Brad Reviews Man of Steel
Man of Steel is two completely different movies duct taped together. Understanding this will help you enjoy both halves more. Mild spoilers ahead.
The first movie in this double feature is the origin story. Call it Superman Begins. It’s a lot like Batman Begins in that it lets you know just how realistic and mature it is by giving the hero a beard. And just like Bruce Wayne he’s unhinged and grungy and commits some crimes. That should let people know how super seriously serious this is, right? No? How ‘bout filming the whole thing in shaky cam? Just like an indie film! That’ll show ‘em! And Superman’s Dad can ride a dinosaur and be a kung fu master! Just like in serious movies!
Like Nolan’s Bat trilogy, Superman Begins has a lot of neat ideas in it. Also like Nolan’s trilogy, it has awkward dialogue, an uneven tone, and lots and lots of over-earnest brooding. This is the movie that, I guess, the diehard purists had been clamoring for. This is the movie that Mark Waid liked. But just like the time Nintendo gave in and finally made the Zelda game fans demanded, it’s dull, gloomy, and a little boring. It’s fine. It’s okay. It’s adequate. I give it a C+.
“I can fly and see through people’s clothes. Isn’t that sad?”
Then the second movie starts. In my theater, this was marked by the audience’s silence replaced with cheers and applause. This was the moment fanboys started getting nervous and online critics scribbled “problematic” in their notes. This was when Superman stopped being a half-assed Christ figure and became a Greek god.
Now the crucial thing to remember is this is a different movie. I suspect Zach Snyder must have Spartan-kicked Nolan down a well at some point, ‘cause I swear it’s almost like he’s rebooting the franchise halfway into the first reboot.
No longer are we watching an angsty, navel-gazing hobo stumbling his way into becoming a hero. This is Superman as a force of nature. This is Superman as Godzilla. And suddenly that shaky cam has less to do with The Wrestler and more to do with Cloverfield. This isn’t a superhero flick. This is a big honkin’ kaiju vs. kaiju monster movie. The tension comes not from whether Godzillaman will defeat General Ghidorah, but how many of us will be killed before that happens.
Indeed, in one glorious moment of devastation, as flaming debris rains from the heavens, it really feels like this may be Ragnarok, that the world will end by two guys punching each other a lot. Morpheus Fishburne clutches the hand of a woman trapped by rubble, trembling not just at their imminent death, but at how powerless we mortals truly are. And still we cheer and applaud and Godzillaman is nowhere to be found. Is this how the ancient Greeks felt? Worshipping Poseidon even as they blamed him for typhoons and tidal waves that swallowed cities whole? Nobility and sacrifice were for us puny humans while the gods shook the Earth with endless power and passion. It’s a less heroic take to be sure. But what it lacks in heroism it makes up for in awesome. As in “inspiring awe”. Godzillaman gets a motherfuckin’ A.
“Wait, hold up. Did you see that? That was fucking awesome.”
I said Man of Steel is comprised of two movies, but that was a lie. There’s actually a third one at the end, though it’s only about five minutes long. After our protagonist makes a quick snap decision and saves the world, we’re shown a brief epilogue and get one more drastic genre shift. Suddenly everyone’s quippy and clever and it’s finally acknowledged that Supes is one prime cut piece of studly beefcake stew. The dude that just minutes ago struggled courageously to save a co-worker is now the office doofus whose advances garner eyerolls from that very same co-worker.
“You’re bald! Fuck you!”
Is this a commentary on our 21st century post-9/11 culture that represses our existential fears behind a fatty layer of detached hipster irony? Or did this just suddenly become a Marvel movie? It’s an odd little ending to an already weird Frankenstein of a film.
Maybe the whole thing is a subversive satire of reboot-happy Hollywood, giving us three distinct Supermen in two and a half hours. More likely it’s just the result of typical designed-by-committee movie mischief. No matter. Godzillaman punched a guy so hard he went through a building and came out the other side. He did that a lot. If you can’t appreciate that, I don’t understand you and I don’t want to be your friend.