Let me preface this by saying that I am not like most of you on this site. I am not a savant of geek and nerd culture, with years, nay decades, of experience under my belt and with an intimate knowledge of the little idiosyncrasies of each and every landmark figure in Western nerddom. Yes I watched Hercules and Xena as a kid, and I saw the Next Generation and Deep Space Nine and Voyager, and my introduction to the Star Wars universe was with the prequels (Yes, I am that young, and for the longest time I couldn't watch the originals because I felt their effects were too 'fake' my tastes). My father even got me some of the Star Trek books when I was a teenager. However, growing up in a country with intermittent electricity and a father who believed that too much TV could lead to a reduction in academic acumen, I could not consume these staples of nerdhood with the devotion most of you did.
All this is to say that I do not have the apparent baggage and expectations a lot of people seem to have concerning the Man of Steel movie, and so when I saw the rage with which io9 met the film I was stunned. I personally didn't think the movie was the best thing since sliced bread, but the vitriol on this site was so great I started to wonder whether or not I had seen the same movie in the first place. I finally got round to watching Man of Steel again (I know, the movie came out ages ago), and honestly, I don't get the hate.
From where I sit, the film is about what Superman's arrival would be like in the modern world, a world filled with fear, hate and distrust of the unknown. This is seen in the massively different way Jonathan Kent is portrayed in this movie, especially when compared to the noble bastion of hope that raised Clark in the Smallville series. (Yes, I also watched Smallville and I loved it. All that angst you guys looked down on is really poignant when you're a kid in secondary school [high school for ye Americans]. We've all be teenagers, no?). People were never going to run up to him with arms wide open. He is a super-powered man for chrissakes, a man that can fly at supersonic speeds and can burn things with his eyes! In this world our first reaction would be cautious fear, with a side of aggression.
As to the way the story is told, I barely remember the original movies so I can't do a direct comparison, but Superman has a few things that make his origin story a little different from the more recent superheroes Hollywood has given to us. Parker became Spiderman as a teenage kid. Thor has always been Thor, and he arrived on earth after years of crushing bad guys and winning battles and being adored by all the Asgardians in the universe. Iron Man and Batman became superheroes when they were middle-aged men, and both of them had significantly smaller issues to deal with when they took up their callings. Iron Man had to deal with subterfuge in his company, and Batman was simply trying to clean up the streets of his city. Superman, however, has always been like this, has never quite fit in, and has to deal with the implications of a massive alien invasion within moments of finally finding out who he is and why he is here. Unlike Batman and Iron Man that made choices based on life-changing experiences, Superman does not have this luxury. He didn't choose to be like this, he did not have a clear mandate on what to do with his gifts, and he had barely found out what he needed to know when Zod and Co. showed up on his doorstep forcing him to reveal himself to the world. In effect, he was not in control of anything for most of this film, unlike a good chunk of our other famous heroes. Of course there is question of why the first Superman movie had to go so big, but I think a post on this very site has already answered that.
Instead of telling the story in the classic linear fashion like most origin stories, Snyder decided to do something different, and I think Superman is the most fitting hero for this change. As I have already said, he is not like the other heroes who made singular decisions in their middle ages to become who they were, or like Parker who stumbled on his powers when he was a kid. It was either they showed him become Superman as a young boy (and Smallville covered this already), or come up with an explanation for why it took him so long to rise to his calling. They did the latter, and while the execution may have stumbled in some places, I think it was a good choice. Plus, Superman is perhaps the most well-known superhero in the world; he is certainly the oldest. If makers of a Superman reboot can't take certain liberties with the knowledge that 99% of the audience already knows what he is capable of, then who can? We certainly don't need to see him discover that he can shoot things from his eyes and break walls and watch him stumble over the implications of this as a little kid for 2.5 hours.
Another major theme in this film is lack of control, and it seems this is another reason people hate it. Superman can't control his powers, he can't control Zod, he can't control what people think about him. All these don't stop him from trying, but to hear (or read) some io9ers, he must be able to control everything or he ceases to be Superman. In the Smallville battle he is seen constantly warning people to get out of the way, saving people and trying to take the fight away from the population. His opponents do not care for this, and their realisation of his intent makes it all the worse, for they know how to get to him now: they simply have to kill and hurt as many of these precious humans as they can. It's not too difficult for them either; not only are they technologically superior, our sun has also given them an immense physical advantage. And they're going to kill everyone anyway so what's a few civilians and soldiers in a small town?
Superman's lack of control is also seen when he attacks Zod for threatening Martha. He is obviously angry and is not restraining himself; people may have gotten hurt at that gas station. But once again it is pretty evident that this is a failing. He is not perfect, not yet. He has had to restrain himself all his life and the one person that loved and protected him is suddenly in danger. What is our young, fledgling superhero supposed to do? What would you do? Zod could very well have killed her before he got there, and Superman would have been powerless to stop him.
Lack of control also comes to play in the final scenes of the film where he faces off with Zod. io9ers complained that there was no regard for human life in those scenes, and the much praised Avengers movie has been hailed as an example of how to show that you care about civilians. Of course there are a number of differences. Zod is not an egomaniac that has more of a personal vendetta against a team of heroes than a desire to subdue New York. Captain America is even glad for Loki's presence because he knows the fool is going to focus on them instead of the rest of the city. The Kryptonians are not dumb soldiers with special guns. Superman is one man, not the aforementioned team of superheroes. And lastly with the massive amount of damage already done by the world engine and the phantom drive to the city, I really doubt there was much else to be saved. I will admit that the fight moved to a seemingly unaffected part of the city, but one must remember that Zod was ground bound. The moment he could fly Superman tried to take him out of the city, and they simply returned in a hail of broken satellite. There is also that little annoying fact that in all the DC cartoons I have seen, huge fights involving Superman always break buildings. In broad daylight. With people in the streets. And that's with a Superman with more than a few battles under his belt.
Zod's death is a dead horse that has been already been flogged ad infinitum, so I'm just going to say that all of those demanding that Superman do something, anything, because he is Superman, are the reason for all the deus ex's in modern media. When even the more discerning fans of a franchise demand handwavium from their art you have to wonder why we don't see more of it. It's a little like the people that say Batman would defeat Superman because he's Batman. I love Batman (especially his HISHE incarnation), but after a while we have to understand that out heroes are people. Which brings me to a huge complaint I have heard time and time again. "I don't want Superman to be like me; he is supposed to rise above all obstacles, and defeat the bad guy without killing him. The rules of the universe are not supposed to apply to him." I honestly cannot argue with this. I suppose in the end we nerds are like everyone else. We are not free from the curse of irrationality and unreasonable expectations.
Of course the movie didn't have to be like this. It wasn't handed to Snyder and Goyer by the gods of film and screenwriting; they made it. They could have been more traditional. They could have stuck to the archetypes (not implying that Snyder didn't infuse this with his signature greyscale and slo-mo). But they didn't and I'm glad for it. Man of Steel is a film about the very real consequences of an alien arrival in our current world. It's not perfect, but it's a fine film, and feels like a strong first chapter in a series. Hopefully the next film can be better. (And it would have to be; this movie wasn't as amazing as I'd hoped).
And that, io9, is my defence. It could have been longer, but Christ this seems too long already. Do with it as you wish.
- I hated Jonathan Kent's death as much as the next guy. It was stupid.
- Bringing Lois on board the Kryptonian vessel was also stupid.
- The movie could have done with more humour especially for a summer movie (like Into Darkness haha), but that only works if your lead is a funnyman (Stark, or the new Kirk) or there is a team to play off of. Maybe we'll get some good banter from Supes and the Bat next year.
- Christopher Meloni, even with his barely 5 minutes of screentime, was my best character in the entire film.
- Will this appear on the observationdeck? I have no idea how this personal blog thing works.