I’ve never really had an in-depth discussion about Man of Steel on here, so I thought that now we’re here, 2 years after the release of the movie, I’ll get into a breakdown of Man of Steel, and ultimately, why it is still my second favourite superhero movie (behind TDK).
It’s been two years since Man of Steel was released, and still to this day I see countless arguments about the film online. I guess it speaks to the character that people seem to be so vocal about the movie. The first time I saw Man of Steel I couldn’t stop thinking about it, I loved it so much. I’ve probably watched it like 5-6 more times after that, and it still completely holds up for me. But anyways enough with the chit chat, let’s discuss Man of Steel! (Warning this may be a long post)
Man of Steel opened up in Krypton. To get Superman and the villain of the film, Zod, it was important to have the opening Krypton scene for context. Krypton is set up to be extremely arrogant. Just by looking at the leaders sitting on their fancy giant thrones ignoring Jor-El’s warning, you can tell this planet thinks that they’re pretty freaking great. In the comics Kryptonians are often portrayed as being arrogant with a superiority complex. Compared to Superman who is the complete opposite (depending on the writer of course) it’s an interesting discussion on nature vs nurture, the Kents had a huge role in who Superman became when he was older.
Then there’s Zod who is from the get go set up to be a completely ruthless character, with one concern: save Krypton. You gotta admire the dude’s passion, but his ideal for Krypton relies on picking which blood lines are the best, and getting rid of the one’s which he believes to be inferior, which of course Jor-El is completely against.
Clearly Krypton is an ambitious planet, and Zod is a personification of that ambition and hubris combined. Power should have its limits, but this may not have been something Krypton understood. They were genetically modifying children and terraforming planets to their design. Anything that wasn’t in their image was viewed as inferior. Zod represented that ugly extreme side of Krypton. To him, he wasn’t the bad guy, he was trying to fulfill Krypton’s desires.
Visually Krypton looked really great. From the weird giant animals to the technology, the world was really explored. Visually the entire movie looked beautiful, not surprising with Snyder directing it. Now some complain the movie was devoid of colour, and maybe it had one too many filters, but the colours were representing the world, the cynical world, not so much representing Superman. You watch the film and you’ll notice that there are many shots of Clark/Superman with the sun bursting out in a beautiful bright white light behind him, “in time they will join you in the sun”. He will be the one to bring some light and hope into the dark and cynical world.
The Krypton scenes set up one of the major themes of Man of Steel, the concept of free-will. Krypton engaged in genetic manipulation to ensure that each citizen had a specific role, meaning that Kryptonians were unable to choose their own fate. Kal-El became the embodiment of free-will as he was the first natural birth in centuries. Once he was launched off of Krypton, he had the choice to do what ever he wanted.
Of course I can’t really say he could do what ever he wanted, as he was torn between the will of his two fathers. Pa Kent and Jor-El weren’t going to force Superman to do what they wanted, but his choices were certainly framed around what they wanted. Man of Steel was definitely the journey of Superman becoming an independent, free person. After listening to the will of his fathers, it was Superman who made the ultimate choice of who he wanted to be, and what he wanted to do, embodying the concept of free-will once again.
The scene of Krypton exploding was a really powerful scene. I know that a lot of people hate Man of Steel (you don’t have to hang around the internet for too long to figure that out), and a lot of people say that even though the film claims to be, Man of Steel isn’t very hopeful at all. And I have to disagree. As the flames surround Lara the music is dark and intense, but when we see Kal’s ship flying off the Zimmer’s becomes slower and increases in pitch, giving a sense of hope that from the destroyed world, comes something beautiful.
Then we get to the first scene of Clark on the boat. And what is the first thing they show us? Him saving people! So I don’t get the whole “wahhhh Superman didn’t save anyone in Man of Steel”. He clearly isn’t too worried about exposing himself, his only concern is saving the strangers on the boat. Then he gets saved by whales. Apparently the novelisation of Man of Steel talks about how the whales pushed Clark onto the shore, sooooo Aquaman was that you???
After that we get to the first flashback of Clark as a child. His powers are terrifying to him as he sees the skeletons of his classmates. This scene was really great because it showed us how truly terrifying having those powers could be. It wasn’t easy being Clark growing up.
We then get a scene of Clark saving people again, this time as a child on a bus. “My son was on the bus, he saw what Clark did…an act of God”. This line strongly alludes to the themes of the sequel Batman v Superman, where everyone is perceiving Superman as something different. Some as a god, some as devils (*cough* Lex Luthor).
After Clark saves the children on the bus, we get to one of the controversial Pa Kent scenes. Did Pa Kent just imply that he wanted Clark to let the kids die??? Well no. Jonathan Kent says “maybe” as he reluctantly looks down because he doesn’t know how to respond to this situation. He knows that his son’s presence will completely change the world clearly after listening to Pete Ross’ mum talk. Unfortunately Pa Kent doesn’t have all the answers, all he knows is that he wants to protect his son.
The scene where Pa Kent shows Clark the ship, we see newspaper clippings in the background, indicating that Pa Kent has been looking for some answers about his son. He’s a confused father with an alien child, give him a break!!
As the flashback ends we jump to Clark working at a bar. He gets into a scuffle with some dickhead and does all he can to not crush the guy, instead he crushes the guy’s truck. This is another controversial scene, where a lot of people are all like, “but he’s Superman, he would never destroy somebody else’s property”. Ehh well here he’s not really Superman, he’s a confused guy that doesn’t know what to do with himself. He has emotions like everyone else, and gets pissed off like everyone else. So this one time he destroyed the guy’s truck. As long as it’s not a regular occurrence it really isn’t that big of a deal (Clark in Smallville destroyed a bunch of guys’ cars because he was pissed off, Clark has his moments okay).
We then get to meet Lois. I liked the way her character was written, though I’m not sure about Amy Adams in the role. I love Amy Adams, but she’s just a bit too hmm cutesy for the role. You need someone with serious sass to play Lois (Erica Durance is my personal favourite). Lois comes in, she tell the guys to stop measuring dicks, then gets to work. Her and Clark seem to be looking for the same thing.
Clark is on a search to explain himself, which brings him to the spaceship in the middle of no where. The Man of Steel prequel comic explained that the ship actually boarded his cousin, Kara Zor-El, aka Supergirl. The comic showed that Kara escaped this ship when it crashed. At first I thought this meant we would see her in the universe, but now that we’re getting a Supergirl TV show, I’m not so sure.
After Lois’ adventure in the arctic she goes to tell Perry about her theory. Perry thinks she’s crazy, no way could it be aliens. This demonstrates how grounded the world is. If the world already knew about Wonder Woman or Aquaman, I’m sure his imagination could stretch to the existence of aliens, so clearly there are no other public superheroes with powers just yet.
When Superman finally gets his suit, we get to one of my favourite scenes, first flight. The scene of Superman learning to flying was truly amazing. Hans Zimmer score was great for the scene of smiling Supes flying (and crashing) in and over Earth.
Then we get to the tornado scene. Ahh yes the infamous tornado scene. Did I love the scene? No. Do I hate it as much as other people? No. Normally in the comics Pa Kent dies from a heart attack. In Man of Steel he died from a tornado. Now a tornado is a natural disaster, something not even Clark can control. So the idea of Clark not having complete control over saving people’s lives is still there. Here Clark is a teenager and is conflicted on what he should do. So when his protective father tells him not to save him, in order to not expose his secret, he does so. It was a split second choice. Yes we could theorise all day that Clark was probably fast enough to save his father without anyone seeing, but this is what happened. It was less about what Clark was able to do, and more about how unsure of himself he was. Also yes if I was in that situation, I too would try to save my dog if I thought I could.
Jump to another one of my favourite scenes, we see Clark returning home to talk his mum. I loved the relationship between Ma Kent and Clark in Man of Steel, good to see the Clark is a total mumma’s boy. And it was great that even though Ma Kent was weary about Clark finding his people, she still wanted him to embrace who he was, “the truth about you is beautiful”.
Then we get to Zod’s message to the world. The lights go out, we hear an eerie crackling until we see a figure on the TV, “you are not alone”. Aliens coming to Earth was portrayed as truly terrifying, indicating the huge threat Zod was. Society seems to be in a constant state of paranoia, and this scene really shows the impact it can have when even our worst fears come to life.
After Zod demands Kal-El to reveal himself, Clark goes to a church for advice. This shows that even though some see Superman as some kind of god, he most certainly doesn’t. Superman doesn’t have all the answers, and needs some moral guidance just like the rest of us.
When Superman surrenders to the military he is showing them that he isn’t the enemy. Although that doesn’t mean he’s going to become the government’s bitch, “you’re scared of me because you can’t control me, you don’t, and you never will”. This line right there shows us that although Batman v Superman is heavily influenced by The Dark Knight Returns, that characterisation of Superman won’t follow that graphic novel (which is very good).
Faora comes to collect Superman and she so happens to also want Lois. I can’t say that I loved the relationship between Lois and Superman in Man of Steel. Conveniently putting her everywhere just to escalate their relationship wasn’t the way to go. Yeah she could have helped him figure out who he was and what not, but she didn’t need to be everywhere.
After Superman goes on the ship, he feels weak. He can’t handle the Kryptonian atmosphere. Zod knew this would happen, he views Superman as being inferior, not being able to handle Kryptonian air. Then in the dream sequence we see Zod in uniform, whereas Clark is in normal clothes, re-emphaising Zod’s perspective of Clark being inferior to him and Krypton. And this is what’s so interesting between Zod and Superman’s characters. Superman could easily have the same grandiose self-image as Zod because of his powers, but he doesn’t. Again the question of nature vs nurture arises, the humble nature of the Kents truly shaped Clark’s future.
Moving on we get to the Smallville fight. Whilst I don’t think the destruction in Metropolis was really Superman’s fault, the destruction in Smallville was totally Superman’s fault. Here we have a newbie Superman who still doesn’t have complete control over his emotions. Even in the comics (and animated series) Superman being reactive because of his emotions is a big part of his character. It’s a learning process for him. He makes mistakes and actions based of sudden emotions, but then he learns for next time, that’s probably not the best idea.
So when Zod hurts mumma’s boy Clark’s mum, it wasn’t too surprising that he wanted to punch the shit out of him. Although Clark probably should have kept the fight on the isolated farm, rather than taking it to a populated Smallville.
But to be fair it wasn’t just Superman who destroyed Smallville, so did the government. The government clearly doesn’t know how to handle this alien situation so they respond with heavy violence, underestimating the power of Zod.
Before and during the battle, Superman does what he can to try to help people. Telling them to get inside and lock their doors and catches the soldier, however he was outnumbered, so there was only so much he could do.
Faora was a great character in Man of Steel. Like Zod, Faora views humanity as inferior and mocks humanity as well, “a good death is its own reward”. When Colonel Hardy takes out a blade to fight Faora, she just takes out a bigger blade with a smug look on her face.
After the fight we get the great scene of the soldiers accepting Superman as not their enemy. The lighter hopeful score returns as he flies off.
Superman is now working alongside the military to fight off Zod. In the final battle we see Superman fight off a machine with weird tentacles, which was probably an unnecessary scene, but at least it looked cool.
We also see the World Engine terraforming Earth. Now you don’t have to look too closely to see that the machine caused most of the damage in Metropolis, not Supes.
In the next scenes we get a real sense of who Zod is, in a flashback Lara claims, “my son is twice the man you are”, Zod looks back at her angry and insulted, with his superiority complex that’s no surprise. Back to present day where Zod destroys hologram Jor-El, there’s a genuine pain in his eyes. He doesn’t like that he was to hurt Jor-El, he just wants to bring back his home. So I wouldn’t say Zod is evil in the most basic sense, he’s just an extremely passionate guy with a narrow-minded worldview.
Back to Superman, he’s really struggling. The fight is definitely not an easy one, as we see Superman take a quiet moment to soak in the sun to regain his energy. It was just a small moment, but a necessary one to show how difficult this is on him.
As Superman finally meets up with Zod again we finally get to see Superman become really independent and make choices solely based on his moral judgement, “If you destroy this ship, you destroy Krypton”, Zod exclaims. Superman takes a moment to consider his sentence, but then goes on to destroy the ship anyways.
After the Daily Planet employees free themselves, Clark has a moment with Lois. As much as I love this movie, I really, strongly dislike this scene. I mean kissing on rubble just after what happened??? Cringey dialogue coupled with the forced kiss made this scene slightly painful to watch. I know some of the dialogue was off in Man of Steel, but most of it got a pass from me, except this dialogue, this scene was just bad.
Then Zod, the ever determined one returns to finish the fight with Superman. Zod is clearly controlling this fight, after all he was properly trained, whereas Superman well grew up on a farm, and didn’t really do the whole intense training thing. And if you watch the fight, then you see that Superman punches Zod into the sky, whereas Zod punches Superman into buildings, so most of the destruction that wasn’t from the World Engine, was caused by Zod.
At the end of the fight, you can see that Superman doesn’t want Zod to be the villain of this story as he pleads, “don’t do this”. But like the planet he was raised on Zod, Zod was too ambitious for his own good. His arrogance and hubris was his downfall. His narrow-minded goal for Krypton’s successful future made him the bad guy, even though he didn’t think he was.
Then we get to the other infamous moment, the neck snap. Now I’ve already talked about that moment in this post, but to sum, it’s not a bad thing that it happened. Some people say that maybe Superman should have covered Zod’s eyes, which is silly because we clearly saw that in the fight with Faora, heat vision still hurts Kryptonians, so Zod would have just seared right through Superman’s hands. Or maybe Superman should have just flown Zod out of there, but who was the stronger one in the fight? It wasn’t Superman. Maybe he could have done a million things, but what he chose to do was save the humans and kill his last link to his home. It is this moment that will become the defining moment for the rest of Superman’s moral decisions. Batman v Superman looks like it will revisit the weight that this decision had on Superman.
After the dust has settled we see a conversation between Superman and Swanwick. He tells Swanwick that he’s here to help, but it has to be on his terms. Finally Superman is well, Superman. This scene is the assertion of his independence. Throughout the film Clark has let the ideas of others inspire and influence him, but it wasn’t until he understood and investigated their ideas himself that he could become Superman, and make his own decisions. All the shots of him wandering around earlier in the film, with him jumping from one job to another, was all part of his existential journey to figure out who he was, which he was finally able to do after his experience in Man of Steel.
Overall Man of Steel is a pretty divisive movie, and whilst I acknowledge some of the problems with the movie, I completely love Man of Steel. That comes with a bit of bias though, because Superman is my favourite character, but either way Man of Steel is a movie I can watch over and over again without getting over it.
Man of Steel gave us a Superman movie that reflected our world. Let’s be honest, most of us can be pretty cynical sometimes. We’re living in a cynical world where the 24 hour news cycle tries to constantly place us in a state of fear. It’s easier to seek comfort in the familiar than to adopt new things, ideals and perspectives. And this was one of the major themes of Man of Steel. It was easier for Zod to believe strongly in the traditional Krytonian value in pre-determined destiny. Zod couldn’t accept anything else, because he didn’t want to. Jonathan Kent was a scared character. Sure it’s different from the Pa Kent we’re used to, but it reflects the general thinking of most people right now. He loved his son and wanted to protect him because he was scared and paranoid of the world, and what it might do to him. The government still are tracking Superman at the end out of fear, even though he’s done nothing so far but to earn their trust.
This emotional struggle carries over to Clark as the film is all about Clark’s journey to break from the fear of the unknown, and embrace himself and make his own decisions. Yeah he made some mistakes, but it was all about him taking in what others have told him, and becoming independent enough to realise for himself who he should be, so that he can finally become Superman. Man of Steel was a journey about breaking free from the familiar, and facing fear of the unknown, about not being constrained by pre-conceived values and ideals and developing your own. It was a journey of hope, that there is goodness in even the most cynical world. That whilst we’re all spying on each other, and fearing each other, we can be inspired by the fact that maybe there are people like Superman, who do good things because they’re good people, without the ulterior motive.
Here we have a Superman who doesn’t operate on moral absolutes, but a Superman who makes his moral judgement based on the context of the situation. Superman is a character of continuous growth. He is constantly evolving as a person through his experiences and moral dilemmas he is placed in. Man of Steel, for me, truly represented that growth of a confused, conflicted individual, to Superman, which is why I love it.
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Categories: comic book movies