This is my first article on this my first proper blog. Hurrah, etc.
Now I didn’t want to set the precedent and make it a whining, negative moan-fest about why the Man of Steel didn’t wear red pants or something. So instead of concentrating on the stuff I didn’t like in the reboot, I’ll focus on areas of the original 1978 Superman that did it BETTER.
And it did a lot better, let me tell you.
First let me say I didn’t hate Man of Steel. It was okay. Alright. It didn’t inspire almost any emotion from me save for an unnatural attraction to Zod’s sexy second in command Faora.
Yet herein is the problem. It didn’t move me. I wasn’t filled with awe, or a desire, that wish to fly with Superman. It didn’t make me feel bad for an outcast on an alien world unsure of his history or his future. It didn’t dazzle me with spectacle. It didn’t do anything that the original Superman did.
Rewind 35 years and we’re really making people believe a man can fly. Yeah it looks a bit slow and silly now, but that smiling wink to the camera at the end, the literal save-the-cat moment earlier, it all sums up what Superman is and should be – someone who is fundamentally good and is at peace with himself being that shining beacon of hope (and the American way).
It is laden with hope, bright colours, humour and what super heroes are famed for – saving people.
An element sorely missing from Man of Steel was the duality of Clark Kent and Superman. The film effectively rendered them the same character. Yes we got the whole inner-turmoil element of Superkent not knowing what he should do but feeling like he should do something etc etc. But it wasn’t framed in a real and traumatic-enough way. Instead it just seemed like a high concept teen drama. And they’ve done that with Smallville.
Reeves added an element of pathos to his portrayal of Kent – the nerd with the heart of gold, gunning for Lois Lane, while playing second fiddle to Superman’s smouldering prowess. Like has been said before countless times Superman is the real person – Clark Kent is the mask. None of this is in Man of Steel. Most of the characters are highly incidental – two dimensional placeholders to indicate threat or a change or location.
The obvious style and tone comparison obviously the Nolan Batman movies. Not surprising considering he co-wrote and produced Steel. Now Batman worked because his pain is very real, very dark and quite relatable. The Man of Steel’s isn’t. He’s an alien with power to help people yet he doesn’t (at least not for a while), and even when he does it seems to cause him more pain than joy – a clear difference from the Superman and Batman that we know.
Another divergent element is the trigger of his ascension from man to man of steel – the death of his Father. This is the same as Superman. However in Superman it is something Kent cannot control and thus denotes the entire subtext of the film – with all his power he couldn’t stop his Father from dying. He cannot control destiny.
Man of Steel plays it in another way. Here Kent could have prevented it, but doesn’t, thus setting up the whole guilt trip that follows him into adulthood. Both are tragic moments, both relatable. But one is a sacrifice, the other is a life lesson and by time we see Kevin Costner die (spoilers) we already know that Superman is going to become Superman.
Finally, what Man of Steel forgot were my two favourite elements of Superman. First, the theme. Hans Zimmer is a great composer, yes, but he makes mood music, atmosphere music. He doesn’t write good themes.
Want to argue with me? Fine then… hum the theme. Go on, I bet you can’t because I bet you can’t remember it.
Now try the definitive John Williams one. It is iconic. While Man of Steel was not the right movie to have such a bombastic and hopeful theme, it did lack a good score (in my opinion).
Secondly you barely saw the Steely Man soar. Yeah he did a bit, but it was either wide or long shots, or super close ups. It was so heavily CGI’d as well, and it did not fill me (or seemingly any other cast member) with the “OMG a man can fly” feeling. Superman did.
Okay so I liked some things. The epic super-battles were awesome and befit the scale of the character’s power. On the ground, Super-baddies vs. Marines sort of reminded me of games like MG: Revengeance etc. In the air it was a crazier Matrix Revolutions.
The casting was great – I enjoyed a few cameos from the BSG crew, though Fishbourne was underused. Cavill was good, as was Michael Shannon’s Zod.
Everyone’s costume save Superman’s was great (his looked so bleached of colour it looked navy crimson and ochre, not blue red and yellow).
I guess Man of Steel is just following the trend set not by other Superhero movies, but by superhero comics in general – it’s gone from the Golden era of bright primary colours to bleak Frank Miller grittiness. Which is probably why I don’t pay much attention to modern comics.
The movies don’t have to be that way, though. They don’t have to be like Man of Steel. They can be bombastic, colourful, humorous and successful.
Just look at the Avengers.