Whatever Happened to the Man of Steel? — My review of the 2013 Superman film

Henry Cavil Superman 03By Robert Gillis 7/2013

Usual disclaimer applies: Yeah, yeah, I more than understand that Superman is a fictional extraterrestrial comic book character who flies and shoots fire from his eyes. Usual retort to said disclaimer applies: While he never existed, Superman is also an iconic mythical character who has served as a heroic inspiration for millions, made a positive difference in the world for 75 years; he is the ultimate father figure, the ultimate role model, and the ultimate action hero, and a great force of good. Galalically obvious disclaimer applies: SUPERMAN and all related elements are the property of DC Comics. TM & © 2013


“That’s what this symbol means. The symbol of the House of El means “Hope”. Embodied within that hope is the fundamental belief, the potential of every person to be a force for good. That’s what you can bring them.” – Jor-El to Kal-El in Man of Steel

Does Superman kill?

In June 1981, I stood in the long line at the old Sack-57 movie theater in Boston with my best friend David to see the very first showing of the new Superman II film. In the movie, three criminals from Superman’s home planet Krypton, imprisoned in the Phantom Zone, are accidentally released, gain powers like Superman, and wreak havoc on Earth.

At the climax of that movie, after a devastating battle in Metropolis, and facing certain defeat, Superman ingeniously finds a way to remove the super-powers from General Zod, Ursa, and Non. Superman hurls a powerless Zod into a fortress wall, where he falls into a snowy abyss. Non tries to fly, fails, and plops down into the snow. Lois Lane tells Ursa she’s a real pain the neck, gives her a well-deserved belt to the face, and Ursa falls off screen. As Lex Luthor provides some needed exposition, we see Lois and Superman fly off and the movie wraps up shortly thereafter.

Superman II: Defeating Zod
Superman II: Defeating Zod

I loved, loved the film. At the age of 16 I was already a hardcore Superman fan, and this movie cemented Christopher Reeve as Superman for a new generation (and forever for me). Superman II: A GREAT film. Not without its flaws and problems, and certainly not without one of the most fascinating background stories for a film EVER, but a great film, and a great Superman movie.

Now, here’s what’s interesting: Never once since opening day did I think that Superman had killed the Kryptonian villains. NOT ONCE. Since its debut, I have seen the film well over 100 times — maybe more (yeah, I’m a fan).

An extended TV version in the mid-1980s included footage that had been excised from the theatrical cut (shot by Superman: The Movie director Richard Donner), showing the three defeated and powerless villains being taken away by the Arctic police. That made sense to me; I wondered why the scene had not been included (not at all understanding the history of the second Superman film and the behind the scenes battles between Salkind / Donner / Lester) at that time. And even in the Richard Donner Cut of Superman II, released in 2006, which showed Superman destroying the fortress (and the Zoner’s arrest relegated to a deleted scene) I never thought, “Superman killed them.” Again, I just assumed the Zoners had been taken away into custody.

Oftentimes movies take on a life and continuity in our heads, but I have always believed no matter what version of Superman II you might be watching, I don’t think the spirit of the story was that Superman killed the Zoners. See, Superman doesn’t kill. In Superman III, Clark Kent reabsorbed the evil Superman after an epic battle. Didn’t kill him. In Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, yeah, yeah, Superman drops “Nuclear Man” into a reactor to destroy him but: a) Nuclear Man was a pretty brainless clone who was probably not really “alive” and; b) Superman IV sucked so shut up.

See, Superman doesn’t kill. Except when he does.

Action Comics #42, 1941
Action Comics #42, 1941
Superman Vol 1 #14 January 1942
Superman Vol 1 #14,
January, 1942
Action Comics Vol 1 #22 March, 1940
Action Comics Vol 1 #22
March, 1940

Beginning with his debut in 1938 in Action Comics #1, and well into the 1940s, Superman, champion of the oppressed and the American Way, regularly beat bad guys to within an inch of their lives, and was even depicted, at times, hurling the bad guys to their death. During World War II, comics regularly depicted Superman smashing enemy airplanes and throwing Axis villains to their obvious demise. But by the mid 1950s and early 1960s, a LOT had changed, and Superman had a sacred code – he would never take a life. EVER. Well into the early 1980s, the drumbeat was the same, Superman does not kill. EVER.

Now we come to 1986. DC comics “rebooted” Superman and erased all of the previous continuity, which would effectively present a blank canvas and a great opportunity to reinvent the hero for a new generation and to dump all the excess baggage of history and previous stories.

But first, DC wanted to “wrap up” the existing “Silver Age/Bronze Age” Superman storyline, in a two-part epic called, “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow” (Superman #423 and Action Comics #583 , 1986). The story was an instant classic and arguably one of the greatest Kal-El tales EVER. In it, Superman faces an all-out attack from ALL of his foes; Metropolis is savagely attacked, and one by one the people he loves are killed.

Long (and very awesome) story short, the formerly mischievous and fun loving imp Mxyzptlk had turned completely evil, killed nearly everyone Superman every cared about, and was about to kill Superman and Lois, vowing to unleash 2,000 years of destruction and hurt on Earth. Superman has no choice… … And kills Mxyzptlk.

When Lois reassures him that he hasn’t done anything wrong, Superman says, “Yes, I have. Nobody has the right to kill. Not Mxyzptlk, not you, not Superman… Especially not Superman.” And then, he steps into a room containing Gold Kryptonite, removing his powers forever. He has crossed a line and he knows it, and he can never be Superman again.

The story does have Clark and Lois living happily years later, but Clark is now mortal and Superman is believed by the world to be dead. The message was clear – if he took a life, he couldn’t be Superman anymore.

Action Comics V1 583, 1986
Action Comics V1 583, 1986

Flash forward a few years later to a “new” Superman and a new comic’s continuity (all events of the past 50 or so years are erased). In Superman Vol 2 #22 (1988), Superman encounters three super-powered Kryptonians (among them, General Zod and Zaora) who have killed over five BILLION people on a world identical to Earth – and they have promised Superman they will find “his” Earth and do the same. Superman knows they WILL do it. Everyone on this alternate Earth is dead, and he knows his world is next. There is nothing he can do to stop them.

This young Superman has no choice – he pronounces sentence, and kills them by exposing them to Kryptonite.

Superman V2 #22, 1986
Superman V2 #22, 1986

But this killing has dramatic consequences; over the next two years in the comics, Superman is devastated by his actions – he is haunted, he is lost, consumed with guilt. He becomes schizophrenic and dangerous. He eventually exiles himself into space for over a year – as he comes to terms with his actions, vowing never to kill again.

Adventures of Superman 446, 1988
Adventures of Superman 446, 1988

In both of these extreme examples, Superman actually killing someone effectively ended him – he would never be the same – because Superman doesn’t kill.

Next up in 2001 is the TV series Smallville; it polarized even die-hard fans for a variety of reasons – one of them being that young Clark Kent left a LOT of collateral damage in his wake, sometimes quite intentionally. It was jarring, and many fans clamored, “That isn’t what Superman would do!” I don’t want to waste a lot of time on Smallville except to say that while I don’t remember Clark ever intentionally killing anyone (I could be wrong) a LOT of people got hurt, or died as a result of encountering him.

The road back to the big screen: After a 19 year absence on the cinema screen, Superman Returns premiered in 2006. People had a lot to say about the film, good and bad, (personally I liked it very much; read my review HERE) but there were two very loud complaints: 1) The movie was TOO much of an homage to the Donner / Lester era. 2) The movie didn’t have enough fighting (Superman doesn’t even hit anyone)

Both were valid critiques. To the first one, personally, I liked the idea of closing the Donner /Lester / Christopher Reeve era with a film, and Superman Returns did just that. Perhaps not perfectly, but in my opinion, it was a fitting closure to that era while offering a lot to think about and gave us a film that was both sequel (and in some ways) a fresh start. As to the second complaint: “We need a Superman for this generation! We need Superman to fight!”

Be careful what you wish for, you may get it. Man-of-Steel-2013-Movie-Poster-660x990

Man of Steel (2013) After the modest (but not blockbuster) success of Superman Returns, the powers that be decided on a complete reboot, introducing a new Superman as if he had never existed before – it was brilliant move, made more so by the impressive resumes of the creators: Director Zack Snyder, with a screenplay by David S. Goyer from a story by David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan.

Like most Superman fans, I followed the development of the film closely; everything I saw leading up to the film promised a REALLY GOOD Superman movie, the one we’d been waiting for. “Man of Steel” opened in June 2013 to mixed (more positive than negative) reviews and great financial success (as of July 2013, it’s the highest grossing Superman film ever).

As I watched the story unfold I was so happy with so much of the film, hitting all the right notes, making a 75 year old character fresh. I loved the nods to old versions of the character and all the new twists on the legend. I really liked most of the cast. The effects were great. The new takes on a familiar story… It was all I wanted to see in a Superman movie,. Until the second half of the film.

For the final hour of Man of Steel, Metropolis is pretty much leveled in a relentless barrage of destruction that makes September 11 pale by comparison, thousands are presumably killed, and a very powerful General Zod has vowed to keep killing everyone on Earth…

So Superman snaps Zod’s neck and kills him. And it was at that point that I realized that the creators of this film made a huge mistake. Superman does not kill. That’s what sets him apart from every other costumed hero. Man of Steel Jor-El and lara

Part One: I loved Man of Steel I can devote pages to what I loved about the film and all they got right. Man of Steel is the type of film you’d expect from Nolan and Goyer who hit three home runs with Batman Begins, Dark Knight, and Dark Night Rises. There is so much in this film that DOES work. The structure of the film – not linear but peppered with flashbacks – works for me. The “look” of the film – start to finish, is right. It’s a very modern film, beautifully photographed with spectacular and memorable images and perfect dialogue and memorable quotes.

Realism was clearly the intention here, because much like Superman: The Movie, these comic book characters feel like they are real and inhabit “our” Earth. Man of Steel is a film that is very familiar with the source material — It’s clear that epic comics such as “All Star Superman,” “Superman for all seasons,” “For Tomorrow” and “Superman Birthright,” definitely influenced the script.

And the changes to the legend — introduction of the codex, Jonathan’s sacrificing his own life to protect Clark’s secret, Lois knowing Clark’s secret from the get-go, and much more – it all works. There were hundreds of aspects of this film that I loved, that’s I’d hope to see realized, and loved. And as a fan of Kal-El, I loved that the writers peppered the film with a ton of “Easter eggs,” that is, nods to every previous incarnation of our hero (I even noticed the exploded moon Wegthor!).

They got so much right. For example: Krypton – there has never been a Krypton like this — The depiction of Krypton is vibrant and exactly what one would hope for – a vivid, “real” planet with bizarre topography, its own flora and fauna, cities, social classes, and very human people with their flaws and achievements. superman-man-of-steel-cast-bf97322d-sz600x337-animateA Krypton that feels truly — ALIEN.  Sure, there are military battles and robots, but the design of Krypton — from the armor to the clothing to the incredible new Kryptonian glyphs and language, to everything that makes Krypton a real “alien planet” — it all works.   The special effects – for the first half of the movie—are perfect and enhance the experience. The music is very different and I miss having a new “Superman Anthem” but it works.

And what a cast! Russell Crowe has replaced Marlon Brando as my favorite Jor-El, a scientist AND also bad ass. I really like Ayelet Zurer, who plays Lara – her character arc is so tragic yet she is wonderful in the role.  In her short time on screen she really sells the roles of loving wife, mother to Kal, and scientist (she is the one who launches her son to Earth) and even after Zod kills Jor-El, she stands up to him.  “His name is Kal.  Son of El.”

On a side note, I LOVE that the main character is referred to as “Kal” or “Kal-El” for so much of the film — I have always loved Superman’s real name.

Henry Cavill is perfectly cast as Kal-El — he looks like he stepped out of the comic book. He is believable as the vulnerable, yet still powerful Clark/Superman. He plays the role as stoic, brooding, warm, genuine, kind, lonely, and sensitive. He has to carry a lot of the film, and he succeeds. From the moment you meet him on the fishing boat, you like the guy. He saves workers on an oil rig, he protects a waitress from the advances of a belligerent trucker, and as the back story unfolds we learn he has been protecting and saving people — quietly — his entire life. But he has to hide his abilities, so when someone catch on to what he can do, he needs to move on. Cavill plays Clark as a drifter, a loner by necessity, someone who has the ability to help, but has been taught to hide these abilities to protect the people around him — and himself. Henry Cavill IS Superman. He IS Superman for a new generation.  I’d really like to meet Henry and thank him for his work on this film.

“…For some, he was a guardian angel. For others, a ghost, who never quite fit in.” — Lois Lane. MAN OF STEELI loved Amy Adams as Lois Lane. She’s a driven investigative Pulitzer prize winning reporter, who claims, “I get writers’ block if I’m not wearing a flack jacket,” and puts together the story of mystery savior Clark Kent very quickly (and believably).

It’s a departure from the usual mythos to have Lois figure out Superman’s secret so quickly, and a welcome change to the story. She is NEVER a damsel in distress, and is, in fact, instrumental in the ultimate plan to defeat the evil Kryptonians. LOVED it. Amy Adams sold me in every scene she was in; she really impressed me both as an actress and how she portrayed Lois.

The scene where Clark and Lois meet at Jonathan Kent’s grave sums up the blossoming relationship between Clark and Lois:

Lois Lane: “Where are you from? What are you doing here? Let me tell your story.”
Clark Kent: “What if I don’t want my story told?”
Lois Lane: “It’s going to come out eventually. Somebody’s gonna get a photograph or figure out where you live.”
Clark Kent: “Well then I’ll just disappear again.”
Lois Lane: “The only way you can disappear for good is to stop helping people all together, and I sense that’s not an option for you.”
Clark Kent: “My father believed that if the world found out who I really was, they’d reject me out of fear.”

And in the next scene, we see Lois tell Daily Planet editor Perry White she’s dropping the story. Loved it.  Amy IS Lois Lane.

Michael Sharron as Zod
Michael Sharron as Zod

Michael Shannon’s Zod is a dimensional persona, not a comic book madman but a genetically engineered military leader whose sole purpose is to protect Krypton. He plays the role compelling, complex, and at times, quite sympathetic. Sorry Terrance Stamp, but I have a new favorite General Zod, too! “We could have built a new Krypton in this squalor, but you chose the humans over us. I exist only to protect Krypton, that is the sole purpose for which I was born. And every action I take, no matter how violent, or how cruel, is for the greater good of my people. And now I have no people. My soul, that is what you have taken from me!” — General Zod

Kevin Costner and Diane Lane
Kevin Costner and Diane Lane

I’m a little on the fence about both Kevin Costner and Diane Lane as Jonathan and Martha; they are both exceptionally accomplished actors, I can’t put my finger on it but their performances lack.. I don’t know… depth? Feeling? Except for when Jonathan hugs young Clark and says, “You are my son,” the Kent’s come across as somewhat cold people. When Clark tells Martha he found his people, Diane Lane conveys this awkward, “Aw, that’s nice, I’m so happy for you” that I didn’t understand. They love him, they show that love, but there is a distance between them and their adopted son that I don’t like.

As Perry White, Lawrence Fishburn doesn’t have a lot to do, but shines in the scenes he’s in, and he’s Morpheus and we love him so he gets a pass.

Hans Zimmer’s score is excellent and fits the mood of the film quite well. While there is no “epic theme” like John Williams Superman theme, the music, throughout the movie, really enhances everything we see. It’s not at all a memorable soundtrack, but it’s very good. And despite my serious misgivings about the storytelling at the end of the film, the scene where Clark bikes to the Daily Planet for his first day on the job is enormously enhanced by the music — and the theme, building, building until Lois Lane and new reporter Clark Kent meet “for the first time” is amazing — I get goosebumps each time I watch the scene. The music playing as Clark learns to fly: Equally awesome.

Now, we get to… Part Two: I hated Man of Steel So, Man of Steel is all good for the first half. But then we get to the second half of the film, and a LOT of the good just goes to hell. I, and judging by the way the web exploded upon the film’s release, all agree we can’t get past two of the film’s major story points.

1) The relentless destruction in Smallville and Metropolis.

Absolutely acknowledging we are talking about a MOVIE about a FICTIONAL ALIEN who flies and shoots fire from his eyes, the destruction of Metropolis, Smallville (and other parts of the world) is cataclysmic. An entire city is leveled in this film, buildings collapse; it’s September 11 times 100; and tens of thousands of people must have died.

The collateral damage in this film is so high it’s off the charts, and the destruction so massive (and realistic) that it snaps the viewer back into the real world. This isn’t cartoon violence like Superman II — the CGI in Man of Steel is so effective, and the “realism” of the film is so well portrayed (and that’s a compliment to everyone to everyone who designed this film!) that as buildings collapse and people flee, the viewer keeps having 9/11 flashbacks. Tens of thousands of people were probably killed in this battle. Metropolis is in ruins; Smallville is wrecked, the property damage is in the tens of billions.  As the World Engine lifts up cars, buildings, debris, and PEOPLE, and then smashes it all back down again and again, you hear the people screaming and it reminded me of people falling to their deaths on 9/11.  It really did.

2) Superman kills General Zod by breaking his neck.

The writers of the film will have you believe that Superman HAD to do this, but I just call bullshit. The WRITERS put Superman in that position, not Zod. It’s Kal-El’s Kobayashi Maru, his no-win scenario. Yes, this is young, inexperienced Superman dealing with an unstoppable opponent who has vowed to kill everyone on Earth. But SUPERMAN WOULD find a wa3114464-screen+shot+2013-05-21+at+9.10.25+pm+copyy to defeat Zod.

Superman doesn’t kill.

Except when he does.

Upon a third viewing of the film, and later a forth, and a fifth, I was amazed by how schizophrenic the film is – it is, quite literally, two films in one: Part one is exactly what I hoped for, and part two I can’t even LIKE. I’ve never felt so divided about a Superman project, ever. In the second half of the film, it’s as if a teenaged boy read the script and said, “It needs an hour of endless fighting, punching, explosions, and lots of blowing up, buildings falling down, and cities getting wiped out. Think Transformers times a billion.”

And that’s what we get. The last hour of the film is actually DRAINING. It’s an endless, endless bombardment of CGI; it reminds me of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace in that the filmmakers wanted to put SO much CGI into the film, and so much destruction, that after a while, the film becomes mind-numbingly tedious to the point of (really) wanting to walk out of the theater. You just keep thinking how expensive it must have been to create all this. It DETRACTS from the experience.

Metropolis Falls

Man of Steel’s filmmakers took an innovative story about Superman, cast some impressive talent and put together an incredibly gifted production team, filmed all that, and that added an hour of CGI horror. I’m not kidding, as building after building after garage after gas station after high rise after office complex is demolished, detonated or collapses, and people ran from the mayhem in shots that look like they were storyboarded from actual photographs of New York on 9/11, I found myself alternating between being offended to incredulous to, honestly, bored.

Note the city in the background -- what's left of it
Note the city in the background — what’s left of it

Man of Steel‘s final hour relies WAY too on how many different ways there are to create destruction on a citywide scale in place of character development, growth, and story. And we ignore it, because it’s bloodless carnage where buildings, homes, businesses and PEOPLE have become props. Superman’s complete disregard for the collateral damage the fight caused was just unforgivable.

And just when you think it’s almost over as most of the Zoners were sucked into the black hole — there’s much more. In the theater, people were actually groaning (really!), because Zod and Superman were STILL causing city-wide, massive annihilation.

Upon the third viewing I could get a closer look at the destruction, and RIDICULOUSLY OVER THE TOP doesn’t even begin to describe it – the destruction is SO exaggerated, that it becomes boring. The viewer ends up wondering, “This must have cost a lot,” and “What’s the point of all this relentless destruction?”

And that also brings us back to Superman killing Zod, and though Zod has made it VERY clear he will NEVER stop until Kal-El or Zod are dead, the victory is empty. Metropolis is a crater, and what have the victors inherited? Dust, ashes, and MASSIVE casualties. The city is in RUINS.

Man-of-Steel-General-Zod-armor-570x415

In the real world, if this really happened, Superman would be vilified as the reason for the deaths and destruction, (and in the story, it’s his unknowingly activating a homing beacon that draws the evil Kryptonians to Earth) and everyone on the planet would NEVER trust Superman – they’d want him gone. And what about Metropolis. Put aside for a moment the deaths and injuries – what about the property damage? In the real world, twelve years after September 11, 2011, the new Freedom Tower is still being built. It took YEARS for New York City to recover from that day – and it can be argued that they never will.

Mark Waid, the celebrated author of a LOT of groundbreaking and epic stories such as “Superman: Birthright,” and “Kingdom Come,” said this in his review of the film: “…And then Superman and Lois land in the three-mile-wide crater that used to be a city of eight million people, and the staff of the Planet and a couple of other bystanders stagger out of the rubble to see Superman and say, “He saved us,” and before you can say either “From what?” or “Wow, these eight are probably the only people left alive,” and somehow–inexplicably, implausibly, somehow–before Superman can be bothered to take one second to surrender one ounce of concern or assistance to the millions of Metropolitans who are without question still buried under all that rubble, dead or dying, he saunters lazily over to where General Zod is kneeling and moping, and they argue, and they squabble, and they break into the Third Big Fight, the one that broke my heart.”

Mark Waid KNOWS Superman. And this statement perfectly describes the problems with this film. If this battle actually happened in the real world, the casualties would overwhelm hospitals in a dozen states. No city, no people could EVER recover from what happens to Metropolis here. Metropolis is a crater, what’s left to rebuild? How many thousands are dead in the rubble, how many are trapped?

Adventures Superman 628 (2004)
Adventures Superman 628 (2004)

“But it’s just a movie,” people will say. They will add: “We’ve seen buildings blowing up in movies for years! We’ve seen national monuments and entire civilizations wiped out in summer popcorn flicks.” And they are right — disaster films like Independence Day and 2012 can show entire cities being nuked by aliens or asteroids or whatever and we don’t mind because we know it’s just a summer, cotton-candy movie. It’s two hours of escapist fun and afterward makes no real difference. And there are probably hundreds of movies where the “hero” of a film has to kill someone.

So why is this so different?”

Two reasons: 1) it’s SUPERMAN, and 2) The creators of Man of Steel have repeatedly said they made this film as “real” as possible to show how the “real” world would react to someone like Superman showing up. Superman is different – one of the many reasons he is a hero is he doesn’t kill. And even when he does, there are CONSEQUENCES that end him (or nearly end him).

Unlike the two instances cited in the comics, in Man of Steel there are no real consequences to his actions. I mean, two minutes after Superman kills Zod and Metropolis is in ruins, Superman is comforted by Lois for a moment or two, and then cut to a scene with Superman is playfully telling the General to stop snooping on him, a young female captain thinks Superman is “hot,” and back at the Daily Planet, its business as usual as Steve Lombard is hitting on Lois and Jenny, and Clark Kent arrives for his first day as a reporter at the Daily Planet.

NO.

No, sorry. If you’re going to make a film about SUPERMAN that says, “We are basing this in reality” then DEAL with the reality of the massive casualties and destruction. Otherwise the bottom falls out of the story.

Imagine if Man of Steel has taken the same route as Star Trek: Into Darkness: After catastrophic terrorist damage in London and San Francisco, Captain Kirk not only sacrifices his own life (he gets better) but the architect of the destruction — Khan — is not killed – he is put back to cryogenic suspension. As the film ends, it’s a year later, recovery and city rebuilding has begun, the dead have been buried and mourned, and Kirk makes a great speech: “There will always be those who mean to do us harm. To stop them, we risk awakening the same evil within ourselves. Our first instinct is to seek revenge when those we love are taken from us. But that’s not who we are… When Christopher Pike first gave me his ship, he had me recite the Captain’s Oath. Words I didn’t appreciate at the time. But now I see them as a call for us to remember who we once were and who we must be again.”

Man of Steel couldn’t have done that?man-of-steel-11 There needed to be real consequences to Superman’s actions – imagine if, in the scene at the end of the film, as Clark and Martha stand again at Jonathan’s grave, if Clark said he was haunted by all the destruction and his killing Zod. Imagine a scene where he vowed never to take a life again, that he would find another way, and that he would do everything to help Smallville and Metropolis recover.

Or: What if in that scene with General Swanwick and Captain Ferris, it had gone like this:

General Swanwick: “Look, you might have saved this planet but a lot of people are afraid of you.”
Superman: “I had no choice – he was going to kill all of you. He had to be stopped.”
General Swanwick: “Most people understand that. *I* can understand that — I’m a soldier, Superman, sometimes killing is the only option.”
Superman: “Not for me. I will NEVER kill again – I WILL find another way.”

THAT would have made a huge difference.

After a fierce attack by Luthor's machines, Superman expressing his regret to Lois for the destruction in Metropolis Comics #700
After a fierce attack by Luthor’s machines, Superman expressing his regret to Lois for the destruction in Metropolis, and Lois reminding him he saved millions of lives — Action Comics #700
Superman worrying about the homeless and injured, Lois assuring him that he saved millions, and Superman vowing to rebuild Metropolis - Action Comics #700
Superman worrying about the homeless and injured, and vowing to rebuild Metropolis – Action Comics #700

Summaryman-of-steel-16 I have so much respect for the filmmakers and their achievements. How anyone – how any team of people – can put together the incredible spectacles we see on screen these days boggles my mind. The complexity of modern film making is staggering.

And it is obvious from the first frame of Man of Steel that everyone cared about the character of Superman and wanted to get him “right.” The reverence for the source material is obvious, the respect for the character is obvious. The work that went into this film by everyone is obvious. There’s a whole lot to love here.

From a technical standpoint, from editing to special effects, from lighting to composition, to every aspect of the finished product, the film is flawless.  It really is.  From a technical standpoint, everything works.

But I must respectfully say that even THIS hardcore Superman fan is very disappointed by Man of Steel. Man of Steel, I believe, is a schizophrenic film that tries very hard to balance the needs of a great Superman story with a summer popcorn “CGI blowout” blockbuster – and on that scale the film fails because Superman doesn’t need to level a city nor kill to defeat his enemies. The relentless hour of CGI carnage and Superman snapping Zod’s neck shortchanges any good will the film may have stored up. And Superman doesn’t kill. Except when the writers make him kill.

"Welcome to the Planet."
“Welcome to the Planet.”

Maybe I’m naive; maybe the writers had Superman kill specifically so that people would start talking about Superman again – certainly the web exploded with discussion about the film for that very reason.

Filmmakers, justifiably, never want fans writing their movie, but they SHOULD at least take the fan’s opinions of their beloved characters into consideration. The producers of Star Trek: Into Darkness said they read many of the critiques of their 2009 film and answered many of the fan’s concerns (such as Kirk being promoted to Captain too quickly) in the 2013 Trek film. Maybe the Man of Steel producers and writers will do the same – at the very least, to know that so many of us, who are so grateful to them for making a Superman movie, are all saying we have the same two issues with their interpretation of Superman.

Look, like all enduring characters (Sherlock Holmes, James Bond, Tarzan, etc) Superman has evolved a great deal since his first appearance in 1938, but in general, every interpretation of Kal-El has tried to stay within the parameters of the original story: Where he comes from, who and what he is, what he can do, and how he acts, and so on. (TV’s Smallville being a real exception, especially in later seasons).

Tell a story often enough and the reader (or viewer) absolutely wants a new take, a new approach — Tman-of-steel-young-clark-in-capehat keeps the stories fresh. Look how well-received the new James Bond series with Daniel Craig was.

The creators of Man of Steel gave us a great new Superman story, with many changes and enhancements to the legend, but then went too far:

When a character is written in such a way that he/she would NEVER behave, the story suffers greatly, and often cannot recover.

Man of Steel never recovers. The audience should be cheering as the credits roll on a Superman film, not sitting in stunned silence and mumbling, “WTF?”

The sequel to Man of Steel doesn’t need to show Kal-El brooding over Zod’s killing for two hours, but it MUST be addressed.   And if rumors are to be believed, part of the plot for the sequel of this film will deal with the aftermath of all this destruction and what to do about Superman — leading to a confrontation between Superman and (wait for it) Batman!

Near the very end of the film, in a lovely flashback, Jonathan and Martha watch nine year old Clark Kent with a red towel tucked into his shirt like a cape, pretending to be “super-hero-ish.” For generations, thousand and thousands of little kids who idolize Superman (this writer included) did just that – we wanted to wear the cape, we wanted to be Superman, and we wanted to protect the world, battle (not kill, just battle) evil doers, and HELP and PROTECT people.

Because that’s who Superman is.

And Superman doesn’t kill. Ever.

man-of-steel-feature

“You will give the people an ideal to strive towards. They will race behind you, they will stumble, they will fall. But in time, they will join you in the sun. In time, you will help them accomplish wonders.” — Jor-El


 

A little follow up, February 2014: Recently I watched the Man of Steel DVD, which includes a unique “making of” feature that runs parallel to the entire movie, so as a scene is being played, one of the cast, or Zack Snyder, will speak to the audience about how the scene was created, the ideas behind it, and so forth. It’s really cool and gives you insight into how very, very difficult it is to make a movie like this — and also how much love was put into the film to get it right.

Then I watched the entire film again and appreciated so much of it, but still felt the same way — the film is two movies, and it comes across as schizophrenic.  I continue to watch in AWE at all they got right, and when we get to the battles, and the endless destruction, my heart just sinks.

It is very obvious watching this that the entire cast and crew – especially Zack Snyder – LOVES the character of Superman and put 200% into making everything perfect, honoring canon as much as possible while expanding upon it, and creating incredible visuals.

The attention to detail throughout the film is beyond meticulous. It’s incredible to watch how complicated it is to set up each scene, and the myriad of work done on location and in post-production, and the incredible teamwork by all involved to ensure safety and get the best take possible.

It’s never my intention – ever – to be one of those jerks who bashes a film that so many people literally “busted their asses” on to make, a film that so many people put so much sweat — and love – into. My beef with Man of Steel was – and remains – with the two key story points that I feel destroy the movie – Superman breaking Zod’s neck, and the relentless CGI destruction that evokes our worst September 11 terrorist flashbacks as the entire city of Metropolis and Smallville are leveled, with (presumably) billions in damage and God knows how many innocents killed or injured.

While I (and a whole lotta people who saw the film) still can’t get past those two points, and we violently disagree with how our hero was portrayed in parts of the film, I can say sincerely that I am still so grateful to Zack Snyder, Christopher Nolan, Henry Cavill, and the entire cast and crew for what they created.

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DISCLAIMER: SUPERMAN, BATMAN, and ALL related elements are the property of DC Comics. TM & © 2013. Any SUPERMAN, SUPERMAN-related images, and ANY DC Comics images whatsoever used in this post remain the property of their original copyright holders and are used here for commentary / illustrative / entertainment purposes only, under what is believed to be fair use guidelines, and absolutely no copyright infringement is intended. DISCLAIMER: Any of the movie or television images used in this post were obtained from a web image search, so proper credit may not or may not have been able to be determined. If credit was able to be determined it is noted here. Regardless of whether proper credit can be determined, any of the movie or television images used in this post remain the property of their original copyright holders and are used here for commentary / illustrative / entertainment purposes only, under what is believed to be fair use guidelines, and absolutely no copyright infringement is intended. DISCLAIMER: SUPERMAN and all related elements are the property of DC Comics. TM & © 2014. Any SUPERMAN, SUPERMAN-related images, and any DC Comics images remain the property of their original copyright holders and are used here for commentary / illustrative / entertainment purposes only, under what is believed to be fair use guidelines, and absolutely no copyright infringement is intended.