Grunting, flexing and yelling.
Those are all methods used by the Man of Steel version of Superman to fly faster. Even "How does Superman fly?" is sort of answered in this movie. How? Whatever is going on here:
These are two of the seven moments that show a meta-awareness I want to discuss.
Director: Zack Snyder
Writers: David S. Goyer, Christopher Nolan
Absurdly jacked: Henry Cavill
I love her: Amy Adams
Has gotten more and more weird: Russell Crowe
I kept waiting for him to start dropping lines from "The Insane Delta Gamma Sorority Letter": Michael Shannon
Sort of looked like Jack Skeleton (I'm going to feel bad later for saying this): Diane Lane
"No, no. Stand back. I got this tornado, Meat.": Kevin Costner
I wonder how much he got paid: Laurence Fishburne
Her character was like a horror movie: Antje Traue
Hot: Ayelet Zurer
Jack of all trades!: Christopher Meloni
Has one facial expression: Harry Lennix
Between House of Cards and Now You See Me, this is the first time I've seen him smile: Michael Kelly
What It's Good For:
-the action sequences are dope
-Flash Fighting (that's what I'm calling it) Kryptonians
-first-person flying sequences during Zod fight
-Henry Cavill is cool
-there's a tornado
-some cool shots
-BREAKING THE SUPERHERO FORMULA
-I love Amy Adams
-doesn't do the lame "spend the first 40 min teaching important life lessons then character gets powers"
-lots of Christ imagery
-the fight scenes with Russell Crowe are nearly unintelligible
-Michael Shannon isn't far off from the guy reading the Insane Delta Gamma letter
-the fight with the World Engine is...awkward?
-the use of flashback is poetic but clunky? but better than the typical linear story
-people complained about Christ imagery in Returns and we have more here
We can debate whether or not Man of Steel is, on the whole, a good movie. Whether you think it is or isn't, I will say this: You should respect Man of Steel.
Because Man of Steel had the balls and self-awareness to transcend the common tropes and cliches of the superhero genre, much less a "Superman Movie".
1. shows potential reasoning for flight
2. shows potential reasoning for flight speed increase
3. non-linear origin story
4. The "S"
5. relationship with love interest
6. father figure is sort of a dick
1, 2, and 4 show the filmmaker's knowledge of the character. 3, 5, 6 and 7 show an awareness of the superhero genre.
I have nothing more to say about 1 & 2, which brings us to...
I have mixed feelings about the use of flashback. How the flashbacks are inserted, the rhythm of them, how they fit with the rest of the movie...it feels jagged? Which is a feeling I got from the film as a whole? It wasn't a smooth experience for me? I don't know why, either. Something in the transitions, because we jump forward and back in time without warning (we're not even told how long between Krypton blowing up and Supes landing on Earth--was it a matter of hours or months or years)? I don't think this is necessarily a bad thing? The flashbacks do play into the narrative arc of "Clark removing his self-restraints and becoming Superman", with each flashback building up WHY Clark is so restrained. Regardless of whether or not the flashbacks work, the important thing is: we have a non-linear superhero origin story.
Superhero movies with linear origin story:
-Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
-The Meteor Man
-The Fantastic Four
-Daredevil (for the most part)
-X-Men Origins: Wolverine
-The Green Hornet
-X-Men: First Class
-The Amazing Spider-Man
Very few superhero movies SKIP the origin story, or if they are telling an origin story BREAK from the linear model. This is why it doesn't matter to me if Man of Steel's use of the Beloved-style Circular Narrative (used in much the same way as Beloved: to build up to the reveal of a death) is successful or not. The fact Man of Steel TRIED something different is fantastic. Major kudos. (V for Vendetta uses the circular narrative, but is based on a graphic novel that already uses the circular narrative...so...)
The "S" is a very minor moment, where we're told it stands for "Hope" rather than being a dorky "'S' for Superman!' (just like the name "Fortress of Solitude" is a byproduct of the cheesy era of early comics). Granted, the first Superman movie said it's not an "S" but part of the coat of arms for House El. How many people today know that? I've watched the first movie several times and didn't remember that. Plus, it wasn't until 2004 that the "S" came to mean "hope". Which makes this the first film to address the "S" having a context beyond "Superman" or "House El". I tell you this as evidence for my point that the filmmakers were very aware of the character and the character's history when making this film. Which should help support my next arguments.
When Captain America came out, I wrote about the "superhero film formula".
Does it really shock you that Captain America ends with an unfulfilled romance? Superhero movies are kind of conditioning us to expect it.
Batman Begins: The movie ends with Rachel telling Bruce she can't be with him.
Spider-Man: The movie ends with Peter telling Mary Jane he doesn't love her romantically (liar).
Thor: Ends with Jane attempting to find a way to reach Thor, since they've been separated
Green Lantern: Hal and Carol have a moment together, but Hal must leave to defend the galaxy
Hancock: The climax is Hancock running away so that Mary might live (the longer they're in close proximity, the more mortal they become...awww).
Iron Man: The penultimate scene is of Tony attempting to make a move on Pepper and Pepper denying him with cool professionalism (even if this is "in character" for both Tony and Pepper and a twist on the "romantic letdown" because it's done with such a light, non-melodramatic tone--the fact remains the structure is the same: the hero is frustrated in the last few minutes).
Superman Returns: less melodramatic, but same idea. Clark and Lois talking. She has a life she can't leave for him, despite their love. He understands this. He'll be around. Flies away. Sigh.
Or the movie ends with the hero romantically fulfilled: Ghost Rider, Spider-Man 2, Iron Man 2, Hellboy, Superman, Fantastic Four.
You might be thinking: "what else can they do? If the character has a love interest, the character will end up either unhappy or content." This is true. But I'm saying that this shouldn't always happen at the very end of the movie. Star Wars, for example: episode IV hinted at romantic interest between Leia and Luke, and Leia and Han Solo. But the first movie left these strings in mid-arc. Episode V developed it further--but not as a major story-line...it's just something that is brewing as these characters interact. It isn't until Episode VI that the love plot really comes to the forefront.
Studios launch these superhero movies hoping they will be multi-film franchises. But they're lacking the finesse of a TV series or comic book and I believe under-utilizing the potential to, like Star Wars (the latter episodes), subtly and intricately manipulate viewers interest and concern over the long-haul.
It's common knowledge that an early climax is no where near as rewarding as one that's built up.
Almost EVERY SINGLE FUCKING SUPERHERO FILM has had a macro plot involving some villain trying to do something bad and then a micro plot that involves a love interest. These two plots usually collide with the bad guy threatening the girl in the climax.
THANK GOD/SUPERMAN that Man of Steel avoids this.
Sure, Zod does threaten Lois Lane. But it happens a little over halfway through the movie rather than at the climax. And, look, there's still a love story. But there's never any stupid tension. Lois doesn't have someone else. Superman isn't conflicted about anything (see: every single Spider-Man or Batman movie). This is probably the first time in the entire superhero genre where two people have met, connected, and fallen in love and there hasn't been a single complication. It's just right and works. Lois isn't defensive, she doesn't have to be won over. Clark doesn't hit on her but is rebuffed yet sticks with it until their chemistry wins over. There's a legitimate reason Lois is interested in Clark (HE'S SUPERMAN) and it has to do with several irrefutable facts: he's an attractive man, he's very supportive and patient, he's an EM-EFFING Superman, and he saves her multiple times and saves the world. And Clark's attracted to her because: she is gorgeous, she is intelligent, and she has supported him and helped him save the world. What we're seeing: love based on mutual respect. The twist: when the movie ends, we don't know if they're a couple or not.
I'm not going to say I'm a prophet, but in that Captain America inquiry I said the moment of victory or frustration with a love interest "shouldn't always happen at the very end of the movie." This makes Man of Steel the first first-entry of a superhero franchise to avoid any sort of short-term resolution regarding the love interest. At the film's conclusion, Clark is working at The Daily Planet, but his reason wasn't "To be close to Lois". That was probably a secondary reason why he chose the job, but as we get in the voice over: he wants a place where he can keep his ear to the ground, where he can travel to places in turmoil without people being suspicious about Clark being there while Superman is there. When Clark sees Lois and Lois Clark: Lois doesn't swoon, Clark doesn't wink. They are polite. Knowing. Excited. But there's no desperation. Lois might be the most confident and independent female love-interest we've seen in a superhero movie. Can you name someone else?
Pepper Potts, while strong-willed, spent years and years being Starks subordinate because she was in love with him and needed to be a part of his life as much as he needed her to be a part of his. Both her and Stark are needy.
I do give lots of bonus points to Betty from The Incredible Hulk for not hesitating and going right from Bruce Banner as soon as he shows back up. "You're back? Great. Forget this other guy." And she also has the backbone to deal with the Hulk. She's cool. Still very melodramatic, but cool.
Maybe Rachel Dawes? I can't decide if I respect her for saying she can't be with Bruce while he's Batman...or if that was weak? This is why I put Man of Steel Lois Lane ahead of her.
Emma StoneGwen Stacy was pretty independent for a high school student. She doesn't have a Pulitzer Prize, though.
Where was I?
Oh, yeah, going to tell you about Father Figures.
We can agree Kevin Costner is sort of a douche bag in this movie, right? Like. He means well, he says nice things. But his tone is very..."All I know is tough-love, because I'm a Midwestern farmer that grew up on tough-love". He isn't Infinitely Patient Uncle Ben (both versions). He isn't Old Faithful Alfred. He isn't Goofy Obi Wan Kenobi. He isn't I Have Total Faith In You Morpheus. Whistler from Blade is a dick too, but Whistler is never dealing with a child. He's growing with a grown-ass half-human half-vampire bad-ass. He needs to be a bit of a dick. Elijah in Unbreakable is very faithful, but also insane and the master-villain (cool twist!). Professor X is one of the sweetest and most understanding men in the world. The dad from Chronicle is an absolute dick, which on the official scale of "Supportive to You're Giving Me Every Reason to Kill You" scale he places at the extreme wrong end of the scale. Same with Bruce Banner's dad in Hulk. Guy is an uber dick.
If Costner's Jonathan Kent resembles any of the superhero father figures it's Master Splinter. Except Master Splinter is simply a sensei. He wants to be nice and party. But he's training ninjas, so he's strict. Costner is more conflicted than this. More restrictive. He would rather die than have Clark reveal what Clark can do. Some would call that stupid. Others would be impressed by the conviction. This conviction is what Clark dealt with his entire life. The "smallville" farmer who-has-never-seen-anything-like-Clark-before not knowing how to handle Clark and what Clark means and doing his best by being loving but extremely cautious. Every time Costner talks he seems confounded, like he can't believe WHAT he is talking to. When Clark saves the bus-full of kids, Costner is giving him a hard time about revealing what he, Clark, can do. Clark says "What was I supposed to do? Let them die?" And Costner's response is "Maybe. This is because, like Splinter with the turtles, Costner is trying to cultivate in Clark: willpower and a sense for judicious action. Clark, as a kid, could hurt every bully. Costner has to make sure Clark understands he shouldn't act out against a single person ever, no matter what. Which makes Clark fighting Zod and Zod's Minions very much a "coming of age" story, even if Clark is 33 at the time. Why? Because Costner had to instill a "zero-action" policy in Clark to make sure Clark knew limits, knew self-control. But it took Clark 15 years beyond his 18th birthday to realize he was in control, that he was an adult and could be Judge and Jury about when and how to use his powers.
This characterization of The Father Figure isn't just breaking from the worn out genre trope, but also from the worn out presentation of Ma and Pa Kent. From an NPR article by Glen Weldon:
A slightly older Clark saves a schoolbus from going all Sweet Hereafter, and we hear the mother of one of his schoolmates trying to keep it together even as her voice frays with fear - a nice touch there, I think.
Enter: Parental concern over Clark's future. For decades, it's been handled as a mere plot point, a box to be checked, the inciting action that gets him to develop the Superman persona.
But here, in a move that will likely prove controversial among die-hard fans, Kevin Costner's Pa Kent is visibly shaken by the terrible FACT of his adopted son, and the prospect of what will happen to him if he is exposed.
"What was I supposed to do," Clark asks, "let them DIE?"
"...Maybe," Pa says.
Okay, whoa. Let's stop here for second.
For decades, Pa and Ma Kent have been portrayed as salt-of-the-earth types, fonts of homespun wisdom, simple country folk whose Midwestern values shape Clark into the man he becomes. They were roles, touchpoints, spouters of homilies that teach humility and forbearance. They were the flat characters, and that's fine: all stories need flat characters who exist to delineate and define the main character.
But ... what if they weren't?
And what if the story didn't summarily dispense with them once they'd inculcated Clark with their aw-shucksian worldview? What if instead they struggled with conflicts of their own, conflicts that continued to color Clark's perceptions into his adulthood?
And what if Clark's decision to face the world despite his father's fears and misgivings (which seem to be vindicated, by all those shots of the military targeting him, handcuffing him, etc.) wasn't simply a part of the character's backstory, but the question that drives the action?
It's an area the films have avoided, though the comics have addressed it in various ways. In Jeph Loeb/Tim Sales mini-series Superman: Man For All Seasons, Pa Kent struggles with his fear about what his son would become, and both Mark Waid/Leinil Yu's Superman: Birthrightand the Johns/Frank Secret Origin, as well as Smallville, all toyed with the notion that Pa Kent, at least, might feel paternal jealousy about his son's Kryptonian heritage.
So seeing Costner's helpless "...Maybe" in the trailer? Is at the very least interesting, and perhaps even ... that rarest of commodities, when one is dealing with the 6th cinematic treatment of a character who's saturated the planet's collective consciousness over the course of his 74-year lifespan — dare I say it? --
This movie seriously develops Clark's identity as a human compared to a Kryptonian. That's the ultimate choice Clark has to make: will he kill Zod, the only other Kryptonian left, or will he let Zod kill the humans. Superman snaps Zod's neck. Which is probably the most gruesome on-screen kill committed by a major superhero. Through this action, Clark has EARNED the right to live outside of his suit, to spend parts of his day as any other human being would. This is the first time I've EVER believed why Superman spends time as Clark Kent.
"Clark grew up as Clark Kent! He's spent 33 years as Clark Kent! Doesn't that give him the right?"
He didn't have a choice. We see how guilty and confused Clark is, from a very, very early age, by his powers. And we see how protective Costner is of Clark. "Clark" was, for a long time, a mask for whoever Clark really was. Which gets at the psychology, mentioned by Weldon in the above block quote, of the character. Get at the motivation for the character. This reflects an aspect of Kryptonian society: every child is designed for a specific role. Warrior, Scientist, Farmer, Government, etc. Kal-El's parents had a natural birth (the first in thousands of years), and said Clark would get to choose his fate. The irony is, Kal-El has no choice about whether or not he was Clark Kent. For 33 years of his life, Clark did not have a choice, due to a lack of knowing his true heritage and the psychological stifling done by Jonathan Kent (which was probably good because it taught Clark restraint and patience, but there's no denying Clark was negatively affected, as well).
It isn't until Clark learns he is Kal-El and explores his TRUE identity that he is able to choose to be Clark Kent and thus be Clark Kent for, really, the first time. Clark is no longer a mask. Which is brilliant, I say. The movie develops the splint-heritage and split-identity thing all the way through the film. If the villain had been Lex Luthor? Uhg. Having the villain be Zod and having Zod trying to recreate Krypton on Earth...it's all building to "one or the other". "Earth or Krypton". "Human or Kryptonian". And what Clark CHOOSES, is both. He embraces the split-heritage, the split-identity. He acknowledges he is both.
It just so happens, that acknowledgement comes at the price of Zod's in-tact spinal column.
There are very few hands-on kills by a superhero in a movie.
Can you name them?
"Well, what do you mean by hands-on?"
Stabbing. Choking to death. Neck snapping.
Dropping someone doesn't count. Shooting someone doesn't count.
-Spawn (I'm guessing)
-V for Vendetta
-X-Men: The Last Stand
-The Incredible Hulk
Those are, within the genre, the darkest of superhero movies. And a lot of the kills are sort of sanitary. Like in X-2 and The Last Stand, Wolverine stabs a random guy and has to stab Jean Grey. The guy has three long blades coming out of each hand; it's more surprising he only stabs two people in three movies. The Crow is a revenge movie, so we know there will be some intimate deaths. Even these though...are shy? We see Draven atop Funboy, holding a needle. Then we cut to a guy coming up the stairs and seeing Funboy has four needles in his heart and a crow emblem carved on his chest. The visual itself is graphic, but the film spares us "how". Hulk has to kill dogs in Hulk but snaps Abomination's neck in Incredible Hulk. Both of these fights involve totally CG characters, so there's a lack of reality about it. It's also The Hulk, though. We know he's more feral, likes to smash and use his hands. The Watchmen kill hands-on and we see the "how" but The Watchmen are all partial lunatics (with several being full-blooded crazies). Kick-Ass is visceral because a young girl is doing a majority of the killing. But how can any of the death scenes in those movies compare to the climactic crack in Man of Steel, when Superman, "Mr. Do Right", Mr. "Has always been too goody two-shoes so has lost reputation points in the last three decades with the emergence of the darker anti-hero types", ends Zod?
A 2012 article from the blog IFanBoy, by Mike Romo:
Now, you may feel differently—and I hope you do—but I have found the Superman comics to be have been pretty awful for the past few years, and they have done nothing to help the negative image of Superman that Jimski related during our podcast (I fear it was edited out for time), when he explained, basically, that Superman was the worst superhero ever created, a flawed character with zero redeeming features, and to even try to like him, to even try to hope that the books would be good, was folly because the character itself was worthless. (Jimski, I am paraphrasing, but that’s kind of the vibe I got, am I right?)
As much as I do not agree with his point, I see it and concede that the modern Superman has been a letdown, and it seems no one knows what to do with one of the most powerful superheroes in modern comics. And when I say “powerful,” I do not just mean his yellow-sun imbued prowess. Or, despite what the picture above may imply, his teeth.
Yes, he is hard to write for all the obvious reasons, I get that. His powers and abilities and boy scout demeanor do not necessarily make him a character easy for the modern reader to relate to.
Wait. You know what? I don’t usually swear in my articles, but I am calling bullshit on that.
For many of us, Superman gave us power. Your mom would cut out a piece of red fabric and tie it around your neck and you could fly. One piece of fabric with a letter on it would mean a day of flying around…and doing good. Rescuing people. Fighting bad guys. For that afternoon, you had power to do whatever you imagined.
Perhaps the “problem” with Superman is that everyone can relate to him. That everyone has felt like a unwanted visitor, has felt abandoned, has felt like a stranger? That everyone has had that job the grinds away at their psyche, that everyone has longed for someone that didn’t ever take him or her seriously. Or perhaps the problem with Superman is that technology is making Superman less special? I can “be” in almost any place with my mobile phone when I do a video chat. I have the wealth of the world’s information in my pocket. With the internet and my social network, I don’t really have to be faster than a speeding bullet, you know? I can click a button and donate $25 to a cause in a second. When we see an injustice, we have a camera and we can take a picture and we can fight that injustice by exposing it for all the world to see. Compared to the 40s, we are all…super.
Unlike Batman, Superman is not driven by demons. He is driven by the urge to give back, to help this place he now calls home. Maybe the fact that he does it in the same costume that we imagined ourselves in when we were six years old makes it harder for us to take him seriously as a character when we are older; Superman is a relic of our childhood, a comic book character.
Now, it seems to me, that the character who defined the very concept of heroism for so many of us has the potential to be the most relevant, the most complex and most intriguing modern character in all of comic books. Yet it also seems to me that DC does not see him like this as at all, and, if anything, has forgotten just whySuperman is an icon.
"I sometimes wonder if Superman’s problem isn’t him, it’s us. I feel like, for decades now, there are more cynics than optimists. I just mentioned to my wife that I sometimes think my generation mistakes cynicism for intelligence and sarcasm for humor (obviously, a cynic can be smart and a sarcasm can be funny, but one does not equal the other all times and in every situation). I consider myself an optimist and I run into people all the time who look at me like an oddity.
How can Superman seem relevant to a pessimist? Most people don’t think that he could possibly exist. I don’t mean this in the “alien that rocketed to Earth and has super powers” sense, I mean it in the “anyone with that much power couldn’t possibly be that good and if they were they would become corrupted” sense.
Of course, I could be wrong, maybe there are as many optimists as cynics and all the optimists are just quieter."
Did I Like It:
Yes? I feel very weird about it. I feel like I should be RAVING. I loved the fight scene in the town street. All the super-fast movements. I've never seen anything like that. And the flight sequences were dope. This movie was doing things I've never seen movies do, that seem cutting edge in terms of what's possible to portray. Yet...
I'm not sold?
As much as I appreciate what the movie did, as much as I liked Cavill, as much as I am hopelessly in love with Amy Adams, as many great shots as there were, as sweet as the flight sequences were...I can't get over things like: the world engine fight being soulless and awkward, or the film failing to address the reaction to a large portion of a major city being reduced to rubble, or Kevin Costner being eaten by a tornado, or how all the shit that fell from the sky during the fight on the town street ALL FELL IN THE STREET rather than crashing into buildings and stuff, or how weird Russell Crowe is, or how if Russell Crowe had the technology to become a sentient computer being why didn't the rest of the Kryptonians just upload themselves similarly and become the first digital people?...or why didn't Russel Crowe also program his wife into the computer so Kal-El could "meet" his mom?...or how RUSSEL CROWE HAD A FUCKING PET DRAGON THAT WAS ALWAYS THERE WHEN HE NEEDED IT AND DIED AT THE BEST TIME IT COULD HAVE DIED. Or how did Clark even get the job with the government for the excavation of the old scout ship? It would seem it was a pretty top secret project seeing as several high-ranking military officials are there. And Clark is able to use a fake name to get the job with the US military? That's pretty ridiculous. And there was a giant battle in Kansas. Wouldn't the government have tracked the damages and realized the only major places damage occurred: the town center and the Kent house? Wouldn't they then make a connection between the Kents and the Aliens? And thus Clark Kent being Superman?
This is why I feel the movie isn't smooth. For as many cool things...there are an equal number of things I think are dumb.
Honestly, and you might think I'm throwing my credibility out the window...I think Superman Returns is better. Maybe I need to see it again, it's been over four years. But I hated Returns too when I first saw it. Especially Kevin Spacey's Lex Luthor. But the brutal beat down of Superman. THAT'S SO GOOD. It makes everyone uncomfortable. We want Superman to be Superman. No matter what the context, I've always been annoyed when he's weakened by kryptonite (whether it's in TV shows or cartoons or comics or movies), because it happens over and over and we always know he'll recover. To watch Superman be assaulted by common thugs then STABBED and dropped into the ocean. It took my breath away. I had never seen THAT before. Couple that with HOW GREAT the introduction scene is. When Superman saves the plane as it's crashing. It's almost cheesy, but it's incredible at the same time. And what it means for Lois. She loved him and felt abandoned. And here she is...seeing this ghost. I know I ranted earlier about conflict with love interests in superhero movies, but this is different. This isn't the "initial" phase where they have to overcome some forced conflict. This is a couple that was together, then separated not because they didn't love each other but because of circumstances...and here they are reconnecting, 5 years later...It's complicated not for the sake of being complicated but complication built on history. Fuck it. I'm ordering Superman Returns off Amazon, right now.
I will say, I like Cavill better than Routh. I don't think Routh did a bad job, I just think he was shackled more. In Returns everyone wanted to carry the torch from Donner and Reeves. Which impacted a lot of the style and characterization of Returns (see Luthor). Snyder and Cavill get to start fresh. And recreate the end of Gladiator while doing it (you can't tell me the fight between Zod and Jor-El in Man of Steel doesn't resemble Maximus vs. the Emperor).
It's definitely better than Captain America. And more ambitious than Thor. Better than Iron Man 2 and 3. I'll argue with anyone that it's a better film than any of those movies. You might prefer Iron Man to Superman. But you can't competently argue Iron Man 2 or 3 are better movies than Man of Steel.
Oh. I can't believe it's taken me this long. There's a ton of Christ-imagery in Man of Steel, right? When he catches the tower from the oil tanker and we get the shot of him "bearing" the tower, the beams of the tower look like a cross. Then we have him in the water and emerging from the water (multiple times). Russell Crowe says he will be "like a god" to people on Earth. There was another Jesus type thing, but I forget now. It's funny to me because that was a complaint about Superman Returns and here we have more of it.
Great shout out to the Royals.