I love Superman. As an abused kid, I used to wish I could be like Superman–have bullets bounce off me, be strong enough to toss my attackers away. It helped me feel stronger, less like a victim, imagining I could be like him. Christopher Reeve in the Superman movies made me feel safe, happy, strong. The comic books did, too. I even (blushing) loved the TV shows Lois and Clark, and (less) Smallville. I’m predisposed to like Superman.
But this new movie, Man of Steel? I didn’t like it at all. I wanted to. How I wanted to! There were good actors–Henry Cavill was powerful, as were Diane Lane and Laurence Fishburne, and others. There were some beautifully shot scenes, especially of Superman flying, or saving people. There were scenes that should have been moving. But the movie lacked heart, hope, and most importantly, human connection and a well-written story. And on top of that, there was WAY too much violence–so much that it felt senseless and empty. Without the human connection, without emotions and relationships and a reason to care about the characters, the violence didn’t matter. The violence became monotonous, and it also didn’t escalate along with Superman and his goals. It left me untouched, except for wincing at all the destruction and the people “killed.” But it didn’t make me care.
And you need to care about a character to root for them, to stay there for the entire ride–whether it’s a novel or a movie or a TV episode. And a big part of that is, I think, having a character we can relate to in some way. And one important way to do that? Showing relationships–the tensions and joys and conflicts that make us feel and think: oh, yeah, I’ve been there. Or I want to be there, or I really don’t want to be there. Showing vulnerabilities and pain, showing hopes and dreams, showing why a character matters.
Also important is a fluid story–a story that makes sense, with characters who have a goal that they need and desperately want, and who build towards that goal, a character whose actions and reactions have consequences and shape their future, and affect that of others. I didn’t see much of that happen in Man of Steel. Flashbacks that could have been powerful were cut in without connection and felt disjointed. We didn’t see enough of Clark with his parents or friends or interacting with others on an ongoing basis, we didn’t get enough of an understanding of his life, what it’s like to be him, what he cares about, or how he copes. Other than saving people, and not being able to save his father–which is important, but there wasn’t enough family life, or relating to others. Not enough to make me care, and what was shown was disjointed.
And no way did I believe that he could come to care about Lois the way things were. There was no built up relationship, the way there was in past movies or comics, with Clark getting to know her through working with her. And as a love interest? I didn’t see enough of her character to make me really care or see how spunky and strong she’s supposed to be. Sure, she took some risks, and I was glad to see that, but…she didn’t shine the way Margot Kidder did as Lois in the 1978 movie. The writer or director or whoever had control here with Man Of Steel left out SO much of what was good in the old Superman movies and shows, and in the comics. Superman’s “humanity,” his relationships and the conflicts and pain and hopes and dreams that arise.
And the antagonists in Man of Steel? They felt flat, like stereotypes, nothing to make me believe in them or really fear them or care, or think that they were anything than an obstacle. They didn’t feel real. And the help that came from the dead Jor-El? Bad move. It took away some of the power and strength of Superman and Lois, in solving the problem themselves.
The beginning of the movie, too, situated in Krypton, left me not caring. A lot more violence, and not much to make me care. I needed to know and understand more about the characters. It felt like backstory plunked down in the beginning of the movie with nothing to make me want to know it. I could have gotten past that easily if I’d seen more of Superman’s life after that, had an actual storyline that flowed. But that didn’t happen.
The Spider-Man movies with Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst, written by Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, and David Koepp, directed by Sam Raimi, were incredibly well written and acted and directed. I hadn’t been a big Spider-Man fan until the movies, but the movies brought me over immediately. Why? I think especially because they instantly made me care about Peter. We saw his relationships with his aunt and uncle (which is key), his being bullied at school and the ways he coped. We saw his guilt over not saving his uncle, his longing for Mary Jane. We saw his human side. His relationships with others. His emotions and needs. His starting out as an underdog, and moving into great strength–emotional and mental and superpowered–and using that to do good in the world. To save others. To help. And all that made us care. He also had an antagonist or two who felt real, whose motivations and emotions were also vivid and almost made us empathize with them.
All that was lacking in Man of Steel.
I am so disappointed. This could have been an incredibly powerful, moving movie, especially with all the material that already exists. A movie to inspire hope, to come away feeling like the world can be a better place. Strangely, to me, the movie ended with a note about Clark going to work at the Daily Planet with Lois–which felt like it had the potential to become a wonderful movie. A relationship! Tension! Immediate interest. But this movie? It didn’t engage my emotions at all. It saddens me to say that.
DC Comics, I hope you come out with a better Superman movie in a few years. One that will make people feel and care and hope.
What do you think? Have you seen Man of Steel? Do you agree or disagree?