My spoileriffic Man of Steel review

Spoilers ahead. There be spoilers ahead.

I’ve been looking forward to this movie for a year. I am a huge Superman fan. Not even so much a fan of his comics (his supporting payers tend to grate on me; I prefer him in ensemble casts) but of who he is, what he stands for.  I may be one of the five people on the planet who could take or leave the old Christopher Reeves movies.  So I was never married to the originals, and was more than ready to embrace something new.

If you haven’t seen it, don’t read another stinking word. Go see it for yourself!

TL;DR version: I liked the movie. I loved Henry Cavill’s Superman. I continue to take Zack Snyder with a grain of salt. The movie’s tone takes some getting used to, and at times is trying too hard.

To put it in context: It’s larger in scope than Batman Begins but I’d rank it somewhere around there on the quality scale.  I reserve hope that it will shake loose its weaknesses and give us a massively good sequel.

The Good

–Clark/Kal/Superman.  He looks the part. He acts the part.  His whole thing is that he wants to help people and stand up to bullies. And his mentors (Jor-El and Jonathan) are trying to steer him away from that for his own safety. He has a duty to Krypton. He has a duty to protect himself from humanity. It makes for a conflicted, second-guessing Clark Kent, which is perfect.  But when he’s in that suit, when his back is a little straighter and his voice is pitched a shade more commandingly, it really sets Superman apart.

–He doesn’t just get his powers. He has to discover them, control them, build them up. His powers take effort.  One of Jor-El’s messages to him: the only way you can find out what you’re capable of is to keep pushing yourself.  That is pure Superman, right there.

–Lois Lane. Capable, fearless, intuitive, and curious. She was awesome. And she did what no on-screen Lois has ever done before: she found out who Clark was. Way, waaay early on. So when she protects him, she knows exactly what she’s doing. Loved it.  She took an active role in later events, and even had a “What’s THIS button do?” moment on board Zod’s ship that was pretty enjoyable.

–Krypton. I loved this part.  Krypton’s society is based on Plato’s Utopia, where everyone is born and bred for a specific role. (There’s even a part where Clark is getting bullied by some school kids while he’s reading Plato.) Jor-El was bred to be the top scientist; Zod and Faora were bred to be warriors; everyone is instilled with the instinct to protect Krypton at any cost (though the means is open to interpretation). As part of the breeding program, no Kryptonian is born naturally; they’re incubated and grown in an underwater hive, Matrix-style. Kal-El is set apart before he’s even born; Jor-El and Lara defy the law, and Kal is the first natural birth in hundreds of years. As Krypton is dying, Jor-El decides to send the entire Kryptonian genetic codex along with Kal in the hopes of preserving Krypton and rebuilding one day. Zod also wants the codex, which is why he’s so keen on hunting Kal across the universe.

This is the Krypton Zod is trying to save. This is a Krypton built on fascism and breeding control. It creates the choice for Kal; heritage or ideals, which does he value more?

Clark has always wanted to know where he comes from, to find out his potential. He has grown up among humanity yet is taught to hide, to fear their reaction to what he is.  He alone possesses the ability to bring back Krypton; the codex is quite literally embedded in him. The choice is laid before him. He can’t have both.  He has to choose.

–General Zod. A superhero movie is often defined by its villain. Zod is a renegade general who declares Krypton’s ruling council incompetent and decides his way is the truly best way to save Krypton.  This is his driving force; it’s quite literally what he was born and bred for, what he lives for. He is pursuing the highest good, the most desperate rescue attempt. And the more desperate he gets, the more he’s willing to sacrifice. And the tragic thing is, he doesn’t know any other way to be. This Zod hearkens to Roy Batty from Bladerunner.  But Michael Shannon’s Zod is a ruthless, loud, violent force.

–They just didn’t bother with kryptonite in the movie. They exploit Superman’s mental and emotional weaknesses, rather than poke at him with a McGuffin.

–For being an origin story, they skip past most of his childhood. Given the fact that the opening scenes on Krypton take up a surprising amount of time, this fast-forward is both expeditious and welcome.

–Christopher Meloni, starring as Christopher Meloni in costume-du-jour. There is nothing ever wrong with this.

–Clark can’t stand up to bullies. He would hurt them too much. But it’s one of his driving forces; he hates bullies. So early on, he finds ways to vent–when a dude at a bar harasses a waitress and then dumps a beer on Clark’s head for intervening, Clark leaves… and impales the dude’s lumber truck with his own log haul.

–The special effects. This movie is a CGI powerhouse (or monster, depending on how you look at it).

–The fight scenes. Getting to see a Superman battle as it was meant to be done. And the landscape loses.

–There’s no Jimmy Olsen! One of the most unnecessarily obnoxious characters has been written out!

The Bad

–Exposition City.  The script is dense, make no mistake. It’s a decent, familiar plot, with some nice new features. But the idealism, the rampant unchecked idealism… Jor-El and Jonathan Kent alone might as well put out a syllabus and office hours for all the shit they’re trying to teach you about life and how you choose to live.

–Jonathan Kent’s death. Living proof of someone willing to put his money where his mouth is.  But I do not believe for a second Clark would not have saved him.

–The subliminal focus on Superman as ‘Murica’s superhero.  Or maybe not so subliminal. He literally says at one point “I grew up in Kansas. I’m as American as it gets.”

–The inconsistent message. Jonathan Kent has tried to teach him to reign in, to not engage in fights, that punching doesn’t solve anything. But when he confronts his enemies, he finds out that punching seems to work. Violence isn’t the answer, Jonathan taught him. And yet violence is his go-to.  But I expected that.  One of Clark’s main character bugs is that his specialty is punching. Or, failing that, really hard punching.

–How many times can you put Superman in the Christ pose? I counted at least three, and also a shot of him in a church with a Jesus stained-glass window right over his shoulder. Subtle much?

–Clark’s choice in the end…

The end-fight is between him and Zod. At this point Zod’s plan has been foiled, his technology and his allies rocketed into the Phantom Zone.  It’s either him or Clark now; one of them is going to die. There’s an epic battle between the two of them until they find themselves in an emptying train terminal, where Clark gets Zod in a sleeper hold.  Zod sees a family trying to escape, and corners them with his heat vision. Now, this is where the scene gets problematic. Zod’s heat vision is creeping towards the cornered family at an agonizingly slow, Bond-villain-laser-crawl pace. That’s storytelling manipulation; if he can see them, he can heat-fry them. But the movie needs to draw out this moment for Clark. Zod’s whole point here is: fuck everything, these people are worthless, I’m going to kill them.  Clark keeps screaming for him to stop, which he doesn’t. So how does Clark stop him?

He snaps his neck.

I was shocked. My mouth was literally hanging open. Clark drops the body, sinks to his knees, a howl of anguish clawing its way up his throat.  This was the last other Kryptonian alive, the last tie to his race. And in choosing to save humanity, Clark severs that last thread, and becomes Superman… and the last, lonely son of Krypton.

But here’s the biggest problem with this:

He didn’t HAVE to kill him! Why didn’t he cover Zod’s eyes with his hand? Why didn’t he fly him a mile into the sky, or y’know, turn him 90 fucking degrees? He had him in a sleeper hold, he could have done any of these things.

Clark doesn’t have Bruce’s ironclad One Rule, but he does believe in it. He knows that he and those like him are nigh gods to humanity and that they must bear the responsibility not ever to abuse their power. He would rather have good people trust him than bad people fear him.

After giving it a lot of thought, it makes me uncomfortable. This Superman is willing to kill. All I can say is the sequel damn well better be saturated with ramifications from this.

And another thing: this is flat-out theft from another major super hero’s story: Wonder Woman. In the comics, the telepathic Max Lord has taken control of Superman’s mind and has this god-like puppet with which to terrorize the planet, and Wonder Woman is the only one who is able to match Superman shot-for-shot, so she tries to subdue him. But she can’t hold off Clark forever and she won’t kill him, so she captures Max Lord with her lasso of truth and demands the answer: how does she stop Superman’s rampage? Max Lord is compelled to tell her the truth: the only way to stop Superman’s compulsion is to kill Max Lord.

Diana stares that fucker straight in the eye, and snaps his neck. Superman is freed. And horrified at what she’s done. It’s a major point, and echoes through the entire DC universe for a long time–a superhero who makes the choice to kill?  Diana had to go on a long quest of self-discovery to even deal with it.

But it’s not like they needed to save that for Justice League or anything. It’s not like Diana, the last of the Big Three, is ever going to get her cinematic due. Sigh. So let’s wrap up Man of Steel…

And for crying out loud, Zack Snyder

Lois Lane being the bright shining exception, and with honorable mention to Diane Lane as Martha Kent, the women in this movie don’t have a handle on their own shit. The opening scene shows Lara-El giving birth to Kal, which immediately gave me the uncomfortable notion that it was setting the bar for female roles in the film. It also dovetailed into the Christ/Savior imagery.

It’s Lara-El who pushes the button to send Kal on his journey. But before she does, she looks to Jor-El, and it’s that lingering look that convinces her to push the button. And prior to the launch, Lara reveals her womanly weakness by crying over her baby and refusing to send him,  until Jor-El eventually convinces her.

As to the other women in the movie: Faora is pretty much Zod’s trained attack dog… disappointing, in a nutshell.* The Daily Planet female intern can’t run away from a falling building without Perry White literally holding her hand throughout the ordeal (and is the only one to get trapped and panicky in the rubble). And the only female military officer can’t help from grinning and blushing like a schoolgirl around Superman because she thinks “he’s kinda hot.”

I’m aware. I don’t need you to tell me that, Captn Poor-attempt-at-levity. Go be a badass army officer.


*ETA: The more I think about it, the more I’m beginning to like Faora.  I had expected her to be almost as loud and brazen as Zod, hence the disappointment above, but her chilly silence has grown on me.  Her antagonism of Not-Stabler is its own subplot, really.  And her reaction to witnessing Krypton’s destruction (the whole squad’s reaction, in fact) was one of the most emotionally pure moments in the movie.


About hildebabble
I write. I draw. I get way too invested in superheroes.

3 Responses to My spoileriffic Man of Steel review

  1. plagiarius says:

    I agree with most of your assessments but would add one to your “bad” list: the atmosphere/yellow sun trade off. If Kryptonians just had to breathe the right mix of oxygen and nitrogen to get superpowers, don’t you think they would’ve figured that out on their own planet? And how did Zod and his gang recover in like 3 minutes from the atmosphere change when it took Clark most of his asthmatic childhood?

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