Batman vs. Superman is about to release, and right now, it’s not doing very well with the critics. Last I checked, it had a 41% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and about 48% on Metacritic. That’s significantly lower than even Man of Steel, and that was quite possibly the most polarizing movie of 2013.
With Batman vs. Superman coming out next week, I feel that it’s finally time to write down my thoughts on why I hated the Man of Steel movie. It took me months to get to the point where I could even talk about it without going on a long-winded rant. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen much worse movies, and I don’t hate everything about Man of Steel, but overall, the movie infuriated me.
Don’t take this the wrong way. If you like the movie, that’s fine. I’m not trying to take that away from you; only a complete and utter jerk would do that. At the same time, don’t try and tell me to enjoy this movie. I’ve had two years to think about this movie and cool down. I even re-watched parts of Man of Steel to help me write this post, and I still hate this movie.
Before I begin, I should talk about what I liked about the movie. Even before that, I should make it clear that although I didn’t like Superman killing Zod, that isn’t even close to the main reason I don’t like the movie. If anything, it’s just a cherry on top of the wedding cake, and I don’t really care much for cherries either way. If they would have built up the conflict between Superman and Zod better, and Zod pushed Superman to the absolute limit, then killing Zod could have worked.
That said, when Superman is strong enough to break Zod’s neck, he could easily just stop him from looking at the family he was about to blast with his laser eyes, or covered Zod’s Goldfinger-style eyebeam threat with one of his hands, or just fly Zod out of there. The real Superman would exhaust every possible option before he resorted to killing, and he clearly didn’t here. Also the family wasn’t even trapped – they could have easily run around the … right, enough about that point.
Things I liked about Man of Steel
The moment where he surrenders to the army to declare that he’s not their enemy is a really nice touch. It’s a great way for Superman to show that he’s willing to work alongside the government, if they’ll have him.
I like how Lois Lane is able to figure out that Clark Kent is an alien through her investigative skills alone. Although I find the character boring overall in Man of Steel, at least she’s portrayed as an intelligent woman who can function on her own in the world.
Although Clark’s teacher did a horrible job by allowing the other students to crowd around the closet that Clark hides in when his hearing goes out of control, I do like the moment where his adoptive mother comforts him.
The opening of the movie showing the battle on Krypton is kind of fun. It felt like something we haven’t seen before, and Jor-El riding a dragon is awesome.’
Michael Shannon is pretty good as Zod. No complaints about his performance.
Um, the visual effects are good, so there’s that.
That’s all I can think of, so here are the top 5 reasons why I hated Man of Steel.
This point’s title is taken from Brad Jones’s Midnight Screenings video of Man of Steel, but it perfectly illustrates what I find to be a major flaw in this movie. For most of Man of Steel, the name Superman never even shows up. People keep referring to him as “the alien”, while those who have discovered his identity call him by his real name, Clark. It’s as if the filmmakers were ashamed of working on a Superhero movie, and that’s kind of offensive. By the end, he might as well introduce himself as “Superman” when he starts working at the Daily Planet, because nobody’s heard of the name before. There’s not much else to say about this one, but it’s something that bothered me.
The Superman of Man of Steel is an idiot whose only solution is to fly at things really fast and punch real hard. How does he stop Zod’s doomsday device? By flying into it really hard and punching it. How does he beat all of Zod’s men the first time he fights them? By flying into them really hard and punching them. It’s everyone else who does all the thinking in this movie.
Here’s the thing about Superman in the comics. In addition to being extremely powerful, he’s also a scientific genius and an investigative reporter. In All-Star Superman for example, he cured cancer with his scientific knowledge and created a formula that would give Lois Lane Superman powers for a day. Lex Luthor later modified the formula to give himself Superman powers for an awesome climax. Superman’s intelligent enough to figure out Lex’s plans, even if he’s often a bit too late to stop at least some collateral damage. In Superman Unbound, he takes a moment during one fight to analyze the damage caused to one building and uses his heat vision to fuse to support beams together and stop it from collapsing, before getting back to the fight. He’s always smart enough to find a better way than to just kill all of his enemies. That last point is part of the reason killing Zod doesn’t bother me too much, because Superman is too stupid to know what else to do, and that kind of overrides my anger for him killing Zod.
Sure, some people might argue that making Superman smart in addition to being powerful makes him too invincible. To that, I say that Superman isn’t supposed to be realistic. He’s supposed to be a man you look up to – a symbol of the best that humanity has to offer, and a fantasy for those who wish they had the power to do good.
Additionally, you can easily work around that by giving Superman some supergenius enemies like Lex Luthor, who’s smart enough to work around Superman’s strength. You can give him powerful enemies like Zod, who’s dangerous enough that Superman must use his brain to overcome. And then there’s Braniac, who’s smart and strong enough that Superman must use all of his strength and smarts to even stand a chance. The Superman Unbound animated movie is a perfect example of this; not only must Superman use all of his resources to beat Braniac, but he even needs Supergirl’s help. I love the recent animated Superman movies.
And I know I said killing Zod isn’t as big of a complaint as others, I still need to address the difference between the endings of Superman 2 and Man of Steel. Superman did not kill Zod in Superman 2. There’s an important deleted scene where you see the police dragging Zod and his allies in handcuffs in the aftermath of the fight. He simply depowered them and dropped them into water to cool down for a while. Once again, this is an example of Superman using his brain to defeat his enemies, instead of just punching them.
Immediately after watching the movie, this is the point that fueled my anger the most, and what I thought about more than anything else. Not only is the destruction in this movie is way over the top, but in both the first fight between Superman and the Kryptonians and the final duel between him and Zod, Superman is causing a lot of the damage himself.
In the Smallville fight, Superman begins by telling everyone to get out of the streets and hide in the buildings. That’s all fine and good, until he starts cratering Kryptonians into the corner store, which would more likely than not kill at least a couple civilians. In that same fight, he later smashes through a gas station, blowing it up, and sails through a Sears store. Don’t tell me that no civilians are around, because when the Gas Station explodes, there are civilians clearly shown walking on the streets who are startled.
The Metropolis fight is far worse though. For half of the fight, Zod can’t even fly yet, and Superman doesn’t use this opportunity to at least try to smash him away from the city. Instead, they’re flying through streets where civilians are clearly shown running for cover, smashing up windows and buildings under construction to throw all sorts of debris onto the streets. Superman causing at least half of the damage, like when he’s rubbing Zod’s face against the glass of an office building even though it’s clearly not hurting the Kryptonian general all that much. He doesn’t even bother trying to save anyone for most of the fight.
How hard would it have been to stop the fuel truck that Zod throws at him instead of jumping over it and letting it destroy the parking garage building? For Superman, it would not be hard at all. The only people Superman bothers saving in this scene is the helicopter Lois Lane is riding. Even after they go into space for a brief moment, Superman still crater smashes Zod into a crowded train station in Metropolis. There must have been at least a few injuries with all the debris he caused.
Before I finish off this point, allow me to debunk a few counter arguments. First off, Zack Snyder said in a recent interview that he doesn’t understand why people are upset about the destruction, pointing out The Force Awakens as an example.
Yeah, um … several things about that. One, the villains destroyed the planet in Force Awakens. As I said earlier, a lot of the destruction in Man of Steel is caused by Superman, who’s supposed to be the hero. There’s a huge contextual difference here. Second, the Force Awakens plays this off as a bad thing, with sad music playing the whole time, and then there’s the urgency of destroying Starkiller base before they blow up yet another system. In Man of Steel, there’s exciting music playing during these destructive fight scenes as if we’re supposed to enjoy the destruction porn.
A lot of people also compared the destruction in Man of Steel to the destruction in The Avengers when MOS first came out. This is yet another poor example. The Avengers coordinated to contain the damage within a couple of blocks, and went out of their way to protect civilians from the destruction. Remember the scene where Captain America dives into an office building to save a bunch of hostages and stop the aliens from blowing them up? Remember how the Hulk jumps on the one large creature and pulls at his mouth to turn him away from a packed office building? There’s nothing like that in Man of Steel.
For the sake of further comparison, In Age of Ultron’s climax there’s a lot of screen time dedicated to the Avengers helping people evacuate the city. They make sure to get everyone out before they blow Ultron’s city-based asteroid up. Hawkeye is willing to sacrifice himself to save a kid, and Quicksilver actually does sacrifice himself to save them both. Also at the end of the Hulkbuster fight, Iron Man scans the building to make sure nobody’s inside before he smashes the Hulk through it, and even tries to buy it to minimize the economic damage to the city. After several viewings I don’t like Avengers: Age of Ultron as much as the first, but I certainly enjoy it far more than Man of Steel.
And to add insult to injury with all this destruction porn, the movie ends with Clark entering the Daily Planet, and there are absolutely no signs of destruction anywhere in sight. It makes everything feel all the more cheap and exploitive.
(Superman 2 aka. the better Superman movie with Zod in it)
The needlessly Dark Tone
For the record, I’m not saying that a serious Superman story can’t be good. The animated Superman: Unbound is not what I would call a lighthearted story. It digs into Supergirl’s sense of loss over Krypton quite a bit, and how she’s struggling to settle on Earth. Braniac is also a very threatening villain. But here’s the thing, Unbound balances itself out between a somewhat dark story and a sense of fun.
Superman is supposed to be a light-hearted character for the most part. His very presence gives people hope. While they’re not perfect, the Christopher Reeve movies capture this perfectly. Reeve and Margot Kidder have a spunky chemistry that makes their on-screen relationship not only fun, but convincing. Gene Hackman strikes the perfect balance between menacing, charismatic and snarky to make a great Lex Luthor. Terence Stamp as Zod hams it up in a delightful fashion without taking it too far.
I even enjoy watching Superman 4. It’s a terrible movie with a lot of badly written slapstick comedy, but the sense of fun still makes parts of it enjoyable, and Nuclear man is a delightfully over the top villain who looks like he’s straight out of a hair metal band.
Don’t get me wrong, even the earlier Reeve movies have a lot of flaws. They’re loaded with silly moments, a climax that doesn’t make any sense when you think about it, and both versions of Superman 2 are tragic cases of two directors who are too selfish to use each other’s footage. In Superman 1, Superman flies around the Earth so fast he goes back in time to stop Lois from dying. If he could fly that fast, why couldn’t he fly fast enough to catch both rockets again? In Superman 2, there’s the memory wiping kiss? What? The Richard Donner cut might be even worse since it repeats the same time travel thing from the first movie. The best version of Superman 2 would be somewhere between the theatrical cut and the Richard Donner cut, and even that would have silly moments.
But then you get Man of Steel, a joyless, jokeless movie that’s an overall drag to sit through. It spends way too much time hammering in how important Superman is – just look at the one shot in the church where Clark is standing in front of a stained glass Jesus for blatantly obvious symbolism. The love story between Clark and Lois feels contrived – there’s virtually no chemistry between them. They just feel kind of boring when they talk to each other and you never feel any build-up to the kiss they share in the middle of Metropolis’s ruins. Oh yeah, the ruins of a city where millions of people just died is a great place for a first kiss.
Don’t try to tell me they evacuated that part of the city, because do you know how long it takes to completely evacuate a city like that? It would take days at the very least.
That’s not to say a dark superhero movie can’t be good. Batman Begins and The Dark Knight deserve their reputation as some of the best superhero movies ever made. The overall dark tone and complex storytelling work very well for Gotham City’s protector. Tim Burton’s first Batman movie is also pretty good. Here’s the thing though, these movies still have comic relief. And no, I won’t complain about Tim Burton’s Batman basically being the Punisher because in the earliest comics, Batman killed people all the time. Batman Returns isn’t a good movie though.
(As bad as the Superman Musical TV special is, I’d still rather watch that than Man of Steel)
Marvel is handling the tone of their movies much better than DC so far. The cinematic movies are mostly light hearted and fun, but there’s also great character drama in their better movies. Iron Man is all about a man who realizes that his weapon building company is causing more problems than its solving, and the rest of the movie is a story of redemption. The Winter Solider might be a large-scale movie where a spy agency is infiltrated by neo-Nazis, but it’s also a personal story of Captain America trying to save his brainwashed friend. It’s heart breaking how even at the end of the movie, Bucky is only beginning to recover his mind. Guardians of the Galaxy is so great on the dramatic side that it can make you teary-eyed at the sight of a raccoon crying with a stick in his hands.
And if you want a darker Marvel story, just look at their Netflix series taking place in the MCU. Daredevil and Jessica Jones are both very dark stories, and you could argue they’re both 11 hour movies divided into 13 parts. In Jessica Jones’s case, it delves into themes of abuse, alcoholism and loss in some very heavy ways. Even then, the series balances itself out with touches of humour, some light hearted moments and fun action scenes that don’t rely on destruction porn. Marvel is giving us different movies with a variety of overall tones – they understand that people need variety.
Different characters loan themselves to different tones. Batman is at his best when he’s in the middle of a dark story, while Superman should be in a light-hearted movie where he’s wearing baby blue. In Man of Steel, even Superman’s costume is dark. And here’s the thing about making a movie dark – it’s much harder to forgive a depressing, dark movie of its flaws than a light-hearted movie that at least tries to be fun. That’s why I’m more willing to forgive the older Superman movies of their flaws than Man of Steel, because they’re fun.
When you adapt anything to a new medium, you usually need to make at least some changes to make it work. Die Hard is based on a novel with much more complex themes that end up making the hero more morally ambiguous, whereas the movie is an awesome sequence of action scenes where John McLane kills terrorists. Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining makes major changes to the original book that arguably makes it better than the source material, even if Stephen King hates Kubrick’s version. But when it comes to iconic characters, you should at least keep their personality and their themes the same.
I hated everything about the way Snyder handled Jonathan Kent in this movie.
In the comics, Jonathan Kent is the one who raised Clark on the traditional values that allowed him to become Superman in the first place, so much so that you could almost say that Jonathan is the real hero of the Superman mythos. He raised Clark to be a boy scout who cares about everyone around him, and continues to provide moral support after Clark becomes Superman. That’s right, Jonathan Kent traditionally lives to see his adoptive alien son become a superhero. Before the new 52, he even lived to see Supergirl arrive on Earth, and only died of a heart attack while Superman was fighting Braniac. It’s sad and tragic that Superman’s father dies while he’s busy doing the very thing that his father unintentionally raised him to do.
And don’t tell me about how the New 52, Jonathan and Martha died in a car crash involving a drunk driver. That would be just one of many silly changes they made to the New 52 that DC is finally abandoning.
Despite Jonathan Kent’s rich history, every time they make a Superman movie, they feel the need to kill him off every time. It’s what I (and I’m sure I’m not the only one) like to call the Spider-Man effect. Spider-Man’s “With Great Power comes Great Responsibility” theme seems to infect other superheroes, whether it was a part of their origin or not. Yet even though this is a complaint for the Christopher Reeve movies, I’m willing to forgive it because he still died of a heart attack, and he’s still thematically true to his comic roots.
In Man of Steel on the other hand, Jonathan is nothing like the morally sound father that guides Clark into becoming a good man. Instead, he gives confusing and contradictory lessons on whether Clark should just hide his powers or not. Here’s a conversation from Man of Steel, followed by one from Superman 1978 for comparison.
Man of Steel
Clark Kent at 13: What was I supposed to do? Just let them die?
Jonathan Kent: Maybe; but there’s more at stake here than our lives or the lives of those around us. When the world… When the world finds out what you can do, it’s gonna change everything; our… our beliefs, our notions of what it means to be human… everything. You saw how Pete’s mom reacted, right? She was scared, Clark.
Clark Kent at 13: Why?
Jonathan Kent: People are afraid of what they don’t understand.
This is starting to sound more like the X-Men than Superman if you ask me. Also, saying that Clark maybe should have let those kids die is a terrible thing to say.
Jonathan Kent: Been showing off a bit, haven’t you, son?
Young Clark Kent: [going over to Jonathan] Um… I didn’t mean to show off, Pop. It’s just that, guys like that Brad, I just want to tear him apart.
Jonathan Kent: Yeah, I know, I know.
Young Clark Kent: And I know I shouldn’t…
Jonathan Kent: Yeah, I know, you can do all these amazing things and sometimes you feel like you will just go bust unless you can tell people about them.
Young Clark Kent: Yeah. I mean every time I kick the football I can make a touchdown. Every time! I mean, is it showing off if somebody’s doing the things he’s capable of doing? Is a bird showing off when it flies?
Jonathan Kent: No, no. Now, you listen to me. When you first came to us, we thought people would come and take you away because, when they found out, you know, the things you could do… and that worried us a lot. But then a man gets older, and he starts thinking differently and things get very clear. And one thing I do know, son, and that is you are here for a *reason*. I don’t know whose reason, or whatever the reason is… Maybe it’s because… uh… I don’t know. But I do know one thing. It’s *not* to score touchdowns. Huh?
Young Clark Kent: Thanks, Dad.
You see, there’s a major difference here. In Man of Steel, Jonathan Kent almost suggests it would be better to let a bunch of kids drown when their bus sinks in a river than for Clark to reveal his powers. In Superman, Clark is resisting the urge to just reveal his powers to his classmates just to show off, and then he suggests that Clark is meant for something better. And I know that Jonathan says something like that in Man of Steel, but it’s muddled by all the contradicting things he says in other points of the movie. Superman’s Jonathan Kent is much more consistent.
But the scene that really bothers me with Jonathan Kent’s portrayal in Man of Steel is his death scene. Everything about Jonathan’s death is wrong. The science is wrong when everyone hides in a tunnel, when a tunnel is the worst possible place you can be in a tornado. Why? Because it creates a wind funnel, and people from Kansas should know that. For a tornado that big, there should be a lot more cars being thrown around and more destruction. It shouldn’t have just swallowed Jonathan, it should have swept him off his feet well before the heavy winds near the center swallowed him whole.
Then Jonathan sacrifices himself to save a dog. Really? A dog? People care about their dogs, sure, but most people wouldn’t throw their lives away to save a dog from a tornado, especially if it’s supposed to be a wise man. And why couldn’t he let Clark rush out instead like he wanted to? Clark could have hidden his powers by pretending to struggle along while carrying the dog back and everyone would be fine.
It’s this completely pointless death scene that ruined the movie for me. It assassinated Jonathan Kent’s character, and it led to Clark wandering around for years, working menial jobs while growing a beard that made him look like Hugh Jackman from the start of “The Wolverine”. When I look back, I remember this being the point of no return for me. No matter how good the rest of the movie could have been, it was forever ruined by Jonathan Kent’s death. Everything else bad would just be icing on the cake, or in the case of Zod’s death, the cherry on top of the icing.
It doesn’t help that Jonathan Kent is played by Kevin Costner, who more often than not gives bland performances. He just doesn’t seem to care in this movie. In any case, you could argue that Batman vs. Superman or Man of Steel might try to fix some of my complaints, but there is no fixing Jonathan Kent’s character in any sequels to come. His character is already ruined and there’s no turning back without a complete reboot.
I have never been more infuriated by a movie than I was with Man of Steel, and I’ve sat through the likes of Disaster Movie, Nukie, Garbage Pail Kids, three Twilight movies and the Host, and the Star Wars Holiday Special. I even own Troll 2 on Blu-ray. I’m a bit of a masochist when it comes to bad movies, but I don’t think I could stand sitting through Man of Steel again.
It’s a shame, because I do like Superman as a character. I would love to sit here and say that I liked Man of Steel. I’m enjoying the Supergirl TV series that’s currently running. Even if it didn’t start off that great, the show is improving with almost every episode, with falling (the most recent episode I’ve seen) being a very well written episode that explores Supergirl’s dark side through Red Kryptonite exposure. But if this dark, humouless storytelling with Man of Steel the trailers for Batman vs. Superman are any indication, I won’t enjoy DC‘s cinematic Universe very much at all.
I’ll still see the new movie at some point but I have no plans to see it in theatres or pay any money to watch it. After all, David Goyer helped write this movie, and I’m still boycotting any movie he’s involved with until he apologizes for his offensive She-Hulk comments, which he still hasn’t done yet. And yes, I would even boycott a Marvel move that he writes unless he apologizes for this first.