Despite my better judgement, I went to see Man of Steel yesterday. Comic book heroes are silly. I mean, really? You have super acrobatic abilities and can echolocate so you dress up in a red costume with DD printed on the chest? Really?! It makes no sense, especially given that both the bad guys and the police want to get you. But as they say: there’s silly and then there’s silly. Daredevil may be silly, but Superman is silly. He is arguably the silliest of all super heroes. But that isn’t bad; it’s fantastic! It’s in the same league with Elvis impersonators.
What you don’t do is take Superman seriously. And Man of Steel takes Superman very seriously. Deadly serious! There is almost no humor in the movie. The “S” that Superman wears on his chest means “Hope” on his home planet. Under normal circumstances, that would have been kitschy enough to pass. But not here! The first 20+ minutes of the film is spent with Russell Crowe channeling Richard Burton at his most serious. The powers that control Krypton have brought on environmental catastrophe. But he has a really great idea: they’ll all die. But they can feel good about it because he’ll send his new baby off to earth to repopulate the race with the natives. Or something. It all involves some kind of genetic codex that for some reason was in some kind monkey skull but in what maybe was supposed to be a surprise we learn it was transferred into Superman himself. Regardless, the whole sequence is ponderous, helped along by the worst Hans Zimmer score I’ve ever heard.
If you doubt me, check out this trailer which is a perfect representation of the film:
But the most important aspect of this opening is when Superman’s mother complains about blasting him off to earth. She says, “He will be an outcast. They’ll kill him!” And his father replies, “How? He’ll be a god to them!” Did I mention that the dialog in this film is really bad? Moving on… That’s not bad all by itself. But the rest of the film makes the metaphor concrete. The most brazen example is when Superman goes to a church to talk to a priest. There is a shot (I swear I am not making this up!) of Superman on the right and a stained glass image of Jesus on the left. And the shot is held a lonnnggg time! But there are all kinds of other examples. We constantly see him with his arms outstretched as though he were suffering on the cross. Plus there is lots of talk about the people not being ready to know the existence of Superman and how he is their savior.
The film even ends with Superman destroying a satellite the military has put up to locate his ice home or whatever. It is right out of the Tower of Babel. Oh the hubris of man!
There seems to be a trend in superhero films to go this “serious” road. The last Spiderman film was more that way. Thor is necessarily that way. (And therefore should never have been made!) But this is a wrong direction to go. If Hollywood wants to make serious films, it could, I don’t know, make serious films. But films like Man of Steel simply take their silliness seriously. A more interesting thing would be to create a badass Jesus come back from the dead. I realize that would offend Christians. But if they were paying attention, they’d be offended by Man of Steel.
There is much more to say about the film. It is deeply disturbing. I’m particularly bothered by the Superman as Ubermensch aspect of it. Even though Superman is a “good guy,” he does define his own moral universe. He has no problem breaking the law for his own purposes. He is also shown to be one vindictive son of a bitch. I would be very worried indeed if he were hanging around on the planet. If Superman really wanted to be helpful, he would do what is shown in this Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal cartoon. (Check it out; it’s brilliant!)
Update (27 April 2015 12:27 pm)
Oh, and honest trailer: