Dissecting Man of Steel: Does Superman Sink or Soar?

Lauren:  If there’s one thing that overwhelmed my thought process while watching Man of Steel, it was this: “Batman couldn’t do that.”

Zac: But Batman’s movies and characters are better.

Lauren: Nope.

Spoilers Throughout

As a fan of the character that is Superman, I had a lot riding on the newest film version of this superhero’s story. Fear was further saturating my thought process when Snyder was attached as director because as much as I love his work, I just didn’t see him doing this character justice because of the usual look of his films.  But then I saw it, and to my relief he really knows how to handle one of the most powerful men in the world.

There is some origin story littered throughout to show Clark’s values and family upbringing that formed his great sense of morality, a fantastic view at the last days of Krypton, the world Kal-El comes from, and best of all, the journey to Clark Kent developing into one of the most famous superheroes ever as he fights to save his adoptive home from his past.

Zac: Snyder’s presence is what had me most excited about the potential of this film, but his presence is barely felt through out the picture. I couldn’t disagree more that he handles Superman well here and I think that is chiefly because he abandons every bit of style he has built up over the years. Even when people haven’t enjoyed his pictures they usually give him credit for at least shooting the hell out of it and I cannot say that here. Where is the well choreographed and coherent action, where is the trademark speed ramping to showcase what this super fast hero is capable of, where are the seamless special effects, where is the world building, where are the characters? Worst of all, everything is so, safe; which is sort of fitting given that Superman is about as safe as a superhero can get.

Lauren:  Goodness how bout you pick a topic and go with details before you just lob that all out there under the umbrella of bad.  As for Snyder, I did miss his speed ramps and honestly expected some of that stuff considering Superman’s speed potential as he fights enemies that can do this, but to discredit what he did by saying he wasn’t Snyder enough doesn’t mean what he did was bad.  It was just different.  That and he tried something new my showing that the speed was something that could not be matched by humans in the slightest.  I bet this will probably be used in a Justice League film for The Flash, so get used to it now.

Personally I thought there was great character development because this film was about Superman and how the people around him formed him into who he is, and not taking great looks at those around them.  This doesn’t mean they aren’t still enjoyable, though.  Amy Adam’s was Lois Lane, Kevin Costner was Pa Kent.  Not only that, but this was the first time I have ever come away from something happy with Jor-El.  Russell Crowe was awesome, and they made this character more than just a domineering father trying to steer his son from the grave.  He still did this, but his memory still had heart.

Zac: Superman’s two Dad’s were the best parts of the film and I agree 100% with the awesomeness of Crowe. Not only is he great in his scenes with Cavill, but he is excellent in his action set piece on Krypton as well. In fact, the film’s opening act on Krypton doesn’t have any of those aforementioned issues I lobbed out there earlier. The Krypton stuff is pretty great. I love the creatures, the action is mostly coherent, and the imagery felt like Snyder; the shot of Krypton going up from behind Lara Lor-Van was gorgeous.

But it’s Pa Kent’s death that takes the cake. The only great moment from the film, Costner brought me to tears without words. Costner is solid as a befuddled father to this alien and he brings a lot of humanity to the role that is essential to the story they are trying to tell. I would argue they lose that humanity though the moment Superman turns himself in.

See, I like some stuff.

Lauren: Explain yourself. Turning himself in to protect humanity counts as losing humanity? Or is it because Superman acts like that, and not like Clark Kent?  He was taught to hide this side of him, so it’s only natural that he has a different air of confidence b/c he’s finally free to share that other side of him. Not only that, but maybe he’s protecting the humans from making a tough decision. By acting greater than, strong, and not with human flaws then they will not feel bad for turning him over. Superman is nice like that.

Zac: The film loses that humanity as Superman is mostly unconcerned about it in the big set pieces in Smallville and Metropolis (which might as well have been a generic city as it had zero personality like Nolan’s Gotham) as those scenes have an incredible disregard for human life by both the good and the bad guys. Millions of people needlessly die in this movie, while tens of thousands die once it is just Supes vs. Zod as our caped hero doesn’t try and protect civilian life in any way shape or form. The military also just opens fire in high civilian casualty environments and the film tries to justify it by showing a couple people lock their shop doors? Superman needed one of his Dads to give him a lesson on collateral damage.

Lauren: I would say that’s an overestimation of the death tally, though buildings tumbling down will definitely raise the casualty rate exponentially.  The thing is, there’s not a whole lot that Superman can do to stop this.  When we see him save the men on the oil rig early on, he was facing structural damage, he wasn’t facing someone equally as powerful and better trained for this situation.  Why do you think he killed Zod?  He didn’t do it because he was angry, he did it because it was the only way to stop the high levels of death from increasing in the future.  He did stop the extinction of the human race, so give him some credit.

And Superman had plenty of growth here.  I loved how they littered the flashbacks or his origin story throughout the present day in order to break up the continuity, and I thought they really showed his struggle with who he was.  And I loved, LOVED, that he killed Zod.  Superman is known for not killing, just as Batman is, but he knew he had to do this, fully embracing this world while tragically cutting the only possible way to have ties to his past presently that he knows of.  It’s OK, Henry Cavill, come give me a hug.

Zac: Of course you want to hug Henry Cavill, he is a hunk.

Agree, the moment of killing Zod was effective, but I think the moment only resonates like it did with you if you are as big a fan as you are. The text of the film doesn’t give us that much depth to Superman’s code or morality and while Cavil is good enough to sell the big emotional moments, I don’t know if they really earned any of them outside Pa Kent amazing death scene. Showing a flashback doesn’t equal character development. Beyond the characters we have mentioned though, nobody is worth caring for or has more than two dimensions to them. Amy Adams is a plot device who we are told is great and not really shown (I’m not impressed by a reporting montage), I could care less about the Military and Daily Planet teams and you only care about Ma Kent because she is his Mom and Diane Lane is a good actress. Even Zod loses any complexity once he is arrested and Michael Shannon playing him big didn’t really work for me, he is great in Zod’s quieter moments though. Zod’s number two, Faora-Ul, was actually the more compelling villain if you ask me and Antje Traue is menacing as she messes some dudes up.

Lauren: I was a little meh with Zod for a while, though the man knows how to make an entrance, but I love what he said to Superman before their final fight about no longer having a purpose. Not saying he’s forgivable, but his evil is understandable because he is exactly who he was bred to be. Because of this fueling of cause into destroying Superman, I do think Cavill’s makeup team should have gotten to play around with blood and bruises to show that these two are equal, as opposed to just seeing the destructing taking a toll on the city. Granted, that was pretty awesome. Put The Avengers‘ final battle destruction to shame.

As for Lois, I can agree somewhat, but my hope is going full force into the sequel considering where the film ended. And for once Lois was smart enough to know Superman and Clark Kent are the same person from the get go! Yay!

Zac: Whoa, whoa, whoa. The action in this film doesn’t deserve to be named in the same breath as The Avengers; have you watched that movie recently? Avengers was in broad daylight, entirely coherent, had character moments sprinkled throughout and I never once questioned the effects on display. Plus, the set piece was about 20 minutes longer and had an immense variety to it; this might be the craziest thing you have argued in a while.

Lauren:  How dare you think I spoke negatively about Joss Whedon’s work!  I’m talking destruction, calm yourself.  It just really showed what would happen if two power houses fought in a city, more so than Superman Returns’ “How will we get that plane out of the baseball stadium!?” representation of this same idea.  I am not saying this fight sequence was better than that of The Avengers by any means, just that it was different and this had more of a natural disaster type scale to it in my eyes.  Made me reevaluate what the Hulk probably should have done.

Zac:  The setup for the sequel does have me hopeful, even though I have no idea what they are going to do for the bad guy. And I agree with the way they handled Lois going forward and the setup of Clark Kent, but I think there is going to be a lot of people poking holes in how easy it would be to put the identity of Superman together; though, there always are.

Lauren: There are plenty of villains to go with, but my guess is they are going to introduce Lex Luthor considering you see some Lexcorp property destroyed in the final battle.  Other than that, they may go the Batman route and have numerous bad guys in one film.  And the question remains as to if/when kryptonite is introduced.  And if this is a trilogy, they might try to tackle Doomsday.

Zac:  I just can’t give this film a pass when it comes to character though, even if it nails a couple beats in the closing moments. So many good actors are wasted here and are barely given a second thought other than their need for the plot. Christopher Meloni and Richard Shiff are given no depth beyond their plot description and are sacrificed to the massive body count with no dramatic tension whatsoever. The aforementioned Daily Planet news team is a joke, asking us to care about Laurence Fishburne who spouts some of the dumbest lines of the year and intern and a horny Michael Kelly. Their moment of distress was borderline laughable and I didn’t care one bit about their safety or if they survived the slow moving threat of stronger gravity. Plus, they had potential to give Zod’s team some character, but other than “the girl one” and the “big black guy” everyone else was cannon fodder. There are no real characters in this film beyond the Dads, and if you aren’t going to have characters to hold on to you better have a good plot, and this film doesn’t.

Why would you tie the main plot point of this film, literally, to the life and death of Superman? There were no stakes or weight to the unlocking of the codex because Zod had to kill Superman to get it and we all know Superman isn’t going to die. Plus, Supes doesn’t seem all that concerned about the future of the species, even when he finds out his past (I loved that 3D changing mural scene by the way), and I never felt like the film conveyed he had to protect himself to protect a positive future for his people.

Lauren:  Like I said, even if we know he isn’t going to die, a bloodied up face on someone who is supposed to be practically indestructible would have been a nice touch to give more stakes, but this film is more about Superman finding himself as a character within this world, and I believe that was accomplished even though you feel he had no growth as a character.  I believe he did and understand that flashbacks don’t equal development, but the flashbacks showed what he had to go through to become who he is, which is, say it with me now, character development.  Just because he didn’t become a completely different person doesn’t mean there wasn’t any growth.

Zac: A question to that, is any of the growth he does have anything that is inherent to the character for years now? Superman is a character no one seems that interested in messing with, and while he kills Zod and that is a departure, he is who we thought he is. I am less concerned with Superman’s growth than the fact that nobody else has any of a personality to speak of which keeps me from caring about most of the events that happen in this film.

A couple other questions before we wrap this up, are humans descendants of Krypton? Does that explain our like physiology and ability to get it on with one another? There was an empty pod on the scout ship, did he spawn humans or have sex with a humanoid? Or is that a sneaky set up to the next villain, another Kryptonian been hiding on Earth for 20,000 years?

Also, I really could have done without the visit to the church and the conversation with the priest. Why is he not talking to his Mom about his sacrifice, that’s who it matters to. The priest would also lose his shit if an alien exists and walked into his place; that really messes up his life world view. I know people like to throw the Christ imagery on Superman, but shouldn’t the focus be on how his existence would destroy and enrage religious types? Have they ever done a storyline like that in the comics?

I know it sounds like I hated this film, but I didn’t have a bad time watching it. It was a perfectly fine movie that looks great and kept me entertained for the two hour plus run time, it just could have been so much better. Cut down the cast and give us a handful of realized characters, make sure your CGI is pristine in your biggest moments and make your action a bit more coherent and they might have had a great superhero film here. I want to know why it feels like Snyder had his wings clipped and I would have loved to have seen what he did without Nolan looking over his shoulder and grounding things in reality. That approach makes sense for Batman, I think it would have been advisable to make things a little bit more hyper-realistic for Superman. It is worth your time and should be seen on a big screen, I just think there was a lot of room for improvement.

Lauren:  Long story short, Zac and I came away with completely different reactions to this film.  I would say that it has something to do with me being a Superman fan at heart, but my dad loved it as well and might be donning a Superman crest on his chest soon enough because of it.  I loved this film as an introduction to the character and the world, and hopefully it will do better than the last Superman film so that we can really get into those characters that Zac wants to see now that Clark is settling into his role as a reporter at the end of the film.  There is so much potential for what can happen now, and I cannot wait to see where they go with it.

Lauren’s Final Grade:  A

Zac’s Final Grade: C+ (Up from a C/C-, on second viewing)

Zac’s 2nd Viewing Thoughts:
I think the film works pretty great until the Smallville action scene kicks in which was still just OK to me. The action is the weakest part of the film, even at this scope, and again I have to go with the over reliance on CG as a big reason as to why this is.

Stray Observations:
-Still no characters to be found outside the core, but Lois felt more realized.

-The biggest female role that isn’t Lois, Ma Kent or kicking ass has only two attributes, she doesn’t understand science and thinks Superman is “Hot.” Eeeeee.

-They really ugly up Diane Lane in this movie. Go see Olympus Has Fallen, she looks great.

-My issues went down easier on second viewing, I could just enjoy myself, but most of them are still pretty much there nor solved.

-Superman is not circumcised, if that’s your thing.

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