It’s hard to admit when you’re wrong, but there are times when we must admit our faults and promise to remedy them in the future.
Thus, I have a confession to make.
I admit that I, in my unwillingness to be disappointed, intentionally pulled the wool over my eyes and stuck in firmly in my ears to drown out the voices of reason.
Man of Steel is not that great a movie.
But I wanted it to be. You may remember me saying something similar when I talked about DC, but that first ad for the movie was amazing. At the time, I had just rediscovered my love of all things Superman and was looking forward to his big comeback on the silver screen. Now I would be able to tell people that Superman wasn’t lame. He had the coolest powers, the coolest costume, he was the superhero everyone wished they could be.
When I saw the movie that first time with friends, it was great in the theater. I had a ton of fun. There was action where I wanted there to be, and everything felt appropriately epic.
At least, at the time.
But now, anytime I see the movie, I imagine what could have been. Man of Steel is bad, no matter how I try and see it, and now I have a hard time shutting my brain off enough to enjoy it. A long time ago, I had planned on writing a defense of the movie, an argument so convincing that everyone would suddenly see that the movie wasn’t the let down they saw it as. I still agree with some of those things, I don’t think every decision in the movie was a bad one. I would like to address those few things now, in a little less detail since it’s not really worth defending, before we move on to the more important point.
Just bare with me for one second here…
Superman in the City
“Superman just lets a bunch of people die in Metropolis and pretty much half the city is leveled. What the Hell? I thought he was supposed to stop things like that from happening?”
Fair point. Superman is supposed to protect Metropolis, not help destroy it. There were a few things that could have been changed: he fights Zod on the moon, he takes Zod literally anywhere else, he at least tries to help save from people rather than just fighting Zod. All of those are fair to point out.
I would submit, however, that this is only his second real confrontation as Superman. He hasn’t really even saved anyone yet other than Lois on a few small occasions, like when she’s falling from the ship. Not really a big deal for him. Then there’s the fight in Smallville, which is still pretty destructive, but he’s up against two other Kryptonians, so I feel like he was doing the best he could.
Same thing can be said for Zod. In the canon of the movie, Zod is a soldier. Clark really isn’t, he wasn’t bred like the other people from his planet were. He could be anything, he has no programming or anything to help him. So, as a new superhero, he’s kind of winging it. Maybe that isn’t good enough for people, but I propose that he’s kind of figuring things out in this fight. And Zod isn’t holding anything back, he’s trying to kill people, and he’s just as strong, if not stronger. You don’t have to cut him slack, but he’s trying his very best out there. Plus, if he fights him on the moon, that’s not going to make a great fight scene without sound in space. They’re trying to be realistic here, remember?
Another thought is that Avengers does nearly the same thing. And what’s more, it’s to a city that we know, one that’s already had some pretty serious destruction before. But everyone is cool with that?
Some people said they didn’t really like that aspect of the movie, but less people than in Man of Steel. Captain America looks concerned for people, and it shows him saving people and instructing others to do the same, so maybe it’s not as bad since they made a point to show them trying to help the people rather than just fighting the monsters. But I think the other part is that Superman has a harder time impressing people. Since he’s stronger, he has to be responsible for more. It comes from people not really liking his character these days, and I think some of that is unfair. I admit that destroying the city was a bad call, but I would keep that thought in the back of your mind before you construct a criticism. This is an origin, the man is learning the ropes, tragically so
To Kill or Not to Kill
“Superman isn’t supposed to kill people.”
That’s the other one that gets toted around. Superman shouldn’t have killed Zod at the end, that’s not what the character is supposed to do, right?
What that actually means is, MY Superman doesn’t kill people, it ruins the character for ME. Superman has made that promise in the past not to kill people, but always with the caveat of, unless he has to.
Unless he has to.
And in the New 52 or comics since the Silver Age, he’s never really made that promise again. People just assume that he doesn’t kill people because Batman has the same promise, and usually Superman can figure out ways to solve problems without any casualties.
But in the context of this movie, I don’t think that’s the case.
Zod’s on the same level as Clark, probably even stronger than he is, as we said before. And he has no intention of stopping until the world is destroyed, and Clark with it. With the same powers as Clark and a drive to kill, something has to give. Max Landis said something to the effect of Superman is an adult in a room full of children. When another adult comes in and says he plans on killing everyone in the room, it’s Superman’s responsibility to do something about it. Because he’s Superman, he has to make the tough decisions, he has to be the one to make the call. It would be nice if he didn’t have to kill, but sometimes, there really isn’t another alternative. Ask anyone in the Police or the Military. Sometimes, force is needed for the sake of the greater good.
Plus, it’s not like the killing is something he enjoys. He looks pretty beaten up about it afterward, what with all the screaming. Say what you want about the movie, but that scene is not something that really bothers me about the film.
The Soul of Superman
That’s not to say the movie isn’t still bad. I might think the criticism is harsh on a few places, but the rest of the movie is still lacking something. It took a lot of soul searching and a few more times watching the movie, but I think I’ve finally figured it out.
There’s just no soul.
But holy shit is it epic! Everything feels mythical and Superman is coming into his own and he’s ascending to become the hero we know him to be. But no matter how epic it is, there just feels like there’s an element missing, or perhaps, one element too many.
Christopher Nolan made an amazing set of Batman films (at least two). They were gritty and new in the way that Batman can be, and it was really interesting to see a new, modern take on the Superhero, with all of the muted colors and all.
See, when it comes to Batman, it’s all about light and shadow. Thus, the movie doesn’t need a lot of color, because the light and shadow of any shot is always going to be more relevant. Batman is all about black and white and how much space there really is in the middle, so the lighting is what really makes the difference. The less color, the more focus we can have on the lighting.
But to apply that to Superman is taking something away from it. Making a Superman movie is like making Coke: the Movie, or Santa Claus the Movie. It’s a character so deeply intrinsic to American and international culture alike, that there are many different interpretations of the character, and it seems unfair to come down to just one understanding. Everyone has their own Superman that they relate to, that solves the problems they have in their own life. So maybe that means that Superman is so well understood, any movie would be good right? Apparently, no matter how ubiquitous, there are some quintessential things to the character since people tend to prefer the 70s Superman movie to Man of Steel.
MovieBob did a great job helping me to understand this. In a world where the status quo is good, then Superman upholds the values and code of ethics of the good. He defends the ideal already established, so that when his work is done, the world returns to its picturesque default state of good.
However, in a world where the status quo is bad, like in Batman, then Superman’s responsibility changes somewhat. Power corrupts, so rather than Superman returning to the normal good, since there isn’t a normal good, it’s more his job to MAKE good. In other words, change the world in his image of what good is, essentially controlling it. That isn’t really in his MO, depending on the source material at least, but for the standard character, that’s not what he’s about. So when you try to meld the two worlds, a dark gritty one with a force for the absolute right, something just doesn’t fit in. Superman feels wrong in the realism of Man of Steel, like he’s not really doing enough, or that he’s meddling in our affairs. In a more Norman Rockwell world, he represents our capacity for good and our ability to hope for a brighter future, rather than a force needed to dominate us since we can’t look after ourselves.
Man of Steel will never be as great as the films that came before, namely the first one from the 70s. There’s just hasn’t been a film made yet that captures that sense of wonder and spirit that Christopher Reeve was able to conjure with his Superman. I think that Henry Cavil was an excellent cast, but with a host of bad directors and a misguided vision, I’m not sure if he’ll ever get the chance to shine.
Is it misguided of us to believe in a more perfect world with Superman? I submit that it’s not. Superman’s world may not resemble ours as closely since the default is that forces are good and people are beneficial to one another, but that doesn’t mean we can’t aspire for that goal, or hope for a future that mirrors that way of life. That’s what the character is about, hope for a better tomorrow. If we try and capture that aspect of the character and don’t forget to have a little bit of fun, then maybe we can have something more in line with what we want from the Man of Steel.