BOOK REVIEW: Man of Steel by Greg Cox

Man of Steel: The Official Movie NovelizationMan of Steel: The Official Movie Novelization by Greg Cox

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Amazon page

This is the first novelization of a movie I’ve reviewed. In fact, I haven’t even seen the movie yet. However, from the trailers I can see a little of how the book describes the events of the movie. In the afterword the author, Greg Cox, indicated that he hadn’t yet seen the completed movie. (Not surprisingly, considering the desire to get the book out in time.) He presumably worked mostly from the screenplay, and perhaps some unedited scenes from the movie. At any rate, unlike a movie adaptation of a novel, one expects a novelization to be spot on with the movie’s story.

As I’ve said in other posts, it’s hard to do Superman really well. Stories are all about tension, and it’s hard to build tension if your hero is indestructible and has god-like powers. [The sequel is supposedly Batman v. Superman, and one has to wonder how this can be done well. Batman is formidable, but the Joker sometimes gets the best of him, and the Joker is no Superman.] At any rate, I think this rendition does a better job than most, and vastly better than the epicly-awful 2006 Superman Returns.

The story begins on a dying planet Krypton as a coup led by General Zod takes place. Both Jor-El (Superman’s father) and Zod believe the planet is dying, and that urgent steps need to be taken to save the Kryptonian race. However, they differ vastly on how to go about saving the race. Zod believes in saving certain blood lines, and Jor-El believes in a much more balanced and progressive approach.

When we are introduced to Clark Kent/Kal-El/Superman, he is a young man who is living a secret life. He engages in episodes of heroic derring-do, but has not yet donned the costume and is forced to move nomadically from one dead-end job to the next as his powers are revealed. There are also many flashbacks to cue us in to his troubles and dilemmas as a child.

Shortly after Kent realizes who he is and gets some Kryptonian backstory, Zod and his band of zealots shows up–newly escaped from the phantom zone. The climax and resolution of the movie involve Superman’s battles with Zod and the General’s fierce underlings–with a love interest subplot between Lois Lane and Superman.

What this story does right is to introduce a strong foe for Superman to battle. Not only does Zod have a numerical advantage, he is a life-long warrior and is thus more experienced. Zod’s second-in-command, Faora Hu-ul, is a worthy adversary in her own right. This is not Superman versus a green, glowing rock.

The challenge of this type of story (as with movies like The Avengers) is that, having set up an “immovable object meets irresistible force” scenario, it’s extremely hard to resolve the tension in a manner that is both logically and emotionally satisfying. While I have criticized movies for this, if the visuals are impressive enough it seems to work with viewers. It works because it creates enough emotional satisfaction for one to suspend concern about whether the resolution makes any sense based upon what is known from earlier in the story. It’s harder to reliably do this in writing. Therefore, you may find the ending a bit flat after an intriguing build up.

I doubt it’s worth reading the novelization and seeing the movie, except if one is interested in how one’s internal view of it matches with the movie (in which case one should avoid the trailers and read the novelization first.)

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For those who do want to view the trailer.

2013 Superhero Movies

2013 will be a big year for superhero flicks. There will be two films in The Avengers domain. The third Iron Man film will be out at the beginning of the summer and Thor: The Dark World is out at year-end. Given my preference for superheroes that don’t wear tights as outer garments, I have to say that Iron Man 3 is shaping up to be my favorite. The Wolverine is also unlikely be in tights in this personification, but I’ll go into that one with low expectations. (Don’t disappoint me again, X-men. Actually, I liked First Class, but the others were making me consider a life of  super-villainy.) I’m not big on gods as heroes, but that’s just me.

I am serious about having high hopes for Iron Man 3. The trailer suggests they are putting Stark in his darkest hour. Hopefully, they won’t entirely lose the trademark humor of the franchise. Having said that, I think some enhanced tension could be good. I don’t know why they couldn’t find a Chinese guy to play Mandarin, but it’s a good arch-villain and will be mirrored by some brawn. (I’m not down on Ben Kingsley. I loved him in Ghandi. I just think we should have left casting Caucasians for non-Caucasian parts with 1950’s Westerns.)

I recently did a post on the Man of Steel. As I suggested, I like my superheroes more flawed and vincible (it’s  a word, and it doesn’t mean capable of being turned into a Vince.) It sounds like they’ve made efforts to build tension, but in the trailer we pretty much see that as superman v. man conflict (which doesn’t sound like a thrill-ride.)  I’m leaving room to be pleasantly surprised.

The most tight-lipped franchise is that of Kickass 2. I don’t know if that should be taken ominously or not. They may have been so surprised by response to the first that they don’t want to jinx things.

Iron Man 3 (May 3)

Man of Steel (June 14)

Kickass 2 (June 28)

The Wolverine (July 26)
(This is not a trailer, but it’s a summation of movie’s development that is humorous in places.)

Thor: The Dark World (Nov 8)
Also not a trailer

Will “Man of Steel” Turn the Tide on Superman Movies?

I hold contrary views to the character Bill, played by the late David Carradine, in the Kill Bill movies. Bill said that Superman was his absolute favorite superhero. The Man of Steel is among my least favorite superheroes. From a writer’s point of view, it’s hard to write an edge-of-the-seat Superman tale because readers have to feel the protagonist is in peril at every turn. That’s a tough sell if your hero is all-powerful and invulnerable. Superman writers learned this quickly, and they responded by creating a rock that could weaken or kill their character by its mere presence. In books and movies, the bad guy should be stronger and smarter than the hero. Lex Luthor is a devious fiend, but he’s no match for Superman in any domain but wickedness.

There’s a lot of talk about this year’s Superman movie, entitled Man of Steel, being darker and grittier with the implication that it’ll be more interesting than past Superman movies. The involvement of Christopher Nolan, who is most famous for the outstanding Dark Knight movie trilogy, makes many optimistic. It may be that they can tap into some of the Dark Knight narrative power. However, it’s easier to have gripping Batman tale. Batman is only human, with no superpowers, and he is inherently a loner (or in some cases a dynamic duo.) Batman may be smart, but he’s not the smartest. He may be strong, but he’s not the strongest. This makes it relatively easy to write him into perilous situations in which he is outmatched.

I have high hopes for Man of Steel, but I’m skeptical.