Tuesday, June 18, 2013

A Brief Word on Man of Steel

I see this is yet another movie that the audience has decided to approve or disapprove every element of, rather than talking in terms of, say, enjoying or not enjoying it. I enjoyed it a great deal.

But I'll put in my two cents on that scene everyone is talking about.

Spoilers, spoiler, spoilers, boogedy-boogedy-boo.

Okay, so the scene generating the most controversy with Superman fans is that Superman ends up snapping General Zod's neck to save mankind from his rampage. It's a shocking moment, and one that a lot of fans have had trouble reconciling with Superman's morality and his stance against never taking a life.

I think it's a credit to the film that this moment is really bought and paid for emotionally. It has an enormous impact on the character, and I think that's the key here and why, ultimately, I'm okay with this moment.

Superman's choice to murder General Zod to keep those people from being killed was a hard choice, clearly, but it was the right choice, morally and ethically. He saved innocent lives. Yes, there are many great Superman stories where Superman finds an option that involves not killing anybody at all, but to me it doesn't make this one a bad one just because he couldn't. Because here's the thing: the guy's only been Superman at this point for, what, a day and half? He hasn't found that option yet. He was panicking. There was nothing else he could do. And when he killed Zod, it cost him. It cost him and the film shows us that it cost him. For all we know, since this is the beginning of a story, we could be seeing the moment when he makes that choice that killing is wrong and to always strive to find another way. It could be the development of the moral code that people are talking about the last few days.

I understand that asking a fanboy to be patient and let a story unfold is as big a fool's errand as asking a fanboy to enjoy something for what it is rather than be angry about what it isn't, but that's how I feel about this. Sorry Superman hasn't yet embodied the Christ symbolism you've so clearly internalized yet constantly complain about seeing in Superman stories. He's not perfect. And I think in being impatient with allowing the character to grow and experience and change as a result of those experiences, you dehumanize him and turn him into nothing but the symbol you're always complaining has no humanity. To me, Superman is all about humanity, and it was nice to see that in this movie.

My problem with the Christopher Nolan Batman films was that lack of humanity and the heavy focus on symbolism. And even in Batman Begins, we're presented with a Bruce Wayne whose moral code against killing is supposedly absolute, and yet he blows up the League of Shadows to prove that he doesn't kill, and then his big "I won't kill you, but I don't have to save you" is played as a satisfying revenge moment. There's no examination of his moral code past the first forty or so minutes of the movie. You're just supposed to believe it's there because he keeps saying it is. Man of Steel at least exacts a toll on Superman for what he had to do. And in a summer movie season with death after death after death, I think that's important.

As for the complaints about the destruction of Metropolis, I don't really have any concerns over it. It's almost funny that my running thought was "Who's going to pay for all of that property damage?" and then I started thinking about public works programs. We didn't really see people dying, and I didn't really feel the danger to people because it's a Superman movie, and to anyone saying that we've never seen anything like this in Superman before, you really just mean in live action, because a lot of the animated films practically revel in the destruction now. Again, didn't bother me, and I loved Laurence Fishburne's moment when he thought they were all going to die. Well-acted.

About the only things that really bothered me were the score (or tones, more accurately, but it was as bad as I expected it to be, since Hans Zimmer hasn't even bothered to try to write a melody since he got caught plagiarizing so much of the Gladiator score) and the product placement. Did enjoy seeing the Lexcorp logo on some stuff, though.

I loved it. Not as good as The Avengers, but much better than The Dark Knight Rises.

And in the debate over the death scene, we really are losing the fact that Amy Adams is the best Lois Lane we've ever had, and that this version's twist of actually figuring out that Clark Kent is Superman practically before he's even really Superman is brilliant because it actually respects her formidable intelligence.


Kal said...

Once again you are thoughtful in your review. I too loved this movie, especially the way they portrayed how humans WOULD react to a 'Superman'. He looked like us but was never ONE of us while in the suit. It was like he was playing a part as Superman and I always liked that evaluation of his character. He shows his human side to his mother and Lois. And that death of Jonathan Kent scene. WOW. Broke my heart but prepared me for him making the hardest of choices. Zod's death being one of them. Synder got everything right here. I have to see this one again for all the little touches.

Paradox Al said...

I too loved this movie, and I basically agree with what you say, but what about all the action? Wasn't it all a little unnecessary and seemed to just drag on and on?

My friend who watched Man of Steel with me almost fell asleep during the action scenes with that "Planet Engine" or whatever it's called. The long & dragging scenes, when combined with the severely boring soundtrack, kind of ruined Zod's final moment, as we were both a bit tired by then. I don't know, it's still a great remake, but I prefer superhero movies to have less video game-ish action.

P.S. On a non-Superman related note, I'd just like to say that I'm interested to read what your review of the new Star Trek movie. I know you say you loved it, and that you're too tired to argue with angry fanboys, but seeing as how you basically went against the norm in hating Inception, The Dark Knight, & Dark Knight Rises (which I feel is a stupid name for the final movie), I think you should do so too for ST:Into Darkness. I mean, who cares about fanboys, right? They're still whining about the Star Wars prequels, so they're impossible to please anyway.

Tallulah Morehead said...

I stand by my condemnation of this movie for Nolan's, Goyer's and Snyder's rape of the character. Here's where you missed the point: "Yes, there are many great Superman stories where Superman finds an option that involves not killing anybody at all, but to me it doesn't make this one a bad one just because he couldn't."

didn't fail to find a way to save Metropolis without murdering Zod; Nolan, Goyer and Snyder did. It's a failure of story-telling. Superman should outwit Zod not murder him. Fuck them three all to hell for making Superman a murderer. Superman is NOT supposed to be Batman with superpowers, let alone Dexter with superpowers.

Tallulah Morehead said...

Ken Levine gets it. Oh boy, he really gets it.

JA said...

I rambled a bunch about the movie in my review, but I agree that it's not a movie that deserves to be railed for or against 100 or zero percent, there's stuff that worked and stuff that didn't, and I liked a lot of it. I don't have any attachment to Superman as a non-killer - I get a lot of your points Aaron about him being new to this and figuring it out and making mistakes. But I don't think the film earned the scene, it felt REALLY lazy and dumb to me. It just reeked of, "Oh w=this has been going on for awhile, guess we've gotta wrap this up."

And I don't think they showed him dealing with the horror of what he had to do at all, either. One scream and then it's drone-slapstick with the army dude and making out with Lois and an inexplicable job as a reporter that's a big leap outside of the "realism," at least as far as employment and that sort of thing, that they'd been aiming for before that.

Yeah they needed to wrap it up and yeah we'll maybe get some fall out in the next movie(s) but this is the movie we have and I'm only able to judge it on its self-contained terms.

But what bugged me the most was Superman's total seeming indifference to the destruction their battle was causing. If only because the action scenes could have been so much more interesting if they'd focused in on what makes Superman Superman and had him actually seem cognizant of his surroundings, instead of just an endless pile up of smashing things. There was no finesse to the scenes, which really surprised me because I've usually really enjoyed the way Snyder's done action scenes.

And I didn't like Amy Adams.

But there was good stuff! I loved the whole middle section, I thought the flasdhback structure worked really well and made me look at the SUperman myth in ways I never have before. And Costner and Lane were great, and I liked Russell Crowe for the first time in quite literally forever.

Allen Lulu said...

Bad movie.
Piss poor screenwriting.
Lazy storytelling.
700 billion in damage at the end. Easily 1 million dead. And we're worried about him snapping Zod's neck?
Hey, Kal, you are the reason those war mongrels showed up. Thanks for getting rid of them and all, and I'm sure the families if the millions dead or injured in your wake if violence are...um....grateful but do me a favor:
Get the hell off my planet.
And, really?!? Real Estate!?! Again??

Allen Lulu said...

Mongers. Damn autocorrect.

SamuraiFrog said...

Kal: One little touch I just thought was neat was the Superman suit as a sort of Kryptonian "smart armor" that repaired itself. Went right in line with the rest of the Kryptonian technology we were seeing.

Paradox Al: My mom didn't like the length of the action scenes, either. They weren't extremely well paced, but they didn't diminish my enjoyment of the film. We've never really had a Superman film with that kind of action before, and I think the filmmakers got a bit carried away in that. But I didn't find it tedious like a lot of the animated DC films are now.

I do wish we had more really involving, complimentary film scores these days.

But I like a lot of it falls under the category of "This is apparently the way science fiction films look and feel now."

I honestly almost didn't even write this post, much less want to discuss the Star Trek movie. The thing is, I really liked Star Trek Into Darkness, I really enjoyed the hell out of it, but it's not like it's a really smart, really important film, and I don't want to argue every aspect of it as though it were, because THAT is the sort of thing that diminishes my enjoyment of it: being put in the position of having to defend a great, fun sci fi flick as though it were an important work. Which is in itself my annoyance with the internet, where everything is taken so very seriously.

Tallulah: I think "rape of the character" is a little over the top. Obviously I disagree with you. I disagree with Ken Levine, too.

JA: Russell Crowe was really good, but I also liked him recently in Les Miserables and The Man with the Iron Fists, whatever the varying quality of both films (especially Lame Is, which I famously hated). I loved Amy Adams.

FWIW, I didn't think Superman was indifferent so much as overwhelmed.

The Flying Dachshund said...

Superman has killed Zod before... Let us not forget John Byrne's portrayal.. From Wikipedia... "The first Zod to be introduced following Crisis on Infinite Earths was the Zod of a Pocket Universe; this allowed for a "Kryptonian" Zod to be introduced while maintaining Superman's status as the last of his race in the universe proper. This Zod came from a Krypton in a pocket universe created by the Time Trapper. He (along with companions Quex-Ul and Zaora) devastated the Earth of that universe following the death of its Superboy, despite the best efforts of a Supergirl created by this world's heroic Lex Luthor. Eventually, the survivors of this world managed to contact the Superman of the main universe to help them, and he was able to take away the powers of the three super-criminals with Gold Kryptonite (since he was not from that universe, the Kryptonite of that reality would have no effect on him). However, as the three vowed to some day regain their powers and return to Superman's world to kill him, acknowledging that he couldn't afford to leave them on the now-dead pocket Earth to let them die on their own or try and imprison them on his world, Superman was forced to execute them with Kryptonite."