Man Of Steel: Missed Opportunities

Superman, Lois, & Zod

Hey nerds. Let’s talk about the new Superman movie.

I’m not a comic book guy, so I don’t have the Superman comics in my head. I have seen the originals, though not for many years, and I saw the Kevin-Spacey-As-Lex-Luthor Superman flick a few years ago. I have enjoyed all these movies, and I enjoyed the latest Nolan/Snyder/Nash/Young superfilm. Let’s not get into whether or not the excessive battling in “Man of Steel” needed editing. I’ll concede that maybe it did, but honestly, it didn’t bother me because there was consistent building, slow and meaningful, like a baseball game where an even amount of runs get scored every inning. But I get that some people don’t like baseball because they think it’s boring. We don’t really need to discuss that part of it.

But I want to hear your thoughts on what I feel are two missed opportunities with the latest, which I think are problems from the very script itself. The first wasted opportunity was the origin story, and the second opportunity was General Zod. From all that I remember (again, only from previous films) General Zod was this incredibly interesting dude, even if he and his cohorts were one-dimensional caricatures of alien villains. And their choice to make Zod a very three-dimensional character, with actual motivations and even some moments where we almost sympathize with him, was absolutely fucking brilliant, as was their choice to cast a fucking brilliant actor like Michael Shannon for the role. But this is a story that — while it has its place in the origin story, is not necessarily integral to the true origin story of Superman. And I don’t mean the origin story of him flying to Earth, I mean the origin story of him learning to reveal himself as “super” to the human race, and declaring his intentions to protect and serve. I think by squishing both the origin story and the Zod story into one movie, they did a disservice to both.

For one thing, we are forced to take for granted that OF COURSE Superman will protect and serve humanity. But let’s face it, the chronology we are shown in “Man of Steel” basically tells us that everybody was a dick to Clark except his parents for pretty much his whole life, and we have no real sympathy for the human race. Superman’s motivation NOT to pack up and head to the stars is blurry at best. If we didn’t have 75 years of Superman saving the world ingrained into our very society, this movie would make no sense.

Another thing: for as long a movie as this was, I wanted more General Zod. They did SO WELL with that character that I think he warranted his own movie. They could have called it “Man of Steel II” and it would have been like “Superman II” and everybody would have been totally cool with it. Zod’s transformation from SUDDENLY obtaining super powers on Earth – and being about as comfortable with it as an eighth-grader with a boner in math class – to a super-kick-ass mega-ninja was so interesting, I felt like this could have made for a rockin’ hour-and-a-half movie all on its own. They wasted it by tacking it on as the catalyst for the origin story.

Let’s compare Christopher Nolan’s other origin story, Batman. In “Batman Begins” Bruce Wayne learns all his fancy ninja bat-skills from a guy who threatens to destroy Gotham City, and that is where the super hero within shows up, and he decides to protect Gotham and we totally get why. Then, to seal the deal for Batman as the city’s protector, that same guy who wants to destroy the city shows up again WITH A PLAN TO DESTROY THE CITY. It fits, it makes sense, it seems the most necessary plot line to watch Bruce Wayne come into his own as Batman.

But Superman’s origin story isn’t dependent on General Zod. At least, I didn’t think so. I felt he would have been better served with a story where just Lex Luthor was involved, because this is a case where he is saving humanity from humanity, and that goes much deeper into defining “hero” vs. “savior” vs. “space cop.” You have to really dig for the truth of why Superman does what he does for the good people of Earth. That’s my opinion, anyway. I’d love to hear the arguments in favor of his first test being General Zod, or really, any other alien foe.

So that’s that. I have some other, slightly unrelated thoughts on the Superman myth which I will now stick on to the end of this little blog post:

Quentin Tarantino has this awesome quote about how Superman is always Superman — he wakes up Superman, he literally IS Superman all the time, and when he dresses as Clark Kent, he acts dopey and insecure, and Tarantino basically describes how Clark Kent is how Superman views the humans. “Clark Kent” is Superman’s critique of the human race. Good point, Q, but that’s in reference to old TV shows, old movies, and possibly even old comic books (I wouldn’t know, would I, not being a comic book reader?).

“Superman Returns” gave us the opposite — Clark Kent is his comfort zone, and Superman is the mask he wears as a front to cope with the responsibility of saving countless lives. This actually makes sense, since he was RAISED as Clark Kent and just happens to have these super powers, which he didn’t initially want and didn’t initially know what to do with. The latest Superman film took the latter path, and I’m glad they did, since not only does it make more sense, it also makes Superman much more sympathetic to a human audience. It gives him struggles that we can understand, that aren’t simply overcome with speed and strength and laser vision. It solidly grounds him as part human, part Kryptonian.

Also: Amy Adams is the hottest Lois Lane by a mile. That’s not really something that needs discussing, I only mention it in case Amy Adams is reading this and is maybe feeling like her performance was too intellectual (no such thing) and perhaps didn’t feel so great about that super-kiss in the end. It was all good, Amy Adams. It was all good.

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