Let me get one thing straight right away: I liked Man of Steel, and while there are a few serious flaws in the movie, I can definitely recommend it. I’ve had a lot of discussions where the plot holes are uncovered, and some more serious discussion about things in the movie people are just MAD about. So from here on out, I am going to put up the spoilers tag, even though the “spoilers” are relative.
SPOILERS AFTER THE JUMP
Linus pretty much sums up not only the movie, but Superman himself. I have seen quite a few comparisons to The Avengers and how “they” got things right, and it made me realize how different things are in the Marvel universe compared to DC. Viewing Man of Steel through that filter, I think the critics of the movie are getting lost in a few things. That doesn’t mean I am excusing crappy movie writing. I am just saying that there are bigger stakes with Superman than there are with Iron Man or Hulk.
As far as I can tell, the people who write scripts (except David Lynch) have two rules to follow. The first is to never put something in there that won’t come up again. The second is to use shorthand to establish things so you don’t have to keep doing it over and over. If there is another rule, I guess it would be to ask WHY a lot when you are writing the thing. And if the answer to WHY is: “because if we don’t do this than we can’t get to the next thing” then you need to think of something better. Man of Steel did too much of the second one and not enough of the third one.
For instance, Pa Kent could have had his son go with him to get the dog out of the car in the tornado. He knew Clark wouldn’t die, and obviously thought he (Pa) wouldn’t either, or he wouldn’t have gone out there. So why not bring him?
Also: Pa Kent died in a tornado because he was trying to save his dog.
When you are dealing with Superman you have a lot of baggage. For example, the whole Christ imagery thing. Why point out that he was 33 years old if it isn’t a Christ parallel (more on this later). And then you have to come up with a way to make him compelling when he is totally invincible. Kryptonite used to do that, but even that didn’t make a ton of sense. I mean, why not make it so Kryptonite negated his powers so you could just run him over with a car or shove a broken off pool cue through his face? Why did it have to be poison?
But the biggest BURDEN was always Superman’s 100% goodness. There was never an ounce of bend in him. He understood and accepted his superiority and swallowed all of the impulses that a mere “human” would have had, just benevolently guarding Earth and catching the occasional bank robber. He wasn’t just better in every physical way. He was also morally superior. Because the alternative would be unthinkable. And that is, in my opinion, what Man of Steel does so well.
In Man of Steel, Superman doesn’t know what he is or whose side he’s on. He figures it out, but in the process of doing so he commits the cardinal sin of dealing with the dogma of Superman. He causes collateral damage. Or does he?
A lot is being made of the destruction in both Metropolis and in Smallville. “Why didn’t he save Metropolis instead of the thing on the other side of the world?” “Why didn’t he punch Zod into space and fight him there?” “Why didn’t he jump into the corn and out of the street so nobody got hurt?” “Why did he keep wrecking buildings?????”
One guy I read actually compared it unfavorably to the fight in The Avengers where things were (and I’m paraphrasing) contained to a few blocks and Captain America specifically went out of his way to make sure it was known they wanted to protect civilians. Seriously? That’s what it takes? Here is why I think that, even on technicalities, Man of Steel covers its bases.
- In Smallville he told people to go inside. He may have thrown people through some buildings but he cared so that covers the “he knew they were there” base.
- He saved the dude who fell out of the helicopter. That covers the “I’ll stop what I am doing to save a human” base.
- Perry White told everyone to get out of the Daily Planet building. Which means they covered the “city being evacuated” base.
Now, I admit that these things are a stretch, but they are examples of the “goodness” rule. And the fact that people are doubting it and bitching about the whole damage thing shows the additional burden that Superman has. He is supposed to be able to save the world without having anything bad happen to anyone at all (unless the bad guy does it). Even though he was told by the people on Earth who cared about him the most that the world would screw him over if he ever revealed himself, his real father talked to him from space and told him he needed to be an example for the world and save everyone.
Nooo, nothing Jesus-like in there at all. And that’s where things get unfair when criticizing Superman’s actions in the movie.
Why would we want to see the same story we have seen before? It’s not like he started throwing babies at Zod. He just kicked him through some buildings. Oh, and also broke his neck and killed him: another thing that was sort of a big deal which I have seen people complain about. But I don’t see why. If he hadn’t, there would have been an evil Superman running around the Earth with nothing to do but kill people. And therein lies my point with this new Superman. He is still the old Superman, but there are real choices that need to be made in the world he lives in, right from the very start. So yeah, Superman might not have checked everything he was kicking Zod and his crew through, but he did save the world. And he did it while trying to earn the trust of the people he was saving.
Was the movie flawed? Yeah. But is there a finally a retelling of the Superman story where there is some doubt as to how the “big blue boy scout” is going to handle things? Damn right. And not that I am thinking ahead to an eventual meetup between Superman and Batman already, but think about it. In this world, Batman will have the moral high ground. Batman doesn’t kill. Superman killed Zod. So the setup is completely different. I can see the next Man of Steel featuring Lex Luthor (you saw the Lexcorp logo on the oil truck, right?), demanding that there be compensation for the damage that Superman caused in Metropolis. Driving that wedge between Superman and the people he promises he is going to protect. Always looking for a way to keep people from trusting him. And there will be enough ambiguity to make it interesting. And when Batman threatens Superman eventually (he always does), Superman can be all:
And that’s a good thing.
I think the way Superman treated his environment and the people in the movie who pissed him off brings him into a space where he can actually be a three dimensional character. And to me, that’s progress. So go see Man of Steel. I give it 3.5 out of 5 alien fetus balls (that’s an inside the movie joke, FYI).
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