Comics, Movies

Man of Steel wankery

I think Man of Steel was a better movie than most of what Marvel has produced so far, including Avengers.

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Earth-shattering spoilers follow, one that will brutalize your first viewing of Man of Steel and leave you a broken human being. Proceed at your peril.

The Dark Knight trilogy had it good – there were already iconic Batman stories in DC canon that could be strip-mined for imagery and a coherent feel. The entire Marvel-verse movies borrow heavily from the character portrayals and arcs in Millar/Hitch’s Ultimates. Superman? There really is no definitive Superman origin story. Mark Waid wrote one. It was pretty darn good, but not many people have read it and it’s not even considered canon. Geoff Johns wrote another, and it’s so weighed down by 60+ years of continuity horse-shit that you need to go take a shower half-way through it just to get rid of the fan-boy stench. You know, all that sweat from trying to understand who the fuck the Legion of Superheroes are and why they are relevant to Superman’s life. There is an “original graphic novel” called Superman: Earth One that you can read if you are feeling particularly masochistic someday. It’s written by J Michael Straczynsky and it has emo Clark Kent in a hoody. Yup, you read that right. All-Star Superman? Gorgeous, but ultimately a psychedelic tribute to the zany Mort Weisinger era of the fifties.  Whatever Happened to Man of Tomorrow, Kingdom Come, Red Son, Death of Superman – good luck reading them as a newcomer to comics.

Super: Earth One. Super-crap.

Superman: Birthright. Nice, but hollow and overly respectful.

Superman: Secret Origin. Or how Fanboys Fellate the Movies and Comics of Their Childhood

So it’s no surprise that the template for Man of Steel – the pacing, the beats of the story, the way the events in Clark Kent’s adulthood intersect with key events in his past – seems entirely based on the innards of the Movie That Worked, David Goyer’s script to Batman Begins. 

(Someone more qualified should also talk about the role of the father figure in Goyer’s scripts. Both the movies reveal a great deal of influence their daddies had on the respective superheroes. Martha Wayne had zero lines, and Lara Lor-Van has a few, but not substantial. Yes, I know Diane Lane’s character contradicts my observation, but whoever lets facts get in the way of criticism?)

People talking about the 9/11 hangover in the movie, please stop. All falling skyscrapers need not allude to that particular day in American history. If in doubt, please refer to scenes in Miracleman #15, which is still held up as the definitive destruction sequence in comics. While a generation of moviegoers fondly reminiscence over the Donner movies – yes, he made us believe that a man can fly – but a man who is faster than a speeding bullet fights another of his kind, people become chicken-feed and buildings are toilet paper. The closest American cinema got to this was in the final showdown in Matrix: Revolutions, and that supposedly occurred in the virtual world, with non-human onlookers bearing witness. This? This was cinematic destruction amped up beyond comprehension, where we see technology trying to show us what happens when titans clash. (And Morpheus and Locke appear in it too, though not in the same frame. Matrix fist-bump, y’all!)

Miracleman 15Miracleman 15

I have a low opinion of Zach Snyder. Most of it stemmed from the fact that the man’s only claim to being a “visionary” was slow-motion fight sequences where you hear bones breaking. Dawn of the Dead was meh, and his adaptations of 300 and Watchmen (the latter of which, in all fairness, I could not sit through beyond 20 minutes) were so slavish to the source material that there was no sign of any directorial authority in either. Unless you count color-toning films as auteur-vision. Whatevs.  MoS however revealed a very sentimental side of Snyder – he actually paid attention to the quiet moments. Clark falling to the depths of the ocean, Lara looking at her planet’s final moments; “focus on my voice”; “you can save them all”. Beautiful.

Don’t expect Snyder’s osteomania to let up in this movie – the first few minutes have Russell Crowe inflicting major vertebral violence on his co-planetary compatriots. (On an aside, what the fuck is up with these highly advanced planets? Aren’t there nations? Factions? Different skin colors? Opposition parties that do not resort to violence? Or is all pulp science fiction proof that democracy as a concept has to be cast aside for a civilization to flourish? Whoa, deep.) The slow-mo sequences, however are hasta la vista, baby. The action sequences involving the Kryptonians are furious blurs – all that’s missing are speed-lines. However, time slowed down whenever Antja Traue was around. For me, at least.

 Faora-Ul

Man of Steel‘s worst offence is not its own, however. It is a byproduct of this current decade’s technological excesses applied to cinema. The , in particular the greyish-blue aesthetic that taints everything you see on screen: costumes, cultural paraphernalia, technology. Everything from spaceships to personal assistants are monochrome, and the skies turn ominously dark at all major events. It is like we live – or rather, our cinematic imagination lives – in a universe that came about after a to-the-death grudge-match between the design aesthetics of HR Giger and Moebius, and Giger’s palette overpowered the sunny outlook that Moebius’s works had. That, or someone took the word “cinereal” a little too literally. Once again, this is not something I aim at Man of Steel in particular, look at every single summer blockbuster out there, and that same mournful look permeates throughout. The curse of this decade, I say, and I will be glad when the winds of change sweep over animation render-farms across the world.

Those who say that Superman does not kill: please, this is not a comic-book. There is no comics code authority that shelters the children of the world from fictional violence. There is no editorial panel that wants a rogues’ gallery that can be rotated every few months or years. Drop it, you guys. You cannot lay boundaries on a fictional character, especially not after Sherlock Holmes has been seen using a cellphone.

Yes, I did not like most of the Marvel movies. That is because they are predictable and they have no consistent tone. The Avengers was fun because it was the first time we saw a team movie, plus Joss Whedon’s lines. As a story? You need to talk to my French friend. Her name is Cliché and she has a pet cat called Whimper.

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8 thoughts on “Man of Steel wankery

    • Heya Joylita! Sort of, as I talked about a few years ago. But this particular trait takes recent movies to a different level of ridiculousness. Seriously, if you look at what the Kryptonians wear and Superman’s costume, there is a complete color disconnect. The kind of visual difference between something like Immortals (2011) and 300 (2006).

      The other comparison I can make – in a different medium – is what dubstep has become post-Skrillex vs what it was a few years ago. But that just makes me sound like a bitter old man.

  1. HumtY says:

    Dc movies have always had more depth when compared to the Marvel ones, but there is one important thing that DC has failed at on the big screen, comics were made for fun, none of these movies that DC have come out with actually make you have fun. Although I personally did not like either of Spiderman series, but I didn’t have much expectations from Sony either. Coming to MoS now, it might have had a good script and showed emotions but as a movie it was really bad, from the editing to him killing Zod. Like you say there is no canon so it can’t be argued that Superman doesn’t kill, but Superman is a very big idol in America, a lot of americans and kids look up to this fictional character, and to show him do anything so wrong, is in fact wrong. It’s like saying Game of Thrones should be read to kids when they go to bed. The movie didn’t have any proper connect and all you could make out if you aren’t a Superman fan(ME), is it’s all cool son, you just have to carry on an intergallactic race and teach humans how to live and prosper, no biggie. It’s like finding a 12 year old jesus and telling him he needs to be the messaiah and he is the one who has to save the world. Think about it. It could have been dealt with in a much better fashion. The dumbest possible point in the movie occurs at the beggining when Zod and his group are sentenced to the phantom zone minutes before Krypton is destroyed. Yes. The movie loses all it’s credibility right there. I still don’t see how this movie is better than Avengers. I had no fun watching it or felt like I’m reading a Superman comic.

    • You lost me at “comics are made for fun”, but let’s try to examine your point of view.

      I will get the easy thing out of the way first. You cannot compare Game of Thrones with Superman. It is George R R Martin’s property. He writes the books for adults. Everything the TV series does has his blessings. If tomorrow, GRRM wants to come up with animated series for kids with a retelling of his books, he can do so. You or I can not complain if he does that – technically, I guess we can, but it does not matter. (I definitely won’t, because I have not read or watched GoT and am not really invested in it) Superman, on the other hand, is a character that has had varied interpretations by an unknown number of creators, and none of them are definitive. After all, the creators showed Superman killing and throwing cars at people, and now they say that Superman does not kill. Ha!

      >Superman is a very big idol in America, a lot of americans and kids look up to this fictional character, and to show him do anything so wrong, is in fact wrong.

      I am sorry, I find your argument wrong in a number of ways.

      1. Superman is a fictional character. The only claim to fame that he has was that he was one of the first (again, not the first) costumed superheroes that gained popularity and led to superheroes taking over comics. This was back in the 1940s. Over the years, Superman has been reinvented at the hands of different writers. Most of the squeaky-clean image one associates with Superman comes from two things: the comics code authority of the 50s and the fact that he is licensed for kids’ items and you want to keep that image as clean as possible. Think Mickey Mouse. They are brands and you don’t mess with brands.

      2. This “American idol” version of Superman you are talking about? I am sorry, I do not see that “look up to Superman” attitude anywhere. Kids think Batman is cool. Spider-man is cool. Superman is non-relevant to all but a section of long-time fans who have read DC stories in which everybody looks up to Superman. Get what I am saying? The only place Superman has everybody’s respect is inside the DC Universe, just because that is how writers tend to portray him. Likewise, “Superman does not kill” is an artificial constraint that has been placed on the character by the need to maintain this image I talk about, and obviously also to make sure that there is no change in status quo, which is so important to maintain 75 years of sequential storytelling. If Batman kills the Joker, the story ends, everybody goes home. That is not the intent of corporate comics, and I think fans take corporate comic-dom a little too seriously.

      3. What happens in comics does not place any sort of responsibility on a script-writer or a director to maintain a respectful attitude towards Superman. What matters is relevance, a willingness to break rules and maintain the essence of the characters involved. “Doomed planet. Desperate scientists. Last Hope. Kindly Couple.”. I don’t see MoS contradicting this distillation of Superman’s origin in any way, do you? Neither do I see anything illogical in Man of Steel, at least nothing other than cinematic liberties that are taken by any three-act movie pressed for time.

      >The movie didn’t have any proper connect and all you could make out if you aren’t a Superman >fan(ME), is it’s all cool son, you just have to carry on an intergallactic race and teach humans >how to live and prosper, no biggie. It’s like finding a 12 year old jesus and telling him he needs to >be the messaiah and he is the one who has to save the world.

      The concept of The One is something that has been bludgeoned to death in mainstream scifi/fantasy and I do not see anything different going on here. Would you question why Thomas Anderson is the Chosen One in the Matrix trilogy? Or some random backwater kid living on a desert planet suddenly becoming someone special in a Galaxy Far Far Away? The same concept applied to Superman becomes a cause for complaint? Matter of fact, I find it more believable that an alien from an advanced race, the last of his kind, is destined to be some sort of savior for a technologically backward planet.

      (And there have been brilliant stories told about Jesus refusing to accept his fate, or coming to terms with it. Check out Nikos Katzantakis’ Last Temptation of Christ, or Michael Moorcock’s Behold the Man.)

      Thank you for the long comment. I am a little tired of people holding up MoS as a boring, dark film when most summer blockbusters are nothing but tedious spectacle with the occasional wink at the audience. I thought it was a brilliant reimagining of the character with just the right amount of surprises to keep things interesting. For a really dark take on the character, check out Supreme Power by J Michael Straczynski, which has the army maintaining a Smallville-like facade to contain the superhero, while the Thomas and Martha Kent analogues try to commit suicide because they no longer lead normal lives.

      If you haven’t seen it already, I really recommend Mark Waid’s review of Man of Steel. Mark is one of the great comic-writers but who I think is overly respectful to the character. He does have some great points about the movie, in particular about Kal-el’s inability to save innocent people from dying.

      http://thrillbent.com/blog/man-of-steel-since-you-asked/

      Last word: trust me, you don’t want any movie to make you feel like you are reading a Superman comic. Superman comics are uniformly convoluted and boring.

      • HumtY says:

        I’ve read a couple of series, Red son, secret origins and the New 52 which is ongoing. I really didn’t think it was boring at all. In fact the movie like all other let’s say decent, since both of us have opposing opinions about it, movies opens up this sort of discussion. I love Mark Waid. I’ve read his review of it. And as you said about an alien being a saviour etc, I feel that John Carter was an age old conecpt which is pretty awesome. I loved all his books and loved what the movie was too, but then again, nobody liked it. It bombed at the box office and that made me really sad. Ofcourse MoS has done really well, and anybody these days who just knows a little about Superman or finds Batman cool and Spiderman cool thinks their opinion on comics matters, not to sound snarky but that just is a big piss off. Half the people have clearly not read any of the source material and its really hard to find people who have and have conversations like this, unless you are on twitter or reddit and we are having this conversation on this site. On the whole though, as you say it might be a good movie but I really didn’t enjoy it much, it ended up giving me a headache after a while.

        I generally like any adaptations of any comic to the big screen, because I think its compeletly the director’s freedom to anything he pleases, as you said. On the other hand, to have different opinions about what someone’s take on a character is probably to do with our expectations of him. I loved Watchmen, the comic and the movie, the movie was really good, even though it was far off from the source material and even after Alan Moore himself had told that the comic was specifiacally made to show the differenece between movies and comics and it could never be made into a movie and Zack made a movie out of it. That’s why nobody liked the movie, the comic was made to show the difference and even after that I felt Zack really did a good job, ofcourse taking huge liberties from the source material and as for the reading you have recommended I’m on it right away! :D

  2. Ellington says:

    Thanks ever so much for your well thought out and astute review of MoS.
    I loved this film and this is a Superman that I can actually be interested in and invested in.
    I have heard people whinge that SM does not kill… he has.
    That they spent too long on the scenes of Krypton… I LOVED that as I always wanted to see what his home planet looked like and to a cinematic degree felt like. That part for me was rather the coolness to see what his parents were sending him from.
    I enjoyed the film and I look ever so forward with glee to the second film in this incarnation. I hope to see more development of Lois, Perry, Jenny and Clark and I am so sure that I will.
    Again thanks for this review. : )

    • Thank you for dropping in and leaving a comment! I liked this movie even though I had low expectations, and thought it was far better than the Marvel studio stuff. Glad someone agrees. :)

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