by Daniel Badeda
In the summer of 2012 I was going through a pretty rough time in my life. On one weekend in particular I had messed up pretty bad. I will not go into details here, but I was ashamed of myself. I had become a person I didn’t want to be. I had lost myself, I felt as if I was without direction, I didn’t know who I was anymore. At the end of that eventful weekend I came home into an empty, messed up apartment and I was feeling as miserable as I possibly could. I had reached an absolute low point in my life. I sat down in front of my computer, clicked on the internet browser and my starting page imdb popped open. There it was, the very first teaser to “Man of Steel”.
Now, in order to give you a better understanding of how important that was for me, just seeing the headline, reading “A very first look at the upcoming Zack Snyder film”, I will go a bit into my personal history with the Son of Krypton.
I remember playing with friends in my backyard, when I was 6 years old. I had several superhero costumes, a ninja costume, a Batman costume; costumes that I all felt for and that all served as my alternate identities. But the one that I loved most was my Superman costume. Its shiny, perfectly arranged colors, the symbol on the chest, the long red cape that would fly behind me whenever I ran; I just adored it. I would let my friends be Batman and so on, but no one got to be Superman but me. I remember buying cheap hair tinting lotion to dye my hair black and my mom yelling at me, because it was so hard to get out. I didn’t care, I wanted to look like Christopher Reeve, Kal-El and Superman and my hair just couldn’t be blond. I simply loved Richard Donner’s film(s) and to this very day I recall the ‘where’, ‘how’ and ‘with whom’ of multiple moments of my childhood, of sitting full of excitement in front of the TV, showing the film to my friends. It was magic, Superman was my hero and he really did give me an ideal to strive towards. Whether it was the T-800 (the second one), John McClaine or Daniel LaRusso, it was always the good guys, who were my role models. And I think it all started with Superman.
Back to 2012. So I was sitting at my desk in complete emotional agony, surrounded by empty liquor bottles and a messed up room that represented my inner displacement, when I clicked on the teaser to see the first moving images of the new Superman film. It felt big. The second Howard Shore’s music started playing I got the chills. I saw the seagull floating in the sky in the New-England-small-fishing-town like setting and heard the the flute-like humming kick in. I watched the screen fade to black to reveal the “next summer” image as I felt my entire insides starting to shiver. The old boat. Him sitting in run-down clothes on the steps at the docks. Working on the old cutter on the open seas, with a full beard and a sad, thoughtful and melancholic expression on his face. I saw images of myself flashing before my eyes; images of a lost soul trying to find its place in this world. Solitude. I saw my longing of wanting to cross the Atlantic on a freight ship with nothing but the pure air and the vast, endless ocean around me; just me and my thoughts; complete, absolute freedom; from the old to the New World; traveling with all my hopes and dreams. Then the touching of the picture of him and his Dad. “You’re not just anyone”, the fatherly voice of Jonathan Kent states. Him as a kid, running around in a backyard, playing… with a fluttering red cape. I couldn’t believe it. Another thoughtful expression on his face. Tired, worn out, directionless. An old canvas bag. Holding out his thumb to get picked up in the middle of nowhere in the snowy, dreamy, awe-inspiring landscape of the Rocky Mountains, as I imagined. I saw Chris McCandless, I saw Dean Moriarty, I saw myself and I felt the deepest sense of longing. These images conveyed so much sincerity, so many emotions, so much human-condition-depth. They were reaching for my very core. And then came THE line: “One day you’re gonna have to make a choice. You have to decide what kind of a man you wanna grow up to be, whoever that man is, good character or bad, it’s gonna change the world.” I saw it all. I saw my childhood, I saw my Dad. I saw every struggling individual, I saw mankind. I saw who I wanted to be and who I had become. I saw the dreams I had come from and the reality I was living. I saw the best minds of my generation, starving, hysterical, naked, myself included. Finally, the Superman pose of him as a kid, putting his fists against his hips, accompanied by the boom within the score; cut to black; slowly fading in: MAN OF STEEL
It was too much.
And as I was overwhelmed with a sense of utter sadness and the most beautiful hope, I felt the tears streaming down my face. The moment was as big as it possibly could’ve been. It was grand. It was the epic, all-defying magic of movies.
Yes, I love Pop-Culture!
So much for my first encounter with Zack Snyder’s “Man of Steel”. Now, I understand that my experience was very personal, very subjective and some of you might now say that I just read way too much into it. Well, as it turned out, I did. But that doesn’t mean that the things I felt were not at least somewhat implied in the teaser. But I’ll get to that in a bit.
So, let’s take a look at the background of the film, the general Superman story and the potential that comes with it, especially in the year 2012/13, shall we?!
We all know that our beloved Christopher Nolan changed things. Forever. Ever since “Batman Begins” as I would argue or at least ever since “The Dark Knight” as some others might argue things were not the same again in the Superhero/A-Class Action Blockbuster field. Nolan’s Batman was a complete game changer for the entire genre. Sure, we had Sam Raimi, Bryan Singer and Ang Lee, all of whom delivered some fine works (yes, all of ‘em!) and helped the A-list comic book superhero fliks back on their feet after they had vanished into thin air for a while (probably mostly thanks to Mr. Schuhmacher), but they were not the messiah types we have come to see in the British wunderkind. Nolan seemed to be bringing something more to the game. His work just had that extra inch, that slightly different slant, that twang. He gave the world psychological, character based action stories with exactly the gritty realism that a disenchanted post 9/11 audience needed in order to be able to believe in true superheroes again. So naturally, after the tremendous success of “The Dark Knight”, his name became a brand and his formula an inspiration provider for ambitious successors (see Sam Mendes’ “Skyfall”). And since Nolan did not only manage to make Batman cool again (I remember telling people I loved Batman as a teenager and being laughed at), lead him to previously unimagined levels of success and even give the character and his stories contemporary social and political relevance, it didn’t come as a surprise to me when I first heard that he would get involved with a reboot of the Superman franchise. And boy, was I pumped! Because even though I did enjoy Bryan Singer’s “Superman Returns” for what it was (an easy, suitable for children approach that didn’t take itself too seriously) back in 2006, it was not quite what I had wanted — especially not in comparison to “Batman Begins”. It was simply time for a badass take on the character of Superman. So when it was announced that Christopher Nolan, Zack Snyder and David S. Goyer would all be part of the project, things were looking pretty good. With his felicitous re-imagining of “Dawn of the Dead”, his inspired adaptation of “Watchmen” and the novel visual style of “300“, Snyder had proven himself as a very capable director — at least as long as he didn’t write the material himself (see “Sucker Punch”). David S. Goyer on the other hand had proven himself to be a very talented input giver in terms of story — at least as long as he didn’t direct ( God, “The Unborn” was awful) and was under the wings of Nolan. And since all of these things were the case, all the pieces of the puzzle seemed to be falling into place and there and was enough reason to believe that this project was going to be grand. Goyer would repeat his outstanding story work of “Batman Begins”, the comic book adaptation experienced Snyder would create an outstanding, never before seen visual aesthetic and Godfather Nolan would hold his protecting hand over the project to make sure all the loose strings were tied together correctly. Granted, he was not directly involved in the writing process himself nor did he have much to do with the direction, but he would peek over the boys’ shoulders from time to time and make sure they were doing their jobs right, right?
Let’s get to Superman. A lot of times I have heard from people that the character of Superman was the suckiest of all the superheroes. “Superman is too strong, he has too many super powers, that is boring; the patterns are always the same: nothing defeats him and then Lex Luthor gets Kryptonite; his alter ego Clark Kent is ridiculous and just too unbelievable, everyone would recognize him”. And so on, we’ve all heard it. When it was announced that they wanted to reboot Superman Nolan-style, there were a lot of voices saying that what might have worked for Batman, although even there somewhat edgy at times, could never work for Superman, because the idea of a human look-alike alien with every imaginable super power coming too earth would just be way too far fetched to begin with. So generally speaking, people seem to think that the basic premise is just too flawed, too unrealistic and therefore does not bear any potential for a great, engaging and within the context realistic story. I disagree.
I understand that at first sight, especially in comparison to Batman, it seems as a bit of a challenge to place the character of Superman in a similarly realistic setting. But is it really?
A boy witnesses the murder of his parents, becomes a Ninja to seek revenge, learns a greater lesson on human life, is however still unable to shake off his dark passenger and therefore decides to go out night after night to fight crime with the help of insanely awesome gadgets that he was able to acquire due to the billions of Dollars he inherited from his parents. Not your everyday story, but technically something that is possible. After all he is just a guy. Superman on the other hand is one of the few survivors of a species that inhabited the far-out planet Krypton, which exploded due to highly unstable geological conditions. Shortly before the explosion of the planet, his father Jor-El, one of the leading scientists in the to humans far superior civilization of the Kryptonians, placed his baby son Kal-El (him) in an escape rocket and sent it off to Earth. After a long lasting journey through space, the now few years old Kal-El crashes in the mid-western American town Smallville in Kansas, where he is found and raised by the couple Jonathan and Martha Kent as their own. Due to Earth’s weaker gravity in comparison to Krypton’s and the intensity of Earth’s yellow sun (in comparison to Krypton’s red sun), Kal-El (now named Clark Kent) exhibits a variety of super powers, such as invulnerability, super human strength, the ability to fly and different types of sensory abilities, which he all learns to master throughout the course of his childhood and teenage years. After many years of heavy identity struggles he finally realizes his purpose and mission on earth, causing him to move to Metropolis, where he maintains his disguise, secret identity and alter ego as Clark Kent, working as a news reporter for the Daily Planet, while becoming Superman in order to fight for Truth, Justice and the American Way.
Okay, even a little further from your everyday story. But is it impossible? No. Granted, it would be some pretty crazy shit and we would have to rethink many things we think we know about “reality”, but who’s to say that such an individual from outer space could not come to earth, grow up as one of us, always live in this hybrid identity, develop superpowers due to different laws of physics and fight for everything good in this world? No one, right. But that’s not even the point, I know. Whether something could actually happen or not is generally not something that matters when watching a movie. Critics who complain about a general outlandishness within the story of Superman are rather concerned with its adaptability for a serious setting. However, they are missing an important point: One just has to work a bit with suspension of disbelief and accept the premise of the presented universe, that’s it. We do it all the time for all kinds of characters, be it James Bond, Thor or Tony Stark. It doesn’t matter how crazy or seemingly far fetched a premise is, what matters is how it is presented and where it is taken from there. And then, as it is the case with the Superman premise (or any other for that matter) it is very much possible to tell a coherent, intradiegetically realistic and serious story.
Now, that being said let’s look at some other popular points of criticism. I will continue with the stupidest one that is technically not even worth talking about, but since it comes up a lot I will briefly destroy it just to get it out the way once and for all. “The fact that no one recognizes Clark Kent to be Superman is just too unrealistic. Therefore I cannot take any of the portrayed subject matters seriously.” Well, then… get the fuck out. You’re an idiot. The other afore mentioned argument that one hears quite frequently is the one that Superman is simply too strong and therefore boring, because he can so easily get out of every situation and beat every enemy. Although not as idiotic as the previous one, it is still pretty weak. People, who think this to be true have clearly not looked into the vast accumulation of Superman comics that present the character with all kinds of very challenging problems and opponents. Naturally, enemies and problems that Batman often has to confront, as for example members of the mob or the issue of organized crime as such are in most cases significantly less of a threat to Superman. However, it does not mean that the only interesting and pulsating stories to tell are the ones that deal with Kryptonite and/ or Lex Luthor. Writers simply have to put a bit more effort into it and be creative enough to come up with new and exciting challenges, ideas and story lines. But most importantly, and this shall be my main point against the skeptics of a serious take on the Son of Krypton, the character of Superman/Kal-El is the perfect basis for very deep, fundamental questions of existence. Questions that concern us all and therefore provide an ideal premise for a realistic, down-to-earth exploration of the character. This argument now finally brings me back to the above so lovely outlined teaser of “Man of Steel”. If you haven’t already done so, I would now like you to watch it. If you already have, turn up the volume, watch it again… and feel it.
Did you feel it? Did you feel the depth and energy it conveys? Did you feel the potential that lies within the story and character of Superman? The potential to tell a humble and at the same time grand human story?
Before I finally start talking about the actual movie, I will now discuss exactly this potential. It is important to do so in order to really get to the core of the film’s problems and understand why it was such a devastating disappointment.
The teaser perfectly encapsulates the feeling of what a serious take on Superman could look like. It hits precisely the right emotional tone. The foggy, melancholic images that look as if they were taken out of a photo-series titled “Hope & Aspiration” alongside the poetic words of the voice over of Jonathan Kent and Howard Shore’s “The Bridge Of Khazad Dum” from the “Lord of the Rings” soundtrack suggest an emotional, empathetic, in-depth exploration of the character. We see him letting himself drift, not sure what to do, where to go, who to be, hoping to find answers along the way. A lost soul trying to find its place in the world. We (us questioning and seeking individuals) know what it feels like to ask ourselves these existential questions; Why am I here, what am I supposed to do, who am I supposed to be? Who am I, in fact? Where do I come from, where am I going and what am I doing in-between? Questions that drive us and attempts of answering that shape us. We also know the feeling of being alone, of feeling like an outsider from another world, never belonging anywhere, never fitting in. We know how heavy all of that can feel and we know to what great things it can inspire us; to wander, to explore, to travel inwards and outwards, to go on adventurous quests to look for answers and to find truths that we wouldn’t even have dreamed of. The character of Kal-El represents all that. His journey is a quest for identity and meaning and his background, the fact that he actually does come from another world serves as a metaphor for all our inner feelings of displacement and the resulting longings. We might see a fictitious story about an alien with superpowers, but the problems and emotions addressed are human-based at core and for us to identify with. Now imagine, to which levels you could actually take a character like this. Someone, who knows almost nothing of his origins, has abilities that enable him to do great things unlike no one else and does not know how to deal with any of it. What is he supposed to do with his skills? Does he use them in selfish ways or does he help others? To which degree should he look after himself and his own happiness? Does he have a binding responsibility for others, because he knows more and can do things others can’t do or is he completely free and self-determined? Does he let others know, who he really is, running the risk of complete alienation? Knowing the character’s background of living a burdensome and privileged existence at the same time one can imagine all these things running through his head while he is working in different jobs, hitchhiking across the country, moving from city to city, partly trying to run away, partly trying to find answers. The teaser accomplishes to create an effigy of all these inner struggles. It softly touches the tip of the iceberg and leaves the viewer thinking that the moral, social and philosophical discourse one could engage with through the character of Superman is gigantic. And it is. His story is a great story to tell on every level, for the purpose of entertainment just as much as for the purpose of asking deep and meaningful questions that can help us learn things about ourselves, about life and about the world we live in. This fact, that the story of Superman has everything to do with us and deals with questions of the human condition is further underlined by the voice over of Jonathan Kent. Let me repeat these wonderful words once again: “You’re not just anyone. One day you’re gonna have to make a choice. You’re gonna have to decide what kind of a man you wanna grow up to be. Whoever that man is, good character or bad, it’s gonna change the world.” This quote is a love declaration to the individual and its tremendous power. The narrator, Jonathan Kent is obviously talking to his son Clark/Kal-El. The implied author however is talking to us, to all of us. It starts with the Man in the Mirror. This man is not just anyone, he is someone very special, namely you. And in the course of your life you do have to decide what kind of a person you want to be. Because everyday, when you wake up in the morning and when you go to bed at night, with all of your actions you shape and create the world you live in. You are not just a victim of your surrounding circumstances, you are an active and powerful part, an individual. What you do, changes the world. How beautiful and inspiring is that?
The subjects this teaser alone touches upon would have been enough to fill an entire character-based film representative of the human condition. When looking at the other trailers however we are offered even more material that could provide further groundwork for complex and meaningful issues. Additionally, we get to see images of what seems to be unquestionably awesome action — something that belongs to Superman just as much. And in my humble opinion, a combination of fundamental issues mixed with spectacular, outstanding action visuals could serve as the basis for one of the best films of all time; exhibit A: “Terminator 2: Judgment Day“; exhibit B: “Inception”.
After having seen these trailers it seemed that for the first time it was all coming together. What the filmmakers hadn’t been able to do in ’78 technology-wise, they could now do. There were no limits for a Superman film anymore and “Man of Steel” seemed to have it all. In the so often shallow and meaningless Hollywood mainstream this film seemed to be taking over the wonderful and intelligent, postmodern, self-aware torch that was previously held by Batman and the Avengers and serve as yet another flagpole that would continue to hoist the sails in the right direction; with attention for details, love for the characters and an awareness of its significance in a serious, post 9/11 world. A realistic and serious, but at the same time hopeful film that would serve at the end of all the chaos, destruction and misery, just like Superman himself, as a shiny beacon for hope and everything good in this world — and would be fuckin badass-awesome on the side.
So, now that I’ve elaborately explained the potential of Superman’s story and the promises the trailers made, let us take a look at what we were actually given. No, actually, wait a second, just a bit more. These are the quotes from the trailers:
“The world’s too big mom. Then make it small. Focus on my voice. Pretend it’s an island, out in the ocean, can you see it?” — “I see it.”
“My son was in the bus, he saw what Clark did.” — “What was I supposed to do, just let him die?” — “Maybe.”
“I have so many questions, where do I come from?”
“My father believed that if the world found out who I really was it’d reject me. He was convinced that the world wasn’t ready, what do you think?”
“Goodbye my son, our hopes and dreams travel with you.” — “He’ll be an outcast, they’ll kill him.” — “How? He’ll be a God to them.”
“What if a child dreamed of becoming something other than what society had intended? What if a child aspired to something greater?”
“You are the answer, son. You’re the answer to are we alone in the universe.” — “Can’t I just keep pretending I am your son?” — “You are my son. And I have to believe that you were sent here for a reason. And even if it takes the rest of your life, you owe it to yourself to find out what that reason is.”
“How do you find someone who has spent a lifetime covering his tracks? For some he was a guardian angel, for others a ghost who never quite fit in.”
“You will give the people of earth an ideal to strive towards, they’ll race behind you, they will stumble, they will fall. But in time, they will join you in the sun. In time, you will help them accomplish wonders.”
Wow. Amazing. You felt it as well, right? All these ideas, all these meaningful words, questions and seemingly infinite possibilities, this sense of humanity. It’s gonna be hard for them to squeeze all these topics into one film. I mean, just the “what was I supposed to do, just let him die” — question could be enough as the film’s central theme. But I’m sure they’ll manage, after all it is 143 minutes long. And with all of this epicness, how can the movie be anything other than completely mind-blowing? It can’t, right? Right? Right? Right *as excited as a kid on fucking Christmas Eve*? Wroooong! It can. By simply ignoring all the raised questions, ideas and emotions we were given in the trailers and having nothing, but a mingle-mangle of confusing, coherence-lacking, fractured story pieces without any real dialogue and mind-numbing, annoying, over the top action without substance. FUUUUUUUCK! GOD DAMNIT! MOTHERFUCKER! SON OF A BITCH! SHIT! PISS! CUNT! FUCK! WHORE! ARE YOU FUCKIIIING KIDDING ME?!?!! AAAAAAAAHHHHH!
Unfortunately, I am not kidding. All the wonderful phrases from the trailers are nothing but a mouth full of Greek salad. Fancy words that don’t mean a goddamn thing. Empty, hollow shells. This movie is not just a slap in the face, it’s a punch in the face and a kick in the balls at the same time — for every Superman fan and everyone, who takes movies and storytelling seriously. This film sucks! Moreover, it is absolutely nothing of what it promised to be. It really feels like the studios, Snyder and co. were going for a long con. They invest tons of money to make more money by advertising a non-existent product. You end up buying it, they get their money and you feel nothing but fucked over. This film is a scam.
Now, let’s start taking it apart bit by bit. When watching the film in the theater, throughout the first hour of the film I kept thinking that something felt off. Since my expectations were so gigantic and I was convinced that this film would be nothing short of amazing, it took me a while before I was able to put my finger on it. And then it finally hit me: the film doesn’t have any real scenes. Now, this might sound a bit odd at first, but that’s really what it is. I can prove this claim with two observations: First, the chopped up story. A scene that features two characters engaging in a dialogue with each other never lasts any longer than a few moments. Neither does a scene with Kal-El traveling around or working in different jobs for example. The story editing is so fragmented and each fragment so short that one is never able to find a way of accessing what is happening on the screen. Unlike in ”Cloud Atlas”, where it was intentional and served a purpose, the scrappy editing of “Man of Steel”, this jumping back and fourth within the minute, even after the main part of the childhood and teenage flashbacks is over, constantly jerks one violently out of every scene and prevents the viewer entirely from putting himself into any of the action. This phenomenon of fragmentation can also be observed in “The Dark Knight” for instance. There are so many simultaneous story lines that the film constantly keeps jumping from one to the other; it is a bit too fast paced. I consider this to be one of the great flaws of “The Dark Knight”, however (and let this be clear, I am not comparing these two films in terms of quality) it is done in a much better and much more intelligent way than it is done here. In “The Dark Knight” it works to a certain degree, because each individual subject is still addressed sufficiently; its problem is just that it is a bit too overloaded with ideas, which is why it has to move so rapidly from one scene to the next. “Man of Steel” on the other hand moves from one scene to the next without ever really having addressed any of the crucial issues. Which brings me to the second point of my observation: there are no real conversations. This partly has to do with the just mentioned extremely limited amount of time each scene is given, but it also strongly draws from the awful writing. It seems as if almost every spoken word is a punchline. The characters never really talk to each other in a way that one could call it an actual conversation, they simply spout out supposedly meaningful phrases (see trailer sentences). There is no attention for details or nuances of human interaction in what is said, nothing ever goes underneath the surface (I doubt that a father telling his son that he was not only adopted, but that actually he comes from another planet would go so smoothly, if done realistically).
Ideally, a movie trailer gives you a taste of what the film is going to be like by showing you the tip of the iceberg, by showing you bits and pieces of the scenes to warm up your appetite. Naturally, you then expect to see more of what you were given in the trailer when you go to see the actual movie, an elaboration on those early ideas so to speak. You definitely don’t go into the movie expecting that what you saw in the trailer is exactly what you will see in the movie… and nothing more. But that is exactly what “Man of Steel” does. Whether it is the talk between Jonathan Kent and Kal-El about having to keep “this side” of himself a secret or the one with having to find out what his purpose on earth is, these ideas are never elaborated on; what you see in the trailer is what you see in the movie without any of the themes being explored at all. And that is a disappointment. The whole film, especially the first half (theoretically the more interesting one, since the second half doesn’t offer anything other than a destruction orgy) feels like a music video clip; a montage of pretty images with a lot of bloated voice overs. Or in fact, like a really long trailer with a lot of, almost only expository voice overs. When I saw the trailer images of him hitchhiking, being in the wild, out on the road I was wondering how he got to that point. What is he doing in that situation, how did he get to be in that specific place, why exactly there, what are his plans, what are his sorrows, what are the thoughts running through his head? Nothing is addressed. It’s like: “Oh, we have to show that he struggles with life… let’s just come up with random scenes and show him in random places and situations either saving people or being bullied. And if we show him unshaven and with thoughtful expressions on his face it means that it is deep.” It never reaches any substance. These flashbacks don’t follow a story arch of their own as in “LOST” for example, they are random. The scene in the diner, the scene on the oil rig, the scene on the ship. Those are not real scenes. They have practically nothing to do with the actual story nor with an in-depth character depiction. Those are trailer images and cheap pseudo character portrayal gap fillers. And it goes on like that throughout the entire movie; the interrogation scene, the church scene, oh God, the church scene… (“What’s on your mind” — “I dunno where to start” — “Wherever you want” — “That ship that appeared last night, I’m the one they’re looking for” — “do you know why they want you” — “no, but this General Zod, even if I surrender there’s no guarantee he’ll keep his word, but… if there’s a chance I can save earth by turning my self in, shouldn’t I take it”? — “What does your gut tell you?” — “Zod can’t be trusted… the problem is… I’m not sure the people of earth can be either” — “Sometimes you have to take a leap of faith first, the trust part comes later”) That is seriously the entire scene. How do they get away with calling this a serious movie? I thought it was specifically NOT made for ten-year-olds. Did Superman, this 33 year old, intelligent, conflicted character, really need this 30 second “conversation” with a stranger, a random fuckin priest, who says absolutely nothing, in order to make a decision? Of course not. They only wanted a quick, cheap church scene in order to manifest the Jesus analogy by showing Superman and Jesus in the same frame, in case the last idiot hadn’t gotten it yet. I’m sorry, but for a serious story teller this is not a real scene — this is shit. So, in exactly this manner, the movie drags on with one useless non-scene after the other; they all end before you know it and no one ever said anything of value. You see and hear all of that and eventually end up asking yourself: “What the hell is this?”, just to come to the conclusion that: “This is not a serious Superman film, this is garbage.”
I could single out any of the above mentioned quotes from the trailers to show the film’s lack of love for characters and story by looking at the actual (non-)scene within the movie and how it picks up (or better: doesnt pick up) on the addressed theme. But since it would be really too frustrating to do so, I’m just going to pass. I think you get the idea at this point. What, aside from the non-existence of real scenes, is also really aggravating about this movie are the, as I like to call them, “Family Guy incoherences”. You know, that incoherent stuff that Family Guy would make fun of, like those “if you shoot a laser into this hole, then the station blows up” kind of problems? These are script conveniences that allow the writers to move the story forward without having to bother to explain a certain something that would technically considered to be illogical or nonsensical within the presented narrative universe. I guess, to make it simpler you could also call these script conveniences plot-holes. Sometimes as for example in “Star Wars”, these plot-holes are forgivable and other times, as for example in “Man of Steel”, they are just showcases of horribly lazy and uninspired writing. “HISHE”, “Half in the Bag” and a few others have already picked up on some of them, but I will now give you a brief overview of a few of these plot-holes just to show their immense frequency and heaviness.
1. So, Jor-El is all about the free-choice thing of his son. Instead of having been bred Matrix-style, Kal-El was the first naturally born baby in centuries, which shows that he does not have a pre-designed place in society (btw. also obvious, because that society got annihilated). Okay, cool. Then why the hell does he constantly tell Kal-El what to do? “You will give the people of earth an ideal to strive towards…”. What if Superman just wants to chill, kick back with friends and work at Game Stop? Apparently Jor-El exactly knew from the start what Kal-El had to do; doesn’t seem like he had much of a choice after all. So much for the “What if a child dreamed of becoming something other than what society had intended?” — speech.
2. Where the fuck does the suit come from? That probe-ship had been on earth for eighteen thousand years, why did it have the suit in it? If, for some reason, like some space-time difference between Earth and Krypton, Jor-El was already alive at the time it was sent out to Earth, he could have put it there. But for what purpose? Did he foresee all of the events? And if so, what about his son not having a pre-determined purpose in life? I’m just letting my mind wonder. Point is, it doesn’t make any fuckin sense. I know they didn’t explain it in the Richard Donner film either, but that was different. It was the first of its kind, the first big superhero blockbuster. It had a corny lightheartedness to it, just think of the portrayal of Lex Luthor. It was a different time, it was not the super self-reflexive, self-referential, self-aware, postmodern era full of pop-cultural cross-links. They didn’t need to explain it. Nowadays, especially when trying to be serious and realistic it doesn’t work like that anymore. In a realistic take on Superman, it would have been absolutely necessary (and awesome) to see how he actually got his suit. The way a superhero gets his costume is always a big, epic thing. Just remember how cool it was when it all came together in “Batman Begins”… But yea, great, we got to see Superman walk out of some big-ass gate in slow motion, with a meaningful voice over and epic, white light in the background. Seems like (trailer-shot-)style over substance to me.
3. Jor-El says: “You can save her, Kal. You can save all of them.” I guess that’s supposed to be another Jesus analogy. Problem is, Superman saves ONLY her, he ONLY saves Louis fuckin Lane. And oh yea, that family at the end that doesn’t bother to move, but rather chooses to hug and hold one another, because that’s what a good family does when a deadly laser is slowly coming towards them. “Oooohhhh loong Johnson”. Thank God he saved them after all the other thousands of people died in the collapsing buildings that he had flown into. That’s not quite what I had in mind when I said the film should have an “awareness of its significance in a serious, post 9/11 world”.
4. “My father believed that if the world found out who I really was it’d reject me.” That’s why he let good old Jonathan Kent, who went to rescue the family dog, die in a Tornado that conveniently came out of nowhere. After having pulled a bus out of the water and everyone having seen it, in the chaos of a Tornado it would have been impossible for him, instead of his vulnerable Dad, to go and get the fucking dog out of the car somewhat undetected, right. And interestingly enough, when he finally does reveal himself to the world, no one seems to care thaaaat much. At least, none of it is shown.
5. Why does Jonathan automatically assume that Kal-El was sent to Earth by his Dad? Why not his Mom? Or why does he assume he was sent at all? Maybe it was an accident? Patriarchal macho talk.
6. Why does Lois Lane have to come on board of Zod’s ship? So she gets more screen time, because Lois Lane is important in a Superman story and no one was able to think of anything that would actually make sense for her to be involved.
7. Why is Lois Lane, a reporter, called to the highly restricted crash site of a UFO? Why is it night-time all of a sudden and why is she just snooping around on her own?
8. Would Kal-El, this Plato-reading, deep, searching soul, who let his Dad die in order to not have his true identity get discovered, really take an entire truck, mess it up and put it onto a a power pole, just because he is pissed that some drunk asshole poured beer over him? No. But supposedly it’s funny.
The list goes on and on and on. But again, you get the point. Some people might dismiss these things as minor flaws or mere details, but these plot-holes are pretty good indicators of how unimaginative, poorly thought through and most importantly loveless the script really is. Do you remember when Forrest Gump returns home after everything he experienced? One completely understands how much time has passed, what he has been through and what an important moment this is for him. One feels with him. With Superman it couldn’t be further from that. When Kal-El returns home one only thinks: “Oh, why does Diane Lane look so old?” The script was so poorly constructed that with the help of the awful editing the entire movie became nothing but an incoherent mess. You never get a sense of time. You never get a sense of location. You never get a sense of character. Therefore you never get involved and never care for anything.
What about the action? Well, everything is always connected to the writing. Unless a film openly displays a lack of interest in characters and stories and admits to only caring about badass action scenes, as for example certain John Woo films do, it has to have a solid story and character basis in order for the action to work. And since “Man of Steel” does clearly not belong to the John Woo group and rather claims the opposite, namely being interested in investigating deep themes and the character of Kal-El, I can only say that the action fails miserably. One gets a lot of loud explosions and fighting scenes that have, due to the failure of the story part of the film, no substance or significance whatsoever. One is emotionally not involved and therefore simply doesn’t care for what happens, no matter how much shit blows up or how many buildings collapse. Without characters and story in a film like this it is impossible to feel the action — technically one of the best things about the big screen.
Does the film get anything right? Yes, it does. The actors. The fact that this movie has no characters whatsoever, let alone believable relationships between them (Superman and Lois have never been so noncredible), is not the actors’ fault. They all attempt to do the humanly impossible of acting against a script that seems to have been written for an elementary school play and almost don’t fail. As with most productions of this scale (Batman, Iron Man, Avengers etc.), one can mostly be sure that the cast actors belong to the absolute elite of the film industry and that any form of criticism regarding their acting skills largely draws from subjective opinions and personal taste. Henry Cavill, Michael Shannon, Russel Crowe, Kevin Kostner, Diane Lane and Laurence Fishburne were all perfectly cast in my opinion. In terms of looks and general appearances they all fit their parts and come across as very believable. The only one I would have cast differently is Amy Adams. But as I said, just a personal opinion. Nothing against her, but in my head Louis Lane simply looks different. It is really a shame that none of these great actors were given a chance to reveal their talent and present their compatibility with the roles.
Concerning the looks of this film I have mixed feelings. They are unlike most things in this film not a total disaster, but also not as cool as they could have been. Zack Snyder is known for creating a special visual aesthetic and even though “Man of Steel” does not carry Snyder’s personal handwriting as much as his other films (slo-mo, speed-up, slo-mo, speed-up for example) it still somewhat looks like a Zack Snyder film. Technically not a bad thing, but where the artificiality might have worked for “300“ and even “Sucker Punch”, the CG action visuals seem a bit overdone in this film. They too often have the video game cut scene feel to them, which makes the effects generally less authentic and harder to relate to, especially in a supposedly realistic universe. The fast-paced action is not all up in one’s face, “Transformers”-style, without one being able to see shit of what’s going on, however it sometimes still is a bit hard to keep an overview. The fact that the final battle lasts for such a long time is in itself not a problem. Generally, I love epic, long-lasting action show-downs that really let you feel the excitement. But without any content to fortify the action and the action itself being so excessively over the top and artificial looking, one simply goes numb to all the explosions, shoot-outs and fist fights — and that pretty quickly. Of course, a Superman fanboy must also admit that it is kind of cool to watch (at least as long as one doesn’t think about all the lost potential in regards to what could have been had the action had an underlying story basis) Superman and Zod punching each other in the air and crashing into buildings; the satisfaction one gets out of watching Jaegers and Kaijus beating the fuck out of each other in the perfectly framed action scenes of “Pacific Rim” though, is nonetheless never achieved. Other than that, on a more positive note, it is important to mention that acclaimed cinematographer Amir Mokiri manages to capture beautiful, memorable images in some of the non-action scenes that, just taken by themselves, often convey strong emotions. Thinking of the teaser images one could easily draw parallels to impressionist landscape paintings. Too bad nothing was done with these images. The unusual decision to largely work with a hand-held, shaky cam in order to give everything this “you are right with the characters”-look, even in dialogue scenes, does not really pan out; however it does not disturb either.
Soooo, did I tackle it all? Most of it I’m guessing. Krypton was kind of cool, even though it looked exactly like Pandora and it was nice to see that the Kryptonian civilization was given a bit more screen time than in any of the other films. The two or three jokes the movie had, if one even dares to call them that, were as stupid as humanly possible and especially the last scene‘s “he is just so hot” — joke made me want to kill myself. Superman and Zod shooting laser beams out of their eyes looked very cool and the fact that it was shown that they had to learn to control their super-senses was also a pretty neat idea. I also really liked the idea of Superman having been forced to kill Zod and then being emotionally disturbed over his action, but since the scene was so poorly executed and the entire movie was lacking any form of characterization, there was no pay-off to it and the scene became just as useless as any other scene in the movie. The pseudo political commentary the film tried to offer when Superman smashed the military spy satellite felt out of place and the idea that Lois recognized him at the end when he walked into The Daily Planet was kind of neat again. Now I’ve tackled it all.
It is hard to tell what actually went on behind the scenes and why the movie failed as miserably as it did. Some basic ideas were pretty nice after all, it was the execution though that was just terrible. It is very possible that with a project as big as this a lot of different studio executives were involved and didn’t necessarily help in the process of letting the film find its right tone. As for the involvement of Nolan, one can only speculate in how far he was actually part of the whole project. I am guessing he simply had a conversation with Goyer about the idea of presenting Superman as a realistic character and afterwards his name was put on the staff list to serve as a cash-magnet. But who the fuck knows?
If you have made it up until this point, you either really love Superman, hate the movie or enjoy my writing — or all of the above. Either way, cool. Some of you might say that I took everything way too seriously and that it was just another summer action blockbuster film; that one should’ve expected explosions and one would’ve gotten explosions. But you are wrong. A movie has to be measured according to its self-understanding and to what it promises to be. And according to the trailers, the comic con panel speeches and all the other surrounding factors, the film promised to be much more than another mindless, lovelessly executed action film. It promised to be something grand. That is what I was expecting and nothing less. While watching the film in the theater I kept my hope up for as long as possible, but three quarters into the movie I had to admit to myself, with a very heavy heart, that Olympus had fallen.
*Rage mode on*
So, fuck this movie. And fuck everyone else, who carelessly gave this film a good rating without having looked underneath the surface. This is how a real review is done. And no, this is not just my opinion… There is objectivity in the quality of films and despite my personal disappointment it is a fact that this film sucks. If you disagree, you don’t know what you are talking about, I’m sorry. Because in this movie the S stands for SHIT! As of this moment I shall never speak of this “film” again. I am erasing it from my memory. It does not exist.
*Rage mode off*
What touched me that night in the summer of 2012 though, still touches me. It was real. And I will always carry the original teaser in my heart… as a perfect teaser to a film that was never made.
And as the symbol stands for hope, I have hope that one day someone will come and deliver a film that is true and genuine — not a film that the dull mainstream audience of nowadays deserves, but the one it needs — with depth and compassion for the character that we have all come to love, to finally send him off to where he belongs — onto cinema’s veracious path towards Truth, Justice and the American Way.
 How It Shoud Have Ended (HISHE) — Video section, http://www.howitshouldhaveended.com/videos (recognized 30/08/2013). In particular, look at the video in which Superman and Batman discuss the upcoming “Superman VS. Batman” movie: http://bcove.me/uowchtu9 (recognized 30/08/2013).
 Half in the Bag — Man of Steel Review, in: Red Letter Media, http://redlettermedia.com/half-in-the-bag-man-of-steel/ (recognized 30/08/2013).