Last Wednesday, my wife and I decided to see the newest blockbuster tearing the internet up, Man of Steel. As it turns out, we hit traffic and missed the show, so we just ordered a pizza and watched Ghostbusters instead. We tried again Friday, but our plans were thwarted yet again. We finally resolved to see the movie on Monday, and would not be deterred. We made it out to the theater, cashed in the free tickets we received for seeing an unhealthy amount of movies already this year and waiting for the show to start.
As it turns out, we should have rooted for another traffic jam.
Man of Steel is the story of Superman as written by someone who has clearly taken the opposite side in the Superman/Batman debate. Superman is known throughout our culture as a beacon of hope – A symbol of everything that is right about humanity and our culture. He is a paragon of moral virtue, taken often well beyond a fault, more important as a rallying point for humanity than he ever could be as a superhero. He’s a beacon, a symbol, somewhere you can place your hope for the future. He is the man of tomorrow, and a man of his adopted people.
This is not that Superman.
No, this isn’t even close to that Superman. If anything, this is an indictment of that Superman. He doesn’t come off as the best of both worlds, he comes off as a total alien. He doesn’t come off as a beacon of hope, he comes off as a dangerous liability for humanity. He doesn’t inspire the best in us, he inspires fear and mistrust.
No, this Superman seems to even look at the name Superman in a negative context. The first time he’s dubbed Superman, it’s interrupted. The next time it’s mentioned (the only time he’s actually called Superman by name), it’s slurred – Treated as some silly title some flunky threw on him for lack of a better name.
Where does the difference come from? Well, it can be traced back to Clark’s upbringing. I know little about the comics that spawned Superman, but I was an avid fan of the old TV series and the Christopher Reeves movie franchise (at least the first two parts, before it took a left turn into insanity). From those sources, Clark’s family had raised their child to fulfill a great purpose. The religious imagery was obvious, but not unwelcome. His mother was his rock who taught him to deal with the less pleasant aspects of his powers and taught him to ground his emotions and become more human. His father taught him how to be a man, and the nature of being a hero, knowing that someday, his son would go on to greatness.
Here, Clark’s parents teach him to hide. They teach him not to use his powers, even to the point of letting others die to hold those powers back. His father becomes very angry when he saves a bus full of children, and makes it very clear to Clark that if he would ever expose his powers, the world would turn against him. He never taught him to be a symbol of hope, he taught him to be a coward.
In the original movies, Clark’s father has a similar talk with his son… Because his son wanted to play football, and use his powers for personal gain – He was acting selfishly by trying to use his powers for himself when he could be helping other. In this new movie, he is taught he is being selfish by using his powers TO HELP OTHERS. This change is very unwelcome and really sets the tone for the questionable morality this movie shows with its main character. I can’t say too much since I want to avoid spoilers, but at no point during this movie does Superman seem concerned about the thousands of people dying from collateral damage (in fact, neither does the movie, since every building destroyed appears abandon… The economy in Metropolis must really be awful).
Superman himself is not a beacon of hope or a paragon of virtue. One scene that sticks in my head was when he came crawling out of the ocean and stumbled upon a farmhouse where clothing was hung out to dry (in what was a heavy overcast that looked like the prelude to a downpour, so the occupants of the house evidently aren’t too concerned with their clothing). What does he do? He first tries to steal the clothing, and when he can’t find anything appropriate, he goes into the man’s car and steals clothing from there… Seriously? This is Superman? It may seem like a small thing, but it is typical of the thoughtlessness of the writers here. This is not something Superman does. Ever.
Maybe this could be forgiven somewhat if the movie itself was worth the watch. After all, “rule of cool” can often forgive these lapses. However, it wasn’t. Most of the battles are simply special effects reels between combatants who can’t take any damage no matter what happens – So what am I watching? Someone’s resume building effects shots? What is at stake here? The dialogue is stilted, the characters completely one-dimensional and completely forgettable (seriously, there’s a character we’re supposed to feel bad about being injured in act three that I can’t remember seeing in the film up until that point), the science involved is ridiculous (someone want to teach these people about inertia?) and the direction is haphazard (the largest flaw being the lack of progression seen in the flashbacks, since they’re all seen out of order).
All of this leads to a trainwreck of a movie.
Now I will say that my expectations were very high for this film, and that is likely clouding my judgement a little when it comes to the negativity in this review. Truth be told, it wasn’t all bad. The film had some genuinely good moments and much of the acting was pretty decent. The problem was that there weren’t enough of them, and they weren’t used to their full effect. I often say that one good rewrite could fix a script, but this one needs a fundamental reworking of its base elements. If this is to be a new franchise, I hope much of this is corrected before the next film. All in all, I say skip this one unless you are a completist and need to watch every blockbuster. I doubt the next movie will require this one, as when it all comes down to it, not much really happened.
By Salvatore Lagonia