Why Man of Steel is a Classic, part two

Last Friday, I posted the opening salvo of my war on Man of Steel haters.

{READER: Last Friday, he says? Hasn’t it actually been more than a month?

T OF V: Allow me to explain: Shut the fuck up.}

Again, SPOILERS LIE AHEAD.

Uber Destruction

A bullshit criticism I’ve heard about Man of Steel is that the characters are overpowered. Kal-El, Zod and the other Kryptonians hurl tankers through the air, don’t get a scratch when missiles strike them, yet Sears and IHOP get totally fucked. And by the end of the film, mighty Metropolis is devastated, largely due to the climactic fistfight between Zod and Kal-El. Yeah, two dudes wreck an entire city, levelling skyscapers, demolishing parking garages, and even taking out satellites. Let’s leave aside physics for a second. I’m not talking about realism here, these are fantasies. But people have complained that superheroes, and Superman in this film specifically, have too much power in the movies.

ruins of man of stee.

This is what being saved looks like?

These are comic-book powers we’re talking about here. While superhero movies often have erred on the depiction of a character’s powers, they’ve actually tended to err on the side of weakening the powers. Spider-Man, for instance, can pick up a truck and throw it. In the comics. The movies have not shown him near that level of power, I assume to make him more relatable to general audiences who may have never read a comic book. But with Marvel’s Avengers and now Man of Steel, we’ve started to get films that assign their characters the level of power they have in the source material, the comics. This movie Superman is going to cause repercussions when he battles to save the world. Cities are going to get broken. The many human casualties that would incur will, understandably, be downplayed.

Man of Steel is a little dark, yes, but it’s still a superhero movie, not The Killing Fields.

The collateral damage of metahuman battling is an issue that has been dealt with in the comics for years and years. I thought it was awesome to finally see that play out in the movie. More realistic? Again, I don’t mean realism, but rather natural consequences of the story. Classic comics series like Marvels, Kingdom Come, Astro City and Watchmen are among the titles that have addressed this interpretation of superheroes brilliantly. A natural representation rather than realistic. Man of Steel brought it to the screen. And I was so excited and thrilled to see it. If you’re looking for realism, this is not your thing and I’m not talking to you. Realism can only go so far when you’re dealing with a character like Superman who flies at supersonic speed and shoots heat rays from his eyes, okay?

heat vision hurts

I was just happy Superman didn’t have “fix the Great Wall of China vision” in this movie. Filmmakers used to just make up the characters’ powers as they went along because they didn’t really understand the balance between natural and realistic. And they didn’t fucking get the characters period. This is why we were given campy superhero treatments like the Adam West-era Batman show and the Christopher Reeve Superman films for instance. Camp can be fun. But comics themselves are rarely campy. They treat the characters with more respect. Man of Steel does this, and so I am befuddled why more comics fans have not embraced the movie.

Superman Doesn’t Kill

Well, yeah, this was a major sticking point for the comics purists, and probably the biggest reason that more of them didn’t embrace the film.

I look at Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy and Man of Steel as alternate versions of those characters. Loving the respect the interpretations have for the source, but these films are their own beast. They set their own rules thereby, and give us a different look at familiar characters. Most comics films, but particularly Nolan’s, are taking what I call “the Inspired-by” approach. They often take moments from specific comics stories rather than faithfully recreating the whole story. This approach gives  fans who already know the material plenty of “fuck, yeah!” moments, while the filmmaker gets to present their own take on the comics. Rather than getting pissed-off like many comics purists, I try to accept the superhero film on its own terms.

Making the Mandarin a non-entity just for the sake of having a “plot twist” in Iron Man 3 is an instance where I got very fucking pissed. I hate Iron Man 3 with a passion. But I try to take each change a superhero film makes and judge it on its merit. Specifically, does the change make sense and does it make the film good?

the "mandarin"

a fucking disgrace…

In this spirit, I looked at Superman’s killing of General Zod in Man of Steel.

I’m quite aware that in the world of the comics Superman has a strict “no kill” policy. Most comics superheroes do. In Man of Steel, Kal-el snaps Zod’s fucking neck in the heat of the moment, because at that point in the movie he could see no alternative. Zod was suicidal and wanted to take Kal-el’s adopted world out with him. When Supes pleads for the mad general to stop, Zod flat-out tells him “NEVER”. No doubt in the comics, Superman would have had a handy device on his person that would have allowed him to place Zod in a super-containment field or some such bullshit. Unfortunately, in the movie Kal-el had no such option at this fingertips. What he had was Zod in a motherfucking full nelson and thus found himself a neck twist away from a solution. WIth much regret, Supes took the lethal option. Remember the extreme damage their battle was doing to the city, which so many have bitched about. How could Superman let that go on another fifteen rounds? There’d have been no Metropolis left at all. I don’t interpret the decision to kill Zod as a murderous impulse or, on the other hand, a cop-out by the screenwriters. I think it made complete sense in the context of the scene.

superman kills zod

I mean, look, he didn’t enjoy it.

Or maybe folks would rather have had Superman fly around the globe a million times and set time back so that it never happened? Uh, no, let’s not. That resolution was a cop-out. I have nostalgic love for the 1978 Superman too, but come on. The ending was ridiculous.

Man of Steel…was not inspiring

Check out this video. If you want.

In this video, Batman expresses the sentiment felt by so many. Though I love How it Should Have Ended videos (one of my favorite YouTube channels), I disagree with the goddamn Batman here as I replay moments from the movie in my mind. Jor-el and Lara desperately giving up their infant son, in hopes of a life and world they would never live to see themselves. Young Clark’s talks with Pa Kent in the flashbacks, culminating in Mr. Kent’s sacrifice, his last act of protection for his adopted son. Kal-el giving himself up to the people of earth and being betrayed to Zod. Superman single-handedly finding the grit to pulverize the World Engine which was sapping his powers…

One word comes to mind: Inspiring.

So I have to rebut the punch line of this great video. Man of Steel was inspiring. I found it powerful and moving. Perhaps moviegoers wanted a rousing speech from Superman or something. That’s not what the character’s about. He acts. He does the right thing, even if it’s not the easy thing. This movie captured that, and to me, was hella inspiring.

Suck it, cartoon Batman.

The Big Finish

There’s much more I could actually go on about, but that’s the main stuff. I’ll do another part if anyone really wants one, so let me know.

The debate will certainly rage on, but the fact that this movie has such an effect is part of the proof to me that it’s the best Superman film we’ve ever gotten. I feel time will be good to this one, and it will largely be seen as a classic in years to come. A lot will ride on how good the sequel turns out.

I love Man of Steel, and it’s a superhero classic. If you didn’t agree before, did I convince you? Did I not convince you? I even think Henry Cavill is the best movie Superman to date. He made me feel the inner conflict of Kal-el more than ever before.

Last time, I got a comment that said the acting was so bad in Man of Steel. My dear friend, I completely disagree. What I would say is most of the characters were portrayed in a suitable way. Would I compare the acting to the ensemble of American Hustle? No, I would not.( If you haven’t seen American Hustle, by the way, you must. It’s great.)  But comics characters are not the same. They are character types, more than real people. And in that sense, the acting in Man of Steel was very solid. Michael Shannon was over the top. Fuck yeah, he was. But I loved it, and it suited the character of Zod. Russell Crowe was a little sleepy like he tends to be lately: but it suited Jor-el to be calm and methodical. You really have to take the acting in context in a comic book film. The performance has to serve the plot and the special effects first of all.

That being said, Benedict Cumberbatch should have been in it somewhere. But I always think that. Sadly, he can’t be in everything.

the cumberbatch

I am trying to be in everything!

Well, keep working on it. See you all next time (whenever that may be.)

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14 thoughts on “Why Man of Steel is a Classic, part two

    • I totally snafu’d the meetup. Couldn’t get anyone from the class to go, so I set out by myself. Then I got a late start, arriving in Portland five minutes after the time. Not bad. But I circled and circled the building searching for parking in downtown Portland that didn’t cost ten bucks or more! Spent about forty minutes driving around. Eventually, I had to give up. Complete fail. Wish I hadn’t built it up on the blog! But at some point I will make one. They have up to two meetups a month…

  1. I so want to read both of your “Man of Steel” posts but I haven’t seen the movie yet! I’m waiting for it to be available on Netflix 😦

    • If my post seems frivolous to you, my humble apologies to Your High Seriousness. I only intended to offer up some entertainment for those who enjoy such things. Your chastisement is trollish and unnecessary…

      • Thank you Dylan for your definition of me, I am flattered that I am defined in the way you suggest, I have a problem whereby my mind becomes sort of blank, at this point its like a disassociation of self, anyhow I had to further my understanding and note that in terms of the Norse, I see it is pertaining to the supernatural, I have a constant problem with myself, in so far as I seem to exist and at the same time am not existing, what I do like about you is your earthyness, as I walk my beagle she tells me the same, she always has a identity, as one notes by her nose, the contradiction of my existence is that in some way one has to relate to all that exists, so as I become nothing much, I see that I am as a psychical mass in mass, that has gravitational pull to other mass, their fore I can never escape what you think, as to being defined always as being what you define me as.

  2. I’m not a comic fan, and to be honest, I haven’t enjoyed most of the films. (But I love Iron Man. Crazy, huh?) SO my opinion is that much like any print to film issue, one must embrace the movie as a different thing altogether, or one will just sit through the movie all pissy-like, lol! Of course the movie will never be as good as the narrative media, but it can still be good, you know?
    I watch period films and find myself infuriated at things I know most people don’t notice — shakes my suspense of disbelief. *hates that*

  3. Tony Stark’s a cool character. He’s like James Bond meets Tesla! But I hate IM 3. For just that one, I felt like the purists do.
    Anyway, yeah, I think people should try to view a movie on its own terms. They’re just for fun, it shouldn’t be the end of the world if one sucks…

  4. Hello, this is KB from The Mirror Obscura. I haven’t been able to help noticing your slowly going through my back postings of poetry. I wanted to say thank you and ask if you had any thoughts about it in general. I don’t usually get people who go back very far. Any way, just curious about yourt overview. Best>KB

    • Oh, I’ve been reading your poetry blog for a while. I think it’s fantastic. It’s not that I’ve been going back, but that I’m catching up! Right now I’m reading blogs from the 18th and 19th of January. Your insights on identity are particularly interesting to me, but I can’t recall a poem of yours that I didn’t like something about. You’re a terrific writer. Thanks for visiting, KB…

      • No thank you for visiting. Also, for getting back to me. I am going to be re-posting some older poems along with newer things beginning tomorrow so don’t be surprised if you see something you’ve alreasdy read. Thank you for the compliment. >KB

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