Guess what non-political (for a change) rant Twitter went on this weekend?
What drew my attention originally that when Twitter did their “now trending” post on the topic it swore that Superman fans were defending Man Of Steel against this post. That was wrong. Zack Snyder fans defended Man Of Steel. Superman fans were right along with Variety in this criticism. Of course the Snyderites take any disagreement with his version of the DC universe like they were personally punched in the face by the Supermobile and swore up and down that they were wrong, that Man Of Steel totally had heart and you weren’t really paying attention to the movie. They weren’t paying attention. Read again what it ACTUALLY says.
Zack Snyder’s first swing at a household name property was a Superman movie, and while #ManOfSteel looks gorgeous, is well-cast and filled with eye-popping visuals, it seems to lack any heart associated with the iconic character.
This Superman is dark and brooding, ready to kill and commit massive property damage at a moment’s notice while facing off against Michael Shannon’s scenery chewing General Zod. From crashing buildings to billowing wheat stalks, everything is shot lovingly in a movie meant to look epic from every angle. But with thin characterization and a plodding pace, there isn’t much for fans to hold onto, and very little for casual audiences who want to watch The Man of Steel save the day.
I said literally after coming home from seeing the movie. I keep emphasizing this point: Man Of Steel was a good superhero movie, but a bad Superman movie. There is a difference and that’s what the article states. It’s visually appealing, there are some good moments (I would immediately point to Martha helping young Clark control his superhearing as one of those “heart” moments the Snyderites were going on about), but the heart of who Superman is as a character is missing. That’s what we need to get straight here.
When Man Of Steel was first announced as a dark and gritty take on Superman, I immediately balked. That is not the type of character Superman is. I remember even G4’s Attack Of The Show did one of their “The Loop” roundtable discussions on the movie and said the same thing, and these are folks who ordinarily would like the dark and violent stuff. I went to an early showing sponsored by Walmart to get my review out there quickly because Superman is my favorite superhero and he has been since I was a kid. I was prepared to hate this movie and imagine my surprise when I didn’t. Man Of Steel does have good moments, great action, and Henry Cavill would have made a great Superman. He looks the part and everything. The problem was he was hired to play Superman but Snyder’s vision of Superman…and that’s where it all falls apart.
To really push home the difference between the two, Snyder’s version is Steelman and the classic DC hero is Superman because what Snyder made wasn’t Superman. Just on the surface Snyder gets things wrong. Clark is running from his destiny and not using his powers, even in secret. That’s wrong. From an early age Clark’s Earth parents wanted him to use his powers to help others. They taught him right from wrong and why he should be a hero, not a conqueror. Clark’s Kryptonian parents vary. They wanted him safe from Krypton’s explosion but what happens after that depends on the continuity. Jor-El in Superman: The Movie gives an often quoted line about ”They can be great people Kal-El, they wish to be. They only lack the light to show the way. For this reason above all, their capacity for good, I’ve sent them you, my only son” (Because even Richard Donner played up the Jesus aspect a bit, though not as blatantly as Snyder did.) Some of the Snyder fans said his version of Superman was more relatable, but we aren’t suppose to relate to him, we’re supposed to aspire to be like him, not because of his powers but because of what he does with those powers, telling us what we can do with our own talents to make things better.
Superman kills Zod because Snyder believed he needed to show why Superman doesn’t kill. I don’t kill. I’ve never killed anything bigger than a bug. I’ve never killed anyone’s pet and I’ve never even considered killing another human, not even one that might have deserved. I didn’t need to kill someone to learn not to kill someone, so I definitely can’t relate to that. I was raised on real and fictional heroes who didn’t kill unless they had no other choice…and the heroes I grew up on usually found another choice and even prepared to stop villains without overdone violence. How many of you out there had to kill someone to learn not to kill? The only time I’ve seen seen this is Cassandra Cain (the real one, not that namesake from Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn movie) but that was under specific circumstances. Clark was raised to respect life and passes that message on to others as Superman. Easy enough.
Maybe you can point to some specific moment, like Steelman saving that pilot, but he doesn’t use his powers to help others until he’s forced to. Saving the other schoolkids from that bus falling into the water, and then never again after Jonathan tells him to not use his powers. We see him learn to control his super-senses because it’s a plot point later when Steelman fights the Kryptonians. The real Jonathan and Martha Kent on the other hand taught Clark not to abuse his powers, to do good in the world, something Clark not only does as Superman but as a reporter. In some of the early versions Clark didn’t wait to become Superman to fight crime. “Superboy” was originally “the adventures of Clark Kent when he was a boy”, specifically a teenager. In Smallville (because even they got this right) Clark is always using his powers in secret to fight the Kryptonite-mutations and other supervillains that popped up in the series, though it took way too long for “The Blur” to become Superman proper. The Kents didn’t make him hide his powers, just not to use them openly. Snyder’s Jonathan all but forbade him from helping others to protect his son. Clark Kent doesn’t live in fear, Superman fights against fear.
I knew almost from the first few minutes that Snyder didn’t understand the mythos he was given. Right in the early scenes Jor-El is killed, leaving Lara alone when Krypton goes boom. Right from the start the message of hope is garbled, if it was ever truly there. Sound strange to you? Thinks about this. There are two standing takes on Krypton. One is a sci-fi paradise filled with natural and man-made beauty, and the other is a more desolate planet that makes Eternia look like Earth in danger levels. Strangely both famous live-action movies have gone this latter route and I am not a fan of it. (Yes, I have issues with the Donner film too.) In the same vein there are two takes on Kryptonian culture. One is an enlightened society of art, culture, and science, while the other is so devoted to science it makes Vulcan look like Risa. (For non-Trek fans that’s a planet of emotion suppression versus a sex resort.) That was the version John Byrne did in his take on Superman’s origin. However, Clark was born the old fashioned way: Jor-El has loving sex with his wife, who they love, and they made a baby. (Though in Byrne’s version they had to get it out of her and into a birthing matrix so technically he was conceived on Krypton but born on Earth.) The last image we see of Krypton just before it goes boom are Jor-El and Lara either holding each other or kissing, their last act being not only love for their son by sending him to Earth with the hopes he’ll have a better life on a planet not exploding but also love for each other.
Instead, Snyder’s version makes even these final moments as bleak as possible. Instead of dying in each other’s arms Jor-El is murdered by Zod (who gets to live until…you know) and Lara dies alone instead of in the arms of the man she loves. And it just continues on. Clark is dragged into being a hero after being forced to do nothing with his abilities his whole life rather than growing to want to help others. The final battle is in a heavily clouded darkness (which admittedly makes sense to a degree if not for future movies). Colors are muted as much as possible, even Superman’s own costume being the darkest blue with darkest red Snyder felt he could get away with. There is no joy, no bright colors, no sense of being a better person. Even after the Kryptonians are defeated Superman smashes a satellite so he can’t be tracked (sending a message that cost taxpayers billions) and only then becomes a reporter, probably just to get closer to Lois rather than keep up to date on things he can help with or to expose the truth of those who misuse their power, It’s not that the movie doesn’t have heart, but it lacks the same heart that a proper Superman story has.
From literally the first post on this website I’ve discussed how quality of a work doesn’t mean you have to like it, and more recently I’ve gone over time and again that quality of work isn’t the same as quality of adaptation. Man Of Steel is a really good superhero movie; I’ve stated that how many times in this article alone so that Snyderites know I’m not trashing this movie on its own merits. Snyder really got across how he approaches Superman. The problem is how he approaches Superman. Imagine if I took Tyrion Lannister from Game Of Thrones, decided all I cared about is that he’s brilliant and sarcastic. I toss out the heavy drinking that would kill a normal person and killing his dad and girlfriend out of revenge along with other specific aspects of his character I don’t know about because I’m not a fan of the series. That’s actually my point. I’m not a fan of Game Of Thrones because I can’t connect to these characters. There is nobody I can root for because on the surface they’re almost all a-holes who should be pierced on that throne they’re all fighting over. Imagine killing each other for the right to sit on a chair literally designed to be the most uncomfortable chair ever built like man…like, the electric chair is more comfortable provided nobody plugs it in.
And yet the defenders of Man Of Steel do so because now it’s a version of Superman THEY like…because they were never a fan of Superman. I could make my alternate Game Of Thrones and actual fans would hate what I do to it. No incest, only one villain faction and it would be the frozen zombie horde…and knowing me it would be some kind of competition based actual game that centered on showing who actually had what it takes to be a good ruler. Of course the only reality competition show I watched regularly was Beauty & The Geek (because Murder In Smalltown X only had one season) but that’s kind of what I would go with because that’s what I would like to see. Just because you like it doesn’t make it good and not every property has to please you. That’s why there are so many people telling so many different kinds of stories across so many different types of media. There’s something for everyone and if there isn’t somebody’s going to go make it. That’s the beauty of storytelling. So if Superman isn’t the type of character you like, Steelman (if it weren’t calling itself Superman) would be a viable option and I’m not saying I wouldn’t watch it. However I wouldn’t compare it to Superman because it’s not trying to make itself part of a franchise that dates so far back there was only one World War. Superman as a property has existed since 1938 and there’s a reason it went on for so long and Warner Brothers wants to make movies about him. If those elements are there, then it isn’t Superman any more than sober Tyrion not being any more sarcastic than Raphael in the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon (which was also filled of adaptation errors from the source material) is a proper interpretation of that character.
If Variety had said “Man Of Steel is a heartless slogfest” then you’d be right to call the writer out on being wrong. The movie does have heart in certain places and on it’s own isn’t a bad movie. However, what he said was “it seems to lack any heart associated with the iconic character” and on that front he’s right. What makes Superman as a series what it is, what fans of the character and his supporting cast are, and why it has endured is not present here. If you don’t like the classic, iconic Superman, that’s fine. You are not a fan of Superman, but Snyder’s version isn’t “superior” because you like it. It would be better served as it’s own property and you could say “I like Steelman better than Superman” while I would say “Superman is still my favorite superhero of all time (no, that’s not changed by this movie) but Steelman was an enjoyable superhero movie after all” and we could both be happy. What I love about Superman is not present in Snyder’s vision, and in fact is antithetical to how Snyder sees superheroes in general. I’m not trying to convince you it’s a bad movie or even a bad superhero movie, just that it’s not a Superman movie whether it’s a good movie or not. At least animation still understands why we love these characters.
I have to talk about this tomorrow, don’t I?