Why “Man of Steel” didn’t work for me

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There’s been a lot written about the Man of Steel movie.  With the recent (as I write this) announcement of the casting of Ben Affleck as Batman in the Superman/Batman movie, I thought I would look back and try to better define why I really didn’t care for Man of Steel.  If you’re a big fan, you may want to skip this.  And yes, there will be spoilers, so if you haven’t seen it, you may also want to skip this.

As a general rule, with a few exceptions, Superman and Batman have been polar opposites on most fronts at DC.  Superman is the light, wholesome, upbeat, morally right character.  Batman is the shadowy, fearsome, ruthless creature of the night.  So how messed up is it that their parents are now reversed in the movies?  Thomas Wayne comforts young Bruce with this: “And why do we fall, Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.”  Jonathan Kent scolds Clark for saving a bus full of kids, putting his secret at risk.  Right, because no one would have questioned Clark being the sole survivor, as opposed to the whole bus miraculously being saved.  Thomas Wayne dies, trying to comfort and encourage his son as he draws his last breath.  Jonathan Kent tells Clark not to save him, dying before his son’s horrified eyes.  Seem to anyone else like Jonathan should have been in Gotham and Thomas in Smallville?

Aside from questionable lessons from Pa Kent, I don’t have too many issues with the first two thirds or so of Man of Steel.  Clark roams the world, trying to work out what he wants to do.  Of course, he does destroy a man’s livelihood out of petty vengeance over an incident where no one got hurt, up there in Alaska.  Veeerrrryyyy heroic.

It’s ironic, to me, that for so much of the movie, Clark roams anonymously, doing (mostly) heroic deeds.  Towards the end, he puts on the costume, and seems to lose interest in saving innocents unless it’s a plot point or Lois.  Zod menaces Ma Kent on the farm, and Clark drives him away… straight into downtown Smallville.  Yeah, that was a good choice.  With so much farmland around, let’s take this fight to where the most innocent civilians are.

Then comes the massive fight near the end of the movie.  The battle rages through Metropolis, destroying buildings, causing massive property damage, and there is just no way people aren’t dying/being maimed.  There’s not one scene of Superman helping the people of the city, except Lois, of course.  Contrast this with Avengers, with many scenes of the heroes doing just that.  Even just one, short scene would have gone a long way towards making this feel more like Superman.  In Superman Returns, which many slammed, he flies down the street at one point, vaporizing falling debris with his heat vision.  How hard would that have been?

When Superman believes he’s won, he’s in a crater of destruction, trashed buildings all around him.  He has super-speed and senses that are better than any equipment any “normal” rescue unit would have.  So of course, he leaps into action to help the citizens, right?  No, no, THIS is the time for his first kiss with Lois, which sort of seems to come from nowhere.  And really, would you want your memory of your first kiss to be standing in and around wreckage, bodies, and bleeding?

Then we have the final confrontation with Zod.  Zod threatens the citizens, both one family immediately, and the world at large.  So Superman kills him.  I’m sorry, that is NOT Superman.  Not to me.  Superman is not just a hero, he’s THE hero.  There’s a reason he gets called “the Boy Scout” in the comics.  Superman finds another way.

Let me address two or three things I’ve heard about this death.  Some say, “Yeah, but he’s killed in the comics.”  The incident of that I can recall was a very special, unique circumstance.  Superman was on a different Earth in another dimension.  Zod and his two partners in crime had LITERALLY killed everyone on the planet.  So yes, Superman ended up killing them.  If you don’t see the difference between meting out punishment for something someone has already done, when there’s no one left to turn the criminals over to for trial, and a pre-emptive killing, I can’t really help you.  Superman was also, for that matter, the sole representative of law and order on that world at that point, as opposed to the intact legal system on MOS Earth.

I’ve heard “Hey, he didn’t have a choice.  Zod was about to fry that family, and he said he’d kill everyone and never stop.”  As to the family, well before I’d left the theater I’d come up with several other ways to save them.  Fly, taking Zod with him.  Fall back, pulling Zod’s head up.  Stomp the floor and drag them both down through the hole.  You get the idea, and I don’t have super-speed to think faster.  For the threat to kill everyone, they had a Phantom Zone option which managed to get everyone else on Zod’s team.  There was all the advanced tech on various ships to explore for options.  And let’s not forget, part of how Zod got so dangerous is that Superman, stupidly, told Zod how to use his powers when he was being overwhelmed by the enhanced senses, so Superman created some of his own problem there.

Others praise this as a modernization of the character, making him more “believable” or “realistic.”  First off, we’re dealing with a guy in cape who can fly and melt things just by looking at them.  “Realistic” is right out the door from the start.  Superman is a superHERO.  He’s the inspiration for all the others.  My two reactions here are 1) if you feel the need to do something dark and modern, you’re using the wrong character and 2) if you feel that your hero needs to kill, Superman probably isn’t for you.  I also kinda think if you can’t get behind a hero who is just plain good and non-lethal, it says more about you than the character in question.

Then, in about the last scene, Superman trashes millions of dollars of military equipment to make a point as he smirkingly confronts an Army general.  This isn’t the moral center of the Justice League, the man who makes everyone believe in him.  This is someone trying to be a bad-ass.  Superman is NOT a bad-ass.  And, again, if you need your hero to be a bad-ass, you’re probably not interested in Superman.  There are plenty of tough-guys and anti-heroes out there.  Superman isn’t one of them, and doesn’t need to be.

If you make every hero a tough-guy, smirking, killer, what sets them apart from each other?  For that matter, what sets them apart from the bad guys?  I like heroic heroes.  I like having variety in the characters I read about and watch.  Call me old fashioned, but I like having some straight-up, good guy, heroes.  When I want a change, I’ll go read Punisher or watch Wolverine.  There’s nothing wrong with an anti-hero.  But there’s everything wrong with Superman being one.

Superman/Batman could make history.  It will, far as I know, be the first live action meeting of the two characters.  Maybe it will be amazing.  But if it’s in the same vein as Man of Steel, which seems likely with the same director and same lead, I don’t know that I’m interested enough to find out.

2 thoughts on “Why “Man of Steel” didn’t work for me

  1. Absolutely. I had such high expectations for Man of Steel and I struggled for awhile between wanting/pretending to really like it and having serious issues with it. I personally loved Superman Returns but understand why people couldn’t get on board. Man of Steel, in my opinion, changed the essence of the character and his world to the point where I didn’t know who he was. This is a Superman who wasn’t concerned with doing the right thing, he seemingly had no moral center. He was an angsty, rage induced kid. I had a huge problem with the wanton destruction of Smallville and Metropolis. I re-watched MoS this weekend and turned it off after the Smallville battle. It just wasn’t right. Like you said, they tried to make him “relatable”. You don’t try to create Superman for today’s world (dark, broody, action-packed) – you put him up there as an example of what we should be striving for.

    My biggest issue was Jonathan Kent. This man was the foundation of Superman. Without JK instilling Clark with his morals and code of conduct, there would be no Superman. JK would never tell Clark to hide, keep it secret, don’t be special and let people die. My favorite JK portrayal was John Schneider in the show ‘Smallville’. It seemed to hit the morality & humanity aspect on the head. He even mentioned something about wanting to keep Clark’s gift/powers secret but never at the expense of people’s safety.

    I don’t know. Batman v. Superman is guaranteed to make loads of money but I’m conflicted. My screen Superman seems to be dead until the next reboot…

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