This isn’t going to be a review of MAN OF STEEL, but rather a general rant about the way in which movies are headed. If you tend to read a lot of my articles, then you’ll probably identify a few themes that I’m going to touch on.
Before I get started, I would like to say that I enjoyed MAN OF STEEL. It’s a good film, but it’s an average Superman film. That may sound like a contradiction, but the character has so much potential that it almost becomes difficult to not make the perfect film. His origins are based upon the most popular Greek mythology, 75 years of published material and above all he represents everything that this generation needs… hope.
While there are many films that have made important statements about the world we live in, reflect on humanity or perhaps have an outstanding performance, the films that we truly love are the ones that let us escape the world around us. We regularly face an uphill battle to just get out of bed, brush our teeth and welcome the shit storm before us.
On the way to seeing MAN OF STEEL, there was a report on the car radio about how the suicide rate in Scotland has risen by 15% since last year. Depression as a whole is beyond an epidemic with mental health issues affecting one in three people. Think about that for a moment. You’re sitting in a crowded cinema watching MAN OF STEEL with around one hundred people who have faced, are currently dealing with or are yet to battle with mental health issues.
While some pompous film reviewers will hark on about how film should be an art form, you, me and dog next door want to spend our money seeing a film that we enjoy. We want to laugh, jump, shout; have a great time and, above all, escape the problems we have for a few hours.
This is one of the reasons why MARVEL’s movies work so well. In THE AVENGERS, their darkest character, Bruce Banner, only touches upon those themes briefly before ultimately stealing the show by displaying all of the great qualities that fans love about the Hulk.
Chris Nolan’s BATMAN trilogy is an exception as the character isn’t really a superhero. He’s an average Joe with incredible wealth who uses military technology to take on villains. In order to ground the series and make it more believable, characters like The Joker are a little less flamboyant, but the main focus in each film is characterisation. Ultimately, the BATMAN films aren’t what I would class as enjoyable. They are fabulous films that I could watch repeatedly, yet if I was feeling low and needed a pick-me-up, they would never be the films that I would want to watch.
We Need SupermanSuperman is everything we need. He’s the type of character that I want my son to grow up watching, to aspire to and to learn from. He represents everything that is wonderful in the world: he isn’t affected by the shit of our daily lives and is as much of a superhero for standing up for what is right as he is for any of his physical feats. That is what Superman is; and that is not who we see represented in Zach Snyder’s film.
I fully understand why they took the direction they did. Superman has the potential to become a cheesy caricature, a premise narrowly avoided in the original movies. Gene Hackman’s performance as Lex Luthor is astounding, yet in different hands could have been a portrayal befitting a pantomime.
It isn’t a fluke that SUPERMAN THE MOVIE, SUPERMAN II and the graphic novel LAST SON OF KRYPTON are so popular. Richard Donner fully understands what it is that makes Superman so special. While Zach Snyder repeatedly touches on moments of greatness, he also directs a film full of distracting overblown effects. Ultimately though, it should be the characters that everyone loves watching.
It isn’t by accident that each of the characters in the comic-book or the original films are there. They each have a very specific role to play and have qualities that Clark Kent admires. They are the embodiment of everything that makes this world so great and are the very reason why Superman goes to such extreme lengths to protect them. An attempt to subdue these key elements and make Superman confused as to what he is doing simply detracts from what makes the series so popular in the first place.
Kevin Costner really annoyed me in MAN OF STEEL. It isn’t a hate for the actor but a dislike for his portrayal of Jonathan Kent as a world wearied, frightened man who wants his son to avoid his destiny. I’m sorry, but that is not Jonathan Kent.
The true Johnathan Kent raised his son to greatness: to understand the responsibility of his powers, to help others when they need it and to value the importance of family. Even if Clark felt that he could not fit in with the world around him, he always had his mother and father to rely on.
The reason why Jonathan Kent dies from a heart attack is for a very specific reason. Despite all of his powers, Superman can’t prevent people from dying from natural causes. In MAN OF STEEL they completely take away from that very important message. Jonathan Kent dies because of his belief that his son should always hide and be afraid to help others.
Superman lives to make his father proud, as a way to thank him for everything he has done and in the end, he has to leave in order to achieve all of the great things his family know he can do. It’s a touching moment as everyone at one stage or another either has to leave home to make their own life or experience their children leaving home. It’s something we can relate to and in terms of Superman, something that we all aspire to: helping others.
Filmmakers need to realise that the success of these characters extends to a far deeper level and that their success is not a fluke. It is due to very specific situations, objects and events happening to help shape and represent the characters. Much like a cooking recipe, as soon as you start messing around with things, it never turns out exactly right. Characterisation must always come first, with action being used as a tool to help the story along. Action should never be the focus of the events as the most important elements simply get lost in the confusion.
Take Kal El being sent to Earth. In SUPERMAN THE MOVIE, it has an emotional impact as a father and mother quietly say their goodbyes to their son, hoping that he will become someone special. The world around them slowly crumbles as the spaceship gently rises and John Williams’ theme tune plays softly in the background.
If you compare this to Zach Snyder’s adaptation, Jor El takes part in multiple battles, hops on a flying beast and dodges explosions and spaceships. Instead of a quiet farewell to his son, Jor El is killed by Zod and shortly after, the world is blown up and Kal El’s birth mother is incinerated.
Both versions ultimately deliver the same purpose which is Kal El being sent to Earth. However, one is touching and emotional, while the other is overblown and loses the most vital element of that scene: knowing that they are doomed, an emotional mother and father save their child by sending him away. Their focus isn’t on their own deaths, but on the pride they feel for their son who will live and be great.
THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN delved far too deeply into a dark storyline and missed out on all of the important factors that makes the character so wonderful. Marc Webb had the unusual scenario of having to reboot a well-known storyline roughly nine years after a highly successful origins story by Sam Rami. It is therefore slightly more forgivable as Webb had no other option than to attempt something fresh to keep audiences interested.
In 1977, STAR WARS was a smash hit not just because of its effects or storytelling, but because it tapped into something that people of that generation needed: escapism. If you look at what is happening in today’s world, a number of similarities can be made and much like then, we need an outlet from reality… we need SUPERMAN.