Man of Steel

June 17, 2013

At first, I really only had three thing to say about this:

Never has a superhero movie been so hampered by its own sense of self importance.  And by excessive shaky cam.  Seriously, this thing had shaky cam going in scenes with two people standing and talking.  Not even kidding.

Zach Snyder makes good movies when someone gives him a very detailed storyboard ahead of time.

The entire prologue on Krypton has to go.  Its only purpose is to serve as a proof-of-concept video for a live-action version of “Heavy Metal.”


The more I think about cutting the prologue, the better the rest of the movie gets.  From a writerly standpoint, it’s astonishing how badly the Krypton prologue hamstrings the rest of the story.  Because everyone knows the story of Superman coming from Krypton, because so many of us have this cultural memory of the scene from Donner-Reeve version of the movie, the makers of Man of Steel must have decided that 1) They couldn’t leave it out, it’s too classic, too much a part of the mythos and 2) They had to do something different with it to make it new and interesting and surprising.  So they made it twenty minutes long and filled with bombast and long speeches and fistfights and amazing planetary vistas and so on. (It was probably only 10 minutes long.  But it felt like 20.)

This was a terrible mistake.  Because this means the movie is not primarily about Clark/Kal El discovering who he is and why he exists and what he’s going to do about it.  Because we’ve spent twenty minutes now setting up this conflict between Jor El and Zod, Clark is nothing more than a pawn.  A tool.  A Macguffin.  It’s stated as much, in that scene and that’s the conflict that ends up making the backbone of the movie.  The real story, the interesting story about this kid who really really doesn’t fit in trying to make good in the world never gets a chance to take a breath.  Clark’s story — the entire first act and last five minutes of the movie — are absolutely the best parts and quite wonderful.  But they’re buried.

A more daring choice?  Cut that damned frakking bombastic prologue.  We don’t care about Krypton, at least not right now.  Then the first scene of the movie is the crab boat, with the greenhorn who it turns out is invincible and super strong.  We get his story — he’s always moving, helping people and vanishing, because he doesn’t know what else to do with his power.  There are flashbacks showing that he’s been grappling with these questions his whole life.  We get the revelation — just like he did — that he’s from outer space.  His first encounter with Kryptonian technology becomes our first encounter with Kryptonian technology.  And his first glimpse of Jor El is also our first glimpse of Jor El.  And finally, his questions — where am I from, who am I? — start to get some answers.  We’re right there with him, we’re engaged, we care, his story is the one we want to know more of.  We’re also following the same trail of clues that Lois is — I actually loved that, her finding him just by knowing where to look for a good story.  And I think that ending — where she really does know that Clark is Superman the whole time and she’s consciously, purposefully covering for him — is effing brilliant.

And it gets better, because Clark/Kal is offered a choice at the big climactic scene:  Earth or Krypton?  And he’s in a totally unique position to make the choice that he does:  “Krypton had its chance.”  He realizes, as Zod doesn’t, that authority-driven Kryptonians like Zod and his father make choices that will always ultimately destroy their world.  He can’t let them go down that road again, especially because he knows how valuable Earth is.  And I would have loved loved loved to see what that scene looked like having no more information about that backstory than Clark does.  I want to see that scene with Clark as the true protagonist and not a sideline to the Jor El-Zod conflict.

The prologue doesn’t reveal anything.  It doesn’t tell us anything that becomes revelatory later on.  It doesn’t give us any information that isn’t later explained by Zod or by holo-Jor El.  It’s beautiful, certainly.  But you cut it out and the rest of the movie remains completely unchanged.  That means it needs to go.  (I could say that about a half dozen or so other short scenes in the movie, but this is the big one.)

Like Spider-Man, the story here is about how “with great power comes great responsibility.”  And that should be Clark’s story, from start to finish.

I could keep going but I won’t.  You get the idea.

8 Responses to “Man of Steel”

  1. ArcLight Says:

    Totally agreed. From the moment the movie was announced I hoped they’d skip the whole Krypton thing this time. Or at least wait to bring it in until Clark learns about it.

    I’m pretty sure if I get the movie on disc, I’ll skip the Krypton bit when I watch it. I already do that with the original Chris Reeve film.

  2. sef Says:

    I thought the movie was meh; I actually liked the parts on Krypton (nice to see Kryptonian super-science actually being super-science!).

    But, to me, there was one unforgivable scene: Pa Kent answering, “Maybe.”

    I also found the Christian religiousness more than a little off-putting.

  3. Partly agreed. I thought this was one of the most poorly organized movies I’ve seen in recent memory. Character revelations were consistently placed wrong, the audience knew more than the characters at improper times, the story went in circles for too long or sped up too quickly or etc. A lot of your criticisms go along with that; for instance, Zod’s character has MEANING all of a sudden when he says “I was born and built to protect Krypton” and if he’d said that at ANY OTHER TIME than the very last moment it would have created a much more compelling conflict all along.

    I thought the prologue section had some amazing Star Wars and I enjoyed watching it for that reason. But you’re totally right in that its storytelling purpose sucked, its talkiness sucked, and its self-seriousness sucked.

  4. In addition to the ending fatigue I mentioned on your Facebook post about the movie, I remember thinking while going into the theater, “If they don’t get me to feel awed by the image of a person flying, they’ll have done something wrong.” But, lo and behold, the scene with Clark flying around the world did astonish me, despite the shaky-cam (nice nod to the original comics, BTW, having him not fly at first, but simply leap great distances in a single bound).

    I also liked the emphasis on the sci-fi aspects of the Superman mythos. Special props to Hans Zimmer as well for not even trying to ape John Williams’ classic theme.

    Honestly, like the review I linked to on Facebook, the thing that bothered me the most is how little Superman seems to care about the collateral damage from his feud with the Kryptonians. It just feels so out-of-character for him.

  5. Carrie V. Says:

    Yes, yes, and yes to you all!

    And the thing about how little he seems to care about the collateral damage — so, there’s the moment he’s trying not to kill Zod, trying not to kill Zod, then he kills him, and he’s totally destroyed by that and screaming and angst ridden. And I’m totally not buying it because he and Zod just caused the deaths of tens of thousands of people and didn’t even stop to consider. The tone deafness of the climactic battle destroyed that moment.

  6. sef Says:

    The real problem with his reaction to the death of Zod is… there’s no foundation for it. (Superman II fight against the three in Metropolis, and there is GENUINE FEAR that someone may be hurt. Here… nothing. Just an apparently desire to lay more waste to NYC than the Avengers did.)

    This partially gets back to making Pa Kent a dick: we saw no moral foundation for Clark to feel the way he did. “Hide yourself until your messianic 33rd birthday!” was the sum total of what he learned from his adoptive parents.

    Um. I can rant about this movie for a bit, obviously. There was enough in it that I liked for me to feel anger about the rest of it.

  7. max Says:

    Remember when the Punisher was dark and edgy and challenging because he killed?

  8. See, I interpreted his angst at killing Zod as not because he’d taken his life, but because now he was totally, completely alone in the universe. The Very Very Very Very Last Son of Krypton. The movie didn’t really set up that Superman doesn’t kill, but it sure did set up that he feels alone in his superness.

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