Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Man of Steel film review

I saw Man of Steel on Saturday.  What follows are my thoughts on it.  Don’t read it if you don’t want to be spoiled.  There’s a lot of spoilers.  Oh, and I had already discussed it in depth on the latest Radio Bamf podcast (for which I am now a regular team member). So give that a listen too.  We all had varying opinions on it and the discussion was spirited, to say the least!

I would advise you all to go see it.

Sure you don’t mind spoilers?
OK here we go.  This will be long.
The way I see it you can review this film in 3 ways – 1) It’s quality as a film, 2) it’s characterisation of Superman, 3) how it compares to previous Superman films.
I for one don’t think it’s fair to judge it against previous Superman films.  It was always going to be a very different creature to Christopher Reeve’s and Brandon Routh’s films, and I’m fine with that.  Man of Steel presents a different version of events to the Reeve canon, and indeed a different version of events to comics canon.
The first 20 minutes of the film are set on Krypton, where Jor-El becomes an action hero, which was a bit bizarre, Kal is sent off planet a few weeks before Krypton explodes partly because of Zod’s attempted military coup and Jor-El is killed by Zod.   We also see that Kal is Krypton’s first natural birth in centuries, and we see the birth scene – I’m not sure that we’ve ever seen that before you know.  Lara didn’t look 9 months pregnant there.  I loved the cityscape of Krypton and the flying animals. I loved the Kryptonian clothes.
Lois meets Clark before he’s Superman.  Then she tracks him down and finds him.  I’m happy with that.  All this stuff so far modernises the story and you know, if that’s where the producer/director wants to go, that’s cool.
There’s loads of flashbacks to Clark as a kid, and Pa Kent giving him advice. Ma Kent doesn’t get much of a look in and I didn’t really get a sense that Clark was brought up in a joyous fun happy environment.  I felt that Pa Kent was filled with fear and paranoia that someone would Find Clark Out.  There wasn’t much sense of the Kents giving him a moral grounding – all that seemed to come from Jor-El, who had a much bigger role in shaping Clark’s destiny.  But if I’m honest, this didn’t become an issue until later on in the film, which I’ll get to in a bit.
There’s no Jimmy Olsen.  There’s an intern Jenny, but we don’t know if she’s  photographer or not.  The costume is very different.  Clark doesn’t join the Daily Planet or get the glasses until after he’s out as Superman, Lois doesn’t name him Superman and Ma Kent doesn’t give him the costume, Jor-El does.
The structure of the film was quite different – lots of flashbacks and leaping around to different parts of Clark’s life.  Fair enough.  It needs to be different to previous films.
So, yeah it’s pretty different to the previous films.  But that’s cool. That’s fine, everyone is recognisable, yeah? 
So I’ll move on to point number 2.  The characterisation of Superman.
My insides are shrivelling and dying as I think about this.
This film was a character assassination and I feel utterly betrayed.  I came out of that cinema wanting to cry and, barring the heated Radio Bamf debate about the merits of the film, didn’t stop feeling that way until Monday evening.  In the scene itself, I watched with growing horror as I worked out what was coming.  Then I felt like I’d been stabbed in the stomach.
Superman doesn’t kill.  Superman always finds a way.
That’s what he S means.  Superman stands for hope and how can he stand for that if he kills.  I won’t take anyone giving me lip about he was out of other options – the writers didn’t have to put him in that position, they could have had Zod sent off to the Phantom Zone with the others.  Or Supes could have taken Zod up into space, or away from the family, or a thousand other things could have happened.  The writers are paid to make up stories.  They could have done whatever they wanted.
The film even made the point that the S stands for hope. Superman represents the best that we can be, he is the most moral superhero.  He is an ideal to strive for.  How can he be this when he kills in his first film.  I don’t think the filmmakers know what a hero is.  How can Superman inspire us when he has to kill.  I don’t hold with the idea that this is a realistic move and in the real world people have to kill.  A) Superman isn’t meant to be realistic in that sense, he is a symbol.  B) People in the real world are quintessentially good and don’t kill.
Killing *must* tarnish your soul and I think it’s a dreadful thing to do a to a young hero.  I think it’s a dreadful thing to do to an icon who is in the public consciousness that much, because I think when those fictional characters that are meant to be the best of us can’t be the best, that says that no one can ever live up to that standard.  That not only crushes our cultural perceptions of ourselves but is also a lie.
Killing people isn’t cool. Violence isn’t cool. It’s not edgy, it’s not big, it’s not clever and if that is what you are relying on to sell your films you are a hack.
With the killing of Zod, the whole film became so cynical and so fearful.  There’s no hope, no positivity.  Even the trust that the army put in Superman, and his relationship with Lois, those glimmers of happiness are destroyed.  With the Zod storyline in mind, Pa Kent’s teaching became worrisome and borne of fear.  If Superman had found another way, if he’d solved the problem without murder, then I could believe that the Kents brought him up with a strong moral code, that he was filled with love and compassion and that he’s a hero.  But he killed Zod, so he doesn’t have that background, so a shadow is cast over his Kansas upbringing.
I don’t usually react this strongly to films.  I ‘m quite happy taking a different version of events, changing the accepted canon.  I’ve gone through all seasons of Smallville and only yelled at the TV once (Legion flight rings are NOT time travel devices).  There’s an argument that Superman has killed Zod in the comics – but that was after 60 years of establishing character history and values.  This film is different.  This film is bringing Superman back into the public consciousness and it’s degrading him and what he stands for.
Yes I’m taking this personally, but I’m not the only one.  Jamal Igle expressed similar sentiments on his facebook page.  As did Mark Waid on his blogAnj of Supergirl Comic Box Commentary also thinks it’s a character assassination.  People I’ve spoken to on twitter agree.  I am not a mental case being precious about my fictional characters, others agree with me.
I wore my S shield t-shirt to the film, and I came out feeling that it was dirty.  I’m ashamed to wear it in public again because people will associate it with that film and that is NOT what the S shield stands for.
I feel like I’ve had my heart ripped out.  I feel like Superman has had his heart and soul ripped out.  I feel disgusted.  When I think about a new generation of film goers picturing this Superman as their hero... my heart breaks.
I’ll say it again, Superman doesn’t kill.  Superman is a hero.  Superman always finds a way.
If you can’t appreciate that you have no business writing him.
I suppose I should talk about the quality of the film.
It’s OK.  It’s far more of a sci-fi film than a superhero film.  It’s unlike any superhero film you have ever seen before.  The action scenes were overly long and the whole film could have been edited better.  Lois and Perry were fantastic.  Visually, the whole film is very dark (adding to the cynicism of the plot).
Zod and Fayora and the rest of the Kryptonians were ace, although Zod did have a weird accent.  I was greatly amused by the pods Zod and his minions got sent off in – they looked like penises.  There are plenty of little easter eggs for comics fans – Waynetech enterprises, LexCorp towers and trucks, Blaze Comics as a Booster Gold reference.
There were some heroic moments – saving the school bus and the oil rig were pretty darn cool. Henry Cavill is hot.  I’m sad that Sam and Lucy Lane didn’t get namechecked.  We didn’t get to know much of Superman himself – his characterisation was a bit flat, which adds to the problems I outlined above.  I think we were expected to know his personality, but it turns out we didn’t get his personality.
Lois and Perry’s characters were more developed than Clark’s.  Having said that, Cavill did really well with what he was given.  There was a short scene where he showed his remorse over killing Zod, but then it cut straight to him taking down a military satellite used to spy on him, then to the Daily Planet where he just got a job.  We should have spent more time on his remorse – seeing how it affected him.  I expect they’ll deal with that in the sequel, but that doesn’t help this film.  I thought Supes telling the army officer that he grew up in Smallville was particularly stupid, and I have no idea how he expects to keep his secret ID from the Smallville townsfolk.  The Jesus parallels wound me up.
All this stuff I would have been fine with, hadn’t it not been for the killing of Zod.  I don’t really ask for a lot from my superhero movies just that they be heroic and if possible, fun.  And Man of Steel wasn’t.  Before doing the Radio Bamf podcast I had no desire to go see this film again, or see any other films in that universe.  Now I’m relenting and I may watch it again.  But I don’t think I want to buy the DVD.
That film was a character assassination and I cannot explain how strongly I feel about this.
Thanks for reading.

1 comment:

Dan O. said...

Not the best superhero flick I’ve ever seen, but alright for what it was and nothing more really. Nice review Saranga.