I've been asked by a few people on this website and among the core readers of my social media to toss my hat in on Man of Steel
. Especially, in the wake of my recent Batfleck editorial
. I don’t believe I have any more relevant argument over what's been presented already, in similar fashion, for or against; as has been for (say) Affleck being cast in the Man of Steel
sequel. No, I don’t really think so. But I do have a strong take of what may happen in the upcoming film, and I base a lot of those notions on what I observed in Snyders view of our favorite Kryptonian. I’ll give you my take on Man of Steel (first) in this editorial piece, and I’ll add my minor vision on the future of Man of Steel 2: Superman vs Batman, as a follow up editorial In the days to come.
Man of Steel was a very heavy handed character epic. “What the F*** are you talking about Camacho?” It was a movie made with the intention of jump starting your imagination, and interpretation of a character we’ve known for so long into a completely new and modern audience. There were only so many ways it could have been done. In truth, the character really is not that complex. We can almost completely, in an oversimplified manner, qualify his archetype into three basic rules.
The first, "Superman is an extremely loving character, raised by extremely loving, and wholesome, heartland type parents; which will shape his exacting compassion, and his love of humanity".
The second, "Superman does everything in his power to save everyone, all the time. His real complexity comes from having the power that anyone with a superhero complex wishes he/she had, not from the fact that he is himself a superhero."
The third, "Superman does what is right, all the time."
These are three basic concepts that surround Kal-El, and because of these three basic concepts, we have an extremely simple and basic character, at least in ideology. The remainder of what is needed? To add things that affect his life. In truth, very little would affect him, he’s invulnerable; yet he places himself in a responsible role for the people on the planet because of what he can do. Inherently affecting his choices and behaviors.
When you understand this in a very basic and specific manner, you can start to understand that he can easily be an extremely boring character. Because of this, you have to define him by the villains and the victims in his story. That’s going to be the difference in a film that is epic over a film that's simply a flopping bore.
With that said, I love this movie, more than I did the previous entry, Superman Returns, which was more of a character Bible, as opposed to an epic. A visual roller coaster of "look at all the cool shit I can do!" as opposed to, who he really is, and what he should be doing. With a twist of unexplored rape, as a consequence of a Lois Lane pregnancy. A joke, made eloquently by Kevin Smith.
Man of Steel on a grand scale accomplished a sense of wonder, and epic showcasing of the character himself, alongside a set of epic characters. Even if the film itself was not completely overwhelmingly epic. It was more artistic in approach then it was technical in it's story. To me that translated extremely well on screen, and will beautifully blend into the next set of films that DC/WB is planning, and herald itself, finally, as ground zero for a DCCU.
Man of Steel presented the audience with a few things that helped us peek into Snyder’s window of a Superman vision. He created some background for his homeworld, and visually constructed his culture. What we saw was primarily a sterile group of people that seemed like an attempt at a crass set of Vulcans from Star Trek, more than anything else. However we immediately understood a very important “State of Plot” point in the film. The Kryptonian civilization is all cloned from “Genesis” chambers and are essentially unable to reproduce. Kal-El is the first child to be born naturally in a very long time.
Why is this important? Other than continuing to look at the baby Jesus of comic book history and reinterpreted his origin, it’s not, it is however significant in understanding General Zod.
Zod, in Superman II was simply a madman, a criminal, a mega-maniacal dictator, with aspirations of godhood. Someone who wanted to dominate and rule Krypton with an iron fist, “Kneel before Zod!’, as he’d say; was a mantra that become well known in our pop culture. However, this is not at all the Zod that was brought to the screen. Even if many of you (including myself) were hoping to hear the popular phrase again in this iteration. Snyder's Zod was bred specifically to protect his people. I consider him almost like an android of sorts that became self aware and simply realized that the people in power are the truly dangerous criminals. He then took steps to remove them to handle the various impending problems his world was facing that they ignored.
Michael Shannon’s Zod was an amazing addition in this film, and I think most people either, misunderstood him and wanted desperately for Zod to cry out his usual tirade of demands to kneel before him. Or that he was operating under very specific programming, hardcoded into his DNA, to save his people; even if that meant killing all of us.
We as an audience can relate to what we know. Psychology tells us this; fear is generally born from the misunderstanding of things that are unknown. But we also have no mercy toward a variety of lesser beings, as viewed by our perspective. Example, we mercilessly destroy ants under our heels without a second thought. Zod and his crew looked upon humanity as nothing. We may look similar; that was of no consequence, we're still nothing to Zod and his people. You can ascertain this as the difference between good and evil, but there it is. We were simply lesser beings.
Kal-El was raised here, with our sensibilities, and understanding for compassion. Faora-Ul told him “You’re weak Son of-El…Unsure of yourself…The fact that you possess a sense of morality, and we do not, gives us an evolutionary advantage…” That is specific to the understanding that there is no morality operating in their code. You can decide to translate this as the “Kryptonians are evil” but that is arguably (and) heavily short sighted. You're comic book fans; look at the deeper meaning.
We never saw Zod demand for slaves or servants. If anything Zod wanted to completely wipe out the ants (us) from the planet. Consider when Superman crashed into the genesis ship; Zod didn't yell out some quip about how he was going to destroy Superman. He didn't begin to monologue as most conceptual villains would. His immediate concern was the “lives” on that ship; For his people. When Superman destroys the ship, proclaiming Krypton had its chance. He was in effect using the lesson learned, given so harshly, by Faora-Ul. He was removing morality from the equation. It was not easy for him to do so, but this is what he resorted toward. Zod, while operating under no morality, discernible to us the audience and humans in general, was equated in my mind to a fallen angel. A being that is created to function under a specific set of tasks; that if not accomplished, the pain in his body, heart, mind, and soul suffers until he is brought back to purpose. For angels in the christian faith that’s praising god, for Zod, it’s honoring and protecting his people. Even if it means resurrecting them on the corpses of lesser beings.
"How many ants would you kill to save your families? Your city? Your country? Your world? How many ants?"
Zod was never truly a villain, and this particular conflict, brought a tremendous amount of depth to Kal-El, which forced him to deal with his sensibilities. Even with the eventual need to kill Zod; something that drove a lot of fans crazy.
I’ll be blunt. Do I care about “fanboys”, I’ll use that term in its present negative vernacular, going crazy over this? No, hell no, to be (again) blunt. This is not the comics, and it’s a completely different re-imagining of the character. We've known all there is to know about Superman, and how perfect he is. This was a "perfect" opportunity to redefine him, and while we see a slightly darker, realistic version of him, I loved every moment. Because he isn't really watered down with bullshit ideals that are nearly impossible to maintain. Yes I think he represents an ideology, but I also think the ideology can coexist with this version of the man, flaws and all.
So the real arguments we see here are actually based on the questions of morality and how you define the qualities of morality, which is already subjective to the observer as a separation between good and evil, right or wrong. This is what's complex about Man of Steel and makes it so Epic. In short, you route for both the perceived and expected good guy, Superman; but you feel for the perceived and expected bad guy, Zod. “Duality, ain't it a bitch!”
This is a bit simpler, perhaps not, bare with me. For a long time, growing up with comics I always thought Lois and anyone else that didn't recognize Superman, were dumber than dirt. While I get the total notion that the persona of Clark is really Superman’s ultimate judgment of who humans are. Clumsy, weak, fools, who disregard what is in front of them. I also feel like Lois should have been immediately onto him. When that relationship was exercised in this film with her investigative abilities bringing her right to his doorstep, I applauded. Because that is something that while not really part of the original comics, it’s something that was idiotic in the original comics.
"Blasphermor! DIE CAMACHO DIE! Wait...shit, no, you're right Macho, carry on!"
Clark's "judgment" on humanity, was only a perpetual statement to assist the notion that we were a bunch of idiots, because Lois is supposed to be an amazing award winning reporter, yet had no clue who he was. This turn of events in the film was just falling in line with some Nolan-esque story telling. In truth, it was refreshing, and made total sense. She is pretty much the one that knows Clark's secret, there is no stupid pretense, no total idiot bumbling…Reeve’s did that, and he is an institution; just forget Superman III and IV ever happened. Actually, in fact don’t forget, and go watch those movies, then come back and complain some more about Man of Steel. If you still want to bitch about this film, go look up “Superman Reborn / Lives”
and consider we might have had a Nick Cage, Tim Burton Superman back in the 90’s. In that light and perspective, this film was absolutely a grace to CBM fans.
I've read quite a lot of complaints against the manner in which Jonathan Kent died. I can understand, and to some degree would have wondered if this could have translated into his need to save others, because he was not allowed to save his earth born father. But it ended up being much more poetic. It also helped cement the duality in Clark's persona. The inner conflict he would have to undergo being raised as a human, but the ability and strength to function above human morality. It was necessary to see the sacrifice. It was short, sweet, to the point, and relevant.
Atmospheric weakness, this is probably the oddest issue I was bothered by most; during the course of this film. I'm sure others may have had their issues with this aspect as well, but, for me it was just a bit odd, and slightly off putting. I will admit, I thought it was definitely a clever addition to the already low list of weaknesses that existed against Superman, which have always been Kryptonite and Magic. But it didn't make a whole lot of sense to me that this mechanic was used, allowing Zod’s forces to be normal on their ship, and empowered on Earth; even while sucking down their own atmosphere in their special battlesuits. Surely the amount of time they’d be on earth in comparison to Clark should have shown some differences in power levels. Surely, was not the right word for me to think of. They were all essentially the same, regardless of time spent on the planet. Zod, of course, and his crew were also trained in a variety of ways "...I was Bred for Combat..." as Zod put it, which more than likely was a huge disadvantage for Kal-El, as generally he never had to rely on more than his powers.
It also didn't matter that while taking in Kryptonian atmosphere the sun was still affecting them on the surface. Yet Clark was losing his abilities on their ship, while taking in the same atmosphere, even when sunlight was visible for him from the ship. Yes, true, it wasn't direct sunlight, and we can easily argue that the ship was protected against solar radiation. But something here was a bit disconnected. Because the moment the atmosphere was changed back to Earths', Clark was fine, and now it was the Kryptonians that showed no dysfunction on a ship full of Earth-based atmosphere. That's just a nitpick, I accept that.
We never see Kryptonite in this film, it's never brought up. Only the concept of different atmospheric conditions, which was also used as a doomsday catalystic concept in the film. This made for great movie making, but it also left a lot of random issues open, like a festering wound in terms of the characters origins and innate weaknesses.
What we really get in exploration, isn't Superman's weakness to an already known object in the comics (absent in the film), and whether or not, this is going to become a future weakness in the next set of films. It becomes a character driven set of weaknesses. To a degree an unspoken understanding that some of Superman's purist weaknesses were specific to his mental release of his own morality, his need to separate himself from being both Kryptonian and being Human.
A large aspect of Superman's morality in the comics, animated series, and features, comes from his need to believe in the greater good in all peoples. Man of Steel definitely answered the question if Kal-El would remain this ideological. Part of the observed behavior in all the media in the past is his staunch efforts and protection of the shrunken city of Kandor. His need to preserve and protect the people within. In this film, there is no Brainiac (obviously) but the concept of his Kryptonian people existing in another form that could have been protected, he completely abandons and ignores.
What we have in Man of Steel, and essentially paved the path for the next films is an un-watered down version of Superman that has forcefully been shed of many of the moral, mental, and societal ideological weaknesses we've seen in a number of interpretations. Which eliminates his biggest weakness in most iterations, his need to preserve everything around him. Also demonstrated in extremely visual and impactful ways in the film, with the essential havoc raised in his final battle against Zod, that spared no location, and really didn't take any heed of population. As it all culminated to the largest expression of demonstration for the difference we have in this Superman; the ability to kill.
It was the final shed of an old set of moralities, that are no longer relevant. I know a lot of fans hated this part of the film. I have to say it's not really fanboys raving about this. It's a lot of mixed fans, mainstream and hardcore, with a lot of personal feelings on the subject. It is a difficult thing to see changed, especially if those angered by it understand a lot of what I just pointed out above, because of the feeling of losing a character completely. But in truth, we've gained a very glorious and modern interpretation of the character with a variety of moral implications. Implications that confront each of us (as fans) with our own moral qualms, as much as the Man of Steel is defined by those same personal moral qualms.
Overall, while I disliked the use of the atmospheric weakness concept, it makes perfect sense, and is of course another potential Nolan signature infiltrating Snyder's direction from a producorial point of view to attempt to maintain things on a realistic keel. The impacts of the moral story in the film, as it pertains to weakness, was far more edifying to me; as opposed to having seen the already known and expected use of Kryptonite, which was left out.
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