I started to write another piece about the upcoming Batman vs. Superman movie and decided that I kept referencing opinions that I had about this film to justify anticipation for that film, most notably how fans were retroactively praising this film, when that was far from the case upon initial release. I’m not one to say that such a thing is impossible, as some films are hard to take in at first or there is a key as to what you should be looking at to enjoy. I can safely say that this film is not one of those types of films and is one of the worst films of the series which is really saying something when you take Superman IV into account. I would have much preferred a crazed Nicolas Cage as the last son of Krypton or a sequel to the boring Brandon Ruth film to this one. This is becoming more and more the norm, where you have people that are fans of being fanatical about the things that they love to the point that the love that they feel no longer has to be justified or earned. People are afraid to decent in certain areas, because I think it is fair to say that
I feel like there have been so many people that have already laid into this film and pointed out the myriad of issues that the film has, ranging from trying really hard to be a dark film when Superman is seared into the American subconscious as a beacon of light and hope. I have heard a lot of recent apologists for the film try to point out that this all stems from expectations that come from the very popular Richard Donner/Christopher Reeves films from the late 70’s and early 80’s, but I would like to point out that because of the age of the characters, comics were all lighthearted kids fare when they started. If you look at one of what first really brought the character to the first national consciousness, you have to look at the radio show and film serials. You have to look at the George Reeves show and all of the animated series that the character has inspired. I’m not going to say that the character has never been dark in the history of the comic books, as I honestly think that is where the Christopher Reeves films went south, after trying to keep the films too campy rather than move the story and the films to more earned drama, Man of Steel suffers from trying to do too much in too little time.
The first, and perhaps biggest problem that the film has in the origin story. I’m not going to say that origin stories can’t be fun if done well. I’m not going to try and bring up some tried and true complaint that movies frequently get hammered with, because no matter how well known a story is, they still feel the need to have to hit audiences over the head with an origin story to explain all the special powers and such, as if someone wearing a super hero costume wasn’t all the explanation that is really required at this juncture. I also want to point out that when the Christopher Nolan Dark Knight Trilogy was coming out, that Warner Bros. were talking about how you had to set up Batman, a hero that is grounded in the real world that people can relate to, before you bring in the fantastical like Superman. I have to imagine that Warner wanted Nolan to jump start the entire DC film universe, but after he fought them, we get a restart with Man of Steel, because DC can no longer start with a restart of Batman after ending another Batman franchise. Were they going to call it Batman Begins Again? I’m not saying that audiences need a new Batman origin film, but I would say that we do need a Batman introduction film, and I don’t think that Batman Year One would have been a bad place to start, because we are being told that Batman is already well established before Batman vs. Superman. Alas.
The closest thing to a complement that I can give is to say that when DC decided to make a Superman origin movie, at least they didn’t make something that we had all seen before, but everything new that was created isn’t as good as what we had before. The original origin story is that Jor El is a scientist that discovers that Krypton is about to explode, but no one believes him. Because he doesn’t have time or funding he is only able to build a ship large enough for his infant son to escape the genocide of his species. Zod is off world while this is happening, because of general horrible things that he has done to his own people. It makes perfect sense that Zod would want to come to a world that gave him special powers that would allow him to rule over a sentient and civilized world such as earth. What we get instead is Jor going to the council with his discovery of their impending doom and pleading with them to send the Codec off world so that their species can survive. The council are predictably stupid and refuse when in pops Zod demanding that they release the Codec to him as he is about to take a group of Kryptonians off world to survive the ensuing holocaust. He rage murders some of the council for being so stupid and near cited that they have doomed their entire species to death, to then find resistence from Jor because, well, Zod isn’t the man that should be in charge of deciding who survives.
I realize that the movie tries to get away with that mess of plot because we know Jor is ultimately Superman’s dad, so we go in knowing that he is the “good” guy, just like we go in knowing from Superman II that Zod is the “bad” guy. Despite all of this, the movie goes out of its way to confuse this aspect of the film and portray Zod as the clearly rational agent here. Imagine for a second that a scientist discovers that Earth is going to be destroyed in a matter of days due to stupid decisions made by the Earth’s governments. There will be no time to evacuate and the entire species is going to die out with the Earth. The scientist that discovers this, reasonably asks for a last ditch effort to save the species and the government just looks confused. Now the military, charged with protecting Krypton and its people decide that they are going to try and save as many people as they possibly can and start life elsewhere. Now imagine that scientist being all like, nope, you don’t have a right to decide who gets to live, we should all take responsibility for the government’s bad decisions and just die out together, except for MY child that is. In fact, I’m going to stop you from trying to live or trying to have anyone else survive. Jor is by far the most hypocritical and villainous character in the entire film, and no less played by Russel, America hates you, Crowe. I’m not saying I don’t think he can act, but his ability to be a leading man in a film in this country has gone down the toilet and almost everyone who I have seen this film with complains that he is in the movie at all.
Now for the even more annoying part, where we have to explain what a Codec is. The Codec is this storage device that contains all of the genetic information for the Kryptonians to grow the next generation because apparently someone looked up dystopian future and couldn’t get past Brave New World and The Matrix. So, in this world, you are genetically assigned a role from birth, so Zod is a military officer. When he marries, the government will grow him a child that is also meant to be a military officer and he will train his offspring to one day replace him in the task that he has done his whole life. Jor seems very against this, when his initial argument to the council clearly wants the Codec for survival only to moments later be against this form of facism. With all the fighting that seems to be happening over the Codec, it sure is simple enough for Russel Crow to steal. I didn’t see any form of security whatsover for this thing that literally makes all of the world’s baby’s. That would be like breaking into Tort Knox without ever being stopped or asked for identification. If it were so easy to steal, why didn’t Zod skip the council and simply go and take the skull to begin with? Also, why the hell does Jor need the the thing if he is against everything that it stands for and is against ever using it.
So let’s go back to that world ending analogy. So this general wants to save as many people as he can from the world going up into flames and he manages to get a few thousand people off world before judgement day only to find that there is a disease that everyone has come down with that prevents them from giving birth only to find that there is a cure for said disease that was given to the son of the scientist that had wanted you and everyone that managed to be saved to die, who doesn’t need the cure and taunts you as you see your numbers dwindle. There is absolutely zero reason for Jor to simply not give the Codec to Zod and ship his son off to earth and let that be that. I might be getting a little bit ahead of myself here, but the only thing that Zod ever really does to be “bad” is try to create a new Krypton on Earth that would effectively mean teraforming the planet and killing all the humans. This seems like a bit of a reach to me, as they had already been living somewhere else and could probably go back there to live after they retrieved the Codec. Also, while I realize that there were some painful adjustments to our atmosphere, you eventually get superpowers. Imagine that by simply going through another round of puberty, you were able to get Superman powers, and your first response is to be all, nope, I would rather genocide billions of people, much like my own planet was genocided, rather than go through some discomfort that will ultimately leave me so much more powerful than them, as if all my technological advancements weren’t enough, that I could rule the entire world.
The plot holes and gaps in logic in this film never seem to stop, culminating in the scene where Jonathan Kent sacrifices himself for no reason whatsoever, but let us not forget the you say a couple of sexual phrases to a waitress, I will ruin your life and your career and leave you in crippling debt rage monster that is Clark Kent. None of the transformation into the man is interesting nor makes much sense. The first issue is just how disjointed the story telling is by jumping from one unrelated life event to another. While I’m not going to say that all of the stories were not interesting nor original, I will say that just by the non linear way that they are presented makes them boring and hard to follow. I remember falling asleep during them the first time I saw the film in theaters and all the attempts at spectacle via loud noise at the end couldn’t wake me back up again, though I have since bought a copy of the film (the deluxe metal box Blu Ray if you are curious) and have forced myself to sit through it many more times. I want to be an apologist. I want to love this film and be able to enjoy this film the way that Kevin Smith did on that one Reddit live stream, but I just can’t get into it. Some of the points that I tried to get into were the aspects of just how alien and different that Superman is rather than just how much he is able to assimilate.
It is an interesting way to look at the Character, but I think that when you look at it from the perspective of the Jewish men that created the character at a time when Nazi’s were talking about Nietzsche’s Superman being realized as the blonde haired and blue eyed Germans, you can start to appreciate the importance of why Superman is both an immigrant and part of the fabric of Americana. The story is that anyone from anywhere can come here and be accepted and become part of the American way of life. I know there is a lot that can be said about the real life failings of that narrative, but what I don’t see are the real world improvements by disrupting that ideal of American life. There has been a greater emphasis in America on just how much immigrants have to give up many of the distinguishing characteristics of their old ethnicity in American life, and much like those characteristics, Clark is haunted by the residue of who he really is and is overwhelmed by the parts of himself that he can’t change while trying to hide those signs from others. Even Jonathan Kent dies trying to discourage Clark from telling anyone his secret that he is not really from there.
This leads to the beginning of the hero’s journey, but in this case it can be linked to Clark trying to find ways that he can outlets for expressing the aspects of himself that he is trying to suppress. This leads to a couple of action set pieces and finally to the Antarctic where Clark discovers a crashed space ship from Krypton where he also meets Lois, played to almost perfection by Amy Adams, who may be the best at the role since Noel Neill in the Serial and eventually the George Reeves TV series. The problem is that she has almost no chemistry with Superman. In fact, Cavill doesn’t seem to really act much throughout the entire film, and prefers to let the audience infer and project onto him. The only thing that he really brings to the role is the physique.
I know that there were a lot of changes that were made for this iteration of Superman, and I don’t want to get too much into the symbol or the suit change. I am not a fan but it really wouldn’t be that had to get past if the rest of the story held up, but it as almost as if all of these little changes were adding up to something more than would seem possible. From the origin changes, to the fortress of solitude no longer being a gift from Jor El, but a remnant of a past and lineage that Clark seems to be ashamed of, as if the new subtext of the film is supposed to be White guilt. If anything, the film is trying to say way to much, with not enough time or substance being spent on any of the touched on themes. You can perhaps read into them, but the film never forgets that it is really just a big dumb move, except of course when it actually comes time to entertain or you know, the run time that is so long that makes the movie hard to sit through, and it doesn’t look like it is something that they learned their lesson for the upcoming sequel either.
I know I’m going to be getting way ahead of myself here to say this, but it wouldn’t surprise me that if the Dawn of Justice doesn’t do the kind of business that people are expecting it to, and if the Suicide movie flops, because I think that is pretty much a given, if DC will completely abandon the new DC universe and I am really curious how that would look. I remember a few years back when Sony was pretty much in the same bed, talking about an expanded Spiderman universe (Which I realize is much sillier and much smaller with less to offer than all of DC) and it really only took one mediocre film and one bad one to kill the biggest franchise that company owned. With all the Talk of Wonder Woman, and how that will be this big event because it will be the first female superhero movie, directed by a woman that I have never heard of no less (because that could never go wrong), and you start looking at what is really on the books and you see Zak Snyder’s name all over what is coming up and not much else, you can’t help but wonder if this isn’t going to completely blow up in Warner’s face.
There is just way too much movie that has nothing to do with Zod, and the film just feels disjointed by the time that we get him showing up. In many ways we haven’t earned having a villain of that size and magnitude yet in the series, much like we really haven’t earned Doomsday in the film to be. I also don’t know what any of the battle that followed had anything to do with anything. We have a lot of people flying through and being thrown through buildings that could not have been less exciting. We also have Superman fighting a metal octopus thing that became important right before he had to face it. There is exactly no sense of real place or importance to anything that this movie is trying to do or say and is a comic book movie in all of the worst possible ways. All of the little moment seem more suited for Youtube or for the trailer than for how they would eventually accumulate to tell a whole story.
The only positive thing I can say after having seen the film yet again is that the movie was able to give a lot of information because it really wasn’t trying to tell one story. If that is never the case again going forward, there is some good in that we can skip a lot of the trappings that the character has faced in past installments. I don’t think that the loss of life and destruction from this film works at all and agree that sort of spectacle has no place in the post 9/11 world that we live in today and I don’t like how that paints the hero going forward. While I always supported Batman for not trusting anyone and having a backup plan, I don’t think Superman has ever been painted as the general villain as much as he was in Man of Steel. I do realize that they were trying to make the familiar new, but in doing so , the film completely destroys the near century of character development that came for this series of characters and it puts a bad taste in my mouth for what Mr. Snyder might do when he gets his hands on the rest of the DC canon.