With the release of DC’s hotly anticipated new film, Justice League, we’re taking this week to revisit all the films in the DC Comics Extended Universe that brought us to this point. Each day we have a writer who breaks down why they love the film, who hated the film, and who were in the middle.
Today, we deal with the film that kicked everything off…Man of Steel.
Why I Love It (MJ Rawls)
2006’s Superman Returns was basically a love letter to the Christopher Reeve-fly and wink at the camera style movies of the 1980s. However, it underperformed and it wasn’t well received by fans. Superman’s enemy was a krypton planet and there was a “does he have a son” sub plot in there. The actual conflict did not feel substantial, and with that, the Superman revival was dead.
The first teaser for Man of Steel came while the Dark Knight trilogy was winding down. It showed an unclean, bearded Clark Kent hitch hiking. Then there was a hint of flight at the end of that teaser. DC had already set the stage that there would be a grittier tone to their films. Man of Steel is a very grounded, human origin story on the man of tomorrow. There was this lead way for Batman to have this “coming of age” story. Why not with Superman?
The main criticism against Man of Steel is that it’s “joyless.” For all the critique that Zack Snyder gets, he was able to integrate his look into a modern version of Superman. The “first flight” scene is beautiful. It’s Superman hearing the words of Jor-El, the advice of Jonathan and Martha, and believing in what he can be. In viewing it, the joy came from seeing a man discover his purpose. Along the way, he has some doubts. He doesn’t quite have a handle on his abilities, or if he’s a man from two worlds that doesn’t have a true home. Kal-El and Clark Kent – Clark Kent is the mask.
Michael Shannon’s portrayal of Zod is also key. He represents the past that Kal-El doesn’t know. Zod is the last living piece of Krypton legacy and there’s a real conflict in Clark in what to do with him. Even in battle, Clark is not overpowering Zod and his followers. You can’t expect Superman beating them all when he’s been in the cape for five minutes. There’s a process. He’s learning his way around. Clark ultimately chooses Earth in killing Zod.
These themes continue in Batman v Superman, which could have been a standalone movie in itself. What does Earth do with this “all powerful” hero that seemly dropped out of the sky? What is home to Clark? These themes and conflict in a post 9/11 word is a good one from a human stand point. They don’t know what to make of this alien man.
One of the last shots of the movie is a young Clark running around with a red cape. At the end of the day, as kids, we dreamt of being super heroes. Man of Steel gives you that feeling. Now, the movie is not perfect, but Man of Steel took a chance in telling the story of a Superman that we would be familiar with today. It stepped away from the nostalgia and gave us something modern. Something that we can touch.
Check out Dan Cohen’s article titled “The Man of Steel Defense” for more thoughts from people who loved this film.
Why I’m in the Middle of the Road On It (Bill Bodkin)
When I saw Man of Steel in theaters, I had zero expectations. I thought (and still do) that Superman Returns is one of the worst comic book/super hero movies of all-time. I don’t blame Brandon Routh (who we interviewed and is a great dude), I just blame the writing, and direction — both of which (to quote our film editor, Dan Cohen) “blew bags.”
So, I thought going into Man of Steel that anything, literally anything, would be better than Superman Returns.
I was right.
My initial theatrical experience with this film was a rousing success. My expectations were shattered (in a good way), and I was really impressed with what I saw. Henry Cavill was terrific in his roles, Kevin Costner’s performance brought a tear to my eye (having lost my own dad, it’s not hard for me to get emotional over fallen father figures), and the overall story was really entertaining. The pacing was superb, I felt invested in everything, and I found my knuckles turning certain shades of white at points. Oh yeah, and Russell Crowe. I’m an unabashed fan, what can I tell you.
So, months later I couldn’t wait to crack open my DVD copy of the film. When I did…well something was missing. That magic was gone. And then, I saw all the flaws. The plot holes. The less than an awesome final fight sequence. The dunderheaded dialogue. The absurdities. The ridiculous product placement. And that infuriating ending.
My love for the film was gone, but I didn’t hate it, and I still don’t. Cavill still works for me as Clark and Superman. Amy Adams, and Michael Shannon still deliver in their roles. The downtown fight is still impressive to watch (despite it being a problem from a story perspective). And Russell Crowe, of course. (Yes, there’s issues with how his character can and can’t interact with others, but the performance is still there).
So Man of Steel isn’t great, nor is it terrible — it’s solid. Give it a watch sometime.
Why I Hate It (George Heftler)
“Don’t be so hard on Man of Steel,” people say. “It’s easy to make fun of it. You should look for the good things,” they say.
You know why it’s easy to make fun of Man of Steel? BECAUSE IT’S ABSOLUTELY ATROCIOUS and spits in fan’s faces. If you need specifics, let’s break down a couple reasons real quick.
First, let’s talk about Pa Kent. I’m not even talking about Kevin Costner’s wooden performance. I’m talking about the character himself. He spends Clark’s entire life telling him not to do anything. “Don’t help people, they’ll turn on you.” He literally sacrifices his life to drive that point in. On top of not making sense (I think people would be pretty on board with a guy who’s strong enough to save a bus full of kids), it’s also just kind of a dick move. As far as I’m concerned, saving people is a good thing. Guess Pa Kent is a nihilist or something.
Then let’s move onto the product placement. I understand that movies cost a lot money. I’m sure desaturating all the color and removing the joy from a movie costs even more, so Man of Steel must have cost a fortune. So I don’t get annoyed when I see a glamour shot of a Ford. Even more in your face, like the Transformers movies, it’s annoying, but tolerable (yes, I just compared Transformers favorably to this). Where it starts to be over the top is when you have OVER 100 PRODUCT PARTNERS, and they shove them into every freaking shot. It’s basically Pokémon. See if you can catch them all! Oh look, there’s a Sears-achu! And a 7-11mander!
One final huge gripe is the amount of damage Superman is complicit in. I get that ostensibly, it’s not his fault, it’s Zod’s. But Superman could have EASILY taken to fight to another planet, to space, hell, even just to a desert! Experts estimate that the total economic impact of the damage in Man of Steel is around two trillion dollars. That’s just over sixteen 9/11’s worth of damage, because Superman couldn’t be bothered to fly to a desert real quick? Or even just straight up? Zod and friends were hunting Superman because they needed his blood for their plan, so they would have followed him. All he had to do was leave. But he didn’t.
This movie sucks, Zach Snyder sucks, and the entire DCEU sucks. Except you, Wonder Woman. You can stay.