Sunday, June 16, 2013

10 reasons why Man of Steel was not a good Superman movie

Today, I saw the much-anticipated, heavily hyped superhero blockbuster movie of the summer: Man of Steel.  I thought that, as an action movie, it was pretty good.  However, as a Superman movie, it was pretty darn awful.  What follows will be my list of 10 reasons why I thought this movie didn't do the job as a film about Superman.

Please note there will be TONS OF SPOILERS, so do not read this review if you have not yet seen the movie. You have been warned.

Before getting into the actual reasons, I want to reiterate that I thought, as an action movie, Man of Steel worked fairly well.   There wasn't much plot, but then there never is in action movies.  The explosions looked good. The action sequences were quick and looked reasonably "super-powered." If this movie had been something like "Hancock 2," I'd probably say it was pretty good and just leave it at that.

The problem, however, is that this wasn't "Hancock 2."  It was a movie about Superman.  And that comes with a certain burden on the part of the creators, and a certain set of criteria that simply must be met.  The 1978 movie by Chris Reeve and Richard Donner (Superman: The Movie) absolutely met those criteria.  The characters were three-dimensional, and although there were definitely original takes on both Clark and Lois (among other characters like Lex Luthor), all the characters were recognizable in that movie.

In Man of Steel, hardly anyone other than Ma and Pa Kent and Jor-El is remotely recognizable.  I thought Amy Adams was a great choice for Lois before seeing the movie, but she's got nothing on Terri Hatcher or Margot Kidder.  Her performance is flat and uninspired, though this is not entirely her fault, because her role is so decidedly un-Lois-like.  The other actors turn in passable but similarly uninspired performances.  I found myself wondering, where was the emotion?  The movie had tons of action -- but it had no soul.

To some degree I think all the actors probably had the same issue Adams had -- they were playing characters with the same names we all recognize (Perry White, General Zod, Clark Kent, and so forth), but their lines and characters' actions were not what one would expect for these characters.  Some will say that this is "original" on Snyder's part, but I disagree. If he wants to be original, and not follow the expected patterns for Superman characters, then he should have let someone else direct this movie, and he could have directed the sequel to 300 or something.

I could rant about this forever, but I started out saying I would provide 10 reasons why this was not a good Superman movie. So here they are.  Again, MAJOR SPOILERS BELOW. You've been warned.

The 10 reasons Man of Steel was not a good Superman movie.

  1. Lois Lane acted more like a military officer than a reporter. Lois starts out great, following Clark where she shouldn’t and getting herself into trouble, and then writing a story about it. This, unfortunately, lasts all of five minutes in the movie. Thereafter, she acts more like an action star than like a reporter. What the hell is Amy Adams doing in a C-117 programming the retaliation weapon against the Kryptonians? She’s completely out of place in scenes like this, and it destroys her credibility as Lois. 
  2. The romance between Superman and Lois is contrived. If you add up how much time Lois and Superman actually spend together the total can’t be more than 10 minutes in the entire movie. And yet by the end of it they are in love? Are we to believe that being in a couple of explosions together is so romantic that now they can't keep their hands off each other? It was totally unbelievable. 
  3. Superman hardly saves anyone. Let’s be fair here... Clark saves a number of people early on, before adopting the Superman identity. But once he’s Superman, other than saving Lois Lane time and again, and a couple of military officers, he never protects or saves anyone. Where is the scene where he steps in front of someone and takes a blast for him? Where’s the scene where he saves the lady with a baby? Rescues the cat out of a tree for a little girl? How can he be Superman if he’s not saving people and doing good deeds? 
  4. Superman has zero regard for property damage. The Superman I grew up loving would not have just blown villains through buildings, parking garages, and grain silos to do some damage to the villain. He would have been concerned about the people and about property damage. Other than telling the people of Smallville to ‘get inside,’ Superman doesn’t seem to care who gets hurt or how much damage is done so long as he beats the villains. 
  5. Where is Jimmy Olsen? What the hell is a Superman movie doing without Jimmy? He’s one of the most important characters in the Superman mythos. Snyder had time to put in some guy named “Lombard” and an intern named “Jenny” at the Daily Planet but not time for Jimmy? Very disappointing. 
  6. Perry White is an afterthought. This part makes no sense to me at all. They cast Lawrence Fishburne as Perry White, which is an inspired choice, and Fishburne proves this in his very first scene berating Lois. But he is utterly wasted in a 2-bit part that seems like it was added as an afterthought (“Whoops! We forgot to put Perry White into this movie -- quick let’s shoot a few pickup scenes with him!”) 
  7. Lois finds out about Clark too early. This part makes no sense at all. One of the most enjoyable facets of Superman is that brilliant, intrepid reporter Lois Lane never puts 2+2 together about Superman and Clark. Snyder doesn’t even bother to try playing this out. He just has Lois figure it out from day 1, which makes it impossible for him to portray some of the most enjoyable aspects of the Superman story. 
  8. Superman is not Clark for enough screen time. The creators of earlier incarnations of Superman, both on TV and in the movies, recognized that you can have too much of a good thing. They were also limited by budget constraints and technology. Those limits were a good thing, because the earlier Superman versions gave us a lot more “Clark time” and only a little “Superman” time. This left us wanting more -- and that’s a good thing. This movie ODs us on Superman, and we get very little Clark time except in flashback. He doesn’t even put on his glasses until the final scene of the movie. 
  9. Superman used hardly any of his powers. Except when he is trying to “adjust” to his powers as a child, Superman hardly uses any of his non-brute-force powers. 99% of his power use is to punch, fly, or be invulnerable. But Superman has lots of powers. Where’s his Super-breath? Not used. Frost-breath? Not used. X-ray vision? Only used once as Superman, for a laugh line. Telescopic vision? Not used. Super hearing? Used once. Even super-speed is given short shrift -- he uses it in the movie, in the sense that he goes fast, but he doesn’t use his super-speed to do anything that couldn’t have been done at normal speed. It’s like Snyder forgot he had all these other things he could do. 
  10. Superman kills. No no no no no. I don’t care what position Zod put Superman in, the Man of Steel never, ever, ever, kills. Period. This is totally unacceptable and at this point if it hadn’t been so obviously close to the end I might well have walked out. I don’t want to hear “Zod left Superman no choice.” The same could be said in Superman II but Superman still only took Zod's powers away and then dumped him into the snow; he didn’t kill him. This is one of the most fundamental aspects of Superman’s character -- he always finds a way to stop people without killing them, no matter how much (like Lex Luthor) they might deserve it.

And there you have it, 10 reasons I thought Man of Steel was a poor excuse for a Superman movie.

I think if you look at the sum total of this list, an obvious pattern emerges.  Snyder and company were so focused on explosions and big budget effects that they forgot that all good stories are about characters, and that characters are the ones who make us cheer, clap, laugh, and cry.  The guys at Pixar know it.  Marvel Studios knows it.  But the Man of Steel team don't seem to have any idea that character is what counts.

I went to see this movie on opening weekend at a matinee, in a theater where 12:30 Sunday showings are usually empty even under these conditions.  Man of Steel was packed.  There was hardly an empty seat in the house.  So it clearly drew a large crowd. This is similar, at least on the surface, to my experience 35 years ago, as a child, watching Superman: The Movie the week it opened with a large crowd.

One thing struck me as this movie drew to a close -- other than some occasional muttering from people who apparently were lost by parts of the plot (I'm not sure why -- the plot may have been soulless but it wasn't confusing to me), the theater was absolutely silent for almost all 143 minutes.  There weren't many laugh lines in the movie, but the few it had, got barely a few chuckles.  Nobody clapped; nobody cheered. The second the screen went dark at the end, people started getting up and walking out.  It felt like the movie made no impression on them.

Contrast this with my experience in 1978, when the theater was rocking.  People started cheering when the big giant "S" graphic came up.  They laughed at the funny lines.  They gasped audibly when Pa Kent died of a heart attack.  They cheered and clapped when Superman saved Lois from the helicopter. They laughed at Ned Beatty's antics.  And when the now much-reviled "turning back the world" scene happened, everyone applauded, even though we knew Superman couldn't time travel -- because we wanted to see him save Lois. The crowd was invested in the movie by then -- they bought that scene hook, line, and sinker.  When Superman flew away toward the sun at the end and the ending theme started to play, everyone cheered again, and people stayed in their seats, wanting to listen to the music and just not wanting it to end.

I'm sure lots of people will claim this new Superman is "better" than Richard Donner's version. It's grittier. More realistic. Has better effects. Had tons more action.  But the problem is that, despite all of that, Snyder's version has no soul, no heart -- and Donner's version has tons. And that's why the audience whooped and cheered in 1978... and didn't utter a sound this afternoon.


  1. I don't mean to be argumentative but I wanted to respond. Great action movie, 10 out of 10. Great Superman movie, at least 8.5:
    1. Lois Lane was in total character. Just from a Smallville point alone. The TC show fromnthe 50,s may have had her as am innocent lass but the entire Supermanverse has her as a take charge, action filled, get in trouble, Superman save me, Superman don't worry about me, I'm a big girl type of gal.
    2. A muscle bound flying dark haired blue eyed guy is supposed to irresistible. Woman have always fallen for Superman. Even the captain at the end claimed he was hot. In the Supermanverse, he was always was immediately smitten with Lois. Of course, that is after his childhood fling with Lana Lang. And who said they we're in love?
    3. Superman saves everyone, that is the point of the whole movie. He sacrifices what he wants, a home and an identity, to save humanity. And e eryone would have called cornball if in the middle of a battle like that a cat would have been purring in a tree.
    4. I think the goal was to have Superman defeat the enemy. At several times he was fighting multiple people. Again, we would have called cornball to have him stop and sweep the streets. In past no vies he could do that because he was fighting less superior villains. But it is hard to repair a window while super villains are trying to kill you.
    5. Steve Lombard is a huge part of the Supermanverse. Remember, Superman is a comic book hero who has 75 years of history under his belt. If they tried to cram all of it into one 2 hour movie it wouldn't make sense. Robin was a huge part of the Batmanverse but all he got was a mention in the last line of the Batman trilogy.
    6. I agree, we only see a glimpse of the Perry White persona, but remember, it called Superman, and they had to leave room for more movies.
    7. Yes, I'm with you on this one. I'd love to see a super hero movie where their secret identity actually stays a secret.
    8. The whole purpose of the movie was about Clark discovering who he was. He was Clark right up until he put on the Superman costume...which was a little ways in.
    9. I agree, but it's the first of hopefully many movies and you lead with your big guns. We didn't see some of Iron Mans unique attributes until the 3rd movie...his many suits of armor and his unique tie to the armor.
    10. I agree wholeheartedly. However, G+ chats indicate their is a storyline in the comics where this took place. I'm unaware of it but I'm trusting it is true. But I, like you, felt this went against everything in the Supermanverse.

  2. You're not being argumentative. That's what a comments section is for.

    To respond to your points.
    (1) I never said Lois had to be an innocent lass. I said she didn't act like a *reporter* in the movie. There's a difference between that and "acting innocent."
    (2) I stand by my comment. The romance between Lois and Superman was poorly developed and came out of left field.
    (3) You're taking my cat and tree comment too literally. I'm talking about the personal, one-on-one side of saving people, which is emotionally much more powerful than saving the world in the abstract.
    (4) You are again being too literal. I don't expect him to stop and sweep the streets. But he could easily have done things like force Zod all the way to the moon so their fight would not harm innocent people or property. Or force him to Antarctica. Or an empty desert, or a mountain range. Or the open ocean. Maybe he doesn't succeed but he should try.
    (5) It's hard to make the case that they didn't have time for Jimmy but they did have time for Lombard. Jimmy is a FAR better known and more recognizable character to the public at large.
    I won't discuss 6-10 because you either don't disagree with me on those or else you agree so there's no point in canvassing those again.

    1. It's his first real fight. He isn't experienced enough to think quick to just take people to the moon. He barely even realizes he can really fly till he meets jor el. He probably hasn't gotten to the point where flitting to space is his go to thought in an emergency

    2. It's his first real fight. He isn't experienced enough to think quick to just take people to the moon. He barely even realizes he can really fly till he meets jor el. He probably hasn't gotten to the point where flitting to space is his go to thought in an emergency

  3. Interesting thoughts. I can't say I agree with many of them but you're certainly entitled to them. I thought the movie was fantastic. So much of the movie made perfect sense for the world they built.

    I'm looking forward to seeing it again. My biggest disappointment was that General Zod wasn't much of a combatant. He got his ass kicked by a scientist and a man with zero combat experience. That made no sense to me at all.

  4. I think the biggest problem with the movie was that the ending didn't pay off the beginning well, except for the part where Superman said Krypton had its chance and their time was over. For example, you talk about Zod a a great combatant. But... in the movie, they don't actually tell us Zod was engineered for combat until the END of the battle. It would have been much better if they had told us that up front. Then when he started fighting Superman we might have been worried, since Superman was "natural" and not engineered and thus might be "inferior" in some way. But by the time they told us that, the battle was almost over and it lost the impact it would otherwise have had.

    Similarly with him killing Zod at the end. Superman is not supposed to kill, but even this could have been done right. At the beginning, he could have had the choice to kill or let someone go, and let the person go, and then the guy would have done something really terrible, like set of a bomb. Now Superman has to live with knowing it's partly his fault for letting the guy go. He could have struggled all film with "do I kill or let people go?" and then at the end, when Zod is threatening innocents and says he will never stop, you get the payoff -- Superman finally does what he has to, even if it means killing.

    But they didn't do that. They didn't show him having any sort of code against killing or reluctance to kill, so when he finally breaks Zod's neck, it's just one more action hero killing one more villain, and no more significant than any other death in any other action movie.

    Compare this with Batman Begins where at the end, Batman has Ra's dead to rights but even then says, "I'm not going to kill you, but I don't have to save you." This is a huge dramatic payoff of Bruce's internal struggles that started way back with the gun and his plan to kill Joe Chill, and continued with his refusal to kill the peasant thief and his saving of Ra's the first time.

    Where is that kind of plot through-put in MOS? It was not there.

  5. 10. Superman killed Doomsday in The Death of Superman for the same reasons.

  6. Yes... and yet another plot I absolutely despised.

  7. At first I was rather displeased at the fact that the plot didn't stay true to Superman comics; it blazes an entirely different path, and the storyline at first seemed too hard to follow, but it all came together quite nicely by the end of the film. My issue was the ending. We don't actually see him work at the Daily Planet as Clark Kent until the end of the film, well after Lois Lane, Perry White and the whole wide world already knew Clark was Superman - an obvious head scratcher. If Nolan and David Goyer were going to change major plot elements to make their storyline work, then they should have had the balls to go all the way. Why add the Clark Kent secret identity and him working at the Daily Planet piece to the end of the film if it makes absolutely no sense in relation to what just transpired in the previous 142 minutes? I get that they were trying to tie this movie back in with the original Superman storyline that we are all used to, but it was stupid. Didn't this guy Clark Kent just like, save the planet? Weren't there aliens holding the world hostage looking for him? Doesn't the government know who he is, as well as Lois Lane? Exactly how can they now go back and tell the story of him working at the Daily Planet after all this has transpired? Does Superman swipe the memories of every single earthing of the whole General Zod thing? Anyway, I'll quit babbling. I really did enjoy the movie overall. Despite a few missteps it is a great action movie as you stated.

    Oh, and I think it's exactly fair to compare an audience's reaction to a superhero film from 1978 to the reaction of viewers in 2013. While the Donner version with Christopher Reeves is undoubtedly a classic that's hard to outdo, you have to remember that aside from a few unforgettable superhero films of the '60s, 1978's Superman was pretty much THE first major superhero feature film. Along with Star Wars, the original Superman movie was pretty much responsible for kicking off the whole sci-fi genre that lives on to this day. Going to see the first major superhero film back in 1978 is equivalent to being one of the first fans to be at the Beatles first concert in the US. It invoked that kind of excitement.

    I'll admit that Man of Steel got very little laughs. Nevertheless, these days Hollywood is churning superhero and sci fi movies out the factory seemingly every week. It's just rare to get that same type of reaction out of a movie crowd when you have movies at such frequency. There's nothing magical or rare about the release of a new superhero movie these days. Not even with Iron Man and The Dark Knight did I see the level of audience involvement/excitement as you described. (Well the Dark Knight did get some cheers and applause when Heath Ledger's Joker kicked off the prologue, but otherwise very little interaction from the crowd.)

  8. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  9. Folks, I would ask people to refrain from using obscenities on this blog. If I could have moderated the post to simply remove the f-word from it, I would have, but since Blogger doesn't seem to give me that option, I had no choice but to delete the whole comment.

    I certainly don't mind people disagreeing with me, as many of the comments here should indicate. But please try to be polite about it. Thanks.

  10. And just for fun... apparently comic-writer Mark Waid agrees with me in the main: