This has been a hard blog to write. This is my fifth attempt to write something down about Man of Steel without it meandering into an overly long diatribe.
Three weeks after first seeing it, I still love Man of Steel! I’ve seen it twice now and wouldn’t mind seeing it one more time in theatres before owning it on Blu-ray. But not everyone has enjoyed the movie. I talked to some of my friends who were disappointed with the film. It was almost like we’d seen two different movies, when really we were seeing one movie two different ways. And even some of the online feedback from the comic book world thought the film went too far with one scene, arguing that it was a decision the world's greatest superhero would never choose to do.
Enjoying the movie as much as I did makes me want to defend the film. That’s not to say my opinion is better than anyone who didn’t enjoy the movie. But as much as I got out of listening to my friends tell me what they didn’t like about it, I hope folks who didn’t enjoy Man of Steel will be open to what I have to say about it. And if you are among those who have decided to wait until later to see the movie, this blog is spoiler free unless you click on some of the links below.
First, to be fair, I’ll list some of the reasons my friends gave me for why they didn’t enjoy Man of Steel, presented in about the order it was consistently given to me.
The Level of Destruction – It is overwhelming in this movie! It goes to a degree never before seen in a superhero movie. And it is clearly provocative in the way it’s depicted. That said, there’s a part of me that chose to view the film only within the context the story being told in this film and not bring to it outside notions, including the events of recent tragic, true-life events. And choosing to do that, I only saw what the film showed: a no-holds barred fight between two and more super-powered beings taking place on our world. It happened in a small town and then a large metropolis. And it was devastating! By contrast, it was nothing like the fight shown towards the end of 1981's Superman II, and in the context of this film, it couldn’t be. That doesn’t mean, however, that the visuals won’t disturb some sensitive viewers. The distinct visuals in the film were certainly a calculated risk on the part of the filmmakers. But in my eyes, it’s exactly what could result if such a fight between creatures took place here. So I accepted it.
The Lapses in Logic - Yeah, this movie is not perfect, and this is one point I can agree with whole-heartedly! And for me, they all involve Lois. Risk falling off a narrow ledge to follow a stranger into an ice cave? Decide to snap a picture of something that could easily be as malevolent as it is a curiosity? Shout out someone’s name and reveal someone’s identity within earshot of others? Fall so easily in love with an alien? And then, there’s the moment Lois is brought up to the spaceship, more as a plot device than anything else. And does she really need to be in the plane delivering the package? Also, can’t deny Jonathan Kent’s last scene being a WTF moment, at least the first time I saw it. So here I saw the same film my friends saw. But I still thought the many strengths of the film far outweighed its obvious weaknesses.
Superman Not Being Superman – So, where were all those super rescues we have all seen before, most notably in the Christopher Reeve films and Superman Returns? Those little scenes during heightened action and the world crumbling around the innocent people west of the San Andreas Fault and huge metal objects raining down in Metropoiis that remind and re-inforce the idea to the audience that this is why he is the world’s greatest superhero Superman? Well, my answer to this is two-fold. First, I go back to when I previously said that I chose not to bring in previous notions with me when I saw this film, and that includes the idea of the Richard Donner-directed Christopher Reeve films and Superman Returns. This isn’t those films, so I think it’s unfair to expect moments from any of the former films to naturally be in this one. It’s akin to saying “This movie sucks because it didn’t show kryptonite or Lex Luthor.” But I acknowledge that this film didn’t show more than three scenes of Superman doing that ol’ Superman thing of an actual rescue of or prevention of harm to innocent bystanders. Those moments were the soldier in Smallville, Lois in the skies over Metropolis, and the family at the end of the battle. That’s all I can recall. Was that enough? No, at least by many people’s accounts. Superman should be shown saving people and making rescues; that is the expectation when watching a Superman movie. But that leads to my second argument, that this Superman in Man of Steel really isn't Superman. Not the Superman the movie-going audience has always seen in every other such film. Not yet anyway. By the end of this movie, we’re not even sure that Superman is even called that by the world at large. All we know is that the military knows he’s good and has called him Superman, but we’re not yet shown what the world at large truly yet knows about this visitor from a stranger planet who was sought out these other stranger visitors who freaked everyone out by hacking into the world’s communication network to send a bizarre and troubling message around the world. To my mind, a more appropriate title for Man of Steel could be Superboy, a story about the hero who finally came out to reveal his true nature but has yet to earn the credit of being the world’s greatest superhero. Yeah, Man of Steel is a Superman movie, but if you think about it, he’s not really Superman, at least not yet. This first time out, he had a lot of things to process during his coming out party, and it’s easy to argue that he made a lot of tactical errors with everything he decided to take on on his first day at work. And seeing it this way makes it very plausible to me that this "rookie" Superman, while having heroic qualities, is yet to become the hero folks expected to see the first time at bat.
It Wasn’t Fun – This one took me longer to understand, but I can see it now. I didn’t spend a lot of time laughing when I watched Man of Steel. The only audibles I uttered during the movie were “Wow” and “WHOA!” and that happened frequently. Then I got the notion to re-watch Batman Begins. Batman Begins was written by David Goyer, who co-wrote the story and wrote the screenplay for Man of Steel, so I watched the film to compare it against his newest origin script. And I discovered, much to my surprise, that I laughed out loud a lot as I watched the supposedly darker, heavier film called Batman Begins. And those moments were always courtesy of Michael Caine’s Alfred and Morgan Freeman’s Lucius Fox. Their moments brought levity and genuine humor to the film, which was pretty nearly absent in Man of Steel. A friend pointed out that in The Avengers, there’s major destruction and carnage too, but it was somehow easier to accept and avoid any somber overtones because the heroes had funny moments during the action. Can’t argue with that. Trouble is there are no characters like Alfred and Lucius in Man of Steel to introduce that levity organically into the situations. So maybe on balance, Man of Steel could’ve earned more points by lightening it up here and there. But that’s not the story they chose to tell, and I can’t hold it against them, being someone who enjoyed and appreciated the risks they took to tell their story and felt they were successful with it. With the way this film ended tho’, it’s a sure bet that in the sequel, the offices of the Daily Planet will provide fodder for humor and levity as characters dance around secrets and lies.
So, are you with me so far? Well, that’s okay if you’re not. Man of Steel and Superman: The Movie are about as equal as Batman Begins is to Tim Burton’s Batman, meaning they’re not! But each has their devoted fans and followers, and that’s okay. And I think all four films are awesome films, for what they are.
One final thought. One thing I was surprised that was less of an issue with my friends and more an issue with diehard Superman fans was how Superman defeats General Zod in Man of Steel. I won’t spoil it, but here’s a link that summarizes the blog by Mark Waid, writer of a lauded recent update on the Man of Steel's origin Superman: Birthright (Yeah, there are origin reboots happening all the time in the comic books too!). His blog was the catalyst for great discussion on the Internet about the villain's dramatic resolution the week the film debuted. I was shocked at how it ended, but as contrived as that moment played out, the surprise turned again into acceptance. Despite what folks believe “their” Superman would do, in the context of this world and this Superman’s experiences and inexperience, it was plausible to me. And despite what folks say, I believe there was an appropriate response afterwards, if somewhat abbreviated by editing and moving on to the film's final scenes. It may just have been a response too short for folks to realize had happened and/or bought.
So that's my two cents. Thanks for actually making it through to the end here. If you have anything to share, please do below. I'm still interested in hearing what folks think about this film.
But I'm ready for the sequel! And if they go in the direction I’ve suggested, go ahead and titled it Superman.
All About Me
A fan of Star Trek, Star Wars, Harry Potter, Batman, comic books, Blu-rays, Disney, soundtracks, taking pictures, theatre and...Barry Manilow!