Editorial: Why I won’t be watching Man of Steel

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Okay, I’m prepped for ridicule. I know people say you can’t judge a film without having seen it, but if a trailer acts as an advertisement to entice viewers to pay to watch the full thing, I knew I wouldn’t be watching Man of Steel early on.And not solely because it just looked so bloody depressing.

Now I’m not a stickler for fidelity to source material, and I realise a lot of film adaptations -regardless of whether they’re comic book movies or not- can be with merit, and good, interesting movies in their own right, but when you have a huge, iconic character like Superman and lose all essence of what he is about, what he epitomises, and what defines him (and *spoiler alert* I’m not just talking about killing  Zod here), then I think you’ve failed in making a Superman movie.

There’s realism, there’s taking a different approach, and then there’s completely losing sight of the entire facets around which your character and the world he inhabits is built.

It’s also why I think Marvel movies tend to work much better, by ignoring DC’s stringency for ‘realistic superheroes’ (c’mon, there’s no such thing!), films like The Avengers, Iron Man, Thor etc. function better both as comic book movies and in service to their characters because they contain and convey the bombast, humour and spectacle and essentially uplifting tone of the pages from which they’ve been taken.

Max Landis sums up my feelings on Man of Steel pretty well:

tumblr mowfphF5FB1qfd9cso1 500 Editorial: Why I wont be watching Man of Steel

(comic by Cameron Stewart)

Comments

  1. Glenn Simpson says:

    Marvel has the benefit of having flaws built in to its characters to start with. Today’s movie audiences want to see a growth in the character between the beginning and end of the movie, and DC characters (aside from Batman) don’t have those built-in flaws to overcome, so they have to be added, which sometimes makes them different from the traditional version.

  2. Forgive me for saying this… but the female character in Stewart’s cartoon strip is damn cute! Glasses, skirt, short cropped hair…. nicely captured.

  3. I’m with Jimmie. I purchased his 2012 art book and it’s full of gorgeous women.

  4. I’m just tired of this backlash of Man of Steel. I’m over the whiny nitpicking that’s been going on. Marvel movies are good but they play it very safe. Here’s a Superman movie unlike any before it with the spectacle it’s lacked for decades and people want puppies and rainbows. Grow up people. It is a new interpretation. Like it for what it is and not what you wanted it to be.

  5. Nothing against Zainab (who has introduced some really cool comics here) and his op-ed above, but the Internet has gone from Criticism Without Limits to Criticism Without Experience — and I don’t mean 4 years at Medill, but just the raw experience of reading or watching a work of art. That’s problematic, I think. You are talking about the trailer, which is fair, but I wonder about the cost of people listening to celebrities for reviews rather than professional critics. Not that Roger Ebert wasn’t a celebrity, but he was first and foremost a professional. But here’s what I wanted to respond to:

    There’s realism, there’s taking a different approach, and then there’s completely losing sight of the entire facets around which your character and the world he inhabits is built.

    I disagree with that. Superman has changed with every decade he has existed in, in some fairly significant ways. As someone (“Jeff’) said at a recent event I was at, “it’s not the character that’s darker, it’s our world he reflects.” Can we disagree with that? Jeff also pointed out how everyone was horrified by the wholesale urban destruction (as I was) but no one blinked twice at the obliteration of Krypton. And if anything, this version of the character/story fixes some serious problems with those nostalgic “facets” — especially with Lois. And here’s my op-ed: I liked that it messed with everything — I was finally able to enjoy a Superman story because it wasn’t its own corporate-ordered cliche. Either way, the division over this film has done the almost impossible — make comics people talk about Superman again. (love that Stewart cartoon too)

  6. Chris Hero says:

    Cameron Stewart always draws awesome stuff. He’s amazing in how consistently he can do it, too. His sketchy, minimalist style always screams simple, but his designs for everything are always so cool.

    Here’s why I won’t see Superman: Zack Snyder. That guy is the worst. He always makes big, dumb, joyless action movies with lots of dramatic screaming and super slow motion action scenes. 300 was one of the worst pieces of crap I’ve ever seen. I was willing to give this movie a chance if Ann Hornaday from the Washinton Post had anything nice to say, but once she tore it to shreds, I just shook my head. (Hornaday’s movie criticism is always right on. She’s under-appreciated.)

  7. Synsidar says:

    I know people say you can’t judge a film without having seen it, but if a trailer . . .

    I disagree with that, as far as MAN OF STEEL is concerned. People can know Superman completely on the basis of a few stories–know how he thinks, how he feels, how he’d react to situations, know what he would or wouldn’t do. That’s the downside of writing a “classic” superhero. There’s no suspense in a story, because the story is invariably written to depict him as a classic superhero. Killing Zod is something the classic Superman wouldn’t do. The reason(s) a story is written always matters greatly.

    Say someone wrote a Star Trek story in which Spock was written as being racially prejudiced, or intolerant of foolishness, or having some other typically human failing, simply to say that Spock was less than perfect. Why write a story for that purpose, just to knock Spock off his pedestal? He’s only a fictional character; the writer determines what he does in a story, with every word that’s written. Displaying animus toward Spock only makes the writer look like an idiot, not Spock.

    That’s the reason continuity in a series is so important. Writing a story is an intellectual exercise. If the writer can’t play the game (maintaining continuity) well, he shouldn’t be playing it.

    SRS

  8. Thomas Wayne says:

    Glenn Simpson wrote:
    Today’s movie audiences want to see a growth in the character between the beginning and end of the movie…

    So explain why shitty moves with no character growth whatsoever make hundreds of millions of dollars??

    Your basic movie audience just wants to be entertained and hopefully said entertainment isn’t designed to placate the lowest common denominator….

    Superman succeeded financially because of two things….one…a built in following of tens of millions of fans (fans on varying levels but fans nonetheless) and a hype machine based in the fact that we finally got a Superman movie where he actually fights someone with his fists and doesn’t just divert nuclear missiles and rebuild damns by spinning the earth backwards.

    It failed story wise (in my opinion) because it didn’t stick to the original game plan that made the character so great for everyone coming out of the silver age (and that starting point was 1978 with Superman: The Movie) which was Superman embodied the best of what we all wish and hope everyone would be…kind…self sacrificing…willing to stick up for those who can’t stick up for them selves…powerful yet not someone who wields that power with control in mind….this is what Superman is about…and it doesn’t have to be corny or campy to pull that off…case in point…Joe Johnston and Joss Whedon didn’t try to turn Capt. America into something he isn’t for those movies and they were critically impressive and financially impressive at the same time.

    What was it Agent Coulson said to Cap in THE AVENGERS….maybe we need a little old fashioned around here.

    This is where DC, WB, Nolan and Snyder seriously missed the point…again…at least in my opinion…although I doubt I am anywhere near alone in that assessment.

  9. I was going to read this article until I saw the title. Then I knew I wouldn’t like it because it’d be another one of those pointless editorials where someone masks their cynicism behind a veneer of pop culture ennui and lamentation about the loss of heroism and innocence in the medium.

    So I just skipped to the comments and posted my own uninformed comments about someone else’s uninformed comments, and saved myself the trouble of approaching things with an open mind and perhaps finding out that I might be mistaken, and have jumped to the wrong conclusion.

  10. Zainab Akhtar says:

    I’d be interested to know if anyone watched the Max Landis video- he says a lot about Superman as a character who is essentially a God amongst men, and how to make that work, and also addresses various other points raised in the comments here.

    And Brad, I think you meant ‘she’ :)

  11. Mikael says:

    Hear that sound? That was JSF dropping mic. You all lost. He won. Bravo.

  12. Mikael says:

    I didn’t watch it. I just saw the still frame preview image. I’ve learned that’s all you have to do to form an opinion. Thanks.

  13. Oops — sorry Zainab!

    I like the Landis video — but also appreciate that he is (on purpose or not) selling his own brand of superheroes to a future audience.

    So I talked to two large groups of 14-18-year-olds last week. 90% of them saw the movie; 88% liked it. They are not (I assume) posting on this thread. They (and their parents) are spending money. Opinions always matter — always — but theirs probably count the most, whether we agree or not.

  14. Chris Hero says:

    I watched the Max Landis video and quite enjoyed it. I think he really made some good points. I didn’t care for Chronicle (I thought Akira said the same stuff much better), but I’d still rather have Landis making superhero movies than Zack Snyder. (Then again, I *really* hate Snyder.)

  15. Bring back Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman! :P

    I haven’t gone to see Man of Steel. I was quite excited about it at one point, but then I wrote a piece about “capitalist heroes” for the New Statesman and managed to accidentally lose my enthusiasm for superhero films entirely. When a hero exists to make money, how heroic can they really be? Does anyone care if Superman’s film makes sense or has great character progression as long as he smashes cities to bits and rolls in the dollars for his corporation?

    Bah, moan, grumble. But still, it’s a shame that Superman truly can’t represent the little guy because of his chains.

  16. Tom Strong says:

    Why let other people and a lame cartoon tell you what to do and how to think? You just come off as as sheep. See it and then form YOUR OWN opinion!

  17. Richard Watson says:

    Yet some more people who don’t seem to able to understand that in the film he’s been Superman for what, a couple of days at most and that this is the first time he’s ever fought ANYONE, let alone someone with powers like his.

    Instead they expect him to be this magically perfect character (or rather non-character) incapable of doing anything wrong and excuse me while I stab a pencil in my leg to try and stay awake because just the thought of how boring that film would have been is putting me to sleep.

  18. Jackie Estrada says:

    My two cents: I loved the film. I avoided spoilers and previews as much as possible ahead of time so I could see it on its own terms. I think Cavill was terrific (although I actually preferred him with the beard Clark has at the beginning to the clean-shaven Superman!). I was worried that it would be slow going because of the length, but it went by fast and I was surprised when it was over. I agree with Richard Watson that you have to keep in mind that this is a guy feeling his way into what it means to be a “superman,” guided by his real and adopted parents, who sometimes giving him conflicting messages. I also loved the look of the film.

  19. george says:

    I finally saw Man of Steel yesterday. It’s a well made film that held my interest for its entire length (unlike last year’s sleep-inducing Spider-Man reboot). I did have a couple of problems with it.

    The big one is that the film is utterly humorless, as Heidi mentioned on a podcast. It’s very much like Chris Nolan’s Batman films: dark, grim and violent. The hero hardly ever smiles (as Clark or Superman), and I can think of only one line that might have been intended as humorous: Ma Kent’s “Nice suit.”

    When I was 30 years younger and reading Frank Miller’s Daredevil and Ronin, I thought dark, grim and violent equaled “adult.” Now I know that’s not always true. The Marvel movies strike a better balance of drama and humor.

    And there’s the massive destruction, which others have mentioned on this site. Both Smallville and Metropolis are reduced to rubble. This sort of destruction would kill thousands of people in real life, but we see no corpses. Of course, dead bodies might have jeopardized the PG-13 rating.

    But maybe “Dark Superman” is what people in their teens and early 20s want. This generation (like the last one) tends not to want Boy Scouts as heroes.

  20. Glenn Simpson says:

    @Thomas Wayne – which ones don’t? Even the stupid kid in Transformers generally has to get over some personal hangup before he can zip in and save the day.

  21. Glenn Simpson says:

    I haven’t seen a character who hasn’t had to learn a lesson in the movie since Indiana Jones.

  22. Serhend Sirkecioglu says:

    I went to see Man of Steel amidst a lot of dissent among my inner circle of friends who felt the same way as you Zainab and I came out liking it. The Epic Realism of the DC Cinematic Universe offers something more the MCU lacks, that being an idiosyncratic voice. The Nolan Trilogy set the tone for a world in which heroes think then do, as opposed the MCU in which characters are proactive, more animated, and appeal to snarky teens and twenty-somethings.

    MCU is rather formulaic in a broader sense while the DCCU is formulaic but with a more personal touch. I was excited to hear Ben Affleck being attached to the Justice League because he’s a idiosyncratic director and is a great fit for the direction they’re going. Directors like Terrence Malick, Boon Joon-ho, Ang Lee, Ben Affleck, Catherine Bigelow, etc. known for more dramatic and personal storytelling.

    *SPOILERS*
    The Man of Steel is a thoughtful commentary on liberalism. We got know and understand Krypton enough to feel for the destruction of it and form an opinion on the downfall of their society. Jor-El is the more libertarian voice of choice, rebirth, and organic unity. Zod is more along the lines of federal-liberalism(mainstream liberalism) that through new government enforcement we can create a newer and greater society. both opposing the now conservative government.

    After we leave Krypton destroyed and Zod imprisoned, we follow a drifting Clark as he reflect on his past and circumstances and his adjustment to the earth from his honing his hyper-sensitivity and controlling his strength, but still feeling compelled to do good for others because it’s his moral choice not his moral obligation, encapsulated in the death of his adopted father who chose not to be saved.

    Lois Lane who is as mainstream-liberal as a relentless journalist can get, follows his story in the sense that the people must know who he is and feels that his deed of saving her must be known by all. when she does find him, he hits a chord with her in that though he may potentially be filled with answers to questions we’ve asked for centuries, his upbringing of keeping that secret until he fully understand his destiny/potential and choosing when he is ready to share it.

    The arrival of Zod brings with it his unchecked and irrational sense of social justice to Krypton by terraforming earth, even with rational compromise of adjusting to Earth’s biosphere proven by Clark’s own existence. even in their climactic battle where Zod is scrambling up the tower and clark descend upon him. Zod’s climb is the symbolic destructive and misguided nature of social justice to Clark’s egalitarian dive for himself and humanity. In his final moment’s Zod’s morality trap of killing the family or Clark killing him is the only moment where Clark directly kills someone out of choice. Zod dies still consumed by his sense of Kryptonian social justice.

    the film ends with Clark insisting the government let him be and trust him while taking up a job at the Daily Planet to be able to help humanity unimpeded. He’s a hero by choice not out of some sense of self righteousness.

  23. MattComix says:

    Man Of Steel has more going for it than Nu52.

  24. Dean Haspiel says:

    I loved Man Of Steel. I know because I saw it.

  25. Al™ says:

    I haven’t seen Man of Steel. I watched the preview a few times, read reviews, listened to colleagues search for a positive thing to say about it. That was enough, I am not planning to see it in cinema. Maybe someday on tv.

  26. Synsidar says:

    Yet some more people who don’t seem to able to understand that in the film he’s been Superman for what, a couple of days at most and that this is the first time he’s ever fought ANYONE, let alone someone with powers like his.

    So why write a story about Superman if he’s not going to be perfect?

    Superman isn’t the ideal power fantasy; he’s just one approach to interpreting it. He’s basically a character for children’s stories who appears in morality plays. If someone wanted to take a different approach to a power fantasy story, he could have someone with super strength learn how to use it to do marvelous things, but also learn about its limitations.

    There’s no more reason to care about how Superman is handled in any particular story than there is to care about how _____ is handled, except that Supes is an important commercial property. If someone wants to write Superman as being less than perfect, he can easily write about a flawed superman. Trying to write Superman for adults without changing him substantially is more trouble than it’s worth, if he gives a damn about aesthetics.

    SRS

  27. george said: maybe “dark superman” is what people in their teens and early twenties want. this generation (like the last one) tends not to want boy scouts as heroes.
    yeah, i can hardly wait for their kids to grow up tp produce idealistic, optimistic, and fun music, movies, and tv just to piss their parents off.

  28. hikaru says:

    The biggest complaint I hear from such notable figures as Landis and Mark Waid and many more is that Superman “kills” thousands in the destruction to save the lives of a few at the end. To me it looked as if Snyder watched a shit ton of Justice League Unlimited cartoons. Those fight scenes could have been copied and pasted right out from any episode (Zod and Clark bursting through the silo comes to mind in particular). The movie was indeed cold and sterile which does not play well on Superman’s sensibilities and mythos, but that is an entirely different criticism altogether.

    Maybe I’m wrong but I have never, ever heard the same complaints about a cartoon that is largely targeting a children’s demographic portraying such mass destruction whereas a movie with a PG-13 rating may allow more breathing room for such imagery. No civilians in the movie ANYWHERE are seen falling to their death, being crushed etc. We do, however, see the physical appearance of the people at the end that Superman risks everything to save. Granted, it’s a huge suspension of belief no one is harmed in that kind of destruction, but in a movie where an alien baby lands on earth to grow up to be its savior…yeah I can stretch it out just for its visual effect.

    Unless people want to start calling Bruce Timm out for the same problems promoting such unnecessary violence, may people find that this is a pretty silly complaint, boiling down to the argument pointing to where one decides that their suspension of belief is no longer needed in such a fantastical universe.

  29. Anniesocial says:

    Speaking of dark Superman…
    Remember that scene where he depowers Zod and then brutally crushes all the bones in his hand. He then picks up Zod over his head and chucks him over a cliff where Zod falls to his death? And remember how Lois punched that Kryptonian lady and knocked her to her death off of the same cliff. And then Lois and Superman smile and laugh with the warm glow of each killing somebody.

  30. I still haven’t seen Captain America

  31. MattComix says:

    To be fair in Superman II there was a deleted scene where the Zoner’s are being hauled off to jail. But Superman II had a host of production problems.

    As a kid I remember I thought the mist they fell into was itself a portal to the Phantom Zone. Nothing was said in the movie to imply this, that’s just how my mind filled in the blank.

    As for Superman crushing his de-powered hand or Lois punching Ursa, Ursa killed a child in Houston and they both murdered astronauts by cutting off their air supply. Non even crushed one inside their own lunar lander. Not to mention the White House invasion. That’s all before they even got to tearing up Metropolis. As a buddy of mine would say “They earned that ass whoopin.”

  32. george says:

    I remember how impressed I was by “Superman II” when it came out. It was the first time a superhero vs. superviilain battle had been depicted in all its magnitude. Of course, that battle looks restrained and low-tech compared to what we see in “Man of Steel.”

    And Chris Reeves’ Supes does lead the bad guys away from Metropolis when he sees how much destruction they’re causing, and how many people are in danger.

  33. george says:

    I liked some of what Max Landis says in that clip, only we don’t see “hundreds of thousands” of people being killed. As far as we see, nobody is killed, despite huge explosions, collapsing skyscrapers and military aircraft blasting away in populated areas. Gotta have that PG-13 rating!

    I really liked Landis’ video about the death and return of Superman in the early ’90s. As he points out, the “Death of Superman” didn’t kill Superman. It killed death in comics as something that could be taken seriously. After Supes was resurrected, ANY character could be killed (when sales needed a bump) and later revived (when sales needed another bump).

  34. Marilyn Merlot says:

    True, Superman is new at his job. I’d also like to see a Jesus biopic where he’s more interesting by making some mistakes, like killing a bunch of people before he learned it was wrong.

  35. george says:

    http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/man-of-steel-2013

    Interesting take: “Man of Steel” shuts out or minimizes women, with Amy Adams’ Lois less of a fully developed character than Margot Kidder’s. And when a dumb question or trivial remark is made in “Man of Steel,” it’s usually made by a woman in a room full of burly men.

  36. “The Death of Superman”. I still remember reading an interview with DC editor Mike Carlin at the time in which he said, “The death of Superman is not a gimmick.” I’d be interested in his explanation for that statement now because even at the time it was an obvious lie.

  37. george says:

    “I’d be interested in his explanation for that statement now because even at the time it was an obvious lie.”

    It wasn’t an obvious lie to the mainstream media, which were suckered into hyping those comics. Which was the plan all along.

  38. Laura said:
    “When a hero exists to make money, how heroic can they really be? Does anyone care if Superman’s film makes sense or has great character progression as long as he smashes cities to bits and rolls in the dollars for his corporation?”

    There has never been a version of Superman, no matter how idealistic, where its purveyors didn’t care about making money.

    You can argue the matter of degree, but since no one can (dependably) read minds, who can judge another’s motivation. The most one can say is that it seems to you that there was no motive to make the film beyond making money.

    To be sure, I came to a roughly similar conclusion about MAN OF STEEL, though probably for very different reasons:

    http://nummtheory.blogspot.com/2013/06/man-of-steel-2013.html

  39. “Interesting take: “Man of Steel” shuts out or minimizes women, with Amy Adams’ Lois less of a fully developed character than Margot Kidder’s. And when a dumb question or trivial remark is made in “Man of Steel,” it’s usually made by a woman in a room full of burly men.”

    I thought Lois was one of the few characters who had any presence, though she was still badly underwritten. The military men are total cyphers, and Perry White isn’t much better.

  40. george says:

    Amy Adams is a good actress — if you want to see how good, check out “The Master,” or even “Trouble With the Curve.” But her Lois was just capable and determined, and that was all. She displayed no personality quirks that might have made her interesting (and human).

    I read an interesting commentary somewhere, where the writer said he’s tired of all the talk about how Superman was no longer “relatable” to the mass audience, and the filmmakers had to make him relatable. The writer said he doesn’t give a damn about whether characters are relatable, or sympathetic or even likeable.

    Movies allow you to get to know people who are completely unlike yourself or anyone you know. That’s one of the great strengths of movies — or it used to be.

  41. spoil: I’m sure Kidder had more lines, but this Lois isn’t fooled by the glasses for a second, which has been character’s biggest fault since 1938.

  42. R. Maheras says:

    I saw it the day it opened.

    It was a flawed film, but not flawed enough to tank at the box office, ala the first Hulk film in 2003. As those of you who follow the film biz may remember, the first week, the Hulk killed at the box office, but word-of-mouth destroyed it thereafter.

    This Superman film, while flawed and dark, was apparently not as flawed and dark as the first Hulk film.

    I thought Man of Steel would have been a better film if it only had one ending. Without revealing any plot details, the last 10 minutes or so were redundant noise.

    Still, I’m glad it’s doing decently at the box office. Unlike the more jaded fans out there, I WANT comic book-related movies to remain the tent-pole “genre” of the film biz for the foreseeable future.

  43. Darrell Taylor says:

    When did fandom get such a sense of entitlement to what we want when it comes to anything involving geek culture? And what is the point of shouting to the world that your basically going to criticize something without actually seeing what it is first? This movie is just a movie and not a measure of your feelings on how much better you know a fictional character than someone else.

  44. MattComix says:

    “but this Lois isn’t fooled by the glasses for a second, which has been character’s biggest fault since 1938.”

    This is more a failure by modern fans to use their imaginations and be mad at fantasy for being fantasy.

  45. Synsidar says:

    . . . but this Lois isn’t fooled by the glasses for a second, which has been character’s biggest fault since 1938.

    Have to disagree with that. While Clark Kent is an asset, glasses aside, his secret identity need not be a concern in a wide range of situations. Superman’s powers, though, include such ridiculous things as X-ray vision, telescopic vision, microscopic vision, cold breath–those powers, which are practically impossible to rationalize, are what make him a power fantasy best suited for children who think that having any imaginable power would be fantastic.

    SRS

  46. george says:

    “This is more a failure by modern fans to use their imaginations and be mad at fantasy for being fantasy.”

    Yeah. Fans can accept a man who can fly and who has heat vision and X-ray vision, and who can survive shells exploding on his chest. But they can’t accept the glasses?

    “Man of Steel” has dropped to No. 5 at the box office, so it may not have much staying power.

  47. Darrell Taylor said:

    “When did fandom get such a sense of entitlement to what we want when it comes to anything involving geek culture? And what is the point of shouting to the world that your basically going to criticize something without actually seeing what it is first? This movie is just a movie and not a measure of your feelings on how much better you know a fictional character than someone else.”

    I agree that it’s unethical to review anything you haven’t at least sampled, but there’s nothing wrong with saying, “I don’t like the look of X, so I’m not going to partake of it.”

    And what has this got to do with fan entitlement? People outside fandom say stuff like this every day.

  48. Darrell Taylor says:

    The entitlement is people who seem to feel a movie property or tv show that is geeky in nature has to represent exactly what they want and when it doesnt its declared wrong or that we in the fandom community have been betrayed somehow.

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