Curiously nerdy posts.
For Father’s day, I treated my dad to a tradition of sorts. Like most guys, he loves steak, and he loves movies. So I treated him out to a dinner at Longhorn steakhouse, and took him to see a movie. Sometimes this can involve me sitting through a movie I’m not interested in at all. But lucky for me, this year Man of Steel came out on Father’s Day weekend!
So naturally, we went to see that.
I’ve been looking forward to watching it. I’m not nearly as big of a Superman fan as a Batman fan, but I still love the character when he is written well. But that’s typically pretty rare. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again… of all the comic book characters that are iconic and everyone knows, Superman is hands down the hardest one to write a good story for. Why is that? It’s pretty simple, honestly.
As a base part of his character, Superman isn’t really a flawed character at all. He always does the right thing, and rarely screws up anything. He has to be, because of all the responsibility he has on his shoulders. It’s a major part of his character, and a major theme in Man of Steel.
But that’s the problem. As it often is in real life, it is our flaws that make us interesting to other people, and our flaws that interest them in turn. If there were such a writing class as “Character Building 1101”, one of the first lessons would be to give your character a flaw. It doesn’t even need to be a big flaw, but it’s the quickest and simplest way to make a character with depth. Give them a problem, and you immediately have storylines. Have them deal with it, have them be brought down by it, and eventually overcome it. Or maybe have it bring them to ruin, like Shakespeare liked to do.
Superman doesn’t have that. So how to make him interesting? You take the Star Trek method, and apply it to him.
Lost me there for a second? Let me explain.
In Star Trek, the whole premise for most of the shows is that you have people travelling around in a giant spaceship with lasers that can, quite literally, destroy a planet if they wanted to use them for that. You then throw problems in their face that are either too big, or too complicated to be solved by simply saying “Hey, let’s shoot it with phasers from our giant spaceship, and go get some coffee.”. Sure, there are plenty of episodes where they’re forced to anyway, but most of the good episodes avoid letting the real problems be solved by the obvious brute force.
If you look at most of the really good Superman stories, they’re much the same way. For good examples, check out such classics as For the Man who has Everything and What’s so funny about Truth, Justice, and the American Way?. They give him a problem that he can’t fix solely with his super strength, flight, invulnerability, heat vision, cool breath, X-ray vision… you get the idea.
This movie, for the most part, understands that.
I’m going to be brutally honest here. When I first heard that this movie was going to be a reboot, I sighed, rolled my eyes, and readied myself to be bored for the first half of the movie. I was expecting a rehash of the Richard Donner’s opening hour from the original movie, with the same tired Jor-El speech to a baby Clark, Krypton exploding, baby Clark being found by Ma and Pa Kent, blah blah blah.
What a surprise that the opening hour of the movie is arguably the best part! You get:
-An actual explanation as to why Krypton is going to explode. This is nice. It’s always something I like having addressed, since planets don’t just explode. Stars yes, planets no.
–An extended action sequence featuring Russell Crowe. I found myself wondering how much of the opening with Jor El kicking butt and flying around was added purely because he’s played by Russell Crowe. Probably all of it. But it didn’t matter, because it worked. It engages you from the onset, rather than starting slow. I liked that.
-Small vignettes that are actually relevant to Clark getting his powers. Honestly, a lot of the best scenes are of Clark using his powers as a boy to save people, and him talking to his father about why he has to be careful using them. My favorite scene in the movie is actually the last of these, with Pa Kent willing to do anything to keep his boy’s powers a secret until Clark is ready to share them with the world.
One thing this movie really didn’t have, that I wished it did, was a bit more humor. Nolan’s Batman movies are, for the most part, brilliantly done, and they aren’t that funny at all, this is true. But Batman is a dark character, living in a dark world. Superman is supposed to be bright, and have more than a touch of optimism to it. In all honesty, that part is my favorite aspect of Christopher Reeve’s Superman. One little scene where he does the most basic nice thing for some random person would’ve gone miles for this. As is, the funniest scene in the movie is when he’s incarcerated by the army, and tells a character what flavor mints he has in his pocket.
I think this is an underrated aspect of why Marvel’s movies have been so successful. They’re epic, they’re dramatic, they’re heavy on spectacle. But they’re also full of cute little character moments that make you laugh, or at least smile. When you go see one of their superhero movies, you at least know comic relief won’t be an issue.
I predict that DC’s superhero (other than Batman anyway, because everyone loves Batman) movies aren’t going to come close to the success of Marvel’s until they figure that part out.
In one move, this movie got rid of the number one thing people use to make fun of Superman, and gave credibility to a really important character at the same time. That thing, of course, is the age old question “Why doesn’t anyone ever figure out who he is, if his main disguise is just a pair of glasses?” Comic book writers have come up with clever explanation for this over the years. My favorite is Lex Luthor’s reaction when he’s given evidence of it: he simply refuses to believe that any man with Superman’s powers would be content with hiding. Denial is the best, and most plausible reason to keep Clark’s alter ego a secret.
It works, for the most part. Clark isn’t some high profile public figure, like say, Bruce Wayne is. If you see him on the street, he’s just some guy. Even Spiderman 2 used this device, when Peter lost his mask.
The one character that this can’t work for is Lois Lane. Not only does she work alongside Clark for 40+ hours a week, she is also a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter. It seriously messes up her credibility as an actually skilled and observant journalist if she can’t spot Clark at least once while he’s cleaning his glasses.
The movie fixes this by having her meet Clark before he ever even works at the Daily Planet. She’s the only one on the planet who figures out who Clark is, and her character somehow just becomes more meaningful and strong for it. Some people are bound to hate this, because they love the whole “Lois loves Superman, but not Clark” pseudo love triangle. But I thought it was a really smart move.
The last hour and a half of the movie was a whirlwind of super-powered beings fighting faster than a speeding bullet, and destroying Smallville and Metropolis in their wake. I couldn’t help but think that the makers of the movie probably watched Superman Returns, and thought to themselves “This movie failed because there was next to no action in it. We’re not going to fail for the same reason.”
Well, this movie is never going to get called out on lack of action. Honestly, it felt like I was watching old episodes of Dragonball Z at times. There was so much flying, exploding, and moving faster than the eye could see kind of action that I found myself looking forward to the next time characters were interacting instead of punching each other.
Yeah, it was awesome, and the visual effects were amazing, but I just felt like it was overkill after a while.
The character moments are where this movie shines, not the action. It’s actually really nice to say that.
Anyway, I give this movie ***. It’s definitely worth a watch, but too long and too heavy to really merit repeated viewings. I would like to see a sequel with Lex Luthor, for sure, so hopefully it does well.
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