Rated PG-13 for being generally edgy. We all knew Superman hypothetically could be violent, but it never really seemed to be about violence until Man of Steel. There's mass death in such a grand scale that your brain has to shut down how many people are dying in a matter of seconds. It's one thing when Krypton blows up because that's a natural disaster. It's different when super beings just rip apart cities on an unfathomable scale. Also, this is infamously where Superman has to kill a dude with his bare hands. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Zack Snyder
Okay, let's talk about how life is full of disappointments. The original plan: I was going to be at a family event for Fathers' Day and I knew that I wouldn't be able to go see The Flash. It's not that I was super jazzed to see The Flash. I think I would have liked to just gone to see a big-budget summer blockbuster in the theater. But because it was a get-together, I wasn't going to be the dad who said, "This dad wants to see The Flash." Then Fathers' Day was well over and I kept asking my kids if they wanted to see The Flash. They said "No." Oh. Okay. Well, I'll go by myself. Maybe I'll catch up on the DCeU and remind myself of the movies I didn't exactly love. But every time I got the kids into bed,it was too late to see The Flash. So now I just backlogged Man of Steel, a movie I infamously hated for nothing. Also, I was told I couldn't see Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny until I got the invite from my in-laws. ::cue fan fare in a minor key::
Since 2013, I've held Man of Steel in a specific spot: the worst movie ever. I saw it for my second Fathers' Day and it was such an incredible disappointment. The ensuing years would see Man of Steel as the backbone of what would be referred to as fans as the Snyderverse. Snyderverse fans were --and still are --the worst of the fandoms. Congrats, Rick and Morty fans, you've been promoted to second worst. (Maybe that's a demotion.) They tended to lean pretty far right and were toxic online and it only cemented my feelings about how bad Man of Steel was. In my mind, this movie reached insane levels of hate from me, but that might have just been the backlash that the fans had created. I decided that I needed to give Man of Steel another shake, if for no other reason than to remember the detail of the villain's plot that is apparently in The Flash, a movie that I'll never be able to see.
I'm going to make a lot of confessions here. I'm a bit too close to Superman. I loved Superman. To a certain extent, I really still do. A lot of that comes from Christopher Reeves' Superman. Honestly, I think I watch Superman: The Movie once a year. Yes, it's a bit corny in 2023, but not so much that we don't see a lot of the DNA of the modern superhero film here. It's epic and fun. But most of all, Reeves's Superman loved humanity. I argued once that I would sooner believe that Superman's ability to inspire humanity to be its best self was more important to the character than flying or super strength. Superman was inherently good. So when I watched Man of Steel that first time, I didn't get any of that. I'm not saying it isn't there. A second viewing allowed me to watch the movie with lowered expectations so I noticed that Clark is trying his best to inspire. He's just not very good at it. Or --in reality --he's great at it because he can do very little and people are looking to him for inspiration. I hope I come back and elaborate on that because there's a point to be made there.
If I'm going to be as clear as I can about this movie, it's way better than I remember it. But that being said, it is still a pretty terrible movie. I had propped this movie up to be the worst film of the century and it's just not good. There are things in it that are good, even kind of great. But for all the good / great stuff, there's a lot of stuff that is so cringy and terrible that it does spoil the movie as a whole. I'm sorry to say, Snyderverse folks, but it is typical of Zack Snyder as a filmmaker. He's not an idiot. I don't think that's the thing. If anything, there's a lot of smart stuff happening from Snyder as a filmmaker. It's just that he keeps holding properties with such a sense of "I could do this better" that he forgets to respect the property to begin with. Now, this brings up a complex debate that Snyderverse fans have probably been fighting for a while. It is the role of the artist (in this case, Zack Snyder) to not be beholden to source material. Every artist should approach a concept fresh. (Sure, there's also the idea that great artists steal, but let's save the subjective stuff for another day.) Zack Snyder doesn't really seem to think highly of people. Since Man of Steel, I've kind of joined him in that attitude. But the difference between Snyder and me is that I want to believe that we were redeemable. Snyder views people as sheep and monsters. There are a few good people, but the rest is just looking out for themselves. There are moments where individuals will do the right thing, like when Lombard chips in to save a trapped co-worker. But most are just screaming "Help me" and that's the role of Superman in Man of Steel.
I think I've written about this a lot. It's actually going to hurt to give Man of Steel not an abysmal review because it's been my base line for "as bad as it got" for a long time. But Superman is fundamentally a story of fathers and sons. Kal-El / Clark Kent / Superman is a guy who has two very different fathers. Jor-El, his biological father, is the story about intellect. He is a good father who has taught his son that every problem that Superman will encounter has an intellectual answer. (I'm talking about the comics and Reeves's incarnation.) After all, he's a scientist who failed to convince the society around them of their self-destructive ignorance. He's God the Father in this allegory. Jonathan Kent is a man of the people. He has worked with his hands. He doesn't scream "intellectual." Instead, he is a man wise in how people work. He is tasked with the role of taking care of God, despite being an above average fragile man. (He's got a bum ticker.) While he never wants Clark to fight, he understands some problems need a good ol' fashioned sock-in-the-nose. Never killing, but disarming. Snyder inverts this dynamic. Jor-El is a guy who, despite being a scientist who has never been in a fight before, disables Zod's elite squad single handed, jumps off a building onto a Kryptonian dragon pet and breaks into places stealing codexes. Jonathan Kent is the isolationist that Jor-El fought against. He's a dad who has taken his responsibility to protect God to an extremist place: people might have to die to protect his faith. The large swings are the same: Kal-El learns that there is science out there and Clark learns that he has to wait to help people. Listen, Man of Steel gets him to the place he's supposed to get to, but I don't quite know how.
As much as I criticize Jor-El for being an action hero, I'm more weirded out by Jonathan Kent's very muddy message. I always think that Jonathan Kent should be the protector of the most powerful man on Earth. No problem there. But Cosner's Jonathan Kent really muddles the whole "You were brought here for a reason." He teases it, to be sure. But there's a reason that Clark Kent is working on a crabbing ship. He has no clear goal. He's kind of taught to look after himself. At all costs, Clark Kent should put his own needs first. From an outside perspective, we might be able to glean that Jonathan knew that Clark would end up saving people. But think about how confused Clark would have been. Clark allows his dad to die for the sake of a dog. This is me nitpicking, but a tornado is the perfect time for Clark to do bananas things without anyone questioning him. Clark could fly around and just claimed that he was thrown around a bit. Jonathan sacrificing himself in that moment is the biggest question mark moment of the film and that's something that is forever imprinted on him. It's a choice that does not work.
But even when Clark does use his power, it's almost like Snyder is trying to say that Jonathan Kent is right. Let's talk about the message of Pete Ross. Poor Pete Ross as an abstract concept. Pete Ross got done dirty in this movie. I mean, he's the personification of people's stupidity in Man of Steel. Pete is a bully in this one, which is odd. But Pete is saved by Clark. Instead of Clark inspiring him with his act of sacrifice, Pete and his mom are the one's who have to make a thing of it. Yeah, it may be more accurate to what people do nowadays. But that's such a miserable take on life, isn't it? People will always be terrible and Superman inspiring people to be the best versions of themselves is kind of a waste according to this movie.
It's also real weird that people love Superman by the end of this movie. By the beginning of the next film, there's a statue of him (and also he fights Doomsday, so there's that). All of the horrible things that happen to Metropolis come from Superman hiding out on Earth. Listen, there's a story where this can happen. But Zack Snyder is reflective of a lot of culture: people want Superman to unleash his full punching power. When people love the Star Wars prequels, it often comes down to rad lightsaber fights. People complained that Brandon Routh's Superman Returns was no good because he didn't punch anybody. But if you want to see Superman unleash, there needs to be an established Superman before that point. From any citizen's perspective, Superman is responsible for people getting obliterated left and right. Snyder tends to lean into "what's cool" in his films. Everything's about rad shots and extreme stuff (while, admittedly, knowing how to light and shoot something). But I don't view Superman as a hero by the end of the movie. I mean, I have the benefit of having the camera following him at moments of self-sacrifice. But no one else saw those moments. The people who witnessed Superman getting wailed upon are dead because everything around that got destroyed.
I'm getting real tired of writing this because I'm just complaining. My last complaint is more of an observation than anything. Superman is really a tale of three people: Ur-Clark Kent before discovering the truth about his past, Clark Kent as a disguise, and Superman. I'd like to argue that Man of Steel is a movie only about Ur-Clark Kent. He's not really Disguise-Clark or Superman in this movie. He's the same personality at the beginning as he is the end. He's a reactionary person. He's trying to figure out who he is. Listen, Smallville made a meal out of this version of Clark. But we'll never really get Clark-as-disguise because Lois knows who Clark is before Clark knows who Clark is. This is all telling of a bunch of stuff.
Zack Snyder never really liked Superman. He liked a lot of the stuff. But he thought the Lois and Clark stuff was dumb. He hated the boy scout. He thought that humanity was way worse than anything aspirational achieved by the DC comics or the Donner Superman. He liked superpowered punches people surviving explosions and buildings falling. I'm going to guess that Rebel Moon is going to be more of a criticism of Star Wars than it will be anything resembling Star Wars. A lot of poeple have made great criticisms of this character and done it well. But the smart thing is that they didn't call it "Superman". Snyder totally should have made a Man of Steel that wasn't DC licensed. That would have destroyed. It's just that this seems like it kind of hates the character a bit.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.