By Kristin Bezio
First, spoiler alert. This entire review is going to expose the gory details of the film, so I’d strongly suggest avoiding it if you haven’t seen the movie and don’t wish to have its details exposed.
Second, I know I usually write about videogames, but I just can’t keep this to myself. Nor do I think I should.
For the sake of full disclosure, I’m going to state that I’ve never “gotten” Superman. I’ve seen some of the early films, watched the last Bryan Singer version, and just saw Zach Snyder’s Man of Steel. By and large, I’ve been bored by Superman films. I dislike the idea of having an extremely special, one-of-a-kind person who is the Chosen One, the Only One, or whatever other special terminology we’d like to apply to him (and at least 90% of the time, it is a him).
So I’ve been waiting for a Superman that didn’t make me want to roll my eyes or put me to sleep.
And at first, I thought I’d found it in Man of Steel. A large portion of the early parts of the film are devoted to the backstory – what happened on Krypton, who Zod is, who Jor El was, and how Kal El got from Krypton to a field in Kansas. Sure, the Krypton plot was contrived, and a rather obvious allusion to global warming, but I could swallow that.
Then, there are the flashbacks to Clark’s childhood struggling with his powers. Having to make the decision not to fight back against bullies. Saving a bus full of people and then having to deal with the fear and superstition. Those were interesting and thoughtful… at least up until the tornado incident with his dad. Because Clark Kent is not going to let his father decide to DIE in a tornado just to avoid being “exposed,” especially since he could probably, as my husband noted, “Go around the corner, then fly in really fast, and no one would notice.” In fact, he should have just gone and grabbed the damn dog himself, instead of letting his middle-aged father do it.
And Lois Lane had some balls. Which was great. Sure, she needed pretty much constant saving from ice, alien turret guns, aliens, and a broken escape pod, but she also did some shooting of her own and had the guts to go out and chase down a weird guy in an ice tunnel in -40 weather. So she had more agency than usual, even if she was still a damsel in distress and ridiculously high heels in a desert. But at least she got to shoot some bad guys, even if Russell Crowe had to tell her when.
But there was a lot of potential. There were also a lot of plot holes.
Such as… “our planet is dying, so we’re going to send our worst criminals into space where they will be saved after our planet dies.” Yes, that’s a great idea.
Or… “Krypton has more gravity than earth, therefore when on earth, you can fly.” Um… what? Gravity does not work that way, kids, sorry. Just say he can fly and don’t give me a half-assed explanation involving gravity and “solar radiation.” Because then we’d be able to fly on the moon, and we can’t. Also, Clark’s muscles developed ON EARTH, not on Krypton. So just as his lungs are adapted to earth’s air, his body would be adapted to earth’s gravity. Just sayin’.
Or… “Go under the overpass to be safe from the tornado.” Don’t do that in real life, kids. Go find a ditch.
Or… “AI who resembles Jor El is actually Jor El but a hologram. Or something.” Clark doesn’t find a recording of his dad explaining who and what he is. He finds an AI hologram that’s completely sentient and seems to know everything in a colony ship that’s been on earth for 12,000 years. Um. Yeah. Cuz… Yeah. I think we’re supposed to think that the AI is in the funny little key thing, but that still doesn’t explain how a 12,000 year old ship has the same tech as Krypton of 30 years ago.
Okay, skipping to the other silly things that are less plot holes and more bad taste.
First, the atheists-are-bad-Christians-are-good thing. An alien – Kal El – raised on earth would probably not chose a church as the first place to go when trying to decide whether or not to turn himself in to the other aliens. Because as an alien, he ought to not have an anthropocentric worldview, since he ISN’T AN ANTHRO. Also, his mom’s insistence that his dead human father “saw him” seems especially weird given the alien thing. Life from other planets would profoundly change the way we think about our “humanity is the bestest thing ever” attitude. Sure, I think religion would adapt to ultimately include aliens, but not that quickly.
Also, the fact that Zod’s female second in command actually says to Clark at one point that she has an evolutionary advantage because she has no morality is honestly rather offensive to an atheist. And wrong, evolutionarily speaking. Altruistic behavior is an evolutionary advantage, as Darwin, Dawkins, and others have shown, even if “selfishness” can create short-term benefits. But to align evolution with eugenics (the pod-babies) and immorality is an attack on people who derive their ethics from things other than religion. Like basic human decency.
And before you start saying “but they never SAY that it’s explicitly atheist,” no, they don’t. They just have a glaringly obvious scene in which Clark decides to hand himself over to Zod to protect the human race while speaking to a priest in front of a glowing stained-glass window of Jesus while discussing self-sacrifice and talking about personal morals and destiny. Nope. No religious overtones there. None at all. I mean, c’mon. He’s sent to earth by his father to protect humanity. I mean, c’mon, people.
And if we set aside the wonders of Clark-Christ, there’s still one really major problem I have with the film.
It’s wanton destruction. Not just gratuitous, but wanton destruction of the people and civilizations on earth. To the point where you start to feel vaguely sickened that someone finds this kind of pointless destruction entertaining. The husband called it “violence porn,” and he likes action movies and plays Call of Duty. It wasn’t gory. It wasn’t “violent” in the sense of shooting people (other than the occasional shot with weird blue alien rays that had no blood in the aftermath). Rather, the fist-fights between Zod and Clark led to the leveling of pretty much all of New York. Sorry, Metropolis. An entire city. Filled with people running away and screaming, and – even if they didn’t show it – you know that thousands upon thousands of people had to have been in or under the falling buildings. THOUSANDS of people were harmed/maimed/killed in the film. And if Clark had really cared about the human race, he would have taken his little fist-fight into the cornfields or the ocean, or SPACE. Not leveled an entire city.
And that brings me to another point. NEW YORK? Really? And the Indian Ocean? We had to go there? I understand trying to make films relevant to the audience’s lives, but I think we’ve arrived at that point where exploiting people’s emotional response to 9/11 by showing falling buildings in New York surrounded by police and firemen is no longer appropriate (if it ever was). And showing a “world engine” creating what amounts to another tsunami in the Indian Ocean (with absolutely no indication of the loss of life incurred on that half of the planet, by the way) is equally distasteful.
And these scenes were not brief flashes of destruction and explosions. They took up AT LEAST 30 minutes of the end of the film, if not more. In fact, that’s what the entirety of the end of the film was. Falling buildings, screaming people, crushed cars, and downed airplanes. (Yup, more planes flying into buildings. Tasteful choice, there.) The fact that several someones in the directing/production/post-production process thought that it was appropriate to exploit these tragedies to create tension in the audience is disgusting on a moral level (and I’m an atheist, so take that, film), and, quite frankly, lazy on an entertainment level. And, if I’m going to be honest, boring. You can only watch so many buildings fall down before you become inured to the “horror” of it and just want something else to happen on screen. Oh, look, another flipping car. How thrilling.
Overall, the ending was abysmal, and it was made even more disappointing by the fact that early in the film I actually thought, “Maybe this will be the Superman movie that will make me like this character.” But, alas, I’m still waiting for that Superman.