Posted June 18, 2013 by X Pacaud in Movies/TV

In Defense of the Man of Steel

Spoiler warning! Don’t read if you haven’t seen Man of Steel.

So I was first in line to see Man of Steel the day it opened. And I left the theatre thinking, yes, it wasn’t perfect, but it certainly is the powerhouse superhero film that most preview reviewers claimed it is. However, what surprised me is the sheer amount of criticism that the movie received in two areas- one, that Clark didn’t  ‘save’ anybody til the end of the film, and two, the amount of damage to Metropolis and the length of the battle between Kal-El (Clark) and Zod at the very end.

Man of Steel raises concerns about collateral property damage and fatalities. But is it really anything new?

Now this may be a storytelling concern but bear with me here: the movie endeavors to teach quite a few lessons and some of which aren’t quite easy for audiences to grasp. In fact the whole idea of Jonathan Kent keeping Clark from using his powers went over a lot of heads. Some saw it as unnecessary fear or overprotectiveness and some saw it as Jonathan keeping his son from his destiny. Now what the movie is trying to convey is Jonathan felt it wasn’t the right time. In fact presenting two types of aliens with very different agenda and personalities (when Zod and co arrived) seemed to be the best time to ‘come out’ so to speak, for Clark. But if this was a logical headscratcher for many, then even more so is, “What about the hundreds dying in Smallville and Metropolis during the battle?” I watched the film a second time to try and piec it together and I believe I may have.

Faora’s notes on Kal-El’s battle etiquette foreshadows his behavior for the rest of the film.

It was another lesson hidden in the narrative. Clark put Zod through a one-storey building in Smallville after letting his emotions get the better of him. This was just after Zod threatened his mom. Later on, he does the same thing to Faora launching her onto the nearest Ihop. However once inside, he notices all the people inside and snaps out of the “heat of battle”, to which Faora surmises that he has a sense of morality that Krypton’s bred soldiers do not. Faora sees this in his eyes and realizes that caring for those around him is a weakness they can exploit. In his later skirmishes, Clark seems to have learned his lesson and does not willingly cause damage wherein there would be possible casualties.  If you’re looking for him to save a kitty or come near any civilians to try to help, recall that this is a terrible idea, as Zod, Faora and Dev-em are all targeting him at this point. (Leave that for a team film like The Avengers.) All further property damage are caused by the Kryptonian ship and the world engine, army missiles working in a gravity field affected by the world engine, and by the Kryptonians themselves. Clark would several times be the indirect cause only because he is flung onto buildings, or dragged into them.

Most people seem to forget after seeing the film that majority of the destruction in Metropolis was not at the hands of Clark.

Jor-El even tells Clark that he “can save everyone”. Of course we know by watching the film that Jor-El’s expectations are a tall order- neither Zod nor Clark know of a way Kryptonians can coexist. Kal-El will eventually learn that he “can’t save everyone” which is a tenet of many Superman comics and media. This is something he learns the hard way when. As focused as he is on fighting Zod and the world engine and as distracted as he was that he couldn’t swing around and try and save casualties, he has to face the truth when Zod brings it in front of him as he threatens the family at Grand Central Station. This was something he could not ignore. And that wailing he did was not simply because he’d killed Zod but for all the death and destruction his people had brought upon Metropolis that day.

As for the length of the battle, well, anyone here read The Death of Superman? That took longer. In fact a lot of comic books relating to Superman, especially when dealing with threats equal to or greater than himself, find him engaging in appropriately lengthy brawls that showcase just how hard it is to beat the ever-living daylights out of said individual, especially with a moral code. In fact the brawl here reminded me a lot of animated properties such as Superman:Doomsday, Superman VS. the Elite, and some episodes of Justice League Unlimited (like Clash and Panic in the Sky). Those didn’t get panned regarding violence and property damage, and it makes me wonder what’s so different.

I guess if there’s anything I could want for more regarding this, it’s perhaps that it would’ve been made clearer to audiences how a rookie hero cannot single-handedly be expected to go up against such a large threat and do crowd control at the same time. But really it all comes down to analyzing a film’s narrative and trying to see if it’s trying to tell us something more than what we see on the surface. Maybe there’s more to the story under all that Metropolis rubble.



X Pacaud