Watching ‘Man Of Steel’ – The Dilemma

Posted: December 29, 2013 by J. Marcus in Uncategorized

man-of-steel-quadHello there!  J. Marcus here.  So, my friends did the best thing possible and got me “Man Of Steel” for Christmas.  This means I finally get to see it, and bring my critique to the world.

Before I can do that, though, I’m left with the question of… Can I be unbiased?  I have professed my love for Richard Donner’s “Superman” for so long, and my bad feelings about this film for so long that I wonder if anyone will believe that I can see this film objectively.

So to set the record straight, I feel like I need to spell out what Mr. Donner’s film got right and wrong, and to be as clear about WHY I like that film so much, so that people will know what I’m looking for in watching “Man of Steel.”

Seeing as how “Superman” addresses 3 different parts of Superman lore, I’ll break them down first, then get to the film overall.

PART ONE – THE PLANET KRYPTON

Jor-El and Lara from Action Comics #500

Jor-El and Lara from Action Comics #500

In the 1970s, Krypton had pretty much been established as a place of hyper-science.  Jor-El was a leading member of the science council, and wore a green jumpsuit with a yellow circle in the middle and a handband.  Lara was a bit scantily clad, but well within 1970s fashions.

The Phantom Zone

The Phantom Zone

Jor-El had invented the Phantom Zone, a humane prison for the criminals of Krypton, which was home to General Zod and his ilk.  He had also been tinkering with space travel and sent the family dog, Krypto, into space in a satellite.  Being the only member of the council (with the exception of his brother Zor-El) to believe that Krypton was doomed, Jor-El only had time to construct a vessel small enough to carry his newborn son to safety.  Using a space telescope, Jor-El discovered Earth.  A place that would nourish him.

There had been limited exploration into Krypton to this point.  Superman had time travelled there a few times, but for the most part, this was what everyone knew going in.

The Planet Krypton - Superman: The Movie

The Planet Krypton – Superman: The Movie

“Superman” changed very little of this beyond the cosmetic.  Krypton became a colder place.  Literally.  Covered in snow and crystal, there was still quite a bit of superscience involved.  The Phantom Zone, still invented by Jor-El and still used to humanely dispose of criminals, was probably the weakest part of this whole mess, now represented by a chromatic record sleeve spinning in space.  The fashions were replaced by glowing white robes, and each family now wore its own crest.  In what would become the longest lasting contribution to the lore by the film, the crest of the house of El was now the familiar Superman “S”.  This fact went pretty much unaddressed in the films.

SpaceshipThe rocket that sent Kal-El to Earth was replaced by a star craft which began to teach Kal-El about Earth during it’s journey.  Keep this in mind, because this is the second egregious mistake that this film makes, but it won’t be really paid off until a bit later.

For the most part, the planet Krypton serves the same purpose here that it always had in the comics… To explain where Superman comes from and to set up the villains of the second piece.  After that, Krypton was always meant to go away.

PART TWO – SMALLVILLE

This part of Superman’s lore got rather abridged for the film, because to truly tell this story would take multiple films.  In the comics of the 70’s, it had been established that Martha and Jonathan Kent found the baby Kal-El and took him to an orphanage.  Within a few days, they went back and officially adopted the child, who had already frightened the orphanage workers with his feats of incredible strength.

Even as a young boy, the Kents realized the awesome responsibilities that Clark would have to endure when he got older.  So they gave him a secret identity (glasses to wear).  This would seem to not make sense in the real world, but this was the comics creators retconning the secret identity into the story.

SupoerboyAs a young boy, Clark Kent adopted the identity of Superboy.  His secret was only known to his parents and to his best friend Pete Ross.  Superboy’s girlfriend Lana Lang tried desperately to prove that Clark was Superboy (foreshadowing the eventual back-and-forth between Superman and Lois Lane).  Kal-El’s dog eventually arrived on Earth and became Superboy’s pet Krypto.  Superboy fought crime from Smallville until he eventually moved away.  His foster parents died and Superboy becmae Superman.

Like I said, the film primarily took most of this and threw it out in an effort to stick to the basics.  The adoption process was skipped over and we rejoined Clark in high school where he clearly pined after Lana Lang, who hung out with the cool kids (while still carrying a soft spot for Clark).  Clark clearly hadn’t adopted any kind of identity, but had learned to keep his abilities secret, donning a meek persona to cover — though it did occasionally show signs of breaking.

After his father’s death, a Kryptonian crystal called out to Clark, telling him to go up north.  Leaving his mother behind, Clark hikes to the north pole, where the crystal builds the Fortress of Solitude.  There, Clark learns about where he came from, and what he is supposed to do.  This is also where the second biggest gaffe of the film takes place.  While the character of Jor-El is written poetically and beautifully, he does mention that he has been dead for many thousands of our years.  If that’s the case there, big guy, how were you explaining about modern Earth culture to your kid during the trip to Earth?

After 12 years of study, Clark is revealed to the audience as Superman and heads to Metropolis.  With the exception that weird time slip, the story seems to be holding up nice.  Dropping Superboy and Krypto made sense from a storytelling perspective.  It was just too much to tell and had to go.

PART THREE – METROPOLIS/SUPERMAN’S LIFE

Snapz-Pro-XScreenSnapz0052From this point on, we all know who Superman is, so I will focus on the film’s interpretation.  With a small amount of help from his superspeed, Clark gets a job at the Daily Planet where he meets star reporter Lois Lane (who, for some reason, can’t spell worth a damn), photographer Jimmy Olsen and editor Perry White.  For the most part, this whole business is treated with as much respect to the subject material as possible, with the exception of Lois Lane.  In the films, Lois is made a bit more dynamic.  While she still becomes the damsel in distress, it’s not because she’s accident prone or helpless, but because she seeks trouble.  She’s a driven reporter who doesn’t take guff from anyone.

Superman-movie-Lex-Luthor-Otis-Superman-Christopher-ReeveSuperman’s arch enemy, Lex Luthor, is the hardest one to pull off in the film and is done reasonable service.  In the comics, he’s a megalomaniac who seeks power and fortune.  He’s a scientific genius who has turned to crime simply because, if lore is to be believed, Superboy caused his hair to fall out.

In the film, he is written to chew the scenery a bit, and Gene Hackman does the best job possible making this work.  The weirdest part of his portrayal is the costuming.  Whoever decided that ANYONE would be caught dead dressed like that deserves to wear that outfit for the rest of their lives.  That said, however, he is definitely evil.  He is brilliant.  And he’s a match for Superman.

superman78astheearthturnsThe climax of the film is probably the most hotly-debated piece of the entire film.  Superman turns the world back to save Lois.  To be clear, in the 1970s, Superman was powerful enough to travel through time under his own power.  The question of actually spinning the Earth backwards to do it is, in my opinion, empty.  Whether it was the intention of the filmmakers or not, I don’t think he’s actually changing the direction of the Earth’s rotation.  He needs to fly faster than light to travel in time.  By flying around the Earth at that speed, he can travel through time without actually going anywhere.  The Earth changing directions merely shows the direction in time that he is going.  At the end, he has to come back, so he goes forward in time again, and that’s that.

As a solution to the film’s problem, it is kind of weak.  The writers wrote a problem that could only be fixed with time travel.  It’s a fool’s premise.  The real fact of the matter is that this was supposed to be saved for the second film, but was put here as that it was the biggest effects piece of both films and the filmmakers wanted to put all their biggest stuff in the first film just in case.

It is what it is.

Prisons-200412-superman-1If you add up the problems that I have with time travel, being dead for thousands of years, the Phantom Zone looking like a chrome record sleeve, and Lex Luthor’s tragic fashion sense… I’m not that upset with the movie’s portrayal.  The film services the lore quite well and served for years as a stepping on point for those who had never picked up a Superman comic.  There was a hint of Christ in the film, but you weren’t really bashed over the head with it too much.

There were some minor changes to the lore, but they were mostly cosmetic.  The Superman that we are left with is very much the man in the comics.  He even states some of his biggest attributes: “I’m here to fight for truth and justice and the American way,” “Lois, I never lie.”

superman2f-4-webHe is mostly angstless… a man who enjoys his job.  He is Superman.

Warts and all, I love this movie.  It SCREAMS “Superman”.  It’s fun, it’s an adventure, it’s filled with derring do.  It works.

Will “Man of Steel”?  I know I can’t feel the same way about MOS as I do “Superman” because I grew up with “Superman”.  But I am just as aware of what I like about it as what I don’t.  I can judge it based on how it relates to the Superman I know.

The question will be… Will I recognize Superman on the other end?

 

Comments
  1. Kuma says:

    soooooooo I am sitting on pins and needles to hear your critique of Man of Steel and can I be apart of it. I will take time off to do a video review or podcast with you on this movie Please!!!!

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