In Defense of ‘Man of Steel’
Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is nearly upon us. In just a few weeks the second film in the cinematic DCU will explode into theaters like Krypton. Aside from The Force Awakens, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen the buildup to the actual film be equal parts anticipation and trepidation. The negativity from fanboys across the Internet is overwhelming and has been for months. I guess I kind of get the angst. Superman and Batman are characters very near and dear to their hearts. Me too. Obviously no one wants Warner Bros. to screw the utility belt on this one. However, it’s not like this movie is The Ridiculous 6 Part II: Rise of the Shitshow where the chances of the movie being terrible are relatively high. For the most part though I don’t like to criticize a movie before it comes out. I’ve been burned too many times on both sides.
There’s a number of reasons people are anxious. Ben Affleck’s casting as Batman worries people. Zack Snyder’s competency as a director concerns people. Will Gal Godot (who physically doesn’t look the part) win people over as Wonder Woman? Is Jesse Eisenberg going to be better as Lex Luthor than he shows in the trailers? I get it. I have concerns too, but as I said I’m going to wait to see the movie before making a judgement call. At the end of the day liking or disliking a film is all opinion anyway.
Just like my opinion of Man of Steel.
For the life of me I can’t understand the hate for this movie. I personally think it’s the best Superman movie we’ve ever had on film. It’s certainly far better than Bryan Singer’s abysmal fanboy nostalgia romp Superman Returns. I’ve seen Man of Steel three times and I’ve come to appreciate it more with each viewing. Yet the reactions to Man of Steel are decidedly mixed. You only have to look on Rotten Tomatoes to see the divisiveness, as it currently sits at a 56% approval rating.
Is Man of Steel a perfect movie? Absolutely not. However, the positives FAR outweigh the negatives in this film and I think the vitriol from fanboys is misplaced. In fact it’s an outright overreaction.
I’d thought I’d examine ten of the common complaints about Man of Steel and see if there’s any validity.
10. THE SUPPORTING CAST
I’ll admit there’s a legit argument from the detractors here. While I didn’t have an issue changing Jimmy Olsen to Jenny Olsen (Rebecca Buller) I don’t understand why she was so underutilized. If you’re going to make a change like this, why have her most significant scenes be Perry White (Laurence Fishburne) rescuing her? Ditto underutilization for Michael Kelly’s (Doug Stamper from House of Cards) character at the Daily Planet Additionally, other than Antje Traue as Faora Hu-Ul, Zod’s second in command, Zod’s fellow Kryptonians have little to no involvement other than as background aliens.
However, other than those mentioned above, that’s where the supporting cast issues stop. Russell Crowe crushed it as Jor-El, the scientist who sees the end for Krypton and desires a better life for his son. I thought the interaction and connection between Jor-El and Kal-El was genuine even if he was a hologram. Kevin Costner was equally strong as Clark’s adopted Earth father, although a bit more stoic and reserved. If you don’t choke up the first time Clark asks Costner, “Can’t I just got back to being your son?” and Costner responds with “You are my son” you might want to call the Tin Man and borrow his heart.
Fishburne went over and above my expectations, bringing a gravitas and authoritativeness to Perry White unlike the bluster and borderline hammyness of Jackie Cooper. Diane Lane also brought a gentleness and sounding board for Cavill’s character. I also thought she was more age appropriate for the role than Phyllis Thaxter or Eva Marie Saint. Even Christopher Meloni (Law & Order: SVU) as Colonel Nathan Hardy worked though admittedly it was a role tailor made for him.
Also while many didn’t appreciate Amy Adams’ Lois Lane, I thought the Academy Award nominated actress fared well as the intrepid reporter. I like how she was integral to the conclusion of the film and that her relationship with Superman wasn’t overtly romantic right off the bat. While Adams doesn’t surpass Margot Kidder’s iconic Lois Lane, she’s a far cry better than the God awful Kate Bosworth.
2. THE SCRIPT
Screenwriter David S. Goyer takes a lot of shit. Granted he is the man who wrote Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, Blade: Trinity (which for the record I actually like), and The Crow: City of Angels, but he also wrote Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, Blade, Blade II, and the severely underrated Dark City. This guy is by no means a hack.
For a variety of reasons people hated his script for Man of Steel. People lambasted him for changing Superman from an All-American Hero to a flawed man. But read Goyer’s own words about the approach:
“We’re approaching ‘Superman’ as if it weren’t a comic book movie, as if it were real… I adore the Donner films. Absolutely adore them. It just struck me that there was an idealist quality to them that may or may not work with today’s audience. It just struck me that if Superman really existed in the world, first of all, this story would be a story about first contact.
“He’s an alien. You can easily imagine a scenario in which we’d be doing a film like ‘E.T.,’ as opposed to him running around in tights. If the world found out he existed, it would be the biggest thing that ever happened in human history… It falls into that idea of trying to humanise the inhuman. He’s made out of steel, he’s not made out of flesh, metaphorically speaking. We are portraying him as a man, yet he’s not a man.”
So why is it people are so accepting of a realistic Batman from Nolan’s films but not a realistic Superman? Wouldn’t it make sense for humans to react with fear and suspicion? To quote Carmine Falcone from Batman Begins, “You always fear what you don’t understand.” People hate Goyer’s script for trying too hard to be something different, but I appreciate its authenticity. Were there a lot of explosions? Sure, but it wasn’t Michael Bay territory and Goyer unquestionably spent a lot more time on character development in Man of Steel than Michael Bay ever has in ANY movie he’s done. Man of Steel‘s script wasn’t at Dark Knight heights, but it wasn’t Daredevil level either.
3. SPECIAL EFFECTS
Ever since Terminator 2: Judgement Day hit the big screen almost twenty-five years ago, CGI has been (for the most part) the staple of the effects industry. There’s been triumphs (Avatar, The Lord of the Rings) and tragedies (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Lake Placid). For better or worse it rules the industry. We take it for granted and rarely notice it, but when we do it’s typically not a good thing. Man of Steel was ridiculed for containing too much green screen and superfluous effects, like the flames that consume Superman when he rescues the oil rig team. Seriously? This is a movie partially set on an alien planet about a guy who has superpowers! How is this NOT going to be a CGI heavy film? Except for some parts of the Zod/Superman fight, I loved the special effects in Man of Steel. The part where Clark first learns to fly stands out for me.
4. ZACK SNYDER
If you thought Goyer takes a lot of feces, Snyder just rolls in the manure people have thrown at him. Besides Sucker Punch and Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole, his films have been solid. His Dawn of the Dead remake was surprisingly entertaining, 300 came out of nowhere to be a huge success, and Watchmen was a phenomenal film no one thought could ever be realized on the big screen. (Incidentally, Watchmen‘s director’s cut is the best I’ve ever seen.) Despite all this, millions still see Snyder as a hack. Look I’m not going to say he crafts a narrative like Ang Lee or Martin Scorsese, but he’s unquestionably one of the best visual directors working today. And what is film if not a visual medium? Say what you want about Man of Steel, it’s Snyder’s film 100%. To take a beloved and iconic character like Superman and take a different approach, that takes brass balls.
5. GENERAL ZOD
Michael Shannon is one of the finest working actors today. The fact that he didn’t get an Oscar nomination for 99 Homes is borderline criminal. People complained that Shannon’s Zod was too inconsistent in Man of Steel. Ridiculous. On the contrary, I thought Zod’s character was one of the best parts of Man of Steel. Michael Shannon’s Zod deeply cares about his people, so much so that it’s a character flaw. He sees Kryptonians as superior and that humanity doesn’t deserve to co-exist with them. Zod lives in a very black and white world and is completely uncompromising. Shannon’s Zod even believes that Clark should join his fellow Kryptonians. I just named several different aspects of General Zod that Shannon brought to the table. While I appreciate Terence Stamp’s General Zod from Superman
and Superman II, his portrayal was fully evil with zero depth. Stamp was always two steps away from twirling his own mustache. I’d rather have a multi-layered Zod than a cheap knockoff of Snidely Whiplash.
This complaint baffles me. People had issues with the Codex, creatures used for transport, even the freaking outfits Kryptonians wore. Apparently they’d prefer the original Superman which sports an all crystal planet where apparently you eat crystals, you live in crystals, and you bathe in crystals because IT’S ALL MADE OF CRYSTAL.! And oh everyone wears white. Yeah that makes sense. At least Snyder’s Krypton had different topography like grassland and forests and fields. You know, stuff that’s required for a stable ecosystem to flourish. And why are people so up in arms about how Kryptonians reproduce? I.E. not the old-fashioned way but in a lab. This is a civilization 100,000 more years advanced than Earth. Their actions are beyond anything we can possibly comprehend. Oh and for those of you wondering why Kryptonians had space outposts but didn’t evacuate the planet you might want to check your Superman history. In some cases interstellar travel was specifically prohibited by Krypton.
7. IT’S NOT MARVEL
Let’s face it guys, as comicbook moviegoers we’re spoiled. Marvel has been so consistently good for so long that anything not resembling a Marvel movie seems anathema. Even the worst movie in the MCU is still pretty damn entertaining. I think a major reason fans hate on Man of Steel so much, is that it doesn’t possess that Marvel quality we’ve come to know and love. The DCU is darker, grittier, and less clean-cut. People need to realize there’s nothing wrong with taking a different approach. The DCU is in a no-win situation. If the DCU emulates Marvel, fans will call it a rip-off scenario, if they do their own thing fans will flame the DCU for not being Marvel. This is my response to those people:
8. DEATH OF KEVIN COSTNER
“BAAAHHHHAAAAA!!! EMMERGERRRDDD!!! IT’S JUST A TORNADO! USE YOUR POWERS AND SAVE YOUR DAD!!!”
This is typically the nerd rage response you get from people who don’t like how Kevin Costner, AKA Jonathan, “Pa” Kent died. People have also expressed rage that he didn’t die of a heart attack. Whatever.
Regardless, I think people are missing the point. It wasn’t so much that Clark “let” him die, so much as it was about Jonathan sacrificing himself for his son. If you’re a father like myself, you know that your first duty is to protect your children. Pa Kent is no different. He’s terrified of Clark revealing himself to the world too early. In spite of all of Clark’s powers, Jonathan still worries about his son. It’s clear from his sacrifice that he felt it was still too early for Clark to reveal himself to the world. At seventeen it wasn’t the world that wasn’t ready for Superman, it was Clark who wasn’t ready for Superman.
9. DESTRUCTION AND DEATH
Critics of Man of Steel have a real issue with the death and destruction in the film. Metropolis suffers devastating damage and the loss of thousands of lives. The complaint I hear the most is that the damage has no consequences, that the destruction serves no purpose. Serves no purpose? Zod was about to eradicate the entire human race. Mass genocide people! As callous as this might sound what’s a few thousand lives and several million dollars in property damage compared to extinction? In any case the “lack of consequences” argument seems moot. Trailers for Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice clearly show Superman being taken to task over his fight with Zod. Additionally, I don’t know how you can be a huge fan of The Avengers and think that the destruction caused in NYC was ok. Comes across as extremely hypocritical.
Man of Steel detractors also cite one particular death they find egregious. Namely, Superman killing Zod in the final act. I’m not going to get into the whole “Superman doesn’t kill” debate, I’ve written about it before: https://houseofgeekery.com/2015/12/10/batman-and-superman-dont-kill-people-except-when-they-do/ Explaining the reasoning behind this scene always frustrates me. The meaning is so transparent it’s damn near invisible. Zod forces Superman to make a choice: allow me to kill this family or kill me and live with the guilt. Moreover, it’s a choice for Superman between his place of birth and his adopted planet. While it’s a difficult choice, it’s ultimately the right choice. Killing someone is not something people take lightly unless you’re a sociopath. The traumatic effect it has on Superman is palpable. In fact it makes him more human.
10. HENRY CAVILL AS SUPERMAN
This may sound sacrilegious but I’m going to say it anyway: Christopher Reeve sucked as an actor. Don’t get me wrong, amazing human being. Terrible actor. I’m not just talking about his portrayal of Superman either. Go back and look at some of his other films like Somewhere In Time or Village of the Damned. They aren’t good performances. Like, at all. And for as hammy as Reeve’s Superman was, at least he expressed emotions. Brandon Routh’s Clark Kent/Superman had the personality of a crumpet. Marco Rubio thinks Brandon Routh’s Superman was too robotic. And people bitch that Cavill brooded too much in Man of Steel. Whatever the Hell that is supposed to mean.
Henry Cavill’s Superman is the best we’ve ever seen on film, bar none. He’s heroic but flawed, he doubts himself but when challenged he rises to the occasion, he protects his privacy but he wants to help. In essence Cavill is everything George Reeves, Christopher Reeve, and Brandon Routh were not. That is to say a well-balanced, believable, and authentic Superman/Clark Kent. That’s all an audience can ask for.
Every film, especially tent pole comicbook movies are bound to have detractors. People who will nitpick every aspect and nuance until they’ve got nothing left but sand and a severe case of butt hurt. Some criticisms are valid and others don’t hold water. Personal preference will always rule the day however. There’s no getting around that.
However, I still believe that Man of Steel is the best Superman film audiences have ever had the fortune to watch. It’s a solid 9/10 and one of my all-time favorite comicbook films.
The rampant hate for Man of Steel is unfounded, unjustified, and ultimately unfortunate.
You can follow me on Twitter at @DarthGandalf1