Fans of the this current iteration of Superman point out that Richard Donner’s version of Superman is an idealistic take on the character and of America, ‘Norman Rockwell-like’ was a term that gets thrown around a lot. This is viewed for some reason as a negative. Without spending too much time on a well-worn topic; is that not what Superman is, idealism? The idea that if we were given the chance and the powers that we would do the best we could to do good for everyone? Would we not selflessly protect others no matter the cost? You would know that people might fear or hate you but you press on, doing good by stopping those who want nothing but make our lives worse. Mark Millar wrote a Superman series that asked the question if Superman landed in Russia during the height of the cold war, would be a different person? No, Millar concluded, this super powered creature still felt it was his duty to help everyone, no matter place of origin or class. He could be viewed as a nationalistic character, but then again so could any other superhero. These modern moralities tales test a set of ideals wrapped up as a character, the most successful interpretations are the ones where those ideals have been pushed and tested. The worse examples are the ones where the character is used as a means to destroy everything with no greater motive, which brings us to Man of Steel.
Man of Steel is by definition a film. This is a title that cannot be taken from it, but it is a lazy and obnoxious film. ‘Lazy’ because, for a reboot, nothing about it is particularly inspired and ‘obnoxious’ because, David S. Goyer wrote is and Zack Snyder directed it.
Goyer: there is a reason why the Nolan brothers did not allowed Goyer to write any other Batman film other than the first and why the second film spent the better portion of an hour dismantling the stupidity that Goyer set up.
Snyder: He has spent his cinematic career doing literal adaptations of other properties, which has taken some of the work off him being about to point to the source material and say “Do that.” When your only original film is Comic-Con: The Movie and it fails to interest anyone, time to fall back on what you know: pointing at the source material and saying “Do that.”
Man is that happy medium for these two gentlemen. Goyer can once again set up a world that a better writer will come along and throw out and Snyder can point to the 2009 Star Trek film and say “Do that.”
Once again we get and origin story of the most predictable kind: Everything happens that is supposed to happen and nothing that does not. All the right people are introduced and all the bad men are killed… along with about 100,000 other people, but they were not important, so nevermind. Goyer believes we are all going to get bored with all that talking stuff so he crams fight sequences in every five pages. There was so much fighting and pointless explosions, I half expected Superman to duke it out with his grieving mother at some point.
New Realness, a term coined by Critic J. Hoberman, refers to cinema that is no longer looking to entertain but to make the viewer feel a visceral reaction, usually to horrific imagery (further viewing includes The Passion of the Christ, Hostal 1 & 2, United 93). Goyer uses recent crises as plot devise, a way to view what Superman would do. Superman may have not been able to stop the Deepwater Horizon oil spill but he was able save the 11 people who died in the explosion. Superman is also thrown into an event that is so similar in imagery and sound to that of 9/11 that is actually offensive. Goyer believes the only way to put Superman into the ‘real world’ is to place him in with real world disasters.
Snyder’s films have a long and storied history of being pretty racist and sexist at the same time, and this is no exception. Here we have America Man fighting against aliens (foreigners) who want to make this country their home. “Not in my country, you don’t!” Superman says “You take your ugly Godless ways elsewhere!” All of the aliens speak with foreign accents and are all bent on destroying America to create America 2: The Squeakqual. Lois Lane is completely incompetent and cannot function on her own: Get that report in the paper? Nope, needs a man to help her with that. Get out of the alien ship by herself? Nope, man has to literally show her the way. Push the key into the bomb by herself? Nope, need a man for all that, silly woman. Thank GOD there is always a strong man around to help her and show her the way! The first thing we see Zod do in the movie is tell a woman she is wrong and then shoot her in the face. Not as significant as Lois Lane, the hot mess, but it is still pretty funny.
In what has to be the shining example of Goyer and Snyder’s version of Superman, once Superman finally kills Zod (which is apparently a big deal even though the film never really makes that clear why that matters), Superman cries about it for 5 seconds before making-out with Lois Lane on the mass-grave of ~100,000 people. Snyder’s Superman will cry about the death of his enemy but will not shed a tear for thousands of lives he failed to save.