Most people who know me know that Superman is my absolutely favourite character. I love that he’s this powerful being who chooses to do the right thing on a regular basis. I love that he’s just a farm town boy in a big city pining for that girl at work. I love his honesty. I love that he constantly strives and worries to live up to the standards and expectations people put upon him. Hell, I even love all the cheesy stuff about the character, like the “secret” identity (which he sees himself as more than as Superman), the Kyrptonite, and even that he has a dog with super-powers.
And I had been very apprehensive to see Man of Steel since reading Mark Waid’s very long post about it. How could the filmmakers take such a huge departure from the character? I screamed to high heavens to anyone who would listen, “That’s not Superman! That’s not MY Superman!” I’ve gone back and forth about seeing it, becoming very upset just to discuss the matter of THAT big, pivotal moment in the movie’s third act. Recently, after giving it a lot of time to consider, I was almost on the verge of seeing it. It would still likely take a friend pretty much dragging me to see it.
Tonight, my good friend Corey Nowlan dragged me to see it. He contacted me at literally the last minute – minutes before the show started – asking if I wanted to go. He gave me little to no time to think, so I impulsively agreed to see it. So I went.
And my thoughts are behind the cut, along with major, major, MAJOR spoilers. Anyone who reads past here reads at their own discretion.
Given that I have a lot to talk about, I’ll break it down into specific subjects.
Acting: Phenomenal. Henry Cavil is definitely the best version of the character since Christopher Reeve. He doesn’t quite have the same tenderness that Reeve had, but he had the physique and just pure physical presence that beats out even Brandon Routh, which is impressive enough. Even though he didn’t have Reeve’s tenderness, it’s not to say he was devoid of it. Whenever it showed him caring for anybody, you could see it in his eyes. This is a Superman who is struggling to find his place in the world. That’s a story that is told sometimes in the comics, but I’ve rarely scene on the big or small screen. Great stuff.
Amy Adams did quite a good job, as well. This was probably the best written Lois Lane, even beating out Margo Kidder. That said, I think Adams was too soft spoken. I always saw Lois as being more tough spoken, which I don’t think Adams is capable of. It’s more of a minor nitpick, though.
Michael Shannon plays a very different Zod, but it was still a great performance. He was fanatical, but not just plain evil. He truly believed that he was right.
Characters: With the exception of that one, big, pivotal moment at the very end, this was a very well-written version of Superman. I only have a few nitpicks. For one, during a scene when Clark is working at a truck stop diner, he confronts an asshole bothering the waitress. Rather than fighting, he turns the other cheek and walks away. This would have been a great end to the scene…except later, the trucker comes out to find his truck impaled on a telephone wire post. Petty revenge is not a character trait I would ever give Superman – if I were writing him, anyway. It reminded me of Superman II when he returns to the diner to confront the bully there. Again, just not in character to how I perceive Superman. There’s also a scene where a nearly naked Clark steals some clothes. Again, I just don’t see this as something he would do. But honestly, both of these are very minor and it’s during a period where Clark is still trying to find his way in life.
But the rest of the movie definitely shows a Clark who is actively trying to be the good person that his two fathers build him up to be. It’s not just two father’s expectations, but the expectations he puts on himself. He has all this power. What does he do with it and how can he use it for good?
Story & Action: At its heart, this movie is two things: a coming of age story for a man trying to live up to expectations…and a science fiction alien invasion story. The third act, where Zod and the other Kryptonians arrive, the entire story becomes one of alien invasion. In fact, about 99% of the collateral damage isn’t caused by all the punching that some have said, but by the giant ships of doom brought by the invading aliens.
I intended on following – and counting – all the times that Superman caused property damage himself. There are only a handful of times, each of them could be caused by inexperience or emotions getting the better of him. For example, when he flies Zod through a gas station, which explodes, it could be explained that he was blinded by rage, the cornfield they flew through, and focusing on punching the hell out of Zod. Most of the property damage is caused by Zod or Faora throwing or blasting Superman through buildings. Even during the final fight sequence with Zod, it was the bad guy that was doing all the damage.
The most amount of damage wasn’t even caused by the fighting, but by the giant world-breaking machine brought by the Kryptonians. In a very cool sequence, it shows how its affect caused a crushing gravity around it, turning one part of Metropolis into atomized dust. Other buildings are destroyed from the Kryptonian warships crashing through them.
And then…there was THAT moment.
THAT MOMENT: Towards the end of the third act, Superman and Zod are the only two Kryptonians remaining. All Phantom Zone technology had been used, leaving Superman with no other way to defeat Zod. He gets Zod into a headlock from behind, when Zod unleashes his heat vision in order to fry a nearby family. They can’t run because they’re pinned against a wall with the heat vision slowly moving towards them. Superman begs Zod over and over, “No, no, don’t do it! Please!” Which leaves him no other choice…
….Superman snaps Zod’s neck, killing him.
When I first read this, I raged. It wasn’t just fan rage. For me, Superman represents the highest of utmost moral authority. My Superman does everything in his power to do the right thing, no matter what. It’s something he struggles with, to be sure, but in the end, he always does the right thing. And killing should never be the right thing to do for Superman.
There are less than half a dozen examples of times that he has killed – both in comics and on the big and small screen. In the comics, he killed three Kryptonian criminals. The guilt caused him to have a complete nervous breakdown and left Earth for awhile because he felt he was a threat. In Superman II, he allegedly kills Zod, Non, and Ursa. There’s evidence to say otherwise (deleted footage showing the criminals being arrested), so it’s debatable.
But over the course of his 75 year existence, there have been hundreds of interpretations of Superman. Scores of creative teams have presented their vision of the character. I don’t agree with all of those interpretations and I don’t agree with Man of Steel‘s interpretation – at least as far as the neck snapping goes. My Superman would always find a better way. But then…this isn’t my Superman. This is a Superman who literally had donned the costume maybe – maybe – days before Zod and his crew arrived. This is a Superman who has not yet fought the Never Ending Battle against a swarm of never-ending villains, most especially ones with equal power.
Some have argued that Superman is like a police officer who must sometimes kill in the line of duty. And to that, I can partly agree. If he had stopped Zod from killing that family, they would have just been in that position again and again.
If I were working on the script and had to work within the confines of what they’d presented, I might have done it like this: early into the third act, Superman surrenders to Zod. Their ship has a controlled atmosphere to mimic Krypton, which Superman isn’t used to. Similar to red sun radiation, he in fact gets sick and loses his powers, allowing them to take a blood sample. During the fight with Zod, there was still one ship left: the scout ship that Clark (and Lois, separately) found in the arctic ice. I would have written that Superman brought the fight to the ship, where he was able to change the atmosphere to Krypton. There, they’d continue the fight, only with no powers, until the “ghost” (or AI) of Jor-El reappears and kills Zod himself, taking control of part of the ship like he had before, when the AI infiltrated Zod’s mothership. Not only would this absolve Clark of the killing, but it would mirror Zod killing Jor-El in the movie’s opening.
Still, this is what we got, instead. A Superman who killed Zod. Not only did he anguish before the deed, but he let out a great, anguished scream immediately after. Morally, it killed him to do it what was regrettably, a needed act.
Honestly, I’m still torn on the moment. I think back to what Kurt Busiek said regarding the moment: “Not what I would have done, but for the story they were telling it worked okay.”
I think I’ll be okay with it in the long term provided the next movie shows a remorseful Superman having survivor’s guilt or nightmares about the killing. If it leads to more character development towards the Superman that I know and love, then maybe – MAYBE – I can live with it.
Overall: After weeks of considering this movie, going back and forth on the matter, I went into it with great hesitancy. I knew – I absolutely knew – that I would enjoy the first two acts of the film. And I did. Everything about the first two acts were pretty much the perfect Superman movie.
One of the major changes I don’t necessarily agree with was Jor-El rocketing his son away not to save him from the planet’s destruction, but from Zod. I think that takes a key aspect of Superman’s mythos, but within the story they were telling, I can accept it.
Cavil’s performance and the script he worked with presented a Superman that wasn’t perfect. It was an unsure Superman who didn’t know his place in the world and to a point, still doesn’t That’s a greatly written Superman to me and one of the things that I love about the character. Yes, he has all these great powers, but that doesn’t make him perfect. I asked Mark Waid once what you tell people who say that Superman isn’t relatable. His response? “That’s what Clark’s for.” This was definitely more a movie about Clark Kent than Superman. You hear people refer to him as Clark more than Superman. In fact, “Superman” is only said less than half a dozen times.
This was a chance for moviegoers to be introduced to Clark and I think it did a spectacular job doing so. In the comics, the best interpretations of the character have shown that even Superman thinks of himself as Clark first and Superman second. The movie gets that incredibly well.
I won’t lie and say the neck snapping doesn’t still bother me. What’s great about it, though, is that it’s opened up a great debate among fans about whether killing a criminal – even one as evil as Zod – is the right thing to do. Is it morally right? That’s still being debated. And I love a good debate. So does Superman. Superman loves nothing else than to get people to reconsider how they think. That’s the whole point of Superman: to get people to reconsider the way they think about their morals. The problem is that he’s suppose the represent those good morals, to stand for what’s right. By killing Zod, he doesn’t really do that. But it does open up the debate.
So again, I’m still torn on THAT MOMENT, but everything else was exactly what I’d hoped for from the beginning.