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.