Man of Steel opened up last Friday, and I’ve been reading all the complaints flying around about it. I liked the movie. In the last Superman movie, Superman Returns, which was supposed to be a ‘real sequel to the original Superman starring Christopher Reeves’, people complained that it was too slow, there was too much introspection, and of course, we had the creepy-stalker version of Superman. In Man of Steel, they complain that there’s too much action and brooding, and not enough character development. What it boils down to is this: damned if you do, damned if you don’t. And that’s sad.
All of the griping makes me want to talk about Man of Steel, but I want to warn you – there be spoilers here! So if you haven’t seen the movie yet, you may want to walk away.
I’ll give you a countdown, how’s that?
Okay. Spoilers from this point on.
Yet another origin story. Okay, it seems as if every writer/director who tackles a superhero these days, feels the need to retell the origin story. I’ve been vocal about this in the past, and yes, it does still bother me. What, if anything, did this retelling add?
Jor’EL as a fighter. What else are you going to do with Russel Crowe but give him something to hit? Yes, Jor’EL is still a scientist, still a father who loves his son, a patriot who loves his planet. But he doesn’t only send his son away, he works to save the heritage of his people for the future by hiding the genetic coding for his people in his son’s DNA. …um. Okay, I have to admit, that’s kinda creepy. KRYPTON IS INSIDE YOU STEALING YOUR DNA’S! Oh, and Jor’EL throws a lot of punches… And did we see some Avatar/John Carter action with the flying, double-winged beastie, or what? Oh, I’m sorry. Did I mention John Carter and make your brain melt in your skull? Ooops.
Lois Lane isn’t a complete and utter fool. Lois has always been portrayed as this brilliant, hellbent investigative reporter who NEVER NOTICES THAT THE GUY SITTING NEXT TO HER 8 HOURS A DAY IS FREAKING SUPERMAN. The whole Clark/Supes thing has been played to death, and plenty of nerds around the world have debated how, exactly, a pair of glasses and combing your hair slightly different, works to disguise Superman and keep people from recognizing him as Clark Kent. One of the most amusing theories I’ve seen to date, includes some sort of Kryptonian ‘disguise’ gene/bug that works on human perceptions to hide him… Really? Seriously? People – you need a new hobby. I’m sorry, but it’s time for a William Shatner SNL moment here – get a life. In Man of Steel, Lois encounters Superman, and she does what a GOOD REPORTER would do – she tracks the motherfucker right up to his doorstep in Smallville! All I can say is that IT’S ABOUT GODDAMNED TIME! She’s not stupid! This sets up an entirely new, and plausible, dynamic for Lois and Clark that we haven’t really seen before, so in my book, kudos to the writers. Lois is not a tool. She’s a character, a person, and a part of the story now. HOLY SHIT!
General Zod is a patriot. Krypton is a world where everyone knows who they are and what they are meant to do. The idea of free choice/will no longer exists. Children are bred with a specific purpose, and work all their lives along a specific path. Zod is a soldier. His purpose is to defend Krypton from anything, or anyone, who threatens it. To that end, he sees the existing government as a threat and works to overthrow that government in order to protect his people. It’s an interesting backstory for the character, played out as a few lines of dialogue in the Donner flicks, but laid out quite nicely in Man of Steel. Here, we also see a very different Krypton from the cold, crystalline planet depicted previously. and it’s a Krypton at war, with Zod’s forces battling it out with the government forces while Jor’EL works to save Krypton’s gene pool from destruction. When Zod is ultimately defeated, he and his followers are sent to the Phantom Zone.
Brainiac? Unfortunately, I don’t have an image of the little robots that were floating around on Krypton, but I wonder if they aren’t the foundation for introducing Brainiac, arguably one of Superman’s deadliest foes. The robots in question were following Jor’el around everywhere, and had these three dimensional displays that could render just about any image. They were monochrome but cool and different. As soon as I saw them, my mind immediately went to Brainiac. One of the incarnations of Brainiac was as an artificial intelligence used on Krypton. It housed all the knowledge of Krypton and became a sort of out-of-control hunter of knowledge. It absorbs everything it encounters. I don’t know why I immediately went there when I saw those bots, but I did. That would lend itself nicely to the build up of a JLA movie – which would, by necessity, need to be some world threatening baddie to bring the team together. And yes, I know the default would be Darkseid, but come on! Brainiac!
Superman doesn’t hold back. One of my favorite aspects of the DC Animated shows, starting with Superman: The Animated Series and ending with Justice League, was the notion that Superman had always been holding back. He was afraid of what might happen if he didn’t. Afraid of the damage he might cause, the pain and suffering, if he punched too hard, fought too hard. People have been complaining about the action and fight scenes in Man of Steel, but what I saw was a Superman who wasn’t holding anything back. Zod and the Kryptonians were strong, fast, intelligent and ruthless. There was no reason for Supes to hold back. If anything, they presented him with the perfect ‘first’ challenge that allowed him to explore his powers and push them to the limits.
The problem with Superman has always been his power. Look up interviews with the people who have written the comics and even the shows and movies. They always talk about coming up with foes and dangers for Superman, and how difficult it can be. People want to identify with the hero, and if the hero is never in any ‘real’ danger, it can be difficult. So they either limit what he can do, or they find new and more interesting ways to put him in real danger. Like Lex Luthor – Lex is intelligent, and uses his intelligence to study Supes and come up with ways to hurt him that aren’t always physical, but sometimes are. For real, physical danger, they have Doomsday, Darkseid, Metallo, Bizarro and Parasite. And, of course, Kryptonite. This movie had none of those things, and for some reason, people are freaked out.
“No Kryptonite! Boo!”
“No Lex Luthor! Boo!”
Watching Man of Steel, I also saw the seeds being planted for the modern era version of Lex Luthor. Gone is the campy criminal portrayed by both Gene Hackman and Kevin Spacey. No, in my mind, I saw a Lex Luthor who was watching events unfold in Metropolis with a cold, hard anger in his heart. This is the Luthor who comes to hate the aliens and the threat they represent. A Luthor who sees it as his patriotic duty as a member of the human race, to defend the planet against the oncoming hordes of alien invaders. A Luthor who ultimately becomes President of the United States. I honestly expected an end of credits Easter egg scene with Luthor telling Mercy to get R&D on the phone because there’s work to be done.
I have no idea if Man of Steel falls into the New 52 universe or not, because I haven’t read any of those comics. But for me, it was a nice departure for the character into something different. I watched the Donner flick before seeing this one, and there is such a stark contrast between the two. In Superman, he hits Metropolis, saves Lois, and starts fighting crime. People have complained online that they missed Superman ‘fighting everyday criminals’ in Man of Steel. I didn’t miss it at all. In Man of Steel, he wanders around helping people, but doesn’t really show himself until the whole world is threatened and he has to turn himself in or else watch people suffer. Donner flick: people cheer him on, love him immediately, and see him as a hero. Man of Steel: people fear him, fear his power, the fact that he is an alien, what germs his alien blood might be carrying, what harm he might intend. Isn’t that a more realistic depiction of how we would react to an alien among us? Distrust? Fear?
The other complaint I’ve seen a lot is that Man of Steel is too dark, too moody. They point to the recent Dark Knight trilogy as the ‘culprit’, but I think comics are changing as a whole, and it’s not just about Batman. It’s a reflection of the times we live in and a desire for more flawed, gritty characters. That desire comes both from the writers and the audiences. The Dark Knight movies were successful because they tried to be ‘realistic’ and not over the top campy. They were intense. I think, given that the same folks were involved in Man of Steel, that it’s only natural for them to try to capture that same tone.
Did it work? Well, that’s what we’re all debating, isn’t it?