Man of Steel is terribly disappointing. I watched it several weeks ago, and I’m just now getting around to write about it. It’s that uninteresting. Notice how I used the word uninteresting; I was tempted to use mundane words like “bad”, “good”, “abysmal”, “stellar” or any other number of typical adjectives, but uninteresting seems to fit better than anything else. Which is not good.
You’ve probably heard the saying “bad publicity is better than no publicity”. The saying is derived from succès de scandale, a French phrase indicating that success can just as readily arrive from scandal as from bonafide achievement (think Paris Hilton/sex tape). You may also have heard Revelation 3:15-16:
I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. (NIV)
The message is quite similar to succès de scandale – be either hot or cold, but certainly do not be lukewarm.
So what is the cinematic representation of Rev 3:15-16? I think “hot” would be exemplified by any number of Oscar-winning films. Return of the King, Chariots of Fire, A King’s Speech – these are all “hot” films, pictures that succeed based on their merit. What would a “cold” film be? Think Mega Shark versus Giant Octopus, Sharknado, Mega Python vs. Gatoroid or any number of films from The Asylum. In case you don’t know, those are straight-to-cable movies that are so outlandishly and catastrophically atrocious that they have somehow gained quite a level of positive notoriety.
So, then, what are “lukewarm” films? These are movies that are neither good nor so bad that they’re good. Sadly, Man of Steel falls into that category. I would also throw Mission Impossible 2, Indiana Jones and the Krystal Scallywags, Fletch 2, and the remake of Walking Tall into that category. And also the Star Wars prequel trilogy. I mean seriously.
Suffice it to say, it pains me to lump Man of Steel in with those other poo-poo fests, but it just isn’t that good. It’s forgettable. It’s uninteresting. It’s poorly written. It has poor character development. It has too much CGI. It has too much action. It is devoid of charm, warmth and fun. Basically, it’s a sterile attempt at making the first good Superman movie in nearly two score.
In fairness, Superman isn’t the easiest character to sell. He’s an alien who basically can’t be killed, has the ability to fly, is tremendously handsome, and has a beautiful girlfriend. On top of that, his true identity is found in Clark Kent, a squeaky clean boyscout. Not the most sympathetic or relateable character. But, there have always been elements of Superman that have made him compelling, especially pertaining to Ma and Pa Kent. Sadly, Zack Snyder chose to depart from some of the most poignant aspects of the character for reasons unknown.
** SPOILER ALERT **
For example, in the original story of Superman, Ma and Pa Kent are unable to have children. Thus, when Kal-El crash lands nearby, they see his arrival as an answer to their prayers. There is tremendous heart in that. Unfortunately, that’s absent from Man of Steel. Further, Ma and Pa Kent, in the traditional Superman saga, aren’t especially beautiful people; rather, they are plain-looking folks who work on a farm. Kevin Costner is just ordinary enough to pull off a somewhat modernized Pa Kent, but, to me, Diane Lane is just too beautiful to be Ma Kent. I feel like a more homely actress would’ve been a better choice. Alas.
The worst departure from the traditional Superman storyline is Pa Kent’s death. His passing has often been a galvanizing moment for Clark akin to Uncle Ben’s death in Spiderman. While his heart attack in The Death of Superman and Superman: The Movie serves to ultimately give Clark a much needed strength and focus, his death in Man of Steel is idiotic and pointless. Here’s what happens:
You should know that leading up to that moment, Pa is is shown beating it into Clark’s head that no one can know Clark’s true powers. Like that’s bad for some reason. He even suggests that Clark should allow people to die rather than reveal his powers.
So anyway, the whole Kent family (including their dog) is driving down the road one day when, out of nowhere, a humongous tornado suddenly develops!! The family takes shelter, but then they realize the dog is still in the car. Oh no! Pa dumbly runs back to save the dog, gets trapped, and instead of allowing Clark to save him, he allows himself to get annihilated in the vortex of doom, all so the world wouldn’t be wise to Clark’s true nature. Of course, Clark’s true nature comes out anyway, so Pa’s death only serves to show how shortsighted he was. It also seems incredibly dumb and contrived. And actually unrealistic.
Think about it – Pa lived in Kansas for several decades at least, right? Let’s say he lived there for thirty years. In thirty years, I’m guessing he’d been through at least a dozen tornados if not more. Having experienced all those tornados, I’m sure he’d learned their destructive nature and would have realized that going back for the family dog would be actual suicide. Also, he’s a farmer, someone who would’ve seen many animals live and die in his time, so much so that, while he certainly loved his dog, I feel he would leave it to die rather than run back and commit suicide. Yet, he does it anyway.
This is the height of implausability. Of course, I’m sure it didn’t help that I watched this movie in Oklahoma City less than a month after the suburb of Moore was devastated by a colossal EF-5 twister. Perhaps living through that tornado made me more sensitive to the reality of tornadoes than most. But I can say this for sure – I’ve lived in Oklahoma for about ten years now, and in that time I’ve come to learn that tornadoes are nothing to mess with. Any person who’s experienced that level of power first-hand or seen the devastation first-hand would know never to run into the fray for a pet. I don’t mean to sound cruel; I’m just saying that running into a tornado for any reason is suicide. Or complete stupidity. Since Pa Kent didn’t seem suicidal, it means he’s a moron, and I do not see how Zack Snyder could have pictured a moronic death as being as meaningful to Clark as a plausible and relatable one. Implausible. Stupid. Ill-conceived. CONTRIVED.
Sadly, without the heart that a traditional depiction of Ma and Pa Kent brings, Man of Steel tries to use flashy CGI and over-the-top action sequences to fool the audience into thinking well of it. For me, the CGI is nothing special, and the action is too extensive. I didn’t care about the characters very much, so I didn’t care what happened when they fought.
NOW – there were two positive things about the movie that I must mention before closing. First, Henry Cavill is really good as Superman. Or, at least, he isn’t terrible. Second, the music is amazing. Hans Zimmer did it again; after creating some of the best movie music ever in the Dark Knight movies, he showed that he is in no way slowing down. The pounding drums and soaring melodies are the best thing about the movie. Surely, though, I wish he’d incorporated the John Williams Superman theme somehow. That theme is Superman.
In closing , Man of Steel is good for one watch as long as you don’t have to specifically pay for it. I would suggest waiting for it to become available as a “free” stream on Netflix/Amazon Prime/Hulu Plus – it’s just not quite good enough to pay for. The lack of heart, contrived story elements and uninteresting plot condemn it to the trash heap of lukewarmness. If you decide to watch it, don’t pay for it, and pay special attention to the music.
Grant Stevens is a freelance writer who loves superheroes and dinosaurs. He’s also a musician and the founder of the Use Ironic Correctly Society. Check out his music at www.grantstevensgroup.com and www.soundcloud.com/grant-stevens-amazing.