“As good as you’d expect a court-ordered Superman movie to be!”

§ June 17th, 2013 § Filed under movie reviews, superman § 19 Comments

…And that was my slightly-facetious reaction to the Man of Steel film I posted on the Twitter soon after getting home early Sunday morning (and referring to circumstances explained in the beginning of this Wikipedia article).

I do have to say, though, I now understand the reactions I was getting as described in this other Twitter post from Friday afternoon:

There is certainly a lot to like in the film…it’s well-cast, the film itself is beautifully shot, and the weaving of the Smallville flashbacks into the narrative was effective, I thought. As for the action sequences…well, whatever else you can say about director Zack Snyder, he can certainly deliver an action sequence that’s easily followed, as opposed to other films where “action” means “zoom the camera in close and shake it around a lot,” which too easily bamboozles my addled brain.

As for the other stuff…well, I’ll be getting into big ol’ SPOILERS here, so if haven’t seen the film, skip the text that immediately follows this shot of fiery-hot Henry Cavill, and continue reading after you see the pic of Supes and Lois holding hands:

Certainly a lot has been said about the sheer amount of destruction in the film…when the Daily Planet staffer tells Superman “you saved us!” after we just watched a huge chunk of Metropolis smashed into rubble, surely at the cost of more lives than you’d care to think about, one can almost be convinced that was intended as an ironic joke, a commentary on just how horrible it would be to live in a world where there were super-powered people flying around and fighting out their grudge matches through soft, watery citizens and balsa-wood buildings. Bully has a thoughtful commentary on this film’s devastation of Metropolis that I suggest you read…the idea that so many folks seemingly died in a Superman film, with Superman unable to save them, seems incompatible with the very idea of a Superman story. Not that you can’t tell good stories about such a thing — this Hitman story is one example — but…well, it just didn’t feel right, you know? Yes, this is Superman’s first big challenge and he’s not quite learned the ropes yet, and yes, Superman had to choose between saving billions versus saving thousands, but…well, one would have hoped Superman would have found a way to save everyone.

That’s the “reviewing the movie I would have preferred” versus “the movie I got” trope, I realize, but, man, my Superman would have saved them all.

(Jeff Parker notes in his review that this amount of collateral damage is a “stock convention of superhero stories,” and that “if they want you to think a lot of people died, you see footage of dead people.” And, you know, fair enough. Seeing it in live action, in this amount of detail, as opposed to looking at it on a comics page, makes it a little more difficult to suspend the disbelief, but I can see Parker’s point.)

The other Big Troubling Moment in the film, one that was in fact spoiled for me by someone’s casual retweeting of someone else’s comment upon it — oh, the dangers of the social Internet — is, of course, the killing of General Zod by Superman. It did bring to my mind the last time Superman openly killed anyone, in this comic here where he executes Phantom Zone villains responsible for the deaths of billions, acting as Krypton’s last arbitrator of justice. That was bit of a controversial move at the time, but it was shortly after the mid-1980s reboot of the character and it was intended, as memory serves, as the impetus for Superman’s code against killing, a long-standing tradition for the character.

Again, I’ve seen the argument made that the event in the film is a formative moment for Superman, that this will lead to his unwillingness to take a life ever again, particularly given the anguish he expresses in the moments afterward. And in the larger “journey of the hero” context, like the destruction of Metropolis, I can understand and even, for the sake of the story, accept the choices made here, but the old fanboy in me wants the Superman who doesn’t want anybody to die, and won’t let anybody die.

In short, when someone asks me if I liked Man of Steel, I suspect will lead my answer with a pause. There’s a lot to think about here, not the least of which is the contrast between the Superman I picture in my head versus the Superman that works onscreen, that works for the vast majority of people who haven’t been reading Superman comics for the last few decades. The audience I saw this with applauded at the end of the film, so clearly they were happy with it, though I did notice some…ambivalence? shock? certainly some quiet whispering in reaction to Zod’s death. So, you know, it wasn’t just me.

A couple of other brief comments: I liked the brief glimpses we got of the evolution of young Clark’s friendship with Pete Ross, I enjoy the new dynamic in the Lois and Clark relationship (no “I wonder why I never see Clark and Superman together” here!), Laurence Fishburne makes a great Perry White, and holy cow, we get Faora (Horo-Kanu and all!) and Steve Lombard! And I do have to admit, Fanboy Mike very much appreciated the moment when the military stood down and realized that Superman was on their side. That was nice.

Plus, I think they probably should have animated a giant red arrow pointing from the stained glass window Jesus to Clark in that one shot, just in case no one got the symbolism.

In addition, I came out of the movie with the most firm of convictions that Sears is the place to go for massively destructive fight scenes and for vans to throw at supervillains. That’s some effective sponsor placement!

But seriously, there is a lot to ponder in this film…it’s easy to dismiss as “not my Superman,” and I can understand that. There’s a part of me that even kinda sorta feel that way myself. There is still a lot here to appreciate, I think, as a valid reinterpretation of the character, and that there is so much discussion and debate over the film…that’s preferable to a forgettable film that inspires nothing.

However, you guys out there trying to convince us there are Aquaman references in Man of Steel? C’mon.

19 Responses to ““As good as you’d expect a court-ordered Superman movie to be!””

  • Mike Zeidler says:

    I want to thank you for the most even-handed review I’ve seen of this film. It’s amazing how polarized the opinion is on this, so it’s nice to see someone trying (and succeeding) to find a middle ground.

  • Employee Timmy says:

    But the whales came because Aquaman called them! You can’t deny it! It’s obvious! It was the most important scene in the whole movie Mike!

  • Bryan Levy says:

    They didn’t stick the landing. they had ten minutes to go in a very quality Superman movie, and then they showed they just didn’t get it. Superman doesn’t kill, period. Batman doesn’t use guns, and Superman doesn’t kill. I really liked the movie up until that point, and then I didn’t know how I felt about it.

  • Bear says:

    I was iffy until the ending, which ruined it for me. Y’all are welcome to this version of Superman, I’ll wait for the next one.

  • Cory says:

    For those that dislike the film due to Superman killing Zod, I ask how you felt about Superman 2. I enjoy the film despite the fact that a powerless Zod is essentially thrown off a cliff. I understand that it is a moment that can take you out of the movie, but maybe they will use this, as Mike suggests, to propel this new version to not kill again. While I think it would have benefitted the film to clarify this point, I will at least give the chance to see how things play out next time around.

  • Hollywood Hulk Hogan says:

    I think people need to view this as how people (eventually) viewed Batman Begins.

    Superman’s a rookie, and he screwed up by killing Zod. The film acknowledges it, Superman acknowledges it. Much like Batman’s killing of Ra’s in Batman Begins (and he killed Ra’s, none of this “I don’t have to save you” justification).

    With a bunch of Kryptonian criminals in the Phantom Zone itching to get out, there’s bound to be consequences for Supes.

    Plus, Luthor is out there and already established as a major businessman (hence the Lexcorp tanker and eighteen wheeler), he’s bound to use this against Superman in the future.

  • Mike Zeidler says:

    There’s a version (the Donner cut? bonus TV edit footage?), where Superman retrieves Zod later.

  • clatterboot says:

    I also was bothered by the massive property destruction, but I can see how it can be put into the “first time out” category.

    The biggest gripe of mine was all of the Krypton stuff. So Jor El knows that on Earth a kryptonian will have super abilities? How does he know that? They mention other Kryptonian colonies, but they specifically do not mention “Oh, and on one colony with a yellow sun we could fly and shoot lasers out of our eyes!” Superman’s powers are established as a combination of the atmosphere and the yellow sun, but how does Zod & Co. know that they will get powers? How do their powers with an hour of exposure equal a lifetime of Clark’s?

    It’s all just a convoluted explanation of how he has super abilities, but the deeper you dig, the less sense it makes. I think that over time, Marvel had the right idea- “he got bit by a spider: boom, powers.” Unless you’re JMS, no one cares where the spider came from.

  • Fred says:

    I found the movie quite entertaining and a little reminiscent of Superman.

  • Jack says:

    Given that the writers of this movie are the same team that gave us a Batman who stops Selina Kyle from using a gun in one scene, only to spend the climax of the movie firing Michael Bay levels of automatic firepower from his helicopter, I think the level of destruction in this movie is perfectly understandable.

  • Jack says:

    Also forgot to add: killing General Zod is like a thing for Superman. He’s done it enough. It’s what comes next that matters.

  • AJ says:

    I’ve watched the trailers and managed to get tickets to the June 12 premiere here in Asia. I was honestly hoping that wouldn’t be another Green Lantern. the entire Krypton scene was a good beginning making me remember Byrne and Mignola’s World of Krypton mini series. I got a fanboy rush during the initial flight scene. Michael Shannon was a very good Zod and Antje Traue (Faora) is now my movie crush.
    It is by no means a perfect film but I liked it enough to have watched one more time and made me interested again in Superman. I’m way more of a Batman fan

  • I avoided the revealing paragraphs as you suggested. I wish a similar caveat could have been made about the above comments. Thanks guys.

  • Frowny says:

    I love Jeff Parker’s work, but his defense of the “abandoned” buildings reminded me of the ridiculous news reports in episodes of Power Rangers where the anchor had to inform us that all the buildings destroyed were empty, and while property damage happened we’re just all so gosh darn glad the Rangers could kill that giant chicken with scissors. It seems like trying to have your incredibly destructive cake and eat it too, your appetite not ruined by a body count.

  • Zack Snyder’s Power Rangers: awful idea, or merely terrible?

  • AJ says:

    the final battle between Zod and Superman reminded me of the battle between Miracleman and Kid Miracleman in Miracleman 15 especially when Zod tore off his armor and just wore his black undersuit. the end of the battle was the same.

  • Adam says:


    Saw it last night. I’m the opposite of the people who say ‘they didn’t stick the landing’. The end was the only part of the movie I liked. They did a good job of capturing the scope of the kind of destruction two gods would cause if they went to war. This isn’t to say it wasn’t problematic. I could convince myself ‘the city has been evacuated!’ until they ended up in Grand Metropolis Station (or whatever) and there were people there. I guess either we’re to assume that Superman was constantly using his x-ray vision to make sure no one was in his path when he was punching Zod/getting punched or else Superman’s going to be pulling bone, hair and offal out of his suit for the next few weeks.

    As for Supes killing Zod, it ain’t the first time. Until New Krypton, the biggest Zod story of all time was Byrne’s pocket universe story where Superman realizes that Zod (and company) has killed everyone on his alternate Earth and now there’s no way to keep Zod from going to Superman’s Earth and doing the same, so he does what he must. The same way we see that Superman has to make a choice between letting Zod vaporize a family or doing what he had to do. Unfortunately, I don’t think it works that well as the climax to a first movie as much as it does as the climax of a comic that’s been around for forty years. Clark barely gets any time to be Superman, so we don’t know much about this Superman and we certainly have no reason to believe that he refuses to kill.

    I hated just about everything else. The casting was questionable. Henry Cavill was fine (but then again so was Brandon Routh) but most of the supporting cast wasn’t that supporting. Amy Adams especially was a weak Lois Lane. The plot was clunky as hell. And, oh good, it’s yet ANOTHER land grab plot in a Superman movie. The fight scenes were good, but I got really bored of watching Zack Snyder remind us that he’d enjoyed Firefly every time we did an external shot of ships flying by. I’d refer to Russel Crow’s Jor-El as Ghost Dad, but frankly I liked Ghost Dad more than I liked Man of Steel.

    The movie manages to make Star Trek Into Darkness look really well thought out in comparison when you start to look at the kludge involved in the plot holes. Why did the outposts all die out? Oh, so they could have a world engine for Zod. No other reason is suggested. They make a big deal out of how it was Kal’s getting used to the environment of Earth over years that gave him his powers, not just Earth’s yellow sun. Yet Zod and his gang get powers pretty much immediately and they’re neither surprised by what Superman can do nor by what they can do. And Mike Sterling seemed to think that there would be more context to John Kent’s “maybe you should have let them die”, but there isn’t! He has no better answers!



    Not a good Superman movie. Not a good scifi movie. Not a good action movie. Not a good comic book movie. Not a good Summer blockbuster movie. Not. A. Good. Movie.

  • Adam says:

    The highlight of the movie was when Faora and Superman are fighting on the streets of Smallville and Faora makes a comment about being more evolved than Superman, finishing with, “And if history has taught us anything, it’s that evolution always wins!”

    At which point my wife, who never heckles movies, shouted, “NOT IN KANSAS, BITCH!”

    Which caused the entire theater to explode with laughter.

    I’m so proud of her.

  • Adam says:

    Mike, I think you might appreciate this:


    Young Clark: So I’m kind of thinking I should use my powers for good, to help people and stuff.

    Pa Kent: HOLY SHIT NO. You must never reveal your powers to anyone! People will figure out you’re an alien! The government will take you away? Got it? You must never help anyone ever.

    Young Clark: Even if it’s a schoolbus full of children about to drown?

    Pa Kent: Especially if it’s a schoolbus full of children about to drown! You just sit there, and watch them drown, one by one.

    Young Clark: That doesn’t seem right.

    Pa Kent: And if for some reason someone else saves the bus, IT IS UP TO YOU TO PUSH THAT BUS BACK IN THAT LAKE AND MAKE SURE THOSE CHILDREN DROWN.

    Young Clark: Wait, what?


    Young Clark: Well, pop, I’ve got some bad news. Because my schoolbus did crash into a lake, and I did save all the children. I’m sorry.

    Pa Kent: GODDAMMIT. You go to your room and think about what you’ve done. And no supper!

    (Clark trudges off to sad “Peanuts” theme)