Review: Man of Steel

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In the song All I Really Want, Alanis Morissette has one of my favorite lyrics of all time:

And I am fascinated by the spiritual man. I am humbled by his humble nature.

So Tuesday I caught Man of Steel. Going in I knew I didn’t know what to think about this film as I heard strong opinions on both sides.

The verdict?

I was a huge fan of Superman Returns (don’t you judge me) and appreciate the movie as the love letter to the mythos that its intended to be.

Because of my love for Superman Returns, my enjoyment of any other Superman movie would be a tough sale for me.

Yet somehow I found myself enjoying this movie more than I expected and surprisingly I immensely enjoyed the movie.

The film is essentially a reboot of Superman’s origins much in the spirit of Batman Begins. As Kal El learns of his origins and his purpose, he soon becomes tasked with protecting the planet from Zod and his invading army.

Before going to see the film, I wanted to make certain that it passed my Media Litmus Test where this movie must at least meet one of the five requirements.

Question 1: Is the lead or central protagonist a person of color?

No.

Question 2: Is the lead or central protagonist an LGBTQ?

No.

Wasn’t looking good here.

Question 3: Is the writing exceptional? And by exceptional, I mean would I as a fellow writer be impressed? By exceptional, I mean is it on some Octavia Butler, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Joss Whedon, Russell T Davies, JK Rowling level of exceptional?

No. But was shocked to learn later that for an action flick, it was pretty philosophical.

Question 4: Is there eye candy? Because if the eye candy is pretty enough I might be willing to overlook a lot but there better be some smoking eye candy?

GOOD GAWD YES. HENRY CAVILL IN ALL HIS SHIRTLESS MUSCULAR SCRUFFY GLORY!!!!! AND WORTH THE PRICE OF ADMISSION TO THE 3D FILM ALONE.

Question 5: Does this project feature Gina Torres in any shape or fashion? Because if the Goddess herself is involved, game on.

It features her husband Laurence Fishburne and by supporting him, I support the Goddess by proxy.

So yeah, 2 out of 5, we’re good.

I’ve always been a fan of Superman and he’s been a hero of mine more than I even realized. I used to joke to others that when I was a kid I tried to emulate Clark Kent and when I became a teen, I was more like Bruce Wayne (grim brooding stoic). But my inner Clark never went away.

I have all four seasons of Superboy on my PS3, I own the entire Superman animated series, the Supergirl animated film, and I’ve cosplayed as both Clark and Connor Kent.

What sets Superman aside from his comic book peers is that he isn’t merely a superhero. He is the superhero. Most people write him off as boring or bland because he is essentially the Boy Scout who always plays by the rules. But I’ve always found him fascinating as a character because if you examine Superman carefully you will find a complex individual.

It goes back to the lyric from the Alanis Morisette song “All I really Want.” And I am fascinated by the spiritual man. I am humbled by his humble nature. Sure he lacks the brooding, the angst and admittedly the coolness factor of say Batman, but there is more depth to Superman than most people realize. He is the personification of good and light. His power comes not from a reaction to the yellow sun but his indomitable drive to do the right thing. He is arguably the most powerful being in existence and yet he is ruled by his sense of ethics of truth and justice. At times he is a foolish idealist but he knows who he is and what he represents. He doesn’t have the luxury to be fallible. He isn’t merely a champion. He is the champion. He sets the standard for others. Could you imagine being burdened with that responsibility? Unlike most superheroes Superman is essentially a Messiah of sorts and with good reason as there are many similarities between he and Jesus Christ. Both men were the only begotten sons of their respective fathers. Possessing superhuman abilities, both men had a higher calling and strove to change the world. Whereas Jesus performed miracles and led countless souls to salvation, Superman used his powers not only to fight for right but to inspire every man, woman and child to be the best human being that they were capable of being.

As a child, I always connected with Clark because he was this person that tried so hard to be good and he was the best that he could be. That was something I emulated in always being the best physically, mentally and spiritually.

But it wasn’t while I was watching Man of Steel that I finally realized why I also connected with Supes. His story is also that of the Other. The illegal alien who must hide who he is to survive in a brutal and savage world.

My buddy Kirk and I had a discussion over whether or not it was right for John to have Clark hide who he is, and the proverbial closet metaphor.

I didn’t agree with everything John said and did (for example I would’ve let Clark beat those bullies for a good 20 minutes) but he is in nowhere near the same league as Bobby Drake’s mom from X-Men 2.

Yes both parents told their sons to hide who they are. But one did it out of malice because she was ashamed of her kid and was a bigot. The other knew the bigots and profiteers of the world would spend every waking moment trying to murder him or dissect him and weaponize his gifts on a level that would make the atom bomb look like a slingshot.

It wasn’t lost on me that a black Perry White (played brilliantly by my man Laurence Firshburne) explained this very point. Because a black man knows all too well the evil that white folks do.

If that happened how long would it be before WW3 went down or the earth ending up like Krypton?

When John said maybe about letting a bus full of kids die, he was looking at the bigger picture, and even the global consequences of Clark’s heroism. Because trust no good deed goes unpunished.

Again I’m not saying John (who even admitted that he was making it up and trying to figure things out as he went along) always made the right call. But it was coming from a place of love for his son. He is not Mr. & Mrs. Drake. The fact that he gave his life to keep his son safe is proof of that.

Because the reality is, the closet is often a necessity. Because Kryptonian or human, when you’re the other and you’re out, the Tuskegee Experiment happens or the world embraces you with the same love as they did Alan Turing, Emille Griffith, CeCe McDonald, Lawrence King, Duanna Johnson, or Matthew Shepard.

Our discussion then led to the question of whether or not Superman should tackle real world issues. To be honest strong arguments can be made on both sides. When handled irresponsibly, it’s not Superman and its an insult on his character. But I’ve also witnessed when Superman tackled racism, when he talked a young girl down off of a ledge, when he’s been that hero for queer kids and you know what, it’s been a positive impact on American society. Hell Superman was an influence on a young black kid who eventually became president of the United States.

That begs the question can the Kryptonian Boy Scout exist in a real world without compromising the narrative?

And that’s the interesting nuance of Superman in that it constantly makes a meta critique about the real world and why we aren’t living up to our full potential.

Superman Returns answered why the world needs Superman in a Post 9/11 world. This story answers why the world doesn’t deserve a Superman.

The problem ultimately isnt Supes, it’s humanity. Superman works as a symbol of truth justice and the American way if the people of Earth are basically good and decent. The truth is most of us aren’t. The truth is, a chanmpion of good like Superman would sooner be crucified by humanity before Luthor, Zod or Braniac could ever make a move.

And even though he is the Other, even though he has the complexion for the protection, Superman still has white privilege to protect him. Because trust, as much as that illegal immigrant Kryptonian is the other, if he were anything other than of the caucasian persuasion, then he would’ve been deemed a bigger threat than Zod.

Speaking of Zod, Michael Shannon manages to give the villain depth and delivers for an actor other than Terrance Stamp.

There was a bit of controversy over Superman killing Zod. People complained that the narrative was too grim and that Superman should be good and wholesome and not kill and that filmmakers Zack Snyder, Christopher Nolan, and David Goyer should be punished and spanked (which if that happens, I volunteer for Mr. Snyder, just saying). My response: UH NO!!!!

I’m usually the first one to take Hollywood and producers to task for their ineptitude but this is one of those rare times where I’m actually defending them. I think part of the reason this movie was made in the tone in which it was made is because for years the general public and fandom alike have bitched and moaned for years about Superman being too boring and too much of a boy scout. And shocker, some of the same people are now whining that Man of Steel is too dark and that Superman crossed the line. That’s the problem with Supermen and messiahs. The world expects them to be all things to all people and when they’re not, they get crucified. They got the boy scout in Superman Returns and people whined nonstop. So now you got what you asked for. So for those who wanted a grim and badass Superman, you got him. Don’t blame Hollywood. This one is on you.

Regarding Zod’s death, what the hell else was Superman supposed to do? Superman had him in a headlock and Zod was still using his heat vision to murder innocents. He had already been imprisoned to be rehabilitated. That didn’t take. Even as Supes begged him to stop, Zod vowed he would keep coming and keep plotting to destroy the Earth. It was self defense.

I don’t call it violence when it’s self-defense. I call it intelligence.

-Malcolm X.

Zod wasn’t the only villain who was a delight to watch. Faora rocked every scene she was in. So much so I remember saying to myself in the theater that if they brought her back for the sequel, she could easily carry the movie as the Big Bad. And even if they don’t utilize her, I was taking notes on developing a future villainess for a story.

While the story delivered in terms of social/philosophical commentary, action and a solid plot, it had its shortcomings. Chief among them, Lois Lane.

Don’t get it twisted, Amy Adams delivered and is a worthy addition to the elite group of women who have portrayed this iconic heroine over the decades. However, the script shortchanged the character and did her a disservice. Based on canon alone, Lois should be anything but a damsel in distress. It goes against her own canon.

Lois for all intents and purposes should be a major player in the superhero game independent of Superman. Most of you know she’s the Daily Planet’s top reporter and a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, and always at the forefront of being the modern career woman. But more than that, she’s an accomplished martial artist who has studied for many years and has extensive military training, thanks in no small part due to her dad being a general. Hell she broke into the White House with Superman and Batman to steal back the Kryptonite from Luthor when he was president. Anytime you team up with Supes and Bats to raid the White House, you know you’re a badass. In Smallville, Lois actually donned a cape. In the animated series, she battled Lex Luthor’s bodyguard Mercy and kicked her ass. The same Mercy who battled Harley Quinn to a stalemate.

She has clocked more field time than a lot of the capes in the DC Universe. When Superman’s powers got neutralized in Man of Steel, Lois’s military background and martial arts experience should’ve come into play and she should’ve rescued been able to free Clark independent of video game tutorial Jor El.

And am I the only one who was dying to see Lois and Faora have a showdown? Again missed opportunity.

Next….

Where the hell was Jimmy Olsen? Seriously the movie consisted of Lana Lang, Pete Ross, Prof. Hamilton, no Jimmy, not even a reference, really?

Next…..

Laurence Fishburne should’ve had a much bigger role. You do not cast an actor of his caliber in a movie like this and only give him a few lines.

Next…..

The Rise Above Trope needs to die. I am sick and tired of the Others taking abuse from bullies, turning the other cheek for the “greater good.” What happens is that then society victim blames minorities when we dare fight back or defend ourselves. Remember it’s not self-defense, it’s intelligence.

You can’t reason with sociopaths. Faora pointed this out and Zod proved it. Sometimes you have to answer violence with violence. Sociopaths may not understand compassion or human decency but they do get self-preservation. You see violence or self defense or intelligence rather is a much better communicator and teacher. It teaches sociopaths that there are consequences for your actions. It warns that the Other is willing to protect them and theirs by any means necessary, so don’t let the necessary occur.

I appreciated the Easter Eggs featured in the film including but not limited to: Carol Ferris (the female soldier who stated the obvious about the hawtness of Kal El), Lexcorp, Wanyetech and others.

Not sure what will happen with this movie. If it’ll tank and we get yet another reboot, if it dominates at the box office and it will result in a sequel and/or a Justice League film. We’ll see. But for nothing else, this film allowed me to be a kid and discover another facet of what makes me, well, me. And that’s awesome. Super even. 😉

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8 comments on “Review: Man of Steel

  1. Because a black man knows all too well the

    The what????

    So you liked it, huh? Wasn’t expecting that, considering the WTF reaction I’ve seen to this film.

    The film has Henry Cavill which, where the white boys are concerned, is like having Tom Felton in a movie – an automatic win.

  2. Sorry about that. That was supposed to read the evil that white folks do. Fixed it. Yeah I’m surprised I liked it too TBH

  3. Pingback: Man Of Steel Review: ‘He Will Be An Outcast.’ | The Young, The Strange, & The Anachronistic

  4. Awesome review, and thank you for presenting an aspect of the movie that I had not considered re: Superman as an Other. I did to a point, but you pushed those thoughts further than the surface exam I gave them.

    On thing I loved about the film that I’m sad no one has mentioned was the films answer to Kryptonite. I loved that instead of meteor’s they tried to use biology to explain his weakness. It presented super interesting challenges to both Supes and Zod. It did leave a few questionable areas, like…how could he fight in space?

    Thank you again for sharing your thoughts.

  5. One thing to point out, there WAS a reference to Jimmy Olsen in the film, although it was SO SUBTLE that if you didn’t know about it, you’d miss it. The intern that was trapped under rubble – that was Jenny Olson. I believe she is supposed to be related to Jimmy, but unclear on exactly how. I have to imagine she’ll have a bigger roll down the line or she will be used to introduce Jimmy.

    I am unclear on the motivation of this decision, but there it is. Now, all that said, there are other theories and evidence that I could be wrong, such as this:
    http://www.themarysue.com/jimmy-olsen-jenny-jurwich/

  6. Pingback: Children of Krypton | Dennis R. Upkins

  7. I wondered the same thing when I saw the movie and I stayed until after the credits to see if that was indeed Jenny Olsen but in the credits she was only listed as Jenny.

    Not saying your point wasn’t correct or that wasn’t the case but that should’ve been better established.

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