We all have our own movie sensibilities and opinions on film. That’s great. It’s fun to have debates. Man of Steel is a different animal though. Every time I watch Man of Steel, it bothers me that so many people hated this movie. There seems to be no middle ground. You either love it, or hate it. Man of Steel caused a chain reaction among film fans, creating a ripple effect on how superhero movies should be made, and brought the DC/Marvel rivalry to its most bitter peak. To this day, Man of Steel is still debated on.
If you don’t like Man of Steel for movie reasons, fine. To each his own. What bothers me about the criticism is many of the haters lash out because it’s not what they wanted from a Superman film. That’s not a legitimate complaint, I’m sorry. We’re talking about a movie. It should be evaluated as a movie. Characters. Story. Acting. Whatever. The same thing happened with Batman Returns, a movie that has aged rather well. Is it the most accurate depiction of what the comic books are? Absolutely not. But as a movie, it works phenomenally well. Fortunately for Batman Returns, it wasn’t released in the age of social media.
Man of Steel takes a lot of chances, and adds an original take to the mythology we’ve known for decades. The filmmakers did the right thing by moving away from the “Gee golly wiz shucks, Lois” type Superman. Unfortunately, people can’t get off their Superman high horse and vehemently bashed the film, including those who’ve even written for the character. To me, this shows an immaturity. Maybe it’s not the Superman characterization you wanted, but the inability to evaluate the execution of this particular characterization on its own merits is really sad.
The stuff I’ve mentioned is nothing new. These are arguments we’ve had for almost three years now. With Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice imminent, the perception of Man of Steel could very well change. This is my final opportunity to defend the film on its own merits. It’s time to unleash all my emotion and passion for this movie one last time. I’m going to cover all the major criticisms, even those that are complete and utter nitpicks. I will leave no Kryptonian stone unturned.
For one last time – why Man of Steel is a great movie:
WHY I LOVE THIS FILM
Before we get to the individual complaints, just an overall view on why this film is awesome. The opening sequence draws you right in. How can you not love that Krypton sequence? It’s like its own short film. Emotionally gripping. Charged storytelling. It took one of the coolest back stories and made it even better. By the time Lara witnesses her planet explode, you’re already drained. I mean that in a good way. As someone who hates CGI, this is probably some of the best I’ve ever seen. It integrates with the environment seamlessly.
It’s really the cast that delivers though. Wow. Aside from the Dark Knight trilogy, this is easily the best superhero cast ever assembled. There is no weak link. Amy Adams is instantly the best Lois Lane. Russell Crowe is Russell Crowe. Diane Lane and Kevin Costner were perfect choices for the Kents. Laurence Fishburne was a sneaky good Perry White. Even the minor characters like Christopher Meloni as Col. Hardy, and Harry Lennix as General Swanwick were stellar. You could even argue the best performance was Antje Traue as Faora, who’s a better villain in limited screen time then every other Marvel villain combined. It all begins with the man himself though, Henry Cavill.
The development of Clark Kent’s character goes deeper than anything we’ve seen before, including ten years of a television show. This isn’t as simple as Clark Kent is a good person, learns who he is, throws on a cape and we’re good to go. We see Clark’s journey unfold. He doesn’t just blindly become Superman. He asks questions that should be asked. One of the complaints is he only becomes Superman because General Zod’s arrival forces him to be. Not true. Before there’s even an attack, Clark questions whether or not to trust humanity. When he chooses to turn himself in, that’s when he becomes Superman. Some will argue “Why would Superman even have to question this? He’s Superman! He’s supposed to be the ultimate good guy!” Clark asking these questions makes him a more compelling character. I love the Christopher Reeve Superman like everyone else, but this makes the Man of Steel character far more interesting. Get over it, Superman fanboys. Cavill’s understated performance carries this beautifully.
The storytelling is also equally as compelling. Sure, it can get a little crazy with the codex, phantom drives, terraforming, yadda, yadda, yadda, science mumbo jumbo, but it has it where it counts. The Superman story is one we’ve seen a hundred times, but they actually manage to do something different with it. The idea that Krypton births its children through artificial intelligence with a pre-determined job is a huge change in the mythology. It’s not just big picture stuff though. Lois Lane knowing right away that Clark is Kal-El is a WELCOME change. Thank Jor-El we don’t have to go through nine movies of the ridiculous Clark Kent wears glasses, will they or won’t they nonsense. Don’t we crave for originality in superhero movies? Well, they did it here, and they did it with the most well known superhero in existence.
The non-linear approach also works. Christopher Nolan did it with Batman Begins, and it works just as well here. I love how the flashbacks coincide with what Clark is going through at that exact moment. For example, when Zod shows up, Clark remembers a time when he’s getting bullied, but can’t fight back. We’ll certainly talk about the action more later, but in a pure aesthetic sense, it’s awe-inspiring.
What’s even more awe-inspiring is Han Zimmer’s score. Even the most ardent hater of this film loves the score. This is Hans Zimmer’s masterpiece.
THE NITPICK CRITICISMS
I said I would leave no stone unturned. Before we get into the big stuff, here are actual elements to the film I’ve heard criticized.
How Does Jor-El Know How To Fight? Seriously? Do movie audiences need to be over explained to this degree? Just because you’ve never seen Jor-El fight in a previous iteration, why can’t he do so here? Jor-El is a grown man. I’m sure at some point growing up on Krypton, he took a few classes. For crying out loud.
Clark Kent Ruins That Guy’s Life When He Destroys the Truck: I know this is in the snarky Honest Trailer, but people actually complained about this? It’s a joke! And for a movie that got complaints about not having enough comedy, you criticize the funniest part of the film? Most importantly of all, the guy was an asshole who harassed women! We’re really going to levy criticism at this?
Clark Gets In The Suit Too Fast: This is another example of people having their own image of Superman built up in their heads. They needed to see a ten minute sequence where his suit descends from the sky as we all stare in awe. Here’s what happens: Clark finds out who he is. Jor-El explains everything. There’s a suit in the scout ship. He puts it on. The end.
Many ripped the dialogue for being over the top. While I agree on paper it’s a little much, these great actors sell it beautifully. I didn’t talk about Michael Shannon earlier, but he was incredible as General Zod. His dialogue was probably the most ridiculous, but I could listen to Shannon shout “I will find him!” all day.
Not only do the actors all commit 100% to this material, but I actually think the dialogue is damn good:
“Tell me, you have Jor-El’s memories, his conscience. Can you experience his pain? I will harvest the codex from your son’s corpse, and I will rebuild Krypton atop his bones.”
Come on! How is that not a great line? Shannon’s performance as Zod is criminally underrated as one of the great superhero movie villains.
THE PRODUCT PLACEMENT
This is one criticism that is totally legit. However, I actually think it works for the fight sequence in Smallville. The fact we see Sears, I-Hop and a U-Haul van make it feel like a real town, giving the action more of an emotional punch. I could do without the five second Nikon and Nokia close up shots though.
RELIGIOUS SYMBOLISM!!! AHHHHHHHH!!!
Okay, everybody needs to calm down with this one. First of all, this is no where near Superman Returns, where it got close to theater attendants hitting you over the head with crosses while you watched the movie. Ever since Superman first appeared in comic books, there has always been religious overtones.
In Man of Steel, we’re talking about three scenes. One of the parents from the bus accident claims religion is going on, but that’s a totally realistic reaction someone might have after what Clark did. This is quickly dismissed by the Kent’s anyway.
In a later scene, Clark talks to a priest. So what? Is this really such a big deal? It’s not like Zack Snyder walked out of the screen and preached religion to you. He wrote a character that needed to get advice, so he walked into a church. Oh, the horror. And by the way, it was a well written scene.
Onto the Jesus shenanigans. One of my biggest movie pet peeves is overly symbolizing your protagonist to Jesus. I especially hated it with Neo in The Matrix trilogy. In Man of Steel, we’re talking about one five second shot. That’s it. Jor-El says “You can save them all,” Superman spreads his arms a bit, but that’s it. It’s barely anything, yet all I heard was how religious/Jesus heavy the film was. IT’S BARELY IN THE DAMN MOVIE!
JONATHAN KENT’S PARENTING/DEATH
Oh boy, now we’re really stepping into the fire. While many see Jonathan Kent as a problem, I see it as one of the movie’s greatest strengths. One of the biggest themes the filmmakers were going for was realism. They wanted to take a story about an alien with super powers as real as possible. That means the characters have to act like real people as well. I know we all love Jonathan Kent in the comic books. He’s the perfect human being who has all the answers. Guess what? If you were the dad to a kid who had super powers, you would not have all the answers.
This is the scene that gave Superman fans panic attacks. It’s also one of my favorite scenes from any recent superhero movie. “Maybe.” You know what that is? An honest answer. He doesn’t know what the right answer is. There isn’t a “How to Raise Your Teenage Son Who Can Crack the World in Half” hand book. This makes Jonathan Kent a real character.
Let’s talk about the death scene. While it could have been handled better, I have much respect for scenes like these as opposed to the cotton candy Marvel films. When people claim this is nothing but Jonathan Kent committing suicide, they refuse to think a little deeper at what’s going on. Clark even explains this to Lois. Jonathan held true to his belief that the world wasn’t ready for Clark to be revealed. He literally put his money where his mouth is and gave his life to protect his son, yet people wrote it off as Jonathan Kent being a pathetic, weak character. Are you kidding me? Jonathan Kent’s characterization is one of the more frustrating complaints with this movie. It’s infuriating that people care more about some narrow minded comic book adaptation than the layers they created with this character in the actual film.
SUPERMAN DOESN’T SAVE ANYONE/THE LEVEL OF DESTRUCTION
*Sigh* I’d love to just leave it at that, but I guess we should get into this. It’s one of the most overblown criticisms of any movie I can remember. While I agree Superman could have done a better job at containing the battle in Smallville, I have no patience for this debate. Whenever Superman saw a person in peril, he saved them. This happens twice in Smallville, including the pilot who he then asks if he’s okay. How much more Superman do you want?!
Let’s get into Metropolis though, because that’s where people really lose their minds. First of all, when the World Engines are terraforming Earth, Superman has to destroy the machine on the other side of the world, so he can’t be saving people in Metropolis. That’s it. There’s no legitimate argument to be made about Superman not saving people here. It’s a stone cold fact.
When we take a look at his fight with General Zod, let’s really try and focus objectively for a minute. Zod’s entire purpose was taken away, so he goes after Superman full force. They are in Metropolis. There’s going to be collateral damage. There’s going to be death and destruction. What is Superman supposed to do? Raise his hand and say, “Excuse me, Mr. Zod, sir? Can we take this fight to a desert? There’s a lot of people around.” That’s the whole point! Zod wants to rip through the entire city and kill everything. Had Superman not been there, how many more people would have died?
While I don’t think there’s anything to debate here, I am interested to see how the filmmakers address this in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. All this complaining could have laid the ground work for a great movie. We hope.
SUPERMAN KILLS GENERAL ZOD
Yup. We saved the best for last. Now I can end this debate in one fellow swoop. In Superman II, Superman kills General Zod:
That’s pretty cut and dry. There’s no grey area. And it’s even worse, because Zod had no powers and could have been taken into custody. Why does nobody flip their shit about that? This is the biggest reason why Man of Steel trounces the Christopher Reeve films. You don’t care in Superman II, because it’s more cartoonish. Man of Steel is more serious. The stakes felt real. That’s why when Superman kills somebody, it actually has an affect on you. The film worked.
This also happens to be my favorite scene in the entire film. First of all, it disapproves the notion that Superman doesn’t save people. You see him save this family! At the end of the day, there really isn’t an argument against Superman killing Zod. Zod makes it very clear – as long as he’s alive, he’s going to wipe out humanity. There’s no other choice Superman has. While we as an audience hate seeing Superman kill, Superman hates it even more. We get the dramatic scream, which Henry Cavill nails! He’s devastated by this. It’s the exclamation point on why I love this film. Superhero movies tell the best stories when they are serious, not all fun and games. That’s just my preference. But even if it’s not your preference, you can’t argue Superman killing Zod doesn’t work in the context of this film.
The fact he doesn’t kill in the comic books is not a real argument. Sorry.
TIME TO MOVE ON
I can’t imagine there’s anything left to talk about with Man of Steel. We’re done here. We’ve had these debates for three years now. If you’re a Man of Steel hater, I at least hope you’ve opened your mind as to why this might be a great film. With Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, it will most likely change our perspectives on Man of Steel, for better or worse. It’s been a frustrating, but fun ride debating this movie.
Whether you loved or hated it, there’s no denying this movie didn’t have an impact on you one way or the other.
Daniel Cohen is the Film Editor for Pop-Break. Aside from reviews, Daniel does a weekly box office predictions column, and also contributes monthly Top Tens and Op-Ed’s on all things film. Daniel is a graduate of Bates College with a degree in English, and also studied Screenwriting at UCLA. He can also be read on www.movieshenanigans.com. His movie crush is Jessica Rabbit. Follow him on Twitter @dcohenwriter.