*GREAT CAESAR’S GHOST THE FOLLOWING POST CONTAINS SPOILERS*
Superhero films encompass an odd crossroads at…
What’s that? Why haven’t I been writing and why am I now writing again?
Because shut up, that is why.
Anyway, Superhero films encompass an odd crossroads at which many conflicting elements collide. You might not need someone to tell you, but comic books are not films and vice versa.
And as such, one shouldn’t be expected to directly translate into the other. It’s only fairly recently that comic book films should be expected to be decent or well-done pieces of cinema and it’s something that we as nerds are entirely too blessed to have.
But too often, as comic book fans, do some of us forget that these films are not being made for us. Well they ARE, of course, but they’re also being made for people who have no idea who these characters are. They’re being made for people who only know these characters through their animated personas or through some other popular iteration of them. They’re being made to be some youngster’s definitive version of who these characters are.
This past weekend I watched Man of Steel. At 24 years old, I’ve never been a lifetime Superman fan. Indeed, until about a half-decade ago, I held fast to the popular opinion that Superman is boring–that to LIKE Superman means you’re boring.
That was until I read a story called Superman for All Seasons by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale.
In it I didn’t see a big blue boy scout who looked down his nose at other superheroes for their more “extreme” methods. He wasn’t invincible. He wasn’t infallible. He was just trying to be a good person.
This was my Superman.
And as I watched Man of Steel, I couldn’t help but see the resemblances. Sure, it might not resemble Superman for All Seasons in any other fashion, but Henry Cavill’s earnest, honest and vulnerable Clark Kent was the one that made me fall in love with the character.
It certainly helps that the film surrounding him was very enjoyable. Man of Steel isn’t without faults–it’s certainly a strange film that straddles blockbuster stupidity with quiet contemplation–but it works both as a sci-fi drama and a superhero film. Only Thor has been similarly successful in doing that.
But THE thing that many comic book fans who disliked the film were a few moments in the film, and few others.
One of these I actually somewhat agree with; in the film, when Superman does battle with Zod and the Kryptonians, it results in some fairly widespread destruction. Particularly, during the film’s climax, the Kryptonians bring their “World Engine” to bear on opposite sides of the Earth. The actually “engine” part of the contraption plants itself in the Indian Ocean while the Kryptonian’s ship ends up in Metropolis, fueling the terraforming terrors transformation (BECAUSE COMIC BOOKS!).
Anyway, the “World Engine” creates quite the mess, leveling nearly all of Metropolis while Superman tries to dismantle the machine in the Indian Ocean. Many people seemed to think–along with the following sky-scraper-shattering duel with Zod–that this felt uncomfortably like Supes was showing a disregard for human life.
I agree, it was uncomfortable to see some of the scenes of wanton destruction and that at times it felt like too much. But at the same time, I saw the film as a whole. I saw the moments that led up to this fight and the character that was developed in this film and while I agree Superman in the comics would have saved everyone.
But again, this is world and character building. Obviously, Man of Steel is following the old Superman mythos, but at the same time it’s also trying to build one for itself; one that people can love and latch onto. Furthermore, it’s never explicitly shown that people are dead, dying or have died. It’s being a tad harsh to just assume that Clark remorselessly let people die as he was battling Zod.
And of course this leads to the biggest moment of contention in the film. At the end of their fight, Superman has Zod subdued. Zod is beaten, but he’s also a man without a purpose and thus more crazed than ever. In a final act of defiance to Superman, Zod targets the first nearby civilians he can see and attempts to burn them alive with his heat vision. Clark fights to control Zod, but the beaten Kryptonian flat out tells him that he’s going to have to kill him to stop him. The blistering blasts of Zod’s heat vision are mere inches away from these civilians and Clark is begging Zod not to make him do it. Zod does not listen.
So Clark, in a moment of weakness, does the only thing he believes he can do to spare any more lives and kills General Zod; he breaks his neck.
This moment, and the following moment of quiet shock was not a moment of victory. It was not the triumphant end to a Superman rebirth that one might expect (particularly in an initial offering). What this was was the definitive example that this Superman–a Superman who I can identify with and look up to more than any other and I think that Man of Steel whole-heartedly earned that moment.
It never sells it as something good. It never sells it as something marking anything more than a failure for a man who is still learning to be a hero.
And some people can’t understand that. Some people don’t want to understand that simply based on the fact that that’s not what THEIR Superman would do. Superman would have found another way. Superman ALWAYS finds another way.
And I agree, Superman doesn’t kill, but did anybody seem to think for a second that perhaps the filmmakers realized they needed a REASON for Clark not to kill anybody? Shouldn’t Clark need motivation for FINDING another way?
After all, the Kryptonians just leveled an entire major city. Superman would be justified in killing them all, yet he holds back on them because 1.) they represent the last of a race he just discovered he is a part of and 2.) because he is, again, genuinely a good person who does not want to kill.
Yet he was forced to and, yes, that opens up a hell of a lot of possibilities in the future. Will killing Zod haunt him? Will he be presented with a similar situation in the future, yet find that elusive other way?
The problem I have with all the complaints is that, rather than look at the film from the standpoint of… well… a film adaptation–one with reverence, affection and respect for the character–so many seem to be focusing on why Man of Steel doesn’t fit into their individual mold of Superman. That somehow makes the entirety of Man of Steel irreconcilable for them.
I can understand that.
But I also say that it should not be the defining factor of what Man of Steel is. It’s a film that is both re-imagining and homage. It’s a movie that wholly earns whatever deviations from traditional Superman mythos it takes.
And it is Superman, just Superman another way.