Before you start reading, please note that there are some spoilers in this – one of the reasons I waited so long before posting.
Everyone loves “Man of Steel”, and everyone hates “Man of Steel”, for completely different reasons. After seeing this movie twice, I actually scoured reviews to find the explanation I was looking for about the ending. My conclusion is that I now completely understand why Warner Bros. stuck to producing Batman movies all these years.
I tell people at conventions that Angst is about middle aged people trying to be heroes and it is funny – their response is always, “Oh, that’s different.” When I say, “but it’s got a dark side,” their eyes light up like I just let them peek in the briefcase from Pulp Fiction. I’m good with that, I believe in ‘writing to your audience’ and right now the world seems to relate to and enjoy things that are dark.
Batman is the dark. Want to sell more movie tickets, make him darker. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely fanboy over Nolan’s run of the Batman movies. Were they a risk? Hell no. People revel in the fact that Batman is broken, they can relate to hardship and strife and the longing to right wrongs. Superman isn’t dark at all, just the opposite, he’s perfect – and who can relate to that?
“Superman” and “Superman II” were made for a different time, if you haven’t seen them please do, they are just awesome films. Skip ahead to “Superman Returns”. Had this actually been released in 1983 and been called “Superman III” it would be remembered as the perfect follow-up to I and II. I enjoyed Superman Returns for that very reason, it was totally the Superman I grew up with. The music I remember, the magic of Superman, the over-the-top evil of Lex Luthor with a little ‘comic book’ thrown in. “Superman Returns” fed my nostalgia, but unfortunately it didn’t bring anything new to the party.
My younger friend Holly made a great point that there really has been no Superman movie for this generation. “Man of Steel” does this well. The first third of “Man of Steel” is a fantastic sci-fi film that takes place on Krypton and it was my son’s favorite part. I have no issues with any of it, this take on Krypton was fun and Russell Crowe was amazing as Jor-El – throughout the entire film. Zod was introduced as a military savior instead of a power hungry despot, and I really enjoyed Michael Shannon’s performance.
The second third of the movie was about Superman’s struggles growing up. A brooding orphan finding his place in the world, not perfect thus more relatable to us. In some iterations of Superman comics, as well as “Superman I”, Pa Kent died of a heart attack – something Superman could do nothing about. In “Man of Steel” he died protecting Superman’s secret. I think that this is a solid update to the story, making Kal-El more ‘the alien’ instead of ‘one of us with lots of powers’. I didn’t like how Pa Kent died, but I understood the change and it didn’t feel it ruined the movie. I also liked Lois Lane, played well by Amy Adams throughout this act. It makes complete sense to me that a good reporter would track him down.
The final Act was all Zack Snyder, and this was everything I expected, and hoped for from him. Robot space ships, bad guys, Metropolis – Superman beat up EVERYTHING! Was it too much? Was it sensory overload? Yes. But, if I had the money and held those reigns I would have done the same damn thing. Nobody wants to go to a Superman movie and see him hold back. He didn’t. My Superman would have dragged Zod out into space, or over the ocean, or into the desert just to save lives and keep the city safe. Snyder’s Superman fought in the heart of Metropolis and laid waste to everything. This also didn’t ruin the movie for me, it was intense and was the Superman battle many fanboys and girls have always wanted to see.
Up to this point, I was fine. I’m not a critic, I’m a critic’s nightmare – I’m easily entertained by bad sequels with mediocre special effects. I look for escape in movies not meaning. “Man of Steel” updated the story in some ways I didn’t enjoy but could live with. There were plenty of plot holes (as my son pointed out, why terraform Earth?) but eh, summer blockbuster. That’s when IT happened.
Superman killed Zod. Nope. I remember saying that out loud in the theatre. Nope. That’s not Superman. Not mine, and not anybody else’s. Fuck! This has been so hard to explain to people who don’t get it, and I don’t know what bothers me more, the fact that they made a Superman movie where he kills the bad guy, or the fact that so many think it’s okay.
“The ‘S’ stands for hope.” Um, “hope” doesn’t fly around breaking bad guys’ necks. “Look, it’s Lex Luthor” ‘snap’, “Hi, I’m Metallo” ‘snap’, “Braniac will destroy you all” ‘snap’, “Wait, stop, it’s just grafitti” ‘snap’, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to check out Lois’ butt” ‘snap’. Where does it stop? Snyder, Goyer, and Nolan just loosed the great, relateable, murderer of justice!
If given that power, so many people would use it to kill. We can relate to that, right? But that’s what makes Superman significant. He can, but he doesn’t. Superman isn’t someone you think you can become. With enough money and time and a really bad day at work I could be Batman (shh, I am Batman.) Superman is someone we can only strive to be. Friends have been harassing me all week about my post-“Man of Steel” nerd-rage, and I’m sure it seems over the top, but this was my hero. The S doesn’t mean hope, it means hero. When Superman kills, all of that is stripped away.
Yeah, they put him in the no-win scenario, but you can’t tell me there isn’t a writer clever enough in all of Hollywood that couldn’t have come up with something better. It would have been so easy to fix – a little remorse and a promise to the general that he would never kill again could have fixed it. Nope. Instead he destroyed a satellite instead. Huh. Maybe the trinity (Snyder, Goyer, and Nolan) thought this would be just the thing to spark controversy. It really worked, but it didn’t. It may work to bring in $$, but this version of Superman has lost the higher ground.
I still believe in Superman. I still believe that the difference between superheroes and the bad guys is that the superheroes don’t kill. Sure, I’ll buy that the ‘S’ means hope. What I don’t believe is that Superman kills. I’m not sure who that dude was at the end of “Man of Steel”, but he wasn’t Superman.
I’m not the only one…
As a side note, it was awesome that The Kansas City Star did a full page review titled “Man of Angst” by David Frese. (Seriously, how perfect was it to get that text from Allie while wearing my Superman cape waiting in line for the movie! My in-laws showed up soon after with a copy!)