Review: The Man of Steel (or) What's Wrong With Movies Today.
Wednesday, June 26, 20131 Comment
"Of course I am here for the pay cheque. Did you see The Master? Yeah, neither did I."
What makes a good super hero movie? It’s action and comic relief, it’s a good looking man in a Kevlar suit, it’s chaos incarnate defeated by the tenets of purity. What it is not, is just blowing shit up.
Fresh off a screening of Man of Steel I get the feeling that these mega money-making movies are getting more mindless as they capture more of the audience’s cash. Consider The Avengers, Star Trek: Into Darkness and again, Man of Steel. Each end with a city being totaled by, not only the red-eyed antagonist, but also our heroes who are trying to stop them. The ends justify the means, as the movie would have the audience believe, but again, is this a super hero movie?
I put forward The Dark Knight as the best super hero movie ever. Period. One reason being, is that it understood the idea of the protagonist as someone who puts purity and goodness above all else, especially himself. It was a story of a man who understood being good wasn’t simply an inheritance that gave him the responsibility to uphold good, but rather the human pinnacle of human existence. At the end of The Dark Knight, in true Batmanian, Übermenschian form, he volunteers himself up against the city he protects in order for the greatest possible good. He takes all the evil of the world upon himself in order to let good prevail overall. This is an emphasis on the true meaning of super heroes.
Man of Steel, the newest installment, further cementing that the geeks have indeed taken over, failed in this regard. In the film, Superman kills Zod to stop him from killing a family of four with his heat vision. But what about the thousands upon thousands of Metropolis’ citizens who were crushed by buildings not ten minutes before? Surely the four people outweigh the thousands slain so Supes could have a bar fight with a man with the galaxy’s worst haircut.
What is the alternate though? A boring ending.
In order to understand Batman’s choice to take the responsibly for the murder of Harvey Dent, we must first understand the character of Bruce Wayne. The Dark Knight is a character driven movie, thus when Batman accepts his place amongst public scorn, we understand his reasons clearly, but also, we respect these decisions based on the relationship built in the prior two hours of the film. It’s rational, because Batman is the protector of Gotham, even if he must play the role of evil to achieve that station.
Back to Man of Steel, what do we get? We get an alien that feels so alienated by the race that raised him he spends the better part of thirty years hiding from them. He get a man apart from the people he will inevitably grow to devote his life to for far too long. The makers of the movie focused on the alienation of Superman, well, because he’s an alien, but failed to connect the audience to a responsibility to human beings, even over that of his former compatriot, Zod.
They failed this task because the makers of Man of Steel (possibly the producers, really) failed to understand the pathos of Superman’s existence. While I agree that Superman would feel alienated and alone on earth—that’s a given—what they failed to articulate was the degree of responsibility Superman has for the human race.
We are lead to believe, as the audience, that his earth-parents raised him with the correct morals in order to become a good super hero. This is a false assumption. Superman’s responsibility to the human race comes from exactly the opposite of this—rather, his responsibly to protect comes from his alienation from the human race and not as a way to combat it. Superman is a god, walking amongst men. Simply, because he cannot be hurt or stopped, is exactly why he would feel the need to protect Earth. And therein lies his human narrative, not a campy heart-to-heart from earth-dad, but rather because he feels sorry for us.
Superman would protect earth because he can, like no other. And in this sense of the alien protector, he is human: because he can, he should. To think that the human race would have any affect on the Man of Steel is simple asinine hubris.
The argument could be made that it could have gone the opposite way: Superman’s abilities would have turned evil if not for the love and care of the Kents. However, I believe that such a character would not have gained such popularity because it is simply devoid of the human elements of protection that all humans feel. No person sees a group of children and starts a fist fight. To say Superman could have just as easily become evil is to say that you could just as easily start a rampage. It is a possibility, however Superman stands for the inherent goodness in the human condition. He exists as the distilled version of the goodness in every person. The opposite is simply another movie.
Man of Steel accomplished none of this. Killing Zod seems to have rubbed people the wrong way. ‘Superman would never kill’ they say, with half chewed popcorn flying at the theatre screen. But, why not? After all would this not be part of the tenets of purity Superman personifies? The problem with the film is that Superman didn’t kill Zod sooner, saving the lives of the thousands of Metropolitians in the process. The real Superman—the Superman that personifies true goodness—would have thrown Zod and his band of merry masochists into the moon, and fought there. Saving countless lives that certainly Superman would be well aware of.
But, again, there is nothing filled with gasoline on the moon so it would be a less interesting fight. Here we see where the money-maker of the film medium ruins a perfectly viable and accessible character. We need a big ending with familiar destruction (seriously, a lot of nine-eleveny shots in Man of Steel) in order for the audience to understand and connect with the destruction. Destruction that would have never happened if Man of Steel was a character driven movie, instead of the superfluous plot-driven cash-cow that it is.
What happened to creating characters with character, rather that just something to wrap a Happy Meal in?