The Man of Steel and Wonder Woman: A Few Words
Man of Steel
Let me start by saying that I do not intend to provide an exhaustive review.
The last thing anyone wants to see is yet another "review," I'm sure. I just want to touch on one or two things that I think most Internet critics may have missed.
The first time I saw Man of Steel was on television. Previously, I have stated that I think that the film is a solid 7/10: seven out of ten. Over this past weekend I borrowed the DVDs, Man of Steel and Wonder Woman for free, from my local public library.
After having watched Man of Steel more closely this second time, I have raised my opinion of the film. I now believe it is a masterpiece: 9/10: nine out of ten.
Now, I am aware that the Internet, as a whole, --- as far as I am aware --- seems to be lukewarm, at best, about the movie.
The major criticism of the film involves the "tone" of Superman. He is too somber and brooding, critics say. This is not the happy, shiny Superman that fans of the comics know and love.
Respectfully, I think that this argument overlooks one or two factors.
- Learning that he is not of this Earth is quite a lot for a high school student (Clark at the time, in the movie, I think) to take in. Let's cut the character some slack, and give him time to adjust. I would imagine such a startling revelation could take, perhaps, many, many years to process.
- Man of Steel is an origin story. We are shown that it takes some time for Superman to learn how to control his powers --- his senses in particular. We were shown how Ma Kent taught him how to deal with his tremendous senses of hearing, X-ray vision, and long-distance vision (and presumably smell as well). Clark seems to have actually undergone the risk of being driven mad with the information overload. Please recall the scene of young Clark in that junior high school classroom, in which he ran out and hid in a closet; and only came out when Mrs. Kent came to the school and soothed Clark, told him to focus just on her voice... Remember?
- This is, perhaps, the most important point. In trying to account for the "tone" of Superman in Man of Steel, we must remember the countervailing, cautioning, restraining influence of Pa Kent (played by Kevin Costner in one of his finest performances). Recall that it was Clark who had been shown by the movie, to have been perfectly inclined to use his powers to save people from peril. It was Pa Kent who cautioned him to "... keep this part of yourself secret."
Why did Pa Kent give Clark this advice?
The answer is: for natural and appropriate parental reasons. That is to say, Pa Kent did not want his son bombarded by global scrutiny before he was prepared to handle it. A parent cares about and loves his son, over and above, "The World," in an abstract sense.
Recall one of the most heartbreakingly beautiful scenes in the movie. Clark and Ma and Pa Kent were driving along a dirt road, discussing this very topic. A twister came and Pa Kent directed people to safety. Clark grabbed his mother, Ma Kent. Pa Kent was the last one left behind; he twisted his ankle and could barely walk.
Clark makes a motion to go save him. But old man Kent, a man of integrity to the very end, raised a restraining hand: No, Clark! It's alright. Take care of your mother. That was what the great Kevin Costner communicated in one gesture, without saying a word.
I confess that scene choked me up a little bit.
By the end of the movie, Clark is a thirty-three or thirty-four-year-old man, who has defeated General Zod and his cronies, the scourges of Krypton --- who, as you recall, had a monstrous plan to rebuild Krypton through mechanically terraforming the Earth; and supplant the human inhabitants with the billion Kyrptonians "yet to be born."
Clark did this, remember, with a little help from his friends:
- The automated, uploaded consciousness of his dead father, Jor 'el (played by Russell Crowe in one of his finest perfomances).
- Lois Lane (Amy Adams)
- The American Army; especially Colonel Hardy (played by Christopher Meloni), who sacrificed himself, Kamikaze-style, to fly his plane into the terraforming machine; and as he took one of the Kryptonian thugs with him, he said: "A good death is its own reward," which is what the thug had said to him on a prior occasion.
When Clark became a reporter and joined the Daily Planet, Lois Lane said, "Welcome to the Planet."
When Clark said, "... glad to be here," I thought that the character arc had brought Clark/Kal 'el/Superman to where he needs to be. Man of Steel 2, which we know that Zac Snyder had wanted and intended to make, before the Warner Brothers overruled him, would have put it over the top.
As I said, I also borrowed the Wonder Woman DVD, for free, from my local public library.
The Internet generally seems to love this movie. Though some say that the "third act" is somewhat problematic --- which is to say, that there is some disappointment with the quality of the villain.
I find myself to be the exact opposite of this view. I was generally not impressed with Wonder Woman: 6/10: six out of ten. Conversely, I think the villain, Ares God of War --- or "The God of Truth," as he rebrands himself --- was the best part of the film, in which not much of anything really happened.
The first thing to say is that the plot of Wonder Woman seems to have been, shall we say, profoundly inspired by that of Man of Steel --- FROM START TO FINISH!
- Diana and Clark are both the last, or near last, survivors of a lost or destroyed world, or realm.
- Diana is the demigod daughter of Zeus of Olympus. Zeus and all the other Olympians were destroyed by Ares.
- As the last, or near last, of their "kind," as a result of their origins, Clark and Diana necessarily have "powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men," and so forth.
- Both Clark and Diana have the urge to use their powers, go out into the world, and save people, fight for good, and all that. But both are temporarily held back by the caution of a loving, wise, and restraining parent.
- Despite hiding away, for now, on their parents' orders, the crisis comes to their doorstep: with Diana it is World War One (which she is sure that Ares is responsible for, but I'll come back to that); with Clark, it is the invasion of the invasion of the Earth by General Zod and his cronies.
- The antagonists to both Clark and Diana want the latter to join them in destroying the Earth, as it is, and remaking or restoring it to a Kryptonian-suitable or Olympus-suitable state.
- In both movies there is a bit of bait and switch, regarding what one might call The Object of Destiny. In Man of Steel we are concerned with something known as a "codex," a genetic program of the billion or so Kryptonians yet to be born. It must be somewhere on the vessel the infant Clark was sent to Earth in; but no, we learn that it was embedded within his very body. In Wonder Woman we hear about a special sword, the "god killer." But again, no. Instead we find out that Diana, herself, is the god killer; of course, Ares prefers that she use that power to assist him, rather than fight him.
There is some confused moral reasoning in Wonder Woman, fuelled by Greek mythology shamelessly --- and I mean shamelessly --- retrofitted with Christianity.
You see, Diana reached a conclusion about the dual nature, if you will, of humanity, which she had no reason to reach, given the events of the film.
Well, let's go back to the beginning. Through narration we are told that Zeus created all, and later mankind. Mankind was created to be "good," and all that. The Amazons were allegedly created as a functional equivalent of "angels," to look after mankind.
Ares, a bitter, vengeful, cruel, and jealous god, did everything to gum up the works. Anyway, his pattern of subversion led to a great Olympian war, in which Ares killed all the other gods. Zeus, with his dying breath, created Themiscryra as a haven for the Amazons.
Anyhow, blah, blah, blah... so on and so forth... etcetera, etcetera... World War One is going on, something else happens, and Diana comes to the conclusion that the Great War is the result of Ares direct corruption of mankind; and that she must find Ares and kill him, which will immediately stop the war.
The film sets us up to suggest that Diana is being dangerously naïve. But, no, her "prophecy," you might say, proves to be exactly, literally true.
She does find Ares --- the real one after a second try --- and kills him, which, at least according to the way the film seems to have been edited, from what I can tell, does indeed immediately end the war.
In the universe of this film, World War One was all Ares' fault. The "God of Truth," himself, literally states this. In an expository dialogue with Diana, he states that he moved about the Earth, whispering ideas for weapons in the ears of people who could capitalize on them.
He cops out, though, by lamely saying that he did not "tell them to use them," blah, blah, blah... Yet he also admitted that he had also inspired other great wars in history, in this way, in the hope that mankind would wipe themselves out --- proving out Ares' basic thesis about the inherent evil, darkness, corruption, and so on, of the species.
Now, Steve Trevor, in addition to other things, had been seemingly set up to be a rationalist foil to Diana mythological beliefs.
Now, when she killed the "wrong" Ares, the first time, and the war did not immediately end, she was thrown into a crisis of doubt, blah, blah, blah..... Steve Trevor said that human beings were not always good, were sometimes greedy and cruel, sometimes foolish, and so on.
As he is consoling her with rationalism, he does not yet know that Ares actually exists.
But then Diana confronts the real Ares; and when she does, Steve Trevor then sees him and knows that Ares, God of War, is real.
When she kills the real Ares, again, according to the way the film is edited, at least, the war does immediately end.
In this universe, Diana was right and Steve Trevor was wrong. Yet she adopts Steve Trevor's view about the dual nature of mankind.
So that we can have the typical Hollywood ending to such movies: Human beings are a little good, a little bad; a little wise, a little foolish, and so on; a little this, a little that. But people are worth saving and protecting because they are always at least trying to do better everyday, blah, blah, blah...
Cue violins here.