Man of Steel – A review and critique

This review will contain significant plot spoilers. Do not read past the next paragraph if you plan to see the movie.

As a movie, I do not think Man of Steel works. It does many things well, but falls apart in the third act.

Superman has a good character arc. The supporting characters get good moments, but not astounding ones. Lois Lane is not played as a damsel in distress. And General Zod is a credible and effective villain.

The acting is good too. But not exceptional.

The action and special effects are incredible. They are really the showcase of the movie.

Those are ultimately the greatest flaw of the show too. The final third of the movie is wall to wall action and effects. Cities, ships, robots and people are all destroyed. By the end of the movie I became numb. And the villain, with a valid worldview (evil but valid) is stopped by punching him into submission.

I’ve seen the issue with lots of action movies. I remember it clearly with the end of the Matrix trilogy. There is a complicated setup, action is always a part, but the final act is all punching and none of the complexity. There seems to be a desire to have an action filled climax. But finding a satisfying resolution of that action is missing.

In the end, you get a forgettable movie.

Ok. That is the movie. But I also have problems with the depiction of Superman. These align with my own biases on what I want a Superman story to be. The writer, producer and director made different choices. These might be valid interpretations, but they remain unsatisfying for me.

— lots of spoilers below. If I didn’t warn you off before, leave now. —

  1. Superman doesn’t kill. Never. That isn’t realistic. It is harder to right a movie where he doesn’t kill than where he does. But that is Superman. That is uncool now. There is a sense that in order to achieve justice, bad villains must meet bad ends at the heroes hands. But it is false. Especially with Superman. Soldiers and police can be forced to kill as part of their jobs and still be heroic. But not Superman.

    Superman kills Zod. This is actually the least of my issues. See above – I just think people have a hard time resolving action movies now. It is lazy.

    Superman kills off the Kryptonian crèche. Really? “They had their chance.” Dude! They had Superman knowingly commit genocide. This is a horrendous depiction of the character. He is as bad as anything Zod was planning to do.

    Superman fights in a crowded metro polar area. My idea of Superman takes the fight out of the crowded metro area specifically to preserve life. The movie wanted to destroy a city though. All the collapsing buildings looked bloodless, but a modern audience knows what really happens.

    This was all bad.

  2. Superman as an alien messiah. This is a common interpretation of Superman. But it isn’t one I like. I find it creates a distance between the audience and the protagonist when what you want is engagement. It works for a one-off story, but not the foundation of a franchise. If you missed the common imagery and parallels in the movie I won’t enumerate them. The movie also tried to have this both ways. Sometimes he had real human emotions and relationships. It creates a weird dichotomy.

    My preference is to base him on the Kansas farm boy. He is a Superman, but the key term is man. He he the same drives, fears, loves and joys as humans.

  3. A culture of fear. Superman was raised to fear the world around him. This is the X-men origin not the Superman origin. The movie works because Supes puts his trust in mankind anyway and it pays off (although they try to kill him a bit first). But it makes no sense. Why would someone raised to fear others opinions ever put himself in their hands?

    It seems very of the moment. A depiction that rings true for the America of right now. But it isn’t Superman. And it won’t age well. Truth and Justice will stay as ideals. The American Way, whatever that is, will be inspiring to Americans. But eventually we’ll grow out of fear.

More than the problems with the movie, the issues with Superman’s depiction lead me to not recommend this show.

YMMV.

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