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MurphTheSurf3 On June - 15 - 2013

SupermanJust for fun.

Man of Steel: Five stars right up to the last moments and then the flight falters….a bit. I disagreed with the “thumbs down” reviewers in their assessment of most of the film, until the last few minutes and then I agreed with them: thus four stars out of five.

The first two hours of the film was a surprise and generally a delight. But the last 10 minutes had the feel of a film where the script, the direction and the production did not know how to close the deal with the viewer effectively. Here is where they went wrong: An overly long fight scene between Kal-El and Zod, an inexplicable death dealing neck twist, and the emergence of a completely undisguised Clark at the Planet left me and those I was with a bit let down.

The combat went on and on and on and on and was the same set of moves at different toppling skyscrapers. Lop five minutes off of it and it improves.

Superman does not intentionally kill others- that’s one of his DC Canon hallmarks. Why couldn’t there have been a “Kansas Farm Boy” bit of wisdom?…..have Kal-El warn Zod that just as super-hearing can overwhelm so can the other powers and then have Zod burn himself out overusing his heat vision. Kansas wisdom: take it slow, moderation in all things, know your field before you plow it.

And then Clark is “welcomed to the Planet” (a lame word play? in a city that is all but destroyed with a smoldering Smallville somewhere off in the distance) this whole things seemed surreal. How can EVERYONE NOT recognize him? His public presence during the face off with the Fascist Kryptonians certainly was filmed by someone in this day of ubiquitous camera phones. Why not dare to take the Martian Manhunter approach where his physical appearance as John Jones is completely different from J’onn J’onzz? What if Clark had altered features like Lemont Cranton, the Shadow, did? I suppose it is too much of a chance, too big of a gamble, too far a reach…but it would have gone a long way it making his so-called “secret identity” a bit more real.

Still I loved the origin story with all its angst. We loved the two dads (and saw hints of the borderline personality in Jor-El that we got used to in Smallville). Their combined presence (in his Kryptonian genes and his Kansas jeans) are evident. We loved his “I can’t help myself” heroism.

The Kryptonian science was interesting if not spectacular. Zod and gang were nasty enough. Lois was outstanding- a modern go-getter with as much drive as Kal-El but more certainty. She is Kal-El’s partner almost from the start. Indeed a common theme in the film, as in Smallville, is that despite all his power, Superman cannot do it without a little (and sometimes a lot) of help from his friends: Ma and Pa Kent, a clergyman, a general, a colonel, a scientist, and his “love at first sight” star crossed lover Lois.

Will there be a sequel? I sincerely hope so.

Afterthought- As I watched the film my mind wandered once or twice to a more serious interpretation of the films underlying themes. Jonathan Kent raises the issue of “being different” with Clark and worries that he will not be accepted, or worse, will be rejected and attacked, if his true nature becomes known. In our oh-so real world the question is not a new one. The danger posed by “aliens” who superficially look like us but unless they have been fully acculturated could bring us down and then replace us was played out. When key characters recognize that: “He is one of us.” It’s a turning point in the film. Could it be a turning point in our discussion of immigration, foreign policy, caring for the needy etc.  Hmmmm….

Categories: Arts & Entertainment, Film

Written by MurphTheSurf3

Proud to be an Independent Progressive. I am a progressive- a one time Eisenhower Republican who is now a Democrat. I live in a very RED STATE and am a community activist with a very BLUE AGENDA. Historian, and "Gentleman Farmer."

14 Responses so far.

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  1. AdLib says:

    Sorry for being a bit late to comment but I wanted to see Man of Steel first.

    To begin, I did like the movie but there were parts that I wasn’t as crazy about, primarily the ending.

    Really liked your review and I agree, I think the killing of Zod by Superman was a poor choice and actually seemed to weaken the film’s strength.

    Killing is so simple minded as a solution to one’s problems, not reflective of a “better man”, let alone a Superman.

    Yes, in some storylines in his history, Superman has killed but it was always with devastating effect to him emotionally. Here, he’s upset a little then he’s being cocky with the General after smashing a drone then he pops up happy as a clam as Clark Kent at The Daily Planet.

    As a kid, I was a comic book fan so I know a bit about their back stories and what was at the heart of making these eternal characters.

    When the right writers handle a character as omnipotent as Superman, they succeed in giving him a humanity as well as…intelligence.

    Through most of Man of Steel, Clark/Superman seemed to be a very human and emotional character, even exhibiting some cleverness as he initially used his powers.

    However, once he dons his costume, his only response to problems is to punch them.

    Now, Superman as a character is a lot about power and punching but what elevated the character was his creativity and smarts in how he used his powers. Whether it was whipping up cyclones, “sewing” powerful enemies to the ground with heavy cable, on and on, it was the inventive application of power that made him a great character. When all he does is punch and snap necks, he is reduced to being little more than an attractive Hulk.

    The principle of Superman not killing represents the kind of restraint that real human beings must use in their own lives so jetisoning that makes the character more simplistic even though the apparent intent was to complicate him by having him deal with the ultimate use of great power, killing one’s perceived enemies.

    Superheroes originated as pulp-type characters in the 1930’s. Batman started out carrying a gun and Superman would beat the crap out of regular humans. So having either kill their enemies isn’t outrageous when looking at their origins but it does flout their evolution…along with the sensibilities of Americans.

    Of all superheroes, Superman evolved into a kind of father-figure (a Christ-like figure in the opinions of some), the all-powerful man who loved humanity and was willing to sacrifice himself at any time to save them. He was very aware of how easy it would be to abuse the great power he had so it was necessary to maintain a degree of servitude to society.

    This is of course a very topical theme, as the powerful in our society, even some who may have started off as altruistic, become tempted or corrupted by having such power.

    One could argue that Superman’s killing of his enemy was what he had to do in the same way that one could argue that killing America’s enemies is what we have to do. Sometimes, it is true that there is no choice but to kill or be killed.

    However, movies and myths are at their most powerful when they inspire so though it was an understandable choice to have Superman kill to make his character more conflicted and troubled, I think it was very unsatisfying and anticlimactic to see that the solution to a complex problem of threatening and irrational hatred was simply snapping the neck of the enemy.

    BTW, the punching battle between Superman and Zod that tore apart the entire city and collapsed skyscrapers left and right had to have killed hundreds if not thousands of people and Superman showed no concern over those lives but the filmmakers instead make the contrived killing of a few people such an outrage that Superman must kill to protect them. Huh?

    Superman is a modern day myth and myths are typically morality tales. Even though it was dark, the recent Batman movies were mythic and explored the issues of power and how subjective its righteous use is. Most of Man of Steel came off as mythic but it feels like the ending was a lost opportunity to explore or exemplify morality and the necessity of invention.

    Couldn’t the most powerful man in the world use his just-as-powerful intellect to utilize his power in a such a smart way that he could accomplish his goals while preserving his principles? Wouldn’t that have been a greater test to have passed than just killing the enemy?

    It’s just a movie about a comic book character, it’s not real life and death and in itself doesn’t represent an important sociological event but simply as an audience member, I would have liked to have walked out of the film thinking how affirming it was that this iconic character relied more on his smarts and principles over brute force to deal with a complicated conflict and how that is an example that others, especially politicians should follow.

    • MurphTheSurf3 says:

      Just saw your comment. Since the alert/notification system does not let the article’s author know if a comment has been made I have to keep reminding myself to check beck every now and then.

      I saw the film again in the company of several sci-fan fan friends who also happen to be academics. The discussion we had reflects your thinking,but I came away from both the film and the discussion more conflicted in my thoughts. Your thoughtful reflection fits into all of that very nicely.

      Kal-El’s path, provided by his Kryptonian Father’s decision to send him to a world where he becomes super-powered by living here, but animated by his Earth Father’s humanitarianism, is too do random acts of extraordinary kindness. I am told that Snyder filmed many more scenes of boy Clark, teen Clark, young adult Clark doing this. As several of the characters say “He cannot help himself.” Snyder intends to weave these into the next two films (along with scenes involving Jonathan Kent and Jor-El).

      In the second viewing I picked up on Kal-El’s efforts not to go to war with his fellow Krpytonians but he runs out of options. The scene in “Union Station” when watched a second time is about Kal-El trying to subdue Zod (having established that these super beings can be hurt, held, and perhaps even killed with the application of enough power. Kal-El avoids this until it becomes clear that Zod intends to do just as he promised, kill every man, woman and child on the planet in as painful as manner as he can. With the Phantom Zone projector ship gone, this is his one option (recall that there appears to be no “kryptonite” that overly worn deus ex machina of so many issues).

      I suggested that it might have been a stronger ending had Zod literally burned himself out- having abused his power- perhaps with Kal-El warning that this was precisely what would happen, but one of my friends pointed out that Snyder has painted a picture of Kal-El as benevolent but unengaged with most difficult decisions and that in this momement Kal-El embraces his reality. He is ubermensch.

      That might be good news or very bad news.

      In the last scene (made totally inane by the fact that Kal-El, the most filmed being in earth in that moment, looks just like Clark- no effort at all to hide his identity) Lois says: “Welcome to the Planet.” The newspaper, of course, but also the world. She declares he is one of us.

      A word about carnage. I am getting so I hate its use but I also know that is how the bottom line gets pushed. Snyder (and Nolan’s screenplay) force Kal-El into a fight in Metropolis by having the Phantom Zone ship make its attack in the center of the city. Kal-El had to carry on the fight there and when the ship is destroyed Zod’s decision to begin his own personal holocaust requires that he carry on.

      The whole thing can be seen through the metaphor of just war rationale for the “war on terror.” In human terms- are there any limits to the nature of such a war?

      I wonder if Snyder/Nolan will explore the dark side of the kind of power that Kal-El holds. AND, recall that the entire genetic codex is contained within his person. The loss of the birthing chamber from the Kryptonian scout ship means that he would have to use human dna to clone fetuses in which to implant the Kryptonian code. He cannot rid himself of a huge temptation to “improve” humanity.

      Finally, Jonathan emerges as a true wisdom figure in the second viewing- whose questions are not just about the impact on Clark if his unique nature becomes known, but while saying that Clark is an answer to the questions of our not being alone I think his dialogue with Clark about the impact of his using his powers poses a concern that perhaps the presence of such power disorders nature. Even Jonathan’s decisive transmission of his will that it is better that he die than Clark save him and in doing so prematurely upend the world.

      This is the sign of a good film I think…..a second viewing opens up a whole series of new questions/insights.

      • AdLib says:

        I think your suggested ending would have been more satisfying while remaining true to the storyline of power and the threat/responsibility of it.

        I don’t agree though with the proposition that Superman’s killing of Zod truly turns him into Superman/Übermensch. I get the intention behind it, that he kills his last living connection to his heritage by choosing to protect humanity, it may work as a concept but in practice, what is communicated by watching that act is that to be powerful, caring and a man, one must kill.

        In the best Superman stories, it is his ability to transcend the basest and most negative emotions and actions that make him “super”. Anyone who was given such power could kill their enemy if in a position to do so, there is nothing super or exceptional about that.

        What makes that character special is how he controls his enormous power and his emotions despite how easy it would be to use them for personal or selfish reasons, that is the kind of thinking that makes a fictional hero inspirational.

        Sometimes motivations of characters in stories can be so intellectualized that they work only as intellectual propositions and undermine the character. IMO, that’s what happened here. Goyer and Nolan are very smart writers, I can imagine those discussions (with Snyder) being very thoughtful and philosophical on this. I just think that the act of murder by Superman was wrongly rationalized away in order to achieve the symbolism that you describe and make Superman a more complicated and darker character.

        As you point out, it really doesn’t fit well with the light hearted scenes that follow and certainly doesn’t make us marvel at or respect Superman more. Murder isn’t noble…finding a way to resolve a conflict without resorting to the easiest but most violent act is what’s deserving of respect and more befitting of a hero.

        It could have been plotted that Superman was able to send Zod back to The Phantom Zone or back in time so he was on Krypton when it exploded, Zod could have been destroyed by his own abuse of power (as you proposed), Superman could have used the atmosphere in Zod’s ships to take his power away, any of these would also come with a symbolism that was fitting for the character while distinguishing him as a “super” man who rose to the occasion intellectually as well as physically, staying true to his principles.

        In any case, I am intrigued to see how the sequences and trajectory of his character that you describe play out in the sequel.

        And I assume Lex Luthor may make his debut then as well…

        • MurphTheSurf3 says:

          All of these alternatives are interesting, as is the discussion of the philosophy behind the scripting but I have to remind myself that what drives every decision is audience appeal and I suspect when push comes to shove it was that which dictated the final shape of the events that closed the film.

          After, much of the filming was based on an assumption that there would be a part II. BTW, Box Office Mojo -- a site that tracks how much films make and why reports that the big profits on any film come from 2nd and 3rd time viewers….I guess I am in that group. SO, part of what directors and writers do is leave trails of crumbs in films that fans will return to follow.

          And here we are.

  2. SallyT says:

    Who needs Siskel and Ebert when you have Murph!

    • MurphTheSurf3 says:

      That is rarefied company but I was a long time fan of Roger whose passing has deprived me of his sure compass guiding me in my film choices. Maybe I am channeling his spirit.

  3. Nirek says:

    Murph, it is nice to read about the movie. I grew up with Superman and his fellow super heroes. When I was drafted and went in the army, my Mom (God love her) threw all my comic books and baseball cards away. She thought she was cleaning out the house. Today they would be worth a fortune.

    Hindsight is 20-20, huh?

    Great review Murph.

    • MurphTheSurf3 says:

      I had the same experience when I went to college (which also included my Sci Fi collection). Thanks for the kudo. Fun writing it.

  4. choicelady says:

    Well Murph -- I had no idea you had the gift of reviews in you as well as everything else that is so excellent!

    I normally would not go see this. You’ve rather piqued my curiosity though, so I might just give it a whirl. I think the analysis of the ending -- the folks making the film did not seem to know how to ‘bring it home’ was accurate but sad. Film makers who don’t understand the profundity of “flyover country”‘s thoughts and values would not find the ending you did. Clark’s childhood in simple places, simple but loving households does not seem to be important to the makers of the film. Their loss I’d say.

    Thank you for an offbeat post; it’s delicious NOT to be worrying about anything we’ve discussed over the past days but being able to think about the nuances of both film making and national myth. Thank you for making that well worth reading!

    • MurphTheSurf3 says:

      Thank you. A warning- it is still a Summer Blockbuster Sci Fi Special Effects CGI Slam bang kapow crunch cinegasm……..but it has a heart and a soul that I found rather compelling.

      I really wanted to see more of that and it is what is missing at the end. Still, I imagine that most found it satisfying. It is doing very well at the box office- the first Superman to do so since Reeves launch his first.

      I haven’t gotten a lot of reaction so far but I submitted this to three other sites (and sent it to a half dozen non blogging friends) and it has gotten some reaction there so overall I think it is worth the effort. Maybe I will do this more often. Watched Hopkins and Mirren in Hitchcock last night- what a finely nuanced film….got zapped by the critics, unfairly so.

      • choicelady says:

        I’m not a fan of sci-fi precisely for the robotization (made up word) of all human interactions. Went to see the latest Star Trek prequel though and had a much different reaction since the development of characters was quite pronounced and interesting (GREAT casting, too). So I was interested in your affirmation of those aspects of Superman.

        So much contemporary sci-fi is predicated on shaky camera work, fast movement through confusing backdrops, and it always leaves me feeling confused and disoriented. If you can’t take in the surroundings, it’s hard to get a fix on the action. That was part of Star Trek, but only AFTER they’d allowed you to get oriented in time and place. Still and all, if there is no story or people about whom you can care, the insistence on speed and demolition leave me, at least, leaving the show feeling totally cheated.

        It’s grand having a new “movie reviewer” in the house who has the same interests and can reveal whether the film has enough meat on its bones to be worthwhile. Thanks for letting us be part of your new “career”. Keep it coming!

        • MurphTheSurf3 says:

          I was taken to Iron Man III….I say taken because I did not care for Iron Man II but the social contract with my crowd demanded reciprocity (The Great Gatsby for Iron Man III -- they got the better half of the deal). Back to Iron Man III…. hated because it is sci-fi precisely as the robotization (made up word) of all human interactions”. The story of a fully armed, flying stove…..or rather stoves.

          Your reaction to Star Trek tells me that we are on the same page. I think you will like Man of Steel. I am going to see it again this week with several other friends.

          Please go see Man of Steel and let’s “meet” back here and discuss it. Deal? Let me plant a seed. At a critical point in the film Kal-El states: “Krypton had its chance.” How do you read this?

          I can’t promise a review of every film I see, but I can do them for the ones that get me thinking and chatting.

  5. Very well done Murph. You have a talent for movie reviews. Mankind has a trait that isn’t the best of traits. Very often, people fear what they don’t understand. This is so evident among different races and cultures.
    I can’t explain why this is, but it is definitely real.

    Could this be a primal survival tool that is inherent within us? I certainly don’t have the answer, but as long as such fear and lack of understanding continues, our strife will also continues.

    Man is an aggressive animal. It’s in our DNA, I think. Life has changed so drastically since our caveman days, that makes me wonder if such aggressiveness is still a necessary survival tool.

    • MurphTheSurf3 says:

      Thank you. I like film very much. Maybe I should do this regularly (not as regularly as you do the Music Thread- talk about creativity!!!! but every now and then).

      I think that the fear you mention is expressed in our tribalism but that it is rooted in our genetic makeup -- primeval impulse to protect “us” against “them” that takes us back to neanderthal.

      As to changes in that rooted impulse….well there is 150,000 years separating Homo Neanderthalis from Homo Sapiens which includes some crossover time when the two subspecies coexisted and that is of of the shorter jumps. Since all of record history is less than 10 percent of that period…..I think we have a bit of a wait.

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