There is no question that Man Of Steel is one of the most polarizing comic book films ever made. Its fans hail it as one of the best ever in the genre while its detractors accuse it of ignoring the core of what makes the character Superman special. I am going to propose three minor changes to the film that, had they happened, would have fixed Man Of Steel.
I can already hear the angry chorus of fans “MOS doesn’t need any fixing!”. To be clear, what I mean by “fixing” is simple changes that would not alter what seems to be the core of Snyder/Goyer’s vision, but would alleviate most of the complaints of those who did not like the film.
As most of you know, and full disclosure for those who do not, I was one of the many Superman fans who walked into MOS with incredible excitement and anticipation, and left utterly disappointed with a hollow feeling in my heart. It took me a while to identify why the movie missed the mark for me because most of it IS good. Heck, most of it is absolutely fantastic!
The core issue for me, and for most it seems, who are down on the film is that Superman didn’t seem morally exceptional. Yes, he saved people when the opportunity arose and saved the entire planet in the finale (although it could be argued that was out of self interest as Kal himself had nowhere else to live). There were other scenes, however, where his apparent lack of concern for human life actually disturbing. They have been well documented and argued, so I won’t repeat them here. Instead I will explain how the three worst offenses could have been remedied.
1. The first is the tornado scene. The scene starts with Clark, played by Cavill, arguing with Pa Kent about whether or not Clark will take over the family farm. The scene is confusing from the start because Clark is arguing like a bratty teenager but Cavill is at clearly at least 25 years old. The scene ends with Pa Kent sacrificing himself so Clark’s powers stay secret. The effect of this is that Clark ends up looking like an immature, cowardly man, selfishly letting his father die, while Pa Kent ends up looking like a strangely overprotective parent who would rather sacrifice his life instead of letting his adult child make decisions for himself. It has been suggested that Clark is supposed to be 15 or 16 in this scene. If that is the case, using Cavill as Clark was a terrible mistake. Cavill is a huge man in his 30’s. Trying to pass him off as a teen was an impossible task doomed to fail from the start.
The solution would have been to have Dylan Sprayberry, the actor who played the thirteen year old Clark in other scenes, play Clark in this scene as well. He may have been younger than Snyder wanted, but trying to make him look a bit older would have been far more successful than trying to make Cavill look younger. Would the scene have been perfect? Probably not. Pa Kent’s sacrifice is strange. It would, however, have made the scene work emotionally and made the sacrifice understandable, if questionable.
2. The second scene is the one leading up to the battle in Smallville. General Zod, trying to find the Codex, is threatening Ma Kent for information. Superman zooms in, tackles Zod, flies him through a grain elevator and into downtown Smallville, causing a 7-11 gas station to explode. Although Clark didn’t seem to intentionally mean to hurt anyone or take the battle to town, he did. The responsibility for the resulting destruction is arguably his. Although this doesn’t make Clark evil, it makes him careless and irresponsible. Those qualities mixed with Superman level powers make for a very dangerous being indeed. Like Lenny in Steinbeck’s Of Mice And Men, Clark apparently lacks the mental and emotional capacity to handle his physical strength. This is not the Superman many fans expected.
A good fix would be to have Clark take Zod out to a corn field for a good pummeling. Zod momentarily gets the upper hand, notices the town, and takes the fight downtown, perhaps to exploit Clark’s weakness of caring for humans. We could have had a moment where Clark’s expression shows he is worried for the people in town. This whole thing would have required no dialogue and would have taken 5-10 seconds.
3. The final and worse scene is in Metropolis right after the world engine is destroyed. Superman has just save Lois who fell out of the plane before it crashed into the Kryptonian ship and caused a black hole to form (she was somehow falling while everything else was being sucked into the singularity, but whatever). They land, kiss and Lois says “They say it’s all down hill after the first kiss”. Clark responds “I’m pretty sure that’s only if you are kissing a human”. This is an absolutely horrible scene. Forget for a second that their kiss feels weird as they don’t really seem to have had time to develop feelings for each other. The real problem is that neither of them seem to care that tens of thousands of people have just been killed. On top of that, Clark’s lack of concern for the people killed because of his fight with another Kryptonian is highlighted by the fact that he makes a joke about Kryptonians being superior to humans! I found this scene to be truly ghoulish. Like that moment in a murder mystery when you discover the character you trusted is actually a sociopathic killer.
The solution would have been for them to land, look around in horror at the destruction, and embrace. Not only would it have expressed Clark’s concern for humans, it would have established Clark and Lois developing a real connection, instead of forcing one with an ill-placed kiss.
Superman is not a rampaging brute led by his emotions, like the Hulk, or even a warrior who loves a good fight and can lose himself in the thrill of battle, like Thor. Superman is interesting in part because he is the most powerful person in the room, but his strong sense of morality, responsibility and protecting others leads him to operate with a careful restraint. I like the idea of him having a learning curve where he realizes these things, but it should have happened before his mid 30’s.
The scene that probably got the most attention didn’t deserve it. Superman snapping Zod’s neck was not only understandable, but dramatically powerful. He had no choice, as there was no way on Earth to contain Zod. Putting Superman in a no win situation was brilliant. It would have been more powerful if Superman had been established as a caring, moral person.
Well, there you have it. My take on how to fix Man Of Steel. Sadly, Snyder doesn’t have me on speed dial.
Agree? Disagree? Think I need to stop putting Jamesons in my Cheerios? Let me know below. And, if you actually happen to like what I said, please hit the red glove!