As a kid, like every other kid, I grew up wanting to have super powers. This was before I even had any notions of using powers for good or evil, but to be honest I was always leaned more towards the villainous/morally grey. I would go outside with my towel tied on as a cape and challenged the neighborhood squirrels with a fallen branch as my sword. My greatest enemy was a local goose that was always strutting around in the park. Our battle was destined, fated. Our battle was epic and lasted for what seemed like forever (around 2 minutes). I lost of course, but that was mainly because he called some of his friends to help him. I lived to fight another day. Moral of the story is that it is not whether you win or lose, but instead it’s all about the about fight you put up (even though technically I did lose). Man of Steel fights to try to keep your attention and stay true to its source material. While it wins a few of its battles, it loses many more.
In this gritty, grounded in the real world interpretation of Superman, Zack Snyder shows us less about the man and more about his origins. We are taken to Krypton in all its technological and avant-garde splendor. On the eve of Kypton’s destruction, we see Jor-El (Russell Crowe) pleading with the high council to heed his warning and begin preparations to evacuate the population into the phantom zone (a different universe used as their personal penal colony) before it is too late. Before the council is able to finish brushing off Jor-El’s warning, General Zod interjects with an attempted coup d’état.
That’s the least of their worries since Jor-El knows the end is near and is one of the only Kryptonians to have successfully had a child naturally and not through cloning. After a one-on-one battle against Zod, Jor-El manages to send his son Kal-El off the planet with the future of Krypton with him, but not before being killed by Zod. Zod’s coup then is brought to an end, and he and his group of loyal followers are sentenced to the phantom zone. That ends up being a saving grace because not too long after Krypton explodes.
On earth, we join Clark Kent as he wanders the Earth. He’s searching for something, but I doubt at that point he even knows what he’s looking for, until he stumbles onto an old Kryptonian ship buried in ice. He’s not alone. He manages to run into a nosey Lois Lane and an AI recreation of his father, but the party is only just beginning. After the destruction of Krypton, the vessel holding Zod and 2 of his collaborators manage to escape the phantom zone and pick up the ships signal back on Earth. Fighting ensues, wanton destruction, yadda yadda yadda. You know the rest.
Well that all sounds like it would make a swell movie right? Any other time you’d be right, but this isn’t just any other movie, it’s a Superman movie. As such, there are certain sacrilegious rules you have to follow in order to give the mythos justice. This film broke and ignored so many of those rules that it would be better off create a different superhero because what we saw on screen wasn’t Superman.
Let’s start off with the sigil superman wears on his chest. In the film, we find out that is stands for hope. That’s cute and all, but what it actually stands for is his family’s name, El. For the world, Superman becomes the symbol of hope, but the symbol on his chest is to honor his family name.
Originally, Superman is supposed to get his righteous sense of morality from the father who raised him, Jonathan Kent. In this version, instead of preaching about always doing the right thing, Papa Kent tells young Clark that if it will protect his identity, he should let a lot of people die. That doesn’t sound like the Superman we know.
Another huge problem this film faced was all of the blaring product placement. I understand, such an expensive movie needs quite a few backers to get it made, but there is an certain art to incorporating every brand with making the viewer feel like they are in an extended commercial. The worst of it was during a fight seen that spanned 10 minutes. Superman crashed through an IHOP, and then a 7/11, then unsuccessfully used a U-Haul truck as a weapon, and then fought in front of a Sears, where the presence of Sears was so strong it could have been his sidekick. He all but got some pancakes, bought a slurpee, and purchased his Clark Kent suit in that time. I’m actually understating how distracting it was. I was taken out of the intensity of the fight scene and thrown into a home shopping network mood where I was trying to name every brand that came on.
But that was only one fight sequence; surely the other had to be better. You’d be right about that, but also very wrong. Technically, the fight happened with all the bravado you would expect two god-like beings to bring to an unsuspecting city. Destruction on a scale that only Michael Bay could give birth to. Watching Superman and Zod duke it out through various tall building was fun to watch until you realize the death count they are stacking up. Disaster analysts have said that damage and loss dealt to Metropolis in the film is comparable to that of the atom bomb we dropped on Nagasaki during WWII. Superman is known for being the hero that always puts the lives of others before his own. He is goodness incarnate, even to a fault. Seeing him indifferently fighting through buildings and collapsing many on top of innocent bystanders without so much as a care, is so uncharacteristically Superman that it is not only sickening, but also confusing in the big finale.
If you have yet to see Man of Steel, and have a problem with the ending being ruined for you, do not continue further. Come back once you’ve seen it. The rest of you can keep reading on.
We have reached the climax of this film. Superman has Zod pinned down, but not completely immobilized. Zod turns on his heat vision and begins to point it at a family of four when Superman makes the “hard” decision to snap his neck in order to save that family. First off, it’s refreshing to see Superman actually cares about humans at this point since the hundreds of thousands he just let die/sentenced to death through his careless fighting are apparently not as significant as the four strangers directly in front of him. Also insignificant in this film is Superman’s incorruptibility and outright refusal to let murder be an option to resolve anything. This Superman is judge, jury and executioner. He also killed an endangered species, since Zod was one of the last of his kind.
I will say that the only thing that made this film bearable were the great visual effects and the supporting actors (Russell Crowe and Michael Shannon). It was refreshing to see Russell Crowe in a good role after his flop Javert in Les Miserables. At least in his role as Jor-El he doesn’t attempt to sing. Move over Henry Cavill because the real hero of the film was the powerful performance by Michael Shannon as the dark and dastardly Zod. It’s one of his most sinister roles since he was in The Iceman (which is a must-see).
This Superman is unlike any we have read about or seen in previous interpretations. You can see Zack Snyder’s attempt at creating a world like that of Nolan’s Batman, but while he tries too hard to get rid of some of the fantastical elements of the Superman universe, he lose much of the magic behind what makes Superman the hero he is. All he has now is a hero without a concrete identity who apparently shops at Sears. Geeks everywhere mourn the death of Superman at the hands of Snyder, his true Kryptonite.
Man of Steel is in theaters now.