After a long break i think its about time to get back to work here.
I’m not a huge fan of Superman. This stems from the fact that he is paradoxically so developed as a character that he is completely undeveloped. The fact that he also is a demigod and impervious to just about anything makes it really hard for me to believe that he can fail in anything so there is very little tension in his stories without having to jump through ridiculous hoops.
That being said there are a number of Superman comics and stories that i quite like, they are no more than a handful so i might as well list them here:
- Death, Life Without, and Return of Superman
- Red Son
- All Star Superman
- Man of Steel (kinda, more on that to come obviously)
I feel it must be addressed before someone in some misguided attempt to suage my opinion posts a link or suggests that i just watch this video, i have to say: I’ve seen that video about the Death of Superman, and it’s funny. I also completely disagree with the vast majority of the points he makes, and with his horrible and biased paraphrasing of the story to make it sound stupider than it really is. I’m not going to go more into depth with that, so stop. Just stop before you send me a link or more likely think i’m a dumb ass for liking (really liking mind you) the whole death and return of Superman.
Now that we got that out of the way, lets get to the nitty gritty eh?
The last son of Krypton finds out that he isn’t alone, and must stop General Zod and the other survivors attempts of building a new Krypton atop the ashes of earth.
Zack Synder has made his mark in cinema for creating spectacular imagery (with the help of his cinematographers Larry Fong and Amir Lokri of course) and here in Man of Steel the imagery is so evocative and memorable it almost washes away the nagging issues inherent in the film. This film is filled with the type of movie moments that can only really come from mega budgeted Hollywood motion pictures. For all of tinsel town’s failings scenes like Superman’s first flight, or Krypton’s political instability and ultimate destruction can only have been realised as magnificently as it is in Man of Steel by its vast resources of talent and money.
The film thankfully only pays homage to the Chrisopher Reeves films (most notably by the similarities between Ursa and Faora) instead of being shackled by them like Superman Returns was, and goes in a different and much darker direction than just about any of the Superman stories i have been subjected to. Whether this is a pro or a con is a matter of debate, as many (including myself) have had just about enough of grim dark representations of people running around in coloured underwear. However i do find it at the very least an interesting route for an uninteresting character.
It also has the benefit of having an interesting antagonist in General Zod that is portrayed in a rather superb manner by Michael Shannon. Shannon munches scenery and the writers give him enough room to stretch out that Zod again just about saves the film from itself. Its a perfect example of how important making a good villain is to these types of movies (large scale action films), and cements my opinion of why Age of Ultron was such a failure had to do with how Ultron himself was a failure. Speaking of performances however, while Shannon steals the show no one is poorly chosen in Man of Steel and all acquit themselves admirably.
Strangely enough the script of Man of Steel contains both the origin story of Superman and its logical sequel, and while it runs at a healthy 2 1/2 hours long it still manages to feel like its trying to cram in too much story into not enough running time. Narrative jumps and wrinkles abound in the film due to its desire of cramming in as much plot as it can into its running time. One example being the film gives an extended introductory sequence on Krypton, only to breeze over Clark’s formative years. Another casualty is Lois Lane and Clark’s relationship, as it springs out of just about nowhere and comes across as very awkward and forced because it just isn’t given enough room to breath nor enough antecedent information for it to become plausible.
Emphasis on “getting to the good stuff” also results in so many action scenes filled with wall to wall destruction and explosions that it can’t help but become white noise to me. One large scale action scene populated by people that i care about will have an effect ten times that of 3 or 4 huge sequences filled with people that i don’t. Which highlights another glaring issue with Man of Steel, in that i really don’t care about anyone in the story its telling. I really want to like Clark, after all Superman is one of the most endearing and enduring heroic archetypes in human fiction. But the way the story is paced, i just can’t find anything to say about him other than he was raised by good people. Which gets straight to the heart of the issue of him being both over and under developed as a character, strangely enough i end up liking and sympathising with Zod almost more than Clark.
The rest of what i don’t like is just nit picky stuff. Things like how Jor-El condemns Zod for deciding who gets to live and who gets to die by his own whims, when he himself condemns all of Krypton using the same logic and justifications. Or how Superman essentially commits genocide upon his race, and how that doesn’t really seem in keeping with his character. Or how Metropolis is quite literally leveled and people just show up to work normally afterwards. Or how an advanced civilisation that has conquered the stars for 100 000 years can just stay on their planet and die with it. I’m not in the habit of criticising plot holes, as just about all movies good or bad have them, but just like in Into Darkness or Star Trek the amount of little things that bother me just keep growing and growing and snowball into something that simply can’t be ignored.
Lastly i want to talk about the score. Hans Zimmer is often lauded as a genius for his contributions to film scores based almost solely on the fact that his songs can rattle dishes off of shelves when played loud enough. I myself enjoy his music as pure spectacle and will always admit that his music packs a punch. Here in Man of Steel we do indeed get a main track that embodies all of the speed and power that a man like Superman would have, but it fails almost completely in being nuanced and interesting after the initial thrill is done.
Don’t get me wrong either, a cheesy theme like the one John Williams wrote would be horribly out of place in the grittiness of Man of Steel, however i find that Williams’ score is far truer to the character and is far more nuanced than the bare bones affair Zimmer provides. To compare the two is to compare Chuck Berry’s Johnny b Goode to Mozart’s Turkish March; both are good songs, both are pieces of simple breezy music made by important people in their respective genres, and both have made their impacts on culture and music.
However one is clearly just a bit more complex, musically nuanced, and expressive than the other. I’m sure you can figure out which one it is. Again though, that’s not to say that Johnny B Goode is a bad song, nor am i saying that Berry lacked talent and wasn’t important or expressive, but if you can’t see the forest for the trees in which one of the two was clearly a more robust musician then there’s no point in trying to convince you further*. The same goes for Zimmer, he writes fantastic songs that hit hard and bring you straight into the moment, but he has not in his career written a work as monumental as Williams has with Star Wars or Howard Shore has with The Lord of the Rings.
Man of Steel is filled with great moments, but a great film works as a whole and is the sum of its parts, and the sum of Man of Steel’s parts is not a number i can say i would want. As trying to be both origin story and direct sequel makes it hamstrung by a confusing plotting and muddled character development.
*you can make the argument that the comparison is invalid due to the differing genre’s of music and different time periods they were written in. I will concede that is a partially valid point, as it doesn’t affect the analogy of it applying to Zimmer and Williams who write in the same genre.