You Can't "BATMAN" Superman: A Second Look at the Man of Steel
written by Justin Prince (@prince_justin)
I hate to say this, I really do, but I can’t say that I really enjoyed Man of Steel. Now the overwhelming outpour of praise from my personal Facebook feed and a few folks round the office say that they enjoyed it, and I am glad you enjoyed it. I want this film franchise to at least be a financial success, and after the initial box office numbers, it was certified as the biggest June opening in history pulling in an estimated $125 Million during the opening weekend. Though critics were arguably more critical of it, currently it stands with a 56% “rotten” rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Personally I feel the Father’s Day weekend helped elevate these numbers, what’s better than seeing a super hero on the silver screen right next to your own personal super hero? Oh and before we get going on this, it should be obvious but SPOILERS will be had, don't cry to me if I spoil anything... you have been warned.
I want this to be a success, the future of a Justice League movie hinges on this success. If I had to choose between Marvel and DC, I am arguably more of a DC kid, hell… Batman is my favorite hero; I have him tattooed on my arm (in an iconic moment from Jim Lee’s Hush). But I am so confused with why DC just can’t catch a break when it comes to successful movies. Sure the recent Batman trilogy reinvigorated an interest in the DCU of comics, the (whether you love it or hate it) post Flashpoint New 52 DC Comics make the stories more accessible, and the fact that Marvel’s Avengers has proven that comic book movies can be excellent box office draws AND maintain high scores on Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes (92%). So why is this such a hard concept to grasp for NON Batman DC properties?
The battle sequences just felt like over the top disaster porn, this was far too reminiscent of Marvel’s Avengers... think just how many people died off-screen during these sequences, this didn’t feel very “Superman” to me at all
Sometimes going back to the drawing board isn’t the best choice, especially when it affects the overall characterization of such an iconic character. Where I felt 2006’s Superman Returns succeeded was the fact that they weren’t reinventing the wheel when it came to Superman, his origin is widely known and has been explored in past movies to television shows. Sure Superman Returns was a continuation of the Richard Donner films that previously featured Christopher Reeve in the blue and red suit, but it kept the original scope of the character in tact. The Superman in Man of Steel was almost unrecognizable as the blue and red boy scout. The darker and brooding nature of this interpretation of the iconic hero felt so out of place it didn’t feel like Superman to me. I get that the Dark Knight trilogy was a huge success for DC and Warner Bros, but you can’t just “Batman” the man of steel and expect that it will work. A common conflict amongst the Justice League is how Batman and Superman will invariably butt heads from time to time; I would be grossly bored to death if it were just two brooding men in capes arguing about how to take down Darkseid! I felt this darker turn for the character was a bad fit for him, and while Henry Cavill did an excellent job portraying the iconic hero, the combination Zack Snyder/David S. Goyer/Christopher Nolan made for a conflicting force for the character, leaving behind an awkward take on the character.
The movie isn’t without merit though, the action sequences were spot on and if there is anything I can give to Zack Snyder’s credit, it’s how he handles a fight scene. This is where Superman felt at home, the fast paced battles and constant use of his "super" abilities. It did feel bogged down by the CGI and I felt they could have done more with less special effects during the heavy fight scenes, throw in a few punches and kicks that just flow and I feel it would have felt more like an actual fight. The battle sequences just felt like over the top disaster porn, this was far too reminiscent of Marvel’s Avengers to not be mentioned. If you know the comic book character or even the cartoon series, Superman makes it a point to do his damndest to take the fight elsewhere to limit the amount of collateral damage he’d cause, makes me think just how many people died off-screen during these sequences, this didn’t feel very “Superman” to me at all. As a side note, have any of you seen that atrocious Burger King commercial where a construction worker is lamenting about working in Metropolis and Superman just bounces around trashing streets and cracking asphalt… c’mon, really? That's not the Supe I grew up with.
The constant flashbacks were awkward and did little for setting up the character, the only flashback scene I felt was useful was the opening on Krypton, at least that felt like it worked in the context of the story. What I was largely bored with was the whole “bearded man in hiding” aspect to the character. This leads largely into what disappointed me, the whole dark and brooding tone of the story. While we are on the subject of what I didn’t like, as much as I love Amy Adams in anything her cute as a button self does, she didn’t feel right as Lois Lane. The character is more hard nosed and generally gives Supe a hard time. By large she felt like a glorified damsel in distress through most of this picture, and the fact that she knew Clark Kent is Superman from the very beginning? Don’t even get me started on that.
I don’t want this to be too negative, so I will let my little geek heart wax on what I loved about it, thing is… most of this will fall deaf upon the ears of those not in the know of the comic books. Zack Snyder is a big comic book geek and he threw in tons of references to the DC Universe in this movie, the most noticeable ones are the Lexcorp logos all over the place, but did you catch the Wayne Enterprises logo? Batman’s billionaire alter-ego is referenced in the satellite above the Earth’s atmosphere, clearly labeled with a Wayne Enterprises logo, I didn’t get that good of a glimpse but it looked very much like the logo from the Nolan-verse, don’t know how good or bad this could be. Aquaman has been relegated as the butt of the DCU’s jokes for a number of years, but this brief reference to the character cannot be ignored; remember the scene with bearded Clark Kent saving the oil rig employees from the burning and collapsing Merrevale oil rig? Jordan Wylie is the CEO of Merrevale Oil and the character is notable for going head to head with none other than Arthur Curry, Aquaman king of Atlantis. Two other notable JLA members were referenced as well; Dr. Hamilton (played by Richard Schiff) is notable for being a high ranking employee of Oliver Queen’s (Green Arrow himself) S.T.A.R. Labs in the comics, even Hal Jordan’s (Green Lantern) scorned love interest and eventual enemy Star Sapphire makes an appearance in the form of Air Force Captain Carol Ferris (the girl who said Supe was “kinda hot” in the last scene of the movie).
Some more obscure references would include the Sullivan’s Truck and Tractor scene in one of Clark’s flashback scenes (a reference to possibly Chloe Sullivan, a character created specifically for the WB series Smallville), and a brief introduction of Lana Lang during the school bus flashback (Lana was Clark’s first love interest and played the primary love interest during Smallville). In a scene where Zod and Supe were heading directly toward each other (the scene from the trailer) you’ll notice a Blaze Comics logo. In the DCU, Blaze Comics published the exploits of the superhero Booster Gold, a superhero that travels back in time from the 25th Century to fight crime with technology from his time. But I think of the most compelling Easter eggs has to be the possibility of Kara Zor-El, Superman’s cousin who eventually takes up the name Supergirl (and eventually Power Girl). In a digital comic that will be bundles with the Man of Steel blu ray combo pack, it’s revealed that Kara was in fact the one who was piloting the crashed Kryptonian ship that landed on Earth 20,000 years prior to the story’s opening. While Kara’s fate is uncertain, I don’t know what to make of this, this would mean that rather than Kara being Kal’s cousin, she is his ancestor? But if you remember those pods in the Fortress of Solitude scene, one was open and empty while the rest held the dead bodies of Kryptonians.
All these are very brief and would honestly only be noticed by some of the funnybook faithful, but nonetheless… it’s intriguing to think that they are already laying the groundwork for future films in the DC Cinematic Universe. I just hope this doesn’t end up like the scene from the first Iron Man film that teased at The Mandarin then eventually fizzling the way it did in Iron Man 3… I’m still pissed at that. As far as this film is concerned, I am very pleased with the way they handled General Zod. You could honestly feel a sense of empathy with him and in some ways can relate with his greater mission. Though cold and calculating, he also had such a great love for his people that it drove him to commit unspeakable acts of violence. Michael Shannon's portrayal damn near stole the show in many respects, I don't believe I'll watch it again in theaters, but I will get it when released for home viewing solely for the sake of Michael Shannon's General Zod.
Zack Snyder has directed some great comic book adaptations, 300 still sits as one of my favorite films and Watchmen is so fantastic my little geek heart exploded, so why was Man of Steel such a let down? My hypothesis is that this type of comic book story is foreign to Snyder. He did great with gritty and ultraviolent stories like 300 and Watchmen. But such a bright comic book story going so dark just created an ill-fitting tone for this character. Even the way that Superman snaps General Zod’s neck in the final scene, that was not Superman in any way shape or form.
I saw it with my dad (with the rest of my family in tow) and while the movie did disappoint me, it didn’t ruin the weekend, I still spent an awesome day with my own personal super man (dad). But in closing, I hope they get it together and learn from their mistakes, don't bring back Nolan or Goyer to pen the sequel and Snyder needs to find a happy balance between his “style” and the history of the character. I just hate to see DC just not catch a break with any non-Batman property.