"Man of Steel" The New Superman
If you haven't seen “Man of Steel” yet this article will make precious little sense and spoil everything.
I'll admit, I'm an outsider to comics. I grew up on fantasy. My world is one of dragons and magic – not superpowers or mad scientists. So, I never read much in the way of graphic novels, never had much contact with the realm of Superman, but my brothers were in town, and they are huge fans so when they asked I agreed to tag along to see “Man of Steel” hoping I could catch some gleam of their excitement.
I was excited myself, in a way only a newbie could feel. I enjoy action films, and I always appreciate well-done CGI. (It takes a lot of skill!) Superman also branched into many of my more fantastical interests with his alien heritage, supernatural abilities, and constant struggle between good and evil. “Man of Steel” promised to be the action film of the summer.
Normally, I have three categories to judge a movie. Imagery, which includes everything from set design to the detail of the cultures portrayed. The actors, which simply how well characters were cast and how well they acted. And last, but never least, the plot – which is how well the story is told.
The movie certainly delivered on the behalf of action and violence. Given the indestructible nature of Superman and General Zod, they were thrown through enough buildings to make you wonder how there could be any buildings left for them to fly through. (Somehow they found more.) The CGI delivered, making it believable and convincing that these were alien supermen battling for the fate of Earth and their race. Happily, I did not see it in 3-D, as the sheer amount of movement and color would have had me lying on the floor in the fetal position dying from motion sickness.
On the other end of the spectrum, you had the depictions of Kryptoian culture and society which were rich and colorful and strange enough to make us wonder yet familiar enough to remind us of their similarity to us humans. Krypton, a properly elegant affair, with the technology woven so that it really did appear to be an intrinsic part of their society. The hauteur and cold nature of their society was clearly depicted with the elegant, emotionless council members. My favorite part was the fluid, metallic substance that worked much the same as television screens, creating 3-D images for the Kryptoians to watch.
Jor-El was delightfully resurrected and given a large amount of screen time due to his ability to upload his consciousness. Even the actual act of embedding the genetic code for Kryptoians inside of Clark's cells was an interesting display of technology. Another part I loved? Having the primitive shaped skull as the original storage for the genetic code. One issue I did have was trying to figure out the Phantom Zone. Being encased in ice made sense, however the giant, space, robot tentacled creature of technology that represented the Phantom Zone was a little too odd to properly convey the severity of their banishment.
The actors are brilliant. Every one of them manages to make the character come alive, but there is a special moment that brings tears to eyes when Martha Kent, played by Diane Lane, reassuringly coaxes a troubled Clark out of his fear and despair. Her roll as the confident and supportive mother is the perfect complement to the darker and more uncertain depiction of Superman, played by the appropriately attractive Henry Cavill. Happily missing the red underpants, Superman in Cavill's hands was a more hesitant and unstable Superman that was searching for his place and purpose in the world.
The crowning glory of the film definitely had to be Michael Shannon's depiction of General Zod. As I've said before, I'm relatively new to the Superman world and I have yet to see Terence Stamp in the role. But Shannon's tortured, despairing, and zealous protector of his race was oddly emphatic and moving despite his cruel acts of selfishness and power lust. Zod's vibrancy and defiance definitely captured my imagination over Superman's more restrained and mellow approach.
This is where I have my issues with the film. So far, two out of three of my criteria have been met, but this, the ability to have an engaging, well developed story, is almost everything to a writer like me. The movie's introduction with the destruction of Krypton through folly and greed was a perfect back drop for the development of Zod, whose sole existence is to protect his people. The death of his world shattered him. Meanwhile, on Earth, the non-linear, flashback driven time line fit the movie beautifully, giving insight into Clark's past at all the right moments. The beginning was strong, showing a lost and wandering Clark, constantly having to hide his powers and fighting a losing battle between who he wants to be (Superman) and who the world can handle (Clark). His ongoing quest to discover his place on Earth and any connection to his past drive him to send the fatal message that alerts Zod to his presence.
This is where the spoilers really lurk. Both Superman and Zod discover the chance to rebuild the Kryptoian race on Earth, only they have mixed feelings about how exactly that should happen. Zod plans the destruction and death of humanity, while Superman fights for the end of Zod and his minions. The result is the shattering of Jor-El's dream to restart the Kryptoian race and make them allies of humans through the destruction of hundreds of unborn Krypotians. The worst part? They die at the hands of none other than Superman. That's right, genocide. Committed by the man who never kills. What's worse is the failing of his father's dream, and Clark's entire purpose on earth, was reduced to the simple line “Krypton had it's chance.”
I just wanted to shout at Superman, “If you had been paying attention to your father at all you would have realized this was all about second chances.”
It's an unnerving flaw in an otherwise great story. Even the death of Zod, also at the hands of Superman, were well woven and integrated into the character development. I like this dark and “edgy” adaptation of America's greatest superhero. The murky grey that “The Man of Steel” creates for Superman to wade through is distinctly post-modern and emotionally charged. What once was an unapproachable, superior goodness now has a very human context. Superman faced the choice of his heritage or his home. He paid the consequences of such a decision, not just postponed them for a future time.
I'm hoping that given the success of this Superman reboot we'll have another film to see a proper response to Superman destroying his people (and maybe a few less cheesy jokes in place of a love interest).
The equivalent of the "Man of Steel" romance. Cheesus, those were some bad one-liners!