Eight years ago Christopher Nolan revitalized the Batman franchise with Batman Begins which focused on the origins (duh) of Batman. Batman Begins is dark and gritty which is a marked difference from the Batman films of the late 90’s (let’s not discuss Batman and Robin, okay?) and it was heralded for its sense of realism and how it focused on Bruce Wayne/Batman’s tortured psyche. Three years later Nolan took it to the next level and made what is arguably the greatest superhero movie ever with The Dark Knight.
Wait a minute. If this post is about the new Superman movie Man of Steel then why am I talking so much about Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy?
Well, Nolan is an executive producer of Man of Steel for one. But more importantly the Dark Knight trilogy inspired a trend in Hollywood of “rebooting” famous franchises and making them darker and grittier and making the heroes more complex and more tormented by their superhero-ness (Yes, I just made that a word. Deal with it.). Think about it. Post Batman Begins we’ve had a reboot of James Bond, Spider-Man (a mere 5 years after the Sam Raimi helmed trilogy), X-Men and a failed attempt to reboot Superman. And all of these films (save for Superman Returns) took a page from the Nolan aesthetic and story structure. Now before you start yelling at me…I don’t think that’s always a bad thing. I think Casino Royale is freaking brilliant. I loved X-Men: Origins and while we really didn’t NEED to see how Peter Parker became Spidey again, The Amazing Spider-Man was quite enjoyable. What I have a problem with is darkening up a character to the point where he is unrecognizable and THAT is what happened in Man of Steel.
Let me start by saying this: I am a child of the 80’s. I grew up with the Christopher Reeve films and I always loved them (well, except for The Quest for Peace) so I very much have a vision of how Superman should be engraved in my brain. So when details for Man of Steel began to emerge, I was already filled with trepidation. A darker Superman? A Clark Kent who was a loner who drifted from place to place tormented by the burden of his “otherness”? It just didn’t sound like Superman to me. Also, I am not at ALL a fan of Zack Snyder’s work. I thought Watchmen was so in love with itself it bordered on masturbatory. Also, I fell asleep in it. So I was worried from the beginning that he would bring the same sense of self-importance and indulgence and aggrandizement to Man of Steel. And sadly, I was right.
To quote my friend Megan on Twitter: “Why so serious, Superman?”
Also…spoilers after the jump.
I think that sums it up perfectly both because the movie took itself WAY too seriously and because that is the Joker’s catchphrase is The Dark Knight. And considering their whole take on the character was that Superman is supposed to symbolize hope, the movie is pretty damn bleak. Superman…excuse me…Kal-El…because we don’t call him Superman until the end of the movie…is sad and brooding ALL THE TIME. Henry Cavill is quite pretty and holy CRAP he has an amazing body but I thought he had zero personality as Kal-El/Clark Kent/Superman. All he did was look mournful. And THIS is a character that supposed to inspire hope? That is supposed to stand for Truth, Justice and the American Way (yes, I know that description of Superman is outdated)? That will stop and save a cat of a tree for a little girl? I don’t think so. Cavill’s Superman is a cipher. He brought none of the charm and wit and humanity and JOY that Reeve brought to the role. And lest we forget…Reeve got plenty angsty too. Superman can BE angsty without being boring. And he was just boring in Man of Steel.
I get that Hollywood now finds Superman problematic these days because he is such a Boy Scout. After all…what’s remotely exciting about a man who is invincible and has an unshakable moral code? What’s wrong with having a superhero who is just purely good? Obviously there is plenty exciting about Superman or he wouldn’t have endured for 75 years. So why did Snyder, Nolan and writer David Goyer feel the need to make him all dark and twisty? Did they think we would respond to him better if we knew he was emotionally tortured? Look, I am all for exploring all the aspects of a character, but like I said earlier, I felt it rendered Superman unrecognizable. And don’t get me started on all the Jesus imagery, down to them making him 33 years old. When he said “I’ve been on this planet for 33 years,” I audibly groaned.
The movie had many flaws other than the deconstruction of Superman’s character. The opening sequence on Krypton was too long and incredibly convoluted. We didn’t get enough time with The Kents, which was a shame considering Costner and Lane were among the few bright spots of the movie. While I loved Costner’s portrayal of Jonathan Kent, I hated that they made him teach Clark to be afraid of his abilities. I know he did that to a lesser degree in the Reeve movies, but it seemed exaggerated in this one. I HATED the way Jonathan died and the fact that it was used as a device to emotionally torment Clark. unneccessary.
Lois Lane. I love Amy Adams forever but that performance was completely phoned in. At least she was better than Kate Bosworth…but then again my dog would have been a better Lois Lane than Kate Bosworth. Again the problem with Lois in this movie was making her so damn serious. I’m all about making Lois a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist but where was the spunky reporter who can’t spell to save her life? Where was the screwball banter between Lois and Superman? There was no spark between Adams and Cavill. There was no depth to her at all and that made me sad. Also, I hated that she knew the whole time about Clark/Superman. What fun is that? I also missed all the time at The Daily Planet. And JENNY Olsen over Jimmy Olsen? Nope.
I DID enjoy Russell Crowe as Jor-El. And I love Michael Shannon as an actor, but good lord, there was not a piece of scenery left unchewed by him. Was there any line that he DID NOT YELL? I don’t think so.
And the ending? My writer crush Darren Franich wrote a great essay on ew.com about it. The complete and utter destruction of Metropolis didn’t ring true to me at all…it’s just seemed like an excuse for Snyder to go overboard on the special effects and explosion porn. And killing Zod? As Darren says…Superman doesn’t kill people. It’s the number one rule in his unshakable moral code. I was shocked to see it and I was even more shocked that, other than his initial “NOOOOOOOO!” after doing it that we didn’t see the ramifications on Superman’s psyche after doing it. I’m sure many of you will say “But Zod was threatening to kill those people! He had to do it!” My response? “He’s fucking Superman and he couldn’t do anything other than keep Zod in a choke-hold? Give me a break.”
Also, I felt the movie would never end…and this is coming from someone who can marathon The Lord of the Rings. It was bloated, joyless and overly self important…and especially by the final scene just felt like it was setting up a second movie. In fact, my friend John, who is a massive Superman fanboy, texted me after he saw it at midnight on Thursday saying “It is definitely a part one, it will get stronger once they make the second movie.”
And there we go folks…that is the problem with Hollywood these days. They are SO FOCUSED on setting up a sequel that they forget to make a good first movie that we WANT to see a sequel to in the first place. Can the studios stop worrying about launching a franchise and start worrying about making GOOD MOVIES please? Is that too much to ask?
Apparently, in regards to Superman, it is. I just hope that when the eventual sequel gets made that they get a new creative team that has a sense of humor.
And finally…Zack Snyder? J.J. Abrams called. He wants his lens flares back.
Also…did anyone think of this when Zod swung Superman around by his cape? Cause I did 🙂