Thom: The superhero concept has been around since 1938 and the debut of Superman in Action Comics #1. Superheroes have been with us long enough that, for a lot of people, they form a modern mythology more appealing than established faiths, a rich tapestry of stories instrumental in forming a set of core beliefs. Certainly for me, superheroes have been incredibly important and meaningful, and their stories have helped to inform who I am and most of everything I do. Of course, I would never claim that I regularly act heroically in any significant parts of my daily life, but every time I help someone out when I don’t need to, every small kindness, every moment of compassion comes from my view that good is its own reward and that we owe it to everyone to do right by them. And for me, most of those sensibilities came from reading comicbooks. If I was going to offer a theory on why superheroes endure in society and why, for many, they maintain fan followings into adulthood more so than many of the other elements of our childhoods, I would like to think it’s because they teach us about truth and justice in an unbreakable, intractable way; they help us to become the great people we can be and wish to be by giving us the light to show us the way. And in a world where religions destroy civilizations, where the Bible Belt won’t let go of its guns, and where priests are more associated with molestation than divinity, they do it in a way that we can actually be proud of.
But that’s all pretty heavy. And maybe you just want to see what we thought about the movie.
There are a number of different ways to construct a modern superhero story, many of which are deeply rooted in the middle parts of the last century, and while the Marvel Studios producers have the luxury of simply crafting interesting plots with strong, identifiable characters, the people working at DC Entertainment aren’t quite so lucky. It’s more of a tone thing than anything else, and while Marvel can get away with putting something together that’s simply slick and engaging (which isn’t necessarily easy), DC’s stories need to have a greater sense of purpose, often sacrificing cool action for thematic complexity. DC’s characters — most notably Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Green Lantern, and Aquaman — have always had a bigger-than-life quality, and it can be much trickier to build a story that effectively works within and adds to their myths. DC’s characters don’t really bend or break, aren’t usually their own worst enemies, and are often the best of their kind. The most obvious and commonly raised problem with Superman is that he’s nearly all-powerful, is always right, and always wins in the end. It feels like there are only so many genuine, meaningful stories you can write about such characters, and that’s probably why stories deconstructing superheroes often work better than the ones that attempt to build on them.
I was pretty skeptical of Man of Steel, primarily because of Zack Snyder. Unlike the rest of the world, I didn’t care for 300, a movie whose popularity lies primarily in the superficial. And if I didn’t like 300, you can imagine how I felt about Watchmen and Sucker Punch. Beyond that, Green Lantern certainly didn’t give me (or anyone) any faith in DC’s movie prospects, Superman Returns really wasn’t a 21st-century movie, and Marvel had really taken over, both in my heart as a comicbook fan and in the movie landscape in general. More than anything else, it really just felt like the world had moved on from Superman. He doesn’t have the edge of Batman, the cool of Iron Man, or the modernity of the Avengers.
Then I saw the first teaser, and it was smart enough and quietly resonant enough to at least leave an impression. Then I saw the first trailer, and it actually seemed to understand the potential of the character in a way that most people miss when they say things like, “I never really liked Superman.” Then I saw the second trailer, and it actually looked like it had everything it needed to be a good movie for comic fans and general movie-goers alike. Man of Steel had made its way from a movie I almost dreaded to my most anticipated movie in a fairly crowded summer.
And then I saw the movie. And it was pretty good. And then I thought about it more, and I thought it was really good. And now I’m writing this review, and now I feel like I need to see it again. Right away.
Grace: When I was a kid, I was never a fan of superhero movies. Because I had an older brother and a stepfather, this meant that a lot of the movies we watched were decidedly guy-targeted. And back in the nineties, all the superhero movies floating around were incredibly, irrevocably cheesy.
I remember Superman II, along with the jumpsuits, General Zod, and his unquestionably evil facial hair. I remember all the Burton and Schumacher Batman movies, along with Alicia Silverstone, Poison Ivy, Mr. Freeze, and the nipple suits. The Hulk was ridiculous. And every other superhero-related show I had to watch was on TV, which meant they were all animated and very, very silly.
I saw X-Men; it was all right. I saw Spider-Man; it was weird. I saw Daredevil; it was pretty bad. I saw Catwoman; that’s an hour and a half of my life I’ll never get back. I saw Elektra; it was atrocious. So how is it that, after all this time and all these god-awful movies, I’m a fan of superhero films?
The year was 2005. Fantastic Four came out, and though it wasn’t by any means fantastic, I really, really enjoyed it (mostly because of Chris Evans). Then I saw Batman Begins, and I realized that I had been missing something wonderful all this time. It was possible to have a superhero movie that was dark, gritty, and without even a hint of camp. It was an awakening of sorts, telling me that, when the world grew dark, something would rise within the darkness to bring forth the light.
But my eyes weren’t truly opened until I saw Sky High. And for the handful of you remaining after reading that, bear with me. In 2005, I was fourteen years old. I was in junior high. It was one of the most awkward times of my life. I was lonely, unhappy, and in desperate need of a reminder that the world could get better. I was babysitting the daughter of one of my mother’s friends, and she wanted to watch Sky High, which she’d just gotten on DVD. I agreed, and what followed changed the way I see superhero movies.
It was campy. It was cheesy. It was a movie for little kids and teenyboppers who might actually take the story seriously. And I loved it. These were people just like me who woke up one day to discover that they were someone special. I wanted that for myself (namely, the ability to create fireballs and throw them around). I wanted to be somebody special, and through this campy, cheesy movie, I was able to see what that would be like.
Wasn’t that how people felt when all the movies I so loathed first came out? Didn’t they feel like they spoke to them, pulling them out of their lives for an hour or two? And isn’t that why, for the longest time, people who owned comicbooks and collectibles and VHSs of badly made movies were considered the lowest rung of society? It’s now considered not just acceptable but absolutely vital to see a new superhero movie when it comes out. If I don’t see The Wolverine or Thor: The Dark World in theatres, everyone will be asking me what’s wrong with me.
I’ve never been a fan of Superman. I’m more of a Batman girl, especially since I’ve come to love the ‘90s movies. But when Thom said we should do a simul-review of Man of Steel, I agreed. I learned my lesson about giving superhero movies a chance, and I was excited to see if my faith in the good superhero movie would be upheld.
Note: The following conversation is full of spoilers. FULL OF THEM.
Thom: How familiar are you with Superman?
Grace: Somewhat. I saw some of the movies when I was a kid. I remember, I think it was Superman III. It was the one where the other Kryptonians came, so…
T: That was Superman II.
G: Was it II?
G: Okay. Yeah, I remember the guys in the jumpsuit… one of them had a goatee. One of them was a girl and I hated her. Yeah, so I remember that. Um… I don’t know, I mean I know a little bit about him. I mean, I know the mythos… a lot of it is just exposure through Cracked.
T: Would you say you, going into this movie, you were more familiar with Superman than other superheroes?
G: Oh no, not even at all. I was more familiar with Batman before I went into that movie [Batman Begins]. It wasn’t like I was going in wondering what Man of Steel was about, but… it’s not like I knew everything that was going on already. Like the codex.
T: Okay. Well, as you can imagine, I probably know… most of everything… that a person should know.
G: All of the things.
T: So the old movies… that was pretty much your exposure?
G: Yeah. I didn’t see the new one [Superman Returns], I didn’t read the comicbooks or anything, but I’ve read articles about him from writers who analyze things like the love triangle, what makes a perfect Superman movie, that sort of thing.
T: In terms of familiarity in general, how do you see Superman? Like… I would always say that Superman is the most well-known and recognized superhero in the world.
G: Oh yeah, for sure.
T: Would that be reflected in your case?
G: Yeah, I think so. I was more familiar with Batman actually. Which is like the debate, “Which of these two characters is better?” Batman.
G: So you’ve seen all the movies and everything?
T: Um… I actually haven’t seen… I don’t clearly remember the last two [Superman III and IV]… because they were garbage. Uh… do you remember the one with Richard Pryor in it… do you know who Richard Pryor is?
T: Okay. Well he was a comedian in the third one. Anyway, the only big thing in that movie that I really remember clearly is… there’s a scene where a woman gets turned into a cyborg… and it’s really scary, like even if you watch it as an adult, it’s a little scary, and you can just bring it up on YouTube, and you’ll see in the comments that other people were freaked out about it too when they were kids. So that was that, and Superman IV was just complete garbage, so I only know some basic stuff about it.
G: Which one is it that he flies around the planet and goes back in time?
T: That was the first one. So, I’m very familiar with the first one, the second one, and there’s a Richard Donner cut of the second one… he was the director of the first two, which he shot back-to-back, but was fired before finishing the second one, and another guy [Richard Lester] finished it. And then later they released a version closer to what Richard Donner had planned to do, so I’ve seen that one too. And I’ve seen Superman Returns.
G: I haven’t seen that, I heard it wasn’t very good.
T: It was okay. It was basically as if Superman had been missing for, like five years, from–
G: Doesn’t he have a kid?
T: –yeah… from the end of the second one, because, again, the last two were garbage. So that was Superman Returns, but I guess some people didn’t like it because it’s basically the same style as the originals.
G: I guess there’s the whole “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it” thing, but it’s also really difficult to break away from what’s established. Like I was saying, I’ve read articles about Superman, and, this guy, Daniel O’Brien — who I’m a little bit in love with because he’s such a good writer, and I think it was him, anyway — wrote about what would make a perfect Superman movie. Basically, you can’t really have a Superman movie unless (a) he has some epic villain, (b) he loses his powers, or (c) he has some crisis of conscience or crisis of self, so it’s really hard to make anything new because Superman’s just kind of this static character who doesn’t really develop because he’s already the ideal.
T: Right, he doesn’t really bend or break in any way. And he’s always right and he always wins. So that’s a tough character to deal with. And he’s a tough character to deal with in a continuing sense, like one to four comics every month for the last 75 years. But I guess that’s also a good challenge for the type of writer who gets Superman. Like, you probably haven’t read All-Star Superman, which is written by Grant Morrison, who’s probably the best comicbook writer in the world. It’s… you should read it… I won’t really describe it.
Technology: Unfortunately no one can be told what these things actually do
G: I thought the technology was needlessly complicated, like they’re just showing how far CGI has come, and it all seemed needlessly alien.
G: Very complex-looking, and everything kind of fits together weird, and it’s like, “What is the deal with a lot of these ships?” Like, when they had the [Kryptonian] military guys going up into space and into stasis, and things are folding around and there’s all these tendrils, and I thought, “This is so complicated!” Like, there’s this 30-second sequence of the ship going into the bigger ship and it’s so complicated just to show how alien it is. It looked awesome, but I was mostly struck by how needless it seemed.
T: Yeah… I wouldn’t disagree…. There wasn’t anything really to connect to. Technologically, the one thing I liked… everytime they brought up their [command] keys and they were attracted into their slot, I kept thinking about a MacBook charger. I liked that from that perspective, but a lot of the technology wasn’t really relatable. There’s that steel-pin type of thing that they used to show a representation of the face of whoever they were talking to… why weren’t they just actual screens? That would’ve been a more accurate image, but… maybe that’s visually boring? That actually makes me think about old Star Trek where everyone would be at their consoles working, but all the screens are really small. And that doesn’t look futuristic.
G: Well, Star Trek had a fairly realistic vision of how things have gone, like flip phones and iPads.
T: Yeah, but I always think, “That’s a really small screen!”
T: What about the costume?
G: I felt like the costume was nice, but it differed too much from what the Kryptonians were wearing. Theirs were just black and, like, why is Superman’s coloured? Why is it red and blue?
T: Well, going outside of the actual story, it’s red and blue because of America. And comicbook printing processes. So you don’t have a traditionalistic view of what his costume should look like?
G: Well, I’ve seen the old costume — standard thing, red boots, cape.
T: Red underwear?
G: I didn’t even notice that?
T: You didn’t?
G: Weren’t there issues with that in other movies because you could totally see his dong through it?
T: I don’t remember that. Anyway, that’s the common criticism of the costume, and in the comics now he doesn’t have the red underwear either. In terms of actual design, it’s just because you need something to break up a whole bunch of blue, and they had the odd-belt-looking-thing in the movie.
G: I felt like the texture also helped with that, because it’s not just unbroken.
T: So you don’t have any problems with the costume?
G: No. I actually caught myself a couple times thinking, “Man, that’s actually a nice costume. I like that.”
T: So you don’t think people, the first time he shows up and he’s flying in the air, you don’t think people would be like, “What the f*ck is he wearing?”
G: Well, probably, because… it looks normal for us because we’ve grown up knowing what superheroes look like, but they’d probably be like… “What even…?” Also, the cape is a bad idea, because… you saw Zod grab him with it and spin him around in circles. Like in The Incredibles where they show what happens when you wear a cape.
T: Well, it would be a bigger problem for Batman than Superman. At least they established that that’s… everybody wears capes on Krypton… that’s just what you wear.
G: Yeah, first I was like, “That’s weird,” but then I saw everyone wears capes, so it’s okay.
T: Well, overall I still thought they could’ve done a little bit more to break up the middle of the costume, but… it helps that Henry Cavill obviously worked out really hard, so he had a pretty hardcore V-shape going at the time… that makes it better.
G: I have some notes about Lois Lane. Like, why do superheroes always need to have a love interest to save and—are you laughing at me because I’m a girl and therefore don’t like her…?
G: Yeah, okay, that’s fair. But superheroes always have to have a love interest, and it’s weird, and it’s like, could they not just… can’t they have a good girl pal that they hang around with?
T: Like an equal?
G: Well, it’s hard to have an equal for a superhero, but there’s just… there’s a female love interest who needs saving all the time. She fell from the sky, like, six times,
T: Well, there’s that, but there’s usually a love interest in most movies or an element of that in most stories, so it’s not necessarily a superhero thing. Obviously in a superhero setting, somebody needs to be rescued, and it needs to be somebody you care about.
G: It’s kind of hard to care about Amy Adams though. I like her, I think she’s charming and really, really cute, and I loved her in Enchanted. But she seemed a little too… waif-like. Like she’s always breathing really hard and screaming a lot and being generally hysterical.
T: I think they were close to making her a good, strong character, but didn’t quite get there. It could’ve just been a few different lines.
G: Like at the beginning, she says, “… if we’re done measuring dicks…” and I’m like, awesome, we’re going to have this strong, female character, but then she’s like, “What if I have to tinkle?”
T: Yeah, but I think that was sarcasm on her part.
G: I guess.
T: Traditionally, and we don’t know for sure with this movie, but Lois Lane grew up on army bases because her dad’s a… major… military… person…? So she’s supposed to be a tougher character.
G: And what was she even doing at that site, like if the military even suspects anything, they’re not going to let a reporter near it, let alone letting her have free run of the place and showing up early. They’d be like, “No, go back home, come back when we’re ready for you.”
T: And nobody’s guarding her, so she just slips out. One thing I liked was they showed her with the camera–
G: Yeah, with blatant Nikon branding.
T: — I liked how when she zoomed in, it wasn’t a clear image, so that was somewhat realistic, like…
G: Yeah, it was just a blurry guy in a white t-shirt.
T: Yeah, so that wasn’t like CSI or something stupid. But the actual biggest product placement was Nokia. Everybody has a Nokia phone.
A Major Metropolitan Newspaper?
G: I also didn’t like that with Lois Lane, there’s just no way that she would’ve won a Pulitzer Prize before she was 30. I thought that was just a lazy way to show that she’s kind of a bad ass in the reporting world.
T: Yeah, but you can’t name off a different award because people wouldn’t recognize it.
G: Yeah, but…
T: So, even if it stretches plausibility, it’s one of those things you just have to throw in. On the journalism side, I actually thought, with the article that she was reading off about finding Clark, that doesn’t sound like it would go in a newspaper.
G: Yeah, you might put that in a magazine.
T: Yeah, I thought… it just isn’t what you would put in a newspaper article. I don’t think what she wrote was necessarily bad, but… that’s not newspaper writing.
And when Clark shows up at The Daily Planet at the end… what credentials did he have?
G: He’s basically showing up and saying, “I have a week’s experience on a fishing boat, two weeks experience as a waiter…”
T: “… and I have huge gaps in my work history.”
And then the other thing I thought about… there was no Jimmy Olsen… at all… which could be a too-many-characters thing, but… I think it’s interesting if you think about it as a commentary on journalism. Like with the Chicago Sun-Times, where they laid off all of their staff photographers and they’re training their reporters on using iPhones for photography. I like thinking about it like that, like, “We don’t need Jimmy Olsen at all, we don’t need photographers.”
Meet the Parents
T: What did you think of his relationships with his parents?
G: I thought it was good. I didn’t like… mm… I didn’t like how… they have a fight, and the dad immediately dies. And there’s this moment where the dad dies and, it’s like, “Responsibility” and, “No, don’t do this, you need to know when, you need to be willing to sacrifice people,” and it’s like… I don’t even know what it’s like.
T: Yeah. I mean that’s… that’s obviously a traditional thing. I don’t think they quite got the right… motivation for why he would hide himself. At least the way his dad kind of laid it out. Because there’s the whole, “If people find out who I really am, they’d reject me.”
G: Well, you see that with the kids and they’re all, “Something’s wrong with him.”
T: But that’s not when they know he has powers. They just think he’s weird.
G: They just sense that something’s off.
T: … I like how they got across how isolated he would be. I think that’s essential to understanding the character. If you think of Superman as a character… there’s nothing really to sympathize with. He’s just more powerful than everybody else and has no major problems, so you have to establish things like that for sympathy, so I thought that was really good, but… I still didn’t totally buy how his dad felt about things. I like that they acknowledged how his emergence would change everything in the world, like it would be Earth-shattering.
G: Yeah, and there were definitely religious overtones. Like, he goes to see a priest, and his dad says it’ll change everything, it’ll change what we believe.
T: I guess maybe you have to think about it, like, if this is your son, you would do everything you can to protect him (normally), so from that perspective it makes sense that he would be so protective. But… there’s still a… not quite selfish… level to it, like keeping him to yourself.
G: I felt like that taught him humility, like if he grew up showing everyone what he could do, like how superior he was, this long list of superpowers, that would have just given him such a super-ego. And he had to go around and do these jobs, like on this fishing boat, and he was a waiter, and that’s, like, hard work.
T: Yeah, especially the fishing stuff.
G: Yeah, I was like, “I’m glad Superman’s doing that, cause that’s dangerous work.”
T: That’s important too, that’s all essential to his character, but… I guess it’s still mostly about that line that people didn’t like from the early trailers, when Clark asks, “What was I supposed to do, just let them die?” and his dad is like, “Maybe.” It’s just not totally comfortable for me. It’s close, but it’s not quite there.
G: Well, they often try to establish the father figure who knows everything and does no wrong. In this case, his dad was kind of confused and didn’t really know for sure how to do things, and he really is just trying to do the best he can.
T: What about Russell Crowe?
G: I thought it was weird he kept cropping up throughout the movie.
T: Did you think he was in the movie too much considering he died a long time ago?
G: Yeah. I mean, I love Russell Crowe, I loved him in Les Mis where he made my life, but… I feel like he should’ve died and been done with it. It’s nice that Superman gets moments with his father, but it’s not really his father.
T: When you think about who Superman’s dad is, who do you think of first?
G: Hmm… I’ve always sort of distinguished between dad and father, so dad would be Jonathan and father would be Jor-El.
T: To me, having Russell Crowe in it, I didn’t think it was way too much, but just a little, and it kind of did take away from Kevin Costner’s part. But I think it helps the movie that you see so much of Jor-El’s perspective, because you have to be a little bit invested in Krypton and what happened there to have a feeling towards the entire mythology.
I also liked that when he’s originally talking to Jor-El he actually asks why his parents didn’t come with him. Because that’s the first thing I think anyone would ask in that situation, and even though we didn’t actually get a very good answer, I liked that they went there.
G: “Because we built the ship too small.” What would have happened if the baby [Kal-El] hadn’t been born? Would they have just squeezed the mom in the ship?
T: That’s really the first thing you ask when you become aware of Superman’s origin, is “Why didn’t more Kryptonians come?”
G: And that’s kind of weak, that “We condemned ourselves to this fate.”
T: But if you think about the overall DC universe, there would be a big problem if you had a bunch of people or a planet full of people who all have Superman’s powers. That’s a big power-imbalancing force.
G: So they were all just sort of killed for the sake of… logistics.
T: And obviously, there’s the whole messianic angle.
G: Right, and he’s even 33 years old.
T: Is that important?
G: That’s, like, how old Jesus was.
T: Okay. I wouldn’t know that.
What about his mom then? Either mom?
G: That’s another problem with a lot of movies in that the mom is there to be supportive and nothing else.
T: You probably don’t have that much to say about them.
G: Not really, because they didn’t do much.
T: I thought they could’ve done more with his Earth-based mom. That’s kind of fine that we didn’t get much from his Kryptonian mom because… she really didn’t have a chance to do much.
G: Although, I did notice that she accepted her death with grace and poise. Although, with a fair amount of hopelessness.
T: Well, they could’ve given Diane Lane more to do as his mom. I actually wanted both of his Earth parents to be dead before we got to the Superman-side of the movie.
T: I thought that… that’s a part of his humility and what they really did in the first movie [1978’s Superman the Movie] pretty explicitly when he says, “I have all these powers and I couldn’t even save him,” because his dad died from a heart attack in the first movie. And that really showed him that he couldn’t do anything. That there’s importance and gravity to things in the world. So… I wanted both of his parents to be dead. Though I did like that he was pretty pissed off at Zod, mostly because he threatened his mom.
G: Oh, I loved that. And then he pounds him through all the buildings.
T: So that made the whole thing a little bit better.
T: Did any of the other characters stand out to you?
G: Well, there were other actors that I recognized, like Tahmoh Penikett.
T: Who’s that?
G: He was the guy who was, like, “Joe can get your bags.”
T: I always think if you meet somebody named Joe, “That’s gotta be an alias.”
T: It’s like, nobody’s really named Joe anymore.
G: Ain’t nobody named Joe anymore.
T: I actually knew a guy named Joe.
T: But maybe that was an alias and I never found out. Anyway…. did any of the other characters stand out to you at all? Like any of the Kryptonians?
G: No, they were overwrought and melodramatic. Although… wait, hang on… the chick [Faora]. She also bothered me [laughs].
T: Why [laughs]?
G: Because… she’s got a weird accent and she’s storming around in her skin-tight outfit and she’s… beating the crap out of things and… petty female jealousy.
T: Well, I was going to mention her. I liked… they could have done her character a little bit better too, but at least in the scene where they [Faora and Colonel Hardy] both have their knives… that was a nice little moment for both characters that I think audiences would tend to remember. And that was enough to get me to think about her character.
G: And she kind of had that link with him later in the film where they both die.
T: What did you think about the action?
G: I thought the camera work made it really hard to follow. There was just a lot of smashing through things. Umm… yeah, just a lot of jumping and smashing through things, I felt like there was a lot of that.
T: So it wasn’t a highpoint for you?
G: No, it felt really long, and kind of overwrought and very “smash-y”, so I got kind of bored with it halfway through.
T: The only action scene I really liked was his fight with Zod at the end.
G: Yeah, that was good.
T: You get a better sense of what’s going on.
G: Yeah, and it felt like the climax had already happened with the machines getting destroyed, but no, Zod’s still alive. Which was good because, unlike Star Trek [Into Darkness], it actually lived up to being the real climax.
T: Y’know that scene where he first shows up with his costume and he’s jumping around–
G: Where did his beard go? All of a sudden he walks out and he’s clean shaven. Does he have a razor in there?
T: Well, that’s the whole “How does Superman shave?” thing. In the comics, it’s supposed to be that he reflects his heat vision off of a mirror, and uh–
T: –and he burns the hair off his face.
G: So could he theoretically look at his hand and blast a hole through his hand?
T: That’s sort of an unstoppable force-immovable object type of question. Anyway… when he first shows up in his costume, and he’s jumping around and they say that he’s testing himself to find his own limits, the first thing I thought was… has he not been exploring his limits for his whole life? Wouldn’t he be interested in that? You can do all this stuff, wouldn’t you want to figure out exactly what you can do? But I also thought — the way they had done the overall movie — because he was hiding for his entire life, it actually made sense in that everything he’s done is to not be noticed and to get out of situations. So I ended up liking that.
Lois and Clark
T: It ends up being a huge thing in the end, because Lois Lane already knows who Clark Kent is, so there’s no possibility of the classic love triangle going forward. And she would actually be somebody he probably confides in. So that’s massively different from the status quo. So, from that perspective I do buy their relationship a little more, because they do have this really specific relationship and bond.
G: I think the actors have good chemistry too. Not like smouldering chemistry, but they were good.
T: I didn’t really buy them kissing near the end.
G: Yeah, I don’t know, it feels like they didn’t have quite enough interaction.
T: And he doesn’t even know what her deal is.
G: Yeah, what if she’s secretly insane and has ten cats at home and likes to bake cupcakes?
T: Well, more like as a code of ethics and how you carry yourself in the world, what if she already has a boyfriend? That’s not something… Superman shouldn’t just be going behind some guy’s back.
G: What if she’s married?
T: I don’t necessarily have a lot to talk about with their relationship, but I will acknowledge that this setup has massive implications going forward. Lois Lane isn’t supposed to know who Superman is, at least not for a while into their relationship, but here she knows right from the beginning.
G: I kind of like that she tracked him down, though.
T: And she’s going all over the world tracking him down, and… like, who’s funding that?
G: [laughs] I guess if you’ve won a Pulitzer it’s like, “Here, have all the money and go wherever you want.” Also, I thought it was hilarious that everyone at the Daily Planet was like, “Something’s happening, turn on the news!” when it’s like, “You are the news!”
T: For me, the ending was… did you care what was going on?
G: Not particularly. I kind of lost interest.
T: Yeah. I think they didn’t make it personal enough. They could have done without or at least could have severely compacted the terraforming parts, because the only really important conflict in the end was between Superman and Zod. And, even though it was necessary, I didn’t like that all the other Kryptonians got sucked back into the Phantom Zone. It’s like, “Oh… how convenient.” because realistically, like was pointed out by Faora, they all have military and combat training and Superman’s just been some wandering guy. And if they’re all at the same power level, there’s no particular reason Superman would’ve beaten Zod or, like, nine at the same time.
G: With him winning over Zod, I thought it was really interesting that he killed him. Also, we should mention that [in the theatre] there was one lady who said, “Is he dead?” loud enough for everybody to hear right after and everybody laughed.
T: Right, that was a singular moment that you really just had to be there for.
G: Yeah… so there are people who are threatened and Superman basically has two conflicting interests: protect the innocent and don’t kill. But he can’t have both, so he picks the one that saves more people but also damns his race, and it’s very telling of the type of person he’s become, and it makes the movie more about the journey of becoming who he is now, this ideal for the human race to follow more than it is about the enemy.
T: Obviously Superman doesn’t kill, but the other thing about Superman is that he always finds a way to win without breaking his principals, and here he’s caught, so it’s a difficult thing for a writer to navigate their way out of. That’s actually pretty important, that in his first outing he kills someone.
G: And after the fact he seems pretty blasé about it. I mean, after he’s like, “Lois, I killed somebody,” but 10 seconds later he’s complaining about the military’s drone that’s been following him and shouldn’t he be more serious now that he’s killed somebody? I don’t know. Fast recovery time.
T: One thing that I thought… I thought Henry Cavill carried himself like Superman would when he’s being seen by the public. That felt right, but–
G: But he also did the ordinary guy thing as Clark pretty convincingly.
T: — but I thought that, at that point in his development, like he should have been a little more raw. It almost feels like he had media coaching or something, like he really knows how to project himself. At that point, it just felt like he shouldn’t have been quite so confident and ready.
One thing that I really, really liked, that has always been at the heart of superheroes, and I guess heroes in general is they got in the line: “I’m here to help.” Because that’s the entire point of superheroes, regardless of what they can and can’t do. I like that that was explicitly said in a way that fit the situation.
But Was It Good?
T: So was there anything that you really didn’t like about Man of Steel?
G: … not really, no.
T: So where does it fit in your list of superhero movies?
G: In some ways… I guess you can’t really compare it to the Marvel movies because those ones are more shiny and this one has a darker feel to it. I actually thought it was somewhat reminiscent of The Incredible Hulk. I guess it’s somewhere towards the top. I feel like they captured the old, semi-dramatic feel of how Krypton is without being melodramatic like Thor where everybody’s a Shakespearean actor who’s so very dramatic. I felt like they did well with that and didn’t go too far over the top. So probably… definitely top five.
T: For me, I don’t think it’d be in the top five. I had one major problem with it, and it wasn’t plot-related. I thought the pacing was waaayy off throughout the entire movie. The way they decided to mix parts of his youth throughout the movie — I think that’s a valid way to approach the story, but I don’t think they got the balance right, and by the time he’s getting ready to confront Zod, it felt too early, like not enough had been established yet in terms of Superman as a character. And I think part of that is because of how non-linear it was.
G: I do prefer a chronological story rather than just have a line about something and then cut away to something that relates to it. In books, it always bothers me when the author introduces this heretofore foreign concept and then immediately explain what it is.
T: For me, by the time the central conflict comes together, it didn’t feel like we were at that point of the movie yet, even though quite a bit of actual time had passed in the movie. I think the placement of the story moments kind of screwed things up and it didn’t help that you didn’t really see Superman do anything else as Superman before that.
The other thing I didn’t like is that I don’t think we got a really strong sense of who Superman is. I don’t know how you feel about that.
G: I think he’s just supposed to be the ideal and doesn’t need any further characterization. Which is kind of sloppy… I think it was the chick [Faora] who was saying that, “You don’t know who you are and that makes you weak.” And I don’t feel like we got that crystallizing moment where he found out who he was.
T: I don’t feel like they got to that part of his motivation, like why he’s so firm on his beliefs. It feels like he’s choosing to be good more than he just is good. I don’t think he was hiding any demons and would kill everyone if he got the chance–
G: But there wasn’t anything moral about it. Like they had his dad ask him if he would have felt better if he hit that kid and he says “no” and that’s not enough of a moment to inform the rest of his life.
T: And, not that they needed more scenes in the movie, but if they just had one scene of him getting a sense of good is its own reward, then that would have helped us to understand the overall character.
Thom: The strangest thing to me about Man of Steel is that my appreciation of it has done nothing but grow, even despite the fact that I agree with every criticism I’ve read and I don’t now feel differently about most of the things Grace and I discussed a week ago after seeing it. I still think the storytelling choices wreck the overall flow of the movie, I still think the action was too much and that much of it felt very impersonal, and I still think a few little moments could really have helped Diane Lane’s Martha Kent or Laurence Fishburne’s Perry White (who we never even mentioned in our discussion). And I would agree that it’s often a very downtrodden movie, it has an almost oppressive atmosphere that never lets up, and its ending is… at least unpalatable for a lot of people.
Over the course of the last week, however, I’ve found a deepening appreciation for Kevin Costner’s Jonathan Kent, something that I think I initially missed because of how much Russell Crowe dominated the father-figure role. Jonathan and Clark’s relationship is really at the crux of the movie, and until you really get what the two meant to each other and why Jonathan was right, I don’t think you’ll really get the movie. What we saw of Clark’s childhood may have seemed oppressive as hell, but until you hear Jonathan’s words — You have to decide what kind of man you want to grow up to be. Whoever that man is, good character or bad, is going to change the world — and you really understand them, you’ll never really understand what the movie is about.
Ultimately, movies like Man of Steel are really children’s stories in as far as they have identifiable forces of good and evil, good wins in the end, and the themes are understood at a base level. Superman is a character who has been interpreted and re-interpreted a number of times over his 75 years, and each major revision carries a different vision and a slightly different message for the generation that his story was made for. It’s intriguing to think that for many children, this will be the first major exposure they’ve had to the character. For them, Henry Cavill will be Superman in the way that Christopher Reeve will always be Superman to most of the rest of the world. And while Man of Steel may be devoid of the joy and humour of those original films, it’s important to remember just how poorly Superman the Movie plays today without a fairly high level of concession.
For me, someone who has almost always resisted his surroundings, whether it’s parental figures, ethnic traditions, or the soul-crushing beliefs of the churches I’ve been to, the mythology of superheroes and Superman in particular is the closest thing to religion that I have ever experienced. In my mind, the most powerful message of the superhero concept has always been the idea that a being with more than enough power to do whatever he wants, to be as cruel and self-serving as he feels, chooses to do the right thing. In revitalizing Superman for contemporary audiences, Man of Steel absolutely sells this idea, both for how right it is and for how hard it can be to do the right thing. More than just being a great film (and it is for the most part), it completely sells what has always been the central superhero concept, held in the simple statement: “I’m here to help.” And that’s why you should all see it.
Because it’s not just a movie. In my world, it means hope.
Thom’s Man of Steel final score: 9
Grace: There isn’t much I can say that Thom hasn’t already said. Going into the movie, I expected just another Superman movie. And in some ways, yes, it kind of was. It’s bound by previous films, by the established mythos, and by the fans’ expectations. What would happen if the next movie introduced a new villain, someone even the most diehard fan didn’t know? The backlash would be tremendous. “This isn’t Superman,” the Internet would rage. “This isn’t our hero. This is Hollywood’s bastardization of our beloved character, and we will not stand for it.” It’s not just that Superman always has to win and that he has to do so with his morals intact. He needs to face characters we’ve seen before, because we need to know how the story ends before we get there. We don’t like surprises. We don’t like anything new. We like familiarity, consistency, and tradition. And that’s the reason we can’t have an original Superman movie.
In many ways, no, this is not an original film. Man of Steel is very much the same as its predecessors, even with the addition of CGI and some of the world’s greatest actors. But it did what it could in the limitations it was given, and it did it very well. It was the origin story, which is a growing trend for superhero movies these days (see Wolverine). Even if we can’t change the events that have already happened, we can go back in time and see what led up to those events, to what made the Man of Steel.
Nobody wants to see an invulnerable hero smack down his enemies like the hand of God. That’s part of the reason a lot of people didn’t like the most recent Die Hard. What happened to the man who did what he had to because he was there, and not because he was the most qualified or because he had nothing to lose? What happened to the stories that gave us real peril, not the assurance of a triumphant end?
And that is the main reason I liked Man of Steel as much as I did. It had to work within a formula. It had to include an established villain. Superman had to fall in order to rise, and he had to do it with the help of spunky gal pal Lois Lane. It’s a tired formula. It needs a rest. And it completely flew out the window when Superman broke Zod’s neck.
No longer is Superman bound to a strict moral code. With that one act — though, yes, he regretted it with every fibre of his being — he punched our expectations in the face. Anything goes now. Lex Luthor could die. Lois Lane could die. Jimmy Olsen (assuming he ever shows up) could die.
The peril is real, and that is enough to turn a tired story into a living, breathing, uncertain organism that can go any direction it chooses. Superman will still be a man of morals, championing truth, justice, and the American way, but he’ll do it on his own terms, not the fans’.
Although he won’t alienate them completely, because, let’s face it, if Supes grabbed a gun and started mowing down the bad guys right, left, and centre, nobody would want to watch that sh*tty movie. At the end of the day, we still want him to punch the ever-loving crap out of all the things.
Grace’s Man of Steel final grade: A
- Thom: Did they never call a general evacuation for the city? Or maybe they did and it’s just that every single Metropolitan is too stupid to know when to leave, even when bad guys are staring in their direction with light coming from their eyes.
- Grace: Again with the glasses! Superman wearing glasses and being completely unrecognizable because of it is like Hannah Montana changing her hair colour, becoming Miley Cyrus, and remaining completely incognito… and please don’t judge me for dragging Hannah Montana into a superhero review.
- Thom: Please don’t think that my 9 for Iron Man 3 means as much as my 9 for Man of Steel. Iron Man 3 had a very specific appeal to me, and possibly me alone, but is nowhere near Man of Steel.
- Grace: During the scene at the beginning, Zod is yelling at all of his soldiers. Somehow they can hear him over the sounds of heavy machinery and gunfire, and I was just wondering the whole time, “A hundred thousand years of technological development and they can’t figure out walkie-talkies?”
- Thom: A lot of the Kryptonian tech (ships, machinery, child incubation chambers) reminded me of The Matrix.
- Grace: I laughed, just, ridiculously hard when I saw the LexCorp trucks get chucked out of the way during the last fight scene. I understood that reference, at least. Subtle placing for a sequel? Thom also pointed out to me that Supes and Zod were fighting over a Wayne Enterprises satellite, not the ISS, as I had assumed.
- Thom: I really want to get a Nokia phone now, even if that does mean Windows Phone.
- Grace: Tahmoh Penniket and Alessandro Juliani were both in this! And with the addition of Harry Lennix, it’s a Battlestar/Dollhouse crossover! SUCH EXCITEMENT.
- Thom: Laurence Fishburne (Morpheus) and Harry Lennix (Commander Locke)? Is… is this The Matrix?
- Grace: I’ll be interested to see if this becomes the setup for a Justice League movie. And if it does, I’ll be even more interested in how it stacks up against the Avengers franchise, which will be well-established by that time.