Everything Wrong with Man of Steel

I LOVE Superman. I really do. He’s like a family member to me. Kinda like that really cool uncle who was in the war and will sometimes sneak you a sip of his beer. That kind of family member. The kind that, when you see his memory being degraded by the money hungry idiot of a cousin who just happens to be his current heir, makes me so mad I think I might burst a testicle.

So you see, this is personal to me.
I saw Man of Steel in the theaters. Like most fans and general movie goers I was excited. A reboot, not a continuation of the classic, yet dated, Richard Donnor films. Executive Produced by Christopher Nolan and Directed by Zack Snyder! Starring Henry Cavill, Amy Adams and Russel Crowe! How could it go wrong?

But first, a bit of Good News

What Man of Steel got right

The Score

It’s a little but much, I’ll grant you. But you don’t hire Hanz Zimmer for subtlety. The music is truly epic, and the most important thing, it’s memorable. I still listen to it when I’m driving. A lot of people have decried the score but to me it’s one of the best pieces of the film.

The Acting

The acting was very well done… mostly. Henry Cavill & Amy Adams were fantastic, ditto for Russell Crow and Lawrence Fishburne. Michael Shannon… well it was a bit over the top but I think that may have been due to the script more than a conscious choice by the actor. Overall though its a well acted film.

The Sun God/Jesus Allegory

Superman is a classic sun deity. Anyone who reads Superman will recognize this, and the film did a good job of relating this allegory to the viewers, which I think is necessary for any Superman film to be successful (one of the reasons why Bryan Singer’s didn’t do as well as it could have).

The Fights

You can’t beat them. The fight scenes, while not entire necessary to the plot all the time, are fantastic. The special effects, the dialogue, the energy… It’s all fantastic.

Here’s how it all went wrong. 

The Villain

I’ve written before about why Zod should not have been the main villain. That being said, here’s why Zod failed at being the villain in this film. 

Where to start…

The second film should have had Zod arrive and destroying both humanity’s and Superman’s idealized vision of Kryptonian culture. Zod is a classic Hades archetype, and represents the fact that even gods can fall, that Kryptonian culture was more human than Superman led humanity to believe. The second film humanizes Superman and the Kryptonians and helps to set up a third film where Superman must find his own way while attempting to lead humanity toward its goal of bettering itself.

Of course, the reason (or one of them) why Zod appears in the first film is to help humanize Superman by showing the audience and humanity that even Kryptonians can give in to their baser instincts. And I would have been okay with it, really, if they had done it well.

But this Zod is insane. Literally. He started off as a revolutionary who wanted to wage war on Krypton’s ruling elite to fix Kryptonian society… fine I get that. But later in the film he becomes a mass murdering psychopath willing not only to kill the son of his (supposedly) friend but also billions of sentient people in order to remake Krypton on Earth.

Which, by the way, why did he want to fix the atmosphere on Earth? They have super powers with that air… wouldn’t Zod want to keep that? Aside from that Zod’s split personality, or his personality change isn’t really explained well. The Zod we see in the third act is an insane megalomaniac that doesn’t fit wit his earlier portrayal in the prologue.

The Pacing

The first act was not well done. The first act changed Man of Steel from what might have been a good super hero film to one that’s watchable, at best. After the prologue we see Clark leading a nomadic lifestyle as he attempts to find himself, which is fine, but the non-linear storyline did not work well. Perhaps it was the editing, and perhaps it was

Jonathan Kent

Jonathan Kent is supposed to be the man that raises Clark Kent and molds him into the hero he is to become. He teaches Clark what it means to be a moral individual, and inspires him to use his power for good.
 
This version of Jonathan Kent, however, tells Clark to hide his powers, even going so far as telling Clark that he maybe should have let a child die. That makes him a sociopath in the very least. Allow a bus full of children to die so that your sun’s secret is safe for another day? Jonathan Kent is so afraid of having his son’s secret get out that he stifles his moral development. When you re-watch the film, there’s no real reason why Clark Kent should have grown up as such a moral individual as he did. His father figure has no moral grounding, and is instead governed by fear. 

But my main beef with the characterization of Jonathan Kent is that he dies in such a terrible way. In the comics he dies in various ways, or remains alive, depending on what continuity. Most of the time it’s from a heart attack reminiscent of the Richard Donnor films. But this Jonathan Kent dies while attempting to save a dog from a tornado as his son watches. Not a person, literally a piece of property. Its meant to drive home to the viewers how afraid Jonathan Kent was of letting Clark’s secret come out, but thinking of it from a psychological perspective it must have been torture to Clark to know that he could have saved his father but his father chose to die in order to keep Clark’s secret. Also, this is not in character with Jonathan Kent at all. The entire film he’s teaching his son restraint, and then he decides to end his life so that he can save a dog. (Please don’t get me wrong, I love dogs, but I’m using this to express the incongruities in Jonathan’s characterization.)Leading me to the biggest problem with Jonathan Kent – there’s no logical way that this childhood could have led Clark Kent to be the man he is later portrayed as in the films. And, lets not forget that Jonathan’s sacrifice was utterly useless because…

Smallville

Everyone in Smallville knows that Clark Kent is Superman. Well, not everyone, but a lot of people do. And they’ve known that this boy has powers since he was, well, a boy. That first scene where he rescues a drowning school bus wit his bare hands in front of oh, about 30 or so witnesses wasn’t even the town’s first clue. As a younger child his powers began to manifest in very public ways, all of which leading to the question: why was Jonathan Kent so intent on keeping Clark’s powers a secret (even to the point of postulating that it may have been better to allow a child to die) when the secret was, for all intents and purposes out.
Considering that Lois Lane was able to find out Clark’s identity after being in the town for about 30 minutes, the secret was in no way safe. Of course that possibility went away the second Clark, dressed as Superman for the first time in public, turned Smallville into a parking lot in the matter of minutes. If the Smallville residents didn’t know that Clark was a super powered alien before they certainly do now.

The Mood

It’s dark. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love dark films, but Superman is not one of those heroes that needs a dark re-telling. Batman yes, and pretty much every other super hero could do with a grounded film rather than the stylized tellings we’re typically subjected to. Superman, however, is not one of them.
Look at Guardians of the Galaxy. Its a light film, fun and family friendly but with enough of a dark villain to give it some semblance of verisimilitude – which is all you need when you’re dealing with space aliens with super powers and a talking tree/raccoon  combo. Same with Superman. Superman represents, as I’ve written before, an idealized hero, and for that you ned an idealized film. Not the dark, gritty telling we have in Man of Steel.

The Plot Holes

  1. Why Couldn’t Jor El save a copy of his wife in that memory stick?
  2. What exactly does putting the genetic material of all of Krypton in Kal El do?
  3. Why did Zod bother telling Kal El he was going to kill all of the humans… why not lie to him?
  4. How did Zod find Martha Kent’s Farm?
  5. How did the US army get Superman’s baby spaceship? Did Martha Kent give it to them? Does that mean they know who Superman is?
  6. So Kryptonians travelled to earth 18,000 years ago in the North Pole (which was frozen at the time). Our atmosphere was the same then as it is now, our sun was the same then as it is now… so how did the Kryptonians die? They had super powers back then.
  7. Speaking of super powers, how is it that Clark spent his whole life gaining superpowers and only learned how to fly a few weeks before Zod arrived… yet Zod is able to learn how to fly in a matter of days?
  8. Getting back to the Kryptonians… how is it that they didn’t know their planet was dying? There are ways of explaining this, but the film did not. Were they all imbeciles? Were they all too distracted by Zod’s rebellion?
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Christopher James

Christopher James

The Founder of TPK Media.

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