This film is Highlander.
Essentially, story structure-wise, it is Highlander.
This was all very distracting to me while watching the film. Even the transitions felt like Highlander transitions. He sees a school bus and then he remembers something involving a school bus. And it wasn’t just the flashbacks either. Lois investigating the “mystery man” and all the clues eventually leading her to track him down was all very similar to Brenda’s hunt for Connor in Highlander. I am not reaching for a comparison here. After the film’s second transition to a memory of the past, all I could think was “this is Highlander”.
Obviously it wasn’t all Highlander. The fight scenes didn’t involve any decapitations or Quickenings which is a good thing for a Superman movie. Though, if you accept Highlander 2 as a film that does in fact exist, then the Immortals in those films are from another planet. And so are Superman and Zod. The comparisons are uncanny!!!
But in all seriousness, though Man of Steel was a valiant effort on the part of filmmaker Zack Snyder and scriptwriter David S. Goyer, this was not what I wanted in a Superman movie. Perhaps it’s my fault as I have a lot of baggage with the character. I have been a Superman fan since I was a kid, reading comics from the early 70’s, and watching re-runs of the Superman TV show from the 50’s. So when I saw the Richard Donner film, Superman: The Movie, it was pretty much all I ever wanted in a Superman movie. It is still my favorite Superman movie. Superman should be an amiable fellow, always seeing the good in people, fighting for truth, justice and the American way. Superman: The Movie embodies those elements completely. It’s a perfect Superman movie. It’s the perfect comic book movie.
Man of Steel, however, is not a comic book movie. Every frame of this film is trying to ground the character and the story in reality. That is not Superman. The story is about a superhero from another planet who is powered by our yellow sun. He is weakened and could die from exposure to Kryptonite. He can fly, he has heat vision, he has x-ray vision, and he has super strength. Nothing about this character should be grounded in reality. That is not the point of this character. The filmmakers were trying to do to Superman what Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer did to Batman. The problem with doing this is that Batman was already a very grounded character; he has no superpowers. He’s just a regular dude who has trained himself to be in peak physical condition, he has a genius-level intellect, and has gadgets and tools to help him fight crime. You can take that and make a serious, dark film out of the character. It’s been done in the past in both comic books and film. It’s a valid take on the character. Not so with Superman.
Superman was created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, both of whom were sons of immigrants. The character of Superman is essentially an immigrant and he’s supposed to be proud of that. He embraces American life and values and doesn’t care that he’s not from this planet. His parents are Jonathan and Martha Kent. He loves his family. He is not a bitter, angsty, introverted teenager who is afraid of his abilities. To make him this way in the film is a huge disservice to the character. The way the character is when he first learns how to fly in this movie is the way he should have been his whole life, not just for the second half of the script. This was very disappointing to me.
The film wasn’t all bad, however. The opening scene on Krypton was great. It gave some good backstory on Krypton, good character development from Jor-El and Lara( Superman’s parents), and Zod’s introduction was very well done. It definitely set up the story well and it’s too bad the film didn’t have more of that level of writing. In fact, it felt like 50% of the dialogue in the film was all from the first 15 minutes of the movie. It felt almost as if Russell Crowe (Jor-El) has more lines of dialogue than Superman does. Actually, it felt like every major character had more lines of dialogue than Superman did.
Pa Kent is also uncharacteristic as Pa Kent in this film. After young Clark is seen saving some other children, he asks his father “what was I supposed to do? Let them all die?” to which Pa Kent replies “Maybe”. No. Never in a million years would Jonathan Kent tell his son Clark to not save someone if he can. I really hated that scene. That’s not how Clark would be raised. The writers just did that so they can have this powerful emotional scene where Clark has to make a tough decision on whether or not to let someone die or save them and reveal his secret to the world. More angst for a character that should have none. It’s a major disservice to both characters.
If the first half of the movie was mostly character development and drama, the second half was mostly action. A lot of fighting. A lot of punching. A lot of Kryptonians knocking each other into and through buildings. There are trucks and trains and other vehicles of note thrown around with reckless abandon. There is also a lot of collateral damage done to said buildings and vehicles and people. I’m really curious what the body count ended up being after what felt like an hour of on-screen super-powered fisticuffs. It really did not feel as if Superman saved a lot of people in this movie. He saves the world, obviously, which contains a lot of people, but it really feels like the population count in Metropolis plummeted precariously during the pugilistic pandemonium.
So, in short, this movie was just not what I wanted from a Superman film. Superman shouldn’t be dark in tone, he shouldn’t have regret or angst over not knowing his parents or his inability to come to terms with his abilities. That’s just not the character I grew up reading and watching on television and film. They take too many liberties with the character and the movie suffers for it. One final issue I have with the movie is also the reuse of Zod. And not only that but with all the Lexcorp logos strewn about on various buildings and trucks, I have a feeling the antagonist for the next film will be Lex Luthor. I am sick of Lex Luthor. I am sick of Zod. Between all five Superman films, we have seen exactly two super villains between them: Lex Luthor and Zod. I am sick of these villains. Superman has a large rogues gallery in which to draw on. They could do movies with Brainiac, Metallo, Bizarro, Solomon Grundy, Mr. Mkyzptlk, Darkseid, Toyman, or Doomsday, for example. The possibilities are endless! Yet, we’re still stuck with the same two super villains over and over and over again.
So, I end this review with a plea for the filmmakers: please don’t make Lex Luthor the villain in the next one. Please use somebody else. Brainiac would be a brilliant villain for Superman on film. The closest we ever got to Brainiac was the super computer designed by Richard Pryor in Superman III. In point of fact, I assume in the original script that computer was supposed to be Braniac but then someone decided to have Richard Pryor build it instead. If there is one positive thing I took away from Man of Steel, it was that at least it was a vastly superior movie to Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. Even if this wasn’t the Superman film I wanted, it could have been much much worse.