AISLE SEAT 2.0.77: EXAMINING MAN OF STEEL
By Marc Mason
There’s been quite a bit of nerdrage over the last couple of weeks over MAN OF STEEL, the latest film incarnation of Kal-El of Krypton. What’s surprised me about most of it is that both sides manage to get things wrong as they rage for or against the movie. So I feel like it is instructive to point out a few things about the flick.
Number one, and most importantly: it is called MAN OF STEEL for a reason:
The character of Superman, as he has been generally known for his 75-year existence, does not appear in the film until the last ten minutes before the end credits.
Sure, Henry Cavill wears the suit, he’s got the background that we all recognize, but that doesn’t make him Superman. Even when one character refers to him as Superman two-thirds of the way through the film, he isn’t Superman yet. It takes the events of the last third of the movie to forge him into the character we all know as Superman. But until then, he isn’t there yet.
Number two, let’s talk killing. I’ve seen it repeated over and over, ad nauseum: Superman doesn’t kill. Okay, I’ll bite on that one, and as it plays out in this film, I think it still holds true: he doesn’t truly become Superman until he kills Zod and then understands the price of that action. You know right then and there that he will never take another life. What frosts my ass, though, is the myopia people have on this subject. The Chris Reeve Superman kills Zod in SUPERMAN II, and stands idly by while Lois kills Ursa. Reeve’s Superman also dumps Nuclear Man into a live reactor, killing him in SUPERMAN IV. So let’s not get self-righteous about Superman’s moral code, unless you’re willing to barbecue your sacred Reeve-flavored cow.
Number three, the property damage and potential loss of life. It’s extraordinary, and terrifying, and totally realistic for what might happen if these godlike beings fought in a major metropolitan area. The criticism I see is that Kal-El doesn’t do enough to alleviate this destruction. For that, I think we have to look at the timeline of the film.
He finds the Kryptonian scout ship and gets the suit, then discovers that he can fly. In fact, he can’t fly right away; he has to figure out how to maintain it as he tests himself. Then he returns to Kansas, meets Lois at his father’s grave, then visits his mom just in time to see Zod’s ship arrive. How much time does this series of events take? A couple of days, right? Then he gets a 24hr deadline from Zod and turns himself in at the end of it. So he has maybe known how to fly for four days. Maybe. So his control at this point is, frankly, not going to be great.
Now consider this: his entire life, Pa Kent has told Clark to keep his strength under wraps. The film openly shows us Clark continually repressing his rage, and not always doing a great job of it. But one thing for certain is that until the moment he escapes Zod’s ship and tracks him to the Kent family farm, he has never punched anyone in his entire life.
All that repressed rage, suddenly uncorked with no skill and no comprehension of what it can do, combined with a newfound ability he has had for less than a week. Imagine it.
So when people complain about his role in the destruction, all I can is note: he had no experience, no control, and no real idea of what he was doing. THE AVENGERS is about a collection of experienced, battle-tested heroes; MAN OF STEEL is about a hero learning on the job and not really doing all that great his first time out. He wins, but the cost is horrific. That will stay with him.
Rather than slipshod, as I have seen complain, I think the script for MAN OF STEEL was actually unusually consistent for a picture its size. You just have to look a little deeper to see it.
The characters are terrific, too. Lois is played as wonderfully smart and brave. Perry White is gruff, but also caring. And Russell Crowe as “Jor-El: Dragon Riding Science Gangster” is off-the-charts great. In all, MAN OF STEEL is a better film than people give it credit for, and is more than a little misunderstood. Hope I cleared some of that up for ya.