Man Of Steel Movie Review: The Humanity of Superman

Man Of Steel Poster 2013 Superman Henry Cavill

Man Of Steel – Movie Review & Discussion (Spoilers)

Director Zack Synder’s Superman reboot delivered destruction, spectacle and a bold new take on a revered character. Man of Steel is a good summer blockbuster, breaking box office records with the biggest June opening ever in the U.S. but it’s missing something from making it great.

Continue reading my discussion with Cibarra as we give our uncensored thoughts on why ‘Man Of Steel’ is less than super, the humanity of Superman and on the controversial ending. 

Cibarra: I have so many comic book friends who I’ve been dying to talk about this but sadly they haven’t gone and seen it. I too felt something wasn’t right that I couldn’t put my finger on. But after having a few days to think about it, I think I might know what’s wrong. First let me give you the things I saw right away that I felt were wrong.

#1. Superman not saving his dad, that was ridiculous. I’m pretty sure pa Kent dies of old age or cancer or something like that. I’m not saying it has to be like the comics but I am saying he should never die from any accident or natural disaster. Just like we all know Superman is going to save Lois. We should know the Kent’s are safe back at the farm.

#2. Superman drinking a beer! That’s the equivalent of him smoking a cigarette! It’s just not his F*cking character! Logan/Wolverine smokes cigars because it’s cool, he’s edgy. Superman is the boy scout of all boy scouts.

#3. Superman killing Zod. This was the clincher. When I saw this, I knew something was seriously wrong. This really weighed on me long after the movie was over. Never in over 75 years of superman comics has he ever killed anyone other than Doomsday. Well that’s what I thought, there was a story about 3 kryptonians I read about but won’t get into. Doomsday wasn’t killed by a killing blow but by the massive amount of damage he received.

Having a villain die from that trauma is one thing, snapping another’s neck is completely different. I mean there were so many things Superman could have done instead of snapping Zods neck. He could have flown him away or used his super breath to create a frozen wall in front of the family or freeze Zods head. But snapping his neck should never have been an option. Speaking of the family, why should I feel anything for them when I just watched half of Metropolis get completely destroyed.

To figure out what’s wrong with this movie first I had to ask myself, what makes Superman super? What makes him the greatest superhero of all time?

And the answer is simple, he is the ultimate good guy, he is perfection. He isn’t some lost soul looking for his place in the world. He isn’t some scared kid who doesn’t want to use his powers because he’s afraid of being called a freak. He knows exactly who he is. He is Clark Kent, a man raised on a farm in a small town in Kansas by two loving parents. So even though Man of Steel has the epic battle I think of when I think of a Superman movie. It doesn’t have the right Superman.


Sidekick: I think you nailed it in asking what makes Superman super? All the issues you brought up boil down to the characterization of Superman which in my mind is the biggest challenge in rebooting the franchise. Let’s just forget the last reboot attempt … Superman Returns shall we?

A common complaint from comic fans is that Superman is not relatable and relevant to the modern audience. I think the filmmakers tried to address this issue by focusing on Superman’s humanity, specifically his vulnerability and fallibility.

Imagine growing up without knowing your birth parents, living in a world where you feel like an outsider or freak and not being able to be your true self. It’s plausible this could make any mere mortal a tad cynical and a bit of a social outcast. However, these qualities are not typically portrayed in Superman (as far as I know) because the Kents raised him with compassion, strong morals and a sense of belonging .

So I believe Man of Steel writers’ intent is to show the journey of how Superman battles these very human flaws and dilemmas in a way that viewers can identify with. Many of us can put ourselves in the shoes of a bullied kid or someone trying to find their way in a world where there is not always a clear ethical choice.

The moral complexity of Man of Steel is brought to the forefront when Clark is emotionally torn over allowing Pa Kent to sacrifice himself thus protecting his son’s secret identity for the greater good of the world. In a way, Clark needed to let this notion die with Pa Kent, so he could eventually embrace Jor El’s contrasting vision of him as humanity’s savior.

I’ve always thought of Superman as a hero that we should all aspire to. He should always represent the very best of humanity: Righteous, valiant, a symbol of hope. But like you pointed out, the problem is that by portraying Superman with a compromised moral code it takes away from what makes him super.

At first it didn’t deeply trouble me that he snapped Zod’s neck but I did feel a disconnect that I couldn’t quite put my finger on.  As the climatic scene unfolded, I was thinking just gouge Zod’s eye out … that will stop the heat vision! But that’s me, not Superman. After some thought, your absolutely right. He should always find a solution that wouldn’t involve taking a life. Why? Because he’s Superman.

man of steel zod

Although Jonathan Kent’s self-sacrificing death made for a heartfelt and character defining moment, Superman should not be conflicted to save a life even if there are greater stakes at play. Another way the writer could have handled it is showing that despite his super powers he can’t save his father from sickness, a natural death, which would be very human and compelling.

Unfortunately it’s a challenging task for the writers to focus on the “Man” in Man of Steel without losing what makes him “Super”.  Even though I realize he saved Earth, saved Lois, saved the family from getting heat visioned, etc (damn, he ruined a lot of buildings), I never felt he got the big hero moment – you know the adrenaline fueled, fist pump – that came close to *spoilers* the aerial rescue scene in Iron Man 3.

I understand the writer’s need to go in this direction. I’ve also read the director’s explanation on the ending and recognize the great qualities Superman still embodies.  But for me, it’s not so much about an aversion to redefining Superman or justifying why Superman should not have killed General Zod, it’s simply about the feeling I’m left with.

In the end, Superman as a hero didn’t emotionally resonate with me. I didn’t leave the theater inspired or filled with hope which is what I think the greatest super hero should do. After watching Man of Steel, I don’t want to be Superman. I still want to be the Dark Knight.

Man of Steel Henry Cavill

Here is Man of Steel’s Director Zack Synder’s reason for the ending:

“If it’s truly an origin story, his aversion to killing is unexplained,” Snyder said. “I felt like, if we could find a way of making it impossible for him – Kobayashi Maru, totally no way out – I felt like that could also make you go, ‘This is the why of him never killing again.’ He’s basically obliterated his entire people and his culture, and he is responsible for it, and he’s just, like, ‘How could I ever kill again?’”

For a different perspective which discusses the precedent of Superman killing 3 Kryptonians (in an alternate universe) check out Hero Worship: The Complexity of Man Of Steel.

Extra special thanks to Cibarra for his contribution!

Do you like the fresh take on Superman? What’s your opinion on the ending?

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