The Man of Steel has been out for a bit now. The reviews from critics have been median range (Rotten Tomatoes has it at just 56% and Metacritic has it at 55 out of 100) but pretty high with general viewers. The “Professional” critics that don’t get the real thought behind Superhero Movies (along with some of the “Laptop” critics) are really trying to pick apart EVERY movie that comes out; especially movies derived from characters a lot of us hold dear to our hearts.
But the question really is, “why”? Why nitpick without truly knowing the source material? Let’s take for instance a few of the biggest gripes of Man of Steel? I’m going to go through the most commonly heard problems people have had. And yes, there will be spoilers but I’ll mark them.
1. It’s not the Donner version of Superman. Okay, I understand that argument. The Donner films are something to admire. They are part of our history. Christopher Reeve brought such a humble take on a character that is the closest thing to a god that you can get in DC Comic’s roster (next to Orion, Darkseid, Big
Barda… okay, the closest we had on screen back then). His humanity was stellar, his kindness was unparalleled. But those were different times. In 2006 with Bryan Singers failed attempt at making people excited about Superman again, they tried that route. I could write a different review about my thoughts on Superman Returns but that’s not the purpose of this one. When you look at the portrayal of Superman/Clark Kent by Brandon Routh, he brought a sincerity to emulating Christopher Reeve’s performance in the Donner Universe. And it didn’t work for the modern age. I think that Brandon Routh was one of the only things that actually worked about that film. Nothing else really did though unfortunately. If you were to set that Superman in the modern world and not a comic book universe setting, it just wouldn’t work.
I think that it’s actually quite telling about who we are as a society. We don’t trust easy. Any movie involving aliens, what is the first thing we do? If it’s in the public eye and unavoidable, we approach it as “friendly” with an outstretched hand via our military. If it’s something that is out of the public’s eye, our first attempt at contact is often “seize and dissect”. Learn how it works, learn what makes it tick… and then utilize that information to build up our military. It’s like we’re crazed, knowledge war locusts. And this is pretty much what happens in Man of Steel. Our military is out looking for the Kryptonian ship in secret and by the time Kal-El’s hand is forced by Zod to reveal himself, there isn’t an automatic trust. And **Spoilers** by the end of the movie, that trust isn’t even really established yet (We’ll get to that in a moment). No. Donner’s Kal-El/Superman would not fit in this universe. Our paranoia, distrust and fear of the unknown gets the best of us and the Superman of the 1980’s simply would not fly in the modern age.
2. Jonathan Kent had questionable morals and held Clark back/Died in vain. I’ll argue this one to the end of the Earth and back. Kevin Costner’s run as Jonathan Kent carried so much weight to it. Imagine if you will that you are tasked with raising a child that is not yours that eventually will reach an age where he develops a rebellious streak. Imagine trying to manage a pre-teen temper… with heat vision. Your main goal is to make sure that kid knows how to reign things in. But not only for that reason. See point #1. Jonathan Kent knows how the world is. He understands how the world will react to a super powered being. And above all, this child that is not only alien, but now one that he has grown to love as his own, must be protected. He doesn’t want to see anything bad happen to him. If David Goyer was sticking to the cannon at all (yes I know he deviated a lot), Jonathan and Martha Kent can’t have children of their own. So now we’re adding a layer of a Husband not only protecting the interests of the family, he’s trying to protect the heart of his wife (and most likely his). He would do anything to protect them. **Spoilers** Let’s talk about the Tornado scene for a moment. Some are calling B.S. on the argument between Clark and Jonathan. They didn’t give a time stamp for Clark’s age at this moment but I’m gathering that he was around 17-20 years old at this moment. Clark says some pretty callous things to Jonathan right before a huge tornado appears. Everyone heads towards to overpass on Jonathan’s instructions and he heads back to help the family dog. After he gets pinned, then freed from the car. Jonathan Kent, a proud, noble father willing to sacrifice everything so his son is safe, never wavering or breaking eye contact with the very one he’s trying to protect, stands firm, unmoving. He feels the whipping of the wind at the nape of his neck. Holds firm. Don’t. Break. Eye contact with him. Show him your strength. Show him HIS strength. A flurry of wind & debris… and he is gone.
I know that it was kinda weak that he went out trying to save a dog. But then again, movie law has it that you don’t let a dog die. That’s villain territory. Some wanted it to be a little kid that Jonathan was saving. I can see that, but from my standpoint during my viewing was Jonathan was representing that ALL life was sacred. You go on to try and save anything you can. Something that must be learned. Jonathan, simply put, was doing the best that any human father could with a responsibility as large as what he had. And he paid the price for it.
3. Zod was one dimensional and adapted too fast. Yes. He was. He was bred for strategy, triumph and war. He was made to protect Krypton. Unfortunately that goes into the “at any cost” territory. In a way, I feel sorry for General Zod. He was doing what he was made to do. Krypton as an advanced civilization should have figured out that when you give someone a drive to conquer (and that’s it), eventually you’re going to be the one conquered. And once he makes it to Earth, experiences the atmosphere during the battle of Smallville (one of my favorite parts of the entire film), that’s all he needed to focus and adapt to his surroundings. He’s like Master Chief in the Halo series. He was made for battle, made to adapt to his surroundings. It wasn’t immediate like Terrance Stamp’s take on Zod, it took time. And once his adrenaline was flowing, his purpose no longer needed and it was simply pure rage… the gloves (and over armor) came off and Zod went feral. Leading me to my 4th and final point.
4. The Destruction of Metropolis and Zod’s Finale. Okay. The everyone has been saying “The last 40 minutes of the movie is non stop action, non stop punching and fighting between General Zod and Superman”. Simply not true. I clocked it and when we hear Zod’s speech about his purpose being gone, there is less than 11 minutes left in the movie. I think the grand scale may have warped a lot of our time perception because it is an onslaught. Here’s the thing though, for a movie genre where we are dealing with people who have powers that are beyond anything we can imagine, strength enough to destroy buildings with a glance, the destruction is going to be grand. The Avengers ALMOST got it right. But even with an alien invasion from a different dimension, it still felt as if only 20 blocks of New York were at danger and the bigger destruction was coming from ourselves with the Nuke fired at the heart of the city. In Man of Steel, it’s the first time we got a glimpse of what a super powered fight can do to a city. No one seems to comment about the level of destruction done in the cartoon incarnations of the source characters. For instance:
In Superman Returns, everyone complained that “Superman didn’t throw one punch in that movie”. Well yeah, there were only humans to face. THAT would have been a bloodbath. But now, he’s Earth’s only defense against a threat that he himself originated from. While he may not have done the best job at protecting the people who were in the buildings that he was thrown through (or the ones in the buildings he threw Zod through), as a novice hero, he did the best that he could. Some also complained that he simply didn’t take the fight into the desert or something to protect the people. Here’s where I think that David Goyer failed at making the parallels in his story. Earlier in the film, Clark is seen as doing tons of odd jobs. One in particular was working on a crabbing boat ala Deadliest Catch. The Skipper of his ship makes it a point to call him a Greenhorn. I don’t know this as fact, but I’m pretty sure that this was put in place, that line was there solely to prove to the audience that “Hey look, he didn’t make all of the right decisions. But he’s a new hero. He’s green. Give him a break. He’s still learning”.
At the end of the film, he **SPOILERS** kills Zod by breaking his neck. And a collective (misinformed) populace instantly shut down. SUPERMAN DOESN’T KILL. Pump the breaks right there campers. It’s been pointed out, but I’ll reiterate the point. Look at Superman II. The original face off with Zod and Superman. At the end, Superman tricks Zod, Non and Ursa into losing their powers. Okay, fair enough. Let them be tried and punished for their destruction. NOPE. Superman breaks a now powerless Zod’s hand and tosses him into the great, bottomless abyss that is the Fortress of Solitude, smirking all the while. But to top it off, he watches and then grins as Lois commits murder as well.
Don’t worry baby, it’ll be our little secret.
All in all, I’d say that my only complaint is that we didn’t get more Faora. Some people are debating on whether or not General Zod’s cronies actually lived and were sucked into the Phantom Zone or if they actually died. I for one, hope that they lived and that we’ll get a vengeful Faora in the future. All I know is that as of this post, Man of Steel has made $542,906,000 worldwide. I think it’s safe to say that we’ll be seeing more Man of Steel in the future. Like Lois, I, too, would like to welcome Clark Kent to ‘The Planet’. This is a modern take on the Man of Steel. A world that will have to get used to the idea that there is a man who can unleash fire from his eyes, fly faster than any human made jet fighter, and desperately wants you to trust him.
Look for a new post soon on my take on my hopes for Man of Steel 2, Justice League and other DC properties!