Saturday, June 22, 2013

Man of Steel? More Like Man of Sillyness

I love action movies. I was the one who dragged my husband to see the latest Die Hard film, and my geek factor rose to 20 over Iron Man 3 and Star Trek Into Darkness. 

The one thing most action movies have in common, though, that I really hate, is indiscriminant destruction. Yes, I thought The Avengers was the best movie of 2012, but I really cringed for New York during the whole final battle.

But at least in The Avengers the good guys were trying to stop the destruction, and MOST of it came at the hands/bodies/creepy ships of the aliens. At least we were shown the people in harm's way, and the effects on some of them as the battle raged. I could forgive the excessiveness in a film that had fantastic characterization and acting, a solid, interesting plot, and well-developed motivations.

Man of Steel? Not so much. WARNING: From this point on there are rampant spoilers for the recent film Man of Steel. I'm holding back nothing. So read on at your own risk.

I was a little wary of this film before I went. I didn't care for the Dark Knight trilogy all that much, and wasn't sure I'd like the "darker, grittier" tone that was supposed to match those films. I also was a little bored at the idea of the Zod storyline again. But I love Superman (and really, more I love Clark Kent) so I wanted to give it a try.

*heavy sigh*

It turned out, I liked the Zod storyline overall. Russell Crowe was good as Jor-El, and I found the extended backstory of Krypton actually interesting. I appreciated that they took a new approach to Clark and Lois's meeting and connection. And I thought the most interesting thing about Clark's personal thread was his struggle (and sometimes failure) to always be the better man. The best part was seeing him save people, and then be passive aggressive against a bully.

But his character development fell far, FAR short of what they were striving for. They NEVER gave ANY hint that he had this rule about not killing people. (If I missed it, please feel free to correct me in the comments!) They did a decent job showing his dilemma when Zod threatens the entire planet if they don't turn him over, and I can appreciate the hints of "is he a hero or a threat?" that flow throughout his interactions with the human military.

But then they start fighting, and it all goes to hell.

First, they destroy Smallville. Not just General Zod and his cultish followers. I have to insert a whine here about how they made a big deal of how Kal-El would soak up the young, strong rays of the yellow sun and develop powers as he grew up, and then Zod and his crew got those same powers after, oh, five minutes. Their invulnerability was kind of ridiculous. So anyway, then they start flinging each other around the town, blowing apart buildings and making things explode and taking down military helicopters. The "saving" that Superman does isn't quite enough to sell me on the colonel or whatever saying "this man is not our enemy."

During this battle, Clark gives no thought to the innocent people who might be behind the walls he just smashed down. He doesn't try to move the fighting away, or to rescue anyone. Afterward, he's all grave and melodramatic in thanking the colonel for seeing that he's not a threat, but he doesn't go see if anyone was hurt in all that shrapnel and structural collapse.

And THEN. They go do the same thing in a couple of big cities. Zod doesn't care, he wants to destroy all of humanity so he and his five fellow surviving Kryptonians can start over (I guess they'll harvest the 20,000-year-old babies in the genesis chamber of the crashed scout ship, because of COURSE they haven't reached their expiration date yet). Buildings topple, cars fly around, pavement buckles. We have an odd stretch where Perry and some guy from the Daily Planet try to save some chick as if we should care desperately about her plight, when we barely met her and I never even caught her name.

So after all that, when there are probably thousands of casualties already (not counting the babies in the destroyed genesis chamber), Zod doesn't get sent back to the Phantom Zone with the rest of them and he's determined to end Kal-El. Ensue a pointless fistfight because they both have the same powers and indestructability. AGAIN they plow through buildings and probably kill thousands more people without a blink of Clark Kent's eye. Zod uses his infrared vision/laser eyes to threaten a family, and Clark kills him to stop him.

And then Clark yells an anguished "nooooo!!!!"

So I kind of figured that was because he'd killed the last of his kind, leaving him all alone, but the debate all over the Internet (ref. Entertainment Weekly) is all about how a major trait of Superman is his sometimes desperate attempts not to kill anyone, ever. For me, it's not about whether it's okay for him to kill. It's about whether the writing sucks or not, and this writing pretty much violated every major "rule" of characterization.

Any action can be justifiable if it's well motivated. In the bus scene where Clark saves his classmates and his dad thinks that was a mistake, have Clark argue that life is more valuable than reputation. Give him an opportunity to stop a horrible crime and instead of physically harming the culprit, turn him over to the authorities. Have him at least SAY something about moving the fighting out of Smallville, and let him lead the bad guys to open land. Destroying trees and abandoned buildings and the occasional farm implement will satisfy your mindless need to smash for no reason. Then when the whole planet is in danger from the World Engine, let him lament the loss of life a little bit. Give it some depth, not just a tossed off concept. Have him go crazy with grief at all the people being killed by Zod's relentless attack, let him have a full conversation with SOMEONE at SOME point about his responsibility not just to save lives, but to avoid taking them. When he fights Zod, let his blows be about avoiding collateral damage instead of causing as much of it as possible.

Then, MAYBE, I might buy that he has some remorse over killing the bad guy.

As it is, I'm left feeling that Superman is not all that super, and is in fact kind of a douche.

What did you think? Do you disagree? Counterarguments welcome in the comments!


Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I admit to being distracted by Henry Cavill's hotness factor but I had heard going in that the ending of the movie involved ridiculous special effects destruction so I wasn't surprised by that. If they had spent a little more time on building relationships and skipped all the knocking apart buildings they would have made a better movie. I thought it was okay but I won't pay to see it again in the theater.
I am a big fan of the Dark Knight and they did do a much better job of showing the emotional costs of Bruce Wayne's decisions.
To me, Star Trek has been the best film of the summer season so far.

Natalie J. Damschroder said...

I agree about HC's hotness. :) The destruction itself didn't surprise me, because they all seem to have it—indulging the director's *nasty expression* here. LOL

I guess they supported Wayne's torment better, but a lot was lost in his raspy, difficult-to-understand voice, and in the first of the trilogy, all I remember is the same thing: car chase taking out half the city infrastructure. That had less potential loss of life, being at 2:00 a.m. or something. :)

Star Trek wasn't quite as good as the first one, and I liked Iron Man a little bit better, but it was still far superior to MofS! :)