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Guest post: Man of Steel review

September 1, 2014

Review of Superman: Man of Steel
Michael Clegg

Do not go to see Superman V. Batman.

That is my advice to people who love DC characters. DC makes unaccountably horrible movies, but they get away with it. Why? BECAUSE YOU PAY THEM TO. Literally the only way to get DC to make a good movie is to stop going to see the crap movies. And so far, they’re all crap. If you have purchased a ticket for a DC movie in the past 10 years, then you are guilty.

See, DC doesn’t care if its movies are atrocious. It doesn’t matter one iota if every one is a reboot, or destroys their beloved characters, or infuriates critics and leaves the average Joe feeling cheated. All that matters is the cash. A billion-dollar cinematic atrocity that makes two billion dollars is a successful movie. Successful movies mean more movies like that movie. Who cares what the fans want, or what would be best artistically or culturally or anything-ally? It’s all down to money – your money, going into the pockets of people too incompetent to read their own scripts, but smart enough to cheat you.

Do not, under any circumstances, pay to see another live-action Superman or Batman movie. Do not let this cycle continue. They can do better, but they won’t bother if you don’t make them work for your money.

Now, about Superman: Man of Steel. It’s awful. Just utter garbage. During the viewing of a library copy of MoS, I found myself comparing it to Mega Piranha, because the level of continuity is roughly equal. Just let that sink in – a film with a $225,000,000 budget has the same level of continuity as a film called Mega Piranha. I could list every word I know that means ‘garbage,’ but I don’t think that would get my point across the same way as comparing it to a D-list niche film. I’d like to go point-by-point and shed some light on the crimes against cinema this film commits wantonly and remorselessly.

A quick word, however, about my brand of criticism. While I’m a Superman fan in general, I will not attack MoS for ‘getting the character wrong,’ or ‘not following the story.’ Every film has right to be taken on its own terms, without outside elements coloring our perceptions. For example, Supes’ foster dad Pa Kent is, outside the movie, a salt-of-the-Earth man of wisdom and acceptance. In the movie, Pa Kent is kind of an idiot who makes little contribution to anything. We must, as good viewers, take the movie version as its own truth, and not call out the makers for it. I will only call out the makers for internal inconsistency. For instance, there is none. Let’s take it by the numbers. Oh, and I’ll be calling Superman Supes because we’re cool like that.

The first part of the film is all about Krypton, and why its falling apart and Supes’ dad Jor’s deal with sending Supes into space. If you were born after the fifties and you’ve lived in America for more than ten years, you probably know the basic story from the books, but here’s the version the film gives us: Krypton is having an energy crisis because they mined all the energy from their planet’s core and now it’s going to implode. Jor knew it was coming and sends his newborn in a rocket to Earth so that he can live while everyone else dies. If this sequence was supposed to explain the age-old pair of questions that go with Supes’ origin, if not only deliberately flubbed them, it added a bunch more.

Question #1: Why was Supes the only Kryptonian to be saved? Normally the answer is a weak sort of variant of Jor being dismissed as a doomsayer and then Krypton is destroyed too quickly to save the population (except Supes, since he’s rocket-launched).

Question #2: Why didn’t Jor and what’shername go in the rocket with Supes? There has never been a good reason for this, but it’s a rocket built at home, so I’ve always guessed it was a resources issue.

MoS presents no good answer to either of these. In this version, Krypton is being destroyed by Kryptonians who are harvesting their core for energy. It is not explained how, but based on Jor’s comments about ‘implosion,’ I immediately had to question why no one thought mining their own core might bite them in the ass. The Kryptonians have technology galore, so there’s no reason why they can’t just rocket their dumb asses off their doomed rock… unless they’ve long had a policy against space travel! Thus, they’d be caught without the machines and facilities needed to…

Oh, wait, Jor tells us that Kryptonians spent 100,000 years searching the galaxy and setting up outposts. And that when resources were scarce on Krypton, those outposts were… recalled? Why? Who recalls people from resource-laden territories to shack up in their desolate dump? Wouldn’t those colonies be the best hope for a resource-less Krypton? Maybe they needed Krypton because they didn’t have the technology to terraform…

Oh, wait, the end of the movie is all about terraforming a planet less massive and with an incompatible atmosphere into a new Krypton. So they could have done that… literally anytime. Why weren’t there already new Kryptons? With terraforming tech, they should have had fully operational colonies that would have been new Kryptons /already/. Ugh.

Whatever, right? The Kryptonians are super dumb, and they’re all bred for specific reasons, too – Jor tells us about their birthing process on pod plants or whatever, where each new kid is designed to be whatever they’ll be needed for. No choice, blah blah. Supes is the first natural birthso his life is his own to make. Well, except that right after his speech about freedom of choice, Jor (as a hologram) then tells Supes exactly what he’ll be doing for life. And freedom of choice fails again! Really, does no one in the movie listen to their own dialogue?

Nope! Moving on from Krypton (and blowing past the fact that Jor is a Kryptonian übermensch that knows combat AND sociology AND every other science, as well as the lack of reason given for Jor and what’shername not rocketing to safety), let’s look at the pivotal aspect of the movie: Superman! And, more importantly, Supes’ powers. Jor says that on Earth Supes will be a god, thanks to three ingredients: the sun, the atmosphere, and the mass of the planet. Supes grows up absorbing our sun’s radiation (as did we all), but it makes him super… something. His x-ray vision and laser eyes seem to come from it. The atmosphere will also make him super… something. Tough? Able to fly? And he’s stronger because Earth’s less massive than Krypton. The problem with this isn’t the Bad Science. Superman is all Bad Science, as are most superheroes, and we just kind of smile and nod because who cares, right? Solar radiation, awesome, now zip across the sky and punch a bulldozer or something.

But! But of course this has laid the groundwork for why a Kryptonian becomes a superman on Earth – which of course leads us to Zod. Zod and his would-be coup cohorts are jailed in the Phantom Zone just after the coup starts (Zod launched a coup to make the Council address the impending implosion, instead of, like, leaving the planet). The jail-ship returns to normal space and blah blah blah Zod comes to Earth to get Supes because Supes knows where the Codex is – a collection of the genetic data of all of Krypton’s citizens. So Zod just needs to get the Codex, find a new planet, and presto: New Krypton, filled with the same apparently incompetent, bumbling morons as the Old Krypton.

So what does this all have to do with Earth’s effect on Kryptonians? Well, Kryptonians don’t naturally fly or have laser eyes or anything like that – they’re just humans, really, until they leave Krypton. So when the rogue Kryptonians are suddenly super-strong, it’s a little weird, but hey, they’re from a more massive planet. Good, they get a slide. But here’s the problem that I’ve been laying the groundwork for:

What is Zod doing? Once he reaches Earth, the plot makes zero sense. His goal is to find Supes to get the Codex so he can make New Krypton. Simple. He finds out the Supes doesn’t know about the Codex, but captures him and draws some of his blood for, I don’t know, fun I guess. Then Zod’s most Germanic associate reveals that the power of the Codex was in Supes all along – or at least, in his blood. Yes, hidden in “every cell” of Supes’ body is the info of the Codex. So Zod decides to kill Superman and harvest the Codex from the corpse while also terraforming Earth into New Krypton.

Except, wait, why kill Supes for the Codex? YOU HAVE IT. It’s in every cell, right? And you have a blood sample, right? It’s right there! You don’t need to kill Supes. Additionally, why terraform Earth? Aside from native inhabitants (which Zod dislikes), we have several other planets that have more mass, and they don’t have our toxic-to-Kryptonian atmosphere. So… why is he doing all of this?

And while I mention our atmo… Zod claims that he needs to terraform Earth because it would be a long and painful process to acclimate to our atmo and sun and so forth. But then it takes Zod about, what, an hour to completely deal with it? And then he has superKryptonian powers! Why the hell isn’t he setting up shop as a flying, laser-eying, x-ray-visioning god? He deliberately decides to prevent that from happening, because of… reasons, I guess.

And yes, the heightened sense thing is confusing and scary at first, but Supes actually TELLS HIS ADVERSARY HOW TO FOCUS THEM. Yes, Supes actually helps his would-be murderer murder him more efficiently. So helpful! And yes, this is seriously what the characters all outright do and say. No one listens to their own dialogue. No one remembers what they said two minutes ago. This got on the silver screen because DC assumes you won’t remember either.

So yes, the plot is without direction or meaning, but the characters are what’s important, right? And we have such iconic characters here: Superman! Lois Lane! Ma and Pa Kent! And I guess Zod is kind of the bronze medalist here, if Lois, Ma, and Pa share the silver. So first: Supes, of course. The symbol of… wait, must not compare outside elements. Superman, in this film, is some sort of imbecile with little understanding of anything someone isn’t spoon-feeding him, who also lacks the understanding that humans have memories. Consider this: Supes is still Clark Kent, and he gets odd jobs here and there, then has to use his powers, then vanishes because no one can know his secret. This gives us one of the few not-awful scenes in the movie: Supes – I mean Clark – is on a rescue boat as a sailor helping get people clear of an oil rig that’s burning down, so then he gets up there and saves the day and it’s very well done, as though someone walked on set and shot the scene while the usual team was on break. But then there’s the scene at the truck stop, where he stops a grabby trucker from bothering a waitress. The trucker humiliates Clark, but Clark simply leaves, refusing to fight. Noble, perhaps, except now the trucker won and will presumably keep his grabby ways. The punch line of the scene is that when the trucker leaves, his truck is all tangled around a telephone pole. Ha ha. So to put this in perspective: Supes leaves a victim to her fate because he won’t reveal his secret by fighting, but he’ll get petty revenge by wrecking a truck in public. What? How is that secret? How is that noble? How does that make sense to anyone?

It makes sense to the same idiot who said that Batman should show his Code Against Killing by refusing to kill a man, and then leaving that man tied up in a burning building surrounded by arctic conditions. But that’s a different DC film. Ahem.

I’ve already gone over Zod’s problems, plot-wise. But the film can’t decide what his deal is. Is he just evil? That’s fine – comic book movies are a fine place for people who just want to watch the world burn – but then why was Jor such good friends with him before the coup? And Zod even says that he’s committing the coup on the basis that the Council has done nothing about the implosion problem. So… why is this a conflict? And if it’s because of the heightened tensions (the coup, implosion, etc.), then why is this being handled just now? Did Zod think so much of his friend that he would stage a coup, but not enough to tell his friend about it? Or seek advice for alternate solutions? So maybe Zod’s just nuts – again, fine – but then why doesn’t he embrace a world where he has superpowers? This is a guy with no motivations, just actions.

Ma Kent, Pa Kent, and Lois Lane are all in this movie. Beyond that, they serve only the purposes that the movie shoehorns in for them. They don’t deserve more time in this review.

Indeed, I could go shot for shot with issues – serious ones, like why the hell would Supes’ computer key work in a 20,000 year old scout ship, that’s like a 2014 Ferrari key working in a Model T – but there are just too many. Every scene highlights the notion that we, the audience, are expected to just believe whatever we’re told RIGHT THEN, presumably because we’re too dull to remember what happened two minutes ago. We should just keep shoving popcorn in our agape mouths, watching with glass-eyed stupor at the moving lights. Perhaps I should just leave this part of the review with a line from my notes: “When the fighting starts, there is not even the semblance of reason or rational sequence. It’s just a barrage of scenes and images without connection or correlation.” I do not feel I am exaggerating.

The reason I get so fired up about MoS (and every other DC movie that’s come out for the last 10 years or so), is simple: there’s no reason for it. When a small film company makes a crap movie, fine, they didn’t have much to work with. I can forgive that. But these are people with Paul Dini and Gail Simone on speed-dial, for Clark’s sake. DC made the Batman Animated Adventures, Superman Adventures, Justice League, even Arrow! There are no excuses to put garbage like MoS on a screen and then have the gall to ask for money for it. There is only one reason that we keep getting these insults, and I think you know why: they keep making money.

So DO NOT pay for Batman V. Superman. We will never have a good movie if we keep accepting crap. Don’t go see it ‘because you’re a fan.’ A real fan wouldn’t stand for this drek. Don’t go see it ‘to see how bad it is.’ It’ll be awful, and then you’ve kept the sewer pumping. Don’t go see it ‘because it’s a popcorn movie.’ This is the worst excuse; even popcorn movies should be better than DC’s recent offerings. So do not go see Batman V. Superman. It’ll be the same crap, just like before and before that and before that.

Honestly, I hope DC never makes a live-action Wonder Woman movie. I’d rather not see her after going through that sewer.

[Editor’s note: But he likes The Dark Knight, I swear!]

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. September 1, 2014 4:57 pm

    Yeah, I think a big part of the problem isn’t so much DC as much as Warner Brothers. Their movie production side seems like it has never really understood superheroes in general or particular and they don’t care to. Honestly, it’s absurd because all they’d have to do to make a fortune and have critical praise heaped on them is to follow the Marvel method of just letting people who understand the source material have some creative freedom with a few minor nods to the greater universe here and there. Sadly, because they have their heads stuck in places best not mentioned, this will not be.

    It’s funny because a lot of people online whine horribly about Ben Affleck as Batman, but he isn’t even remotely why that movie won’t be good. It won’t be good because it’s made by people who just don’t get it, and who think that being a superhero should be an awful experience that no sane person would ever want to take part in or even experience.

    • bookslide permalink*
      September 4, 2014 11:05 am

      I think the problem is that people really liked the Nolan movies (…okay), and because it contrasts Marvel’s “funny” movies, they’re running with it. They don’t get that yes, Batman works as grim-and-gritty, but you know who doesn’t? Everyone else. Ever.

      What’s next, grim-and-gritty Plastic Man??

  2. September 9, 2014 11:35 am

    Actually, I seem to recall that at one point a few years back, they made Plastic Man a deadbeat dad in the comics. So, yeah, DC’s beat you to that punch.

    • bookslide permalink*
      September 9, 2014 11:52 am

      I remember that he found out he had a kid, but that’s not the same thing as being a deadbeat dad. Just like, I guess, Superman wasn’t a deadbeat dad when he had the kid in Returns, but it felt like it because he left for FIVE FREAKIN YEARS.

  3. Christopher Schroeder permalink
    March 25, 2016 5:34 pm

    Point of Order: Earth is the most massive terrestrial planet in the Sol system. While all the Gas Giants are more massive, they are not useable as “planets” in any traditional sense of the word.

    • bookslide permalink*
      April 13, 2016 6:48 pm

      But they had a terraforming device…

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