June 23, 2013 by Devin
Man of Steel is the latest attempt by DC to have a movie franchise outside of Batman. Considering that Warner Bros owns all of DC comics and is also a movie company, it is a little baffling how few DC movies have been successful or even come out. Superman is of particular note considering that the original Superman movie was the landmark comic book movie. Man of Steel, directed by Zack Snyder and written by David Goyer, is an attempt to update Superman and make him relevant again after Brian Singer’s disappointing Superman Returns.
Does it work? Not quite.
Man of Steel is a complete reboot of Superman, which means the movie goes over the entire origin. Despite being one of the most popular origin stories in comics (probably only second to Batman), Man of Steel has the gusto to not only start at the very beginning, but also spend fifteen to twenty minutes on Krypton while our hero is still a baby.
Ideally, this type of slow lead in would allow for a stronger arc for our main character and a slow burn so that when we do get to Superman, the moment feels awe-inspiring and earned.
Unfortunately, that does not happen.
One of the most glaring problems in this movie is structure. The movie eschews the traditional hero’s journey structure to create an overly complex narrative filled with flashbacks and jumps in time. The hero’s journey is relied upon too much as a crutch but the essence of it is that a character has to experience growth to achieve something, and it is hard to pinpoint why and how Superman grows as a character.
The movie tries to add a layer of moral ambiguity to the Superman tale. Should Superman had revealed himself? Was the world really ready for aliens? At the center of this ambiguity is, of all people, Superman’s dad, Jonathan Kent.
I get why Snyder and Goyer wanted to add complexity to the morality of Superman. He has to have weaknesses that do not involve Kryptonite. But why on earth did they compromise Jonathan Kent’s morals? It does not make any sense to me.
Superman is the quintessential hero, the one who will do the right thing even when it is difficult and even when it is impossible. Yes, that morality gets should and does get challenged, but in this movie, it seems like he should not even have it. His father basically tells him to put his needs before others while he is still growing up. Jonathan Kent should be the first person to tell Clark to do the right thing, and without that foundation, his character progression does not make sense.
Henry Cavill, who plays Superman, floats from scene to scene without a lot of drive. He is a reactionary protagonist. He does not initiate his coming out as Superman and barely initiates any saving of anybody besides Lois (which actually makes sense considering Jonathan Kent’s character. It seems the filmmakers were not interested in making a movie about Superman saving people).
Part of me feels like I am sounding too hard on this movie. There was little in the movie that I thought was patently wrong, but the entire movie felt like it was just drifting from scene to scene. Superman does not supply the necessary pathos or emotional core to ground the movie and General Zod is not an interesting enough threat to make the stakes important.
Even the tone of the movie, which I thought was excellent in the trailers, felt off in the movie. David Goyer, when he came up with this idea with Christopher Nolan, mentioned that what inspired him was the thought that Superman coming out as an alien would be a really big deal in the world, which is an interesting idea but feels pointless in the movie. Long stretches of dialogue pedantically explain the conflicts that eventually sizzle out without real catharsis on conclusion.
Of course, the big question on people’s minds after Superman Returns, what was really wrong with that movie that people want to see fixed in this movie, is that does Superman punch somebody?
Yeah, he does, so there is that.
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