Speculative Fiction Friday: The Man of Steel

man-of-steel-poster-henry-cavillI think we all are painfully aware that movies lack a lot of originality. It seems that studios are less inclined to invest in projects that don’t have some franchise associated with them. The sad part is that most of my film investments this summer are not with original films, but with Star Trek: Into Darkness and now, The Man of Steel.

The Man of Steel is Warner Brothers attempt to get a good Superman movie. Yes, Superman I and Superman II are films that I believe would pass the test of time if not for the bad special effects and stupid science like turning the world backwards. Superman III and especially Superman IV are considered horrific follow-ups, more cartoons than films. Personally, I liked Superman Returns, and the director felt that he wanted to follow the universe established in the first two films. Sadly, the film did not do so well, and there are parts of it that are completely awesome (Superman catching a jet-liner) and dismal (Superman apparently having a son, lifting a Kryptonite island, and dying in the process). The Man of Steel is a complete reboot.

Superman is a story that is like A Christmas Carol, as it has been done way too many times. Unlike A Christmas Carol, which meticulously follows story elements of the original Charles Dickens tale, Superman has changed a lot over the years. In 1986, DC Comics took a risk and decided to re-write the entire story of Superman. They trusted John Byrne, one of comic’s most successful artists and writers to do this, and I still have the first 6 issues of The Man of Steel series, and I may never sell them on eBay like I have my other comics. I don’t read comics any more, but Superman’s origin story has been rewritten time and time again, and I don’t think that any version is considered definitive. In addition to the numerous comic rewrites, there have been TV adaptations like Lois and Clark, several Superman animated series, as well as Smallville. All of these are just redone versions of the same story that we all know, and watching any of them is like composing a checklist of what to expect.

The words I have to say about The Man of Steel are big, big, big. Most stories of Superman spend little time on Krypton, showing Jor-El trying to convince the ruling powers that the world will come to an end. Then he sends his son via rocketship away as the planet explodes. In this version, Krypton is seen in all of its waning glory. Not only do you see a Russell Crowe Jor-El fail to convince the council that the world is about to blow up, but General Zod has a failed coup as well.

I would have to say that there are way too many things going on with this version of Krypton. I enjoy how this film’s Krypton is very similar to the Krypton in John Byrne’s version, with no natural childbirth and a sterile society. However, there is just way too many things happening at that point in the film, as if it could be another film in an of itself. Perhaps this could have been told in a flashback later in the film, which happens anyway.

Oddly enough, we don’t really get much as far as Clark Kent’s childhood with Jonathan and Martha Kent. They don’t show a scene where the rocket lands and they adopt young Kal-El. Instead, they cut from Krypton to Clark as an adult, saving people in an oil rig from a fire. This scene is also bigger than it needs to be, but this doesn’t mean that it isn’t spectacular. The problem is that it feels like more money was invested in it that needed to be. Superman could have easily done something equally heroic with less of a budget.

Now, we do see Clark’s childhood, mostly told through flashback, and I think this is probably the best way to show it if you aren’t going to go in chronological order. The flashbacks are the best way to show what is going on with Clark as a character, but I don’t like what happens to his adopted Kevin Costner father. The scene feels forced and strained, and its ending done only for the sake of drama.

Clark soon discovers a Kryptonian ship in the Arctic that reveals all of his origins, and even a costume. Yeah, the appearance of the other spaceship seems unnecessary to me, and I don’t see why the same story elements could not be done with Clark’s baby rocketship. Apparently, people of Krypton have actually gone into space before, which begs the question as to why Jor-El couldn’t have built a spaceship to take his entire family away from the exploding planet. Yeah, apparently, all the Krypton colonies died as Krypton did, for some reason. Before I get into more plot-holes and other awesome things about this film, I will let you know that there are spoilers after the jump.

Anyway, Clark meets Lois in the Arctic, and she actually tracks him down. She even finds out his real name. Yes, the entire “Lois doesn’t know that Clark is Superman” subplot has been completely eliminated. Also, Lois does some pretty dynamic things in the film, and isn’t just a character that Superman saves all the time. She does get saved a lot, but hey, she also helps save the day, risking her own life in the process.

As mentioned before, General Zod is the main villain here, and he shows up with an army of Kryptonians despite being in exile. Yeah, I’m not certain I buy this either. You see, they went the Star Trek: Into Darkness route and took the villain from the second earlier movie of the franchise. I’ll let you to think about this one if you haven’t figured out what I meant. Zod in this film is seen as slightly sympathetic, a product of a culture that wanted him to be a warrior and thus wanted him to preserve his race at any cost. He wants to terra-form Earth into Krypton, which apparently has a different atmosphere that humans cannot survive. Of course, he isn’t willing to save the humans on Earth.

Clark has to choose between who he is going to follow, but Zod trying to kill all humans makes the decision a no-brainer. It is interesting that Clark realizes that Earth may not accept him as Superman. This is something that is always glossed over in a Superman story. If there was some man who could destroy a city, hear every conversation, see through every wall, then I honestly don’t think there is a country in the world that would accept this man as a “Lone Ranger”, unless they had to.

Believe me, the world has to. Like the rest of the movie, the conflict becomes big, big, big. Not only does Clark has to face off against one rampant Kryptonian, or three, but an army of super-powered beings. There is a battle at Smallville that is almost as epic as the end, and this is Clark facing off with just two bad Kryptonians The end of the film attempts to trump the big ending of last summer’s Avengers, and Metropolis gets wrecked to the point that it is completely un-liveable. The destruction feels gratuitous and I honestly wish this film was rated R so we could see people die. This would happen in real life, and it is something glossed over in superhero films for the sake of gratuitous destruction in hero/villain battles.

I mean, in the scene where Superman fights with General Zod, they are throwing each other into buildings. I realize that Zod may not care about human life, but is Superman thinking about the consequences of fighting in close quarters with humans? Can he not fly away to a deserted desert to duke it out? Zod would probably follow him. Granted, it shows that Superman is willing to make choices to save humans, but you don’t see any humans die.

I do like that this film has a sense of moral ambiguity to it, even though there are clear bad and good guys. It does explain how Superman can act as an independent agent of good, and sets him up for further adventures and most likely a Justice League movie.

I am not certain if I would say that The Man of Steel is the best Superman movie, but it is the best so far. I believe that we will see another reboot, probably in less than a decade. I guess future generations will experience superheroes with whatever interpretation will be made for their generation. I don’t know whether or not this is a good or bad thing, but all I can say is that there must be other hero stories that we can tell instead of these.

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