There are reasons why it wasn't called Superman - nine thoughts on Man of Steel (SPOILERS)

I'll keep this general as I can for the first paragraph or so, but beyond that, it's SPOILER country.  Got it?  Good.



Like a lot of people in this country (to the tune of $125 million, according to Box Office Mojo), I saw Man of Steel this weekend.  Unlike a little more than half the critics (according to Rotten Tomatoes) and a bunch of really loud people on the internet, I enjoyed it.  I don't think it was the best superhero movie ever made (that'd be The Incredibles), nor do I think it's the perfect Superman movie (because as much as I like some of the others, I don't think that has been made yet), but it was pretty much everything I wanted it to be: epic, sweeping, well-acted, well-shot & edited, and with Superman foiling something other than real estate-based crime.  There were some stylistic and story choices that I may not have agreed with, and a few scenes that I'm still a little haunted by a few days later, but I think the fact that I'm still thinking about them at all - and that they're causing such discussion online and in the media - is actually a good thing, and that it contributes to the film's overall success.  Like it or hate it, you had a reaction, and that's a win for Zach Snyder, David Goyer, and everyone else involved with bringing this movie to life.

Okay, now for some more specific thoughts.  Here's where it's going to get SPOILERY.  And I'm going to talk about the film's BIG happening first, because let's face it, that's the Kryptonian Flame Dragon in the room.  If you haven't seen the movie yet, you read on at your own risk.

  1. Yes, in the film's climax, Kal-El kills Zod.  Many people have problems with this (Mark Waid, for instance, though I'm sure his story is representative of many others'), and I struggled with this for a while, too, because Superman famously DOES NOT KILL.  But notice my wording back there: I didn't say Superman kills Zod, I say Kal-El kills Zod.  At this point in the story, Clark has only been called Superman by people in the Army, and then only as a description or code name.  It's implied that Lois tries to, but she never gets to finish the sentence.  And our man has only recently learned of and embraced his Kryptonian heritage, and has only gone public to attempt to spare Earth from Zod.  He hasn't even mastered all of his powers yet, only recently learned to fly.  For all intents and purposes, he isn't Superman yet.  He took the only action he saw open to him in order to save lives, a decision made in haste, in the heat of the moment, and without much experience to guide him.  And obviously it pained him.  It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the sequel, and if we see this as the moment that drives Kal-El to seek a better way and truly become a Superman.

  2. (or maybe 1A)  Continuing on from the above point, Superman doesn't kill?  True, except for those times when he has.  Hell, he's killed Zod twice before - most obviously in the Byrne era, and presumably in the Richard Donner/Richard Lester Superman II, where he throws the depowered general into a bottomless pit (and don't cite Zod being arrested in the Donner cut as your counterargument to that, because that is an unfinished, "coulda been" thought experiment, not a complete film, the equivalent of telling your teacher what your essay would have contained if you had actually handed it in).  And didn't he kill someone at the end of Our Worlds at War, necessitating the black and red "mourning" logo and the therapy sessions to help deal with the guilt?  And it sure seemed like his intent was to kill Darkseid in the finale of Justice League Unlimited (even if it was Luthor who ended up sealing the deal).

    All this is to say that I think such moral absolutism works if you're writing stories for (mostly) 8-year-olds in the 1950s, but situations are more complicated in stories for a (mostly) wider-age-ranged audience in the modern era.  Such a black and white stance is what has made Superman so hard for people nowadays to grasp, given that our world shows time and again that protecting the freedom and safety of others sometimes leads to the spilling of blood, distasteful as it may be.  This is especially true in the movies, where other heroes who famously Do Not Kill still lead to the death of villains (and Batman refusing to save Ra's al Ghul in Batman Begins is exactly the sort of thing I'm talking about here... even if that train did the dirty work, Batman straight up let that guy die).

    Also, in the same situation that Kal-El faced? As much as I wouldn't want to, I'd have probably done the same thing.

  3. What bothered me more than that was the wholesale destruction of Metropolis.  I wasn't even near NYC when September 11th happened, and it still caused me to have some unpleasant flashbacks.  That's still an open wound for a lot of people, so I can't be alone in feeling that.  I suppose the idea was to up the ante on the destruction of New York in The Avengers, but still, I think this could have been dialed back quite a bit.  On the other hand, if you have a bunch of powered Kryptonians throwing each other around a city and only one of them has any regard for life, well, that's probably what the scene would look like.  And a lot of us have been saying for years we wanted a film where Superman finally throws down... hard to deny that we got our wish.

  4. Based on the initial trailers, I was afraid the film would play up Clark's (literal) alienation way too much, and that most of the first half would be Clark Kent, Emo Itinerant Fisherman, but I thought it was handled pretty well.  Yes, most of his childhood was spent apart from (and being misunderstood by) his peers, especially as some of them learned what he could do, but I thought the film did a good job balancing this with the love and support showed to him by his parents, particularly Diane Lane's Martha.  I can't help but wonder, though, how much of that alienation was fostered (however unintentionally) by Kevin Costner's Jonathan and his constant "they'll misunderstand and fear you, son" speeches.  I get that he's trying to protect the kid, but that thinking might have cost a bus full of kids their lives, and it did cost him his.

  5. While on the subject of casting, I don't know if I have a single complaint about any of the film's key players.  Particularly the film's three Clarks - Cooper Timberline and Dylan Sprayberry as the younger versions, and Henry Cavill as the one we paid to see.  All three of them did an excellent job portraying the confusion, frustration, occasional anger, and eventual acceptance of the gifts and legacies of Krypton.  Once Cavill strode out into the snow in uniform for the first time, finally understanding his life and origins, I was sold.  This was Superman, even if, as I said, he wasn't really Superman yet.  I'm looking forward to seeing his take on Clark-as-secret-identity in the next film.  Amy Adams was great as Lois - determined, pushy, and at long last smart enough to put everything together LONG before anyone else does.  I'd like to see her get a bit more to do next time (but I always do, because Lois Lane is awesome), but she's off to a good start here. 

    Lawrence Fishburne as Perry White? Yes, definitely, more of this please.  More of the entire Daily Planet crew, in fact.  Let's see some of that Steve Lombard/Clark Kent rivalry, and of course, we need some Olsen in there, be it Jimmy or Jenny.  Russell Crowe is an actor I've never been a big fan of, but I thought he was great as Action Scientist Jor-El, and Ayelet Zurer made the most of the usually thankless role of Lara.  Christopher Meloni turned what could have been one-note military guy Col. Hardy into a character I was rooting for by the end, and Richard Schiff was great in his too-few moments as Dr. Emil Hamilton, and I was more bummed out by their losses near the end than I was by Zod's.  And Michael Shannon as Zod?  Well, it's hard to run around shouting stuff like "SURRENDER THE CODEX, JOR-EL!" and not look silly, but dude plays menacing pretty damn well. I've never been a big fan of Zod in any iteration, and this film doesn't really change that, but Shannon did well just the same.

  6. And since I'm asking, maybe one "Great Caesar's Ghost!"? Please?
  7. Some nice visual work with the color palette throughout the film, with everything looking very washed out at the beginning of the film and growing gradually brighter, particularly as (again) Clark steps out into the snow in uniform, and at the end as he begins his new life in Metropolis.  Color sets the scene in movies so subtly that it's almost subliminal, and I love when it's used so purposefully like it was here.

  8. The Donner/Lester/Salkinds movies have cast a long shadow on Superman since the 80s, often affecting the look & feel of his adventures in various media from additional movies to live-action TV shows, cartoons, and even the comics themselves, so I was happy to finally see a film that wasn't afraid to go its own way in designing the Man of Steel's universe.  There were a lot of elements that harkened back to the past, of course - the Byrne / post-COIE era in particular, what with the desolate Krypton and hovering robots and what not (Kelex FTW!) - and that is to be expected and is appreciated because obviously we want some semblance of the Superman we know and love. 

    After years of slavish adherence to the Christopher Reeve movies (which I love, even 3 and 4), it was refreshing to get something that was as new as it was familiar.  Particularly the score.  As much as I love John Williams's Superman march (I'd argue it might be the strongest piece of film music out of his entire career), Hans Zimmer's music matched and even set the tone of a film like this much better than yet another rehashing of Williams's ever could.  This just wasn't a John Williams type of movie.  "Da-DaDa-Da-Daaaaah, twist that neck..." Yeah, that doesn't work for me.

  9. There were quite a few rumors we'd see a cameo of a certain Amazonian princess or manhunter from Mars in the movie itself or a post-credits scene in order to sow the seeds for an eventual (and long-rumored) Justice League movie, and the dudes behind me at the screening I saw were annoyed that no such thing happened.  I was glad that wasn't there, though.  With the exception of the Nolan Batman movies, DC-related films have been non-starters for a while now.  Rather than try and play the Marvel game and gamble on a shared universe project that DC's movie history shows could very well be doomed before it ever gets off the ground, I was happy to see them focus on just this corner of the universe.  Get this right and then see where things go.  Marvel has always been better at the shared-universe thing, anyway, and a straightforward attempt to get a DC film universe going right out of the starting gate would be seen by audiences as the blatant attempt at copying Marvel's strategy that of course it would be.  You only really get one shot at that sort of thing, bold as it is, and Marvel got there first.  Let any bigger DC franchise grow organically based on audience desire to see it rather than corporate desire to force it.

  10. There was a lot of hand-wringing over the costume - too dark, what's with the silver cuffs and hip accents, no trunks, yadda yadda yadda.  But I liked it.  Like the costume seen in the Smallville Season 11 comics, it proves you can rework the classic look into something that pays homage to the original but still looks up-to-date (and, in keeping with the film's theme, not-of-this-Earth), and in a way that is not, in fact, eye-gougingly awful like it stepped off the holofoil variant cover of the most Image-clone 90s comic book imaginable (in case you can't tell, I hate the New 52 costume, you guys).  It looks good on the screen, it looks good in print, it even looks good in Lego:
    His greatest power is the damage he can do to bare feet.
    If this aspect of the movie made its way from the screen into the comics, it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world.  At least import this version of the S-shield.  The one going now looks too much like the scratchy Electric Superman thing, and as I've made clear, I need less 90s imagery in my Superman, not more.
Long story short (WAY too late), I enjoyed myself, it made me think, and it has people talking about Superman, and as far as I'm concerned, that makes Man of Steel a success in my mind.  You are, of course, welcome to tell me that I am right or wrong.  Please bear in mind that no discussion at all will only confirm in my mind that I am the most correct person in the history of being correct and that all of my opinions are therefore unimpeachably, according to Hoyle 100% accurate for now and the rest of time. You have been warned.
(BTW, this was post 1300!)

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