Review: Man of Steel

I had no intention of seeing Man of Steel in the movie theater; I was voting for Monsters University. I’ve grown quite tired with the constant universe rebooting. We all know where Superman (or Batman or Spider-Man etc) came from. Can we not waste another 2+ hours and $millions to retell that. Why can’t we just tell new stories? These characters have such rich histories and such iconic villains that it just seems so pointless to keep hitting the same notes. Additionally, while I liked Snyder’s Watchmen, I was NOT a fan of Suckerpunch. But my parents wanted to treat Danielle and I to a nice dinner for our wedding anniversary and Man of Steel was the movie that would get us out of the theater in time to make out reservations.

I’d read somewhere (probably Rolling Stone) that this movie was loosely based on Mark Waid’s Superman: Birthright. Well, I’d have to put a STRONG emphasis on LOOSELY. A short list of differences: (note, there will be spoilers)

  • Mark Waid’s telling has many more awesome and empowered women. It is Superman’s mom who convinces the father that putting him on the rocket is the right thing to do. And it is Ma Kent that is the computer and technological wizard in such an awesome and empowering way that should always be canon
  • Superman: Birthright has Lex Luthor as the villain
  • Superman: Birthright focuses on Clark’s interactions with his school mates and young Lex
  • Superman: Birthright has Clark working as a journalist from the beginning, just not for the daily planet
  • Lois does not know that Clark is Superman
  • General Zod is mentioned, but is not a key part of the Earth portion of the story

There are SOME similarities:

  • Superman is feared by the world. This is pretty much the only way to put Superman into a modern and realistic world (necessary if there’s going to be a crossover with Nolan’s Batman series). In a change from Superman: Birthright he’s feared as a kid, too.
  • Clark works all over the world in an attempt to hide his powers. The difference is that Clark is working as a reporter in Superman: Birthright and is just wandering the world in Man of Steel.
  • Lois tries to put together story of mystery super man. In Superman: Birthright she isn’t able to put it together and know that Clark is Superman – but at least it is realistic in that stories like this would definitely leak out.
  • Clark’s father can’t come to terms with his powers. The consequences are different, but it’s a similar beat.

Although, given how I open this post, I think we could have been ok with a quick spaceship landing in Kansas and then jump to adult Clark Kent at the Daily Planet,  I admire the pace that this movie takes. It’s very important to the film’s thesis – being Superman is a burden. Sure, it has a cultural cousin in the post-Interview with a Vampire world in which we see that with incredible power can come incredible loneliness and that can sometimes come across as melodramatic and emo, but I think it works well with a modern Superman. Clark lives with the realistic fear that, as an alien, he would become a government project if he were discovered. Additionally, although he has to learn it on his own, his father realizes what a change to the status quo this would be. And I’m not surprised this point of view comes from the director of Watchmen, after all, Alan Moore’s Dr Manhattan throws the entire world into disarray. He makes the USA safer, but makes the world more dangerous as the Soviets ramp up in an effort to build up a force capable of countering the god.

Snyder does an excellent job of conveying how the Kryptonians ended up becoming “lazy” and allowing their planet to be destroyed. I’m not sure who was the first person to posit this reason, but it’s been pretty consistent as long as I’ve been reading comics. Essentially, Snyder says they have lost creativity due to a Brave New World style desire to engineer each Kryptonian to have a certain role in society. If Superman: Birthright was an attack of the post-9/11 USA excesses in the security state, Man of Steel is about losing identity and creativity. I wonder if this would have to be edited out in a Chinese release as it is basically saying that if you’re not like the USA, your planet will die. Krypton is essentially the ultimate Confucius state.

This version of the Superman canon has Lois Lane discovering Superman’s identity from the beginning. As the Rolling Stone review mentioned – this is really the only acceptable way for the story to be told in modern times. How could a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist not be able to piece it together? It also works perfectly with the Superman loneliness that Snyder is portraying. Unlike Dr Manhattan, who has lost the ability to relate with humans, Superman hasn’t been able to honestly do so ever since his childhood (with events like saving the bus). It’s quite likely that he would have continued to be alone (save his family) except that Lois had already figured everything out. So he finally had someone he could confide in and someone he could trust. Lois repays the trust and doesn’t put Ma Kent in danger by burying her story. If the story to Man of Steel 2 remains in good hands (Snyder with Nolan as a moderating force), I think this is a relationship that’s ripe for exploration. How does this secret keep them together or tear them apart? It brings a new dynamic to the relationship since it was never based on lies.

The rest of the story – the fight with General Zod and his troops and their desire to restart the Kryptonian race – it’s action and it’s comic book sci fi mumbo jumbo. It works to create a movie that deeper than it seems at first. As much as I hate to admit it, it’s as deep as the Nolan Batman trilogy – preserving the action needed to sustain the super hero blockbuster while also telling a compelling story of being alone in the universe. Snyder also has Superman commit murder when General Zod declares it’s the only way to keep him from destroying the world. I don’t know if Superman’s ever killed on purpose in the comics, but in all the cartoon adaptations I’ve seen (and some have been pretty dark), he would have found a different way. It’s what separates him from Batman who always seems just on the edge from allowing a death if it’s necessary. It changes their dynamic should a World’s Finest or Justice League movie ever come to fruition. (At least if the writers of that movie are paying attention to the movie canon and not just going with what’s in the comics/the past 75 years of canon)

On last thing – the destruction of Metropolis was a bit much for me – especially people running away as the skyscrapers fell around them. It echoed 11 Sept a little too much for me. I have to say it was the one scene (and a very rare for a movie) where I actually almost started to tear up. I will be curious to see what New Yorkers think watching it – especially those who lived through it. I haven’t had problem with random destruction since 11 Sept, but the visuals here were a little too much like the visuals from that day.

For other points of view about the movie check out G-Man from Comic Vine‘s opinion and a great review over at Flasback Universe.

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