My favorite superhero of all time is the Man of Steel. It began, like it does for most, as a kid who saw the Christopher Reeve version, and immediately began strapping a towel on my back and leaping from my couch.
The character has its greatest impact on children, of course, but as an adult the sentiments I had about Superman then are still with me now, and I really thought the new movie captured the core of the character while bringing us some interesting new discoveries. Oh yeah, and the action is more awesome than ever before. I saw this movie twice, in both 2D and 3D. The latter was a bit unnecessary, but it did add a few moments of pop to what is already an epic experience.
Why This Movie Works
Because it’s nothing like any previous Superman movie. Pure and simple, that is the starting point for why Man of Steel works. Many of us were just looking for something new and improved, and we got that on its most primal level. I say primal, because it is an examination of the most import aspects of Superman’s character, while also giving the audience what some believe is the most important missing aspect of Superman Returns; the mind blowing action.
Snyder is making the most of the Kryptonian cryptodynamic. There is a lot of mayhem in this, and we wanted that; a Superman movie that does justice to the mass destruction that would occur if Kryptonians do battle in a major city. The super speed aspect is used very well, and when you see it for the first time it’s awesome; above and beyond any previous attempt to showcase it. Needless to say, the action is superb and the visuals are incredible in their scope.
The story is good, but not great. That said, they took risks with the tone of the character and some of them are exciting, but some are definitely debatable. We have a lot more information about Krypton this time, and I enjoyed the way they designed it. They could have spent more time there as far as I’m concerned. That is true of Clark’s back story with Ma and Pa Kent as well. These pieces of the story feel a bit rushed, but in a 2:23 hour movie that seems ridiculous. It’s because they are so good I wanted more.
Back to what I find most engaging about the man of Steel; his moral compass is strong, but with a lot of conflict, both within him and within us trying to understand all the wanton destruction that occurs due to his presence on Earth. Yes, this is not the Superman we are used to seeing, but I find the complexities of his choices, and their repercussions in terms of how humans will view him in this universe far more interesting than ever before.
The Man of Steel by Zack Snyder manages to capture his morality in a way that is not absolute, that is born from an internal struggle; Clark is tormented throughout his life because he is repressing a huge part of who he is. He doesn’t necessarily trust humans, and he is given many reasons not to. I like the fact that they made him an outsider, and that he wanders the country hiding his identity. He takes time to develop his sense of morality; he doesn’t just have it on display at all times. Ma and Pa Kent are well played in this, and we can see why he develops into the man he does; with all of his newly structured human flaws.
Kevin Costner and Diane Lane work very well as Ma and Pa Kent. I have to admit when I first heard Kevin Costner was going to play Pa Kent I gasped at how bad a decision I thought that was, and now I am eating my words. Much like John Ford on Superman the Movie, Costner evokes a stoic wisdom. Diane conveys a touching emotional connection to Clark that helps us realize why planet Earth becomes so important to him. The emotional landscape is definitely present, and on a very mature level which grounds it nicely.
I’ve read the complaints about the utter destruction and seeming lack of concern by Superman about the death toll that would be racking up amidst the devastation, and I do have a response to that. I’ve read that the people of Earth could never trust this Superman, that he is so careless about the destruction he must be looked at with disdain by the families that have suffered losses, and there is some truth to that, but it only serves to make the conflicts surrounding this formerly boring and too perfect superhero all the more compelling.
There is also what is referred to as “The Debate”, which calls into question the ending of the movie. This one I will touch up last.
This argument is made as if this Superman is callously unconcerned with something the canonical Man of Steel would most certainly prevent from happening. I’m going to call B**L$**T. There are one or two times when he wantonly careens through buildings or farm silos, but these are in moments when he is obviously emotionally and physically overwhelmed.
There are a lot of places within the epic Kryptonian battles where Superman is being thrown and bashed through buildings. The Army is also engaging in these battles as well, so there is a lot of mayhem and destruction, all while he is struggling to keep up. The visuals and action sequences are phenomenal. Much of the massive destruction comes from the Kryptonian world engine, and not from Superman, and he gets beat down during the course of all this, so let’s cut him a break, huh?
Once again this hits at the core of this pervasive criticism; that he is too perfect. In Man of Steel, he is far from it; he gets overwhelmed, is unsure of himself, and is in the early stages of mastering his abilities, so he gets it pretty good from his aggressors. These are distinct elements of awesomeness in this movie. Now let’s get to “The Debate.”
Zod is Dead
Many critics seem to be losing their minds over the fact that Superman snaps Zod’s neck at the end of their battle. I don’t agree with their take on this, but I can see the problems they have with it. The naysayers on this aspect cannot accept that Superman would do something like that; that he would not have such a barbaric end to a battle, even with the likes of Zod.
While it is a jarring and a bit shocking to see Superman kill in such a way, let’s remember that in Superman II, Christopher Reeve’s Superman also killed Zod. The major difference between the two endings is that Superman II was a much more comic book version and the way Zod was killed in that one was less graphic and more fun to see. What we are looking at in Man of Steel is not only a more modern and somewhat realistic look, but also a much more immediate reaction to protect the innocent family that was about to get fried. So I’m not really sure how this ruined Superman.
I’m not saying everything is perfect, and I’m going to get a little nit-picky myself. So now let me get to what does not work for me in Man of Steel.
Where it Goes Wrong
I didn’t find many things I didn’t like about Zack Snyder’s vision and execution in Man of Steel, but there are some inconsistencies that I thought just didn’t jive with the whole notion of realism and keeping it relatable I kept hearing he and cast talk about in the build-up to the release.
Let me start with the most glaring piece; the effect the world machine had on the ground. If you have this gravity field altering device lifting cars 200 feet in the air and then slamming them to the ground, you can’t have the people running by them untouched by the force. This was a tad ridiculous.
The first time I saw it I thought the pacing was a bit rushed, and I addressed this earlier, but it was a problem. The second time I caught more of the nuanced moments and it helped, but overall the pacing was still a bit off with the sections of the narrative they chose to focus their time on. Which brings me to what they did focus a considerable amount of time on, the destruction and battle sequences.
Of course we want there to be epic battles, of course we do, but I felt that the battle sequences were heavy handed, and I could have used a lot more of the emotional family connections to build more of a heart to the film. After all, that is what made me love Superman as a kid. The heart of the story was well developed under Dick Donner.
Finally, the end of the movie when we finally see Clark Kent walk in the door of the Daily Planet and get introduced to the staff was, how shall I say this, unfathomably stupid in its execution. We go from Smallville and Metropolis being almost wiped off the map to a busting newsroom where the bald guy is hitting on Louis Lane with court side seats to the game. It’s tongue-in-cheek in a way that completely dismissed everything that just occurred in the previous hour of the film. I realize you have to end on an up note, to lift the audience out of the peril that preceded it, but come on. Tonally it was so off that it seemed corny. The one saving grace was Henry Cavill’s crooked glasses and goofy smile; they showed that his daily Planet Clark will be something to see next time out.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Throughout the 75 year history of Superman it has always been inherently understood that he is the beacon for goodness; truth, justice, and a short while after he was initially created the American way. It was always just accepted that that’s the way it is. He was raised in Middle America by farmers, so of course he had those iconic American values. Since Marvel has come on the cinematic superhero scene they have introduced compelling characterizations for many of their franchises, and DC Comics has been left with the lingering nostalgia of the 1970’s and 1980’s Superman, and the Internet propaganda that he is uninteresting. NOT. ANY. MORE.
This movie has opened up a vastly new universe for Superman and DC Comics as a whole, and I am once again totally sucked in to what they have created. They have already green lit a sequel, and the questions about how they will reconcile the future of the Man of Steel are swarming. I believe this franchise will surprise and shock us again, and I look forward to all of the contention and conflict they introduce to this character.
About the author: Scott Humphrey is a freelance writer and blog manager for Biowars.com, a new digital comic book launching this summer. When he is scouring the internet for comic book and superhero material, he is intently focused on being awesome.