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“Man of Steel” Review, Part II: “But Ordinary’s Just Not Good Enough Today”

Man of Steel 2 - Kal-ElAs promised, I’m going to delve a bit deeper into Man of Steel in this part of the review.  This naturally means delving into spoilers territory.  So I announce this loud and clear: THERE ARE SPOILERS AHEAD FOR MAN OF STEEL IN THIS PIECE! TURN BACK IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN IT AND DON’T WANT TO BE SPOILED FOR IT!!

Got it?  Anyone left?  OK, let’s head on down.

I said in Part I that I had some issues with parts of the movie and that I thought it had some flaws.  The movie gets so much right that these pieces did kind of take me out of it.  Some flaws are minor, some are major.  And one is so earth-shattering that I am not surprised it has gotten a lot of people up in arms. But I understand that all these flaws stem from three major decisions that the filmmakers opted to make.  First, they are telling an origin story from scratch in a world based in our own.  This is where we get all those remarks that this is a “serious” or “darker” Superman tale.  This is also why Superman isn’t necessarily firing on all cylinders when it comes to the climactic battles.  Secondly, at its core, this movie is asking the question of which heritage Kal-El/Clark Kent will choose:  is he a Kryptonian who landed amidst weak humans?  Is he a man from Kansas who can do incredible things?  What, ultimately, lies at his core?  Jor-El or Jonathan? Krypton or Kansas?  Finally, this tale is laying the foundations for this series of movies.  So a lot of what we see in this movie won’t necessarily have a payoff till later sequels.  Whether or not you think that’s fair or wise, I leave to you.  In any case, let’s start with the major points first.

Kal-El kills Zod.  This one should be obvious.  What’s surprising here is that Goyer and Nolan went to great lengths to show how Batman doesn’t kill opponents in the “Dark Knight” trilogy.  So they should have understood the significance of having Superman kill Zod.  Not only is it tonally incorrect for the character as he will be, it’s wrong within the context of the story.  As Mark Waid said “Superman does not kill. Period.”  Even if you want to say that Zod backed Kal-El up into a corner where only killing him would end his threat, part of the character of Superman is that he finds a way around.  The only thing that doesn’t bend about Superman is his moral stance.  He is someone who respects life – whether human or alien – and respects those around him.  It’s only when you show no respect towards those weaker than you that he responds with violence, but again, it’s measured violence. Man of Steel 2 - Kal-El 2

And I understand that at this point in his story, Kal-El is not Superman.  He is not the protector or defender.  But that’s immaterial because he’s already had that morality drilled into him by Ma and Pa Kent.  That’s the point of the Kents in the story.  They’re not just the people who take him in when they find him in his ship.  They’re the people who instill in this alien baby the best values and ideals that humanity had to pass down: respect, humility, altruism.  Again, that has been changed in Man of Steel to reflect the more nuanced and complex opinions of Jonathan and Martha regarding Clark’s potential use of his powers.  The Kents – at least Jonathan – are less sure of what Clark’s position in the future can be.

The level of destruction is amazing to stare at but brings up story and character questions.  How can I put this mildly?  Why is Kal-El fighting the Kryptonians in the middle of his home town?  Why is he not pulling Zod away from Metropolis after he’s gotten the other Kryptonian villains away?  I get that after the success of The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises, this level of destruction and chaos is now the new normal.  But I want you to consider it this way: say two alien super-beings just finished leveling New York City with their fight.  Would you welcome the winner as Earth’s new savior?  Or would you be demanding he be found and shot into a rocket ship far the hell away from Earth?

Don’t get me wrong. I love the visuals of Kal-El fighting Faora in Smallville.  I love the stakes they give him when he’s taking on Zod.  Like I said in Part I, I think this is the first movie to capture the sense of power that Superman has and the kind of damage he can do when he takes on his opponents.  But unless this is the first mega city in the world to have more skyscrapers than people, then the Kryptonians’ attack and the battle between Zod and Kal-El likely killed thousands of citizens of Metropolis. And this goes once again, to how the character of Superman is supposed to be someone who is aware of his surroundings and careful to never expose innocents to danger as a result of his actions.  You can’t be a serious movie and not have serious consequences for the actions of Kal-El.

And I think that this is where the conflict between Superman and Lex Luthor will arise in the sequel (I’m just going to call it Man of Tomorrow until I hear otherwise).  Luthor will be able to paint Superman as an alien threat and people will believe him because he did just help level a city.  While the movie does show a scene where the Special Forces soldiers accept Kal-El as one of them, that’s a far cry for the rest of humanity.  The filmmakers are going to have to start Man of Tomorrow by showing Superman earning people’s trust.

MAN OF STEELWho is Lois Lane?  She’s a great writer (already won a Pulitzer) and a great pain in the ass (the US government put an injunction on her to keep her away) who chases her leads like a bloodhound chases its prey.  Beyond that we don’t get a better sense of who she is.  She falls for the weird alien in the blue suit, but is that because she actually is intrigued by him or because he’s new and different and like nothing she’s ever seen?  Again, a lot of this will likely be fleshed out in the inevitable sequel. To me, it does bring up the point that if so much character development was going to be left for Man of Tomorrow, then why not excise characters like Lois, Perry White, The Daily Planet and Metropolis from this movie?  Leave it for the next movie where they might be integral parts and let this movie be the Krypton versus Kansas movie it so clearly expresses it is.

The intercuts between Clark’s youth and current age.  I know they are meant to engender a way for us to care about the man lost in the doubt and fear of his doubts.  But they also act as a way to keep him at arm’s length.  It’s understandable that they opted for this technique for a quick and easy way to move the story to adult Clark while also tapping the massive myth of his Midwest childhood.  It might work if the intercut scenes allowed for a way to get into the heart of the character — to experience not only his doubts and fears, but his joys at his newfound powers and his growing sense of responsibility that is bequeathed by the Kents.  All they do is show how Clark has no clue about who he is and where he came from and why he can do the things he can do.  It’s more akin to the moping Anakin Skywalker did in the Star Wars prequels!

The Fortress of Solitude sequence was too short.  In a movie that’s nearly two and a half hours long, they couldn’t dedicate more than a few moments to Clark finding out the truth of his heritage?  This is the whole point of the movie.  This is what your main character is driving at.  He’s been searching for his answers and he’s finally got them.  Hologram Jor-El fills him in on his identity and the reasons for his presence of Earth.  He presents Kal-El with his blue and red suit.  And then Kal-El spends the next few moments learning to fly.

MAN OF STEELAnd then…nothing.  No further training on his powers.  No indication of the threats and dangers that may be out there.  No sense of what greater purpose he can serve and how to serve it beyond the “you will give the people of Earth” lines from the trailers.  In Superman: The Movie, Clark spends 18 years in the Fortress learning his powers, his heritage and how best to use both to serve mankind.  In this movie, it appears he barely got a weekend in before thinking, “ah, that’s enough. There’s a cute redhead on my trail!”

But if you think these flaws/issues are reason enough for me to not like it, let me stop you and throw in a few changes that I did like.

I liked how genetic selection affected the story.  In the movie, Kryptonian society believes that new citizens should be born from a Matrix-like system that generates just the right amount of scientists, laborers, soldiers and leaders.  Your future is genetically predisposed for before you are born.  That means that Jor-El is Krypton’s greatest scientist because he was made that way.  The same for Zod, who is genetically engineered to protect and defend Krypton. This colors the decisions by both characters when they uncover Krypton’s impending death.  For Jor-El that means saving the genetic legacy of Krypton that is contained in the Codex – which requires someone who is not imprinted already by the Codex.  So Kal-El’s natural birth is a mechanism for Jor-El to save the Codex.  For Zod that means taking over command of the Supreme Council in his failed coup d’etat.

TMan of Steel 2 - Zodhis also means that, for Zod to save Krypton, he needs the Codex that’s contained within Kal-El.  This gives him a greater purpose to seek out his enemy’s son than the revenge angle that was given before.  It also means that, when Kal-El destroys the Kryptonian terraforming machine and banishes the rest of his people to the Phantom Zone, it robs Zod from his genetically-ordained purpose.  Kal-El takes from Zod his very reason for being.  This leads to that epic final showdown.

I liked that Lois Lane figures out who Clark Kent is.  For many, the idea that Lois would be fooled by a pair of dark-rimmed reading glasses is sacrosanct.  I disagree.  It became such a running gag that the comics writers eventually had to drop it.  How can Lois Lane be this great reporter and not figure out the backstory of her savior?  In a sense, this is when Lois is at her best.  After having her earlier story blocked by Perry White, she goes in search of her mystery man.  We see her tracing the shadowy figure’s path back, step by step, until she ends up at a Smallville farm.  Whatever happens from there on out – for some she was too involved in a military operation – she at least earned her stripes in this part.

The revelation also allows for the inevitable romance that has to occur in the next movies to happen without the hijinks of Superman II.   Lois knows who Clark really is and, this means, if she is willing to get involved with him, that she will know there are serious consequences.  Who Superman is and what his role in the world is being defined.  Can she have a place in this world?

I enjoyed Henry Cavill’s take on the role.  Look, forget any curses talk and consider the icon status of Superman.  We all have a Superman in our minds:  how he’s supposed to sound, how he’s supposed to look, the way the costume looks.  Right down to the iconic S shield.  Every aspect of this character has been worked and reworked, adapted and changed.  I think in one of the earlier pieces I said that at least 10 actors have, at one point or another, put on the blue tights and red cape to portray the Last Son of Krypton.  That’s a lot to live up to.  That’s a lot of eyes looking at you to screw up.Man of Steel 2 - Clark and Martha

But Cavill gets it right – or at least, gets enough right that what he changes doesn’t strike me as odd.  His Clark Kent is deep down a good person.  He’s someone who wants to fit in and be a part of the crowd.  When he’s back home, he watches football, drinks Budweiser and helps his mom.  He has his flaws and his failings.  But he’s also super powerful, nigh indestructible and can fly.  And that’s what the movie has him struggle with – desiring to be one of the group when you can never be and finding your peace with that.  How he portrays the newly-dubbed Superman as well as his take on the Clark Kent in Metropolis role will be key in coming to a final conclusion on him and his version.  But at least I am confident.

I’ll end this review with a small part on the future.  I’ve already said that I hope movie #2 is Man of Tomorrow and that it focuses on the world coming to terms with Superman and Lex Luthor arising to challenge him.  I’d almost certainly have this movie also feature either Metallo or Parasite as the more physical henchman – Metallo would make great sense as it would play on Luthor’s mad scientist past as well as allow for a more dynamic introduction to kryptonite.  Man of Tomorrow should propel the story Man of Steel told forward and we should focus entirely on Metropolis – how it’s rebuilding, what the damage cost, etc – and forego quick shots back to Smallville.

And, if there is a third movie, I’d call it Last Son of Krypton and bring in Brainiac as the final villain.  Just as The Dark Knight Rises acted as an equal/opposite to Batman Begins, so should Last Son of Krypton allow for Superman to face off with a villain of equal power to himself as Man of Steel did and allow Superman the chance to get it right this time.  Let this be his final test to show he has become the defender he states he is.  I would not bring Darkseid since it’s more than likely he’ll be held for any possible Justice League movie – until that dream dies.

OK, that’s enough from me on Superman. Time to take a break. Anyone know what’s happening in the world today?

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