Chat Cave: Man of Steel

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Between the commercial success of a near-constant stream of Marvel Studios Avengers movies and the critical success of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, there are impossible expectations for Man of Steel. Expectations like reigniting the public’s love for Superman; expectations like launching a blockbuster film franchise; expectations like being any good in its own right. Zach Snyder’s Superman slug-fest has a lot to accomplish. Does it achieve any of that? Welcome to the Chat Cave.

Drew: Like many comics fans, I was incredibly excited by the teaser trailer for this movie. In spite of the trailer’s own prominent reminder that Zach Snyder directed both Watchmen and 300, it felt like this movie got Superman. Indeed, the trailer trades in Snyder’s standard embarrassing music cues and slow-motion punches for meditative statements about Superman’s power as a symbol. Between story credits by Dark Knight Trilogy scribe David S. Goyer and director  Christopher Nolan, I dared hope that Man of Steel might be to Superman what The Dark Knight films were to Batman: an operatic drama that understands the defining nature of the hero.

Then I read Mark Waid’s reaction. His assertion that the film fundamentally misunderstood what makes Superman Superman didn’t bode well, but I held out hope that he was maybe just being overprotective — the movie does borrow a great deal from Birthright, after all. Perhaps Waid’s perception of what Superman is or isn’t is stricter than mine — maybe, just maybe, I could enjoy the movie anyway. Unfortunately (though not surprisingly), Waid’s assessment is spot-on. The first third is a fantastic Superman story (I’m particularly impressed with Amy Adams’ Lois Lane), but the rest forgets who Superman is, allowing him to become a distillation of who we are, rather than who we can be. It uses Superman to make us feel okay about the shitty decisions we’ve made in a post-9/11 world, where he really could (and I think should) inspire us to be better. Basically, I think The Dark Knight was a more successful Superman film, which makes no fucking sense.

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Shelby: This movie was not what I expected. I’m not totally sure what it was that I expected, but this movie wasn’t it. It took me a while to figure out how I felt about it. The movie itself was gorgeous; if there’s one thing Zach Snyder can do well, it’s make visually stunning movies. I called it “destruction porn,” it’s almost overwhelming the magnitude of destruction that takes place. Adams was great as Lois; she is curious enough to get herself into trouble, but I never got the impression that she was helpless. I think having her know Clark’s identity is a smart move. If she’s supposed to be this incredible investigative journalist, there’s no way a simple pair of glasses would fool her. The friends I saw the movie with said that it was insulting to think that she wouldn’t have been able to see through such a flimsy disguise.

Drew, you say that this Superman was only a reflection of who we are instead of an inspiration to humanity to be better. You say that’s a negative, but I think that is the strength of this movie. Snyder’s Superman is a reflection of the goodness of people; the movie highlights the human side of Clark. It shows us his struggles growing up with his powers, his desire as a boy to use his power against those who would hurt him, and most importantly it shows us his journey to the realization of his responsibility to the rest of us. It could very well be that this movie gets everything about who Superman is wrong; personally, I think that focusing on the human weaknesses that Clark has to balance with his alien strength make for a far more compelling character, one I am more interested in. Maybe I’m the wrong person to ask; my apathy towards Superman is well-documented here at the non-existent Retcon Punch offices. Odds are I would much prefer a Superman story that got him more wrong than right.

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Mikyzptlk: Superman is supposed to be the perfect hero, the one that others should look upon for inspiration. A big part of this is his “no-killing” rule that he’s seemed to develop throughout the years. This rule of his has seemingly been accepted by the vast majority of other DC heroes. Normally, that’s all well and good, but when Wonder Woman snapped the neck of Maxwell Lord during the build-up of Infinite Crisis, everybody lost their minds. Superman could no longer trust Wonder Woman, and it would be years before that trust was restored. Here’s the thing about that though, Wonder Woman had to kill Max Lord. The dude had literally taken over the mind of the most powerful guy on the planet. Lord even stated, flat out, that he’d never relinquish control of Superman again. Lord forced Diana’s hand in that moment, and she did something that Amazons are fairly well known for doing. She made a difficult choice, and she saved the day.

When watching Man of Steel, I let out an audible gasp when I saw Superman snap General Zod’s neck. My first thought was that it wasn’t right, that Superman would never cross that line. Or would he? Taking a life is something that no one should ever have to do, but there are times, in the world we live in, where taking a life is the only option left. When I watched that scene, I didn’t see Zod threatening a handful of tourists with his heat-vision, I saw Zod threatening to kill the entire human race.  If left alive, either somehow imprisoned by Earth’s forces or even trapped in the Phantom Zone, Zod would return to decimate the planet. Superman understood this, and in that moment, he knew he had to make that awful choice. Was it right? No, and killing never is. As ugly as his decision was, I felt a legitimacy to his actions. So, as long as he doesn’t make killing a regular part of his modus operandi, I still think this Superman will be able to inspire a whole new set of heroes, on-screen and off.

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Patrick: Frankly, it doesn’t bother me that this Superman would kill Zod. I’m not even convinced that this movie cares about that – the first time that question even comes up is during the final fight when Zod says “This ends one of two ways: I die or you die.” Up until that point, Clark doesn’t state his preference for non-lethal action once. If there’s a moral choice that the film is interested in, it’s whether Clark should hide from humanity, or sacrifice his anonymity to protect the Earth. That’s the point of the every flashback to Clark’s childhood, but it’s a moral dilemma that fizzles into nothing when Clark fucking chooses both – he can protect mankind and still punch down government drones that try to find out where he lives.

And that’s my major beef with this movie: it doesn’t know what message it wants to send, but it’s so fucking eager project something meaningful. There’s a moment where Superman is fighting Zod’s second-in-command, and she taunts him by saying that “history has taught us that evolution always wins” (paraphrasing). For the life of me, I can’t tell what the hell she’s talking about: which of them is supposed to be “more evolved?” Are the Kryptonians more evolved than the humans? It doesn’t make any sense, but it sure puts up the facade of profundity. And while that’s a criticism that I think can be fairly extended to all of Snyder’s films, that is pointedly not what I expect from a story penned by David Goyer and Christopher Nolan.

33 comments on “Chat Cave: Man of Steel

  1. I saw Man of Steel on opening night and I am still at this very moment conflicted about it. I think that this is a movie that I won’t really know how I feel about until I see I watch it on iTunes 6 months from now, after I’ve had a good long time to process it. Interestingly enough I watched The Dark Knight Rises over the weekend and that was the first time I’d seen the movie since watching it three times over the first ten days it was released. I found that I enjoyed the movie much more on this viewing than in theaters and all the “plot-holes” that people had pointed out previously just kinda faded away.

    As for Man of Steel here are my big take aways:

    BIG PLUS for not being a Marvel movie. This is in no way meant as a shot at Marvel but if this is going to be the template for the cinematic DC Universe I was happy to see that it was more inspired by the Dark Knight Trilogy than the brighter, lighter Marvel Movies. If there are going to be 2-3 Comic Book movies a year than the two universes need to feel different. The Marvel universe will be bright, cheerful, fun and popcorn where the DC universe will be more grounded, darker, and oozing with subtext.

    HUGE MINUE for Superman NOT saving a dog. I don’t mean a literal dog here, but after he puts on the symbol of hope I can’t remember him ever going out of his way to save the little guy. For me that is a big part of who Superman is. He cared about the human race but never about all the people that died in all the destruction he caused in Metropolis.

    ??? for Superman killing Zod. I still don’t know what I think about this. I do like the fact that he immediately showed remorse for it but the Boy Scout doesn’t kill. That said he murdered Zod with a SMILE in Superman II and killed him again in John Byrne’s Man of Steel. I don’t think I can properly score this until after Man of Steel II comes out to see if this is addressed.

    HUGE PLUS for making me understand why Clark becomes Superman. Let’s return to Superman: The movie. Why does Clark become Superman? Just ‘cus. For me this was the single best thing about the movie and why the last 1/4 has me so conflicted about how I feel about it overall. Snyder & Goyer did a fantastic job of really showing us why Clark becomes Superman. They showed a scared young boy and teenager who wanted to help but knew the world would fear/reject him. We saw him spend years trying to cope and isolate himself with his true nature always coming through. LOVED LOVED LOVED THIS!!!! Can’t say enough about this. When I rewatch this movie these are the scenes I will go back to again and again.

    MINUS for being two different movies. The first three quarters of the movie was very character driven and then all of sudden a Michael Bay movie broke out.

    PLUS for Amy Adams. This single best version of Lois I’ve ever seen. I’ve never liked Lois before but I quickly found myself rooting for this version.

    MINUS for no General Lane. General Lane is THE Military connection in the Superman universe AND Lois’s father how did he get left out of the movie?

    PLUS for explaining Zod’s motivations. Do you remember Superman: The Movie or Superman II. What was Zod’s motive? Oh wait, he didn’t have one. He was just evil because….the plot called for it. Here Zod was given a real origin story with pathos and a motivation for going after Clark. He showed deep regret for killing Jor-El and as much as I would not have made the same choices he did they did an excellent job at making them seem like choices that he would have made.

    MINUS for too much distruction of both Smallville and Metropolis. I’ve covered this a lot and so have others.

    PLUS for super speed fights! I really liked the way that superspeed was shown in the movie. Bring on a Bart Allen movie!

    MINUS for their being Dragons on Krypton and the General look of Krypton. I did not like this. Dragons on Krypton are stupid. enough said.

    MINUS for lack of classic Superman theme. It’s one of the most iconic themes of all time and really captures the hope of epicness of the character. Should have been used at some point.

    PLUS for All-Star Superman reference. – “You will give the people of Earth an ideal to strive towards. They will race behind you. They will stumble. They will fall. But in time, they will join you in the sun. In time, you will help them accomplish wonders”
    The greatest line from the greatest Superman story. Just cutting and pasting that gave me goosebumps!

    One final note, I actually find Superman: The Movie quite enjoyable but that ending is the worst. That said, I the guy who thinks that Batman & Robin is the best of the Burton/Shumacher films so maybe you are better off just ignoring this 800+ word review.

    • I completely agree with your take on the tone of this movie. If DC will be the more grounded one, I’m down. I just hope that they lighten up JUST A BIT. Like, someone needs to bring a bit of comic relief. Flash and GL, I’m looking at you!

      As for Superman killing: By your own admission, Superman does kill. He’s killed in the comics, he’s killed in the movies. He’s killed. It doesn’t make him a villain, precisely because of how he reacts afterwards. I would agree that this should be addressed in the next movie though. I don’t want him to be all mopey about it though. I’d find it believable if Superman would simply admit he was pushed to do something he thought he was never capable of, and that, if he could help it, he’d never do it again.

      P.S. General Lane/ Lex Luthor team-up in MoS 2!

      • This is a slippery slope to go down. If you start saying that Superman (or Batman for that matter) did this in the comics or the movies once ergo he can do it now then almost anything is game. Originally in the comics Batman used a gun. In the 50’s Serial Batman was a government agent hunting down “japs”. In the Burton-verse Batman kills people like it’s going out of style.
        Superman also had a thing for punching “japs” during WWII and made a Porno in the 80’s (THIS ACTUALLY HAPPENED – IN CONTINUITY AND EVERYTHING!!!!)
        http://www.wired.com/table_of_malcontents/2007/01/action_comics_t/
        I mean there is entire website devoted to example of Superman being a jerk.
        http://superdickery.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=category&id=28&Itemid=31
        So I guess the question is “Who is your Superman?”

      • But Superman killing never makes sense. He can always do something else — he’s Superman. Like, I think it would have been more interesting if he had moved to shield those people from Zod’s heat vision with his own body. Show us that he wants to protect people — that he’s willing to do the hard thing to protect them. Patrick is right — this movie utterly fails to make “will he/won’t he kill?” any kind of struggle for Clark.

        Honestly, though, my biggest beef is that he wins by just being better at fighting. Like, he wasn’t smarter, more cunning, or show any more heart than Zod, he just managed to be in a position to break his neck first. Superman is a lot of things, but “most willing to break necks” shouldn’t be one of them.

        • This right here. Any of the drama that we’re getting out of Superman’s decision to kill Zod is predicated on our understanding of who Superman is OUTSIDE of this movie. “Superman doesn’t kill” isn’t something anyone in the world of this movie ever would have said – there’s no precedent for that kind of thinking in the movie.

          And it’s not like there wasn’t any room to establish that sort of thing – I mean, we get two separate graphic recountings of the Fall of Krypton.

        • Ok, he jumps in front of heat vision…then what? Superman needed to put Zod down for good. He showed us that he wants to protect people by taking out Zod and the Kyrptonians. Idk, I was fine with it.

          My biggest beef was with some of the presentation. Superman’s reveal needed to be…more. Also, there was simply too much destruction. I think Mark Waid said this, but Superman needed to at least TRY to move the fight somewhere else.

          Other than that, the movie good, not great, but good. I’m looking to move on, get a better sequel, and get this Justice League franchise up and running.

        • But, like, Superman takes the Kansas fight from the fields to downtown Smallville, and their final fight knocks over skyscrapers. Superman allowed this to happen. He could have punched Zod to the moon, or at least out to the middle of nowhere, but instead they fight in the middle of the most heavily populated city in the DC Universe. Suddenly, he cares about four innocent bystanders? He should have been caring (and taking pains to protect) innocent people all along, but he never does. Superman Unchained does this so naturally, I just can’t forgive this movie for neglecting to show even a glimmer of that compassion.

        • I agree with that point, he should have tried to move the fight. But whatever, I still had a lot of fun watching the movie. Like I said, it wasn’t perfect, but it’s not a bad movie either. It’s a decent start to what will hopefully be a great DC movie universe.

        • You know that I don’t really care about what Superman “should” be – but it does seem like a huge fucking character flaw. I just wish it was treated as such – like that he expressed any fear about the destruction being out of control. Instead he just sort of cooly accepts the win.

        • No, I think caring deeply for humanity, and doing everything he can to protect it are defining character elements — far more important than the cape or the spit-curl. We can debate all day about what defines a character, but I’m willing to say that Superman should inspire hope.

    • I don’t see how 2014 could work unless Goyer already had half the script done or they filmed a bunch of extra Kevin Costner/Young Clark stuff for future films so that the child actors wouldn’t age. That said, this movie had a lot of postive buzz for months leading up so they probably thought that the odds of a sequal were extreamly high…so who knows!

      • Yeah, we’ll see. The thought of them putting out another movie makes me a bit uncomfortable, but like you said, they could have been planning this all along. The amount of dough they spent on marketing this movie certainly shows how much they believed in the movie, so it’s possible. I wonder if they are planning on getting any other properties in before MoS 2. I know there’s been talk of Wonder Woman and Aquaman. Although, why Flash isn’t being mentioned right now is beyond me. I want Flash and Quicksilver to go head-to-head at the theatres. You know Flash always comes out ahead in that race!

  2. I’ve still not seen Man of Steel (for shame!), but I just rewatched Superman 2 (Donner Cut). Correct me if I’m wrong, but Zod dies there too, when Supes turns him into a puny human and drops him into the abyss. What’s the beef?

    • I haven’t seen the Donner cut in a few years, but when this came up on twitter, Mark Waid said that we actually see them being loaded into a police cruiser after that scene. I vaguely remember that, but I’m mostly willing to trust Waid’s encyclopedic knowledge of all things Superman.

      • Waid is kinda right but not really. There was a scene that was only in the TV Version of the movie that shows Artic Cops (Mounties?) taking them away. However that was NOT in the theatrical version. Zod was thrown down a bottomless pit, gleefully, by Superman.

        • Ah — I think this might be about the different cuts floating around, though, right? Are you referring to Donner’s cut, or by “theatrical version,” do you mean the Richard Lester cut?

        • I mean the only one that was ever in theaters – The Lester cut. There was also an expanded Lester version for TV that included the Artic Cops. The Donner version, although technically existing, is something people like to talk about but in reality very few people have seen. Except Bryan Singer of course who made a sequel to it 20 years after the fact.

        • My impression was that Donner was the preferred cut of Superman fans — probably precisely for reasons like killing Zod. To me, this just shows that the Lester cut missed the point of Superman, too, not that Man of Steel didn’t.

        • I agree that people who have seen the Donner cut of Superman II tend to like it better. My point was more that so few people have seen that version compared to the Lester theatrical release.

        • The Donner Cut is readily available on DVD/Blu-ray. Unless I missed it in my viewing the other day, I don’t recall the scene where Zod is arrested after falling into the abyss, but Superman does spin the Earth backwards again so that none of it ever happened. So, I guess technically he kills him and then unkills him.

  3. My problem with Superman killing is that he never has to — he can always take the damage, outsmart the bad guy, and win without killing. Having him kill is taking the easy way out, and I think having Superman — who is supposed to be better than the best of us — taking the easy way out is incredibly cynical. It justifies our own killing. Our own torture. Our own laziness. Superman should inspire us to be better, not assure us that our worst decisions are a-okay.

  4. Hey, so the whole “Kryptonian atmosphere in the ship depowers Superman” is bullshit right? Supes can fly around in space – his strength isn’t contingent on atmosphere.

    • Whatever. This movie thought depowering Superman was the best way to goose tension — like there was any way he wasn’t going to win. SHOW US A FUCKING EMOTIONAL STRUGGLE FOR RAO’S SAKE.

    • Admittedly, I imagined this scene away by assuming that the lights inside the ship generated Red Sunlight or something, since it is a part of Krypton’s atmosphere in a way.

      But yeah, the Earth’s atmosphere being partially responsible for Superman’s powers was pretty dumb. He’s supposed to be able to go fly around on any planet with a yellow sun, and often times even speed through space. Is he just more closely bound to Earth in these movies now?

      • This wasn’t anything new. They have often said that it was Earth sun that gave him some of his powers and I’m pretty sure they have used the “weaker gravity” thing before for flight. I don’t think it’s really that relevant as the odds of them doing a cosmic movie with Superman is pretty slim.

  5. I almost feel like this movie is the opposite of Iron Man 3 for me. I enjoyed the characterization in IM3 and I really, really appreciated the sheer gutsy decisions they made in the movie, but while watching it I still found myself getting restless at times, and there just wasn’t enough Iron Man.

    Meanwhile, in Man of Steel, I know there were issues with the movie, which you guys so ably pointed out, yet I still loved it. I loved the stuff with Clark and his parents. I loved Amy Adams and her depiction of Lois Lane, and how Lois was the actual female lead of the movie with lots of significant stuff to do, not just a damsel in distress or Superman’s love interest. And I absolutely loved, loved, loved the action.

    And the thing is, I think this movie needed action more than anything. Superman’s final fight in the last movie was against the island. This Superman movie NEEDED an intimidating physical threat to Superman and the appropriate action scenes to deal with it, and man, did it deliver. I could watch a whole movie just of the action from this movie, and while Superman’s lack of regard for collateral damage is definitely troubling, I’m just happy to see this movie have some engaging action at all, cause I think that was the biggest problem with the previous franchise.

    Of course, I’m sure they could have done all the above while still making a movie that stuck a little truer to Superman, but hopefully that will come more in the future now that the franchise is here to stay for a while. In the meantime, though, for all it’s faults I enjoyed the hell outta this movie and would like to see it again while it’s still in theaters.

    • You and Mik have both expressed hopes that the sequel will fix whatever problems you have with this one, but I don’t think that’s particularly likely. On the one hand: they’re making it because this movie is successful, so it seems likely they’d try their damndest to replicate its characterizations and tone. On the other: The Dark Knight was several times the movie Batman Begins was. I would argue that Begins got the tone and characterizations right, which allowed Dark Knight to go bigger, which makes me a little less optimistic about a second Superman movie course correcting.

      • You know, for all the money this movie made, it hasn’t exactly been a critical success, and there’s a lot of mixed opinions; I daresay it’s one of the most divisive superhero movies of all time. Whether the next installment fixes things or not depends on whether the creators pay any attention to the criticism they’ve received, I suppose, and since they’ve gotten mixed reviews, it’s possible they might.

        Then again, money talks, so it’s probably more likely that they’ll stick as closely to this formula as possible. I guess in the end I’m just an optimist, but we’ll see.

  6. THIS JUST IN – From Zac Snyder via Newsarama via somewhere else I’m sure:

    But for those who feel that this scene takes away the idea that Superman doesn’t kill – Well, not exactly. Director Zack Snyder explained:

    And the why of it was, for me, that if it’s truly an origin story, his aversion to killing is unexplained. It’s just in his DNA. I felt like we needed him to do something, just like him putting on the glasses or going to the Daily Planet or any of the other things that you’re sort of seeing for the first time that you realize will then become his thing. I felt like, if we can find a way of making it impossible for him–like Kobayashi Maru, totally no way out–I felt like that could also make you go, ‘Okay, this is the why of him not killing ever again, right?’ He’s basically obliterated his entire people and his culture and he is responsible for it and he’s just like, ‘How could I kill ever again?’

    In other words, this Superman will never kill again, because he’s already killed too much. It’s a significant change from traditional canon, but I have to admit, I kind of like it a lot.

    • That’s actually a decent explanation, but I still find myself wishing they had built it up more as a difficult choice for him. Like, he screams afterwards, but there wasn’t really any indication up until then that he would have a problem with it. I just don’t think the movie sold the drama of that decision. Either way, it’s good to hear that there was a long-term reason for it.

  7. Pingback: Superman Unchained 3 | Retcon Punch

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