow. 

Was it out of character? The reflexive impulse is to say yes. Yet I enjoyed the willingness of Snyder and Goyer (along with producer Christopher Nolan) to try something daring. So many people say what Superman is supposed to stand for, yet also lament that the character is boring. He's too powerful. He's too good. There's nothing bold or edgy about him. 

My friend Joe Lunday believes that the challenge of superhero storytelling is telling new stories within the framework and mythology that already exists. Generally, I agree with that. But Snyder and Goyer are trying to create a new framework, a new mythology. What is out of character if that character hasn't been fully formed yet? 

Did the filmmakers go too far in trying to establish that this isn't the Superman you know? Maybe. At times, I thought this was a surprisingly cynical movie. 

Superman's adopted father, Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner), doesn't believe that people will embrace an alien being with extraterrestrial abilities. They will fear what they don't understand. They won't trust something more powerful. And thus, people can't really be trusted.

For most of the movie, the people that Clark encounters prove Jonathan right. They pick on Clark for being different, for turning the other cheek rather than engage. Do we even deserve a hero like Superman? At times, it felt like that was the question the movie was asking. 

When Clark finally meets an apparition of Jor-El, and Superman's absentee father tells him why he was sent to Earth and what purpose he needs to serve, I almost expected our hero to say, "But Dad, these people are the worst."

This cynicism is pushed to extremes throughout the story. As shown in the first full trailer, Jonathan admonishes Clark for lifting a school bus out of the water and saving his classmates, putting himself at risk of revealing his secret. When Clark asks if he was supposed to let those people die, his father replies, "Maybe." 

It's a rather jolting stance for the character that has always influenced Superman's moral view.

While that seemed like a refreshing change to the Superman origin, this philosophy gets taken even further later in the film. One of the more important moments in the story occurs when Jonathan refuses to yield at a great personal cost. It felt like an attempt to burden Clark with a Spider-Man type of pathos. If you don't act, bad things will happen. 

It's difficult to imagine that Clark wouldn't have taken action in this scenario, and it's one of at least two crucial character choices that have outraged hardcore Superman fans — and apparently film critics as well. 

But I'm going to argue that if Snyder and Goyer walked down the same path that so many other comic book, novel and screen writers have already traveled, Man of Steel would've been heavily criticized for that too.

Haven't we already seen this story? Tell something new! This is why Superman is boring!

Well, we got something new and I admired the effort. Besides, who's to say that this version of Superman won't eventually become something closer to what we're accustomed to? Maybe the choices that he's faced with and the decisions that he makes in this story end up forming the morality that we associate with the character. 

What about the amount of carnage and destruction leveled on Smallville and Metropolis during the superpowered battles between Superman and his opponents?

I can't say that it didn't bother me at least a little bit. Nearly 20 years ago, I was troubled by the amount of destruction seen in Superman: The Animated Series, in which Superman would punch villains through buildings and demolish them, yet not seem terribly concerned about people getting hurt. 

But maybe this also helps build Superman's belief system. He sees the damage that occurs when his powers are fully unleashed. This is a story point that could be used in future movies. Imagine Lex Luthor using Metropolis' destruction to turn public favor against Superman and create the fear and paranoia that Jonathan Kent dreaded. 

However, we can only speculate about what might be. The movie at hand is what has to be judged. Man of Steel should stand on its own. Maybe it ultimately doesn't because it's clearly the beginning of Superman's story. This Clark Kent didn't know who he was, nor what he had to do. He was burdened with self-doubt. 

I think a foundation had to be built, a modern take on the character had to be established. Though a phrase like this tends to make my eyes roll, this really is a redefining of an icon for a new audience. This Superman is more fallible, he's more human. He's not the embodiment of an ideal. At least not yet. 

Now that Snyder and Goyer are freed from that responsibility, the next Superman movie these guys make will be the best one we've ever seen.

Friday
Jun142013

Who else would inspire a kid to wear a red cape?

I haven't seen Man of Steel yet, though I certainly hope to be on my way to the cineplex shortly after publishing this. 

The negative reviews have been somewhat surprising, especially because some critics really seem to dislike the movie. But until I see it, I don't have a response. (Some of those negative reviews have spoilers too, which I'm trying to avoid.) 

For now, however, I'd like to ponder one of the images previously released. It's seen in the first teaser trailer as well. A boy who's presumably a pre-adolescent Clark Kent runs around with a red cloth fastened to his shoulders — like a cape.

It's a poignant image, certainly one meant to invoke thoughts of Superman.

But here's my question: What would've inspired this kid to wear a red cape if there wasn't a Superman in the world yet?

Anyone who drapes a red cape around his or her shoulders is inspired by Superman, right? Who else in myth or pop culture was wearing a red cape when Clark Kent was a kid? Flash Gordon, maybe? Am I not thinking of some other hero?

Maybe the idea is that young Clark already had such grand ambitions in mind, knowing that he was different. Or perhaps a latent memory of people wearing such capes on Krypton is somewhere in his consciousness.

Maybe that's not Clark Kent, but a kid inspired by Superman once he makes his appearance in the world. 

Or maybe I'm just overthinking this, which could absolutely be the case.  

Sunday
Jun022013

Zack Snyder wearing a Michigan t-shirt: Go Blue on Krypton?

I couldn't help but notice Zack Snyder's shirt in this photo from the set of Man of Steel. Was that a gift from Russell Crowe, who struck up a friendship with Michigan head football coach Lloyd Carr?

As the story goes, Carr used one of Crowe's films — Cinderella Man — as a motivational tool for the team. Crowe heard about this and contacted Carr. Carr was subsequently invited by Crowe to Australia to check out the actor's rugby team. And Crowe has appeared on the sideline during Michigan football games. 

Or is Snyder a Michigan football fan? Wikipedia says he was born in Wisconsin and raised in Connecticut. Could the Wolverines be the official college football team of the planet Krypton. Kal-El, who was raised as Clark Kent, probably grew up a University of Kansas fan. 

Wednesday
Apr172013

Three minutes of awesome: 'Man of Steel' trailer

Go figure that I'd go crazy over a new trailer for Man of Steel, the latest Superman movie.

With Christopher Nolan and David Goyer involved, this figured to be a good one. I know many people have questions about Zack Snyder as director, but Watchmen and Sucker Punch look incredible, regardless of what you think about their stories. 

But it's probably the perfect mix. Nolan had the clout to get this movie made, based on the success of his Batman films. Yet Superman can't be bogged down in attempts at realism as the Dark Knight movies were, simply because we're talking about a man from another planet who can fly and lift cars in the air.

That's where Goyer and Snyder come in. Goyer gets the whole superhero thing, wholly immersed in the DC and Marvel characters as he's written several scripts for movies (Ghost Rider, Flash, Green Arrow, Magneto) that were never produced. And Snyder can create the spectacle on screen. 

Based on this trailer, all of those talents came together nicely. 

This looks like the Superman movie that fans — comic book, fantasy, science fiction, summer blockbuster, etc. — have always wanted to see.

There's big, superheroic action. Superman is actually an active character, one that engages his opponents in battle. But there's also human drama, following the modern interpretation that Clark Kent is an alienated soul, someone who knew he didn't quite fit in but didn't know why. 

Perhaps most importantly, we get the two sides of Superman, based on his two different fathers. His birth father sends him to a world where he'll be a god-like figure, one that inspires people. His adopted father reminds him of the humanity instilled in his upbringing, regardless of where he came from. 

And thanks to Michael Shannon, Superman finally faces a menacing villain on screen. General Zod can actually inflict violence on Superman, rather than try to outwit him and rely on Kryptonite to even the playing field. 

 Man, this looks good. I hope the movie is as good as the trailer.