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.
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?