Friday, June 21, 2013

In Review: Man of Steel

You know, it's funny how as you get older things seems to be less of a big deal. The personality evens out until one is no longer Liberal/Conservative, Religious/Irreligious, Black/White, but just this cynically grounded, lukewarm person. If only I could be that way about Superman...

I saw Man of Steel last weekend, was enraged, and promised that today I would give you a review of the movie, so spoilers ahoy. Anyways, here it goes...

I feel like the only way to understand why movies are what they are this day and age requires some knowledge/history of philosophy. Man of Steel is a classic product of Postmodernism. It is a deconstruction of the Superman myth. It takes what was there and presents us with a Superman that is very fundamental. He has powers, and other miraculous abilities, and on the screen he is there just being what we would expect. However the whole movie is much like watching a manikin standing in for Superman. He is physically present, but spiritually absent.

Don't get me wrong now, I loved the movie. Then again I love a lot of things. My general experience with the film was enjoyable, however there were some issues with pacing. It seemed like the film was waiting to start for the first hour and a half, not really gaining any traction until Superman is on Zod's floating lair in Earth's upper orbit. There are no scenes with Superman as "Clark Kent," mild mannered reporter. While it is teased that this will be shown in the next film, and while it is understood that this is a movie about Superman finding himself, I felt robbed of the joy to be had in the Kal-El/Clark Kent dichotomy. People always say, "Superman is boring/too perfect," that he has nothing really going on to give us a motivation to care about the growth and development of his character, but it is his duality that makes us care.

Superman from the outset wears Clark Kent as a disguise. Kal-El is what he truly is. He must carry on as a normal man, wear normal clothes, and worry about whether or not he will liquefy someone's hand if he decides to greet someone with a firm handshake. He is always at odds with his immense powers, which in the movie was dealt with intense realism and I thought it was a great touch because it is a very real problem Superman faces. That being said, Superman's primary capacity he lives out as Kal-El is one of a cultural preserver. He takes in and shelters dying lifeforms and races. He sees in life fragility and nobleness. I think a lot of people missed that Dr. Emile Hamilton was in the movie, who in the comics acts as a proxy for Superman's Kyrptonian technology. He is the touch point for Superman's interaction with humanity to make them better and more equipped for the future. When it is implied that he dies in the ship, as Kal's baby pod is flown into the doomsday weapon attacking Metropolis, I sat in the theater incredulous. "Did that just happen?" Way to throw away a great way to contextualize Superman as far as how he relates as an alien on Earth.

I suppose it's Zod's death that troubled me the most however.

After reading reviews of the film and different takes on it, I've noticed that people are generally angered by this sudden move on behalf of the filmmakers. Why they are angry, however is never really expressed beyond some cathartic reactionary impulse against seeing the defamation of their beloved hero. After a week of thinking about it, I think I have maybe found out the reason why people should be angry.

The film is a Science Fiction film. Naturally there are topics and ideas broached that deal with the advancement of mankind, and other what-ifs that contextualize who we are as a people by showing what people we could come to be. Krypton became a caste-system society, but strangely after enacting a very pro-exploration agenda, which by itself seems so exciting and in vogue. It would be like if Soviet Russia suddenly embraced entrepreneurial, capitalistic systems at the height of their power and influence. It just seems so out of character, though. (Perhaps we are Krypton, once an idealistic burgeoning nation, that no longer is capable of summoning the energy to get off the couch and change the channel.) Yet in the midst of this caste system, Kal is born all-natural as this new start for Krypton. Why? Superman should be one to inspire us. Jor-El dropped this theme in the film ("You shall give the people an ideal to strive for," etc.), but where did it go? I was expecting Superman to lovingly approach Zod graciously and say something like, "You have a choice, Zod. I had a choice, to be better," at the end of the film as they stood in the rubble of metropolis.

But rather than finding redemption, and rather than Superman being the better man, he lets the fight go where it never needed to go, and that was what really bothered me. People, and comic book fans, seem to have lost their way. They have been seduced by this notion that being a superhero is about the glamour of heroism. As in Kingdom Come, Mark Waid's triumph of comic-bookdom, we have forgotten that being Superman is about the humility one must possess in their abilities. In Alan Moore's Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow, after killing Mxy Superman says in summary, "Nobody has the right to take another life, especially Superman." And he's right! Why? Because Superman, in all his infinite power, possesses an even greater power, which is often overlooked. Superman's greatest power is his ability to discern what needs to be done, the ability to make the right choice, to sacrifice when no one can. Superman is the "Man of Tomorrow" because he represents a restoration and rediscovery of what mankind can achieve. A brave new world, not full of complacency and gluttonous indulgence, but one of discovery and reinvention. Superman inspires humanity to go the distance, to give new life to old systems that were thought decrepit and without usefulness.

 In killing Zod Superman is saying, "Yes Zod, I too agree that you have no chance of redemption, that even though you were made in a test tube to have another destiny, one determined by another, that you do not possesses the right to choose for yourself what you are capable of doing. Therefore, you deserve to die."

Superman can't be Superman if he cannot possess the ability to inspire. Otherwise he's just another meat-bag in a line of meat-bags in the DC universe.

Also, why would David Goyer go through the painstaking effort to make Batman unable to kill and stress that moral fiber, even making a whole introductory movie about it, just to throw it out in Superman's film debut. Perhaps this is just a play on Alan Moore's allowance for the character in Superman's final serialized exploit. Rather than ending with death, Goyer begins with it.

I've said it and I'll say it again. We lost something June 14th, at great cost.

And the world will come to regret that they did to Superman. We all will.


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