In the past 10 years, I’ve seen 27 superhero movies. Only one, Green Lantern, got a thumbs down from me. That means I found enough redeeming features to marginally recommend such mediocrity as Iron Man 2, Spider-Man 3, Hancock, The Amazing Spider-Man, Watchmen, and even Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. Until today.
Joining Green Lantern, I share with a heavy heart, is Man of Steel. As a huge DC comics fan, I adore Superman and was rooting hard for his success. I had already expended much goodwill on the nice try/forgettable results of Superman Returns. Despite a positive attitude and lowered expectations going in, I cannot in good conscious tell anyone to willing spend their time and money on the new Superman film.
“As a cable movie that’s playing in the background while you do other things, Man of Steels succeeds in having an eye-candy hero, some good special effects in flying and punching, and getting Russell Crowe on screen without singing. But as an exciting, memorable summer blockbuster it is simply dull and without the joy that Superman should engender.”
Here’s the good news: the film is getting such average reviews (55% Rotten Tomatoes, 55 on MetaCritic) that it will slow down and, hopefully, even stop the production of a Justice League movie. As a life-long HUGE Justice League/Superfriends fan, I am repeatedly on record that I think any such movie (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, etc. fighting side-by-side) would go down in flames like the many buildings of Metropolis in this film.
The film is full of death. And unlike in films such as 300 or Watchmen, where death is generally celebrated, we are much more ambivalent about it Man of Steel. To the point where the ending is a big debate only if you think eternity in the Phantom Zone is a better choice than capital punishment in all cases – including for the crime of genocide.
“Dances With Wolves” Dad offers a complicated, unresolved morality. Clark is chastised for saving the school bus, but “Waterworld” Pop doesn’t give him any other options. If he had let his entire class drown, with only Clark surviving, wouldn’t that raise more questions than Clark trying to secretly save everyone? He further needlessly lets himself die as a better choice than letting his son creatively save him. The film doesn’t know what do to about collateral damage and other indirect deaths.
The prime example is that millions are murdered either directly by the Zod and his troops, and in the destruction that comes form the World Engine, and the massive destruction in Superman and Zod’s fights. Yet, I’m supposed to care about Lois Lane’s life when Superman knocks over entire skyscrapers and doesn’t save anyone inside or underneath?
Christopher Nolan was brought on to “darken” Superman. But “Dark” doesn’t mean “Joyless.” Superman is the same chiseled Midwestern hero of goodness here, he just takes forever to get there. So the film is dull at numerous stretches. So much so, I noted on my watch that it is a full hour into the film before we even see the costume. It is an hour and half before we get his name.
What make Superman amazing is people’s wonder at his out-of-this world powers. Here, we get peoples’ fear. We never get a moment in the entire film where the “crowd” – i.e. the surrogate for the audience – is cheering and excited. In my theater, no one yelled, clapped, or showed any upbeat emotion because there wasn’t anything on the screen to engender that.
The Dark Knight films brought more joy. “I’m Batman” and much of the Joker’s dialogue were…fun. They got laughter, cheers, and big smiles, even if from the villain sometimes. There was very little fun in Man of Steel and Superman needs fun and joy as a core component.
A few things other things…
- Henry Cavill was fine as Superman. Accent worked. Body was very impressive. All the younger actors also pulled it off well.
- Apparently only America matters when we go up against aliens that want to destroy the Earth. 0% representation of other nations.
- So as a comic geek I liked the LexCorp and Wayne Enterprises mentions. And was that open pod on the buried Kryptonian ship the spot of Kara AKA Supergirl? Not mention references potentially to Cyborg, Star Sapphire, and Booster Gold.
- Women are, as usual, only good for rescuing. Why did Jenny have to be trapped in the rubble and then (not) rescued by Perry? It could have been the other way.
- It is called the “Penal” system, but having the Phantom Zone rockets shaped like penises was probably taking it too far (see #2).
- So lots of American soldiers were trapped for eternity into the Phantom Zone and we’re good with that?
- A spacecraft from another planet landed at the Kent farmhouse in Kansas. The military knows Superman is from Kansas. No one can make this connection? (Alright, that’s unfair – he hides his identity with a pair of glasses, so I should leave this one alone)
- Zod: “You have one choice. Either you die or I do.” Uhhhh, that’s 2 choices Zod.
- Hiding under an overpass is terrible advice. If I can’t trust Pa Kent here, how can I trust anything else he says?
In short: Superman should be about wonder, awe, spectacular, and good fights. This was about unresolved morality, unnecessarily slow build up, underdeveloped characters, and a lack pure excitement. Man of Steel is a sad disappointment.