Thursday, 20 June 2013

Man Of Steel: I Blame Christopher Nolan

I've seen the new Man of Steel film. VERY spoilerific thoughts below the jump. Don't say I didn't warn you.

I really wanted to like this film more than I did is probably my summation of it.

The start, set on Krypton, is generally good, keeping many of the usual elements of Superman's Kryptonian origin while fleshing out and adding a few others. It's visually exciting on the whole though perhaps nothing we haven't seen before and Russell Crowe gets to show us a Jor-El who uses his mind and his fists. Michael Shannon's Zod is given a worthwhile motive for his later actions, as well.

Clark Kent the grown up drifter and loner is interspersed with a younger Clark growing up with the Kents and Kevin Costner's Pa is forever telling him the world isn't ready for Clark to reveal himself. Eventually Amy Adams's Lois Lane arrives and works out who he is which is one of the neater twists to the story: pretty much from the get go, Lois is calling Superman Clark even when he's in the blue and red.

Zod and his bad guys arrive and they and Supes beat the crap out of each other for a long time before a plan is hatched (by Zod) to destroy the Earth while another (revealed by an AI version of Jor-El to Lois) is devised to save it. While the rest of Zod's band is sent back to the Phantom Zone, the General and Superman have a knock-down, drag out fight in the heart of Metropolis which devastates vast numbers of skyscrapers before the end.

The film looked good, though the muted colour pallete was a little wearing. In the scene where the AI Jor-El tells Clark of his origin, I wondered "Did the Kryptonians not bother inventing colour TV?" It's a nice, stylised scene with vaguely Soviet overtones, but it's all in grey. Watch it and you'll know what I mean.

It's always tricky reading sub-texts into films and I'm aware I may be putting my own bias on things here, but I wanted to mention something. There are a few instances where Superman or Clark is put in such a position as to make Christ comparisons inevitable. There's not only the usual arms out-stretched in a cross pattern visual motif but at one point he heads to a Church to ask the vicar what to do: should he reveal himself to Zod and save the world any pain, or hide? Not only does that bring up the Garden of Gethsemane and Christ wondering if he can avoid his fate, but the scene is shot to show Clark with a stained glass window picturing Jesus behind him. Drawing parallels between the Last Son of Krypton and the Son of God is nothing new.

However, Zod's second in command, Antje Traue's excellent Faora-Ul, speaks with Superman during their battle. It's previously established that all Kryptonians (Clark is the one exception) are bred in genesis chambers, their roles in society, be it warrior, artist, politician or anything else, already predetermined and imprinted in their genes. Faora speaks as one of these warriors about how she and Zod are products of evolution and how that theory always wins out. Except, of course, the bad guys don't in the film.

It struck me as I watched that this speech could be interpreted as Superman = Jesus and therefore good, Zod and the Kryptonians = science/evolution and therefore bad. Maybe I read too much into it, but it seemed heavy handed.

Henry Cavill's Superman is, on the whole, well done - he helps people in the start of the film when he's a drifter - but by the time of the big climactic fight, he's obviously not thinking things through. And it's the film's ending that left me very disappointed.

As mentioned above, Zod and Superman have a fight in Metropolis which results in several skyscrapers coming crashing to the ground. A vast area is reduced to nothing more than rubble and ash by the battle between them as they push each other through buildings that topple after they've passed through.

At no point does Superman attempt to take the battle elsewhere; it's already been established at this point that he can survive in space so why not drag Zod out of the city and into space? Why not to a small island? Why keep crashing through building after building, killing hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians?

Superman is forced (arguably) to kill Zod at the end and he reacts to that with a heart rending cry. But we don't see his reacting to the devastation he causes leading up to that point.

In the final battle in Avengers, the majority of damage to buildings and subsequent loss of civilian life is down to the Chitauri; the heroes spend all their time fighting them or, particularly in Captain America's case, trying to save people. In Man of Steel, Superman is ignorant of the damage he causes as he fights with Zod - yes, the General is responsible for some of it, but Superman's the hero, he shouldn't be responsible for any of it. That we see no remorse, no attempt to help rebuild, leaves Superman as a callous, uncaring individual, the very thing he should never be.

Realistic or grim and gritty were the terms bandied around in the 80's after Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns when comics tried to imagine what the world would be like if superheroes really existed. For Christopher Nolan's three Batman films, this worked: the Batman in that world was using things that could be built in the real world and it made sense to show him in a contemporary world to ours. The same formula has been applied to Superman here and it's left him dulled and tarnished.

A sequel's been announced and the net's a-buzz with talk of an eventual Justice League movie but you know what? I can pretty much guarantee that any other films set in this same world, be they a Superman sequel, a re-booted Batman or any other character, won't be anywhere near as much fun or downright heroic as anything Marvel's films have been giving us over the last few years.

And as a life long DC fan, that's hard to say.


  1. Faora's remark about evolution is especially interesting because it makes no biological sense. Evolution isn't a thing that wins or loses. I suppose being bred to be a warrior meant that she didn't get the education that Science Guilders got to have.

    1. Yeah, it just seemed like it was being used as a counterpoint to the more blatant religious imagery surrounding Superman.

  2. I haven't seen the movie yet, but based off reviews and the like this Superman seems alright, especially visually. But as far as the last points you mentioned, eh. Moral ambiguity is more Batman's deal than Superman's. Superman's supposed to be the man of unquestionable integrity and and role model. This Superman doesn't seem quite there yet. In fact, and probability also since I've watching re-runs of it, Tom Welling's Superman seemed more in line of the the ideal/Christopher Reeve Superman. Hmmm.

    I'm curious as to how you feel about Mark Waid's opinions of the movie.

    1. I read Waid's post this morning and have to agree with most of it. I could almost, almost buy Superman killing Zod (although it was a crappy situation to put him in and, as Waid said, he'd done nothing to earn the acceptance of his actions by that point) but the complete disregard for civilian safety...

      That just ruined it for me.

  3. I loathed it. Cavill is a steroidal lump with no charisma, who would have been better suited to 300. That costume looks like a cheap Chinese training shoe. General Clod's speech impediment and the dubious 9/11 imagery ( AND the Soviet History of Krypton) were all a massive turn-off. It was utterly without humour or lightness although some shots were rather nicely composed. Any film where Kevin Costner is the best thing in it is in trouble. Please don't make any more.

    1. You picked up on the Soviet thing as well, then? I've read the phrase "disaster porn" being used regarding the number of skyscrapers that come tumbling down which seems to fit.

      And you're right - there's next to nothing in there that is uplifting or joyful. It's needlessly dark and grim, and that's just not Superman.

  4. And yet that's what we're getting. Dark and Grim Superman. I hope Christopher Reeves is super-spinning in his grave.

    1. Sad to say you're right, Dale.


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