I re-watched Man of Steel last night. I hadn’t seen it since the theater release, and I was pretty impressed at the time. Well, the re-watch was a mixed bag.
On one hand, I’ve gotten a little tired of the glut of superhero movies. Yes, I still go to see most of them, but my wonder is fading. One of the things I really enjoyed about MoS was that it wasn’t afraid to break some molds and slay some sacred cows.
But it also received a metric shit ton of criticism, mostly centered around two points — that Superman was too shallow and angsty, and that he was a brute because of all the damage done to Metropolis during the climactic battle.
First, I didn’t find Supes all that angst-ridden. From the start he had a strong sense of wanting to help people. Even when overwhelmed by his abilities as a child, his instinct was never to lash out, even when people might have deserved it. Yes, he may have been the strong silent type in the first half of the film, but since when did that become emo? He didn’t brood in his bedroom listening to funeral hymns. He was out in the world trying to find his way.
Second, I have a hard time laying that destruction at the end at Superman’s feet. Zod held all the trump cards in this movie. He picked the battlefield. He choose the time. Yes, Superman could have tried to carry the battle out over an ocean or into space — but remember this is a fledgling Superman who literally just started to master his powers in the scenes before Zod arrived on Earth. He doesn’t have the decades of experience that we’ve seen in the comics and other various incarnations. This entire film is an origin story.
I thought this film had some great moments. Some of the scenes with Pa Kent and young Clark were extremely poignant. And we actually get to see a young boy Clark struggle with these abilities and the morality of their use. Most superhero movies gloss over such things, but MoS wasn’t afraid to ask some tough questions. And near the end when we see young Clark playing with his dog, wearing a red cape and striking the Superman pose, I can’t explain why but that moment really pierced my heart. Maybe because it spoke directly to my own childhood fantasies.
Alas, all was not rosy. Some of the answers that Pa Kent and Clark come to are really stupid. I didn’t buy that teenage Clark would allow his father to die in a tornado rather than reveal his powers. Sorry, that was ANTI-heroic. A very bad misstep in the writing. I highly preferred how the Christopher Reeves movies did it, with Pa Kent just keeling over from a heart attack, and Clark crying not just because his father died, but because what is the use in having these great powers if you can’t bring back the ones you love?
There were plenty of plot holes, but the biggest logic gap for me was the handling of how Kryptonians get their super powers on Earth. It’s explained that it’s the light of the yellow sun (standard Superman explanation, which I can buy) but they also insert that it’s the oxygen-rich atmosphere. This is a problem because when Zod captures Superman and takes him aboard the ship, Superman loses his powers, we’re told because of the Kryptonian air inside. But Superman is still bathing in the cosmic rays of the sun…. so Earth’s atmosphere is MORE responsible than the sunlight for his powers?
Hmmm, okay. Well then, why did Zod’s thugs have super powers when they came down to kick Superman’s butt? They were still breathing Kryptonian air via their breathing apparatus.
And even though it took Superman years to fully adapt to Earth’s atmosphere, Zod does it in a matter of minutes at the last battle?
Barring the air = superpowers snafu, I still mostly enjoyed the movie, for the questions it asked and some of the emotional moments. But I have to admit that some of the writing was just bad. In trying to combine Superman’s origin tale with the coming of Zod into one movie, I think they created some serious story problems that the film did not answer well.
Also, one of my biggest pet peeves about any Superman media (film, comicbook, tv) is the constant adjustment of his power level. Why was the oil derrick so hard for Superman to lift in the beginning of the movie? Why does he flinch when the helicopter chain gun fires on him? But he can resist a gravity beam that is terraforming the Earth?
Someday, I want a movie that isn’t afraid to ask how can he hug regular humans without shattering their ribcages? Or kiss Lois without crushing her jaws? Oh well, I doubt it will ever happen. Supers has been around a long time and no writer has managed to tackle those basic questions.
I’m still seeing Batman-v-Superman though.