Last night we looked at NerdSync fixing how the recovery suit from the Return Of Superman story arc could have been better used in the Justice League Snyder Cut (which I may alternately refer to here on as “Snyder League” for short). But what about Man Of Steel, a movie that I STRESS YET AGAIN I thought was a decent superhero movie but as an adaptation of Superman completely missed why Superman is beloved enough to even get a movie in the first place, never mind numerous movies, even more numerous TV and audio series, and every other piece of media and merchandise that has come from the DC comic hero DC seems determined to completely alter or get rid of. (More on that tomorrow. Yeah, we might as well make a theme here that Friday’s going to break.) You can make a good movie and a terrible adaptation at the same time. These are not mutually exclusive but a bad adaptation will ruin enjoyment of a good movie based on a property you enjoy. It’s why as a fan of classic Battlestar Galactica I have no interest in the remake I call Battlestar Namesake.
The YouTube channel Center Row has taken a look at Man Of Steel for the series Film Fix, where the goal is to make the movie work better as an adaptation. I have my own thoughts I’d like to add to this one. That shouldn’t surprise you by now.
Catch more Film Fix and other commentaries on the Center Row YouTube channel.
I don’t think Superman was inspired by the actual experience of Jewish immigrants. Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster were of Jewish decent but I don’t recall them being immigrants themselves. It was Siegel’s father’s store being robbed (and conflicting reports on what happened to his dad during the robbery running around the internet) that led to Superman’s creation. Being an immigrant was only an excuse to give Clark Kent superhuman powers that grew as the character moved on during the decades based on a strange obsession with making Superman the most powerful person on Earth despite the superhero genre Superman arguably created leading to heroes with more and stronger abilities.
That said, I don’t mind stories where young Clark felt ostracized, but it was because of the need to hide his superpowers from a world that, depending on the continuity, hadn’t seen superheroes at all after World War II, and some of them were just costumed crimefighters that didn’t necessarily have superpowers. One thing Man Of Steel got right was Clark hiding his powers due to not being sure how the world would react. They just took it a bit too far so that we never see him learning to use his powers to help humanity when he was young, and the journey we see of him doing so as an adult not really carrying the same aspirational weight that it should. He was forced out rather than revealing himself when he was ready to be a superhero. That was a huge mistake.
In non-Snyder origin stories, including the Smallville show where he did also warn Clark to hide his powers, there was no attempt to keep Clark from helping people right now. In the Silver Age Clark even starts fighting criminals and alien invaders early by becoming the first Superboy while in other stories we see Clark helping others because the Kents instilled that respect for human life. He would just do so without revealing his powers to anyone besides those he fought unless the situation forced it or he found someone he could trust like Lana Lang in the post-Crisis comics and Superman: The Animated Series. It was only when he was forced to save Metropolis in a very public manner (the reason has never been the same between continuities) that he fought evil openly. Even that only came later on, as the early comics and radio show had him saving people behind the scenes and trying his best to stay out of the news. And yet he still saved lives in secret, which Snyder’s version doesn’t because Jonathan keeps talking him out of it yet still saying he has a destiny…a destiny this version of Jonathan is unique in by delaying that destiny to the point that, again, Clark has to be forced to come out of hiding because Zod and friends were specifically hunting him and the codex.
The problem with keeping Zod’s death in the story is the reason it happened in the first place. Synder said in interview that this was supposed to be the moment where Superman learns not to kill based on his reaction to having to kill Zod. First off that’s bullcrap because that’s not how the aspirational hero works. Even getting past that it’s not how Superman works, if as the hosts says we see Clark be kind to a bully and NOT take revenge on a trucker we know that’s not who this Clark is. Superman already knows killing is wrong and Zod’s death only works if Superman is being forced to make an exception, which actually happened in a comic story where Superman was forced to kill an alternate universe version of Zod, and needed to go on a space tour back in his own universe to get over it. Then Center Row’s alteration works.
In keeping with the bully and trucker however, I have a counter proposal. With all the other Kryptonians dead on the battlefield Superman simply sends Zod back to the Phantom Zone or uses some other method of incarcerating him that could make him a threat later on, or even (forgive me) being used as part of Joker Lex’s cheap knockoff version of Doomsday in Batman V Superman. Maybe there’s even a device on one of the many ships that could strip a Kryptonian of his powers that Superman uses on Zod, and he simply gets put in jail. Not only is this more in line with Superman in multiversal continuity and the character we know and love him as enough to see a Superman movie, but this would be Superman affirming the lessons he learned early in life about not killing, about power not making him superior to anyone else, and would be in line with the other baddies we see him deal with.
You can still have Clark reluctant to openly use his powers while still having him secretly use them all this time. Let the events of this story convince him to finally reveal the existence of a superpowered protector, have him inspire others in the next movie, leading to his importance in the forming a Justice League as others rally around his example. That’s one of the important things about Superman; his hope and optimism while using his powers to help others rather than control them is a major reason he has fans. In the Donner films Jor-El noted that Earthlings were “a great people, they just need someone to show them the way” (I may be paraphrasing) and we do see that. Speaking of “Man Of Steel”, the comic hero Steel, the only one of the “Supermen” from the “Reign Of The Supermen” arc from the Death & Return Of Superman event who didn’t claim to be Superman back from the grave, became a superhero because of Superman’s example, originally calling himself…The Man Of Steel. It’s that inspiration, that sense of hope, and that example to others to use their own abilities to make the world a better place without forcing that view on others that makes Superman who he is as a person and thus an important part of what he is as a fictional character and what he represents as part of modern mythology.
That’s how you make the movie better. Well, that and…
…at least get the colors right on the costume if you can’t do it right.