An exclusive exposition by Meghan Lane.
Allow me to begin by saying that I love Superman.
My hopes were at least 6’4” high when I took my seat in the theatre, so please do not allow the slightly tongue-in-cheek title of this little review to dissuade you. I’ve read and considered other reviews on either ends of the love/hate spectrum, and have decided that I’m hovering somewhere near the middle. If Zack Snyder were to slip me a note right now that read- “Do you like-like me? Circle Y/N and pass back!”- I’d respond with a coquettish “maybe” and expect him to try harder.
I’m not even certain that what lies below could be considered a real review. What initially began as a review evolved into a sort of exposition- one that I felt compelled to write because I know in my nerdy heart that this could have been a great film- it wished to be- it only lacked the light to show it the way.
Call it what you will; when I walked out of the theatre (having sat through the credits awaiting an enticing extra that never came), I was 40% impressed (or at the very least, entertained) but 60% dissatisfied, and I’m here to discuss the reasons why in the hopes of provoking some sort of discourse because honestly, I saw a pre-screening of Man of Steel a week prior to its release and I’ve been suppressing all of this the way Batman suppresses his rage and I just can’t take it anymore! Alright?! Alright. How about we start with the unsatisfactory 60%, because if you manage to get through the next few paragraphs, I daresay you’re owed some optimism.
Oh, and- SPOILERS.
#1. Kryp-YAWN, am I right?! No? Okay.
Instead of the film opening, as it should have, with a rugged and shirtless Henry Cavill single-handedly holding up a burning oil rig, it began with Lara (Superman’s biological mother), giving birth to Kal-El (The ACTUAL NAME of both Superman and Nicholas Cage’s sons). We find out later on that Jor-El and Lara have in fact successfully managed to have a child the old-fashioned way, which on Krypton means that they had a child that wasn’t grown in a weird underwater pod (the Kryptonian version of a test tube baby). It’s a miracle!
Unfortunately, their planet is about to explode or implode or something because the people of Krypton have been mining its natural resources for far too long (foreshadowing- not for the film, but for us- because we’re doing that too, like, right now). So Russell Crowe is understandably upset (don’t worry, he doesn’t sing about it). He discusses their current conundrum with some people on a council and they’re all wearing weird hats (one of them taught my acting class a few times when I was in high-school), and then General Zod shows up from seemingly out of nowhere and shoots an old lady. Russell Crowe evades Zod and his gaggle of guards and makes a break for it on the How to Train Your Dragon dragon and-
I’m two paragraphs in and I’m still talking about the events taking place on Krypton. If it isn’t already entirely transparent- it went on for far too long.
Finally, when we get to the point that Lara and Jor-El are about to rocket their only son into space, Zod shows up just in time to engage in yet another battle with Jor-El, but before he can shank him, Jor-El kindly takes the time to point out the spaceship that contains his infant son and explain that it’s a spaceship that contains his infant son.
Really, man? Prior to this, Zod had NO IDEA that Jor-El had a kid, letalone a kid in a spaceship about to escape their doomed planet.
As a result of killing Russell Crowe and the elderly woman in the weird hat, General Zod and his comrades are brought to trial and consequently banished from the planet (yes, the very same planet that is literally seconds from blowing up). Why? To cling to trivial formality in the face of their imminent destruction? Because even the end of the world can’t stop the red tape? You’ll soon learn to not ask questions. Naturally, while he’s being encased in his, uh, solitary confinement rocket, he threatens Lara with a very villainy “I WILL FIND YOUR SON. I WILL FIND HIM!” and in response she merely sheds her hundredth single tear.
Honestly, he makes Daniel Day Lewis’ “milkshake” speech seem sapient in comparison.
By the time Krypton actually blew up I had to refrain from applauding.
#2. Pa Kent being A F#$%^&*! LUNATIC.
Listen, I understand the compulsion to protect one’s child (I have a dog). I get it. However, Kevin Costner’s Pa Kent took this very human inclination and took it to a whole other level.
After little Clark rescues his classmates (including Lana Lang) by pushing their school bus ashore after it has plunged into a pond, we find him at home, sitting outside dejectedly while inside the devout mother of one of his classmates brazenly berates Ma Kent. Her son saw what Clark did! It was an act of God! Instead of simply telling the woman to leave after firmly dismissing what anyone would consider an outlandish claim, Pa Kent meanders outside and tells Clark that he did the right thing and to not worry, because no matter what, his parents love him and will be there for him and-
Nope! He tells him that maybe he should have let his classmates die.
Yep. Pa Kent tells his pre-adolescent son that he should have simply allowed his classmates to drown in order to keep his secret carefully concealed for like, a few more years. You know, until he felt “ready” to become the man he was clearly intended to be.
That. Actually. Happened. In their efforts to present a more “real” and complex Jonathan Kent, they completely diminished his character in the comics, effectively lessening the importance of the role the Kents play in the formation of Clark Kent.
I don’t think Kevin Costner smiled once in this role. He grimaces a lot, and frowns disapprovingly, but he’s about as warm as Luke Skywalker was on Hoth (pre-Taun-Taun). Pa Kent is supposed to teach Clark what it means to be a man: To put the needs of others above oneself- to do the right thing, no matter what. Jonathan and Martha Kent are supposed to be the ones who encourage Clark to use his powers for the betterment of humankind!
As if condoning the death of Clark’s schoolmates wasn’t bad enough, Jonathan Kent later goes on to commit hara-kiri in a tornado. He kills himself to make a point. What point? What did I tell you about asking questions?
In the midst of a “YOU’RE NOT EVEN MY REAL DAD!” argument, the Kents, who just so happen to be driving down the only congested roadway in Smallville, wind up caught in a storm. Yes, a film set to be released in June, which is tornado season at its worst, features a main character perishing in a tornado. As far as I’m concerned, the only natural disasters that should occur in any Superman film should be the ones he rescues people from.
This scene nearly ruined the entire film for me, and no, I’m not being histrionic (like Pa Kent). As soon as the funnel cloud forms in the sky, Martha Kent steps out of the car and closes the door on the family dog, trapping it in the car. The hell?! Anyone who has ever owned a dog (with the exception of Michael Vick) will tell you that the safety of their pet would be a priority in the event of a natural disaster. I understand that panic and the innate human will to survive takes precedence over pretty much everything in moments of unanticipated calamity, but there was too much time provided for the Kents to consider the sky for it to be believable that not one of them would have thought to let the dog out of the car prior to the tornado touching down. It isn’t until they reach the underpass that Ma Kent realizes that she locked the beloved family pet in the car, and when Clark steps forward to go retrieve his dog, Pa Kent stops him.
No, Clark. Don’t be foolish. Your feeble human surrogate father will get the dog.
You see, there’s an infinitesimal chance that one of the terrified people cowering for cover will happen to look up and see that Clark isn’t struggling as much as he should be and, uh, they will…alert the Smallville media. Or something.
So Pa Kent goes to fetch Fido while Clark stands beneath the underpass, wibbling. Of course his foot somehow gets caught between two seats, and of course by the time he’s managed to extract both himself and the dog (who runs off in search of better owners, I hope) the tornado is descending. Clark goes to run to his father, but no. Kevin Costner (and I say Kevin Costner and not “Jonathan Kent” because there wasn’t a second that I believed he was “Pa Kent”) slowly raises a dramatic hand, and closes his eyes, accepting his (voluntary) fate.
I definitely heard snickering at this point of the film. I myself laughed aloud. The friend that had invited me along to the pre-screening (thanks, Sam!) leaned over to me here and said, providing a voice-over as Clark Kent cried out in horror as his father is whisked away, “If only I had super powers!”
Another moviegoer attempted to justify this father/son “bonding” moment to me but I was hearing none of it. What secret did Pa Kent needlessly die to defend? The fact that his son is an impenetrable man of steel with superhuman strength and the ability to shoot lasers out of his eyes? Yeah, because if the wrong person had found that out, uh…oh, nevermind- HIS SON CAN SHOOT LASERS OUT OF HIS EYES. Also, why is the mother always forgotten in these ludicrous moments of paternal glory? Sorry, Ma Kent! The farm’s all yours now! Pa had to teach his indestructible son a lesson in…something.
I promise I’ll digress in a mere moment, but first- just imagine how much more impactful it would have been if Pa Kent had died as a result of a heart-attack- as he did in the comics. Something very human that Clark would have been helpless to prevent, despite all of his strength. He could have watched it happening through his father’s chest and would have had to accept the fact that there was nothing to be done beyond simply being there, with him, in his final moments.
This brings me to:
#3. Diminishing poignant moments in an effort to hurry the plot along.
One of my favourite things about the film (which I will cover…eventually) was the way Clark Kent’s childhood on Earth was handled.
There’s a beautiful, beautiful scene that takes place between little boy Clark and Ma Kent. His powers are all beginning to reveal themselves at an overwhelming rate. We see him in class, distressed by the fact that he can hear everything at once and see straight through his teacher and his giggling classmates. When he finally snaps he runs and locks himself in the janitor’s closet, and there he remains until Martha Kent arrives to speak to him through the door.
She calms him down slowly, encouraging him to focus on one thing and one thing alone. He cries that he can’t, and so she tells him to listen to her voice, to focus on that, and as he does we see him relax. Clark is slowly but surely gaining mastery over a few of his incredible powers.
When he finally hurls himself out of the closet, it’s straight into her arms, and- considering this was literally the only loving moment we witness between young Clark and either one of his earthly parents (well, besides the obligatory “you are my son” line)- it was incredibly moving.
It somehow lacked the same tenderness when later on in the film, Superman was instructing General Zod in much the same way.
I actually experienced in a fleeting moment of excitement (“is this finally getting good?!”) when Zod’s helmet was shattered and he found himself suddenly overwhelmed by the world around him. He can hear everything, see everything, and as a result can focus on nothing. Superman had the clear advantage here. Thanks to the patience and understanding of Martha Kent, he had learned to master his skills, to hone them and control them and utilize them to his advantage and…and he shares this information with Zod.
Somewhere, in Gotham, Batman is burying his face in his gauntlet-gloved hands.
REALLY? Yeah. Zod stares intently at his hand until he has regained focus, and… that’s it. They get back to punching and doing other things Zack Snyder is very fond of and all of Ma’s Kent careful teachings are washed down the drain because apparently all little Clark had to do was stare pointedly at a Farrah Fawcett poster until he had mastered the art of focus.
#4. Lois Lame. Yet again.
You know the saying- “Behind every great man is an even greater woman”? Well, it’s kind of outdated and archaic, and it should be “beside,” not “behind,” but regardless, imagine how great a woman a man like Superman would require.
Lois Lane is that woman. Strong, independent, witty and bright.
At least in the comics and cartoons.
Please don’t get me wrong, I adore Amy Adams and she tried, but the writing, paired with her own innate delicacy, simply did not work.
It was great to finally see a Lois Lane with a few laugh lines around her eyes, I finally believed that this woman could be a Pulitzer Prize winning writer, but beyond the fact that her Pulitzer Prize was repeatedly mentioned, we never truly got to witness her intelligence in action. She stumbles upon Clark’s secret, is later guided to safety in the midst of a battle by the holograph version of Jor-El, and has one zinger before she’s reduced to little more than an exposition character.
When we’re at the climax of the film and she’s attempting to carry out the steps holograph Jor-El has instructed her with, she fudges up the process and her mistake has to be corrected by a male scientist while she’s being rescued. Again. Even in Superman Returns Lois Lane has the opportunity to turn the tables and come to Superman’s rescue, and she was, undoubtedly, the most pitiful attempt at Lois Lane to date.
Also, when we’re introduced to Lois Lane, she’s in the arctic and she’s wearing one of those repulsive and overpriced “Canada Goose” jackets that feature a hood trimmed with real coyote fur, officially making her my least favourite Lois Lane ever because she was basically wearing my dog. Gross.
#5. Why so serious?
Between the shot of Clark Kent speaking to a priest with a stained glass window depicting Jesus hovering right over his shoulder and the imagery of terrified Metropolis citizens running through streets filled with dust and debris in an effort to escape falling buildings, the subtext used in this film was blatantly apparent and therefore ineffectual. I’d go as far to say that it was distracting.
Many fans were delighted to hear that Nolan would have a hand in the reimagining of Superman, but I was not counted among them and this is precisely the reason why.
If you’ve made a Superman film that is rated PG13 you’ve done it wrong.
Batman requires a certain amount of realism in order to work. Superman does not. When you get too technical with The Man of Steel, you begin raising more questions than could ever be answered. How does Superman shave? How does he cut his hair? Wouldn’t it be uneven at the back? Does Wonder Woman cut his hair? How does Superman have sex without simultaneously committing murder? Does Superman sweat? What happens when he sneezes?
These sort of questions are best left for conversations taking place between the aisles of a dusty comic book store (believe me, I know- I worked at Silver Snail Comics for five years and used to love coming up with wild theories to answer such queries), but they’re precisely the sort of questions that come up when you take a character like Superman and try to make him fit into a realistic, Nolan-esque world. Trust your audience. We’ve all walked in with a certain degree of willing suspension of disbelief. We’ll believe that he can fly. We’ll believe that he can bend steel with his bare hands. There’s no need to attempt to justify all that. We get it. We got it. We’re good. Now tell us a story we don’t already know.
This brings me to my final lament:
#6. There was no heart.
Man of Steel would have been more aptly named Man of Tin it was so desperately in need of a heart.
What motivation did Clark Kent have to become Superman? Pa Kent told him the world wasn’t ready, that he wouldn’t be accepted, that the repercussions of his good deeds would be so severe that keeping them concealed was worth the death of innocent children.
So, why? What was his motivation? Who, throughout the course of this film, proved to him that humankind, the most destructive species on this entire planet, were worthy of such a saviour? I’d be amazed if the film’s producers could answer that seemingly innocuous inquiry.
Though Henry Cavill is physically perfect for the role (honestly he doesn’t have a single bad angle, even his chest hair commands more gravitas than most other actors his age), his stoicism in this role only served to diminish the character of Superman. He lacked Christopher Reeves’ charm, and Brandon Routh’s humility. This was no fault of his own, mind you. Like Amy Adam’s he did the best he could with what he had, but when Bruce Wayne showcases more mirth over the course of a film than Clark Kent, something is very wrong.
The only time I laughed during this film was during Pa Kent’s stormy seppuku. There was no sense of buoyancy or light-heartedness, no sense of the vulnerable underlying humanity that makes this indestructible alien so utterly compelling.
When the film concludes, we see another flashback to Clark Kent as a child. He’s flung a red cape over his small shoulders, and is standing over the family dog with his hands on his hips, mirroring the iconic pose we all know.
This moment was clearly intended to provoke that feeling of unity that Superman provides. Whether you love comics or not, you know that stance. It lost its desired significance; however, when you stop to consider the fact that the only reason a child would fling a red towel over their shoulders would be to make-believe that they were Superman. It would have been infinitely more impactful had they shown another child, or even multiple children all over the world, wrapping a cape around their shoulders and pretending to fly.
Sadly, this was only one of many missed opportunities to provide the film with the sentiment that Superman embodies.
With all that being said, there’s still that other 40%! Here’s what enabled me to, at the very least, look forward to the upcoming sequel:
#1. It looked AWESOME (Kryptonian dragons aside).
I thought the film was very visually appealing overall. The flying looked great, even the hovering (which has definite potential to look ridiculous), somehow looked really impressive.
Henry Cavill himself is like a work of art (thankfully not Alex Ross). He looked impeccable, and the fights were perfectly orchestrated. Well, except the one that took place over an already devastated Metropolis (sorry citizens that survived the initial explosion, now these two are going to come to blows and use the only remaining skyscrapers as their ring)! It was especially cool to see a female warrior capable of holding her own.
Also, air punching is neat.
#2. Hans Zimmer.
The score is exquisite.
#3. Clark Kent.
Clark Kent’s childhood was handled perfectly. I dreaded having to sit through another fifteen-minute-long explanation of the hows and whys and whens, and loved that they were instead dispersed accordingly throughout he film.
Although I still cannot comprehend a few of his early career choices (a bar?), I’m willing to overlook that because it was still interesting to be made privy to snippets of his early life. Especially when those snippets involve a Mack Truck.
#4. Clark Kent. Again.
YOU GUYS. I was so excited when everyone’s favourite mild-mannered reporter finally made his appearance at the end of the film. His introduction has left me eagerly anticipating the next instalment of this franchise, rather than dreading it, as I had imagined I would.
Especially because it provided with Lois with a one-liner beyond the customary dick joke.
“Welcome to the Planet.”
I think that people wanted, truly wanted, to like this film. Those referring to it as “the greatest superhero movie of all time” clearly really, really wanted to like it, because Man of Steel was far from a superb superhero film. It was recently revealed that the sequel has been fast-tracked, and although I am looking forward to the next film, I sincerely hope that Nolan’s dark and gritty realism is reconsidered, if not for the sake of the franchise then perhaps for the sake of Lois Lane (honestly, she doesn’t need to die for the furthering of Superman’s story).
Still, despite all of my fears and all of my doubts, the “S” on Superman’s chest does stand for hope, and that, I suppose, is the feeling that Man of Steel left me with in the end. Hope for the future of this franchise.