Man of Steel (Spoilers Ahoy)
For Father’s Day, we went out to see Man of Steel. I had been seeing mixed reactions over this one, and been (willingly) spoiled for one of the things that happens at the end, so my expectations weren’t tremendous. Memories of Superman Returns probably helped keep my hopes from getting overly high. But going in with that mindset, I mostly enjoyed the movie. I liked Amy Adams as Lois Lane a lot, and thought Henry Cavill made a pretty good Superman. Laurence Fishburne was sadly wasted in his role as Perry White. I liked a lot of what Russell Crowe did as Jor-El, though.
I think Christopher Reeve will always be my Superman, just like David Tennant will always be my Doctor. Reeve brought a bit more fun and heart, and a less angst. But unlike Superman Returned, which tried and failed to duplicate what had been done before, Man of Steel tried to do something new, and I give them points for that.
Storywise, the last thing I’ll say before moving into spoiler territory is when they do Man of Steel II, I’d like More Character Development and Less Destroying ALL THE THINGS, please.
Okay, let’s get the big one out of the way first. Superman kills Zod. Comics writer Mark Waid has a write-up of all the reasons that scene broke his heart, and I can’t argue with him. I was warned going in that Superman kills Zod in cold blood, and that could have broken the movie for me, too.
But it wasn’t cold blood, at least in my opinion. The writers set up a no-win scenario. The only way this Superman could stop Zod from incinerating innocent victims was to break Zod’s neck. And then Superman fell apart. Having to kill someone — having to kill the last surviving Kryptonian — broke him.
I don’t see this as a betrayal of Superman’s character, though I’m not about to argue with those who do. If anything, it was a betrayal of the Superman story. But while it definitely felt wrong, it didn’t trigger the same sense of betrayal Waid talks about.
What felt more out of character was all of the gratuitous destruction at the end. My wife leaned over toward the end and remarked that this movie had topped The Avengers in terms of death and damage. She’s right. Tens of thousands of people died in that final battle, and Superman…never seems to notice.
Christopher Reeve’s “No, don’t do it, the people!” always struck me as a slightly cheesy line, but this incarnation of Superman doesn’t even try.
The movie also needed more of was a sense of fun. I think my favorite part, in that respect, was the hologhost of Jor-El escorting Lois through Zod’s spaceship, casually telling her when to duck and where to shoot. Jor-El pwned that whole ship, and it was beautiful. There’s a split-second scene where Superman crashes into a “106 days since the last accident” sign, but that goes by so fast you barely see it. I’ve got Batman for relentless grim; with Superman, I want more light.
I like the fact that Lois Lane figures out Superman’s secret identity, and doesn’t get that knowledge smooched away at the end. It breaks with tradition, and while I wasn’t expecting that, I think it added both to Lois’ role and to the story as a whole. It also set up her “Welcome to the Planet” line at the end rather nicely.
I thought the Kryptonian technology and backstory was a mixed bag. The fact that their computers looked like those pin-art toys where you press your hand or face or whatever to the tiny metal rods (or plastic, these days) just seemed silly, as did the tentacle defenses of the terraforming machine. The ships and armor worked pretty well, though.
And then there’s the genetic predetermination storyline. For hundreds of years, Kryptonians have been bred for specific societal roles, which is nicely dystopian. Superman was the first “natural born” Kryptonian in all that time. He’s the one who has a choice, unlike Zod. Unlike Jor-El, for that matter. It was an interesting twist on Krypton, but it didn’t feel like they knew what to do with it. At least not until the end.
That’s where Zod’s death becomes tragic, and I wish they had done more with it. Zod didn’t try to kill those people because he hated them. He did it because it was the only way to make Superman kill him. Zod had already lost everything. He wanted to die. No, not even that. He simply couldn’t see any other path. As Zod says earlier, this is what he is, every cell in his body programmed to fight for a planet and a people that no longer existed.
Zod was a general, but if we read a little deeper, he was also a slave to his programming. And I think, at the very end, he realized it. When he tells Superman that this is what he is, it’s with the knowledge that Kal-El is free in a way Zod will never be. I think that realization, combined with the loss of everything he’s fought for, is what broke Zod. That’s when he lost.
Now, I’m probably reading more into the movie than was actually there. But isn’t that part of the fun?
ETA: On a related note, I loved seeing the villains’ reactions to the destruction of Krypton. I thought that was one of the most emotionally powerful moments in the whole film.
What did you think?
June 16, 2013 @ 8:09 pm
I found Superman’s complicity in the destruction of Metropolis particularly unnerving as well. If Lex Luthor shows up in the next movie decrying Superman as a menace, I’m going to have concede the man has a point. It was difficult to watch those fights without realizing that every building collapse and every giant explosion was likely hundreds, if not thousands, of people dead. I’d have forgiven Kal-el more if I thought it affected him, but (admittedly in a bit that was internally consistent) his focus was unshakable. I mean seriously, they couldn’t even take the fight into outer space without causing property damage.
I knew there was going to be some Jesus symbolism (Superman has rode that particular train since his creation, after all) but they went way, way farther with it than I expected, right down to the idea that the other angels in heaven might resent God sending down a savior who has something they do not — the ability to chose. Zod actually fills two roles from the perspective of passion play — he is both Pontius Pilate asking the people to hand over their Messiah and he is Satan walking with Jesus in the fields of Kansas as he gives Kal-el one last chance to side with him in the destruction of humanity.
But as much as there were a few plot problems (really? It’s the *atmosphere* that gives folks super powers? That’s every bit as stupid as kryptonite/yellow sun shenanigans, is not more so.) I loved what they did with just about every female character in the movie and let’s hear it for Lois Lane finally being as smart as everyone’s always claimed. The idea that she knows exactly who Clark Kent is and is actively helping hide his identity? Awesome. All the awesome.
The movie had problems, but every Superman movie so far has. I thoroughly enjoyed it despite its flaws.
Jim C. Hines
June 16, 2013 @ 8:19 pm
Was it that the atmosphere gave Superman his powers or that the Kryptonian atmosphere had a Kryptonite-type effect, temporarily weakening him. They did say at one point that it was the Earth’s younger sun, along with the lesser gravity, that made him so strong.
And yeah, the Jesus symbolism was not subtle. The stained-glass window and the crucifixion pose in particular.
Agreed about Lois Lane, and I liked Martha Kent too. Would have liked more of Faora, but I thought she did well with the scenes she had.
June 16, 2013 @ 8:39 pm
I was mixed on the movie too. Not bad but not necessarily better than the originals. Throughout the battles, I kept wondering how Damage Control was going to fix Metropolis, ignoring the fact they are Marvel. I really didn’t know what to expect at The end since Cavill didn’t have the Fortress or its chambers. I liked how the villains had to deal with the power adjustments. I really expected more with the blood sample instead of needing the genetic code. I like that Snyder tried to stay with the Superman mythos while making it fresh. I miss the light and humor from the Reeves movies.
June 16, 2013 @ 9:57 pm
The more I think about the movie, the less I like it.
Russell Crowe’s performance as Jor-El, both when he escaped from Zod’s goons in the first part of the movie and while escorting Lois, were my favorite parts of the movie. I did expect the hologram version to have a few tricks up his sleeve when Zod confronted him and overrode him on the ship, though.
I didn’t like the parts with Clark as a kid/teenager; other than when he spoke to Martha, I don’t believe he said a word to anyone else in those scenes. Come on, even if he was picked on and did have to hold back, surely he had a few friends. Instead he looked scared to death to say a word to anyone. I was a quiet kid who got picked on, but I’d be sidling away from him and wondering what was going on if he hit me with one of those “deer in the headlight” looks.
As for friends, Pete Ross originally picking on Clark, being saved by him and then shows up working at the IHOP that Kal/Clark and Zod destroy? Sorry, the Pete Ross I grew up with (pre-1986) figured out Clark’s secret and secretly helped him when Superboy still existed. Yeah, I know, DC totally buggered that in the late 80’s, and I guess IHOP paid handsomely to have Pete work there and for Kal/Zod to destroy it.
I didn’t care for the part of the storyline where Lois figured out who Clark was simply because the Clark Kent I grew up with wanted to be accepted as Clark, not idolized as Superman. Lois knowing his secret skips a lot of the tension that could be developed while Clark tried to win Lois over and Lois being torn between Clark and Supes. The kissing scene was just flat-out strange. Sudden relief that it was over? Ok, fine, I guess that could explain the kiss, but then they go back for seconds. It would have worked better if they’d both looked embarrassed and acknowledged the awkwardness of it.
They could have shortened the big fight dramatically and worked more on character development and no one would have complained. My wife turned to me about half way through the fight and said “Good Lord, is it ever going to end?” When people watching an action movie want the action to stop, there’s a problem. Along those lines, Clark/Kal/Superman never tried to get Zod and the others away from populated areas; in fact, he was fine with slamming the other Kryptonians all over the damn place causing explosions and destruction and mayhem.
Let’s face it, the script was the problem. The entire premise of the movie was to get Kal into that final situation where he had to decide whether to let the humans die or to take a life. The (incredibly stupid, IMO) scene where Jonathan Kent was killed in a tornado as Clark watched because he was too stupid to let Clark open the door for the dog was also in there to provide a counterpoint to that decision, but it doesn’t work. He didn’t save Jonathan in order to protect his secret. However, every-frickin’-body in Smallville apparently already knew it.
Did Zod want to die at the end? Maybe, but here’s what I see as the penultimate problem with the last portion of the movie: Zod was “created” to fight and defend Krypton, yet in the end he was trying to kill Kal, the last (as far as anyone knows) remaining Kryptonian. The implications of that should have had him curled up in the fetal position (although perhaps he wouldn’t actually have experience with the fetal position being “engineered” and all…)
June 16, 2013 @ 10:53 pm
In my house we have a term ‘Lois-Laned’ meaning a love interest or other female character ALWAYS being in distress simply for the hero to save. I really liked how this Lois was a bit less that way. She was still in need of some Super-Saving several times in the movie, but it seemed more like actual danger rather than contrived by the villain with some punctuated girly-screams here and there. It was a nice change without compromising the character.
All of the buildings being destroyed and Superman not caring about all those people really bothered me. It almost seemed like Superman was leading the bad guys to more populated areas. At one point purposefully exploding a gas station. I just kept picturing somebody’s kid sitting in the back seat of that car that got flipped. Made me kinda ill. Though great acting props should go to the chick who got stuck under some rubble that Perry was trying to save. She was pretty great.
All that genetic destiny thing was poorly done. Jor-el saying ‘you were natural born so you get to chose your fate, by the way your mom and I had you so you could be a go-between our two cultures and be an ark for our entire race. Its your destiny!’ Um… yeah. That’s not how ‘chose your fate’ works. I suppose the concept could be hard to grasp for someone from a culture such as his, but I would expect more.
Oh, and did anyone notice? One of the semi-trucks that got exploded said “LexCorp”. We will DEFINITELY be seeing some Lex in the future.
All in all it was a good time at the theater, however I probably won’t be watching this one over and over.
June 16, 2013 @ 11:23 pm
The thing that got me was–they have this amazing terraforming technology. So– why use it on Earth? Why not Mars? Or Venus, for that matter? They could have taken the ship of baby-kryptonians and just moved to another planet–not even one that was far away, by their standards–and set up their new world there, with no resistance.
The other thing that got me was damn, Superman. Way to take the fight away from populated areas. Oh, wait.
I feel like gifs of this film should be submitted to superdickery.com, because most of that destruction was carelessness on his part. He had the ability to choose the field of battle, and chose… not to.
As far as Fishburne– the scene where he chooses not to leave Jenny behind, knowing that he’s staying with her so she won’t die alone, did not feel like a waste of his talent to me. But yes, they should have used him more.
Also, can we talk about Jenny for a second? Because I kind of loved her. And between her conversation with Lane about the copy machine/news and Lane’s conversation with Faora about the breather, DING, we have a Bechdel winner.
Overall: it was a lot better than I expected, but I agree with your assessment re characterization vs. gratuitous destruction.
June 17, 2013 @ 12:15 am
I’ve never been a Superman fan, so I didn’t expect much from the film. Honestly, it was the soundtrack that got me interested in the first place. I’m a fan now. I loved the movie, despite it problems. The battle and destruction were over the top, but I never got the feeling that Supes could have stopped it. It seemed (and this is just how I’m looking at it… there wasn’t anything in the film to point to this) that as soon as he flew away to a less-populated area Zod would have started killing innocents to bring him back to the city. It was a lose-lose situation I think. The Jesus stuff was annoying, and so was the fact that through all of the destruction his suit and cape remain intact. I really enjoyed the science fiction approach, though, even if the “science” was bs.
Liz, I don’t think Superman intentionally blew up a gas station. Pretty sure Zod chucked him into a building and he ran into the gas station. Complete accident.
June 17, 2013 @ 12:54 am
I liked it. I noted in an ArsTechnica comment thread that it’s really hard to do a Superman movie right. Everyone, I mean everyone has an opinion. They did a passable job for an origin story. Origin story movies tend to suck. This didn’t suck. It wasn’t the best, but I like it more than the Donner films. But I’m a young’un. It was disaster porny, but I’m not sure what else can happen when gods are fighting.
As to why he never moved the fight out of populated areas, I’m not sure he could have. One, he came to grips with his powers roughly two weeks before the baddies showed and had used them in a combat situation, never. Two, I agree with Jordan about the soldiers not chasing him. They didn’t care about killing humans and if he did fighting in a populated area would hamper him. An advantage for the soldiers. Three, most of the damage to Metropolis was done by the World Engine. The fight between Zod and Superman did quite a bit but it didn’t create the huge blasted wasteland the ship did.
It will be interesting to see if there is any fallout for Supes in the next movie.
Jim C. Hines
June 17, 2013 @ 8:18 am
I actually liked Lois figuring out his identity. It does skip a fair amount of potential tension, but it’s tension I’ve seen before in various incarnations. Lois knowing the secret opens up some new possibilities for tension and conflict, depending on what they do in the future.
Great point about Zod’s conflict at the end. Though if I wanted to write between the lines, maybe that’s why Superman was able to win. Because otherwise, you’ve got two superpowered beings, one of whom was a trained soldier and warrior. Which means Superman probably should have lost that fight…unless Zod wasn’t fighting to win.
Jim C. Hines
June 17, 2013 @ 8:21 am
My wife and I looked at each other when the LexCorp trucks showed up on the screen. I think there was at least one other LexCorp cameo, but it went by awfully quickly.
And +1 to Lois Lane getting a better class of danger in this one.
Jim C. Hines
June 17, 2013 @ 8:23 am
“The thing that got me was–they have this amazing terraforming technology. So– why use it on Earth? Why not Mars?”
That … is a great question.
I thought Fishburne’s scene with Jenny was good, but it was just kind of there. They could have gotten rid of 5-10 minutes of random chaos and given us more of both characters.
Jim C. Hines
June 17, 2013 @ 8:24 am
I’m definitely curious to see what kind of consequences and aftermath we get in the sequel.
June 17, 2013 @ 10:04 am
I think my opinion lies closer to yours than some others I’ve seen. I agree with you that I give them credit for trying something new. I don’t think it was always successful but I give them credit for trying. As far as the destruction goes, I think it was a realistic portrait of what a battle between indestructible aliens would look like. I agree with the other comments here that the true success of MOS will be how the sequel handles the destruction.
June 17, 2013 @ 10:49 am
They could have gotten rid of 5-10 minutes of random chaos and given us more of both characters.
Indeed, yes. Apparently Snyder said on NPR the other day that he wanted to show how much destruction it would cause for Superman to be fighting someone just as powerful. But that only holds if Supes is being criminally careless.
In both Smallville and Metropolis, Zod and the others were going after him specifically. If he’d flown to Antarctica, or the middle of the pacific, they would have followed him. Would Superman really have had to break Zod’s neck if he hadn’t brought him down through the roof of a populated train station?
(And speaking of trains. Yes, that train yard full of gas tankers looks like a much better place to throw somebody than the corn field right beside it. Top of the class, Kent).
So I’m really not sure how he came away from that with “How do we know you won’t threaten the US,” rather than “Dude you’re totally a threat right now because you don’t think through the consequences of your actions.”
June 17, 2013 @ 11:03 am
One of my first thoughts on seeing the level of destruction when I was watching the film was how much of Metropolis Supe was going to help them rebuild.
I thought it was a good solid film. I prefer the Donner version of Superman II but this one was definitely better than Superman Returns. Not being at all of a religious mind, I didn’t catch any of the religious symbolism so that’s a plus.
There’s is a lot of disaster porn,yes, but I feel it could not have been avoided and it made more sense in this film than in any of Michael Bay’s films. This is exactly what that sort of fighting would look like being indestructible superbeings. Although it was a curously bloodless film.
I really like Amy Adams as Lois and the other women in the film were not at all annoying. I’d be interested in a sequel.
June 17, 2013 @ 8:14 pm
On the terraforming, why do it at all?
If I’m “programmed” to protect the legacy of Krypton at all costs, and I’m handed a planet on a silver platter where the Kryptonians would have superpowers… Hell, fire up the baby-maker, boys, we’re gonna rule the universe.
June 17, 2013 @ 8:24 pm
So, did anyone else think “where is the missing Kryptonian?”
When Clark/Kal/Supes/Joe enters the Kryptonian ship, he finds two “pods”, one with a skeleton inside and another, open and empty… There are rumors of it being Kal’s cousin Kara…
June 17, 2013 @ 8:35 pm
So if all the kryptonians benefitted the same from the earth’s environment, how did one super strong, invulnerable being break another super strong, invulnerable being’s neck?
June 17, 2013 @ 10:09 pm
Supes had been on Earth for 33 years. Maybe he was a bit stronger than Zod? Suppose it took a bit of fighting for him to realize it?
Jim C. Hines
June 18, 2013 @ 7:53 am
That makes a lot of sense, actually…and could explain how the untrained fighter beat the genetically-programmed, lifelong warriors.
June 18, 2013 @ 2:16 pm
I mostly enjoyed it, but I intensely disliked Superman killing Zod for the exact same reason I intensely disliked the end of the first Star Trek reboot where Kirk and Spock happily kill Nero. It’s, as you say, a betrayal of the ideals of both franchises, and this kind of “redemptive violence” (anyone who is not familiar with that term should look it up) has become a really, really tiresome cliche in American popular culture: the key scene where the hero is forced, I tell you just *forced* to kill the bad guy.
I realize this is suppose to be a formative moment for Kal-el, but really, it seemed like cheap moral laziness instead. In Superman 2, he outsmarts Zod by counting on Luthor to betray him–a bit cheesy, but, really, far better than being forced, I tell you, just *forced* to snap Zod’s neck. Especially when, as you and many other noted, thousands must have already died in the battle royale.
I did like Amy Adams–less insipid than Kate Bosworth and smarter than the average Lois Lane–and I thought the opening scenes on Krypton looked amazing.
June 18, 2013 @ 10:06 pm
Earth’s atmosphere is the new kryptonite. Clark had difficulty breathing as a child until he adapted to it; Zod thinks genocide is better than asthma. And I guess he’s too lazy to schlep the Matrix-style kriptobabies off to Venus (even though it’s arguably a better place for them to live than Earth, once they get it all nice and terraformed).
June 20, 2013 @ 3:46 pm
I liked Faora’s physical acting–that confident, sultry swagger when she walked, some of the dismissive glares she gives the soldiers, etc. But her speech was some of the dumbest dialogue in the film, holding up evolution as some kind of superior Nietzschean philosophy when she’s from a civilization of designer babies. Stick to ass-kicking, Faora–it’s obvious you weren’t genetically engineered with any science knowledge.
Lois and Ma Kent were probably my favourite characters in the whole film. I kind of wish Ma Kent had been the more dominant parental figure, since we saw her actually help Clark learn to control his powers (one of my favourite scenes), while I found most of Pa Kent’s opinions to be kind of odious.
June 20, 2013 @ 3:50 pm
It’s really unfortunate Lois Lane gets held up as an archetypal example of the helpless damsel in distress. Since her Golden Age origins, she’s always been a very proactive character. Yes, she does end up in distress a lot, but that’s because her job means she’s always looking for trouble.
Anyway, Amy Adams’ performance was one of the few standouts of the film for me, so hopefully that helps break down these kind of misperceptions surrounding Lois.
June 20, 2013 @ 3:54 pm
I thought that’s where they were going to go. When they implied that Zod & crew were hampered by the same issues Clark had when he was a boy, I thought “that’s how Superman is going to beat six other Kryptonians single-handedly! All thanks to a life spent on Earth and Ma Kent’s patience and understanding!” Instead, the movie dragged on for another half-hour or so in a direction I really, really didn’t care for.
July 10, 2013 @ 11:38 am
With the terraforming, I figured Zod was preprogrammed to solve his problems only with violence, being a soldier, and relying on the rest of the castes for other ways of problem-solving. So he does the only thing he knows, which is to fight and destroy his enemies (earth) in order to reclaim Krypton.