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The Biggest Problem with ‘Man of Steel’

Luke Miksa's: The Negative Space Bar

As Zack Snyder‘s Man of Steel hit Australian home video this week, I got to reminiscing on how disappointed I was when I viewed it on its theatrical release.

I will gladly admit to being a tremendous Superman fan — possessive even — but I am generally not the kind of person to kick up a fuss when someone comes along and changes aspects to a long-standing character (especially a character with the 75-year legacy of Superman). Changes keep things fresh, and different artists are always going to have different perspectives and visions. I’m hip to this, and I enjoy seeing various interpretations.

I don’t need to warn you about MASSIVE SPOILERS from now on, do I?

The makers of Man of Steel made many changes: Perry White is black. Jimmy Olson is female. Lois Lane deciphers Clark Kent’s secret identity almost immediately. Superman is actually forced to kill as a last resort (which is kind of a big deal). All of these are fairly drastic changes, but I applaud them because they are either intriguing or they positively add to the narrative.

But there is still something that bugs me, and I’ve narrowed it down to this guy:

Herro

Oh, herro

Jonathan Kent. Pa Kent to his family. Mr Kent to his associates. Johnny Boy in the boudoir (maybe).

Superman’s origin story is a fairly unique one, in that he becomes the ultimate good-guy — the “Big Blue Boy Scout”, as it were — due to his positive upbringing and morals instilled by his adoptive Earth parents, the Kents. Superman uses his powers for good because Ma and Pa Kent taught him from a young age the responsibilities which come with his amazing gifts and they encourage him to use them to assist the residents of his adoptive planet. It’s refreshingly simple and unambiguous.

The Kents are responsible for who Superman is as a character, so if they must be re-interpreted, they need to retain the moral essence of what makes the Superman character such a beacon of positivity. Losing this optimism blurs the lines and uncharacteristic traits will begin to transform the recognisable basics of the character which everybody knows.

Man of Steel changed Pa Kent’s demeanour from warm and optimistic to cold and cynical, and the entire film suffers for it.

Young Clark saving some kids; what a dick.

Young Clark saving some kids; what a dick.

Jonathan Kent (as played by Kevin Costner), is a harsh and conservative man, and looks to suppress young Clark’s blossoming abilities instead of encouraging them. Costner’s Kent is insanely sceptical about the world around him, wanting to protect and hide Clark for fear of what the world will think of him if exposed, even going as far as mildly scolding young Clark when he saves a bus-load of children. He actually infers to Clark that letting them die would have been the better option!

A beautiful moment from Richard Donner‘s Superman: The Movie was when Pa Kent falls to a fatal heart attack. This is a pivotal moment in Clark’s development, as he realises that even with all his immense power, he is unable to save everyone. In Man of Steel, Pa Kent stupidly dies in a tornado, refusing to let Clark save him, so as to protect his secret. This is built up to be a glorious and defining moment for Clark; saving his father, and taking his first steps to becoming a superhero. Nope. He is forced to watch his father needlessly die and now travels the globe with a dirty secret, a ton of regret, and mixed morals.

There is a moment in the film where Superman explains to Lois that the famous ‘S Shield’ on his costume is Kryptonian for ‘hope’. Hope and optimism is what sets this character apart from others, and the filmmakers clearly understand this, SO WHY WAS THE MOVIE SO DARN PESSIMISTIC?

Man of Steel screenwriter David S. Goyer (The Dark Knight trilogy) has effectively stripped away Superman’s home-grown and positively-nurtured morals, and has instead replaced them with bitterness and angst. Superman’s origin now involves the regret of standing by as a father figure is killed. Goyer, Snyder, and co. have now effectively turned Superman’s origin story into a hybrid of Batman and Spider-Man. Congrats guys, soon we won’t be able to tell them apart!

This is all done in an effort to ‘modernise’ the origin of Superman, to update the character to the styles and trends of the current age. The fact that we live in an age where we need to make him darker and emotionally complicated because audiences think honest good guys are ‘hokey’ or ‘lame’ bums me out to no end. DC and Warner Bros. clearly wanted to make Superman darker, grittier, and ‘contemporary’. They wanted to change Superman enough so that he was more akin to the Batman from Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight series; the only successful superhero franchise from the DC canon in the last few decades.

They succeeded.

Fast-forward to the planned sequel — Batman vs. Superman  and you may see the issue: the closer Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne skew in characterisation, the less compelling their dynamic becomes. What made them such an interesting duo in other media was that they were so different. Now they can shoot the shit about what it’s like to watch your father die.

Unfortunately, DC is building a homogeneous universe with homogeneous characters, while Marvel is laughing all the way to the bank.

What can I say? The suit's cool! A little dark, but rad suit!

What can I say? The suit’s cool! A little dark, but rad suit!

Yet Man of Steel wasn’t a complete disaster. Henry Cavill is a fantastic Superman; he looks the part and plays it to perfection. Amy Adams was a pretty fantastic Lois Lane as well (and she doesn’t even have black hair!). Honours also have to go to Hans Zimmer, who had the impossible task of trying to follow John Williams’ classic score from the 1978 film (which has been echoed in every film since). He created a pulse-pounding new anthem for Superman which was fantastic. I await Batman vs. Superman with hesitant anticipation.

This film has many people torn, so tell me what you think in the comments below.

Side note: Let’s not forget that Superman’s father figures in Man of Steel are both Robin Hood, which will lead to theories that I can’t even comprehend right now.

Man of Steel is available on all home video formats RIGHT NOW

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4 Comments

  1. One of the best movie reviews I have ever read. I felt the same way about the movie, it was as if everything you wanted from a Superman movie was taken away and replaced with a gritty, depressing, setting, which does defeat the object of the character.
    And don’t even get me started on the Kevin Costner death!
    Glad to have found your blog, I like it when reviews don’t just follow the masses and say everyone else is saying.

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  2. I know this is old, but I am in a marathon of Smallville. They turned that heart attack moment into a beautiful history arc in 10 seasons. Then, MoS happened… Man! It was so frustrant to see what they did with Jonathan Kent that it turned me off the whole DCU. I can’t. I just can’t watch MoS again. Didn’t see BvS, but one of the traillers showed an equally depressed Martha, which turned me off as well. You don’t tell your son to let people die. I felt more insulted because a lot of firefighters die saving people around the world and they do not have super powers. Being the film from USA, 9/11? How many firefighters, police officers, nurses wouldn’t die saving Metropolis people trapped in the destruction of the showdown between MoS and Zod. No. Just no. I am just glad they didn’t call him Superman. He is not!

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