Sunday, March 20, 2016

Man of Steel Liveblogging


It’s been three years since I watched this movie, but let’s be honest, it’s not like I’ve stopped thinking or talking about it for more than a few weeks at a time. For better or for worse, Man of Steel has had a major impact on how I think about Superman these last few years, even if it’s just because it crystallized the kinds of problems that make a Superman story go off the rails.

But I’m trying to be more positive here. I said in my original review that I mostly liked the movie, and while that didn’t hold as true on the second viewing in the theater, it still does a lot of things really well. So I’m going to focus on that. In addition, and possibly in conflict with that idea, a conversation I had some months ago has me wondering what people think of Superman in this universe. If you’re the average person on the street in Metropolis, how would you feel about Superman after all this?

With that out of the way, let’s fire it up.

Superman walking out of the Kryptonian ship.

One thing to really appreciate about this film is its portrayal of Krypton. The previous films set the tone with a Krypton that was pure white, cold and barren. John Byrne turned that aesthetic into a philosophy, with a Krypton that died long before it exploded. There have been other portrayals since, but the shadow of Richard Donner and Marlon Brando looms over all of it, such that nearly every popular portrayal in comics or other media has either gone back to it or the Silver Age for inspiration. This is not that Krypton, instead looking entirely new. The washed-out brushed-metal look is a far cry from quartz crystals, though it implies a similar kind of lifelessness, like something that’s had the life drained out of it. We see actual Kryptonian wildlife; we see buildings and mountains, things that are rarities in portrayals of Krypton post-1986. We see Lara giving birth, a huge departure from the Byrne-era world of gestation matrices.


The allegory here is pretty potent as well, with Krypton doomed because of short-sighted drilling for energy sources. That the responses are, respectively, “we did what we had to do,” “let’s look for an alternative,” and “let’s fight for power while the world collapses around us,” seems to correlate well with aspects of the current election cycle.

It’s nice that Lara has agency here. I don’t know how much the screenwriters read for research, but Lara’s whole character here feels like a reaction to the Byrne version: showing her giving birth, experiencing actual emotions beyond disgust, and picking Kal-El's destination.

The Codex is a weird plot point, and the overstuffed nature of Batman V. Superman suggests that we’re unlikely to get any kind of following up on it in the near future. Just one more reason why they should have let Superman have a proper sequel before diving headfirst into the deep end of the shared universe pool. It could have been the impetus for a movieverse Kandor!

Congratulations to the uncredited infant who plays baby Kal-El, who joins Aaron Smolinski in the club of kids whose wieners have been immortalized in Superman films.

The S-shield on the outside of Kal-El’s rocket shows that Jor-El is as committed to branding as Batman.

 Kal-El's rocket, with the S-shield carved on it.

I do like that Zod wears a big furry cape. I also appreciate that Lara launches Kal-El’s rocket on her own. It’s an interesting choice to kill Jor-El before Krypton itself explodes, and to make Lara the one present during Zod’s sentencing. It’s vaguely reminiscent of her relationship to Jax-Ur in the Silver Age.

I think this may be the only portrayal of Krypton’s destruction in seventy-five years that doesn’t have Jor-El and Lara dying together. There’s a poignancy in Lara giving up everything based on her trust in Jor-El’s prophecies and hope, especially when she’s the one who expresses skepticism about the process, she's the one who's reluctant to let Kal go.

Lara just wants to watch the world burn.

That shot of Clark literally walking through fire to rescue the workers on the oil platform sure is something. It showcases Superman’s powers in a way that we really haven’t seen, and haven’t been able to see, in a movie before. Plus, I have a serious soft spot for bearded Clark Kent.

Clark Kent is hot, too hot, call the police and the fireman.

For as corny and pretend-profound as “The world’s too big mom,” “then make it small” is as a bit of dialogue, I do like seeing Ma Kent in a significant role, something that again is all too rare in popular Superman portrayals—at least, rare before Pa’s inevitable death. Say what you will about nearly any other aspect of the mythos, but this movie does all right by the women in Superman’s life.

It’s a small thing, but I really don’t like seeing Clark stealing clothes, not without some indication that he pays the guy back later. It’s not like he just took necessities, either. He grabbed boots and a jacket. Man, Clark, boots ain’t cheap, and you don’t get cold.

Is it weird that I’m a lot more okay with “asswipe” than “dicksplash”?

I wish they did a little more to show that Pa Kent is at a loss when it comes to advising Clark. Like, I think that’s what they were going for, but Costner’s portrayal doesn’t really sell it. It doesn’t help that we have seventy-odd years of Pa Kent as the wise old dispenser of home-spun wisdom about how to help the world, until his death tragically spurs Clark on to a life of superheroism (or teaches him a valuable lesson about problems even a superhero can’t solve). But I did take a quick look back at Superman (1939) #1, the first story that gives us any real look at the Kents, and there we see Pa giving similar advice: “This great strength of yours—you've got to hide it from people or they'll be scared of you!” It’s Ma who tells him he should help people. It’s interesting how those roles have shifted back and forth over time, and further interesting how often Martha has been shoved to one side of the narrative in favor of giving Jonathan a larger role.

I really do like this movie’s take on the S-shield. Like, it’s easily in my top 3 S-shields of all time.

Jor-El gets to be the only character in the film to pull open his shirt & reveal the S-shield.

Clark Kent getting picked on by jerks in bars is a time-honored tradition, and while I’m not thrilled with how he handled it here, it’s hard to argue that destroying this guy’s truck is any worse than going back to beat up the trucker in the diner in Superman II or stacking the trucks outside the school dance in the Smallville pilot.

Oh wow, somehow I just caught that the first interaction between Clark and Lois in this film is him helping her out of a helicopter. That’s a nice little nod to the past, without beating you over the head with it.
I like that Lois comes in guns blazing, ultra-confident.

Another neat little detail is how Clark doesn’t immediately respond to the Kryptonian security robot with violence. He waits to see what it’s going to do, and even after it attacks him, he doesn’t do anything beyond defending himself. It’s only once Lois is in danger that he actually destroys it. That’s a small thing, but it’s something that a lot of Superman portrayals wouldn’t think to do.

It’s nice that Superman’s first real interaction with Lois is a private, personal encounter, a rescue away from prying eyes. Again, that’s very different from nearly anything we’ve ever seen before in a Superman origin.

Some shady reporting from Lois, claiming that the military team surmised that the object in the ice was a Soviet-era submarine when she’s the one that offered that hypothesis. I do like her little smirk when Perry tells her that he won’t be running a story about aliens. Perry White should know better than to tell Lois Lane that anything is “never gonna happen.” It’s the best way to make sure that it absolutely does.

As much as I like the Kryptonian aesthetic in this film, the fact that their life support pods are shaped like dongs and their control chairs have twelve-pack abs suggests a possibly unhealthy degree of overcompensation.

You are hereby sentenced to an eternity of imprisonment in the space dong.This is my workout chair. It works out.

Jor-El gives a pretty good speech here, and let’s face it, he’s a much more positive character here than Brando’s version. I especially like what he says about the S-shield:
That’s what this symbol means. The symbol of the House of El means hope. Embodied within that hope is the fundamental belief in the potential of every person to be a force for good. That’s what you can bring them.
That’s a great line. That’s the kind of line that can serve as a thesis statement for a movie. It’s the line that spurs Clark to put on a costume and go flying for the first time. Good thing that it’s a consistent statement of purpose that doesn’t get flatly contradicted by the end or anything.

For as much as Snyder has distanced himself from the Reeve films, it’s interesting how similar the plot beats are to the first Donner flick, at least up to this point in the film. We see action on Krypton including the sentencing of Zod and his compatriots, Clark’s tribulations through youth, and his journey to the frozen north to learn from a simulation of Jor-El and receive his Superman costume. Those are weirdly specific details, if for no other reason than the fist that Superman communing with his father’s ghost and receiving a costume from him entered the mythos (to my knowledge, anyway) with the '78 film. Every previous version of the story and most of the subsequent ones have had the costume made by Ma Kent, and a Fortress mostly built by Superman himself, wherein Jor-El is merely a statue. Even the pacing here is similar, with Superman showing up in costume for the first time nearly an hour in.

Superman smiles while flying.


Clark’s glee at beginning to fly is pitch-perfect, though I’ve honestly never been a fan of the flight mechanics that involve leaving craters in the ground and such. I always thought the understated flight effects in Superman Returns were done really well.

I do appreciate the little nod to the last five movies with Superman flying up above the atmosphere. That shot got a little old by Superman IV, but it’s nice to have it here. Especially since they don't really linger on it, just leaving it as a subtle little easter egg. It kind of acts as a coda to the part of the movie that is, almost beat for beat, the first hour of Donner’s Superman.

I will never get tired of seeing Plano, IL done up like Smallville. A lot of the decorations are still there, and I’ve heard that the businesses are locked into a contract for a few years, in case they want to film sequel scenes. The train station’s got a little Smallville museum set up on weekends. It’s nice. Wish they’d actually build an IHOP though.

Lois tracking down Clark from stories and rumors is pretty amazing. This movie does a fantastic job making Lois an actual investigative journalist, compared to Margot Kidder’s lovestruck interviewer. She’s also totally confident in her interaction with Clark.

Henry Cavill playing what’s presumably teenage Clark in flashback doesn’t quite feel right. What he’s saying seems like it’s best suited to a kid of 15-16, and no amount of mop-top is going to make Henry Cavill look that young. I just looked it up; dude is seven months older than me. I could not have convincingly played a teenager three years ago.

Also, I am completely over the “kid says something hurtful to/has argument with parent and it’s the last thing they get to say before the parent dies” as a characterization tool. It’s cheap, it’s overused, and it makes it seem like you only feel bad that someone dies if you have some specific unfinished business with that person when they kick off. It hurts when your loved ones die, and there’s always unfinished business, even if the last thing you said to them was “I love you and appreciate everything you’ve ever done for me.”

There’s a journal article to be written on the subtle thematic shift of Jonathan Kent dying because Clark can’t do anything to prevent it, and Jonathan Kent dying because Clark chooses not to do anything to prevent it when he easily could. In the former case, Clark learns that he has natural limitations; when it happens in the Donner film, the movie’s climax is him pushing beyond those limitations and rejecting limits imposed on him from outside (Jor-El’s “no meddling in human history” decree). In this movie, Clark accepts those external limitations, but works mostly within them to ensure that no one else will die when he can prevent it. In fact, we don't see him explicitly pushing his limits until Jor-El tells him to do so.

So much of the driving conflict of this movie, as voiced by Lara and Jonathan Kent and Perry White, is that people won’t accept Superman if they learn about him. I think that makes it especially important to consider what people learn about Superman from his actions in this film. So far, outside of a few people he’s saved at various times and a leaked article from an online tabloid, Superman is still completely unknown to the public.

I always, always hate it when stories have Clark referring to Jor-El and Lara as his parents in ways that imply that Jonathan and Martha aren’t. There are stories throughout the Silver and Bronze ages where Superman talks about his “real” parents. Here, it’s less egregious, calling them “my parents” when talking to Martha, but it always rings hollow, at least with respect to the adopted individuals I know, and I think it diminishes Superman as a character to suggest that he’s set up that kind of dichotomy in his own mind. At least Martha’s dejected response feels genuine. 

I like that Martha and Lois are the ones pushing Clark toward revealing himself, in their own distinct ways. Lara did too, wishing with her final moments that Kal would make a better world than Kryptonians did.

For an advanced alien race, the Kryptonians’ broadcast is awfully full of static and digital artifacts.

I’m a little curious as to exactly how Zod knows that Kal-El has been in hiding on Earth. Like, I suppose they could have monitored Earth media for awhile, and maybe that explains the lag time between the ship’s appearance and Zod’s communication, but it’s a bit convenient that he would be familiar enough with the situation on Earth to know what Kal-El’s been up to and how the people of the planet would receive him to hinge a plan on those factors.

There’s an interesting juxtaposition in Lois being the target of the fear that kept Clark in the superhero closet. It’s another situation where not revealing himself ends up putting someone close to him in danger.

The parallels to the Donner movies continue piling up. Zod threatens the world if Superman doesn’t surrender; Jonathan tells Clark that he’s destined for greater things. Of course, I can’t help but see Jonathan’s call for restraint here as another point that’s ignored by the film’s ending. Interviews all along have suggested how late in the game that decision was made, and it really shows in how it renders so many of the major themes inconsistent.

The scene with the random priest is so, so awful. It could have been salvaged pretty easily; I mentioned in my first review how it would have made a lot more sense to make Pete Ross the priest instead of a random IHOP employee, since it gives his character an arc that he lacks otherwise—the closest he gets to closure is seeing Superman in the IHOP during the battle later. Hell, the scene that directly precedes this one is the one where Pete helps Clark up after being assaulted by bullies. Even just implying that Clark has some preexisting relationship with this priest in his small town, that he would seek this guy’s advice over his mother’s, over having these thoughts by Jonathan’s grave, anything that would give the scene a little bit more genuine gravitas would be better. Instead, they bank on there being enough gravitas in trying to draw a Christ parallel with Clark, and if you don’t get that from turning himself in to powerful militaristic outside authorities for the world’s salvation, it’s okay, they made sure to sit him in front of a stained glass window of Jesus praying in the garden of Gethsemane.

Zack Snyder beats you over the head with obvious symbolism.


And then the priest’s contribution is “what does your gut tell you”? And a “leap of faith” platitude? Argh, he is a completely unnecessary character, and I strongly suspect this scene was a later addition.

I do appreciate that Lois is the one who comes up with the name Superman, though I’m annoyed that they cut her off from saying it.

Superman’s calm, matter-of-fact demeanor in the interrogation scene does a lot of the legwork in trying to convince the military that he’s not a threat, but all of the concerns General Swanwick raises are otherwise legitimate. As far as the military knows, Kal-El could be an alien sleeper agent, and the only thing he’s done to even slightly allay that fear is surrender, which incidentally puts him inside a government facility with the only human known to have collaborated with him.

His scene with Lois is genuinely touching, though, and while her sacrifice isn’t loaded up with religious imagery, it’s just as significant. It's worth noting that Faora's line about taking Lois along is about two steps removed from Darth Vader's "I am altering the deal. Pray I don't alter it any further."

It doesn't take Freud to pick apart the meaning of these dream images. 

The field of skulls scene is just a smidge over the top. How much of that imagery is Zod’s doing?
I do appreciate the diversity of Zod’s crew. For as little as we get to see characters like Jax-Ur and Nam-Ek, it’s nice that they each get a role to play and some visible distinction from one another.
I also appreciate that Lois effectively saves herself.

“You can save her, Kal. You can save all of them.” All but one, apparently. And then the additional unnecessary Christ imagery. We’ve reached the portion of the movie where I’m having a hard time maintaining positivity. Though I kind of like how sparkly the texturing on Superman’s S-shield is as he turns toward the Earth.

There's a point where symbolism just stops being symbolic.  

Martha Kent standing up to the Zod Squad is pretty great.

 Faora chokes Martha Kent, Martha Kent is still a badass.

Now we get to Superman’s first public encounter, wherein he flies General Zod through an open field into a populated area, blowing up a gas station. After driving one ship away, he does tell other people to get to safety, and then the military shows up, firing on both him and the other remaining Kryptonians. One of them crashes a jet into the street, and the resulting fireball likely kills a bunch of those people who fled indoors.
The fight then plows into Pete Ross’s IHOP, where Pete shows up again to no real consequence. Faora gives her little speech about how a lack of morality gives the Kryptonians an evolutionary advantage, and “evolution always wins,” which is head-smackingly dumb even as sci-fi manglings of evolution go. Superman, unfortunately, has no actual response to that.

The fight scenes here are very well done, showcasing how differently Superman, Faora, and Nam-Ek fight. Faora is clearly trained, moving quickly and with great fluidity. From the moment they arrived on Earth, she’s been the one most quickly adapted to using her powers. Nam-Ek is a brutal force of nature, though sadly not nearly as cool as his comic book counterpart. Superman is out of his depth—this is his first battle, after all. That’s what really makes this fight different from most other instances where Superman has battled Kryptonian invaders: in most of those cases, he wins in part because he has a lot more experience using his powers than the newcomers do. But here, he may be familiar with his powers, but we’ve never seen him so much as throw a punch. His opponents, on the other hand, are all bred and trained to be warriors. It’s why the only edge he has on them is his experience with super-senses and Earth’s atmosphere.

In terms of Superman’s appearance to the public, Col. Hardy orders the soldiers to fire on him as well as the other Kryptonians. Anyone still alive, still watching this, still potentially broadcasting this fight to the world, sees the military treating Superman as just as much of a threat as the other aliens.

They keep blowing up this street. I’m sitting on a couch I bought there.

Superman saves two soldiers by the end of the scene, and Col. Hardy explicitly says he’s not their enemy. But at this point, there’s no indication that anyone outside of the military has had much reason to think that he’s any different from the other invaders.

It is kind of crappy that some random soldier kid gets to be the first one to actually say “Superman.”

The whole Worldengine sequence works pretty well, and I’m always up for Superman fighting giant sci-fi robots. I wonder if its spidery shape satisfies Jon Peters.

Of course, assaulting the unmanned object that’s out in the middle of the Indian ocean doesn’t exactly raise Superman’s public profile at all. At this point, most people likely know that there’s an alien ship obliterating a major American city, and the military is powerless against it. And they know that this is what Zod threatened to do if Kal-El didn’t surrender to them. Lois hasn’t exactly had time to file a story, and the Daily Planet isn’t exactly in the position to publish at the moment. If anybody outside of the military knows about Superman, they have zero reason to trust him.

Zod argues with Jor-El, and it’s about what you’d expect, except Jor-El says “[Kal-El] will finish what we started. I can promise you that.” Who is “we” in this case? What did they start? Is this just about rebuilding Krypton from the codex, or something else?

The scenes with Perry and Jenny would have a bit more heft if she’d had any kind of speaking role prior to this part of the movie.

I am an unrepentant sucker for Superman flying through giant beams of energy, ever since that first Fleischer cartoon.

Superman flies throuigh the Worldengine's beam. Not quite as cool a name as Electrothanasia Ray. 

Dr. Hamilton gets a nice moment figuring out how the Kryptonian shuttle works, and Col. Hardy goes down like a warrior against Faora, taking out the Phantom Zone ship in a heroic sacrifice. Superman saves Lois from the singularity.

And then Jenny says “he saved us.”

So, let’s unpack that. Superman flew into the Kryptonian ship while it was still out over the ocean, while Perry and Steve were working to get Jenny out of the rubble. She’s climbing out when she sees it starting to fall into the city. Superman is in the wreckage, on the ground, nowhere near the Phantom Zone ship when Hardy’s plane takes it out. He flies up and saves Lois, sure, but Jenny is making a pretty enormous leap, based on what she could possibly know at this point, that Superman’s responsible for saving them. If anything, she should be saying “She saved us,” because Lois actually fell from the plane that took out the ship.

Or maybe the “he” she means is Col. Hardy. Or maybe she said “they” and I misheard. It did sound a little unclear when I replayed it.

Zod gives us a little description of his motivation and mindset, which is handy. Feels a little Lucasian in terms of dialogue.

Holy cow, there sure is a lot of city destroyed.

Superman and Zod in the wreckage of Metropolis.  

“You’re a monster, Zod, and I’m going to stop you” is also some pretty clunky dialogue. Given that Zod was supposed to end up sucked back in with the other Kryptonians, I’m going to bet that this whole scene was written later than everything else, and it definitely shows.

The camera rotating along with Superman as he flies is a neat effect.

More people see Superman. Presumably, these people also saw the alien ship imploding, so all they know is that the aliens are still wreaking havoc.

Zod kicks a tanker truck at Superman, and he just nonchalantly steps over it, allowing it to explode and collapse a parking garage. That’s among the most infuriating things that happens in this movie; he makes absolutely no effort to stop it. And it’s even pulled from the Superman/Zod fight in Superman II, where he uses freeze breath to keep it from exploding! The implication that Superman has to kill Zod to protect endangered innocents is undermined by his casual disregard for property destruction here. This movie can’t even be consistently inconsistent!

Positive, Tom. Positive.

Zod says “there’s only one way this ends, Kal: either you die, or I do,” and it’s the same nonsense as the bit in the Supergirl Saga story. When the hero accepts the villain’s terms, he’s already lost. Imagine this Superman in the Donner film, accepting Luthor’s boast that he can’t stop both missiles. The Hoover Dam collapses, Lois dies, and Otisburg, CA becomes the hot new tourist destination.

The “days without an accident” gag at the construction zone is well-done. It would be nice to see this Superman with a little more banter; Zod asks where he trained, “on a farm?” and it’s kind of the perfect setup for Superman to repeat what Jonathan said earlier. Even “my father was a farmer” or something would be better than the silence he actually has to offer.

The missteps in these fight scenes are further infuriating because they feel like some of the first scenes in any adaptation that really show off the scope of Superman’s powers. The bit where he’s punching Zod in the air, then flying to catch up to him, is just really well conceptualized.

Here’s another thing to keep in mind: nobody on Earth has seen either Kal-El or General Zod before. Zod showed up in his full helmet on TV, Kal-El has only been seen by a few outside the military; fewer still while in costume. At best, surviving bystanders see an alien in red against an alien in black, causing widespread destruction. In order to get any indication who the good guy is, you’d have to be following them as closely as the camera is, which no human can do, certainly not safely.

And then comes the snap. Yes, it’s obviously hard for Superman to do, and it’s the clear result of being written into a corner. It would work better if Superman had made more of an effort to protect people during the fight, especially with regard to that damn tanker truck. It would work better if we hadn’t had so many speeches from the movie’s influential characters about how morality is a weakness, how hope means believing anyone can be a force for good, how important it is to have restraint. But we did have those, because I suspect those lines were all written with a different ending in mind.

Superman gets his cry on. 

At least Lois is there to comfort him.

The rest of the movie avoids any of the uncomfortable questions raised by everything leading up to it. We’re not given any indication how much time has passed, but things are back to normal at the Daily Planet. How long did it take New York to get back to normal after 9/11? And now imagine that instead of a few buildings destroyed, it’s an area the size of a few blocks, and also several buildings outside of the immediate blast zone. That there’s no indication of years passing between the scene of Zod’s death and the scene of Clark riding his bike through a very much not-destroyed Metropolis to a not-at-all damaged Daily Planet building, gives the film’s pivotal moments a weightlessness. How can we accept that Superman’s affected by Zod’s death when the next scene shows him joking with the General? How can we accept that Superman cares for humans when we’re given no indication that he’s helping to clean up the mess left by the battles he was in (indeed, if he were, the government wouldn’t need spy drones to find him)? How can we accept the danger posed by the Kryptonians when the next time we see Metropolis, buildings we know suffered damage are operating totally normally?

If the movie had ended in the crater left by the Phantom Zone ship, it would have some problems, but not nearly the scale and scope of problems that result from the scenes that followed. Killing Zod undercuts several of the explicitly stated driving themes of the film, and validates the villains’ positions. Ignoring the destruction trivializes it; the movie apes the imagery of 9/11 as so many action films have since Michael Bay’s Transformers led the charge to make it acceptable to show buildings getting blown up again, but there’s no aftermath. Even The Avengers at least showed the team relaxing in the blown-out shawarma shop. A TV news anchor discussing the cleanup, Superman mentioning how he’s helping to rebuild Smallville, it wouldn’t take much to indicate that the battle we’ve been watching for an hour had consequences, and that would go a long way to salvaging this broken denouement.

Lois looks skeptical but only because I couldn't freeze VLC on the right frame.  

Lois’s line at the end is great, and I like the idea of setting up a status quo where Lois is in on Superman’s identity from the start. It’d be a great ending to the first episode of a new series, if this weren’t a movie, if there weren’t three years between installments, if there were any indication that Superman will ever have another solo film in this universe, if the previous half hour of movie hadn’t occurred. But for Clark and Lois to be so easily smiling, so comfortable with each other and themselves when the last time we saw them, she was cradling him after watching him snap a man’s neck, rings hollow. It doesn’t make sense given the events directly preceding it.

Which leaves the other dangling question, the one I had going into this movie: what do the people of the world learn about Superman from the events we see? The answer is not a lot. The military has the most contact with Superman, they know the most about him, and the guy who grew to have the most respect for him got blown up and imploded. The remaining commander doesn’t trust him enough to leave him alone.

So what could the rest of the world possibly think about him? They have Lois’s leaked article, for as much as anyone believes the disreputable source that published it. There’s a family of four that can attest to watching Superman kill General Zod (once everyone knows to put names to the people involved) to save them. There are possibly some bystanders in Smallville who saw him fighting against the other Kryptonians and stuck around long enough to see the soldiers accept him as an ally. But outside of that? Nobody in Metropolis would have been able to see him do any real heroics; the thing he did closest to a crowd was callously allow a parking garage to get destroyed. Nobody was around to see him destroy the Worldengine in the Indian Ocean. Assuming some time has passed, Lois Lane has probably been reporting on what actually happened, since she was in the thick of it, but she’s also the person the FBI wanted for hiding his secret in the first place. How credible a source is she? Who else could corroborate her story? I doubt General Swanwick is talking.

The Lex Luthors of the multiverse should envy the Luthor of Earth-MOS. Can you imagine how easy it would be to discredit Superman in this world? To paint him as an alien sleeper agent who brought an invasion force to Earth? Or to take Zod at his word, that he would have left them alone if only Superman had surrendered, but now Superman’s disposed of anyone who could challenge his rule? Who could contradict him with any authority?

Man of Steel is a frustrating movie, because it does so much so well. It gets a lot right, it does some exciting and interesting new things with the mythos, and it avoids a lot of the traps that Superman’s origin retellings sometimes fall into. But the last half hour is a mess, and that sours the whole endeavor. It’s not just the killing, though that’s a big part of it. It’s the movie’s inability to commit to its themes, to its scope, and to its character development. There’s no follow-through. The movie manages to fly high and steady, but it doesn't stick the landing.

Superman can change the course of mighty mountains, too.  

7 comments:

eddie phlash said...

Zod won. Just like the Joker at the end of The Dark Knight. The villain's goal was to destroy the world, or destroy the hero's morale code. In both cases, we see our hero kill somebody who probably deserves it, but we want our heroes to be better than that, to find another way. I am very interested to see in BvS how the world has reacted to Superman.

Chima Ihebuzor said...

The idea that the villain wins if they are killed really doesn't hold up

Tom Foss said...

It's not that the villain wins if they're killed, it's that the villain is proven right. Zod is right and Jor-El is wrong. Jor-El is wrong when he says "you can save all of them." The explicitly-stated meaning of the symbol on Superman's chest is shown to be false. Zod is shown to be correct in saying "either you die or I do." Whether or not he wins, Zod is right. And a story where the villain's philosophy is shown to be more correct than the hero's isn't one where the hero has succeeded.

Chima Ihebuzor said...

Sorry but that's an arbitrary rule that I can't take seriously. "Either you die or I do" is not a philosophy it is a statement of fact. That Zod is right about this one thing is meaningless. I'm sure most of the people in Metropolis can agree that Zod was better off dead. The idea that heroes should prize their own views of morality regardless of whether or not it works in a situation is one of the most nonsensical ideas in superhero stories. It's one thing when you're dealing with a harmless Silver Age villain but when faced with a genocidal war lord hell bent on wiping out a planet that has done him no wrong then all stops must be pulled out to prevent him. If that means killing him so be it. I've never killed anyone in my life and I pray to God I never end up in such a situation but I'm not going to look down my nose at someone, fictional or real, if they had to make a choice between killing a monster and letting him slaughter others.

Hope is not the absence of good or optimism. It means the belief in good things to come regardless of how bad things are.

Tom Foss said...

""Either you die or I do" is not a philosophy it is a statement of fact."

No, it's not. It's a challenge. I recognize based on your comments here that you don't actually understand how Superman stories work, so let me school you: the classic Superman story presents a seemingly insolvable dilemma (you can't stop both these missiles because you can't be in two places at once, what happens when the unstoppable force meets the immovable object, etc.), and Superman finds a way to solve it without compromising his morals or giving into the villain's framing of the matter.

This is literally how "Superman II" ends: Zod tells Superman that his choices are to surrender to a lifetime of slavery or innocents will die, starting with Lois. Spoiler alert: Superman doesn't end the movie in chains, and Lois survives to cameo in "Superman III."

"The idea that heroes should prize their own views of morality regardless of whether or not it works in a situation is one of the most nonsensical ideas in superhero stories."

Ah, so what you're saying is that Superman's philosophy should be "every action I take, no matter how violent or how cruel, is for the greater good of my people." Where have I heard that philosophy before?

I'm starting to suspect that you don't actually like superheroes.

"Hope is not the absence of good or optimism. It means the belief in good things to come regardless of how bad things are."

That's a great general statement, but the movie gave us an explicit definition of what hope, and specifically the crest of the House of El, means: "the fundamental belief in the potential of every person to be a force for good." That turns out to be false. The symbol on Superman's chest is shown, by the movie's own standards, to be a lie. This is literally what the text of the movie is telling us. This is surface-level stuff.

Chima Ihebuzor said...

"
No, it's not. It's a challenge. I recognize based on your comments here that you don't actually understand how Superman stories work, so let me school you: the classic Superman story presents a seemingly insolvable dilemma (you can't stop both these missiles because you can't be in two places at once, what happens when the unstoppable force meets the immovable object, etc.), and Superman finds a way to solve it without compromising his morals or giving into the villain's framing of the matter. "

I'm aware of how Superman stories work. I'm also aware that the villains keep coming back to slaughter people making the heroes' sparing them moot.

Clark wasn't playing a game with Zod. This was a fight for continued existence of Earth. Every instance Zod is alive is one more for him to kill someone.

"This is literally how "Superman II" ends: Zod tells Superman that his choices are to surrender to a lifetime of slavery or innocents will die, starting with Lois. Spoiler alert: Superman doesn't end the movie in chains, and Lois survives to cameo in "Superman III."

It also ends with Zod and his minions being chucked down a crevice after being depowered.


"Ah, so what you're saying is that Superman's philosophy should be "every action I take, no matter how violent or how cruel, is for the greater good of my people." Where have I heard that philosophy before?"

You know, it's funny how torture and privacy violation are just fine for superheroes to commit but killing in self defense is considered cruel.

"I'm starting to suspect that you don't actually like superheroes."

I'm starting to suspect you're one of those fans who resort to strawman arguments when someone disagrees with them.

"That's a great general statement, but the movie gave us an explicit definition of what hope, and specifically the crest of the House of El, means: "the fundamental belief in the potential of every person to be a force for good." That turns out to be false. The symbol on Superman's chest is shown, by the movie's own standards, to be a lie. This is literally what the text of the movie is telling us. This is surface-level stuff."

“Potential” being the key word here. Not “guarantee” or “absolute certainty”. And there are plenty examples of normal, ordinary people proving Jor-El right throughout the film. Between Snyder getting rid of the “two person” love triangle that was always the most toxic aspect of Lois and Clark’s relationship, the priest who gives him advice, the military actually being helpful in defending their own planet instead of being pointless canon fodder, Perry and Steve refusing to abandon Jenny, I’d say this is one of the more humanistic.


I mean, is this any worse than the comics where Superman naively believes Lex can change only to be proven wrong everytime? it’s gotten to the point where the guy will flat out attack Lex on sight.

Tom Foss said...

"I'm aware of how Superman stories work. I'm also aware that the villains keep coming back to slaughter people making the heroes' sparing them moot."

So, as I said, you don't like superhero stories. You're the guy who thinks "Batman should just kill the Joker" is a worthwhile position.

"Clark wasn't playing a game with Zod. This was a fight for continued existence of Earth. Every instance Zod is alive is one more for him to kill someone."

This is true of a huge proportion of superhero stories, and yet most heroes are able to defeat their villains without killing them.

"It also ends with Zod and his minions being chucked down a crevice after being depowered."

Yep, it's not great. But it's considerably closer to how competent Superman stories work than Man of Steel is.

"You know, it's funny how torture and privacy violation are just fine for superheroes to commit but killing in self defense is considered cruel."

Huh, and then you go on to talk about strawman arguments. That's some projection there.

"“Potential” being the key word here. Not “guarantee” or “absolute certainty”. And there are plenty examples of normal, ordinary people proving Jor-El right throughout the film."

I know you think this is somehow a rebuttal, but it isn't. Yes, some people do good things in this movie. I'd go so far as to say the vast majority of the people you mention are shown being more heroic than the supposed superhero who's the protagonist. But they aren't the ones wearing a symbol that we are told means belief that every person has the potential to be a force for good. The guy wearing that symbol kills a person because he lacks that belief.

And you call it naieveté when applied to Lex Luthor, when the movie literally tells you that it's hope. Yes, it's worse for Superman to kill his foes rather than hope that they might turn their powers to positive ends. It's much worse. It's a fundamental misunderstanding not just of Superman but of the entire superhero genre.

Anyway, you can have your ends-justify-the-means death penalty Superman, and the DCEU seems determined to give you the Justice-By-Any-Means-Necessary League, so enjoy it. You've got your idea of what Superman should be like, and I've got a stack of Irredeemable trades you can read if you want to see more of that story.