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?