Man of Steel: A Second Look
Warning: This hub contains spoilers.
Since it's release last Tuesday, I've had a couple of chances to watch Man of Steel again and I love it more with each viewing. There are specific scenes that are some of my favorite of all time and are what I consider to be some of the best scenes in a superhero movie ever done. I love the story, I love the actors, and I love the action in spite of a number of people's disdain for it. This movie has become THE Superman movie in my eyes. I adore the Christopher Reeve original film and it's sequel, but this reboot had everything that makes Superman great and had everything I wanted to see in a modern Superman story.
This film sees a different Superman than we're accustomed to seeing. This Superman is portrayed as being more human than ever before because of the kind of story Zack Snyder, David S. Goyer, and Christopher Nolan decided to tell. They asked "What would happen if a Superman ACTUALLY appeared in our current world?" and they explored the struggle of being different than everyone else because of his superpowers. This Superman didn't just appear to the world and gain instant acceptance. This Superman fell on an Earth that is fearful, xenophobic, and utterly violent. He crash landed on the REAL WORLD, not an idealized version. Jonathan and Martha Kent understood this which led to Jonathan wanting Clark to hide his powers until the world was ready to accept him while he installed the classic virtues as he's done throughout the character's history. Martha Kent even tells Clark when he returns to Smallville after finding his birth parents that she's afraid "they" would come and take Clark away from her. Despite those fears, Clark makes the decision to reveal himself to the world once General Zod and his followers arrive from outer space. That leap of faith characterizes Superman in a nutshell. He is profoundly naive and always looks for the best in people unless they're obviously intent on death and destruction. Despite his gut feelings based on his checkered history, he STILL gave Zod a chance to prove he wasn't the evil man Jor-El told him about even though he knew that it wouldn't turn out well.
The Superman in the third act of the film was every bit the hero that Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created in 1938 as he flew across the planet to save the human race from annihilation. He fought the bad guys, he destroyed their war machines, and managed to save people in the middle of it all, despite some views to the contrary. We finally got to see the kind of action on the big screen that is always present in the comics and the result was some of the most epic action ever put into a movie. Superman's crazy brawl with Zod was one of the best fight scenes I've ever seen, hands down. Superman destroying the world engine is simply one of the best scenes in a movie that I have ever seen. That scene was Superman's true coming out party. That was the moment where he symbolically became Superman as he saved the entire planet in one amazing display of superhuman heroism.
With all of that out of the way, I'd like to take some time to address some of the specific criticism this movie has unfairly received.
1) "Superman didn't save anyone" - He saved the people on the oil rig, he saved people as a kid, he saved Lois Lane four times, he saved his mother from getting hurt by Zod, he saved the soldier who fell out of the helicopter during the Smallville fight, he saved Colonel Hardy from getting killed by Faora in the Smallville fight, he saved everyone on the C-17 from getting killed by Zod, he saved the family Zod tried to kill at the end, and most importantly, he saved the ENTIRE PLANET when he destroyed the world engine. He saved more people in this movie than he did in any of his other movies combined in the world engine scene alone.
2) "They made Superman too dark and he brooded all the time" - He only brooded when he didn't know who he was. Once he found out his true heritage, he embraced his new life as Superman and became the hero every fan has come to love in the third act of the movie. The Clark Kent in the original Superman brooded too before he became Superman. Granted, both situations weren't the same, but they both shed the brooding once they put on the big red S. It also wasn't dark so much as it was just serious. This movie didn't need to have the kind of humor present in the older movies. Despite that, it still had humorous moments spread throughout the movie, which leads me to criticism number three.
3) "There was no humor" - There was plenty of humor. Not every superhero movie has to have a million jokes told every five minutes. I feel that the Marvel movies have spoiled people on this front because of the constant humor in those movies. It works for them and I'm not advocating that it's wrong, but it's okay for some superhero movies to be more serious. The Dark Knight Trilogy didn't have zingers flying out of the mouths of everyone and they were just fine. From Clark destroying that jerk at the bar's truck, to the soldier saying that she "just think he's kinda hot" offered very humorous moments in what was a thematically heavy film.
4) "Superman doesn't kill" - This is one of two of the biggest criticisms this movie has received. However, there is a precedent for Superman killing. He killed Doomsday in a fight that cost him his own life and he has killed Zod a couple times in their storied history. Superman killed Zod in the comics with kryptonite and he killed Zod in the sequel to the original 1978 film. In that film, he killed Zod with a smile on his face as he crushed his hand, lifted him up with ease, and threw his de-powered body into an icy abyss. In a deleted scene, it's shown that Zod is arrested, but it's a DELETED SCENE, therefore it does not count as part of the events of the movie. In Man of Steel, Zod forced Superman's hand and Superman made a controversial decision that at the time, was justified. If Supeman didn't kill him in that moment, that family would've been killed and there would've been more damage done to Metropolis, causing more deaths in the process.
5) "Superman is responsible for the destruction and the deaths of thousands of people" - This is the other big criticism of this movie and it's the most annoying. The type of destruction and action depicted in Man of Steel happens all the time in the comics. It's become commonplace for Metropolis to get trashed and since this film stayed true to the more modern version of Superman in the comics, this kind of destruction was to be expected. Unless I was watching a different movie, I'm pretty sure Zod and his gravity beam were responsible for the death and destruction in Metropolis. Superman and the military did their best to stop it and they did, but not without the obvious cost accrued before they succeeded. During the final battle between Superman and Zod, the common criticism is that Superman should've led Zod away from the city. In this context, that would've been the stupidest decision Superman could've made and then he would've been responsible for thousands of deaths since Zod would've just stayed in the city and killed everyone while Superman fled. He told Superman that he would literally make everyone suffer i.e. kill everyone in sight. Just as the destruction is commonplace in the comics, so was the kind of fight that Superman and Zod had during the finale. It was also the kind of super action people desired after Superman Returns had none back in 2006. You got what you wished for and now you're complaining about it? Right. "Oh, but all those people in the buildings must've been killed." Most of the buildings were EMPTY. They showed that in the movie. During the attack on the city, the police and other emergency personnel were evacuating people across the city. Just because we only saw some cops doing it outside of the Daily Planet, didn't mean that wasn't happening across the entire city. Even so, Zod was responsible for most of that damage from the fight because he beat the crap out of Superman for a good portion of it. HE threw Superman through those buildings. Superman only slammed Zod into a building once. This is the kind of knit-picking that has really irked me since the film was released and I think I know why.
Some people just don't like Superman anymore. Plain and simple. Superman has been characterized by some as being too boring, one-dimensional, and too much of a boyscout. We finally get a movie that addresses all of those criticisms and the same people complain that it's went against tradition therefore it's wrong. You can't have it both ways. After Superman Returns, people didn't want to see the Christopher Reeve Superman anymore. It was time for something new. It was delivered and it made Superman a more interesting and relatable character by making him an outcast. That change makes him easier to connect with because it gives him human struggles that many of us have faced in our own lives. Being that he's the remnant of a dead race, that makes him the ultimate outsider. The filmmakers shouldn't have to apologize for capitalizing on that kind of drama. It doesn't matter what the people in charge do with Superman. In our cynical times, the people that don't like Superman anymore aren't going to start liking him now, even if the very things he's criticized for are addressed.
For people like me, who want to see Superman grow and evolve with the times, Man of Steel was quite a sight to behold. The future is bright and I can't wait to see the upcoming Superman/Batman film in 2015. We will continue to see the evolution of the world's greatest superhero as we see his adventures move forward in new and exciting ways. His first big screen meeting with Batman will truly be a monumental moment not just for superhero movies, but for all of cinema. Is it it July 17, 2015 yet?