Saturday, June 15, 2013

"Man of Steel" Review -- SPOILERS!

SPOILER WARNING:  If you don't want to know some major plot points in the new Superman movie, "Man of Steel," then stop reading this right now.  If you proceed, it's all on you -- you have been warned.

Okay, I'm assuming we're alone, and that anybody who is still reading wants to be here. Lucky you.

Man of Steel is an attempt to bring Superman into the 21st Century and make him grim, gritty, relevant and full of angst. On those levels, it is a success. To echo what comics writer Mark Waid said in his review, though, I wish they had called it Ultraman or Wonderman or anything else -- that it had been an original story about another fictional hero. Because it sure as hell isn't about Superman.

This is a terrible movie, in my opinion. And here's why:

First of all, the citizens of Smallville are dicks, the Kents included. The Superman I grew up with learned his values from his adopted Earth parents, Jonathan and Martha Kent. They instill in Clark Kent the small-town American values of helping one's neighbors; that it is, in fact, one's duty to others to help them if it is within one's powers to do so.  In this movie, the Kents want young Clark to keep his powers a secret, ostensibly to keep him from becoming a prisoner of the army or of scientists who would want to dissect him. (Like that would even be possible with Clark's power set.) But the people of Smallville are partly responsible for this attitude; when Clark saves a busload of children from certain death, their reaction is not gratitude, but suspicion and even anger -- like the guy who saved their kids is some kind of a witch. The townspeople do everything but break out the torches and pitchforks.

Second of all, in order to prove to his adopted father that he has learned his lessons about helping people only in secret (if at all) Clark Kent allows Pa Kent to be killed. Yes, he does.

Thirdly, there is absolutely no chemistry between Superman and Lois Lane in this movie. No fun banter, no joy, just him rescuing her, repeatedly, despite the fact that she is supposed to be a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter who should know better about personal safety.

Fourth, this Superman appears to have absolutely no concern for other people.  Yeah, he's willing to sacrifice himself to the evil Kryptonian general in order to save Humanity, but along the way the movie shows scene after scene after scene of what I can only describe as Disaster Porn.  MILLIONS of people DIE in this movie, as cities are ravaged and buildings collapse.  Sure, Superman rescues a few token people here and there, but the level of destruction and carnage is almost nauseating.

And finally, and this is the deal-breaker, the straw that breaks the camel's proverbial back for me, to end the final conflict with the General, Superman kills him. Snaps his neck. Bang. Dead.

Now let me say this in no uncertain terms, in short and simple words that everybody excepting those in Hollywood can understand:  SUPERMAN NEVER KILLS. That's not who he is. Superman is better than us. He ALWAYS FINDS A WAY.  And Superman NEVER stands idly by while someone dies. Not his adoptive father, not a stranger, not a frigging kitten in a tree.

I don't care about the Hero's Journey; I don't care about the attempt to make Superman relevant by presenting him with impossible choices and having him tearfully do something terrible. The joy of Superman is that he is always able to find an alternative. He makes a choice none of us mere mortals would have thought of, or have been able to pull off, and he does The Right Thing in spite of all the forbidding circumstances against him. THAT'S WHAT MAKES HIM SUPERMAN.

If they had made this movie about some character made up specially for it, instead of an American icon, I would have thought a bit more highly of it, although I did find the long sequences of horrible destruction nauseating.  Maybe it's because I saw 9/11, but buildings collapsing while ostensibly full of human beings is hugely upsetting to me.  But it's NOT about some other made-up character, it's about Superman.

Just not my Superman.

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