I’m not really a movie reviewer, but I feel like I should say something —
not a 17-paragraph manifesto or anything, just the basics.
I think I really, really liked Man of Steel. But for selfish reasons. The Superman story has become a cliche — we know what happens because it is almost American Gospel. So to make that interesting anymore is very difficult. But I understand — origins have to be told and retold so I smile during Spider-Man and say “it’s for the kids.”
For the first time in forever, I didn’t really know what was going to happen. Lots of stuff was overturned — some of it very central to the Superman story. But to my surprise — it worked. Why can’t Lois know right away? (This might be the single best thing to happen to the Lois character in decades). Why can’t he be Farmer/Soundgarden Clark instead of Reporter Clark first? The central question is Why? That should tell you everything: this was definitely an interpretation of the story — it was not a panel-by-panel replication of Action #1 or of Byrne’s reboot. So it was artistic — and thus open to criticism. Which was gutsy on their part. But necessary, I think — the story was ready for it. Parts were left for us to fill in (the Kents finding the crash) but the necessary standbys were reassuring (the Planet elevator).
The blockbuster part of the movie was important because that’s the first time we’ve seen a knock-out / drag-out superhero battle like this on screen. Everyone else is saying this (and we seem to say it for every movie), but this version was different. Snyder made the world look big, not the character. He shot a world based on what the younger Clark says, hiding in a broom closet. This is the bigger picture — not the wink and a smile of Reeve in the exact center of every frame.
So I liked the story and Zimmer’s theme was a tearjerker. But the narrative I enjoyed the most was that of the Smallville origin. What? Am I kidding? Nope. Jonathan Kent has always been, like Superman, a romanticized, blurry character. He’s “Pa!” But when he suggests early on that Clark should have “maybe” let the school bus go down, we are shocked — Pa wouldn’t say that! Noooo! But as the flashbacks continue, we begin to see why — Jonathan teaches by example (in a terrifying scene, especially this month) and at the end, we learn that Jonathan somehow saw it all before anyone else. It is a strange, almost supernatural moment, but it was really moving. Though I am biased I guess, that revelation was a big payoff for me as a viewer.
Plus all the little things: the Doomsday-ish armor, that Brainiac(?) skull, Kelex — but in new interpretations. And Krypton was visually (mostly) new — not easy in science fiction.
In the end, I think I liked this movie not because it is awesome when Zod goes down to the kick-ass black suit and goes inflation-era Kirby (thanks to The Beat for pointing this out), but because this is a movie about Superman’s ‘creators’ — Jonathan and Jor-El. Like Zod, Superman has been bred with a mission, but it is of two worlds, and he is conflicted between them. Jor-El teaches the paragon; Jonathan teaches humility. Clark accepts his role as savior, but struggles with it because he is human as well. Unlike Zod. Everyone is pointing to Superman’s “decision” in the last battle, but I didn’t get that at all — I think he sees it as a mistake. There is story there.
As far as the unbelievable act goes, it was pretty crazy. I’m still thinking about it, and need to before getting into it more. I can see how it is so divisive. I stick by what I said to CNN — a Superman who does that is essentially a different character. At the same time, the Christian idolatry of the character that the film insists on ends abruptly in that scene. After that deed, Superman is no longer the perfect figure; he is human. And I really liked how they did his reaction to it. That was the story, not the act itself. Now, after his first superhero battle, being good becomes a real choice, not something inherited from Kansas somehow. There is then character for the character. So people will talk it out, and debate, which is good. And that’s the most interesting thing about it. With all that’s going on in the world, we’re focusing on this. In a weird way, that has to be a good thing. Maybe the scene is then playing out in a way that its opposite (“Go with Maggie, General Zod, we’ve built a prison on the moon”) could never do. “Superman doesn’t kill” is a very different message from “killing is bad and will haunt you forever.”
Would Jerry and Joe have liked it? How would I know? But really, I think the intense foregrounding of the two fathers with Clark trying to navigate how to understand someone who was both a hero and a coward echoes (eerily) my own interpretation of the story. So I think they would have liked it. Maybe. Though I was also struck, somewhat, by the absence of many elements from Action Comics #1. Then again, Clark’s alias at one point is “Joe,” so what’s not to like?
I just heard a guy reviewing it on the radio say both “excessive exposition” and “excessive action” in the same sentence. So don’t trust reviewers. I sure don’t. And don’t trust me either (one of my favorite movies used(?) to be Hudson Hawk). Go see it and let your opinions be known. We knew we’d get a darker version, so it’s a good opportunity to explore a new interpretation in that long line. If anything, a Superman this dark shouldn’t make us mad at Hollywood, it should make us look around at ourselves, which this may be accomplishing. But that initial question, way back at the start of this blog: do we still care about what happens to a fictional character named Superman? Asked and answered. Nice work Snyder/Goyer/Time-Warner/actors — though that promotion with Gillette revealed Twitter to be totally fake for all time so please don’t do that again ever. Just bring back Emil, please, with way more to do.