Sunday, June 23, 2013

A Superman for a New Generation, but not my Superman

So my son and I went to see Man of Steel yesterday.  He loved it.  But then he's 11 and hasn't really grown up with Superman the way I did.  I, on the other hand, am, um, slightly more than 11.  I started reading comics a few years before video games took over the world became so ubiquitous.  And I have mixed feelings about the movie. 

Fair warning:  There will be spoilers.  I'm going to discuss some details that you might not want to know about if you haven't seen the film but are planning to.  Just so you know.

First, I'll discuss what I liked about the movie.  The casting was spot-on, overall.  Laurence Fishburne is a great Perry White.  Diane Lane and Kevin Costner are perfect as Ma and Pa Kent.  Russell Crowe's protrayal of Jor-El adds life to a character to whom, in my opinion, the movies have never done justice.  The only miscasting is Amy Adams as Lois Lane.  She fits my ideal of Lana Lang more than Lois.  Not that I'm complaining much.  Any film Amy Adams is in is one I'm interested in seeing. Still, this isn't quite the Lois we've seen in previous incarnations of the character.  She's neither the damsel in distress, the woman hoping to marry Superman, or the hard-hitting reporter or more recent decades.  Although the film tries to make us think she is.

The opening sequence on Krypton was mind-blowing.  We're shown a weird alien world, one that's both exotic and full of dark wonder.  The special effects here were top of the line, and the concept artists for this part of the film really let their imaginations go.  It's what a science fiction film should be.

Unfortunately, most of the movie took place on Earth.  That in and of itself isn't a bad thing.  It's what director Zack Snyder and screenwriters David Goyer and Christopher Nolan do with the story that ruins it for me.

First, two major flaws in the logic.  First, and this was a biggie for me, Lois first encounters Clark when she's investigating the Air Force's discovery of something under ice.   Core samples show the ice to be 20,000 years old.  It's a space ship, one that has Jor-El's consciousness uploaded into its computer system.  How it got there is never explained.

The other is that the Daily Planet building is destroyed in the final fight between Superman and General Zod.  A few days later (or so it seems), it's all in one piece.

Amy Adams as Lois Lane
There were some other changes that irked as well.  Lois discovers Superman's secret identity before Clark ever adopts the persona of Superman, much less gone to work at the Daily Planet.   Lana Lang is only in one scene when Clark is a young boy.  Lana was a big part of Clark's childhood and should have been given more screen time.  Jimmy Olsen is completely absent from the film.  Instead, he's replaced with an obnoxious guy who hits on Lois in the film's final scene.

The thing I most objected to, though, were the changes in Superman's character.  All of Clark's youth is shown in flashbacks.  In one, an essentially grown Clark is traveling with his parents along an interstate when there's a tornado.  Everyone takes shelter under an overpass.  Jonathan goes back to rescue their dog and is injured, preventing him from making it back to the overpass before the full force of the tornado hits.  Clark is about to save him when Jonathan shakes his head no, in essence telling him to keep his powers secret.  (This is a big deal with Pa Kent in this movie.)  So Clark watches as his father dies, never doing anything to save him.

I call BS.  The Superman/Clark I grew up reading about would never have allowed that to happen.

Nor would he have fought the Phantom Zone criminals in the middle of Smallville, pretty much trashing the entire downtown and putting hundreds of residents at risk, especially when the fight spills into the local IHOP.  The same goes for the final fight in metropolis, in which Superman and Zod trash the city to the point that the movie begins to look like a post apocalyptic film.  With the amount of destruction they wreak, there has to be a major loss of life.  Yet in both cases Superman doesn't try to take the fight somewhere else, where fewer people can be hurt.  Nor does he stop to help those on the ground until the finale of his fight with Zod.

But the thing that most goes against the role of Superman, at least the one I grew up with, is that he never, ever kills people.  Yet he kills General Zod at the end.  He's got his arms around Zod's neck, and Zod is using his heat vision to try and kill some innocent bystanders.  Superman breaks his neck.  I wanted to know why he simply didn't fly off with Zod.  Or why Zod didn't move his eyes rather than his head and zap the bystanders before Superman could do anything.

Superman's grief and torment over killing Zod is to engage in a primal scream and give Amy Adams a hug.  I understand that during one of the reboots of Superman that happened during a period when I wasn't reading comics, something similar occurred.  The repercussions went on for quite a while. Here he just had a good cry, and it was done.

I understand about updating characters.  I really do.  And in principle, I don't have a problem with it.  But what should be updated are the details, not the heart and soul of the character.  When changes are made on too fundamental a level, the character isn't the same any more.

Anyway, as visually arresting as much of the film was, it was ultimately unsatisfying.  At least from my perspective.  This isn't the Superman I grew up with, in any of his incarnations.

Mark Finn has a detailed examination of how Superman has changed through the years, in both comics and film here


  1. I'd love to read this, but I haven't seen the movie yet!

    The more Superman I read, the more I like the character. (Of course, good stories help that...not all are good.)

    I still believe the animated stuff with Bruce Timm at the helm (the various series and stand-alone DVD movie releases) have done wonderful things with Superman and Batman ( - the other heroes, too.)

  2. I really don't disagree with anything you said, Keith. There are aspects of it I love -- especially the beginning, and the whole narrative of him just kind of "wandering" and doing all these super things -- but it does unravel a bit after that. And the destruction. Man, after Iron Man III, Star Trek, and now this, I'm pretty burned out on seeing so much stuff just utterly destroyed.

  3. I haven’t seen the movie yet so I can’t really make a claim on how good or bad it is.

    However, I’ll say that Superman has killed or seriously harmed someone in multiple incarnations of the character.

    When he was first created, he killed regular human bank robbers (not even supervilains) like Batman originally did if I remember right.

    In Superman II (the movie), he essentially kills all three Krytponians by making them human, and then allowing them to fall into an ice cavern.

    As part of canon in the 80s and 90s, he killed General Zod and Doomsday in the comics.

    In Elseworld tales which are alternate telling or possible futures of the character, he’s killed A LOT of people.

    And even in the Dini/Timm Justice League, he lobotomized Doomsday when faced with the realization he had no other way to stop him.

    Personally, I think killing Zod is fine so long as it is used in the sequels appropriately, urging him to find other solutions so that he doesn’t kill again.

  4. RE: Timm/Dini

    Actually, Superman from a parallel universe (the Justice Lord) did the lobotomizing. The main Superman didn't, but the Justice League did sentence Doomsday to the Phantom Zone with their own trial outside any national or world court, which led to tensions within the group.

  5. Very true. I was just trying to say that Superman has been portrayed in various ways outside of the "norm" over the years.

  6. I didn't really have plans to see the movie. if it ever comes out on TV I'll watch it, I imagine. I've just never been a real superman fan.