Man of Steel: A destructive disappointment
Warning: Spoilers ahead
As much as it grieves me to say it, I am disappointed in Superman.
After a great deal of anticipation (and being turned away at least once due to the sold-out theater), my husband and I went to see the new Superman flick, Man of Steel, last week. As far as films go, it was entertaining enough. The plot was not particularly compelling, but it did have stunning visual effects.
The world of Krypton was imagined as a planet on the brink of destruction because the Kryptonians had ravaged the planet for natural resources. As a result, the planet was caving in on itself. While the back story of the planet was not terribly interesting, it was visually stunning and fantastical. It furthermore offered a cautionary tale both about our use of natural resources and about the potential downfalls of genetic engineering.
But the real action of the film takes place on Earth, 33 years (yup, just like Jesus) after Superman's birth. While interspersed with some "Superman origin" back story that includes Clark's relationship with his father, the plot centers on the super villain. General Zod is the criminal leader of a rebellious military faction on Krypton. When he is captured and sentenced to 300 cycles in the Phantom Zone for his attempted coup of the Kryptonian government, he swears revenge on the son of Jor-El, (this, of course, is Kal-El, who is known on Earth as Clark Kent.)
General Zod is released from the Phantom Zone when Krypton implodes, and he and his compatriots make their way to Earth, where they proceed to take the planet hostage unless they turn over Kal-El. Clark Kent, being the noble person he is, decides to turn himself in. But, as we could all predict, General Zod does not leave once he gets Kal-El. Instead, Zod decides that Earth, with some alterations, would be an excellent place for the Kryptonians to reestablish their race. Kal-El/Clark/Superman does not want Zod to destroy Earth, and so they fight.
This is where the film completely lost me. The battle between Superman and Zod is epic, and requires some serious CGI. After all, they are two flying men (and one flying woman) with super-strength, who are fighting. This must be a good fight, right? It was certainly a long one.
I have a memory as a kid watching the Superman series staring Christopher Reeve. I also came of-age during the era of Lois and Clark: The adventures of Superman. My fundamental memory from those Superman narratives was that, above all, Superman was good. He was not just a "good guy" in the struggle of good against evil; he was good. He defended the defenseless. He was virtue embodied.
In Superman II (staring Christopher Reeve), General Zod is featured as a villain. But Superman draws him away from cities to his Fortress of Solitude. Zod is defeated with a combination of strength and problem-solving.
My concern with Man of Steel is that Superman becomes nothing more than a very strong and powerful man, who just happens to like the people of Earth. As Superman and Zod battle it out, an entire city is completely destroyed as a result of their pummeling each other. And Superman is fully engaged in the fight. We see no effort to draw the fight away from populated areas. Instead, we see buildings crumble to the ground. And especially for those of us who maybe watched the Twin Towers fall in New York on 9/11 more than a decade ago, we can't help but wonder, "what about all the people who are dying as a direct result of this battle?"
I remember Superman as being good. What made him good consistently was not that he could beat the bad guys. What made Superman good instead was knowing that he was a protector of the innocent - of the 'little guy.' Man of Steel left that part of Superman behind, which in my opinion, made him (and the film) distinctly less than super.