I rarely see movies twice, whether in the theater or on DVD. My list of “need to watch” movies guilt trips me, preventing me from returning to some films which deserve or even require a second viewing in order to be properly understood. Man of Steel was the first film in years that I saw twice in the theater, and I did so because I knew the hype surrounding its release had poisoned my initial midnight viewing. My thoughts on the film flip-flopped on an hourly basis, leaping from this to this in a single bound, and as fun as it is to have “all or nothing” opinions I’ve come to realize that with any film of this size, the truth is always in the middle. I know this is the boring answer, but too often I see “respected” critics pounce on one aspect of the film and judge the rest based on that one mistake. Man of Steel is a endlessly debatable cocktail of pros and cons, and a perfect example of Snyder’s eternal yet doomed pursuit of fanboy perfection.
“Stop with the speed ramping shit!” we all cried, and our prayers were heard. Man of Steel is many things, but ambiguous is not one of them. The film has a clear aesthetic/tone that never falters for an instant, giving it a structural coherence that usually only comes about when all departments (costumes, score, effects…) are operating under a visionary. Yet who is the visionary? Nolan? Snyder? Goyer? While I may personally go back and forth between Nolan and Snyder, I can easily rule out Goyer. When you think back on the film, what stands out? Odds are it’s the epic scope and texture of the story, or the soaring score that slowly spreads like a shot of adrenaline through your body. Ok, now try to remember some lines of dialogue, and scenes you remember from the trailers don’t count. Having trouble? That’s because the dialogue sucked. Badly. It was worse than Green Lantern. Goyer was given gold and all he was able to produce was “Are we done comparing dicks?” and “Well sir, I just think he’s kinda hot.” The whole script felt recycled to me, as if Goyer and Nolan spent months working out the general story and procrastinated the actual writing of dialogue. Speaking of recycled, I also noticed Goyer pulled the old non-linear gimmick out of Batman Begins. Don’t get me wrong, I actually think non-linear storytelling is often an extremely effective tool, but to use it twice on massive origin stories seems lazy, although now that I think of it Nolan also used it for The Prestige, so maybe I’ll Goyer a pass on this one. All in all, the film concentrates all its energy on developing scope, and in this particular task the film excels, but all character progression was thrown out the window as a result. We aren’t given any dialogue-heavy scenes where we can sit back and really observe these characters. “But it’s a superhero movie, not a bloody Bergman film!” you cry, yet clearly those responsible for this film envisioned a down-to-earth portrayal of the overexposed icon. Snyder was obviously proud of his intimate display of small town Americana in such a big budget summer blockbuster, as well he should be, but what was shown visually was not expressed narratively. It was so preachy and desperate to move on to the next set piece that it didn’t allow Clark to just briefly sit on the porch with his parents, watching the Kansas sun set and enjoying a brief moment of happiness.
I did appreciate some of the little touches though, such as Clark reading Plato’s Republic, but the truly awful church scene that was clearly only there to have Superman and a stained-glass Jesus in the same shot sort of ruined it for me. I think the Christ pose as he slowly drifts out of the hole in the ship was more than enough. Yes, Superman is a Christ figure in almost every possible way, but wouldn’t it have been awesome if he wasn’t? What if the film took the premise of a young, bullied kid from Kansas who suddenly learned he was a space god and just ran with it to its natural, brutally honest conclusion? Yes, superheros are meant to be examples, but I believe we’ve reached a point where another origin story about power and responsibility has no greater impact than the origin story/remake/reboot that came out right before it, so some actual thematic deconstruction is definitely in order, Watchmen-style. My favorite part of the entire Dark Knight Trilogy was when Alfred calls out Bruce in TDKR, saying that he never wanted Bruce to come back to Gotham since there was nothing here for him but pain and tragedy. This for me flipped the entire character of Batman from a deliverer of justice to a deeply depressed and self-destructive individual, refusing to help Gotham with his IMMENSE wealth and instead choosing to destroy and punish his body night after night. I have always been fascinated by the idea of Bruce having the option to eject at the end and choosing not to. Unlike the superficial “flaws” that writers attach onto run-of-the-mill superheros, Batman’s have actually worsened by taking up the mantle. Man of Steel, for all its showboating, still shies away from giving its protagonist actual character flaws like so many other superhero movies before it. Perhaps it could have delved into how he is perceived by the public once he comes out, and how his idealistic notions of saving mankind are halted by a species that doesn’t want to be saved, especially not by an outsider.
Much has been said concerning the collateral damage at the end of the film, a complaint that utterly confuses me. Hasn’t collateral damage been a source of pride for action movies throughout the years? Since forever? I find that most “controversies” are simply a product of unimaginative intellects, desperate to add social relevance to their opinions. “Where are the faces of the children Superman orphaned!” people ask. To that I say they’re still on their heads, thanks to Superman. Every time there is an explosion in any movie, it’s 9/11 all over again. I’m curious as the specific number of human fatalities in a movie that crosses the delicate line between harmless escapism and dehumanizing brutality. Still, if this subject is of particular importance to you, I would suggest that you check out Pacific Rim since I hear tell Del Toro foresaw this problem and in the film evacuates entire cities so that the Kaiju and Jaegers can fight in peace.
Finally, here are some random observations that have been floating around in my mind since watching Man of Steel for the second time.
1) Micheal Shannon was miscast due solely to Goyer’s terrible writing (He just yells alot). Shannon is an extremely subtle actor who can work wonders with little body ticks and eye movements. I’m a HUGE Michael Shannon fan, and I was so excited to see him in a big role in a summer blockbuster, but sadly he picked the wrong one. His performance actually seemed better the second time around, and there is a scene right before his big fight scene where he states his sole purpose in life is to ensure Krypton’s survival and Shannon totally owns it.
2) If this movie taught me anything, its that more movies need evil 2nd in commands, preferably female. Antje Traue as Faora-Ul was one of the best things to come out of the film, and her fight with Superman in the street puts basically every other superhuman fight scene to shame. I enjoyed it far more than the film’s climactic fight in Metropolis.
3) “We’re just trying to set it in the real world!” they said, but the constant product placement took me out of the movie every time. Damn you Nokia and your super fast file sharing!
4) You know when you watch a movie and its nearing the end and suddenly a scene starts and you think, “Now would be the PERFECT time to cut to black.”? I felt that when at the end we get the flashback of Clark as a child wearing a red table cloth as a cape. The image is perfect, showing how Clark’s greatness has always been inside him, even as a child. It was something he was born with. Zimmer’s score suddenly gets quiet, serene, and beautiful as Child Clark strikes the iconic pose. Cut to blac- SON OF A B****!
5) Ok, here’s the big one. I only picked up on this by watching the film a second time, and its a dusey. (Spoilers) So Superman goes to Zod’s ship that has the atmosphere of Krypton and so Superman is just as weak as the rest of them. There is actually no evidence that kryptonian and an earthling on their respective planets are any amount stronger than the other. Its all about atmosphere and kryptonians soaking up more energy due to a different atmosphere. Anyways, so Superman faints and finds out that on the ship he’s weak. Lois Lane then uploads Jor-El and he changes the ships atmosphere to that of earths. Lois Lane then proceeds to shoot and kill kryptonians (who would now have their superhuman strength and abilities) with a kryptonian hand gun. So then this begs the question, why didn’t Zod just shoot Superman with a krytonian gun since these guns can kill a kryptonian at full strength? Oh wait, hold on, he did. Right after the first fightscene in the town. With a massive kryptonian gun mounted on his ship, 9 times larger than the hand gun Lois Lane was using. Boom. (B-)