Man of Steel: A Retrospective

(Originally published on The Nerds of Color)

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.

The verdict?

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?

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 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!!!!!

8d5290ea0da22ae022d1d1628a79254aQuestion 5: Does this project feature Gina Torres in any shape or fashion? Because if the Goddess is involved, game on.

MV5BMTk3NzY1MjUzMF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMjcyMDcwOQ@@._V1_SX640_SY720_It features her husband Laurence Fishburne (aka Mr. Gina Torres) as Perry White and by supporting the Emissary of Excellence, I support Perfection herself by proxy.

20130620-164215.jpg

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.

01e84aced2bf768eb772226798997c84d7665abe2fConnor

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?

Superman snowUnlike 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.

Obama_Supermanfile4804524349_308905459206840_34829581_nIt 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 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.

20130620-163349.jpg

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.

Next…

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.

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. He is the Emissary of Excellence after all.

Next…

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:

ew_batman_v_superman_poster_by_messypandas-d8zw5et

Advertisements

5 comments on “Man of Steel: A Retrospective

  1. Excellent post.
    I was one of the few people who didn’t hate this movie and its nice to come across a good rebuttal to all the criticism I read about it. Thank you for tackling so many of the arguments made against this film.
    I feel the same way about Superman that you do, and I was willing to accept Snyder’s version of this character. I still dislike Superman Returns, but admit that both movies answer different questions.

  2. You are so right about Henry Cavill. Yum yum.
    When I first saw MoS, I was fairly well impressed, although I didn’t like him killing Zod. As a fan of Superman for decades (and of comics for nearly all of my 40 years on this planet), the Superman I know, when written as I prefer him, always finds a way to win without killing.
    However, as I developed my progressive beliefs, I began to rethink my opposition to killing others. Don’t get me wrong, I still wholeheartedly believe in every single right laid out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and I oppose killing. I am also staunchly opposed to the death penalty. However, I’ve since rejected an absolutist opposition to murder. I do feel that, however regrettable, killing someone in self-defense is justified. To save one’s life, or the lives of family members or friends, or even strangers is justifiable (obviously, this must be determined in a fair and impartial trial). I came to realize this bc I recognized that we don’t live in a perfect world filled with perfect people. I realized that since we’re flawed, things will not always go as well as we want them to or hope them to. We have to allow for some leeway in some of our beliefs. So while I do oppose murder and killing others, that’s not absolute.

    Another thing that helped me in reassessing my beliefs about killing was another comic book character-Wonder Woman. Specifically her murder of Maxwell Lord to save the life of Superman. This occurred years ago during a period when Superman was under Lord’s mental control and not only thought WW was Doomsday, but that she’d killed Lois Lane. He was in a rage and was trying to kill her. He probably would have until WW snapped Maxwell Lord’s neck, killing him. He’d told her it was the only way to end his control over Superman and it was in a lull in their battle, not long enough to get any other help. Lord also promised that he’d use Superman for further nefarious goals, which meant more people would be threatened by the most powerful being on the planet. So she made her choice.

    When I first read that issue, I was kind of put off, bc I though WW wasn’t supposed to kill either. It was until years later, after I saw MoS and began to soften my position on killing that I realized that WW was in the right. As I began to read about Wonder Woman’s history, I realized that she wasn’t the uncaring, aloof character, but rather a passionate character who loves life. She is a feminist and Humanist who would prefer to solve conflicts with non-violence. She’s a great diplomat and would rather offer her open hand to talk and avoid physical conflict. But if she has to, she’ll fight. And she’ll fight to win. If she’s pressed, and there are no other options available, and lives are at stake, she won’t hesitate to take a life. But that’s not something she will do lightly, because of her appreciation for life (and not just human beings either). Realizing this about Wonder Woman helped me finalize my beliefs about human life and the conditions under which taking a life might be justifiable. It should not be done haphazardly and should not be done except under the most dire of circumstances. Also, because I value life, even if I recognize that killing someone is a necessary evil, I won’t celebrate their death. I even find it a turn off reading comments from people who applaud someone’s death (for that matter, comments applauding the suffering of human beings piss me off; but I make no apologies for my empathy).

    With that though, I take the same tact as Mark Waid. I’m not sure how familiar you are with Waid, but he’s a well known comic book writer who has a deep, deep love of Superman. In a post at his comic blog Thrillbent, Waid wrote:

    See, everyone else in Zod’s army has been beaten and banished, but General Zod lives and so, of course, he and Superman duke it out in what, to everyone’s credit, is the very best super-hero fight I’ve ever seen, just a marvel of spectacle. But once more–and this is where I knew we were headed someplace really awful–once more, Superman showed not the slightest split-second of concern for the people around them. Particularly in this last sequence, his utter disregard for the collateral damage was just jaw-dropping as they just kept crashing through buildings full of survivors. I’m not suggesting he stop in the middle of a super-powered brawl to save a kitten from a tree, but even Brandon Routh thought to use his heat vision on the fly to disintegrate deadly falling debris after a sonic boom. From everything shown to us from the moment he put on the suit, Superman rarely if ever bothered to give the safety and welfare of the people around him one bit of thought. Which is why the climax of that fight broke me.

    As I thought about it, I realized how true that was. One of Superman’s core abiding principles is a not just respect for life, but an unwavering devotion to helping save lives. Its part of the messiah complex he has. More than that, he doesn’t just save lives, he tries to inspire and lead by example. But he did little of that in MoS. He did little saving of lives and didn’t appear to care overmuch about the lives of humans. So that ending, where he faces the terrible decision and agonizes over taking Zod’s life–it wasn’t earned. If he’d spent more time in the movie actively trying to prevent suffering and death in the midst of the action he was participating in…or if he’d flown back to Metropolis when he saw all the destruction going on there…if he’d done more to show how much he will fight to save lives, even at personal cost to himself–I’d have bought that ending more. It would have been real and tragic. I might still quibble that he killed Zod, but I’d buy it as more justified. We needed to spend more time in his head learning how he feels about humanity. We needed to see him strive to inspire people, being a figure of hope, and doing everything in his power to help raise humanity up. Instead, we got a dour, bleak, dark film that didn’t seem very Superman-like at all. For another hero it might have worked. But not Superman.

    And that’s part of my other problem with the film. It’s too. Damn. Dark. There’s no inspirational moments from Superman in the film. Aside from when he first flies, there’s no happiness and joy. I recognize that Snyder’s Cinematic DCU is darker, and rougher. But this is Superman we’re talking about. I noticed in your post the mention of Morrison’s All-Star Superman moment where he saves that girl from suicide. That’s a powerful Superman moment. It’s a moment that encapsulates Superman so effectively. There was nothing like that moment in this movie. Amid all the death and destruction, there was just more death and destruction.

    And I still disagree with their choice not to use the John Williams score. I know the reasons why, but dammit, that is the *only* Superman music in my book.

    It’s for those reasons that while I’ll watch BvS: DoJ, I’m not as excited about it as I’d like to be.

    I will say one of the few good things about the movie is that finally finally we got a Superman movie where he fought someone in a fairly realistic battle. I’ve been waiting all my comic book loving life for a battle like that (and watching Matrix: Revolutions years ago whettted my appetite so much).

    ****
    BTW, I definitely disagree with you about Superman Returns.
    Deadbeat dad Superman? Ugh.
    Superman using his powers to creep and spy on people who are doing no harm? Ugh.
    The reverential treatment of the Donner films is one of the movies’ drawbacks too, IMO.
    So is the fact that it was the fourth Superman movie without an awesome fight scene between Superman and a physically powerful opponent. No, I don’t count Superman 2. Yeah, he fought the Kryptonian criminals, but that fight was pathetic. And I say this as a fan of the movie (although that appreciation is borne out of seeing it as a child) who has seen it more times than he can count and can recite lines from it.

    Dang, I think I wrote more words than you did (or than I usually write on my own blog).

  3. Reblogged this on The Shoops Roost and commented:
    It seems today I’m going to be reading and commenting on 2013’s Man of Steel movie a lot. Here is Dennis Upkins with his take on the movie.

  4. I see your point. You’re right. Getting inside Supermans head is one of the ways Snyder’s vision fell short.
    Even though I didn’t quibble about him killing Zod. It’s a practical move and I’m a pragmatic person ,so that didn’t make me angry, the way it did for some people. I did feel it was a bit false because it hadn’t been earned. We saw him saving people throughout the movie, but not enough Metropolis.

    And you’re right. It’s not inspirational. I had a lot of feels when watching it and I like that but it didn’t “lift” me. I didn’t feel that joyful awe that you get from the first Superman movie.

Comments are closed.