Updated on December 10, 2021
Yes, SPOILERS below. Please stop reading if you haven’t seen the film.
Earlier today, I went to see the new Superman movie “Man of Steel.” As much as I was hoping otherwise, and despite Superman being my favorite superhero character, I have to say I didn’t like this film. I suppose it’s the kind of film I’d expect from the people that directed/produced “300” and the recent Batman films (none of which I liked). Maybe that’s why “Man of Steel” felt joyless/grim throughout. The audience at my screening laughed briefly at a scene at the very end, but that’s about it…a far cry from last summer’s “The Avengers.”
The ending of “Man of Steel” particularly grated for me. I never liked the idea of Superman “needing” to kill his foes to save the day. He’s Superman—part of his appeal is that he’s smarter than his enemies, and is capable of coming up with more creative solutions than the type of story-ending “solution” that I’d expect more from any number of generic summer blockbuster/action movies. Arguments in favor of Superman killing his foes also seem to play into an assumption that one believes the death penalty is “justifiable” or “works,” a belief I don’t share. And yes, I’m well aware of examples like the Byrne version executing Zod, which I also didn’t care for for similar reasons (and doesn’t justify seeing it here).
Granted, I guess one can argue my tastes are “old-fashioned”: my favorite comic version of Superman’s the “Bronze Age” (70s/early 80s) version. I’m also probably the only person on Earth who thought “Batman Begins” was boring, and subsequently avoided “Dark Knight” due to that and my heavy dislike of the modern, mass-murderer version of the Joker. Thus, my preferring a Superman who doesn’t kill might seem “quaint” or not “2010s” enough, per the recent cynical trends in entertainment and in real-life world affairs.
So as to avoid a completely negative post, I’ll list some of what I did like about the film:
- Amy Adams as Lois Lane.
- Henry Cavill as Kal-El made a decent enough Superman…when the film actually permitted him to smile, anyway.
- Ma and Pa Kent’s roles in the film. Though how Pa died suggests nobody in Hollywood’s ever been to the Midwest, learned tornado safety tips, and/or seen tornado weather watches on TV and radio before. Also, invisible super-speed seems ignored as an option to save Pa…especially with the film’s casual disregard of Clark’s not-so-secret identity in various scenes later on.
- The film’s diversity in casting Laurence Fishburne as Perry White, as well as the prominence of African-American military general Swanwick (named after Curt Swan, Superman’s most famous long-time Silver Age artist). Though I wonder why they didn’t use Lois’ father, General Sam Lane, given the big role the military plays in this film.
- A few minor comic touches: a store in Smallville (one that isn’t product placement) is presumably named after Otto Binder, a Silver Age Superman comic writer. There’s also minor character Steve Lombard appearing at the “Planet” scenes, though here for some reason he’s bald and skinny, unlike in the comics. (Is this Lombard’s first live-action appearance?) Kelex also appears here as Jor-El’s computerized servant; post-Crisis comics have Kelex in a similar role, and (somehow) eventually wound up in Superman’s Fortress of Solitude. There’s also a nod to the (post-Crisis) Lex Luthor, as LexCorp’s logo is seen on several semi trucks.
- Krypton doesn’t look like an igloo. Similarly, Kal-El’s rocket looks like an actual rocket, not a Christmas tree ornament. Great as the Reeve films were, its designs for Krypton screamed “70s Hollywood execs/designers ‘knowing’ more than the source material.” Thus, I’m grateful for this change.
- Some of the flashback scenes were nice, though the “old-timer” side of me noted Clark being allowed to become Superboy would’ve resolved most of the “I want to help but don’t know how” angst. He waited until he was 33 to become Superman in this film?! That’s the oldest I’ve seen Clark becoming Superman… older than the post-Crisis Supes taking up the role around his mid-20s!
As for whether this will be the big tentpole for future DC movies Time-Warner’s hoping to produce (to go up against Marvel’s hit films), I don’t know. The box office take on opening weekend should be large, but from what I’ve read, it won’t match what “Iron Man 3” pulled in. “Monsters University” opening next weekend (which I’ll also be seeing) might also make for a sizable box office drop, with families opting for Mike and Sulley over the Man of Tomorrow. Overall, between the big hit “Iron Man 3” has been, and two other films out this year (“The Wolverine” in July and “Thor 2” this fall), I suspect Disney/Marvel’s not going to be too worried about “Man of Steel,” or the upcoming sequel.
Yes, sequel—supposedly, they’re already working on the “Man of Steel” followup film. However, if it’s by the same production staff as this film (and/or with a similar tone), that might be the first Superman film since, well, ever, I’ll pass on watching (at least at the theater… it might fall on the “maybe watch on DVD someday” list).