That Zod-Damned Man of Steel…

Posted: November 18, 2015 in Comics, Movie Review, Opinion
Tags: , , , , ,

In case you’re behind in your viewing of movies featuring the Last Son of Krypton, this post will contain some spoilers. If spoilers are your kryptonite, get behind a lead wall now! (Or don’t read…)

Man-of-Steel-Ending-Superman-Kills-Zod

Zod: Spoiler Vision… ACTIVATE!
Superman: Don’t look, Zod! Great Scott, don’t loooooook!!!!!

The movie I’m going to talk about has been out for ages, so the speed (and timeliness) of my reviews clearly aren’t faster than a speeding bullet. But since next year will be featuring a new Superman movie (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice) it’s not really a bad time to talk about that Zod-murdering Superman.

You know the movie I’m talking about? The one where Zod and his minions are up to murderous shenanigans, and Superman eliminates Zod’s Kryptonian powers and while the general is helpless as a baby (relatively speaking) Superman casually kills him?

manofsteel-superman-zod-banners

Michael Shannon: What? Did we shoot those scenes?
Henry Cavill: I don’t remember that at all!

Oh, I’m not talking about Man of Steel, where Superman makes the choice to kill Zod who is about to start killing everyone on Earth. I’m referring to 1980’s Superman II, where our hero has had just enough of Terrence Stamp’s General Zod. And kills him.

Maybe I’m interpreting the following scene wrong?

The way I see it… Superman has used one of the special abilities of his super-man-cave to remove the powers of the Kryptonian criminals, rendering them helpless in the face of his fully-powered self.

KneelBeforeZod

Zod: Now that you’re powerless, Son of Jor-el, you must kneel before me and swear allegiance.
Superman: Actually, Zod, I’m about to kill you, let Non fall to his death, and watch Lois murder Ursa. Because that’s how I roll, yo.

For dramatic effect, he smoothly suckers Zod into offering up his hand. Which gets crushed. Then Superman lifts Zod and tosses him upwards against the wall of the Fortress of Solitude. Zod falls. And falls. Into some kind of misty oblivion.

The brutish grunting Non, who isn’t all that smart, tries to fly at Superman and also falls to what must be a bone-crushing fate.

Lois turns on Ursa and after uttering a rather banal quip, slugs the femme fatale, causing Ursa to tumble towards the same shrouded doom as her companions.

pain-in-the-neck

Revenge! It’s so honorable!

During this exchange, you can see Superman tense up, ready to spring into action. I assume in the case that Ursa turns the tables and tosses Lois into the abyss. Superman clearly doesn’t want that to happen to Lois. I wonder why?

What’s down there? I doubt that the hidden depths of the Fortress are lined with mattresses, and it was clear that Superman did not want Lois to fall. More than likely… it’s more crystal? That entire place seems completely crystaline. I’m imagining jagged geodes down at the bottom, but a nice solid flat hard surface would certainly kill just as easily.

We don’t hear them land. So I’m saying they’re as good as dead. Superman, J’accuse!

Okay, I’ll allow that Zod’s fate does have a sense of ambiguity in Superman II, an ambiguity which is missing from Man of Steel. Michael Shannon’s Zod is very much mostly dead. Zod’s death is one of the reasons people have a problem with the movie.

That wasn’t necessarily a problem for me, but I’ll get to that in a bit.

Full disclosure, I enjoyed Man of Steel, so this is going to be a defense of that movie. If you happen to dislike the movie and aren’t interested in my defense, that’s cool. I respect how you feel.

I’d still be happy to talk to you about the movie, even if we disagree and you don’t want to read what is no doubt going to be a long and rambly treatise of half-baked half-assed arguments. (Or will it be? Maybe it’ll be full-ass arguments! You won’t know unless you read it all…) So feel free to leave a comment, or tweet me your displeasure towards @patman23. (Which is my Twitter account, and not someone I’m trying to direct anti-Man of Steel spam towards. I promise.)

The Problems

I think most of the complaints can be sorted into these broad categories. Certainly this isn’t an inclusive list.

  • Superman Doesn’t Kill, So He Should Not Have Killed Zod
  • All That Endless Property Damage in Metropolis
  • Krypton was Weird
  • Jonathan Kent was … Wrong. Just Wrong
  • Zack Snyder Sucks

Some of these I agree with, some I don’t agree with, and some I’m netural on. All I find make interesting discussion points. (Your mileage may vary.)

There were other general problems, like complaints about his suit being different, and the flashback-heavy non-linear nature of the story, and the religious symbolism woven throughout. Maybe I’ll touch on those aspects when I cover the big topics. If I don’t get around to that, I at least wanted to mention them, to say that I am aware.

(I’ll skip my buddy’s complaint that Superman was played by a Brit, and not an American, as he should be. Because, you know, Superman was born in Kansas. Oh, right. He wasn’t.)

Zack Snyder

I’m not super-familiar with Snyder’s other works. I didn’t see his version of Dawn of the Dead (because I like my zombies slow and shambly), I missed 300 (because I had read the Frank Miller source, which didn’t quite do it for me), I saw and liked Watchmen well enough (I appreciate and agree with most of the criticisms of the movie, but I give points for adapting the unadaptable), and I didn’t see Sucker Punch.

Critics that I tend to follow really really really did not care for Sucker Punch, and in their criticism of Man of Steel, the phantom of Sucker Punch loomed large. If one of Snyder’s stylish visuals could be described in problematic sexual terms, it was.

Some of those observations were fair.

phallic-manofsteel

Hmmm. If Freud were still alive…

After hearing the Slashfilm podcast review Man of Steel, I can’t not see the containers taking Zod and his crew into their Phantom Zone Prison Ship as some kind of adult sex shop paraphernalia.

Snyder’s involvement with the movie certainly influenced its tone. The movie was dark visually. Among the cinematic presentations of Superman, it was probably the least light-hearted.

It’s unusual to ever see Superman treated as a figure to be distrusted, and not as an aspirational figure right from the start.

man-of-steel-in-chains

They could turn up the lights, like, just a little bit.

I’ll come back to this a bit later, but I’ll admit that Man of Steel did seem to be quite a grim offering.

Pa Kent

Speaking of grim… Kevin Costner was extremely dour as the adoptive father of the most powerful person on Earth. It was a sharp departure from previous incarnations of the Kansas farmer, particularly in contrast with John Schneider’s portrayal in Smallville.

john-schneider-and-tom-welling-in-smallville

Pa Kent: I know you want to help people Clark. But you probably should try to keep your secret safe for awhile.
Clark: But what if, say, a tornado was coming and our dog was trapped in the car?
Pa Kent: You save that dog, Clark. I love that dog. Heck, I’d probably get killed trying to save it, just my luck.

Despite the contrasts, this version of Pa Kent did share the concern of other Jonathans. They all were worried about what would happen if the world found out about Clark’s secret. Costner’s Kent was just a bit more hardcore.

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I know you want to save folks, Clark. That’s mighty commendable. But you don’t ever save my dog, okay? A man’s got to save his own durned dog hisself!

I think all representations of Pa Kent have died when Clark was a young man – with the exception of Eddie Jones’ Jonathan Kent on Lois and Clark. He was alive when Dean Cain’s Clark joined the Daily Planet, outliving most of the other Kents from comics canon.

Superman’s Kansas father in most versions dies from a heart attack. I think always a heart attack.

It’s a death that Clark can’t prevent. But Costner’s Kent allows, with zen-like calm, a tornado to do its worst rather than have Clark reveal his superhuman nature. This non-cardiac arrest situation in Man of Steel dramatically changes the dynamic between the father and super-son.

When you mess with basic background elements of Superman’s backstory, you are going to get pushback. Or if you rehash some familiar elements too often.

Krypton

When the Man of Steel project was first announced, the detail that it would be a reboot, with an extended scene on Krypton was not met with open arms. Everyone knows Superman’s backstory. Just like we probably don’t have to see the Wayne family murdered in Crime Alley every single time there’s a new incarnation of Batman, it’s probably not necessary to see Krypton explode again.

And if we must, shouldn’t it just be a two minute sequence?

Jor-el: Whoa, the planet’s about to explode. Wow, I wish I’d built a bigger rocketship. Hop on in with Kal, Lara.
Lara: You know I’m afraid of flying. Besides, isn’t Zor-el sending Kara along to watch over Kal? I’d rather blow up with you.
Jor-el: Fine. A man can’t get a minute alone. Okay Kal, in you go.
Kal-el: *gurgle*
Lara: Be sure to be kind and have proper manners, dear.
Jor-el: Just to be safe, conquer those humans!

Instead, there was a lengthy scene of action and adventure.

movies-man-of-steel-trailer-01

Jor-el is here to kick ass and chew gum. But his little brother Zor already chewed all of that from the house of El’s pantry, that clown.

The Krypton sequence was jam-packed:

  • Zod’s civil war
  • Jor-el Mission Impossibling to get something called the Codex
  • Jor-el: Scientist/Badass!
  • Flying Dragon Mounts!
  • Zod and his minions exiled to the Phantom Zone.
  • Krypton goes boom!

Certainly a lot more Kryptonian stuff happened on Man of Steel than was shown in the intro sequence for the Supergirl television pilot. I’m surprised Brainiac didn’t show up and steal away the city of Kandor as well. (Maybe that happened in the distance. I don’t know.)

Did we have to have all of that? As well as … dragons? I mean, whoever heard of a dragon from Krypton, am I right?

KryptonianDragon

Okay, maybe that was more canon than first realized.

For the record, I loved the Kryptonian sequence (I don’t know if I can say that I loved the flying prison penises) and I’ll get around to why soon enough.

Last decade, there was a Superman script being floated around by JJ Abrams, where Krypton hadn’t exploded. Crazy, right? Krypton has to be destroyed. That’s totally a thing.

Metropolis

But does Metropolis have to be destroyed? In Man of Steel, the city takes a tremendous beating just from Zod’s people setting up the World Engine xenoforming situation. And then Superman and Zod knock down all of the buildings.

Okay, maybe not all of the buildings in Metropolis, but there’s a huge amount of property damage. The fight goes on and on. At some point, I’m sure everyone in the audience started looking at their watches, and were thinking “I kind of wish they’d have trimmed some of these minutes from Metropolis and gave us more Krypton.”

When I get down to my overall defense of the movie, I don’t think I’ll try too hard to defend the smashing and smashing and super-smashing that went on. I get why it’s considered a negative. But I have mixed feelings.

I’m not opposed to the sequence, per se, but man, I really wanted Clark to try and lure Zod away. Fight out in the middle of nowhere. Instead of a heavily populated area where innocent lives were at stake. You know, like from Zod’s heat vision.

Manslaughter of Steel

And now we’re back to Superman, snapping Zod’s neck. Such a violation of Superman canon. I know I started off with allegations that Superman II had a much more egregious way Zod was dealt with, but I have to admit that there’s an extended director’s cut where the police have Zod, Non, and Ursa in custody. So maybe they did fall down into soft, sound-proofed chambers for eventual transfer to the police.

But that wasn’t in the theatrical release, so I’m still going to insist that they died a painful death.

I know that opinion is probably only shared by me. The scene completely has this sense of whimsy as Superman has the upper hand on Zod (before he crushes Zod’s hand) and if the evil trio die… that’s unbelievably out of character for Superman.

It’s even out of character for the Zack Snyder Superman in Man of Steel. Although the movie is more dark and serious than the Christopher Reeve or Brandon Routh movies, Clark Kent remains a decent person. It just happens that in his brief career as Superman (like what, a few days?) he comes across a situation that the classic Superman never had to face.

superman-no-kill

Superman’s code against killing is certainly admirable. And because he’s super, it’s generally not a problem.


Lex Luthor: Ah, Superman, I have a hypothetical for you.
Superman: Go on, you fiend.
Lex Luthor: Imagine that you are at the switch of a railroad. There’s a runaway train approaching a school bus full of children, but you can direct it onto another track.
Superman: Well, I could do that. But it’d probably just fly over and pick up the school bus, then stop the runaway train. Although, since I’m more powerful than a locomotive, I might stop the train beforehand. Whatever would be more economical. I don’t need to show off.
Lex: You’re so modest, it’s sickening. But this is a hypothetical. Assume you can’t stop the train or pick up the bus. Would you throw the switch?
Superman: Of course.
Lex: Would you throw the switch if on the alternate track, there’s Lois and Jimmy Olsen, tied to the tracks?
Superman: Jimmy and Lois?
Lex: Or any other two random citizens of Metropolis, I am not implying that those two have any connection to you. I just admire their work at the Daily Planet.
Superman: So, why can’t I stop the train, exactly?

Lex

Lex: You can’t! You just can’t! Choose!
Superman: Well, I suppose I could always go back in time, and clean up the situation.
Lex: You can’t do that either!
Superman: I totally can! I did it in the 1978 Superman movie. In fact, that was almost exactly the same situation. But with nuclear missiles!


Anyway, it’s easy for the classic Superman to blanketly say that he’d never kill to save lives, when he’s never been in a situation where he had to.

Until Man of Steel, facing a crazed and genocidal Zod.

The Trial of Superman

Whoa, I hear you say. Superman would have found a way to stop Zod!

Maybe.

Maybe classic 1970s Superman would, with his years of experience and his ability to move the Earth out of orbit if he wanted to. But over the years, DC has taken advantage of various Crisis On Infinite Whatever reboots to tone down Superman’s plot-breaking powers (and his decades and decades of experience.)

If we consider the continuity from just a decade or so ago, we have a precedent for Superman’s behavior in Man of Steel. Post-Crisis Superman certainly used deadly force to stop a nihilistic foe of Kryptonian origin.

superman-kills-doomsday

While fighting the alien menace Doomsday, Superman did not hold back. He and the destructive monster simultaneously delivered mutually fatal blows to one another, in the middle of a wrecked Metropolis.

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Superman had tried his best to keep Doomsday from the city, but despite those efforts, including assistance from the Justice League and other allies, he could not stop the non-flying monster from wreaking havoc in his home city. After a fight that raged through the titles of Action Comics, Superman, Adventures of Superman, and Man of Steel, Superman gave his maximum effort to stop Doomsday.

Now, it can be argued that since Doomsday came back to life, Superman really didn’t kill him. Therefore his code versus killing is still intact. Fine.

That does kind of imply that if Zod could be brought back from death in the next movie, that the murder allegations against movie-Superman can be dropped, right? No? No harm, no foul?

General-Zod-Batman-V-Superman-Movie-Michael-Shannon

Not dead! Just pining for the fjords. Krypton had fjords, right?

Either way, the Post-Crisis Superman’s code versus attempted killing is no longer intact. I really don’t see the ethical difference. And besides, Doomsday did die. It just … doesn’t stick with him. It’s an essential thing about him. But that’s not a point I want to argue.

My point is that the Post-Crisis Superman will go to the extreme to save lives, even if the Pre-Crisis classic Superman never had to.

Maybe I’d judge Man of Steel’s Superman a bit harsher if he had been given the same ethical indoctrination that Pre-Crisis Superboy had, as a member of the Legion of Superheroes. They had a strict policy against killing. Just ask Star Boy.

Classic Superboy had a lot of experience in dealing with dangerous situations, particularly during his time in the Legion, while Man of Steel’s young Clark was not a member of that exclusive 30th century social group. Zod was his first serious conflict, really. Practically the Doomsday scenario right off the bat.

A second look at all that destruction…

If we can go with my assertion that’s equating Superman’s decision to kill Zod as analogous to Superman’s decision to kill Doomsday, then the amount of time spent on showing the destruction of Metropolis does serve a purpose. I wasn’t privy to Zack Snyder’s machinations while the movie was being made, so I don’t want to imply that this was part of his plan, but it might not have simply been Michael Bay-levels of city-destruction porn that he was going for.

Superman, in the comics, kills Doomsday after a tremendously long fight. As I mentioned, there were four monthly titles starring Superman, and for the Doomsday event leading up to their mutual death (and the epic Reign of the Supermen storyline that followed) the comics told one story instead of four separate stories. That was a lot of super-punching before Superman and Doomsday dealt out their finishing blows.

destruction

I think that to sell the Zod-as-Doomsday narrative, they opted to have an extended scene of urban abuse, with an inexperienced Superman unable to properly deal with his powered foe. Zod was demonstrating his warrior-prowess in that fight. The moment he levitated, shedding off his armor made that clear for me. Superman was going to have an impossible time dealing with him.

Was it effective? Did the time spent on destroying Metropolis establish what I’m suggesting?

Clearly it didn’t since everyone is so angry about the amount of time spent on the destruction, and all of the arm-chair quarterbacking questioning the neck-snapping. But I’ve yet to hear anyone give a satisfactory alternative to stopping Zod from killing and continuing to kill. That wasn’t about that one family at risk from Zod’s heat vision. It was about the next family, and the next family, and the next.

A second look at Krypton…

The time spent on Krypton, with Zod and this tweaked backstory of Jor-el infusing his infant son with the genetic information to restore the Kryptonian race became important in laying the groundwork for Zod’s mania at the end of the movie. Not only to justify his single-minded impulse to recreate Krypton on Earth, but to punish Superman for foiling that desire, for failing to behave in Zod’s image as a true Kryptonian.

I mentioned that I like this version of Krypton, because to me it seemed much more like the Krypton from the comics than did the sterile, lifeless version portrayed in the 1978 Superman movie.

Krypton 1978

People’s mileage may vary. We’ve certainly seen some weird versions of Krypton in the comics.

87worldofkryptonSmall

Shirtless Mullet-Head Porn Stars Versus the Pajama People of Krypton!

But the presentation of the Kryptonian race as a controlled society, whose generations were produced artificially based on some ancient repository of genetic data worked for me. It was reminiscent of Arthur C. Clarke’s The City and the Stars.

It also suggests that Zod and his militarists are driven by biological conditioning, conditioning that is reacting maladaptively to the stress of Krypton’s imminent demise. I’ve already suggested similarities between Zod and one of Superman’s foes, Doomsday. I also see echoes of the Eradicator in Zod.

Look, this article is already super long as it is, but as a quick summary on the Eradictor: it was an entity designed to safeguard and protect Kryptonian culture. It chose to do that by eradicating anything non-Kryptonian. Zod’s pursuit of the Codex and his willingness to destroy humanity to xenoform Earth into a new Krypton is right up the Eradicator alley.

Speaking of the Codex, that’s also a fine science fiction element that I liked. I’m a big fan of anything to do with the bottle city of Kandor, a part of Krypton that was stolen by Brainiac prior to the planet’s destruction. Brainiac shrunk the city and its inhabitants and stored it in a bottle. Because who wants to haul around a full-sized city?

That’d be weird to have in the movie, but having young Kal-el infused with the genetic data from the Codex is almost like he’s the bottle city of Kandor. The hope that one day that the Kryptonian race could be pulled back from exctinction.

As long as those Kryptonians weren’t crazed elemental forces of destruction, like Zod. Practically a living tornado.

A second look at Jonathan Kent’s death…

Speaking of tornadoes…

I certainly sympathize with anyone who has difficulty in accepting the manner of Pa Kent’s death, or the philosophy the farmer had that drove him to put himself in danger rather than take the risk of Clark’s non-human nature being revealed. And when the tornado was upon him, to communicate to Clark right before the end, “don’t save me.”

4559215-jonathan+kent's+death+2013

Karmic payback for Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.

I’ll talk more on this in the next section, but for the moment I want to focus on how Clark’s obedience to his father’s wishes sets up the framework for his decision to end Zod in the movie’s final act.

Certainly we can debate if Clark’s regret was the driver for his good Samaritan actions throughout the movie, either to make up for his inaction, or if he’s doing those things because he’s now free to act without incurring his father’s disapproval. Maybe I’ll discuss that if anyone leaves comments.

In my opinion, the significance of the tornado scene is paid off while Superman is struggling with Zod. General Zod might as well be a natural disaster at that moment. Anything left that could be a negotiating point is gone: the Codex information inside Superman is now useless without the Kryptonian ship, Earth can’t be xenoformed after the destruction of the World Engine, and his followers have been exiled into the living death of the Phantom Zone. All Zod has left within him is to destroy.

That’s more terrible than a tornado, and will be more ruthlessly destructive. Letting Zod kill will be like letting his father die all over again. So, Kent’s death in the storm might have some value for the narrative.

It does certainly lend a dark tone to the story. Superman’s victory over Zod is a tragedy, unlike the sly wink of Superman II, when the tables are turned. (And when Superman impishly kills Zod. No, I’m never letting that go.)

So how do I feel about the dark tone of Man of Steel?

Another look at Zack Snyder. And David Goyer, I guess.

Straight up, the movie is visually dark. It’s also visually impressive (I’m not going to argue with anyone who hates CGI, I respect practical effects as much as anyone, but it’s lazy criticism to complain about computers rendering the unreal for an alien invasion movie.) I loved the look of the Kryptonians and their gear.

OthonvonSalza_h03

Very reminiscent of Jodorowsky’s Meta-Barons. That’s also dark.

But when people talk about the movie being dark, they’re not talking hues or lighting, they’re talking tone. We can blame Snyder for how the movie looks (or praise him for how it looks, which is more the side I’m on) but it’s Goyer we can lay the tone on.

We all know what a laugh-fest the Christopher Nolan Batman movies were.

The movie is not light-hearted. There *might* be a twinkle here and there. Henry Cavill is charming as Superman, and I’m fond of Amy Adams as Lois Lane. (Particularly because her name is alliterative. I’m irrational, I know.) But it’s never whimsical.

I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

One of my problems with the Christopher Reeve Superman movies is the unnecessary clowning. Mostly in the original Superman, in the form of Ned Beatty as Lex Luthor’s hard-to-believe henchmen Otis. I appreciated that there was no immersion-breaking jestering going on in Man of Steel.

This wasn’t as egregious, but Superman Returns had a similar tone-deaf performance by Parker Posey as Lex Luthor’s weirdly anachronistic hanger-on. I don’t understand the need to saddle Lex Luthor, genius Lex Luthor, with some kind of comic relief.

SRLuthor

Why can’t I have nice things???

I’m not even going to talk about Superman III with Richard Pryor, or Superman IV with, I don’t even know, it was so heavily panned from my friends I just skipped it. I just didn’t feel like that run of movies was giving me what I wanted from a Superman cinematic experience.

On the contrary, I felt Man of Steel gave me something that I’d really wanted from a Superman movie: some serious stakes. 1978’s Superman was basically Lex Luthor running a real estate scam. That’s just weak.

Superman II was a bit better, although there are some pacing issues and continuity problems because of the movie having two directors. (And Superman killing Zod, rakishly.)

I don’t even remember what was going on in Superman III.

Superman Returns wasn’t too bad, in regards to the stakes. But it was more about putting Superman in danger, as part of another real estate grab from Lex, who was growing a rocky shelf in the Atlantic and somehow was expecting not to get arrested and put on trial for crimes against humanity.

That plan was not solid. Can’t we get a decent villainous plot involving Lex Luthor?

But Man of Steel offered something. A disaster. (Yes, yes, I hear you laughing. The movie’s a disaster, ha ha. I’m giving you that one.) Zod and his people were bringing doom to Earth and it was serious stuff.

Yes, I knew Superman was going to save the day. But I did not expect him to kill Zod.

Actually I did, since that fact was spoiled for me, by everyone. I don’t know how I would have felt had I not seen that coming.

Still, there were these complaints that Man of Steel was influenced by popular entertainment trying to make everything “dark and gritty.” So many dark and gritty reboots. I get that, but I don’t think Man of Steel is all that dark. Or gritty.

It’s certainly a more distrustful world than we’ve seen in other movies featuring Superman, more in harsh harmony with the Costner-Kent philosophy. That’s hard to accept. We don’t want Superman to be hesitant to save people. But I think the movie gets past that pretty quickly. Superman’s out and about, saving people (when not engaging in huge battles in Metropolis with a supernatural disaster personified.) I still think that’s the Superman I know from the comics. Just not as experienced.

The bigger change is that Superman isn’t really welcomed. We like him welcomed.

There are plenty of examples of supermen-types who are legitimitely feared.

If someone wants to read some comics about a dangerous and scary Superman-type character, I’d recommend Mark Waid’s Irredeemable. His supermanalogue (I’m coining that word right now) character the Plutonian is not a good guy.

Plutonian

Or check out Robert Kirkman’s excellent long-running comic Invincible. Pick up the first couple of trades (anything covering the first twelve issues.)

Invincible

It might start off as a charming “what if Lois and Superman had a son” type of story. It quickly becomes something else.

I’d also like to recommend the Supreme Power miniseries from J Michael Straczynski, based on Marvel Comics’ Squadron Supreme. The world presented there is reminiscent of the kind of world Man of Steel‘s Jonathan Kent was worried about, and with good reason.

HyperionSmall

If you’ve ever wondered what could have happened had Kal-el’s ship been recovered by the military, Supreme Power is an excellent examination of that What If?

In Conclusion (hopefully this will also serve as a Too Long, Didn’t Read section, for anyone skipping over that monolithic wall of text…)

I clearly liked Man of Steel. Most of the negative aspects that people point out (Zod’s death, Metropolis fight scene, Pa Kent’s death) I’m okay with, and I feel reinforce one another. That might be the movie’s greatest strength and weakness. Those elements either work or they don’t work in a big way. They worked for me.

I respect the movie for having a lot of recognizable roots in the Superman comics. I’m interested in seeing the next movies, and I think Man of Steel solidly set itself up for the upcoming Batman and Superman conflict. The fact that I’m looking forward to Batman v Superman is something notable.

In general, I’m not a fan of Batman and Superman fighting, ever. But it just seems like the thing that has to be done, so lets get it over with. Let’s tear that band-aid off and get the Justice League jump-started. But, I’m kind of eager to see it play out.

I’m also not a fan of General Zod attacking Earth for the umpteenth time. I’ve seen that already in Superman II, Smallville, and something like that in Lois and Clark. But the Zod storyline in Man of Steel did not disappoint me, so I’m optimistic for the future.

And isn’t that the right takeaway when talking about Superman? Optimism? Hope?

Not everyone will agree with me. Opinions vary on the movie, even the negative opinions. I know there are those who have issues with it as a movie, not even focusing on Superman, and some who would have liked the movie… if it hadn’t been about Superman. Their expectations of what it means to be Superman weren’t met.

I totally understand. One of my more-nationalistic (as opposed to patriotic) co-workers refused to go see Superman Returns because he felt that the Superman portrayal wasn’t going to be American enough for him.

RedSon

Is Crazy Talk! Nyet?

We all have expectations on who and what Superman is. Sometimes it makes things interesting to shake that up. Hopefully.

Speaking of hope, to show how optimistic I am, here’s a poll where you can tell me that I’m wrong.


(Comments are always welcome. Super welcome! After suffering through this giant pile of words, you might not be that interested in any other of my movie-based posts, but I promise most are not as ponderously long as this one. How could they be? You can find the on my Movies page!)

Most photos are from Smallville, Man of Steel, Superman II, and Superman Returns. I have no claim on those. 

Artwork featuring Superman, Krypton, and Comrade Superman are property of DC Comics.

Image of Invincible is from Image comics. The Plutonian image is from Boom! Studios, and the image of young flag-wrapped Hyperion is from Max Comics (a Marvel imprint.)

Image of the Meta-Barons is from… er, Google. I’ll have to find it out. Jodorowsky’s stuff first appeared in Heavy Metal/Metal Hurlant, so that’s close.

I make no claims to the artwork, but some claims to the text. So there. 

© Patrick Sponaugle 2015 Some Rights Reserved

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Comments
  1. Shielan says:

    Very interesting post, with a number of good points. In my opinion the movie fails to show these relations well enough, but it is certainly possible that they were intended.

    To me the movie has many failings, but what struck me the most was the fact that this version of Johnathan Kent is not the source of Superman’s moral code. Instead the story becomes a variation on Spiderman/Batman wanting to serve justice since they failed to save their parents. To me Superman has always been, and maybe should be, about having moral parents who teach you decent morals that shape your life.
    In the comics, Johnathan Kent has been the man who teaches his son that he should help people. Yes, he wants to protect his son from the world, but he always prioritizes doing everything to protect the innocent. The fact that Costner has a moment in the movie in which he responds ambiguously to the question: “What should I have done? Let them die?” undermines the morality inherent in Superman.
    And yes, we can argue that morally pure heroes are boring, but Superman is a little dull already, so at least let us keep his core clean, after all it must be why he is popular most of the time. The lack of traditional “american” moral upbringing is part of the core of Superman, just as much as his powers, and I feel that Zack Snyder fails to realize that in this movie. For comparison, look at the Red Son comic where Superman is raised with Soviet morals, a world where Batman springs up in Russia as a freedom fighter against the all powerful man-sized weapon with faulty morals. (It would appear Batman v Superman draws at least some inspiration from this.)

    Anyway, that is my two cents. And thanks for sharing such a long article, loved reading it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree with you and don’t agree with you, but regardless, you have left me an outstanding comment. Thank you!

      I think you’re correct in identifying Pa Kent as the weakest part of the movie. But I don’t think him not being seen providing Clark with the proper moral code is that much of a problem, since Pa Kent in the 1978 Superman was not seen establishing a moral compass either.

      BUT, we do see Costner’s Kent giving pretty much the opposite. Well, I guess the real opposite would be Jor-el’s advice to Clark in the Smallville TV show, where an AI of Clark’s biological father was expecting Kal-el to conquer Earth, you know, just because.

      Despite the Man of Steel Pa Kent’s fear, we still see Clark wanting to help, arguing that he should help (and maybe more importantly not acting on wanting to hurt the bullies) so he had a drive to save people and be a positive force, before the Tornado killed Jonathan. So I’m not really on board with it being a Batman scenario.

      I see more of your Spiderman point, which is interesting. Recently on Twitter, someone was complaining about the clip in the Batman v Superman trailer where Ma Kent is telling Superman that he could be Earth’s hero, or not. He didn’t owe the world anything. My twitter friend angrily quoted the Spiderman responsibility quote, and how it should apply to Superman as well.

      Again, I think you nailed it with Kent’s ambiguity in not being able to answer young Clark’s question about letting people die. I don’t think it undermines the morality so much though, but it does bring it into question where we didn’t have to question it before.

      The movie, while establishing the Clark has some kind of predisposition to help, and do Superman-like things, brings the morality into play not through Jonathan Kent as we’re used to from the comics (and particularly from Smallville, which had the BEST Pa Kent ever…) instead it’s through Russel Crowe’s Jor-el, who not only gives Clark the background on his Kryptonian past, but challenges him to be an aspirational figure of hope, which Clark embraces.

      Does the movie make any of this clear? Yeah, not really. And it might all just be my interpretation. I’ll freely admit it.

      I think we all had our idea of Superman, and how he should be. I used my idea of Superman as a magnet to pull out or highlight aspects of the movie that fit my idea (and then rationalize the stuff that didn’t fit.) This active Selection Bias (or maybe Confirmation Bias — I forget the distinctions and I always use them wrong) is the wrong way to evaluate evidence in the real world, but really works for me when it comes to enjoying movies or writing English papers or whatever.

      This is me admitting that I know my analysis is probably flawed, but I like presenting my thoughts in this manner to get discussions going. And I was super-rewarded with your comment.

      Right on talking about Red Son. One of the best Superman examinations ever.

      I totally respect that the lack of the moral and tolerant upbringing by the Kents, (moreso than just the lack of us seeing it, but pressure not to reveal himself) was a big problem for you. I’d never tell you that you’re wrong, and what I particularly liked about your comment was you not telling me that I’m wrong.

      Respect!

      And thank you for reading my massive article, and for taking the time to respond with a solid comment. I really appreciate being able to talk about things like this.

      I’m hoping that Batman v Superman kind of doesn’t make the errors that Man of Steel did. Assuming that I’m right that Snyder/Goyer wanted Jor-el to be the moral compass, it would have been more palatable to not malign Costner’s Kent and have both fathers present different parts of that framework, rather than one presenting a piece to be rejected, and one a piece to be embraced.

      Best regards! Thanks again

      Like

  2. Oh, to be as eloquent as the two of you. Ain’t gonna happen. Pity.

    “Kryptonian Fjords” is the name of my all-Theramin band. Because it is.

    As far as I know, I’m the source of the complaint that Superman was played by a Brit. That wasn’t because Superman was born in Kansas; it’s because the whole Superman creation and mythos is American. I wasn’t happy that Batman was played by a Brit either. There was a “cast only Brits” snobbery in the Harry Potter movies. Similarly, I’d have preferred that these iconic heroes be played by Americans. It’s not like it matters, but it’s what I’d have preferred. But it was all evened out when Robert Downey Jr. played Sherlock Holmes, so nyah.

    Not that anyone asked, but “Man of Steel” reminded me of my review of the Ben Affleck “Daredevil,” about which I said “Electra does not appear in this movie, although an entirely unrelated character with the same name is featured.” Similarly, I was disappointed that “Man of Steel” did not include Jonathan Kent, Perry White, or Jimmy Olsen, even though there were characters who were called by those names. Oh well, whatever …

    I’ve watched “Man of Steel” twice, one in theaters, and once on DVD. I really want to like it. But I don’t; it’s not a good movie. Try this idea on for size. This movie was written by people who started with “we really want Superman to kill Zod. Oh, and we have to go head to head with Michael Bay. Now how do we get there?” When I watch the relentless destruction of Metropolis (wait, there are still some buildings standing?), and the final neck-snap, I don’t think “wow, they really set up this intense moment.” Instead, my reaction is “this is what happens when you give creative people too damned much money.” I’m also reminded of the adage that “editing is killing your darlings.” When you edit, you have to remove the stuff you wanted to do or say, and only keep the stuff that advances the story. Somebody needed to edit this movie, and kill the director’s darlings.

    [Related rant: Kryptonians use their heat vision just by looking at stuff, right? So why does Zod’s heat vision act like the “cutting beam” of the ST’s Borg or B5’s Shadows? Why does he have to trace a slow line along the wall? If Kryptonians move their eyes that slowly, how can they possibly do anything at superspeed? End of related rant.]

    And yet, with all of that, Henry Cavill made a really good Superman. It felt odd to watch Superman in a non-Superman movie.

    Consult your doctor before agreeing or disagreeing with this post. Your mileage may vary. Actual Kryptonians may be smaller than they appear on screen.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It would be wrong of me to argue with the actual Superman from Earth-2.

      Like

    • I didn’t have time to leave a proper reply, but I owe you a real one.

      You’re right to bust my chops for quoting you about the British-Kryptonian thing, but you know I can’t let that go.

      (Everyone, Self Absorbed Man here is a friend of mine, and any opinion he has about Superman I do treat with respect, even if I’m joking around. I’d gladly throw him into the Sun should he be infested with Brainiac nanoworms, and he’d do the same for me. I can’t confirm or deny if we’ve *already* done this.)

      I completely see your point about Pa Kent, you can tell that he was the weakest link in my essay on Man of Steel, even I can’t fully justify it. I don’t think I agree with you on your assessment of Perry White, so much. Lawrence Fishburne is a different Perry White though, but he’s not jarring the way Costner is.

      And you’re totes wrong about Jimmy Olsen. Because there is no character called Jimmy Olsen in Man of Steel.

      Your assessment of the heat vision is of course 100% valid. I’m not sure I like the huge amount of energy blasting from the eye sockets, as opposed to being something that’s focused as part of the eye’s lens action.

      Like

  3. Re Jimmy Olsen … um … “it’s just a flesh wound.” “Flesh wound? You blasted a movie for its portrayal of a character who’s not even in it! That sounds more like someone with an ax to grind than a person interested in legitimate debate.” “Uh … no I didn’t.” Etc.

    When you’re right, you’re right.

    Liked by 1 person

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