…what happened to you?
This post is basically all spoilers. Fair warning.
Right after seeing Man of Steel I posted to Facebook, “Man of Steel is indefensibly bad. Boring, nonsensical, grim, and… boring.” Then I gave myself some time to think about it – and whether I really wanted to write about it at all. I decided to write, obviously, and I stand by what I wrote before… Man of Steel is all of those things.
There is a post here which I have linked to before. Written by Greg Rucka – a writer who knows gritty and grim – about all the reasons a Superman movie should not be grim and “realistic.” It turns out that his worries about Man of Steel were entirely correct.
Before we get to the meat of the, you know, Superman stuff, I want to take a minute to ask why the movie was made the way it was. We had shaky cam, we had washed out scenes, we had muted colors… even the bright lights of the latter days of Krypton were deeply muted somehow… washed… so that they felt less interesting. If ever there was a movie that should just be saturated with color – it’s a Superman movie. And the flight scenes (as well as the fight scenes) had very little dramatic joy or tension in them because they were so very distant and empty most of the time. For the sake of the people who will pick this one line to tell me how wrong I am… yes, we do see him smile once in a close up during the flying… but otherwise, it’s just a lot of landscape shots and wasted film.
So there is another post that a friend pointed out, here, that addresses some of the problems with the movie. One of the main bones of contention this author has is that Superman kills Zod. Because Superman doesn’t kill, or something. Honestly, the fact that Superman kills Zod is not even on my radar of problems this movie has… Superman doesn’t normally kill – but Superman will kill when he absolutely has no other choice. This happens in the comics on more than one occasion. And it hurts him to kill, and he suffers for it, but he will do it. His conversation with Batman about killing in Death in the Family is pretty much some excellent stuff – and – lest we forget, Superman sacrifices himself in battle to strike the killing blow against Doomsday in a fight that probably killed less civilians in Metropolis than his fight with Zod did in Man of Steel. We, the audience, don’t actually see them die but Superman and Zod do billions of dollars of damage to this city and collateral deaths had to be in the hundreds if not thousands – but this is ignored altogether since the aftermath of the fight involves “that guy” at the office hitting on women to go to a basketball game with him… so at least the stadium is still standing, who cares about the rest, right.
And this is what bugs me about the killing of Zod. Superman has just wrecked the hell out of Metropolis and has done a pretty good imitation of a living weapon of mass destruction – but Zod threatening four people too stupid to just run away finally forces Superman to that final act of killing? And he’s so broken up about it that he screams and weeps a little on Lois. This is incredibly poor storytelling. (Also, in the poor movie-making column – or just lazy – how exactly did Lois know exactly where Superman was and get there so fast in the midst of all that wreckage?)
Speaking of Lois… I love Amy Adams. I like everything she’s done and I thought she was the perfect choice to play Lois because she embodies both the strong, independent woman and the beautiful girl so well in her various, previous, roles. She is a good actress, with a lot of range. But her Lois Lane act was cardboard. And her actions that showed us how “Lois” she was felt like the writers were ticking points off on a checklist rather than attempting to build character. She smarts off to the Air Force officer, she gulps down a straight whiskey, etc. It felt like the movie needed us to see how “Lois” she was. I’m also not really certain at all how her explanation of why she was at the excavation site in Canada made any sense either. A journalist from a newspaper got a court ruling that gave her effectively unfettered access to a sensitive military operation on foreign soil? I’m not an expert on the law so maybe this isn’t as ridiculous as it sounds – but it sounds ridiculous. But they needed her to be there so a throwaway line is justification enough for a lazy story.
And I was going to wait to mention this but since I got to Lois here… there was exactly zero chemistry between Amy Adams and Henry Cavill. Watching them on screen… I haven’t felt a lack of romantic chemistry that awful since Anakin and Padme in the SW prequels. Primarily, I blame the writer and director for this more than the actors. And I like Zack Snyder movies.
More than anything, the moment I realized that this movie was a colossal waste of time was the scene where Pa Kent dies in the tornado. This scene is so ridiculously stupid that I’m still not sure how anyone thought it was a good idea. Mr. Kent runs back to the car to get the dog… gets trapped – for like a second – and then gets free. Limps a little, realizes he’s not gonna be able to outrun the storm. Doesn’t throw himself back in the truck and hope he can ride it out on the floorboards, doesn’t climb under the truck, doesn’t even keep running… He shakes his head and holds up his hand and Clark just watches him die. Clark tells this story to Lois and tells her that he trusted his father so much that he let him die, you know, to prove a point. Because letting your loved ones die when you have the power to save them is so inspiring. And so what if it outed Clark? He could have saved his father from dying. The worst part? Lazy storytelling. Because there was absolutely no reason other than plot necessity for Mr. Kent to be the one to go back to the car. Clark could have gone back for the dog – moved just a little faster than a normal human (because nobody was watching him anyway… they were probably all watching the damn tornado!) and even if he got caught in the car, people have survived weirder things so it’s not at all impossible that they couldn’t have just talked their way out of it… and making characters do ridiculously stupid things just for the sake of plot? That’s the laziest kind of storytelling you can have. I get held to a higher standard by the gamers at my table than this movie seems to even acknowledge.
And Pa Kent’s character is a source of some tension for me in my feelings about this movie. It made little sense that he kept telling Clark – “someday you are going to be an AWESOME hero to everyone. You know, someday.” But when Clark has chances to be a hero – including saving his own father – well, it’s just not quite time yet.
Let’s talk about Zod for a second. Zod is the most interesting character in this movie. He’s played with the range of a burner on the stove, but he has the potential to be the most interesting character in this movie. Here’s a guy that has one goal… a single-minded, genocidal drive to save his people. A people that abandoned him and consigned him to a horrible prison. He wants to save them. He’s no hero… he’s a military man, a warrior, a man who would kill a friend to accomplish his goals. A man who can regret killing a friend but would do it again if it meant he could save Krypton. Zod is misguided, broken, maybe a little crazy – but he actually has a character made of more than a cardboard standee. Of course, any potential joy to be derived from this is ruined by the fact that Zod only has two modes… I’m angry or I’m really angry. Again… not much range and not much gravitas. The Zod of the 80s might have been a little campy, but he had gravity.
Speaking of which. Goyer strikes again. Goyer, the man who gave us the worst villain plot of all time (and that’s saying something) in Batman Begins when Ra’s attempts to blow up the sewers. Or something. It was all too stupid to actually sink in. He gives us… a Kryptonian gravity machine that crushes cars… but nothing else. Why, exactly, did the gravity machine fling stuff up in the air and drop it one city block at a time? And why did it only seem to affect certain things – you know, the destructible environment bits? It’s all very confusing and too stupid to really sink in. Also, as the author of the CA critique mentions, why did Zod want to do this at all? The man had amazing super powers that he was going to deplete or possibly lose when he didn’t have to… it was abundantly clear that Kryptonians could survive just fine on Earth after a little bit of adjustment… so do that, kill all the humans with your hands (or make them slave labor) and it’s all good. Again, they needed a big robot for Supes to fight so that they could spend more on pointless CG while Henry Cavill spends a scene hacking like a 20 year smoker. I may have blacked out for a moment as well, but it’s not abundantly clear what happened in that fight… suddenly he’s just underneath the machine standing in the light before he flies through it and blows it up.
This is long. I’ll hit two more points briefly and move on.
Back to Zod. Zod gives a little speech during his fight with Superman about how he’s this born-and-bred warrior. Then he rips off his armor and learns to fly. Prior to his manifesting this ability I’m still not sure why Clark didn’t just grab him around the waist and fly him to the arctic or something to spare Metropolis… but moving on… Zod makes a point to tell us he is a warrior bred. It is his purpose. And yet, Jor El, a scientist, whoops him like he ain’t even there (after taking out Zod’s whole squad) earlier in the movie. And now Superman, another El who has never trained to fight, does exactly the same thing. It’s a little embarrassing really.
And then, the ending. Superman, in this movie, is petty. I got a chuckle when he ruined that jerk’s truck earlier in the movie… a guilty chuckle, but a chuckle. But at the end, when Superman destroys the drone and throws it at the general? Why would he do that? First of all, he has heat vision… just fry the camera. Or better yet, Superman flew from the Indian Ocean to Metropolis in roughly two minutes. The US doesn’t have a drone he couldn’t just outrun… a lot. It was a petty message. But I suppose that after you’ve done billions of dollars of damage to a city and more to a town in Kansas, what’s a $12 million drone?
I could mention other things – the Jesus bit, the weirdly inconsistent Kryptonian technology, the oddity of the scout ship in Canada, the choppy ass editing, hell, a million other things… The point is, it was not a very good Superman movie – but it was also just not a very good movie.
I’ll leave it with this. DC should take a long look at what they are doing with their movies – take a lesson from their animated films (or from Marvel). They have the most amazing animation department (that gets it), and Marvel has had fantastic success – not just in dollars but in fan goodwill – from understanding that superhero movies need to be fun as well as awesome. They made Thor work on the big screen… because they understood that a little genuine humor goes a long way. They made Iron Man work, because they made him broken but human. Agent Coulson has become a geek/fan icon for cryin’ out loud. Marvel really gets it. Until DC figures it out… I’m not sure I can see another DC superhero movie.
As always, thanks for reading.