I made a blog about Superman and the new film, Man of Steel last month which focused on how DC Comics and Warner Bros. had royally shafted Superman’s creators over the years, and how this film was meant mainly to be made to keep the film rights of the Superman character.
Well, I’ve seen the film now so from here on in it’s spoilers so you’ve been warned.
Right, firstly I’ll make it clear that the film is fucking shite just in case anyone might be confused as I go on.This isn’t to say there’s not good things about it; the score is good, some scenes are very well imagined (the Krypton scenes especially are very well imagined) and the last five minutes aren’t bad at all. Everything else is grim, unrelenting shite wrapped in one of the worst scripts you’ll hear being spoken by actors horribly miscast in roles they barely manage to breathe two dimensions into.
So let’s briefly recap Superman’s origins. He’s sent to earth by the brilliant Kryptonian scientist Jor El as his planet is doomed, where he’s found by Jonathan and Martha Kent who bring him up to be a guardian of everything good and to fight for truth and justice when he grows up to be Clark Kent, reporter for the Daily Planet, and to be an example for the world. As you can see there’s plenty of religious allegory here as that’s what Siegel and Shuster intended when they created Superman as they drew upon the Jewish myths of their upbringing, and at the time creating a powerful foe against the evils of Nazi Germany, not to mention the daily plight of immigrants to the US who suffered at the hands of slum landlords, corrupt businessmen and gangsters. In fact early Superman stories were full of him taking on these sort of villains as Superman was a moral guardian for the weak and the poor. He made things better for people and that’s been the character’s core for the 75 years he’s been around.
Then we get to Man of Steel which starts with a long sequence on Krypton which shows the planet in a middle of a civil war which means the director can show lots of THINGS EXPLODING, and the brilliant scientist Jor El (played with the range of a Findus Crispy Pancake by Russell Crowe) gets to walk around looking brooding and moody with a big gun. We know Jor El is broody and moody because Crowe frowns a lot and does his important sounding voice from Gladiator while shooting people as brilliant scientists tend to do.
Jor El then faces off against General Zod (played by Michael Shannon who SHOUTS A LOT to show how angry and earnest he is) before being killed by Zod as he sends his son to Earth after some bollocks about Jor El placing the MacGuffin in the ship taking his son from Krypton. It doesn’t really matter because you don’t really care as there’s no character building as that would get in the way of the SHOUTING and THINGS EXPLODING.
Zod gets his arse kicked, the civil war ends, Jor El sends his son to Earth, Zod and his gang get sent to the Phantom Zone. And this is in around five minutes of screentime topped off by Krypton EXPLODING!
Then we flash forward to an adult Clark Kent being a moody wanderer in a fishing boat trying to rescue people from an oil rig fire in an actually well done scene, but this is the last good scene until the last five minutes. What follows in between these scenes is the sort of stuff you normally see in bad fanfiction or in a lot of superhero comics today as we get lots of brooding shots of Henry Cavill, lots of brooding shots of Shannon’s Zod, lots of brooding shots of Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent, and on and on.
While I’m talking about Costner let me talk about his death scene. It’s so badly written and set in a scenario so ridiculous that if you’ve not been taken out of the film by the endlessly pompous tone of the film you will be as Costner dies in a tornado to save a dog because ‘humans aren’t ready for what his son is’.
Like I said, bad fanfiction.
Anyhow, Zod’s soldiers get out the Phantom Zone, find their way to Earth to get the MacGuffin, which results in a huge fight between Superman and the Kryptonians in Smallville which results in THINGS EXPLODING and probably the loss of thousands of lives, but lets skim over that as there was lots of kewl fights and guns and helicopters and soldiers and stuff plus lots of THINGS EXPLODING.
The film muddles along until it gets to the last 40 minutes which is more fight scenes, more THINGS EXPLODING and lots of 911 imagery used in a dubious moral way to drive home the point that this is a Superman for a post-911 world and things are much darker now. This of course ignores the fact the character was created when Jews in Europe were being rounded up and murdered by the Nazis, but today’s audience only seems to care of the here and now not to mention did I say there was THINGS EXPLODING on screen?
Eventually Superman defeats all the Kryptonians by sending them back into the Phantom Zone (I think, by now my brain was like putty) apart from Zod so they can have yet another huge fight scene with no emotional content but it looks kewl and there’s THINGS EXPLODING, and oh, Superman breaks the neck of Zod because that’s dark isn’t it? That’s what the kids want? A Superman who breaks the neck of a bad guy because kids love dark moody characters so let’s have Superman break the neck of Zod because the filmmakers can’t think of anything else. Did I say it was dark as well?
The fight scenes are clearly influenced by what Alan Moore and John Totleben did on Miracleman #15 back in the 80’s, but the difference is that Moore and Totleben detailed the horror of such a fight in graphic and gory detail.
The human cost is clear, but in Man of Steel, the human cost is at best an afterthought, but most of the time it’s ignored as that gets in the way of people punching each other and THINGS EXPLODING!
It’s a soulless, empty film made by accountants and marketing managers to try to hit the demographic who think ‘adult comics’ means people endlessly hitting each other, scientists carrying guns and maybe the odd THING EXPLODING.
But it’s the uncaring loss of life that shows up exactly how little the people who made this film care about Superman, or even follow the script they’ve filmed. In Costner’s death scene we have it made clear that Superman has to put people first and protect them, and we see that in the oil rig scene but as soon as the director/writer get to the big fight scenes we don’t see that until the moment when Zod’s neck is broken but by this time millions of people are dead or maimed but we’re not shown the human cost at all. It’s war but with no human cost so in that respect it’s very modern but ultimately Man of Steel is just violence for violence’s sake. It’s fanfiction writ large.There’s no joy in it. No fun. Just nihilistic violence and brooding, boring introspection. As said, it’s exactly the sort of thing creating by marketing managers and accountants.
Alan Moore recently outlined more of the history of Superman which detailed how the character was exploited, and Man of Steel is just another notch in the exploitation of the character but done in such a nasty, cynical way that any joy you can take from it is wiped out by another 15 minute fight scene with THINGS EXPLODING everywhere.
Then there’s the figure being sold at San Diego featuring Superman standing on skulls because nothing screams ‘hope’ more than Superman standing on skulls.
Ultimately though the best review of the film is the fantastic Kyle Baker’s game Mass Murderer of Steel, as it just sums the bloody mess up perfectly. Endless scenes of men hitting each other over and over and over and over in increasingly empty scenes of violence…..