Man of Steel (2013)

Let me explain a little something about Superman and me, so you know where I’m coming from. To me, Superman is more than just a story. It’s an ideal. It’s a way of life. It’s a family tradition. My father, who himself grew up in Kansas where he jumped off roofs in a homemade red cape, introduced me to the character through the 1950s Adventures of Superman show and the Fleischer animated shorts. George Reeves is and will always be Superman to me. Grant Morrison’s All-Star Superman is my favorite comic of all time, and pretty much the definitive Superman story. The character and his universe have been a source of inspiration and comfort since I was very young. You Batman fans can have that self-absorbed little psycho-bitch, me and the Boy in Blue are busy flying.

So it’s safe to say I hold anything Superman-related to a pretty high standard. No existing Superman movie to date has quite satisfied me yet, though the first film in 1978 came the closest. But at the same time, I don’t go looking for problems. The last thing I want is to dislike something Superman-related. So while I do demand quite a lot from Superman, I also try to keep an open mind about change. It took me a while to get used to, but I actually grew to love Grant Morrison’s* recent reimagining of the character in the pages of Action Comics (I would’ve actually preferred the T-shirt and jeans costume from that comic over the color-muted number he wears in this film, honestly).

[*Can you tell I like Grant Morrison? I really like Grant Morrison.]

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The point being that there’s nothing I wanted more than to love this film. I desperately wanted to love it. For the last few weeks, little else has been on my mind. I’ve literally had nightmares (as sad as that is) about it. I’ve been so afraid that the film would disappoint, either by some fault of its own or by my own obsessive fanboy hang-ups. I went in with as open a mind as I could muster. I was ready to forgive the film for quite a bit. Whatever changes they wanted to make, however they wanted to play it, as long as it stayed true to the basic spirit of Superman, I was onboard for whatever they had in store.

And what they had in store was amazing. Damn near perfect, actually… for the first hour or so. The first two acts are so close to what I’ve always wanted out of a Superman film that I was repeatedly moved to tears. A lot of this is thanks to the perfectly cast Henry Cavill, easily the best Superman since George Reeves (yeah, I said it), but most of the real tearjerker moments were due to Kevin Costner, easily the best Jonathan Kent ever onscreen. His performance is so effortless and yet, so sincere and moving. His protectiveness towards his family, his basic decency, his quiet acceptance, every scene with him is so heartfelt you can’t help but feel involved.

The first flying sequence is worth the price of admission all on its own. The scope and sense of wonder it evokes is overwhelming, as Superman rockets across the globe, through the clouds, and into space, grinning all the while. Because how can you not have fun when you’re Superman? I caught myself unconsciously whispering, “make me believe, make me believe” in a disturbingly erotic fashion that I’m sure was very uncomfortable for those sitting next to me. Zack Snyder’s always demonstrated considerable skill as a cinematic visual artist, but this trumps all of his previous work. Every scene is so grand in scale it boggles the mind. If the goal of this film was to convey the awe-inspiring majesty of Superman and his world, then mission more than accomplished.

But once Zod and his crew show up, things start slowly growing less involving. Which is a shame, because Michael Shannon is great in the role: intense, menacing, and far more three-dimensional than the classic Terence Stamp version. So it’s a shame his arrival has to mark a turn for the worse. It’s not an immediate turn; it’s very gradual, and it doesn’t kill the movie. It just doesn’t live up to the promise of the first half.

The basic problem with it comes down to emotional engagement. As I said, the first half of the film is very emotionally engaging, because the film is so focused on the characters and their personal struggles. The latter half, however, demands you distance yourself from the characters. The reason for this is simple: it wants to have fun smashing stuff. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. I often enjoy watching Superman smash stuff. This movie was sold on the promise of Superman smashing stuff. We haven’t really had the opportunity to see Superman in an all-out fight in more than twenty years, and the promise of fighting on a Superman scale is a titillating one.

So the fact that Superman smashes stuff isn’t the issue. The issue is that they got so focused on Superman smashing stuff that they neglected the larger implications of Superman smashing stuff. The film has two major battlefields in which Superman engages Zod’s men: Smallville and Metropolis. Both of which are filled with people, and both of which are so thoroughly decimated that it’s impossible to buy that, at minimum, dozens and likely thousands of people weren’t killed in the ensuing carnage. But the film consistently ignores this very real tragedy in favor of focusing on just making Superman punching stuff look really cool. Sure, there’s a handful of moments where he stops to catch someone falling, but they’re few and far between, and thus feel very token. It’s like they knew they had to show Superman saving people, but they were reluctant to do so. Superman makes no real effort to move the fight away from the city, and it’s a while before anyone tries evacuating the area, and even then there’s always plenty of people waiting around to flee from falling debris.

Even once the fighting is over, no one really takes a moment to mourn. The upbeat tone of the ending pretty much confirms that we’re meant to forget the horrific implications of what we just witnessed. So because the last act demands that you not think about it too hard in order to enjoy it as intended, it lacks the personal feel of the first two acts, and feels more cold and emotionally distant.

It’s disappointing, because the film would’ve been so much more amazing if they’d just had the courage to go there. I’ve never really held to the idea that Superman stories have to always be bright and sunny and lighthearted. I’m fine with going to dark places with the character on occasion, as long as he himself remains the hopeful, inspiring figure I know and love. Imagine if throughout the battle, we’d actually seen all those people dying. Imagine Superman rushing around trying to fend off Zod while saving people from falling debris, but repeatedly failing. Imagine him getting more and more desperate to end the fight before more people die. Imagine the weight that would carry. Imagine how perfectly that would build up to those moments during the fight where Superman is forced to do some pretty dark stuff (which I’ll try not to spoil). Imagine the potential ways a sequel could capitalize on that. Superman actually did do something similar to the way he ends the fight once in the comics, and he was so distraught and guilt-ridden, he exiled himself into space over it. I appreciate that Superman seems remorseful in the moment, but it has no real impact when it’s completely forgotten in the next scene.

Like I said, none of this ruins the movie. They never quite cross the line of how far Superman should be allowed to go. But they do walk right up to the line and teeter there teasingly for the rest of the movie. I imagine it will play better the second time around, now that I know exactly how far they mean to take things. There are other things wrong with the movie, of course: most of the supporting cast are given next to nothing to work with, and there’s one clunky MacGuffin that adds nothing and the movie is maddeningly unclear as to its purpose. But an overall fantastic cast and Zack Snyder’s direction overcome what is, all in all, a pretty weak script, and make this easily the best Superman film since the 1978 classic. It’s a fantastic experience, with just enough flaws to make me excited to see how a sequel improves upon them.

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  • Gallen_Dugall

    I fear I’m going to fall asleep during the second half. They’ve mastered the effects and forgotten the basics of how to build tension.

  • The_Stig

    The problem with Superman is that anybody can write him, but few can do it well. Why not just let Grant Morrison write everything Superman from now on?

  • Alexa

    Yeah, it seems like everytime I watch a Snyder movie I am left feeling so empty. And this movie was no different. There were many things I hated about this movie, notably how Superman had a total disregard for the people in the city when fighting Zod, along with some technical issues, like the extremely boring coloring of the movie, and the fucking shaky cam. Please for the love of god Hollywood quit it with the shaky cam. I will admit Cavill did a really good job of Superman, but I think I prefer Chris Reeves since he wasn’t dealing with such a dour script and story. Plus there was a little moment at the end where Superman acted kind of dickish for me to get behind this interpretation completely as well. In the end the movie felt joyless and cold in many respects.

    P.S. I know Batman’s intentions do seem self-absorbed, but he still has great capacity for good, and with the right writer the awesomeness of the character can really show, as seen with Paul Dini in the animated series and Arkham games. But I do admit to liking him even more when he interacts and fights alongside Superman.

    • The_Stig

      That’s what I hate about Snyder. He’s all sizzle, no steak. He comes from the Michael Bay school of film making where they don’t let common sense stand in the way of a boffo action scene.

      • Not comparable at all. Snyder is meticulous and imaginative. He pours everything into making every frame look like an Alex Ross painting. Michael Bay’s approach is much more manic and instinctual, and comes not from Childlike imagination so much as drunken, unchecked id. Snyder is about storytelling, albeit in mostly visual terms. Bay’s style is more focused on eliciting base emotional reactions rather than a cohesive narrative. And that’s not even a judgement on either of their styles either, both men are very good at what they do when they are allowed to do it properly. What I’m saying is, at their best, they are not creators of style over substance; they have rather mastered the art of style AS substance.

        • The_Stig

          Like hell he does.

    • I admit, my often hostile attitude towards Batman is more a reaction to his overexposure than anything else. I like Batman, sometimes I love Batman. It’s his fans I can’t fucking stand. I hate how he dominates the films and the comics, as if he’s the only hero DC has when they’ve a whole universe of diverse and interesting characters. I hate people who say he’s much more “realistic” & “relatable” than Superman (he is neither). And I especially hate people who think Batman should only ever be the dark ‘n gritty urban crimefighter, dismissing the fun, camp sci-fi hero of the Silver Age or the gothic horror battler of the Supernatural of the Golden Age. It’s the narrow-mindedness that gets me (come on people, comics have so much more to offer than that!), Batman’s just unfortunate enough to be the one caught in the crossfire.

      • Alexa

        No I get that completely. I think like you with Superman, I love Batman slightly more because I was exposed to him more when I was young. I love the animated series, and later Brave and the Bold, and really the love stems mostly from nostalgic fondness. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have any love for Superman either, really it depends on my mood. Some days I want to reread a Superman story, such as All Star, other days its Batman, such as Hush. And there is of course Wonder Woman with The Circle, and then there are times where I just want to see them all together being awesome, like in Kingdom Come. I have a lot of flexibility to love all them, but Batman only slightly more, but only just slightly. And really the only reason that people think Batman as more relatable is because he’s human, and thats where it kind of ends. Because beyond that it’s kind of hard to relate to a billionaire who dresses up like a bat and fights crime, is all I’m saying. :)

    • tedzey71

      I’m sorry, but this is one criticism i don’t get:

      “There were many things I hated about this movie, notably how Superman had a total disregard for the people in the city when fighting Zod”

      How is this different from times in other superhero movies where there’s collateral damage starting from the X-men movies and onwards, specifically “The Avengers?” Most of the editing made it seem like nobody was in critical condition and that it was mostly empty buildings. Hell, there are cartoons with Superman getting punched through buildings left and right! I assume it’s because in live action, it’s hard to differentiate between actual destruction and the illusion in a cartoon that makes it more accepting. Personally, some of these fight scenes really immersed me into the movie. I don’t even think the Richard Donner movies made me feel like I was flying with Superman.

      Also, and this one’s big in my book. **SPOILERS** Zod had a machine that would turn the whole WORLD into Krypton, rendering all life on the planet kaput! Even if there were casualties in Metropolis, it doesn’t measure to the fact that Superman was trying to save the whole WORLD! He was in Southern India when the machine was going off, putting himself in danger because the world was turning more into Krypton. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few! Even when Superman had to “kill” Zod (I use quotations, because it’s as effective as the Hulk putting down the abomination in the 2008 movie to which we assume he isn’t dead. If we can bring back Agent Fucking Coulsen for a tv show, chances are Zod could come back as well), he was incredibly remorseful about in, partially because Cavill’s performance as Supes was so convincing which is something we can both agree on!

      Otherwise… “total disregards” just doesn’t comprehend to me! If anything, he was incredibly aware of saving people from the start to finish of the film! I apologize!

      • Alexa

        Well we’ll have to agree to disagree, since I wasn’t talking about the machine, but the fight between Zod after the machine is destroyed. I think I would have prefered it if Superman took the fight to a different location, you know make it global, one minute they’re in Metropolis, the next space, then they’re in the Gobi desert or something, you know away from a city full of buildings to be destroyed and people that could be killed. Really Superman should have been more considerate, because thats just how I always felt he should be. Really it felt like he wasn’t killing more people than he was saving. Also I am sorry but Superman doesn’t kill, the writers should of found a better way of having Superman stop Zod, because thats always been a facet to him, he finds a way beyond killing to handle people, just watch Superman vs. The Elite, which was ten times better then this movie.

        P.S. And yes I know that in The Avengers buildings were also destroyed and such, but not to the extent that this movie did it, IMO. Also yes Cavill did an admirable job, but he still fell short to me, which mostly had to do with the terrible script and mood being placed upon him.

        • tedzey71

          It’s relative. It’s all about tone to me, and frankly the tone of this movie was supported. If I remember correctly, it was Zod who threw Supes into metropolis. I don’t think he was given much of a choice to go “Time! Let’s take this to Africa!” It didn’t seem like he was in a position when in fight to just change location. Especially since this is the first time he’s been in a fight where the odds are against him. And maybe because i’ve read a lot of comics where superheroes are considerate of the damage they cause without addressing casualties. This might seem like a tangent, but in the Hulk comics he has a default where he can destroy as much as he’d like; but nobody gets harm (aka: a writer’s loophole to excuse the destruction of the green goliath, but i digress ;-) ). That’s what I took away from this movie since the editing made it seem like… nobody really died.

          I’m hip for new interpretations. If you like your superman with all the traditional values and rules… good for you! The way Snyder put this film together seemed like something that tied together old values with something new that paid off. I’m looking forward to what’s in store next! Besides (and take this as you will), In Superman 2 did you expect that when he crushed Zod’s hand and threw him into the depths of the antarctic that he came back to life? Everytime I watch the movie, I’m convinced that he kills Zod.

          • Hulk’s an out-of-control rage monster. He’s SUPPOSED to mindlessly smash with little regard for casualties. I expect a little more from Superman.

            Also, the ending of Superman II makes no sense anyway. lol

          • tedzey71

            Specifically speaking, it actually plays a big role in the comics. Lately there was a character named Amadeus Cho that realized that every attack the hulk has made, he does not kill anybody. Re-reading “Crossroads” which was written in the mid 80s’ also mentions that he doesn’t kill. I just brought it up because it becomes this unsaid commandment of comic book movies that I accepted into with Man of Steel:

            “Thou shall cause a crapload of property damange that manages to not kill anybody unless shown directly on screen.”

          • I’ve read it said that if the Hulk had actually killed people, Bruce Banner would have found a way to make one of his frequent suicide attempts succeed.

        • tedzey71

          …I’m taking this too seriously, aren’t I?


        • I think the killing Zod thing would’ve worked if they’d given it proper gravitas. After all, the most interesting thing you can do with a character whose moral code prevents him from killing under any circumstances is to see what happens when the cruel savagery of the world forces him to break that code (see Trigun for a good example). And if there’s any villain in Superman’s rogues gallery powerful enough to force him to kill, it’s Zod. But it doesn’t work here for two reasons. First, Superman’s code against killing hasn’t been established for the audience. I’m guessing they just assumed everybody already knew that about Superman, but that’s an awfully big assumption. And if you’re going to challenge this specific aspect of him, you really need to reinforce it beforehand so it has actual meaning when the times comes. And secondly, the whole thing is forgotten in the next scene. I’m sorry, my Superman doesn’t just react to being forced the kill a guy by screaming once and then getting over it. You got into space-exile and thing about what you’ve done, mister!

          • Alexa

            Yeah again not a very script in my opinion, its all based on assumptions, which is true when it comes to knowing about his origins, but people do need to be reminded of his morals, or least allude to it. And I agree it would have worked if the act was built up to it, but they didn’t do that. And yeah Trigun is an excellent example of someone whose whole moral ground is to never kill, and is faced with the same conundrum, with a really good build up to that moment, and severe moral and emotional implications, being that Vash doesn’t just forget the next episode or even the remainder of the series, it essentially haunts him. All I can say about the film is that its a mass of lost potential.

      • It’s not really the same. For one thing this the massive scale of destruction seen here easily dwarfs anything else we’ve see before. And movies like Superman II and Avengers gave WAY more thought to the civilians safety. Superman and the Avengers where constantly saving people and organizing evacuations. Yes, the buildings we see inside when they get smashed in Man of Steel seem to be empty. But even if you assume they everybody evacuated the buildings (and we don’t see anyone evacuate till about halfway through the fight), hundreds if not thousands would’ve died the moment the World Engine started up. Plus, the movie constantly has people running around in harms way beneath falling debris yet never does Superman seem to notice. It’s just a really messed up set of priorities the movie seems to have, especially when it comes to Superman.

        • tedzey71

          You know what… screw this. Before I get an aneurysm over this one frigging scene, I’m calling it a night. It’s going nowhere, and I’ve got other things to think about. Right now, you’re over thinking a scene that’s existed in the barebones of all superhero movies. Seriously, I’m done. I’m not even going to respond back because this is not going anywhere!

          • Whoa, dude. Sorry if I upset you. Didn’t mean to be argumentative.

        • Jonathan Campbell

          Sorry, but that’s a poor comparison to make.

          a) The Avengers are a team; Clark is one man. The Avengers can organize evacuations much more easily than can Superman, simply because they have more manpower.

          b) More crucially, Shannon- Zod is a totally different beast from either Terrence Stamp-Zod or Loki and the Chitauri. Shannon-Zod was a SIGNIFICANTLY greater threat, and had he and his men faced the Avengers, and possibly if they had faced Reeve-Superman, he would have killed them all.

          The amount of destruction caused by the World Engine and Zod’s ship was greater than in those other two movies not because Superman was callous or incompetent in MoS, but because Zod was more powerful and dangerous, had access to a WMD the other villains did not, and acted the very moment he realized he didn’t have to wait on anything.

          The reason Metropolis wasn’t evacuated before Zod’s ship turned up was because nobody knew he was going there (Superman knew he was going SOMEWHERE, but he didn’t know exactly where; the only in-universe reason for choosing Metropolis was probably that Zod was a dick); the reason Superman wasn’t saving people during the crisis was that he was a little busy destroying the World Engine, sending Zod’s guys to the Phantom Zone, and getting his ass handed to him by Zod (because Zod really did control most of that fight; Clark was being punched around most of the time, and Zod didn’t let him leave).

          Put the Avengers in the same situation, pit them against Zod….dead Avengers. The Avengers humiliated Loki and weren’t impressed by the Chitauri they fought on the ground; the ones in space were taken out by a single nuke. But Zod and his men would have slaughtered them all, because they were simply more powerful, effective and ruthless.

          Its got nothing to do with his priorities; its to do with what the script wanted to happen.

  • Take a minute to consider the implications?

    The end of “Avengers” had them eating middle eastern sandwiches after thousands of people died during an alien invasion.

    It is so strange to me that while lots of people say this movie is flawed, they say it is flawed for totally different reasons, some say it is joyless, others say there is too much action, and now I read that you don’t think the ending has enough of an introspective downer aspect? I thought the thing hit a happy medium on all fronts.

    • FrankyMcShanky .

      There is no comparison. The difference in scale is mind boggling. There was very little implied death in the Avengers, at least compared to the mass genocide happening in Man of Steel.

      By the time the 4th skyscraper fell in Man of Steel I was literally throwing my hands up in the air and mumbling “You’ve got to be kidding me.” The whole last hour was a ridiculous, boring, over produced CGI fest.

      I REALLY wanted this movie to be good. I tried so hard to love it but in the end it was just a soulless turd of a movie.

      • tedzey71

        Bullcrap, there are giant chitauri monsters laying dead across buildings. There is no difference to me!

    • Beyond the fact that the difference in the scale of destruction in the two movies is astronomical (I don’t remember a single building completely collapsing in Avengers), at least Avengers had new montage during the ending wrap up showing people leaving 9/11 style memorials for lost loved ones, damage cleanup, and people questioning whether or not the Avengers are a greater danger than they are a help. Plus, the fight in Avengers gave way more thought to keeping civilians safe. Cap specifically strategized to keep the fight contained within a few blocks. He organized the police to evacuate everybody. And of course there was that scene where he saves several dozen people being attacked by the Chitauri. Superman caught like two falling people and told everybody to hide in their homes…which he then completely demolished. With the damage on such a higher scale there should’ve been more time spent saving people than Avengers, not less.

      • You know what, I can agree with that. Showing him save more people would have added to people thinking of him as a savior rather than just thinking of him as, “This man is not our enemy.” -Colonel Christopher Meloni.

        I am just more forgiving of that because I just saw him saving people on a grander scale by blowing up his race’s last arc, and seeing him chose our side with so much punch I was left feeling sort of sad and drained for him.

        I just really liked it, I can’t find anything to really complain about outside of two pacing issues (they both show Kryptons death and have JorEl explain it to Clark, you can have one or the other but you shouldn’t have both it is redundant; but then there are apparently people who still did not understand what was going on so maybe they needed to explain it again; then there was the robot tentacles in the Indian Ocean which were not as cool to fight as Faora and Non in Smallville, so it was just sort of unnecessary).

  • kamenriderkuuga

    Superman has killed his enemies in the comics. He killed Zod in Superman 2( deleted scene doesn’t count). He also killed nuclear man in the 4th one. Blame the writers, not a person who isn’t real.

  • It’s interesting that I watch this movie right around the same time as I read the Death of Superman, as I had the exact same comments on Supes’ fight with Doomsday.

    • drslump

      I didn’t feel bad when supes killed doomsday. Zod on the other hand…………
      I actually like zod in the new movie. I hope they bring him back somehow. If superman could rise from the dead, why not zod?

      • I was actually referring to the way that Supes had no compunctions about destroying every town between Ohio and Metropolis.

  • freddy

    I’ve seen a lot of the same complaint about the fights in Man of Steel in a lot
    of reviews: Why doesn’t Clark take the fights away from Smallville and
    Metropolis? But while the film does have problems, I don’t think this is one of them. In the Smallville fight, Clark is totally outgunned: he’s fighting two superpowered Kyrptonians and it’s all he can do to stay in the fight, forget about trying to move it. And in fact at one point he tries to fly away, whether to try and lead them away from the town or just to attack from the air we don’t know, because one of the bads grabs him and slams him into the ground before he can get anywhere. In other words, he has no chance to move the fight. As for Metropolis, Zod has just threatened to kill every human on the planet, one at a time. If Clark does take off to try, for example, to move the fight to the Gobi Desert, Zod’s likely to let him take off while he starts going after survivors. That’s hardly ideal.

    I have the feeling that, much like Watchmen, a lot was left on the cutting room floor. If nothing else, it really feels like we lost about five minutes between Zod’s death and punching the UAV, something to show Clark coming to terms with what he had to do and redoubling his commitment to not kill again.

    All in all though, I think Man of Steel worked. Hopefully we’ll get to see Col. Stadler in a sequel: From NYPD detective to Air Force Colonel who thinks he can take an immortal, invulnerable demigod with just a knife? That’s a heck of a career jump.

  • drslump

    Because Superman has NEVER killed before. (Please add as much sarcasm as
    you possibly can to this statement)

    – Zod
    – Faora
    – Jax-Ur
    – Nuclear Man
    – Doomsday
    – Brainiac 13
    – Darkseid
    – The Anti-Monitor
    – The Eradicator
    – Hank Henshaw

    He would have also killed many others had it not been for the intervention of
    friends and family

    – Luthor
    – Mongul
    – General Hardcastle
    – General Lane

    He’s also managed to allow people to die. Or didn’t do enough to save someone
    – Father Leone
    – Zed

    I mean Superman doesn’t RELISH killing. He doesn’t use it as a solution. But he
    has been forced INTO that situation. And just because the villains return,
    doesn’t take away from the fact that they were killed.