Alanis Morissette’s hit track, “All I Really Want,” features one of my all-time favorite lyrics:
And I am fascinated by the spiritual man. I am humbled by his humble nature.
So this weekend I rewatched Man of Steel which still remains one of the most polarizing comic book films to date. 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.
I was a huge fan of Superman Returns (Don’t you judge me; I said judge not) and appreciate the movie as the love letter to the mythos that it’s intended to be.
Because of my love for the 2006 Bryan Singer film, any enjoyment of another Superman movie would be highly unlikely. To even consider watching Man of Steel, it needed to pass my Media Litmus Test by answering yes to one of the five posed questions.
Question 1: Is the lead or central protagonist a person of color?
Question 2: Is the lead or central protagonist an LGBTQ?
Wasn’t looking good here.
Question 3: Is the writing exceptional? And by exceptional, I mean would I as a novelist be impressed? No. Or so I thought. I would soon find myself standing corrected on that front.
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!!!!!
So yeah, 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.
In fact, 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 Morissette verse. Sure Supes lacks the brooding, the angst, and admittedly the coolness factor of say Batman, but there is more depth to him 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 naive 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 a person that tried so hard to be good and the best that he could be. That was something I emulated in always being the best physically, mentally and spiritually.
But while watching Man of Steel I finally realized why I also connected with Clark. His story is also that of the Other. The illegal alien who must hide who he is to survive in a bigoted and savage world.
A buddy and I had a discussion over whether or not it was right for Jonathan to have Clark hide who he is, and the proverbial closet metaphor. I didn’t agree with everything Jonathan 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 monster. The other knew the bigots and profiteers of the world would spend every waking moment trying to murder or dissect their son 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 (Fishburne) 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 World War III went down or the earth ending up like Krypton?
When Jonathan 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 Jonathan (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. He is not Mr. & Mrs. Drake. The fact that he gave his life to keep his son safe is proof of that.
In fact, Jonathan’s conversation with Clark is analogous of the conversations black fathers have with their sons about the life-threatening dangers of white supremacy.
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, as does Stonewall, Ferguson, McKinney, Baltimore, Charleston 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.
Discussions like these often begs the question 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 it’s an insult on his character. But I’ve also witnessed instances when Superman tackled white supremacy, talked a young girl down off of a ledge, when he’s been that hero for queer kids and they were positive and profound. Hell, Superman was an influence on a young black kid who eventually became president of the United States.
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 Kal-El in a post-9/11 world. Man of Steel answers why the world doesn’t deserve a Superman.
The problem ultimately isn’t 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 reality is Superman would sooner be crucified by humanity before Luthor, Zod, or Braniac could ever make a move.
And even though he is the Other, 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.
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. No, just no. While I agree with the critique that a Superman film should be lighter and family friendly, director Zack Snyder is not at fault here.
I’m usually the first one to take Hollywood 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.
Hearing white fans complain about Superman causing property damage is not unlike whites who complain about CVS during #BlackLivesMatter peaceful protests. Notice in both cases the onus isn’t upon the oppressors to actually stop the oppressing but shaming the Other for fighting to counteract it.
That was my first clue how white folks were gonna trip when it came to Ferguson and Baltimore and whatnot. Now here is Superman fighting to stop an invasion from the Earth being destroyed and white fandom is tripping about an IHOP being demolished. Now Superman is white culture’s champion and ideal. If they’re going to crucify him… we shouldn’t be shocked over how they react to PoCs fighting for our survival.
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 (The Original X-Man).
Speaking of Zod, Michael Shannon manages to give the villain depth and delivers for an actor other than Terrance Stamp.
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’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.
Where the hell was Jimmy Olsen? Seriously the movie consisted of Lana Lang, Pete Ross, Prof. Hamilton, but no Jimmy? Not even a reference, really? There’s been speculation that Jimmy was genderbent to Jennie (and if so, awesome) but that should’ve been clarified if that had been the case.
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. He is the Emissary of Excellence after all.
The “Rise Above” Trope needs to die like Krypton. I am sick and tired of the Others taking abuse from bullies, police, military, 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. We need only look at how white supremacists (mis)quote Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s position on nonviolence.
You can’t reason with sociopaths. Faora pointed this out and Zod proved it. Sometimes you have to answer violence with violence. Not because of hate but because of love and peace. Sometimes you have to fight in order to know peace and in order to protect that which matters. 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.
With that being said, March 2016 can’t get here fast enough: