3 Ways Man of Steel Should Have Been Different

WARNING: Spoilers will be all over this. Don’t read if you don’t want to know major spoilage!

Check out Part 1 of my review: The 5 Best Things About Man of Steel

To hear me discuss Man of Steel, check out my StoryMen podcast!


Superman is a rare character in my life. I would always be able to walk away from a movie about him acknowledging some cinematic shortcomings yet pretty much still loving the movie because I have a hard time separating my feelings for the cape from my perspective on the movie. But to quote Doc Holliday in Tombstone: “My hypocrisy goes only so far.”

In 2006 we finally got Superman Returns which effectively closed out the Richard Donner/Christopher Reeves films. That movie started out okay and then out of nowhere, um, Superman found out he had a kid he didn’t know about. What?

Now the new movie is here and it was going along smashingly, literally, until the end when, well, let’s come back to that in a moment.

superman logo

3 Things That Could’ve Been Done Better In Man of Steel

1. Minor Characters

The lack of minor character development is noticeable, especially as it concerns Perry White and The Daily Planet crowd (and the complete absence of Jimmy Olsen). And if they were going to have Supes and Lois Lane making out they could have done more to develop that romantic relationship. I guess they went The Princess Bride rules and skipped the kissy parts because a massive segment of their target audience is teenage boys.

2. Some more happiness and humor

Where’s the joy? I figured this film wouldn’t be a laugh riot since Christopher Nolan was basically doing the Superman version of Batman Begins, but how about a bit of happiness eh? Man of Steel is a gritty, edgy story of Superman’s origins–both on Krypton and Earth–sans humor, especially the campy kind.

Clark Kent has always been such a charming klutz which is one of the reasons I could always relate to him. I was never a broody rich kid/man like Bruce Wayne, but I understood what it was like to be a goofy writer like Clark and always hoped that I was secretly awesome too.

But this isn’t a movie about Clark Kent at all, let alone as we know him.

And here is where I’m realizing how much of my love for Superman has always been as much about The Daily Planet Clark as the man of steel.

I don’t need phone booths on every block, but I want to see Clark act like a bumbling “golly, aw shucks” fool to explain away how he always misses out on the action.

3. That inescapable, shocking moment at the end

Critics can never decide whether story canon has been messed with too much or not creatively altered enough. This question looms large on the heels of the most recent Star Trek film, for example. As my friend JR. Forasteros says:

“Change is good. Telling new stories is good. But you can go to far. At some point, you change a story too much. At some point, it’s no longer recognizable as the character you know and love.”

[Check out the rest of his review.]

Superman Returns tried to be an homage to the original Donner films but failed, mostly because Superman should not have a kid and Lois Lane should not be Kate Bosworth. Also, strongmen haven’t worn their underpants on the outside for fifty years.

Superman has always fought for truth, justice, and the American way. If that’s true, what does a grittier, modernized version say about our current perspectives of those values?

In a review titled Grim, Violent Man of Steel Sells Superman’s Soul for Spectacle, Wired.com’s Rachel Edidan says that Superman shouldn’t be gritted up like other superheroes because then:

“…he stops being Superman in any of the ways that matter.

Superman is about hope. In the wrong hands, that casts him as bland; in the right hands, it’s a powerful and poignant statement about what heroism can and should mean. Superman’s all about finding—or, in its absence, being—the light in the darkness. He’s the hero the other heroes look up to, not for his superior power set but for his unflagging decency and compassion.”

Muddy up Iron Man or the Batman if you must, but Superman? Some things just can’t be.

Personally, I felt strongly the meekness of this messianic character in multiple scenes during which he turned the other cheek. His inner conflict burned. Even the big bad guy Zod describes Superman’s morality and love for humans as the ultimate weakness. Zod believes he is more evolved because he has escaped the archaic stabs of being morally conflicted.

But then Superman killed a guy.

It’s a stunning moment that continues to sink in for me and leaves a sense of loss in it’s wake. Yes, Superman wins but at a cost we’re not accustomed to experiencing. I’ll never articulate all this as well as someone like JR., so do check out his review Why Man of Steel isn’t a Superman Story.

Man Of Steel presents a new Superman for a jaded planet. What does this say about us? Should we be okay with the answers?

That said, at least two of these three issues can potentially be reevaluated after the next film. There’s really no taking back that Superman executed Zod, but the film leaves off with Clark taking on his role at The Daily Planet and hopefully foreshadowing more of the character and his friends we’ve always loved.

I really enjoyed Man of Steel and will be seeing it in theaters again, but this version raises major questions about who Superman is, and I’m not sure I can make an ultimate judgment on this film until I see the sequel.

What do you think about Man of Steel?

Author: Clay Morgan

Clay Morgan is the author of Undead. Say hi on Twitter.

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  • Nathan Lee

    It’s probably Superman heresy but I have never been comfortable with the messianic themes because of the foundational difference between Superman and the biblical Messiah: Superman is here to help us unlock the potential already in us and Messiah came to give life to a world that had no potential. That’s the pastor part of me coming out.

    • Interesting distinction. If it ever was an accurate comparison it can’t be after this film. We talk about that too in our latest episode of the StoryMen.

  • No Phantom Zone, huh?

    • We talk about that and more on our StoryMen episode dedicated to the movie. It’s linked at the top of the post.

    • there was the phantom zone, larry. it was pretty nifty. at least i thought so.

  • ok, not to be a dick but i disagree. nothing wrong with superman killing. he has killed before. most notably general zod in superman #22 in the 1980s. this was post-crisis after dc revamped its entire universe. but even before then, there were stories of superman offing villains. even look at superman 2 – what happens to general zod in that film? he didn’t just fly off, defeated.

    also – i’ve never been a fan of the campy humor. gag me, please. it’s for this and several other reasons why i’ve never been a fan of the original superman film. chris reeve is atrocious and the superman costume looks like a halloween one. it boggles my mind to no end when i hear people proclaim their undying love for the 1978 film. it was a product of its time and a good interpretation of the superman character from that time. however, it does not hold up 30-plus years later. nor does it stand as an epitome superhero film. will man of steel? i dunno. but i certainly loved the film – purported changes and all.

    it was a brilliant film for reintroducing the character and completely severing all ties to what has come before. it sets up beautifully for a sequel that has already been green-lit. i am hopeful for more clark kent, too, in the sequel, and if the ending is any indication, his time in metropolis and at the daily planet will see more screen time. it makes sense that it did not in this as the filmmakers established clark/kal as a wandering millennial, unsure of himself and his place in the world.

    as far as hope, clay, superman cannot become a beacon of hope in one film. in essence, we as a world do not yet know what to make of him. he is an alien, an other, something humans of all shapes and colors constantly struggle with accepting. i hope the second film touches on the conflict between xenophobia and those who believe him to be a help to us. i’ve no doubt lex luthor will be leading the pack in the former camp.

    ok, i’ve written way too much, but like you said, any superman film makes superman fans think. and think. and think. and think….

    • It’s interesting that this film has already sparked so much debate. I’m sure Chris Nolan and co. are thrilled about this. I’ve read lot of reviews and seen all the back and forth about Superman’s past. We spent a good bit of time talking about that past on our newest StoryMen podcast ep. linked at the top of this post.

      I would disagree that they severed all ties to what has come before. If they wanted to do that they could’ve just invented a new character. They are using Superman and because of that know they are manipulating the most legendary of characters. I’m all for change but agree with many commentators that he has always represented an ideal that we strive for. He’s the one guy who doesn’t become like us. Still, I really liked the movie and think I understand what the creators are going for. Can’t wait for the sequel.

      As for the Donner/Reeves films, I’ll always love em. That’s where it all started for me. I never expected this new film to be campy but I thought there might be a smidge of joy left in the world.

      • it’s what I love about superman but also what ultimately makes any adaptation ripe for feverish debate: that he means so much to so many people.
        by severing ties all I meant was that the film takes a new direction similarly how Nolan’s batman trilogy severed ties with the films that came before.
        I agree superman is an ideal but again: he can’t reach that in this first film because the world does not yet know him. it’s a similar idea that was in smallville – basically superman before superman. he’s not really superman in man of steel. he’s Kal/Clark – powerful, confused, alone. he has to arrive at superman. I’m hopeful the character journey will continue in the sequel.
        totally loving this conversation!

        sent from tim’s iPhone

  • This was really interesting, as was the review you linked to. Have you seen the Entertainment Weekly article examining the whole Superman-as-Jesus thing? Kind of out there, but it made some intriguing points.

    • Interesting piece Brenda. The film did so much of that Jesus-y stuff but ultimately his actions aren’t really so savior like based on the actions he takes and decisions he makes. The new Superman is gritty and flawed. Maybe that’s what the current generation wants. But I think they’ve taken Superman away from a Jesus figure more than ever. Here’s out StoryMen podcast on the film: http://www.storymen.us/storymen-of-steel/

  • I think I’ve always really liked Clark better than Superman.

    And I think this Superman hasn’t fully grown up yet.

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