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My Review of “Man Of Steel”

June 21, 2013

*There are spoilers in this review.*

I’ve just come from seeing “Man of Steel”. Well, not just come from. I took a few hours to process it. I should tell you right now that I did not make it to the end credits. I left before that.

I have a deep love for Superman and although he is a fictional character he has always given me hope. I know that seems odd. I have always thought of the super-hero stories as our modern myths. They show our hopes, our dreams, our aspirations as a people. The stories may be far-fetched at times but they demonstrate our values, a way of conveying our philosophies in a form that is accessible to young and old, anybody that can read, anybody that can tell what’s happening in a drawing.

Superman is as American as apple pie. He represents the American dream in a way that no other hero does. He is an immigrant. He never gave up on America even when America sometimes gave up on him. He was raised in the vast open spaces of the American Midwest with hardworking and uniquely American parents. He was never too big for the smallest thing and never too small for the biggest thing. He was a testament to American perseverance and goodness. While it’s not always easy for the rest of us to do the right thing, you could always rely on Superman to do the right thing, no matter what it cost him. He proves that good is an unstoppable force.

I have always believed that despite the fact that America doesn’t always do the right thing, we still, deep down, had the desire to do so. I could point to Superman as proof. Our beloved fictional representation, the ideal American, proved we believed that good would always conquer over evil, true good, selfless good.

I know that “Man Of Steel” is only a movie. But movies are art, and our art is a representation of us as a people, our fears, our hopes, our dreams, our desires. And movies, films, are the medium that reaches the most people. Everyone, rich and poor, young and old, fat or thin, regardless of what race or orientation you are, everyone watches movies. They are discussed over water coolers; they are one of the main touchstones when seeking a mate; they bring strangers together. Movies are an art we all take part in, one way or the other. They reflect the world around us and distill it through a lens. Movies are a world we choose to be in rather than the world we were born into.

I have long thought that movies are in decline, that rather than reflecting us, they have begun to dazzle us instead. Rather than story, intrigue, or drama, we are now subject to extended displays of computer-generated prowess. It is easy to blame the film industry, which I have done for years. I have bemoaned their callous repackaging of nostalgia. I have complained about declining intelligence and growing violence. I have mourned the industry that once showed ingenuity but has now sacrificed that ingenuity at the alter of technology.

It was not until I saw “Man of Steel” that it all made sense. I will say, I enjoyed the first act of the movie. It subverted my expectations and I had high hopes. But my hopes were dashed pretty quickly. In an early scene, Clark Kent is working in a seedy bar in some small town. He stops a trucker from hassling one of the waitresses. The trucker taunts Clark, not knowing that Clark could crush him like an ant. Following his dad’s advice, Clark walks away. That should’ve been it. Maybe he could threaten the trucker later, when no one was watching, but instead when the trucker leaves the bar, he discovers his truck has been wrapped around a telephone pole or two. Clark Kent, Superman, the superhero of superheroes, who fights for truth, justice and the American way, has taken his petty revenge on this petty person. That was when I knew we were headed for trouble.

The middle section of the movie is several scenes where Clark Kent is told by his terrestrial father and his biological Kryptonian father, that he is meant for something more, that he will lead the Earth to live in harmony and peace, that he will be a savior and protector. Thus begins the conflict portion of the movie.

Clark Kent is forced to battle with a fellow Kryptonian who is threatening the Earth. They destroy Smallville, the town where Clark was raised. Clark does nothing at all to save innocent bystanders and merely focuses his rage on the bad guy (who has a better justification for his actions than Clark ever does. He explains it quite clearly by saying he was made for this and has no choice.) The battle moves to Metropolis and they destroy building after building, killing thousands (presumably). At no point does the supposed Savior of Earth ever make an attempt to save anyone other than Lois, a character who exists only for exposition. In most incarnations, Lois often serves as Superman’s link to humanity, the person that grounds him and isn’t scared to question him. Here, she’s just some dumb girl that needs things explained to her in every scene. Of course that doesn’t prohibit Clark Kent from kissing her in the end.

Not once throughout the film does the hero show any compassion or humanity. He broods, he saves a few people, he kills hundreds of thousands by showing no regard for the safety of humanity. And then there’s the climax.

The hour long battle has ended. His enemy is near defeated. Zod, the bad guy, tells Clark he will never stop and shows him by threatening some nearby innocents. With no pause for thought, Clark Kent, Superman, the hero’s hero, snaps Zod’s neck. My heart sank; my stomach flipped. Even though I could sense it coming, it still stung. Mouth agape I looked around the theatre to see if everyone else was seeing what I was seeing. It didn’t look like it. They sat staring at the screen with lazy expressions, like lizards under a heat lamp. A few looked delighted. While it hurt to see Superman do something so brutal and disgusting, it hurt even more to see that no one cared. Gotta kill the bad guy.

After a few moments, I left. It hurt too much. It was like watching Pete Seeger scalp Bin Laden or Mister Rogers gut Dick Cheney: horrifying and sad.

What happened to our hero that fought for Truth, Justice and The American Way? Now, he just fights for the American way. Gotta kill the bad guy.

It’s easy for me to blame the filmmakers. They did, after all, make the film. But the real responsibility lies with film audiences, me and you. They are only giving the people what they want and I guess what the people want is remorseless righteousness and strength that doesn’t bow to compassion. I don’t think I’m going to the movies ever again.

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