Welcome to our second 2013 Summer Movie Roundtable series. This time we’re covering the reboot o of the Superman franchise, Man of Steel, written by David S. Goyer, produced by Christopher Nolan and directed by Zack Snyder.
There’s no question that the panelists were very passionate this time out. Superman and his mythos are a unmistakable part of our culture and the reactions to the film have been extremely mixed.
Joining us this time are:
- Vito Delsante, comic book writer/graphic novelist
- Peter Briggs, screenwriter, Hellboy/upcoming writer/director, Panzer 88
- Jess Nevins, bibliophile, writer, celebrated annotator and pop culture scholar of the 21st century
- Todd Sokolove, FOG! columnist/co-host of Beware of the Babylon podcast
- Elliott Serrano, Chicago’s Top Geek/comic book writer
- Apathy Babcock, FOG! contributor/media maven/sommelier
- Clay N Ferno, FOG! columnist/publicist & promoter/podcaster
- Marvin C Pittman, FOG! columnist/mild-mannered news editor
- Brian Saner Lamken, lapsed comic journalist/writer/artist
- Frankie Thirteen, former FOG! columnist, filmmaker, RPS enthusiast
- Elizabeth Weitz, FOG! Managing Editor/novelist
- Steven Segal, FOG! columnist/former film critic
- Rich Handley, author, Timeline of the POTA, Lexicon of the POTA, A Matter of Time: BTTF Lexicon
Hope you enjoy, beware of spoilers and be sure to add your two cents to the comments.
Do you think that in Man of Steel, the character of Superman represents “hope”?
Vito Delsante: It does if you believe that hope can come in the form of rebuilding after a disaster. I think, if anything, the character that best represents hope is Zod. He’s got a higher purpose, one that almost makes him sympathetic. Ok, maybe Steve Lombard, who is pining after Lois…he has hope, too.
Peter Briggs: He does, because the filmmakers have Jor-El tell us he does. So it must be true.
Does he demonstrate it? A bit. Not much.
But, as Vito says, Zod better represents the embodiment of that. What’s interesting is that Zod wants to perpetuate the existence of the Genesis room thingie. Everyone else is banging on about being scared that Zod will only let the warrior bloodlines perpetuate. I didn’t hear Zod say anything to that effect.
Or maybe he did. Zod’s dialogue, third act especially, was so bland and “Wmah-Hah-Hah!”, I think I zoned out once or twice.
Jess Nevins: No, unfortunately. I felt like that was a dropped subplot, almost–the film made the point and never followed up on it, in either action (what represented hope in Superman’s actions and behavior?) or words.
Maybe they are setting it up for the sequel?
Todd Sokolove: The S on his chest might stand for hope, but in this film he was sent to the wrong planet. Earth feels without hope in Man of Steel.
There’s no sense that Superman will be there to save the day, because he’s not yet really there for everyone. Any of his heroic feats in the movie are played off as part of his superpowers’ learning curve. There’s way too much tragedy in the film for hope. I agree with Jess that it’s set up for the more traditional Superman in the next installment.
Elliott Serrano: I would like to say that “hope” is the ideal that Superman wants to embody but has yet to figure out how. The reality is that it was an idea that got lost between the script and the screen. I agree with Todd that there was too much tragedy in the film for it to be hopeful.
The audience is expected to be blissfully ignorant of the number of lives that were lost during the battle of Metropolis, so I guess Snyder had the “hope” that his CGI video game climax would provide the necessary distraction to keep them that way.
Apathy Babcock: I am going with Todd on this. I was really disconcerted while I was watching this movie and it took me a few days to let it really sink in that Superman lets people die.
And he kills someone.
We may not have identified all the people who died as characters, but with the mass destruction in the city, let’s face it, there was a body count. A casual body count. That Superman never really even took a moment to acknowledge or be sad about. And the messaging was crafted to him by his father felt less hopeful than it did a bummer.
Clay N. Ferno: I’m with Jess — here’s to ‘hoping’ Superman will be more heroic in the next film, as he grows into the role. I did enjoy the movie, but thought that the “hope” line from Superman: Birthright (Mark Waid) was a great easter egg for Superman fans, though not an overarching theme of the film.
Marvin C. Pittman: I think that he does still represent hope. But remember that there are different kinds of hope.
For me, hope very much is tied to tragedy. Hope is about staring in the face of the worst and somehow believing that there is a better tomorrow ahead. The movie is about dealing with the wreckage of the past. In essence, the film’s action plays out as a continued conflict between Jor-El’s humanist ambitions and Zod’s military command; a battle between engaging randomness and potential versus carrying out orders in a predetermined world. Kal is caught in the middle of all this, and has his own ideas of right and wrong by being raised human. If hope is about a better tomorrow, then we needed the tragedy of the past, or of the day.
Krypton is presented as its own tragedy, for in this version, the planet explodes because the Kryptonians strip-mined it to death. Zod is a tragedy; the abilities he was bred for and used for turn into a fanatical pursuit of a dead world, in a way, that deserved to die, and he’ll destroy billions of other lives to make it happen. Kal emerges as a hopeful figure at film’s end because of his personal changes. He had to learn his heritage, reveal himself and truly engage with others, but he had to bear the tragedy of literally killing off what was left of his home world.
He figuratively and literally leaves the past behind to forge a new path. You need hope for that. I think where the film stumbles is that we needed a scene or two in the denouement where we see him help Metropolis pick up the pieces, but I think that’s more a fault of the script or the final edit. Knowing Zack Snyder, there’s a director’s cut and maybe that’s in there.
Brian Saner Lamken: I’m with the general sentiment so far. The crest on Superman’s chest might stand for “hope” according to him (and the filmmakers) but it was a case of telling rather than showing. I wouldn’t say that Kal-El / Clark Kent in this movie isn’t a force for hope in terms of his own personality and his potential as Superman; at best, however, the plot made him Earth’s last/only chance to stop the unfathomable disaster that really only cropped up because he was there in the first place, and the collateral damage was one hell of a price to pay.
Frankie Thirteen: I’m pretty much with everyone else on this.
Superman is an uplifting character, but there was very little–if any–of that on display in Man of Steel. Rather, it was a case of Superman/Clark acting not as a character but simply as a function of plot. He stands up to Zod because otherwise there would be no movie, not because he demonstrates any real value or affection for humanity.
Peter Briggs: It’s sad to admit it, but Frankie’s right. Supes is an emo navel-gazer here. And that’s a shame, because I think with better material, Cavill might really knock this out of the ballpark.
Elizabeth Weitz: Hope? Where was the altruistic Superman that I love? I understand that the character needs to grow into the Man of Steel and that we, as an audience who already know the story by heart, need to quit pushing him to BE Superman quickly, but Clark, even before he really knew who he was, always put others before him, before his need to protect his secret. If we are to get a sense of hope from this Superman, it’s going to take quite a bit of smoothing over considering he simply allows Jonathan to die, helps destroy Metropolis and kills Zod.
Steven Segal: Like many of the movie’s elements, the symbolism is blatant but gets jumbled in the mélange of mythology. I liked the explanation that the iconic “S” shield was a symbol for hope, and maybe it makes sense that every Kryptonian exploratory outpost would contain a wardrobe of spare “S” uniforms in the vessel, but there are several avenues of hope intersecting in Man of Steel.
From Jor-El’s point of view, the launch of his newborn son Kal-El represents the hope that Kryptonians will live beyond the destruction of their world and serve as a shining beacon for humanity to follow. But unless Jor-El pre-rigged a DNA extraction device for Kal-El to use on Earth, the only way for Kal to successfully perpetuate the Kryptonian race would be to breed prodigiously with earthling women. Though clearly unintended, this could represent the tangential hope that someday we mere humans will be made gods through superior genetics.
Back on Earth, the Man of Steel character firmly represents the hope that the cynicism of Kal/Clark’s adopted Kansas father Jonathan “Pa” Kent is disproved, and that one day humanity will truly be ready to embrace a higher power among us. There’s also a suggestion of hope that Kal-El’s sacrifice by surrendering to Zod (and his actions in vanquishing him) will save the human race—but since Kal has just barely come to know a few of us, he isn’t quite yet convinced we’re all worth saving and fighting for. He, too, is taking a leap of faith.
Lastly, from a practical point of box office business, the Man of Steel represents studio’s hope that the once great cinematic icon can soar again. To that end, Superman’s golden “S” might just as well be a gilded dollar sign.
Rich Handley: If there’s any hope to the film, it’s the hope that he’ll learn from all the damage and destruction he caused in the first one. I get what the writers were doing with the hope symbolism–and I actually enjoyed the film a lot, despite its flaws–but unfortunately, the hope message gets lost when Superman causes more destruction and death than the villain does.
There’s always been a parallel drawn between Superman and Judeo-Christian iconography. Do you think that the religious references in Man of Steel worked or felt out of place within the film?
Vito Delsante: I always need these things pointed out to me. I grew up in a Pentecostal Christian household, and sometimes these things just go over my head. That said, I think it’s something inherent in the character that we’ve come to expect. While it was a little hamfisted in Man of Steel, I don’t necessarily have a problem with it; I have a problem with religious groups trying to appropriate the character to enforce or advance their own dogma.
Rich Handley: I was surprised at just how many there were:
- His birth was unlike those of other people, making him unique.
- His adoptive father was a tradesman.
- His baby cradle (the spaceship) was kept in a stable.
- As a child raised by a couple who weren’t really his parents, he was destined to bring hope to humanity.
- From his teen years until 33, he wandered and his travels during that period remained largely a mystery.
- At age 33, he surfaced again, just when humanity needed him to save them.
- He was willing to sacrifice himself to save humanity, regardless of how they treated him.
- He had a mother who loved and accepted him, despite his being something she couldn’t truly understand.
- He also had a devout female follower who never lost faith in him.
- She first saw his godlike powers in a cave.
- During his battle with Zod, he struck a crucifixion pose.
- He was a pacifist, always turning the other cheek even though he could have destroyed those who hurt him.
- He sought solace from a priest, and stood alongside a painting of Jesus.
- He was wounded below the ribs, matching Christ’s stabbing wound.
- He was visited by his incorporeal father–a holy ghost, so to speak–who sent him to Earth to help the people on that world, knowing they’d perceive him as “a god.”
- He could walk on water.
- He could heal Lois.
And so forth. Heck, his arch-enemy was even a proponent of evolution and had a rather Satanic look–and he showed up on the Kent farm while Martha was picking apples. The symbolism was effective, in my opinion… but man, was it poured on thickly.
Jess Nevins: I don’t necessarily think it’s inherent in the character, but I thought it was forced in Man of Steel. He was much more of a Christ figure in Superman Returns, not that it helped that movie any.
Todd Sokolove: I didn’t feel it was so much “out of place” as it was over-the-top. Superman has always been attributed to being an allegory of the American Jew experience, but in Man of Steel the religious undertones were a tad ridiculous. Kal-El is a miracle birth, saved by his surviving mother from a genocidal dictator. He is both Christ AND Moses. General Zod is both Pharaoh and Hitler. Michael Shannon even has the bad facial hair/hair-cut of the later. Kal-El discovers and embraces his past after speaking to the ghost of his father miles above the Earth.
His leap of faith as savior literally begins with the pose of a crucifix, arms extended and body erect, before diving to save Lois Lane from a nasty accident.
Peter Briggs: Could have sworn Hitler had a side parting and a toothbrush moustache, but still…
Elliott Serrano: Considering the Warner Bros. marketing department sent out study guides to a number of churches to use Man of Steel as the topic of a Sunday sermon? Oh yeah, waaaaaaaay out of place. Everyone else has already mentioned how forced the allegory was, and I agree. Kinda wish Zod had a Hitler mustache now. Thanks Todd. 🙂
Vito Delsante: That’s what I was referring to, Elliot. I saw that and just did a few double takes. I suppose when you have a character that is so much a part of pop culture that everyone wants a piece of him, these things are bound to happen. But if Westboro co-opts Superman, I’m officially out.
Apathy Babcock: There were moments where he was literally posing like Christ on the cross.
Peter Briggs: The floating Christ as he exited the orbiting Kryptonian ship through the hull rent (or “panel” as Jor-El quaintly calls it) was like being bludgeoned over the head with Mjolnir. I hated that, because it was right in your face. I’m agnostic, but I actually liked the church scene. Although the slightly effeminate “yoof” pastor sent some slightly conflicting signals, but that’s another issue entirely.
Clay N. Ferno: That part was lost on me, I was too engrossed in the Superman story being told to be concerned with any other stories about magic being referenced.
Marvin C Pittman: Part of what makes Superman great is the fact that the surface has a science-fiction story of an alien rocketed to Earth and developing superhuman abilities, but the story drew parallels to religion and philosophy. This always has been a part of the character, so laughing at it or demeaning it or saying it’s forced just feels silly to me. When we think Superman, we think morality — especially given the way people have reacted to this movie. And one of the biggest themes in the film is about the development of a moral being, so I don’t know how you force that when it’s part and parcel of how we tell the Superman story.
As far as the Warner Brothers marketing department sending study guides to churches, big whup. I’ll save my anti-religion outrage for something else, thanks.
Peter Briggs: I think Marvin hits the nail on the head right there. Superman represents morality. Not hope. He represents “doing good”. The Superman snide-shooters will always pull out the “Intergalactic Boy Scout” soundbite as a carping criticism. But…what’s wrong with that? What’s wrong with “doing good”? Batman is the Detective. He fights crime. He’s unlikely to pull over the Tumbler to rescue a cat up a tree. But Superman won’t hesitate.
Brian Saner Lamken: The crucifixion pose in space was a little on-the-nose, and the line about him being 33 is kind of hard to argue for inclusion any other way than to drive the point home too, but [a] Jess is right that (for me, anyway) Superman Returns was lots more explicit in the Christ parallels and [b] it’s true that there are undeniable traces of the Jesus story inherent in Superman’s origin from the start. I say Jesus rather than Christ in that regard because it’s Jesus’ birth, upbringing, and calling that echo not just Moses but what in Greek is called the theios aner (“divine man”) template of mythological figures like Herakles born of godly stock, raised by humans, and only in adolescence or adulthood made aware of their true calling as a champion or liberator. I’m more uncomfortable with Superman being made a truly messianic Christ figure than I am with the broader strokes of the whole theios aner tradition — and not (I’d certainly like to think) because I was raised and self-identify as Jewish.
The scene in church doesn’t bother me at all as a Jew or as a Superman fan; if Clark Kent was raised in any faith in Smallville, Kansas, it was likely a Christian one, and even if he has no particular religious background seeking counsel from a pastor is in his position a perfectly understandable grace note (uh, no pun intended).
Frankie Thirteen: You know, Zod as Herod/Pharaoh actually flew over my head, but all of the other Christian imagery was a bit too much for me.
Elizabeth Weitz: Yeah, it was a bit Over-the-Top and there was a moment when I almost choked to death on my Icee when Faora-Ul started screaming the “Evolution Always Wins”-line basically equating evildoing with evolution and morality with all the Judeo-Christian overtones in the film. I understand the parallel but come on, does the film need to be The Passion of Kal-El? I almost walked out of the film at that point to be honest.
Steven Segal: I honestly never took much note of the Judeo-Christian iconography in the Superman legend until all the crucifix imagery in Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns hit me like a sledgehammer (Supes floats high above the horizon with arms outstretched while angelic choral music swells on the soundtrack; Supes plummets back to earth, again with arms outstretched, after nearly dying while hurling an island of Kryptonite into space; etcetera, and hardly subtle). The biblical references and Christ parallels seem somewhat more restrained in Man of Steel, with specific mention that Kal-El has been on Earth for 33 years, and only a few token crucifixion poses. Both Pa Kent and Daily Planet editor Perry White attempt to address the religious, philosophical and social implications of extraterrestrials living among us, but these seedlings of thought provocation never fully germinate.
Krypton. What was your take on this reimagining? For an advanced civilization why was the codex in an ancient skull? Was there only one race on Krypton? Why do you think that Jor-El embedding the codex within Kal-El’s DNA would ensure Krypton’s legacy? And later, why was a blood sample not sufficient to pull the DNA from?
Vito Delsante: Really enjoyed the John Byrne-inspired aspects of Krypton. The idea of the natural birth being unique…the visualization of the planet as being alien, as opposed to almost human…there was a lot to like here. But the whole Codex concept is a little beyond my understanding. Granted, in movie making terms, it’s a MacGuffin, and a badly explained one at that. They had Superman tied down on the ship…weakened…just take his blood!
Peter Briggs: I was struck by the plot parallels of the Codex to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault that the Norwegians are hosting. Go look it up, it’s fascinating. (Although it does make Bill Gates Jor-El, but that’s another discussion entirely!) But, that’s as far as it goes. I liked the liquid silver display technology….but then, I wrote that exact thing into the Alien vs Predator spec I sold to 20th Century Fox back in 1991! The ancient skull thing I thought was ridiculous. (There was a part of me that did wonder for a second if it was a Brainiac component, but then I tossed that idea.) And when we get into the later thing of where the Codex has actually been “fused”? Give. Me. A. Break.
Frankly, I was bored by the design work in Krypton. Bland and simultaneously overdesigned DeviantArt/Halo/Pasadena College of Design bullshit is starting to intensely annoy the piss out of me. Everyone is copying everyone else, so that from Battleship to John Carter to Man Of Steel, it’s getting impossible to differentiate between what movie I’m watching. I’ve complained for the last year that today’s crop of imagination-challenged screenwriters (yes, Damon Lindelof, I’m looking at you) don’t seem to be able to look further than their videoshelf from the last 15 years when reverse-engineering their boring plotlines.
Obi-Wan leaping on his Boga on Utapau to chase General Grievous = Jor-El leaping on his on Kryptonian Creature With Alien Apostrophe Name to escape General Zod. Whole chunks of plot device seemed index-carded in Man Of Steel simply to lift a plot device from another movie. The Genesis chamber embryos may as well have been the Cloning tanks on Kamino in Attack Of The Clones, and their plucking aped the Harvester machines in The Matrix.
The one exception I did like was the silverized art-deco “history of the planet” scene that Jor-El showed Clark, which was quite lovely. But…as we’ve already seen everything that he described in the Krypton scenes already, storytelling-wise it was sloppy and redundant. We could have dissolved from the scene or utilized some other cinematic device at that point.
Getting back to the plot, the Donner Superman had Brando and Trevor Howard and the other council members validly argue about their upcoming apocalypse. I got no sense of any kind of foreshadowing — a pre-quake tremor, if you will — either visually or verbally that anything was about to happen to this Krypton. I mean, ferchrissakes. There’s a fragmented moon in orbit above Krypton (third one in a movie this year, after Oblivion and Star Trek Into Darkness…I liked it best in the 2002 Time Machine remake!). Snyder could have put a line of dialogue allusion in there about that. This whole film’s plotting, once again, reeked of a hasty rush job. Why was the blood sample not sufficient to pull the DNA from? Easy. The filmmakers DON’T THINK THEIR PLOT THROUGH SUFFICIENTLY.
Another example: Jor-El built that Kryptonian ship…that has been sitting in the ice on Earth for 20,000 years! Huh?! When the filmmakers were playing cut-and-paste with Bill Lancaster’s script from Carpenter’s Thing, did they accidentally forget to trim a line of dialogue? I also hated all the lazy sub Star Trek buzz-speak: “engines online”…”uploading to the mainframe”. This is a civilization that has liquid metal display technology, but talks about “mainframes” instead of data-cores or some other alternate phrasing?
Jess Nevins: I loved this version of Krypton, not just of an ancient race but of a decaying, dying civilization. My favorite movie vision of Krypton. As for the rest…enh. Plot devices, little more. I’m willing to forgive those for the sake of advancing the plot.
Todd Sokolove: I’m fine with the reimagining of Krypton as a concept, but the production design was ripped off from so many recept Sci-Fi films that it was distracting and unoriginal. The baby incubators were right out of The Matrix the organic architecture was out of Prometheus (arguably Alien to begin with) and the flying creatures would have been at home in Avatar. I missed the white crystal look of the Richard Donner classic. There was hope in that Krypton. I didn’t get the feel that this Krypton definitely saw better days. It was kind of a dump to begin with.
Elliott Serrano: The opening sequence on Krypton was one of my favorite bits of the film. Watching Jor-El as an action hero, on his last adventure, was fun. I know Snyder cribbed a lot of his imagery from other films, but I still felt like the elements he combined worked. I wouldn’t mind seeing a World of Krypton film based in that world Snyder created. I mean, come on! Jor-El on a flying, x-winged creature? Who wouldn’t want to see more of that?
As for the Kryptonian Codex, I think that was another idea that got lost in the transition from script to screen. Maybe there’s a “making of” book coming out that will explain it?
Clay N. Ferno: I’m in love with this version of Krypton, save the Avatar beast Jor-El was riding, I thought it was a rich landscape, an alien world and the costumes of the elders to be spectacular. Also, kudos to production design to keep the House emblems in the costumes. The Codex seemed to be a version of the Bottle City of Kandor. I didn’t mind the delivery of that concept to the movie, whereby a bell jar version of shrunken Kryptonians would have been silly. I was into the organic shape of the Codex and to be reminded of Felicia Day’s Guild character while watching. Looking at the Codex as Kandor could simplify the concept for Superman fans and answer questions about the DNA. It is a McGuffin for sure, but an avatar of the legacy of the planet Krypton more importantly.
Marvin C. Pittman: This version of Krypton was great. We’ve seen so many alien worlds at this point that it’s tough to present something fresh, and I think they did it. It looked OTHERWORLDLY, and the film accentuated it by starting the film there in the middle of a ton of action. I liked the technology, which used the premise that any advanced tech looks like magic. I thought they combined something modern sci-fi cool with a bit of the alien worlds cribbed from the pulp novels that Siegel and Schuster undoubtedly would have read. (Hence, flying beasts alongside starships and lasers.) Also, the tonal shift We’re so used to seeing Krypton as inherently good, right? I liked this take on the Kryptonians as a race who brought about their own destruction. And in a parallel to our modern times of fracking and climate change, the Kryptonians destroyed the planet by strip-mining it for energy resources to the point of making the core unstable. In a sense, the Kryptonians deserved to die. Knocked my socks off.
Rich Handley: I greatly enjoyed the look of Krypton, but I took issue with the fact that the Kryptonian scenes couldn’t decide what movie they wanted to be in–Avatar, The Matrix, Prometheus, etc. As for the codex: For me, that was the weakest part of the script. Why a skull? And why a TINY skull, for that matter? Was it from a baby? If it was so vitally important, why leave it suspended where anyone swimming through an underground spring could steal it? I liked a great deal of this film, but the codex really made little sense.
Brian Saner Lamken: Like Marvin, I got the sense that (even if accidentally) the Krypton in Man of Steel had the feel of the kind of pulpy SF that Siegel & Shuster grew up on. When they first showed us Krypton at length in the daily newspaper strip in 1939, it was reminiscent of Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon, but this Krypton reminded me more of John Carter of Mars. I confess that as I watched the movie I thought, “Gee, Jerry and Joe probably would’ve loved this, all of the DC/WB hassles aside.” Still, I would prefer not to see Krypton at all; just start with Kal-El landing on Earth.
The codex stuff? I don’t want to think about that, really, as it was not only logically/narratively suspect but it put us on the inevitable path to Superman being the reason why Zod, et al. were remaking Earth in Krypton’s image and to Superman having to make the conscious decision to not allow his birth civilization to live again so that Earth could survive.
Elizabeth Weitz: I agree with Todd, while Krypton was better imagined than what I had seen before, the fact that a lot of the design felt lifted from other movies was definitely distracting. When the pod babies came on screen both my husband and I leaned over to each other and whispered, Matrix at the same time which, while amusing, immediately made me steel myself against what was bound to come.
And then the ancient skull was revealed. Why would an advanced society keep their codex in a skull when they had built obviously sentient liquid machines that would keep it just as safe? It made no sense. It was almost as if the movie was saying that even though Kryptonians, as a species, had evolved to the point of such tech,they could to be completely destroyed if the skull was smashed, lost or mutilated… it’s ridiculous.
Having Clark/Kal-El be the catalyst for an entire race of white people was also a little high-handed in my opinion. I don’t necessarily believe that such an advanced race of people were limited to just Kal-El, Zod and his fellow baddies, there were other terraformers out in the universe and not all of them could have died (it just wouldn’t make sense) so the fact that Krypton’s genetic blueprint is saved in one person is a bit weird.
Not to mention that if Clark was infused with Krypton Baby Soup, all it would take to revive Krypton would be a drop of blood….I don’t know, it’s all so confusing. Was it one baby per blood cell? Whatever.
Rich Handley: Exactly. Given the technology level these people otherwise displayed–they were so far beyond us, it was staggering–why would they store it in a skull? And how could his body contain the DNA of billions of people anyway? The whole thing made no sense to me. Plus, as others have already pointed out, all Zod needed was his blood.
Steven Segal: For all its jerky fits and starts, the opening Krypton sequence never finds a comfortable rhythm. We witness an impossibly immaculate birth, some breathtaking vistas showing Dark Crystal-like creatures heralding the newborn, and then we delve into some Phantom Menace-like council jibber-jabber, a sudden military coup, a hectic laser battle, and swooping aerial action on a flying serpent on loan from Avatar, leading to the infiltration of a massive birthing facility straight out of The Matrix, powered by an ancient skull containing the source of Kryptonian DNA called a “Codex.” And we haven’t even gotten to the secret launch of baby Kal-El and the imminent cataclysmic planetary doom.
There’s just too much going on, and none of the jumpy pacing is helped by the jittery, handheld camerawork. Yes, it LOOKED amazing, and I loved the organic hive-like design of the Citadel especially, but I felt assaulted by the whole introduction when I wanted to be awed. The whole “Codex” device as a clunky plot MacGuffin is one of those things in movies that make more sense the less I think about it. As to why a blood sample from Kal-El was not good enough to extract the preserved Kryptonian DNA, I assume it was because the “Codex” skull was ancient. Or something.
Either way, it reminded me of the “superblood” thing in Star Trek Into Darkness, and why they needed Khan’s magic blood to save Kirk when the blood from any other one of Khan’s 72 frozen shipmates on board would have sufficed. We learn in flashback that Zod and his comrades have visited several long-abandoned Kryptonian outposts. Couldn’t the bodies of the dozens of mummified Kryptonians resting among those abandoned outposts provided adequate samples of DNA for Zod to perpetuate the race on any one of several viable ready-to-be-terraformed moons? These are questions…
Man of Steel arguably is more of a science fiction film than superhero, with plot devices including first contact, alien invasion and terraforming. Do you think that the filmmakers in their attempt to modernize and place the mythology with a more “realistic” take on the character was for the better or a disservice?
Peter Briggs: Sorry, but…why are they exclusive? Kal-El is an alien. That’s science-fiction to me.
Rich Handley: I have to agree with that. My wife commented, after seeing it, that it was “too science-fictiony.” But for me, that was one of the reasons I liked it so much. It’s easy for us to forget, given the flying and Clark’s nerdiness and the Lois-Clark relationship and the Kansas setting, that Superman is, at its core, a sci-fi tale. He’s from another world and has powers beyond those of mortal men as a result. Many of his enemies come from space, or other dimensions, or from the future. I loved the fact that they focused on the sci-fi angle.
See, I’m not generally much of a superhero fan–I’m a sci-fi fan. So for me, that made the movie a lot more palatable than I was expecting it to be. I realize that for a die-hard Superman fan, this movie could really be disappointing. But for me? No disappointment. In fact, it was much better than I expected it to be.
Vito Delsante: Again, these were some of my favorite parts of this movie. I think that, as a whole, turning Superman into a sci-fi character is…it’s not a bad way to go. I don’t know how realistic it ends up being, because it’s still just a movie, but Superman, as a concept, should have some of that in him. But, Superman is as much a human, a man from Kansas, as he is an alien. That’s part of where the movie fails; his compassion is convenient, not inherent. When he walks through the destroyed remnants of Smallville, his hometown, he is disassociated and distant…like an alien. It’s just not in character.
Jess Nevins: I’m not sure “better” or “disservice” are exactly the right terms. I’d say that they made a Superman film whose motifs & tropes fit better for 2013 than they would have, oh, 30 years ago. We (filmgoers) expect “realism” of this sort, so they gave it to us. I’d agree with what Vito says about Superman’s compassion. Even given that this was his first “adventure” as Superman, he should have reacted to Smallville’s destruction (which he had a hand in) as a human & native of Smallville, not as an alien.
Todd Sokolove: That’s funny because I saw it more as an Action film than a Sci-Fi film. I agree it’s definitely not the traditional Superhero genre, but it is an origin story (albeit of unknown origin). It’s also fighting the more dramatic elements awkwardly thrusted into the film. None of the drama worked for me, with the exception of Pa Kent’s death. That was eerie, and fairly well executed.
Peter Briggs: Pa Kent’s death was moronic. Superman saves lives. What is the lesson Jonathan is teaching Clark here? That an individual life is worth nothing. I hated that moment.
Elliott Serrano: To tell the truth, I’ve always seen Superman as a science fiction character, a hero who is a product of the way we understand the universe. Metropolis is a futuristic utopia, to counter Gotham City as present-day dystopia. Superman is an alien who has a human upbringing. He wrestles with his identity. Allegory for every immigrant, adopted child, or person who felt out of place in the world. So I have no problem with trying to bring a greater sense of “realism” to him.
As for the first contact plot point, I really wish Snyder hadn’t cribbed from Close Encounters of the Third Kind with the “you are not alone” stunt. CE3K is a film full of wonder about the universe and what making contact with extraterrestrials can be like. This took that wonder and turned it into b-movie schlock.
Peter Briggs: Snyder and Goyer cribbed from everything! The Kryptonian ship appearance is right out of Independence Day. The terraforming drill is Nero’s Star Trek Narada. The gravity effect is just another version of (shamefully) that alien ship in the awful Skyline.
Rich Handley: I noticed those same things, and as much as I liked the film, they did somewhat annoy me.
Vito Delsante: The “You Are Not Alone” thing bugged me after the fact. It seems like such an open door, welcome mat-like presentation…and then they want Kal to surrender. I know what they were trying to accomplish there…they were trying to have Zod appeal to Superman’s curiosity of his homeworld…but how do you then threaten that same person you were trying to welcome? It’s bizarre.
Rich Handley: Heh. While watching that scene, I found myself recalling Mars Attacks!, in which aliens arrived blowing things up, all the while broadcasting messages of friendship.
Clay N. Ferno: As far as a version of Superman goes, Man of Steel fits all I need from both a superhero fan and a fan of action and sci-fi movies. I expect a level of CGI monsters and out-of-this world terraforming drills revealed here to be on par with the ending of The Avengers and the freefall scene in 2009’s Star Trek. He is an alien, and when Pa Kent tells Clark,”You’re the answer to are we alone in the universe”, it honestly hadn’t occurred to me as a Superman fan. For this, Man of Steel added another dimension to the mythos that I appreciated. Man of Steel’s attempt at realism worked for me.
Marvin C. Pittman: I don’t think this question is framed well enough. As far as the sci-fi elements of Superman, he hasn’t changed much, but we have. We live in a much more scientific world now. This is 2013, where every day you can read about developments in science and technology that, even 10 years ago, felt like science fiction. Every day we’re uncovering things about our genes, about computer technology. Man of Steel had to tap into that. One of Superman’s nicknames is the Man of Tomorrow.
For us, tomorrow is here, so in that regard Superman fits into the 2013 world better than we think; for the movie, they just had to redevelop some of the sci-fi elements to speak to our understand of science and technology. Superman has always been a sci-fi superhero, even moreso because superheroes weren’t a thing yet when the character was created.
Sci-fi is a part of Superman, and Man of Steel embraces that tradition and continues to push it forward. Plus in the post-Crisis version of Superman that most of us grew up reading, he was established as the first public alien and superhero in the DC Universe.
Rich Handley: All excellent points. I completely agree.
Brian Saner Lamken: I was really intrigued by Man of Steel diverging so early on — in both tone and certain long-held tenets — from the Superman mythology that so many folks know in broad strokes. This isn’t unprecedented, but it is a daring move that we haven’t seen for some time — apart from Elseworlds or other interpretations that are explicitly alternative to the main comics continuity of the day. The hard(er) science-fiction bent went from fascinating and even neat to problematic for me as the movie went on, though.
At the same time, I was disappointed that we weren’t shown a Metropolis and an Earth at large that wasn’t more, or at least differently, scientifically advanced than in actuality, because that feels key to me to supporting a wider Justice League / DCU (DCCU?) continuity (although I acknowledge that the first-contact and alien-invasion stuff would thus probably become less powerful in terms of the world outside your window suddenly changing in a drastic and possibly horrific way). Some of the realism — or “realism” — worked for me and some didn’t, I guess.
Elizabeth Weitz: The lines are definitely blurred with this movie. Superman is a different creature than most of the super-heroes we’ve seen on film simply because he is a man caught between two worlds (alien and Earth). I think what this movie is, is more of a hybrid. Not really sci-fi, not really a superhero tale, but one that tries to involve both genres to explain Superman’s purpose. I’m not sure that the filmmakers of this Superman tale really understood the character all that well and were more interested in getting those people who know nothing about him to find him sexy and badass so they can get some sequels.
Steven Segal: I cannot say it’s for the better, but is definitely in service of establishing a landscape of plausibility that ought to mesh with whatever intergalactic threat DC has devised for their inevitable Avengers-style all-stars movie, Justice League. The notion of humanity reacting to the revelation of UFOs and super-beings and how this would impact science and religion is given but a few mere passing references, but this certainly feels like a sturdy springboard to introduce other forthcoming members of the team.
On Earth, Jonathan Kent, who has certainly always been the moral compass for Clark, is so protective of his son revealing his powers that he is morally ambiguous about Clark using them to protect mankind. From Clark saving a school bus full of his classmates to forcing his son to watch him die during a twister rather than reveal his powers, are Jonathan’s actions self-serving? Is he protecting Clark or Martha and himself?
Vito Delsante: Great question. I have to think that they are self-serving to a degree, but for his family, not just him or Martha. I think that in spite of how different Clark is, he still sees him as his son. No matter how much of a prick Clark is to him (“You’re not my father!”), Jonathan is steadfast in his protection of his family unit. I think it’s selfish of him, but not completely out of character for a father to do.
Peter Briggs: By allowing himself to be killed, he’s clearly destroying the family unit, so it’s neither self-serving or for the greater good. It’s just bloody stupid.
Jess Nevins: I think the movie answers this: he’s not self-serving, he’s a utilitarian. It’s all about the greater good, regardless of the price individuals pay. Which is a cold approach to life, but it’s one the film mirrors. So Jonathan Kent dies rather than letting his son reveal himself, and Superman kills Zod to save many more lives.
Todd Sokolove: I saw it tying back to the God thing.
If someone on Earth had these incredible powers, he would be seen as the reincarnation of God. Unfortunately for Jonathan Kent, he didn’t count on the Kryptonian general coming back to pay a vengeance and taking the Earth out with it. I think the reaction to “life on other planets” has a more drastic effect than Mr. Kent ever could imagine.
Elliott Serrano: I’m still struggling with this. I’m trying to figure out how Clark, who is always saving the lives of others as he grows up – much to the chagrin of his father it seems – developed this sense of responsibility? We never saw that time where Jonathan told Clark “act now” or “good job.”
Then again, as needless as I felt his death was, at least Pa Kent saved the dog. In my opinion, you always save the dog. 🙂
Peter Briggs: Screw the dog. If I had been making this movie — and let’s face it, there’s not a great deal of joy or fun in Man of Steel, so it wouldn’t have altered the tone anyway — I’d have killed the dog in the process of Jonathan saving him. It would have slapped you in the face and taught you a lesson in behaving stupidly in a crisis. (Remember how shocking it was when Costner’s dog got blown away in Tony Scott’s Revenge?)
Vito Delsante: It’s one of my favorite moments in the movie. A lot of people hate it or try to come up with a way that Clark could do it at super speed, but it’s such a real moment. It’s not the heart attack we’ve all seen or expected, but it’s similar to it, in the sense that Clark is powerless to stop it (however, in this case, he wasn’t powerless; Jonathan took the power away from him).
Apathy Babcock: His dad telling him to hide who he is, even at the cost of letting his classmates die, just didn’t feel right. I get the greater good thing. And I get the God thing. But it just felt so…not right. If we’re going to talk about the film as a reimagining of the story for 2013, this particularly felt out of touch. Hide yourself and don’t be who you are seem counter to most of the messaging society is trying to embrace today. I think that’s why it weirded me out.
Clay N. Ferno: I’m still thinking Clark could have saved Jonathan without exhibiting any powers, and the Kansas folk would have just thought it was a miracle. Pa walks over to save Krypto (sorry, had to) and Clark is under the bridge with Mom. If Clark had just Super-Walked over to Dad, staying on the ground, but using his strength to stay steady against the wind, he could have hidden his powers and saved his father.
But the movie plot in this universe wanted to go with the dead Pa Kent, which is consistent with a lot of Superman lore. This is just how they went about getting there. I don’t have a huge problem with it, just sort of confused why Clark needed to hide his powers there.
Peter Briggs: I agree with Clay, with the notable exception that I do have a huge problem with it.
Brian Saner Lamken: I choose to read Jonathan’s advice to Clark, including and perhaps most contentiously the “Maybe,” as him working through this unprecedented situation himself and pushing Clark to do the same, really talking with him rather than at him, but also wanting to protect Clark not just from a populace that might shun, attack, or exploit him but from the crushing, constant weight of the reality that even Clark, try as he might, can’t be everywhere at once, save everybody from everything. This may well be me seeing more, or different, than what is there. I did want Jonathan’s death to feel more noble in the moment, at least in part because there’s such significance to Pa dying from something as mundane (in Superman’s context) as a heart attack with Clark lamenting “For all my power, I couldn’t save him” — and this is one of the few times I compare Man of Steel directly to 1978’s Superman, but I feel like I’m allowed because the script repeated the indelible “You are here for a reason.”
Elizabeth Weitz: Clark became who he was truly meant to be, not because he was Kal-El but he was Clark Kent His moral center was honed by his parents who, while they wanted to protect Clark, would never tell him to let people die to in order to keep others from knowing about him. They felt he was here for a purpose and while they may have struggled with wanting him to be free from what they knew would be mankind’s desire to use him for their own gain, the fact that Jonathan and Martha guided him to be the Man that the world would need to protect it, was testament that they were ultimately prepared to deal with whatever came.
(If you think the Kents weren’t that important in helping to create Superman, read Superman: Red Son which shows a very different type of Superman raised in the Soviet Union)
Having this version of Jonathan be so willing to let others die as well as himself was more about him trying to keep Clark as meek and mild as possible so as not to bring attention to the Kents.
It really kind of pissed me off.
Steven Segal: Jonathan Kent definitely seems self-serving, concerned mostly that Men in Black will show up on his doorstep. Clark is drilled by Pa Kent into keeping his super powers a secret, even at the expense of a busload of schoolmates—Pa Kent is cynical of human nature and doesn’t want his son to be revealed a freak or see him become a cult idol. Ma Kent is likewise afraid they’ll take her boy away someday.
The newfangled burden of secret identity is key to this rebooted Man of Steel’s conflicted emotional core, but it ignores a far more palpable and vital element of Clark/Kal’s youth in previous Superman lore: as he’s learning the scope of his magnificent abilities, he is nonetheless powerless to save Jonathan Kent from a heart attack. Pa Kent’s actions by sacrificing himself in the tornado ring hollow and untrue because Clark could easily have saved him in the confusion without drawing attention to his super abilities. Jonathan Kent dying in a twister while saving the family pooch doesn’t offer the same emotional gravitas for Clark/Kal as would watching him suddenly collapse from a cardiac arrest. The death of Jonathan Kent is intended to be one of the most powerful and formative moments in young Clark’s life, and it’s cheapened with rank sentiment and empty heroics.
Rich Handley: While I think Costner did a great job in this film–and I’m not a Costner fan, so that was very gratifying to see, given how much I cringed upon hearing he’d be played Pa Kent–I wasn’t entirely accepting how he was portrayed. In attempting to protect his son, he was instilling in him some rather crappy values–and it showed, given how Superman, upon destroying much of Metropolis, never seemed to notice or regret all the pain (and, let’s face it, mass killing) he was causing.
Marvin C. Pittman: I think this version of Pa Kent is so different from what we’re used to. I think he has a utilitarian aspect of using your abilities for the good of the whole. But the powers of a Kryptonian are far out of his scale. Pa Kent is limited by his own human understanding. Especially if you are a religious man and believe in some form of destiny.
Neither Clark nor the Kents know the limits of his power, which appears to be able to change the destiny of people, maybe the world itself. When Clark saves the bus full of his classmates, and Kent half-heartedly says maybe he was supposed to let them die — it’s based on the question of, with all his power, how much should Clark intervene? How far should he go? He can change the course of the world, but should be change everyone’s lives? He can’t prevent every death, he can’t prevent every bad thing and tragedy. He can’t change destinies.
Clark is the greatest butterfly effect test case ever, and Pa Kent’s example is of quiet strength. Jor-El teaches Clark to test the limits of his potential; Pa Kent teaches Clark to understand the limits he must place on himself. I still hold that Clark/Kal-El is not Superman yet in this story, so he is struggling with putting the two ideals of Pa Kent and Jor-El together in action. Coming to understand the limits you must place on yourself, especially in a world where Clark can stride around like a domineering adult among children, is paramount to what will develop into Superman’s ethic.
I blame the shortcomings of the filmmakers more than the overall story for any reading of Pa Kent as self-serving and asking Clark to hide his powers. Pa Kent is not willing to let Clark engage the world as a child. He has to become a man first. The movie plays to this idea in how Pa Kent’s death presumably sets Clark on his dark road of man-without-a-face self-discovery. It’s less hiding than John Milton’s “they also serve those who stand and wait.”
Director Zack Snyder stated that “Superman is on the edge of cheesy…It used to be okay to have him saving a cat from a tree. Now it’s like, wait – if you take Superman all the way, shouldn’t he just collect all the world leaders and say, ‘I want peace, so if you wage war, I’ll find you and kill you’? That’s the dilemma we faced.” Do you think this is an accurate representation of what the character has become in recent years and or the result of corporate rebranding?
Vito Delsante: It’s certainly…a take on the character. The one thing I came away from as I left the theatre was that there are always going to be different takes on Superman that have nothing to do with how I see him. When I wrote the character that one time, I knew that 1. It would take place early in his career and 2. I always want to see the wonder in his eyes. He should walk with purpose and a chin straight out and up, but always with wide eyes and a smile.
That said, I won’t take away from what Snyder, Nolan and Goyer built…it’s valid in some ways, but it’s not how I would approach the character. And as such, the character is a little unfamiliar to me, but that’s not to say I don’t like or agree with the choices they made…just 75% of them.
Jess Nevins: For me, Superman-as-father figure is the core of the character. The reason he doesn’t take over the world is parental restraint, the hard lesson that fathers (and mothers) learn, that you can’t hand-hold your child (in Supes’ case, humanity), you have to let them stumble and make their own mistakes. Superman *wants* to save the world, I think, but he has to let the world go its own way. Which is why Superman is ultimately a tragic figure–he’s made a choice which is very hard for him. Just like a father does.
Todd Sokolove: I like Zack Snyder as a director, but that statement is completely immature and severely limits the possibilities of the character. I understand what he’s trying to say though and I interpreted the new take as being less about fighting for “truth, justice and the American way” in that traditional “cheesy” sense. Lois often refers to Clark Kent as a corny “boy scout,” but that was always just Clark taking on the ideals of Superman. Man of Steel could have used a little more boy scout in Clark. His “good” side was only restrained angst, which of course comes to a breaking point against Zod.
Peter Briggs: Everything that Todd just said.
Elliott Serrano: Quite frankly, Zack Snyder just doesn’t “get” Superman. That’s all I’ll say about that.
Peter Briggs: Everything that Elliott just said.
Vito Delsante: I have to say, Elliot, that admittedly, many don’t get Superman. It’s a hard character to get an in with. I know we see it so clearly, and we all see him in a pretty similar way, but man, when you get to write him, all you want to do is do it right, and that is not easy.
Rich Handley: I think that’s a very valid point. I would never want to write for this character, in fact. I think the odds would be in favor of my screwing it up. And to answer Stefan’s question, I actually like how Synder approached the character in the film (aside from the remoreseless mass destruction), even though I have to admit that quote is a bit… weird. Threatening to kill world leaders??
Clay N. Ferno: I’m sure I’m sounding like an apologist here, I did have some gripes with Man of Steel but in reaction to this question at the table now, I think that is a perfectly fine take on Superman. He should be going to the U.N. to solve global threats and not saving kitties from trees. My Superman saves a kitty from a tree on the way to Corto Maltese to deal with nuclear threat. He can be all things to all people. You can reboot Superman every time you write a comic, an animated show, a short story, a fanfic or a movie.
Brian Saner Lamken: I think that what pokes a hole in this theory is that while Snyder’s ad absurdum dilemma might be a logical leap for a character with the vast power Superman possesses, Superman isn’t just “a character with the vast power Superman possesses”. He is a specific character, or at least a specific character template. You can toggle the switches on lots of different aspects of that character and slide along different axes to give your story or set of stories a particular tone or milieu or whatever (realism, camp, SF, fantasy, et al.) but there are limits.
I know all about him being a vigilante when he first appeared and threatening the governor and visiting San Mateo. There’s a kind of accreted core character that’s emerged over seven-plus decades and various creative minds producing thousands upon thousands of stories, however, and as versatile a character as Superman is, just as Batman is, there are certain things that he is / does and that he isn’t / doesn’t do; you can explore the whys but I think that taking the character to absolutes, both utopic and dystopic, is only possible in a dead-end finite alternate-continuity story (or via a surrogate — Hyperion in Squadron Supreme, the Plutonian in Irredeemable, and so forth).
Frankie Thirteen: I think it’s really an example of just how little Zack Snyder tried to understand Superman. Rather than honestly engage with the character and figure out how Superman works, Snyder simply tried to force the character to correspond with his own perspective.
Peter Briggs: I read a couple of interviews where the filmmakers justified removing the “underpants”, as they termed it, from the costume (which I like, by the way), by saying it was a ridiculous remnant to the days of circus strongmen. Oh, really? By that rationale, all the way through this movie, I wanted at least one person (Lois would have been fine) to ask “So…okay. What’s the deal with the cape?”
Elizabeth Weitz: I’m guessing that Snyder never got that pair of Superman Underoos he yearned for as a child and is now making those of us that did feel his pain via his take on the Man of Steel.
Steven Segal: At the risk of resorting to a cliché, perhaps we truly get the heroes we deserve. The world is a different place nowadays and Christopher Reeve’s incarnation is a bit antiquated.
Corporate rebranding is a simple scapegoat, as there’s little doubt hopes for the Justice League movie rest on the success of Man of Steel and a forthcoming Caped Crusader reboot. They’re building a universe here, and the tendency has been to have our heroes emotionally conflicted and just a little bit dark and dangerous.
Marvin C. Pittman: I thought Snyder’s sentiment really echoes how a lot of people think of Superman the character: staid, cheesy, and somewhat out of touch with the modern world. Of course, these are people who have not read Superman comics in the past 25-30 years or saw the character the same way Frank Miller did in The Dark Knight Returns. We live in a time when we don’t trust institutions and institutionalized power all that much, and Superman is an institution in pop culture. Man of Steel attempts, and mostly succeeds, at showing Clark/Kal before he is an institution. And in our world of drones, electronic surveillance and volatile regions, here we are.
As far as threatening world leaders, why wouldn’t he when we have a news media of constant outrage calling for crusaders? Let’s take this to searing, real life for a minute. In the Penn State child sex abuse scandal, people wanted the assistant coach who says he witnessed Jerry Sandusky in the act to run in there and beat him senseless, and were angry that he didn’t. So what would be expected of a man with Kryptonian powers flying about the world? I bet the New York Post would be running a front page story demanding Superman to fly to Moscow and drag Edward Snowden back to the U.S. by his hair, right?
Unlike previous depictions of the character, Henry Cavill only portrayed a single personality throughout (with a tease of what’s to come in the finale). What did you think of his performance?
Vito Delsante: He did the role fine. When you have a movie that only has one layer of who Clark is (because Superman is, in this movie, just Clark in costume), you take it for what it is. I’m interested in seeing how he juggles those two roles. Hate that his secret was the worst kept secret in the world, but I’ll bite and see where it goes from here. I have very little complaint about the performances.
Jess Nevins: I agree. I think he did just fine. We’ll see what happens in the sequel–does Clark really become Superman’s alter-ego, or simply Superman-in-disguise?
Todd Sokolove: He was great for what this version of the tale called for. I just didn’t really care for the version of the tale. I think he’s a good actor, and he really looked the part.
Elliott Serrano: Great abs. Awesome chest. Incredible arms and pecs. I hated him for it as I ate my calorie-ridden movie popcorn.
Apathy Babcock: I came by for the movie and stayed in my seat for Henry. The character didn’t call for a broad range of emotion so I’m not sure how he is overall as an actor. But as far as someone who looks like a hero, excellent choice. SUUUUPER hunky.
Clay N. Ferno: Cavill didn’t really get to play the slouching Daily Planet Clark quite yet. His Smallville Clark and Superman were great, though. There wasn’t much need for any big display of emotional range in this film.
Brian Saner Lamken: Cavill was good, yeah. I loved his demeanor when he first met and helped Lois in Alaska. We’ll see what kind of Clark Kent they give him to play in the sequel; I have more concerns about that than I do about whether he’s up to the job.
Peter Briggs: It pisses me off that we see Metropolis Clark for only a nanosecond. Granted, that’s not what this film is about. But, Cavill himself really surprised me. I’ve never really warmed to his performances in other films. But he won me over with his portrayal of A Good Man, here. If I have one quibble with him from a casting/acting point-of-view, it’s that all of his facial mannerisms are exactly the same as Michael Vartan’s! It was like watching Vartan on steroids. I really want to see what Cavill will do with the character in the future. Hopefully with another writer, director, and a sense of fun in the storyline.
Elizabeth Weitz: As much as I disliked the film, I really liked Cavill. I think he makes a pretty good Superman. I just wish they actually gave him a character to play.
Steven Segal: It was a sorely missed opportunity to not get a bumbling “mild-mannered” Clark. I feel like I saw two thirds of a Superman movie. As “Clark,” Kal-El sees a different side of humanity than he does as a deity, and the running joke is that those closest to him are oblivious to the fact that he’s really Superman. Henry Cavill certainly looks the part, if a bit more rugged and dangerous than the classical square-jawed steed featured in comic strips, and he looks like he could snap Brandon Routh’s bones like a toothpick.
All he needs to do is speak in a commanding and supremely confident tone and strike a heroic pose and not look totally ridiculous wearing a form-fitting body suit with a cape. I think he does a fine job with that. “Clark” is where our Super Men actors get to ACT, but there was virtually none of that until the final moments of the movie.
Rich Handley: I thought he was fantastic. That was a standout performance, worthy of Christopher Reeve’s and George Reeves’ legacies, and more than made up for any writing inadequacies. I hope (there’s that word again) we get several more films with him playing the role, as I want to see how he handles Clark’s alter-ego persona, and how his Superman grows into the man we all know and love.
Amy Adams played a bit of a softer Lois Lane. Was she believable as the character and what were your thoughts of her rapport with Cavill?
Vito Delsante: I found her to be harder than I would have liked, actually. I prefer spunk, not aggro, in my Lois. I think she softened as we went along, yes, but for the most part, I found her to be a little less “questioning reporter” and more “accepting of the unknown.” I would have preferred a Dana Scully attitude with a little more sarcasm.
Jess Nevins: I found her hardness appealing–I thought she was a convincing big city reporter. I believed she could win a Pulitzer, unlike the appalling Kate Bosworth. I didn’t really see any rapport with Cavill, unfortunately–they were colleagues as actors than characters attracted to each other.
Todd Sokolove: There was no chemistry between Lane and Kent/Superman in this version. I like Amy Adams, but I didn’t think she was right for the role.
Rich Handley: Interesting–I thought she was quite good, but I’ve seen online that a number of people didn’t warm up to her performance. Personally, although I absolutely LOVED Christopher Reeve’s performance and hold extremely high regard for the first two of his Superman films, the truth is that I never really warmed up to Margot Kidder as Lois. I think she was badly miscast and hurt those otherwise excellent films. Amy Adams, in my opinion, is the best Lois since the 1950s TV series.
Elliott Serrano: I love Amy Adams. I think she’s a wonderful actress. Having said that, this is the first movie I’ve seen her in that left me unconvinced. I hold the script to blame for the most part. No self-respecting, “Pulitzer Prize Winning” journalist would have given a story that couldn’t be corroborated to a website that deals in conspiracy theories.
Also, for all her bravado she didn’t have any of the “fire” that I associate with Lois Lane. We get a brief glimpse of it when she first appears, but then she spends the rest of the film reacting to things, not being proactive, and getting rescued. Again, I put that on the script.
Apathy Babcock: I agree with the point above – no chemistry between Lois and Superman. And their kiss felt kind of tacked on and forced.
Clay N. Ferno: Lois was a huge part of my enjoyment of the film. She was part of the action, and steps right on to Zod’s ship because she’s so bad ass! Amy Adams was strong in the resilient sort of way in this movie and I appreciated her approach to Lois.
Brian Saner Lamken: I’m definitely a fan of Amy Adams, but there were some problems with this version of Lois Lane that I too blame on the script. Jess nailed it in describing her chemistry (or lack thereof) with Cavill.
Peter Briggs: I watched the movie with a 10 year old boy alongside me, so I winced at the “Dick Measuring” jokes. I like Adams as an actress. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that I like her Lois the best of all the portrayals of the character. However, here’s my caveat. Like the rest of the cast, she and everyone else acted as if someone had dumped tranquilisers into the Craft Service chowder. I want to see more energy next time around.
Elizabeth Weitz: I keep holding out that someone would play Lois with as much spunk and verve as Margot Kidder did. Lois was my first introduction to feminism and the one that I still feel defines the type of woman I strive to be. I like Amy Adams but I just didn’t see Lois in her at all.
Steven Segal: I realize this is the 21st century and we can’t expect Lois Lane to be the inquisitive flibbertigibbet of the 1970s, but it’s a miscalculation that all those opportunities for clever innuendo and playful banter are eliminated because Lois—and, seemingly, half of Smallville and The Daily Planet newsroom—is aware of Clark’s true identity. Their playful banter in the interrogation room was a highlight of the rousing trailer, but was sadly the only moment of crackling chemistry between them in the whole movie.
Marvin C. Pittman: A softer Lois Lane? I don’t think so. She’s played pretty straight, as a professional woman. The movie, like most movies, can’t figure out how to do news reporters correctly, but aside from that, Adams’ portrayal was plenty plucky. And I absolutely loved how they brought in Lois as a key person to Clark trusting humanity. In most tellings of the Superman story, Lois creates Superman by giving him his name and such, but in this movie she really does help make what Superman will be. His actions to save humanity are strengthened by the fact that he finally cares for someone who’s a part of it. Someone who helps him bridge the two worlds.
Was it unusual that General Zod and his cohorts acclimated so quickly to Earth and their powers? Why do you think that they waited until they got to Earth to use the World Builder when they had already encountered several other planets that they could easily turn into New Krypton?
Jess Nevins: …yeah, those are problems. Of course, one *could* say that, as genetically-bred and trained warriors, they were created and raised to acclimate to strange environments…and perhaps they needed Clark’s scout ship to complete the World Engine?
Todd Sokolove: I’m just happy they didn’t go for a “kneel before Zod” moment and full-out tarnish my memory of Superman II.
Rich Handley: Thank Zod–er, god–that the “kneel” line wasn’t used. After Star Trek Into Darkness and the lamentable “KHAAAAAAAN!” scene, I was worried Synder would do the same with this film. Whew.
Elliott Serrano: This annoyed me through most of the film. Clark has had over 30 years of exposure to the yellow sun, and yet when Zod and his crew spend a few days under it, they become just as powerful as Superman! Wouldn’t it stand to reason that Supes would have a bit of an advantage, if only because he had a three-decade head start on the other Kryptonians?
And we already know that Zod had a mad on for finding Kal-El who he knew was in possession of the Codex. Although why he didn’t say “Hey, lets not fight and go terraform Saturn instead?” is beyond me.
Rich Handley: Absolutely. In fact, I commented on this to a friend right after seeing the movie. How the heck did Zod suddenly acclimate? I didn’t buy it. Well… unless the devil made him do it.
Vito Delsante: They had some initial problems, but for the most part, they were, as you guys said, already ready with the lasers, and the muscles and the pow pow, as Professor Frink would say. I did like one part in the climax…when Zod loses his armor and starts to hover. I thought it was a great slow reveal…but completely bereft of logic.
Clay N. Ferno: Todd, man, I was HOPING for a “kneel” nod, and was bummed I didn’t get it! I don’t want to overthink Zod and company acclimating to Earth because it was obvious that could be explained by their cool suits and clear skull helmet space suits. Choosing Earth was the right way to have Zod find Kal. Why not have two reasons to get to our planet?
Peter Briggs: I’d have been happy with a “I’m not expecting you to kneel before me, Kal…” reversal joke. (Although either way it wouldn’t have been necessary, but…hey. Put it in there if the fans want it.)
But, yeah. After Jor-El explaining that Kal will have the Earth power him up, and he’s got 33 years worth of acclimatisation in him, it makes absolutely NO SENSE for the other Kryptonians to have the powers they do after five minutes on Earth’s surface. (Their spacecraft’s hull and presumably shields would have blocked the sun’s “yellow energy” on the approach into the solar system, so you can’t even use that argument.)
Faora’s “you are weak” comment in the diner fight was equally stupid in that context.
I also hated the additional “atmosphere” component to this movie’s rationales for Superman’s powers: the one that conveniently lets the Nazi Kryptonian stick a hypodermic in Kal. (Hey, and wait a second. THROUGH his costume, too? What, his costume also loses power in a Kryptonian atmosphere?) Not only does it render Superman suddenly weakened once in the vacuum of space (basically, Superman can’t go into space…yet, we already see him in orbit around this planet during the course of this movie…huh??! Goyer!!!!!!); but again: why are the newly-arrived Kryptonians likewise invested with their powers, when they have respirators initially to block out the Earth’s atmosphere, and their battlesuits presumably shield them against all manner of harmful radiations…including that pesky “yellow sun”? Dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb…
The World Engine was merely an excuse to crib pyrotechnics from another movie. One character even mentions that giving the Kryptonians the Codex isn’t such a bad idea, as it DOES perpetuate Krypton. But that’s the only sop to that thought. Given that, Zod’s aims are actually noble. But, like much of this half-baked mess, the logical through-line isn’t followed through.
This is a Superman who doesn’t rationalize. Why did Supes not even bargain with Zod? Why do we not see that scene? “If I give you the Codex, will you find yourself another world?” The one true flaw to Zod, is the vision that he gives to Kal about the field of skulls. (And the actual technology or rationale behind that vision is lamely glossed-over.) Had Zod then rebuffed Kal with an explanation that this is his revenge against Jor-El beyond just creating a New Krypton well..okay. That does legitimately make him a bad guy. But character motivations in this movie are just a haphazard mess.
Brian Saner Lamken: I’d rather that the other Kryptonians didn’t power up as quickly as they did, like Elliot says, but I was also happy to see that we did get some lip service paid to them being overwhelmed by their powers (Zod and the super-senses, for one, although it was kinda stupid of Clark to even mention that he’d himself acclimated as a youth by focusing, filtering, etc.).
Frankly, I’d rather we hadn’t got another Zod story at all — he was an infrequent player in the comics before the Donner/Reeve/Salkind films, and I think it’s a shame that Zod is, Luthor aside, the Superman enemy in popular consciousness. A “kneel before Zod” moment would’ve really ticked me off, too; I still have the suspect “Khaaaaaaan!!!” from Star Trek Into Darkness echoing in my head.
Much as Superman’s part in the wanton destruction in the film’s third act bothers me, though, I’m actually glad that we got to see realistic consequences to the havoc multiple powered Kryptonians could and would wreak with little regard for Earth life.
Elizabeth Weitz: I think the writers kind of forgot that it would take more than 30-seconds for the bad guys to acclimate themselves to earth’s atmosphere and simply glossed over the whole issue by having them throw some punches in-between learning how to breathe and shoot fire out of their eyes (which should have made at least one of them scream for awhile).
I’m not quite sure why they wouldn’t have set up on another planet other than Zod was still smarting about Jor-El making a natural baby and wanting to kick Clark’s ass…Zod kinda holds a grudge.
Steven Segal: And how did Kal-El “heal” so soon after heaving blood while still on Zod’s ship in the damaging Kryptonian atmosphere?
Marvin C. Pittman: Zod and the other adjusting to Earth so quickly is just part of the package. I took it as movie boilerplate. But do add to it that they, unlike Clark, were genetically engineered to adapt to pretty much anything. Kal is Kryptonian genetically, but he is not what Zod and the others are. They are true Kryptonians by their culture’s ethic. They’re built for what they do.
Neither Smallville or Metropolis seemed to have a personality. Smallville seemed to contain a single main strip with a Sears, IHOP and 7-11 and Metropolis was a major city that seemed light on people. What were your thoughts of the interpretation of both iconic locations?
Jess Nevins: Smallville’s generic character was more of a problem for me than Metropolis. But ultimately I chalk the lack of characterization of both places up to the fact that the film had a limited time in which to do a lot of things, and there just wasn’t time to create character for both places.
Todd Sokolove: This was another shortcoming of the production design with Man of Steel. The product placement could have been used better too. Instead it was off-putting and did nothing to paint a picture the town. I couldn’t really follow where exactly they were in any of the Metropolis scenes.
Plus, traditionally isn’t New York the stand in for Metropolis, complete with iconic buildings. They seemed to shy away from it completely. At least the Dark Knight trilogy brilliantly incorporated the actual shooting location city to reflect the economic status of Gotham during the time period of each film. There was more thought into that.
Elliott Serrano: Smallville was a place where you could do tricks with product placement. Metropolis was a place where the filmmakers could hold their high-definition video game fight. That’s what I got from the filmmakers’ interpretations.
Vito Delsante: But let’s be honest, everyone. Both were just set pieces and they were only there to show “how cool a fight between Kryptonians can be.” The thing Batman writers strive for in creating Gotham City isn’t so much creating a realistic city, but creating a supporting character. If either of the two burgs were treated as a supporting cast member, I think we wouldn’t have seen the wholesale… genocide that we saw.
Clay N. Ferno: I didn’t see either city as a character in the film, merely locations. Nolan’s Gotham is inherent to the story, a small town in Kansas and a major city like New York are not as interesting as Gotham.
Brian Saner Lamken: I’ve lived in some towns that don’t have a main strip any bigger than Smallville’s in Man of Steel — heck, it is called Smallville. The lack of character to Metropolis was a much bigger deal for me; if there’s anything iconic about Smallville, really, it’s how generic-Heartland it is. As I mentioned earlier, I’d hoped for a slightly more futuristic feel to life in the movie, and Metropolis in particular, especially if it’s setting the stage for a whole DC Cinematic Universe. The motif is easier to pull off in animation than live-action without being too fantastic or camp, but Man of Steel could’ve used a bit of what Anton Furst did in the Tim Burton Batman films; even the Gotham City of Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy got a monorail.
Peter Briggs: Being a non-American, who has travelled through both smalltown America and the major cities, I’d disagree with the question.
To me, that looked like a smalltown town, and a generic large city. The shortcomings in Smallville and Metropolis are not those of a visual identity: they’re those of this story not exploring either of those environments in any meaningful fashion. Clearly, Goyer has attempted to replicate even the flashback structure of his earlier Batman Begins in this one. And that’s part of the problem. Batman Begins could be viewed as a mystery. You’re seeing how Bruce Wayne BECAME Batman, in the form of revealing snippets of the creation of the character. Well, this is not Superman Begins, although I have heard in interviews both Snyder and Goyer say that.
Here, presenting clips from Clark’s past is a narrative failure, and a cop-out in not having to take the time in presenting Clark’s childhood in any cohesive linear form. I think it’s very telling that my favourite parts of the this movie are the Smallville flashbacks. I also feel as if I was robbed of the moment of Jonathan and Martha discovering the ship crash and Clark. Basically, this is sloppy A.D.D. storytelling.
Elizabeth Weitz: I wasn’t too upset about the generic tone of each place because Clark apparently found it so easy to destroy them.
Steven Segal: All I can tell you about Smallville is they have an IHOP, and the manager is some fat guy who Clark once saved in a freak bus accident. Metropolis could have been any generic city, and the plot logic that required Zod’s gravity machine to hover specifically over that city is embarrassingly thin.
Screenwriter David S. Goyer stated that, “I think people die [in Metropolis]. Clearly hundreds if not thousands of people have died while the gravity machines are going off. There were probably even people who died in Smallville. When you’re dealing with a threat like this, there will be collateral damage…I think people died and I’m sure that upsets some people.” What did you think of the level of destruction in both Smallville and Metropolis? What was more disturbing, the level of collateral damage or Superman’s complete ignorance toward helping people during the fight with the exception of saving Lois?
Vito Delsante: It’s the latter. Again, he was detached and alien during the Smallville sequences, and except for Lois and his mom, he did nothing to help anyone anywhere. I read somewhere that even Brandon Routh’s Superman melted falling glass. It’s not until that last scene with Zod that he even seems to care about people (and Jesus, Zod, you couldn’t just aim at them and fire? You have to carve the wall…SLOWLY?). I’m betting this is the first thing to correct in the next movie, but I doubt it will. You don’t get the spectacular visuals if you have Superman catching every car that’s tossed into the air.
Peter Briggs: It’s interesting that Vito uses that word “alien”. In the comicbooks, Luthor is obsessed with the point of view of Superman being an alien. And that’s what’s wrong with this movie. It essentially portrays Luthor’s view.
From the outset, we’re portraying a present-day Clark/Kal who is an alien and feels like an alien outsider. Donner (and most of Superman lore) gave us a kid who was raised to be normal, who at some point either abruptly exhibited superpowers, or had the explanation as to why he was “different” given to him. We don’t get that here. I’ve forgotten who it was who made the witty observation that “Superman is the real person, and Clark Kent is the identity”. Sure, if you examine that logically, you’ll get that rationale. But Clark is raised by loving step-parents to be normal, even though they know he’s far from that.
If, tomorrow morning, Gregory Peck turned up on my doorstep and explained to me that I was the result of a South American breeding program and that I was actually the secret clone of a despotic maniac (Boys From Brazil…go see it now, it’s a fun movie), I wouldn’t immediately go “Gee, you’re right…I’m going to cast aside several decades of who I am, and head off and invade Poland.”
That’s an adjunct to the question above, but I want to get that off my chest given Vito’s comment.
Getting back to the narrative, Superman’s ignoring the populace-in-peril is a failure on the parts of the filmmakers, who don’t seem to be factoring in a global view of the storyline. It’s bad storytelling, simply put. What does Superman do, when the Kryptonians turn up in Smallville? Does he take the fight out into the fields, where it’d be safer for the public?
Hell, no! He tells them to get inside, like he’s some version of Gary Cooper in High Noon! Let’s ignore the fact they’re likely to be crushed by falling masonry or vehicles or crashing planes. I mean, look. Telling Smallville’s populace to flee town into the fields isn’t anywhere near as sensible as Supes taking the fight away, but it would at least give the population some potential survivability.
As to Metropolis: well. Nobody really thought this plot through, did they? If we’d have seen maybe 90 seconds of Cloverfield-esque evacuation forethought, the action would have perhaps seemed a little more chilling.
Jess Nevins: Superman as 9/11 disaster porn. Ugh, ugh, ugh. Of course, we expected something like this when we heard Zack Snyder was helming the film. His moral compass is, um, skewed. I think both were equally disturbing. I accept the assumptions of the film: mass destruction that Superman can’t prevent, and a fight between superpowered beings that would logically destroy a large city. I just don’t want to see it so lovingly portrayed.
As for Clark’s lack of compassion and his detachment, that was just a mistake on the filmmaker’s part. Superman is all about saving innocents. He’d never, even as a rookie, knowingly endanger others the way he did in Man of Steel.
Todd Sokolove: Even a “God” lets bad things happen to good people. In Man of Steel the citizens of Earth are victims of catastrophes brought by nature and evil villains, and because Clark has been conditioned not to use his powers to save people from the catastrophes, the body count is unusually high for a superhero film. Again, this probably won’t happen in the next installment, where Superman becomes “savior.”
Vito Delsante: Wow, Todd…that is a powerful statement!
Rich Handley: Yeah, that was an excellent observation.
Elliott Serrano: What disturbs me the most is that David Goyer is a veteran comic book writer who is *supposed* to know these characters better than anyone in Hollywood, and yet it was Chris Nolan who objected when Snyder and Goyer pitched Superman killing Zod in the film. That really annoys the crap outta me.
Rich Handley: See, the killing didn’t really bother me. At least this time, he didn’t crush the hand of a defenseless mortal Zod and drop him into a seemingly pit, gloatingly smiling about it. That was arguably worse.
Peter Briggs: Agreed. Nolan should have stuck to his guns. Saying that, I wasn’t as annoyed by Zod’s death as I expected to be (I’d already been spoiled on that plot point before seeing the film anyway), but the level of foreshadowing that would have better rationalized that moment was not implemented into this movie’s plotting.
Apathy Babcock: My expectation of Superman is no death should be seen by him as collateral damage. What was missing was innocence and naivete, even empathy as he became a man. He was more sad about snapping Zod’s neck than he was about all the folks dying.
Peter Briggs: Yes, that sucks.
Clay N. Ferno: I think that raising the stakes by killing thousands of people in a work of fiction is completely acceptable.
Peter Briggs: It would be, if we’d have had a few characters saying something to the effect of “The death toll is catastrophic!” Nothing. Nada. I mean, we know this is a Superman movie. But it tries very hard to ape the Batman Begins paradigm of realism, and fails miserably. Even on a personal one-on-one, had Faora really dispatched humans with the strength she did, her battle armor and the surrounding environments would have been drenched with blood spatter. The PG approach to the subject matter in the manner it was portrayed sat very awkwardly with one another. I’m sure Martha Kent at her age wouldn’t have gotten up quite so sprightly after being tossed violently aside by a Kryptonian.
Brian Saner Lamken: What Jess said really needs no elaboration. I don’t quite buy Todd’s rationalization that Clark’s been conditioned not to help people, because he is operating in public now, he has been helping people surreptitiously for years, and most directly to the point it’s his fellow Kryptonians and Clark himself causing the destruction. The mass terror and property damage aren’t inherently wrong to show; like I said in response to the last question, I’m actually glad to see some consequences. I could’ve done without such direct September 11th imagery, however, as Perry et al. are covered in dust escaping from the Daily Planet building, and I was absolutely dumbstruck by Superman’s indifference to the fallout from his single-minded engagement of Zod.
Elizabeth Weitz: Todd’s right (although I find it dangerous to keep praising him) but you know what? Even though I get that Superman wasn’t really “formed” at this point, I can’t help but think that he would have taken the fight away from humans. It’s basically who he is, he wants to save people, so allowing people to die right in front of him without even blinking an eye seems counter-intuitive to the character.
And then for him to then save Lois, regardless of all the other people getting smashed and murdered, just feels sort of like a dick move, save the girl you want to bang over humankind. I find it hard to believe that he wouldn’t have done everything he could to make sure the least amount of people were hurt.
Steven Segal: For the most part, the collateral damage is implied and never really dwelled upon, but the trend of mass scale destruction in recent movies is no longer to be considered merely eye-candy—it invariably carries the gravitas of real-life events and pretending we can totally divorce ourselves from that is futile, even as we tell ourselves “it’s only a movie.”
There’s a great bit in Superman II when Supes saves a baby carriage from a falling radio tower and the mom shouts “Thank you!” as he flies away smiling. Man of Steel needed a few more moments like this, if only in oblique acknowledgment of the real-life implications of such calamity. Is it enough that the filmmakers are aware of the implied body count? Even back in 1980, the producers of Superman II and DC Comics were aware of the collateral damage, and did a fine job of distracting us from it.
Nowadays it’s become a new pornography that fetishizes cataclysm, particularly the obliteration of beloved landmarks and monuments. This last bit isn’t new, either; it kicked in around the time of Independence Day and Armageddon and I suppose we can thank messers Rolland Emmerich and Michael Bay for first turning it into a sport.
Marvin C. Pittman: Does anyone here watch any of the DC Animated cartoons? Man of Steel was on par with those in terms of collateral damage. When superpowered people fight, there’s gonna be a ton of unimaginable damage no matter what. I know we’re used to the comics and cartoons not really calling on all the collateral death that must be happening, because the creative team is too busy dwelling on the main action. But I won’t hold a movie to a different standard.
That said, I do think it’s a failing on the filmmakers’ part not to show Clark dealing with the aftermath of the Zod fight. If we’d have had even 15 seconds of voiceover on footage of him helping emergency crews and pulling bodies from the wreckage, this hole in the filmmaking would have been alleviated immensely. Also, I’m pretty tired of everyone saying every building blowing up is 9/11. I think it’s shortsighted and doesn’t do justice to reality. Does every time some other disaster is depicted on film refer to some other real-life disaster? Much of the world sees horrible disaster every day, but we don’t care because it didn’t happen here. OK, ending rant.
I will say this about the 9/11 imagery comments: If 9/11 is your reference point for the worst disaster you ever lived through (even if you weren’t there), then any movie of world-threatening, non-supernatural scale attempting to ground itself in some semblance of reality will recall 9/11. But before 9/11, we’d already invented the disaster on screen. The issue is when such destruction becomes pointless or unnecessary to the plot.
Yes, Clark could fight Zod in a corn field or in the desert or on the moon. But as a giant summer blockbuster, is that what we want? Would that truly show the world-ending threat that Zod is? You’re talking about Metropolis getting wrecked, not about the world engine, aren’t you?
So the filmmakers succeeded. And, if you think that he’s not really Superman yet, then we’ll get to see in a sequel how the aftermath of the Zod fight influences Clark’s development of the Superman identity. It also should give us a pathway to Lex Luthor’s characterization in a sequel as someone far more sympathetic.
Was the film’s lack of humor necessary to make the audience take the material more seriously? Do you think that this was successful?
Jess Nevins: More or less, I suppose. Not a lot of room for humor in the “realistic” approach that Snyder/Nolan chose. Their world is not a funny one, and humor would have been out of place.
Peter Briggs: It’s not about humour. It’s about fun. This movie had no fun. From Zimmer’s boring, droning score that injected no excitement at all into the proceedings, to…anything. When the military and Superman have their bonding moment, and Superman takes off, I would have loved to have had one of the soldiers say with a look on his face “Man…I wish I could do that.” And then you see a pair of 8 year old Smallville kids standing behind looking up in the same way, and one kid says “Me too.” Just…something!
Todd Sokolove: You need a little humor relief, and there wasn’t any. I’m not saying that that the filmmakers should have added in Jimmy Olsen as a wise-cracking sidekick addition to Lois to make it work. There could have been more to relate to if the film wasn’t so heavy on the drama. That’s one of the few things the Green Lantern movie actually got right. Have a little sense of humor about it without feeling it’s beneath the “new approach.”
Elliott Serrano: This film was so devoid of hope and joy, that when the female army officer made her little crack at the end, the entire audience at the screening I attended laughed harder than you would have expected. Did we really need a “emo Superman”?
Vito Delsante: I think…this is purely my opinion…but I think that when you look at the filmmakers involved (Snyder, Goyer and Nolan), none of them are known for humor. I mean, I watched Blade: Trinity…and it was trying to be funny (and failed). But this movie just wasn’t set up to be funny, in any way shape or form. “Welcome to the Planet,” was the funniest line in the movie AND IT CAME AT THE END.
Clay N. Ferno: There were moments of humor. What about the 18-wheeler impaled on the telephone pole? While not necessarily played for humor, I did not find Man of Steel to be humorless.
Peter Briggs: It was a movie made by people without humour. Look: I love Watchmen, 300, Dawn Of The Dead…but they’re not exactly light entertainment. Neither are Nolan’s films. I’m not saying this movie needed the slapstick of Richard Lester, or even to the extent of Donner. But I remember that my capsule review of Singer’s Superman Returns was “It’s like Donner’s movie, but with all the joy taken out”. Well: Man Of Steel is like Returns with all the joy homeopathically reduced to virtually nothing.
Brian Saner Lamken: The film could’ve used a few more lighter moments, I suppose, but dinging it for a lack of humor is way down on my list. Rao knows we didn’t need an Otis in this movie, so far better it come across as too serious than the alternative. Even though Lois and Clark didn’t work for me, I think there’s a way to do a witty, Nick and Nora Charles but they’re reporters and he has superpowers, romantic take on Superman with Paul Rudd as Clark and… not too long ago I might’ve said Lauren Graham, but now maybe Rachel Weisz or even, had she not been in Man of Steel, Amy Adams as Lois (as if I have to factor reality into a pie-in-the-sky fantasy casting).
Elizabeth Weitz: The last few years has seen a complete re-branding of geek culture, to move it away from those of us who are dorks and trying to sex it up. Embracing cheese isn’t cool, making cheese hip is. This isn’t my Superman but I guess for the young ‘uns, this is what they will grow up with, an Emo Clark Kent who doesn’t crack a smile.
It’s kinda sad.
Steven Segal: Even a “serious” movie like The Dark Knight contains moments of character-driven comedy. There HAS to be some levity, since we’re here, after all, to have FUN. The straight-faced solemnity with which Man of Steel plays out means the filmmakers are a bit too restrained, and they’re definitely not aiming to poke fun at themselves (not yet, anyway). I wish Man of Steel contained more instances of humor.
When I think back to the seminal moment in Richard Donner’s original Superman when Christopher Reeve sizes up a modern-day phone booth totally inappropriate for his costume-changing purposes, and recall how effortlessly this self-referential joke paid off, and how it complemented both the script’s comedy of manners and the sly social satire (and, in the Richard Lester-directed sequels, the cheekier slapstick elements), I can’t help but hypothesize about all the many ways for a movie to mine humor, and all of the missed opportunities that might’ve made Man of Steel more FUN while still maintaining what Donner repeatedly referred to as verisimilitude.
Invariably, this all ties back in with DC Comics building a movie universe and aiming to maintain a level of mutual cinematic verisimilitude—even if it’s a reality in which aliens can travel through galactic portholes and terraform planets and create black holes. How will the future incarnations of Batman, Aquaman and Wonder Woman, for example, fit into this universe?
Do you think it was necessary for Superman to kill Zod, and does it cheapen the legacy of the character by pandering to a demographic that feels the character needs to be edgy to be relevant?
Vito Delsante: True story. A split second after Superman snapped his neck, a guy in the row I was sitting in clapped. One guy. Clapping. For death. I think on some level that spoke to that guy; the whole, “Why doesn’t Batman kill the Joker?” argument that has raged for years. That clapper was the only one who enjoyed the scene, in my theater, but I don’t think that necessarily means he’s the only one who agrees with the choice. Terry Beatty, a great artist/inker, offered up a compromise that could have worked in the movie: Superman covers Zod’s eyes, effectively blinding him and rendering him impotent. A fate worse than death.
Remember, Zod said he was raised to be a warrior; killing is what he would do. But now you relegate him to being a ticking time bomb to deal with at a later time.
(Personally, I thought, “Why didn’t he just fly him up, out of the train station and finish the fight in orbit, but…)
Jess Nevins: The film made it necessary to kill Zod by stacking the deck of the script (so to speak). There were alternatives–I like the blinding idea–but Superman is a panicked rookie and doesn’t think of them. I do think it cheapens Superman to have him kill–but we’re in a pro-torture, pro-drone age that doesn’t think of sins in the same way we once did.
Elliott Serrano: Was it necessary for Supes to kill Zod to fulfill the needs of the story that was being told? Yes. Was it executed – pun intended – expertly by the director? No. Does it cheapen the legacy of the character? Absolutely not. Superman is bigger than a single film.
Now, in all honesty I will say that as a kid, when I saw Superman II and the Phantom Zone Criminals got their comeuppance in the form of falling into the ice at the Fortress of Solitude, I was very dissatisfied. They had killed a number of astronauts on the moon at the beginning of the film and – in my young mind – needed to pay for their crimes. I’m beginning to think that the young me wouldn’t have had a problem with Zod’s death as the older me does.
Rich Handley: I don’t see how Superman could have NOT killed Zod in this film. Zod seemed like he WANTED to be killed since he no longer had a purpose in his life, and was goading Superman into doing it by making it clear that he’d never stop killing people unless he was dead. What, realistically, could Superman have done besides kill him? Granted, as I noted above, I’m not a die-hard superhero buff, so maybe there’s a legitimate answer there I’m overlooking. Buf for me, the script justified what he did… well, to Zod, at least. What he did to Metropolis, without even seeming to care about it, was just bizarre.
Peter Briggs: Agree with Elliott’s assessment. Had the moment been realized more carefully, I think the majority of the audience would have been clapping.
Apathy Babcock: When he finally killed Zod, my immediate response was, “that’s it?” They beat the crap out of each other in loud visual effects for all that time and then…he snaps his neck. Done. I wanted to yell, “why didn’t that happen 15 minutes ago?!” It made a big chunk of the movie seem like grapes in the fruit salad…nice-looking filler.
Rich Handley: That I agree with. So much of that last 20 minutes of the film was filled with one big CGI battle after another.
It was dizzying and should have been cut in half. After the 10th building that Superman toppled onto the masses, I thought, “OK, I like this movie, but ENOUGH already. Sheesh.”
Clay N. Ferno: Did I like that Zod was killed? No. I would rather him have been sent back to the Phantom Zone or otherwise imprisoned by the more powerful Superman. Does that ruin the movie for me? No, it was a decision I just don’t agree with. I don’t think this is pandering either. With the amount of murder in action films or death in war films being par for the course, I just think of this as a facet of the story.
Brian Saner Lamken: Like Vito, I’d have expected Superman to take Zod up into orbit. My pass at the script would show them racing toward the sun — Zod being so newly powered-up that he felt himself grow even more powerful and ultimately going on overload so that either his power burnt out, requiring Superman to save him, or he was pulled into the sun and died as a result of his own hubris. The problem is that at a certain point since you’re rewriting the script that the filmmakers clearly wanted to use you might as well imagine a different movie entirely.
I do think that Snyder and Goyer felt that Clark in that moment was backed into having to make that choice to snap Zod’s neck, but to me that’s both a failure of imagination on their part in terms of Clark’s options and a failure of understanding who Superman is in terms of ever putting him in that position options or no (never mind that if he could break Zod’s neck then he could, like, shift Zod away from the cowering family about to be fried). I couldn’t breathe as Superman begged Zod to stop with the heat vision and it was all too apparent what was coming; I didn’t actually jump up and shout at the screen like Mark Waid, but something inside me did.
And worst of all was that Superman did just what Zod wanted him to do, as evidenced by all that talk about him being genetically bred to be a warrior, so it was a double if not triple loss: Clark had to give the villain what he wanted; Clark had to take a life; Clark had to break the apparently last remaining living tie to Krypton.
Elizabeth Weitz: I could see where people who don’t think farther than the immediate would be satisfied with Superman killing Zod after all that Zod had done. But that’s why Superman is different. He doesn’t think like us, he’s better. He’s here to save us from ourselves and by having him kill Zod, he lessens himself.
Look, I’m a pacifist and Superman has always represented the best of humanity to me. Sure, he has to fight, he has even, on occasion, had to kill, but never does he do it without exhausting all other avenues first. He uses reason and logic and his sense of good to make decisions (which is something all people of power should strive for) and if he comes to no other choice, he will do it, sadly.
It’s why I love Superman.
Steven Segal: The filmmakers certainly want us to think it’s necessary for Superman to kill Zod, though they could have upped the ante with a few more vignettes showing Superman break from the fight long enough to save people from the expanding gravity field and all the toppling skyscrapers. Zod makes it clear that he will never show mercy, but when the Man of Steel finally snaps, it’s a seismic shock because our memory of Christopher Reeve’s Superman as the eternal Boy Scout would never, ever, resort to such lethal violence.
But this new Man of Steel is brooding and was bullied and has some complex identity issues, and Supes’ agonized howl after ending Zod goes a long way towards suggesting how conflicted he feels for having taken a life. Superman has killed before in the comic books so it’s not like this is unprecedented—but with respect to this newly rebooted movie series, it’s a game-changer any way you twist it.
Marvin C. Pittman: I think it was a good move to kill Zod, overall. Because I think that Clark isn’t really Superman yet in this movie. The film definitely stacks the deck in favor of killing Zod, and for Clark to have to make a choice by pushing beyond his own personal limits, he now may know that he can’t go back there even with the world at stake. It should be a moment that teaches Clark about engaging with the world and truly becoming Superman. As far as taking Zod into orbit and into the sun as Brian suggests, that would be great if Clark truly knew how to use all his powers to their limit. He doesn’t. He has control, but notice how much more skilled Zod and his cohorts are in the fights. Clark doesn’t know how to fight, and now he’s up against trained killers? Faora uses super-speed to knock him about pretty easily.
Oh, can we talk about Faora? I thought this character was great. She wasn’t the sexy henchwoman we’re so used to in this genre. She was a straight-up soldier with armor built to fit her, who was there to complete the mission and win. I loved her moments with Chris Meloni’s character as they looked upon each other, soldier to soldier, knives drawn.
What does Superman mean to you and did Man of Steel accurately depict the character to you?
Jess Nevins: This was Zack Snyder’s Superman, not my Superman. My Superman is fatherhood embodied, as I said above–the ultimate daddy, someone there to help people get off the ground but who holds himself back from stopping their stumbles. Superman isn’t, for me, Christ, but there is a large degree of self-sacrifice involved in his life.
Todd Sokolove: Superman is and will always be my favorite superhero, and even though this movie doesn’t depict the character in the same way I like to think of him, it doesn’t lessen my admiration. If you strip this film of the few mentions of the DC universe and rename the characters and places in it, it’s not even that interesting a movie. It’s certainly not even an accessible Science Fiction or action movie for audiences.
Elliott Serrano: Superman is an ideal to strive for. He’s about facing impossible odds and conquering overwhelming problems. He’s about having strength and will to change the world. He’s about standing up for the helpless, giving power to the powerless. He’s about protecting those who cannot defend themselves.
The Superman I saw in Man of Steel isn’t that Superman…yet.
Vito Delsante: I wish I could answer this clearly. There are so many ideas of what the character is and represents, and what we were given, that I can’t make them coalesce. Elliot says it best, I think, but the fact that he has any kind of hope for this character (meaning the Superman in Man of Steel) is kind of throwing me off balance. This is just going to get darker until we have the Justice League and there’s no world left for them to protect.
Just to be clear, I enjoyed the movie. It’s an Elseworlds version of Superman, in some ways, and that’s ok. It’s a fine summer movie, a fine action sci-fi movie, etc. But I wanted something else. I explained it to my wife as…I go to a movie to escape into it, and this movie did all it could to keep me out and say, “No! You don’t get to be in the movie! You must watch!” The cast was great, material aside. I bought a lot of it and accepted a bunch of things. But ultimately, when you corner me and ask, “Is that Superman?” I have to say no. Or, at best, “Kinda.”
A friend of mine paraphrased something that someone in his Tumblr feed said, and it’s so on point, I have to share. “Superman doesn’t kill, just like America doesn’t torture. Superman stands for truth, justice, and the American way. Snyder has given us the Superman we’ve become, not the Superman we need. You want your Superman back? Earn him back.”
Apathy Babcock: Growing up at the time I grew up, my impression of Superman comes more from the movie with Christopher Reeve than the comics – I know, my bad. Here was this bumbling nerd, awkward in his skin, who would strip down to his manotard and save the world and romance a woman who couldn’t seem to recognize him. Behind every man in glasses is someone who could be mysterious, if only he’d take off those glasses – I blame the Superman movies for that.
So I felt pretty ripped off that Clark Kent NEVER put on a suit (jeans and a lumberjack shirt? How could Zack Snyder’s wife have let that happen?). There was warmth, and humor, and hope in the Christopher Reeve version. That’s what I wanted from Superman. And those were the three elements that were missing. I understand things have to be updated and changed, and I didn’t mind the Sci-Fi take, or even upping the violence a bit. But without those essential elements, I was left feeling unsatisfied.
Clay N. Ferno: Superman is the first comic book superhero, the most important, most admired, most imitated, most ridiculed and most criticized. Superman has a powerful love for his family and those he chooses to protect. My ideal Superman is painted by Alex Ross, not portrayed by an actor, but Christopher Reeve is my Superman in person. Man of Steel doesn’t look like a Ross painting or his predecessors on screen. Man of Steel’s Superman is however a force of good and is on par with these other versions, just as the Superman: The Animated Series version represents Clark, Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns version exists, John Byrne’s Man of Steel, and Grant Morrison’s Action Comics all make attempts to showcase Superman. There will be thousands more interpretations of Superman, and to me Man of Steel was a damn fine one.
Brian Saner Lamken: I stand by my earlier statement of Superman being able to accommodate various interpretations but the most extreme ones not being as true or as viable long-term. The problem is that by virtue of its budget and ballyhoo, Man of Steel isn’t so much an intriguing variation on a theme; it is, finally supplanting the Christopher Reeve series (in a way that Superman Returns both kinda didn’t want to and couldn’t anyway due to being deemed a failure), the established version of Superman today in the mass-media marketplace of ideas; the present-day New 52 stuff may not feel any more like Superman to me, but that’s irrelevant because the number of people reading the comics is, sadly, statistically negligible.
Lots of changes made to the legend in Man of Steel were fine with me, yet I just can’t write off as immature or formative a Superman with so little disregard for the consequences of his battle with Zod and with no option but to break Zod’s neck. Superman can be shown as learning, yes, about how to use his powers and how to be Superman for the world. I don’t see him vowing not to kill or not to let others be killed due to his actions simply because it happened once before and he paid too great a price; I see his care — his caring and carefulness — as innate qualities, why we should be glad that Superman is Clark Kent / Kal-El rather than Zod or Lex Luthor or Steve Lombard or the guy at the truck stop. That quality is not a set of rules by which he decides to live but a moral compass born of nature or nurture or both, as much what makes him Superman as the yellow sun.
Peter Briggs: I’ve never understood those who love Batman over Superman as a character, and I concur with Jess’ take above wholheartedly. Superman I think is my favourite comic book character (alongside Hellboy, although I’m a little biased there!), and this movie…well, I don’t know what it is. Vito makes the Elseworlds comparison…I wish that’s what this is, but it’s not represented that way. (If I could see one “Elseworlds, I’d kill to see a live action Red Son.) I’m in no tearing hurry to see Man of Steel again, and I’ve been saying that about movies all summer. Right now, I’m actually going to go watch Superman Returns, just for comparison purposes.
But when I watch a Superman movie in the future, I’ll be putting in Donner’s version. I think I’d be watching Snyder’s movie again with my finger on the fast-forward shuttle, just to see the few tiny instances of humanity…screw the visual effects. I love Superman. I hope one day I get to make a Superman movie. I know if I were doing the next one, I’d be subverting what came with Man of Steel. Call it trite, but I’d bring back Williams’ music. And he’d have underpants again.
Elizabeth Weitz: Superman is everything that is in us fully realized. We get glimpses of our inner Superman whenever America is hurt via a natural or manmade disaster. If you look back at 9/11, Katrina, Sandy Hook whatever, we do rise up to help each other without any thought to what we can gain for ourselves and it is in these moments that I see that it is possible to be Superman.
Snyder doesn’t get that. He sees that goodness and thinks it’s cheesy (and maybe it is) but goodness and altruism is always gooey and sentimental because there is no ego in it. When you understand that, you understand Superman.
Maybe I’m being a little naive but I will always see hope and possibility in the character and maybe someday when they reboot the reboot, someone will as well.
Steven Segal: Again, we’re limited by the fact that this movie never uses Superman’s “disguise” as Clark Kent. The character of Superman is not nearly as interesting, and the meat of the role is when he gets to be “incognito” as Clark Kent. Robbed of the charm of the dorky nerd secretly being the super jock, deprived of the inherent comedy of fake identities, all Supes needs to do is look and sound the part, but because so much of Superman’s worldview is influenced by his interactions and observations while “disguised” as Kent, we really don’t yet have a full interpretation of the character.
In this respect, I feel I got only two thirds of a Superman movie in Man of Steel.
Marvin C. Pittman: Superman to me is about power, identity, and the resolution of those to develop a moral being and become a true adult in order to fulfill one’s destiny/purpose. That kind of story is universal and everlasting. Take those ideas and plug in a man from another planet raised by human foster parents and born with all the greatest superpowers, and that’s a Superman story.
Man of Steel is a Superman story. It may not be YOUR Superman story, but it is one and it plays to those themes of power and identity very strongly. The third act needs some work, no doubt, but overall the filmmakers sold me on the world they built based on how they treated those principles. In our 21st-century world of crumbling institutions, info-tech overload and economic uncertainty, I think a lot of people’s ideas of purpose have been shaken.
I think Man of Steel works hard to show a Superman in the making rather than the finished product because it’s what we needed to see.
We see Clark being distrustful, nerdy, closed yet yearning to show what he is but lacking the full understanding necessary to truly engage. We see Lois, accomplished, obsessed with truth in an era of “truthers” and “truthiness,” who investigates her way into the unimaginable and forces Clark to engage with humanity, not merely save it. We see Zod, an unchangeable ghost of a person whose final path of nihilistic destruction felt like the abusive husband who rampages after his wife leaves him and thereby destroys the only thing he has left. We have a vision of Krypton and the Kryptonians that says they chose to extinguish themselves by mining their planet to death and slamming the door shut on innovation by engineering its people. We see a Pa Kent who tries to make Clark think through his actions and not change the destiny of others, and a Jor-El who is gung ho for Kal to change the world.
And again, we see Clark and Kal begin to merge into Superman when he must stop Zod from changing the destiny of humanity. I love Donner, Reeve and Williams forever, and they will always have their place. Man of Steel is its own animal, tackling the great Superman issues in its own modern way, and I won’t compare the two any more than I would compare Donner’s films to the Fleischer cartoons. If anything, Man of Steel felt like an expanded version of Bruce Timm and Alan Burnett’s DCAU that the late Dwayne McDuffie pushed to its limits and new heights. But Man of Steel… he’s not truly Superman yet in this movie. Can’t wait to see where this goes next.