Why "Man Of Steel" Is The Superman Film Of The 21st Century
An honest review for the latest film about the granddaddy of all superheroes, Superman. Let the haters hate.
First off, let me state that this review and everything within it are purely my own opinions and does not represent the views of anyone I know or company that I work with/ for (I'm just a big nerd/ Superman fan). It does contain spoilers to the film, "Man of Steel." Please do not read if you do not wish to know any of those spoilers before you've seen the film.
I will go on record as saying that I am probably one of the biggest Superman fans of all time, and it's well known amongst all who know me (I make it known. haha). From comics to shirts to mugs to posters to movies to shows, I have them all. There's even a picture of me somewhere as a kid wearing tighty-whities and a blanket around my neck, ready to fly. All of this and the infusion of my love for films and you can see the amount of anticipation that I have for "Man of Steel."
I won't lie, when the film ended, I wasn't as blown away and satisfied as I thought/ hoped I would be. Don't get me wrong, I thought it was an amazing and action-packed film. It was a great reintroduction and reinterpretation of the character for the modern audience. However, it was missing something.. and after a few days (and much thought), I realized what was missing was embracing that the main character was Superman. I didn't feel like this was a Superman movie, more like a movie inspired by Superman. The suit was there. They showed (most of) his powers. The classic characters were there. Yet, it just didn't feel fully like a Superman movie. But... maybe that has to do with me and my history with Superman. I mean... to be fair, my expectations were beyond anything you could have imagined (like seriously, think of the highest expectations ever... and then go beyond that). This is how I felt for probably a day after watching the film, but it kept gnawing at me... why did I feel this way? And then it all clicked for me.
Growing up, I've experienced many variations of Superman through countless comics, TV, and films. When I was a kid, it was the classic Fleischer cartoons and a little while later, I discovered the classic films starring (who many believe to be) the definitive Superman, then moved onto Dean Cain's portrayal in "Lois and Clark: the Adventures of Superman" as an early teen, after that came the animated series on KidsWB, getting older and into my teenage/ college years it was all about "Smallville" before the (disappointing) Superman Returns. Finally, as an adult, I've been presented with this latest reboot known as "Man of Steel." Going through so many versions and variations of this iconic character that has meant so much to me, it's not surprising that I have my own "rules" about what or rather... who Superman should be (and I won't even mention comic book Superman because there are so many amazing different stories and universes within that medium alone). That's my investment, and I feel like that's the same for everyone else. We each have our own very specific ideas and even, special relationship, about what makes up this hero of all heroes. Unless it's the specific one in each of our minds, it won't be completely fulfilling. It's because Supes means too much to us.
For me, I don't believe I'll ever be fully satisfied with any Superman film unless it's one that is born out of my vision. It is my goal/ dream to one day direct a Superman film. I was actually happy that I haven't encountered the "perfect" Superman film yet because if I did, there'd be no point in me telling my version of this super man in a long, red cape - it would already exist. That being said, this is Zack Snyder/ David Goyer/ Christopher Nolan's version of Superman. There were/are complaints about how this is a much more sci-fi film than a traditional superhero film, and yes, that's true. They wanted to approach the film in as grounded of a way as possible and ask what if Superman literally existed with us right here and right now? From a scientific standpoint, how would that be possible? Literally and logically, how would that work and come to be? Scientifically speaking, there are high chances that there are other lifeforms somewhere in that vast ocean of stars up there, but it's fiction because Krypton does not necessarily exist (that we know of anyway). Superman has always been an alien from another planet, another immigrant who finds his way here to be like us without ever being able to actually be "one of us."
There have been quite a few reviews and comments about how this film is "cold" or "sad" which is apparently "not what a Superman film should be" because apparently it should be more "fun." (But come on, that scene where one of the jerks Clark runs into at a bar gets his truck demolished? Hilarious and fun.) Well, I'm glad that it wasn't just another "fun" entertaining summer blockbuster that had no real intensity, no real meat to the story (like "The Avengers" in my opinion). What I've loved about Nolan's Batman trilogy and the way that Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment have approached this film is that they wanted to make it a strong artistic piece of work comparable to any award-nominated drama out there. They make their characters these people that you can really look into and see their flaws, and that they're actually human at heart. Don't get me wrong, I was entertained by "The Avengers," but after I left the theater, there was no discussion or discourse needed. I went in, had a fun time, left, and that was that. "Man of Steel" has forced me to really examine and discuss not necessarily what I think about Superman but through using this character/ this film as a vehicle, really, what my ideas are about morality and what it means to be human. And that's the beautiful thing about what this film has done is that it's made so many people do that as well, it's created real thought and conversation, impassioned words at that, whether positive or negative. (Most) people are actually taking this film seriously. (To think, a superhero/ "comic book movie" has caused this sort of discourse). I think that's such a great thing and came to realize that even with a more serious tone, this film was and still is ultimately about hope. Hope is not always whimsical and happy or at least, the path to find it isn't always an easy one. At times, it may take sacrifice and pain in order to truly understand the power of hope.
The biggest (and easily most-discussed) part of the film is when Superman is forced to kill General Zod at the end of their battle. I have always felt that Superman does not kill. He always finds an alternative option because he is meant to represent an ideal of what humankind should be like, more than we are. Apparently, a lot of other people feel the same as well, but let me tell you why (at least in my humble opinion) this ending works. Throughout the entire film, Clark/ Superman has always taken the higher ground (whether that's when he was a kid getting harassed by those jocks or even as an adult working at a bar and seeing someone getting harassed). He's always found out a way in those situations to pick the other path, but Zod was different. Here you have (with no other known way of stopping) someone who is equally, if not physically stronger and more militaristically cunning than Superman. Zod (as he stated himself) has been created to become a warrior whose whole definition of being is to preserve the ideals of Krypton and that's it. After Superman "takes that objective" away, he has no other reason to live for except to destroy the person who took that away from him. His goal became to destroy Superman and everything he held close to his heart. As Superman was holding onto Zod, watching as he was about to incinerate those innocent bystanders, he knew he had no other choice. Think about it, even if he were to throw him a mile away and delay the destruction for a bit, Zod would not stop. He would keep going and cause more and more destruction and pain, and (as presented in the context of the film), there was no prison (aside from the Phantom Zone which was gone by then), object (kryponite does exists as of yet), or other way that anyone knew of within the universe of the film that could hold him at bay. There remained only one option that could stop him... Superman had to kill Zod. He had to make the toughest choice he's ever had to make (maybe aside from sacrificing his father) because this is again coming from someone who has always taken the other road. People make it sound as though it was just this easy thing that he did and then felt fine about, but it wasn't, it was his sacrifice and doing something that no one else could do because he had to in order to PROTECT (and this is in response to Mark Waid's piece regarding the film) mankind. Most of the time, in reality (where this film is based) there is no third option, and the hard choice has to be made. I think it really is from that one action that he would do whatever it takes to not have to make a decision like that ever again. Superman will from here on out find another way even if there is no other because he knows what it is like to take a life.
With that, I know, maybe Snyder's version is not necessarily "your Superman" and you know what, he's not completely mine neither. I really do believe this is a great reinvention of this character for this current generation. It holds no feeling of need to be beholden to anything that came before it because they literally created this film as if no others came before. They went at it with no rule book. They created their version of Superman for the 21st century, and I fully respect them for it. The filmmakers did their job, and now, as the audience, we need to do ours. We need to be okay with the fact that this is Superman, just as Christopher Reeve's Superman is Superman or Tom Welling's is allowed to be Superman as well. We need to be okay with loving our own versions of this character so much that we can put aside the those films and stories that came before, at least enough so that we are giving this newest incarnation of the character an opportunity to be a part of this incredible lexicon - to be Superman. He may stumble, he may fall, but in time, he can accomplish wonders.