A few weeks ago I wrote about the big problem I had with the film Man of Steel. It was well received and I am as happy about how it turned out as I am about anything I write. A friend of mine named Rebecca Johnson (you know, Rebecca of Supergirl Radio, the best show about the new Supergirl television series on the Internet) made the comment that she wished someone would write about what they liked about Man of Steel. Since there was so much about the film I did I like thought I would accept the challenge and that’s where this post came from.
So…what did I like about Man of Steel? Let me count the ways.
1. The Nods To The Source Material
Man of Steel was full of little nods to different iterations of Superman in the comics. A whole bunch of articles hit the Internet around the time the movie came out so I don’t want to list them all here but it is one of the reasons I like the film. From small references such as one of Jor-El’s robots being named Kelex (which goes back to John Byrne’s Man of Steel) to the shot of the ship flying through space (which echoed Mark Waid’s Superman: Birthright) to the brief shot of one of Krypton’s broken moons after seeing a Rondor (which are callbacks to the Silver and Bronze age versions of Krypton) to the use of Kenny Braverman (who was a villain named Conduit in the Post Crisis era) and Steve Lombard (who was a major pain in Clark’s behind during the Bronze Age) this film was a treasure trove of Easter eggs for fans of the comic book adventures of Superman. I had to control myself in the theater because I was getting so lost in the minutia that I was missing out on the actual film. To this day I’ll re-read something like Birthright or Superman: Secret Origin and think, “Wow, they borrowed this for Man of Steel.”
The argument could be made that maybe a little too much was borrowed but going into that is contrary to what this piece was supposed to be about.
2. Henry Cavill as Clark Kent and Superman
A Superman film lives or dies by the man playing the lead role. Henry Cavill nailed the version of Superman that Goyer and Synder were trying to bring to the screen. For one thing he looks the part and I’m not just talking about his physique. Cavill just looks like Superman. He also brought a lot of charm to a character that was full of angst through most of the film. I’m not usually down with a Superman that feels overly alienated but I think Cavill made it work. I felt for this Clark Kent. I rooted for him. There were even points, like when Col. Hardy tells his men that they have nothing to fear from Superman, where I cheered for him.
I also liked the little touches he added to his performance. The first few times we see him use his heat vision Cavill does this thing where he shakes his head slightly, like he’s trying to get his eyesight back into focus. It reminded me of something similar in Tom De Haven’s novel It’s Superman where Clark’s eyes would feel all gummy when he used his heat vision. It was a small touch but it brought more to the performance.
He also owned the costume, which is not an easy thing to do. I didn’t look at the screen and think, “Oh, there’s a guy in a Superman costume.” I looked at the screen and thought, “Hey, there’s Superman.”
And he was Superman. I know that there is a certain sect of the fandom that wants to say, “I don’t know who that guy was but he wasn’t Superman,” I politely but firmly disagree. Big Red S on chest? Check. Blue costume? Check. Flowing red cape? Both real and computer generated. Just became he didn’t act like Christopher Reeve doesn’t mean he isn’t Superman. I am tired of this argument coming up again and again. I heard the same thing when I first got online in 1998 and learned that there were people that hated the John Byrne revamp so I might be sensitive to this sort of thing. Again, I appreciate the sentiment but I can never get behind the whole, “He wasn’t Superman!” thing.
All righty. Time to climb off the soap box.
3. Amy Adams as Lois Lane
I am picky when it comes to Lois Lane. There are certain traits I want to see in the character. I want her to be tough but likable. I want her to do whatever she can to get the story but not have to be underhanded in how she does it. I want her to treat Clark and those around her with respect because she is confident in her own abilities as a reporter. I know that seems like a pretty tall order but Lois is the single most important supporting element to Superman’s world. She’s been there longer than any other character or planet or idea. Right from the beginning Lois was part of Clark’s life so how she is presented means more to me than how other characters are treated.
Is that fair? Maybe not but thankfully I don’t have to deal with that in regards to Amy Adams’ performance because she nailed it. Absolutely nailed it. She took what she was given and made it something special.
I could probably write an entire post about everything I liked about this Lois but for the moment I’ll stick with my favorite element which is Lois knowing from the beginning. Don’t get me wrong. I love the triangle with two people. It’s classic but over the past twenty or so years we’ve seen an evolution of Lois as a character. In the Post Crisis era she learns Clark’s identity after they became engaged. In Lois and Clark she revealed that she knew Clark’s secret the first time he proposed. In Smallville Lois meets Clark before the idea of becoming Superman is even an option. Yes there have been some versions that kept things more old school. Superman: The Animated Series and Superman Returns had more traditional takes on the Clark-Lois-Superman dynamic (and I think S:TAS did a much better job with it) but overall we saw Lois’ place in Clark’s world and when she learned the secret evolve backwards.
Man of Steel did it right, especially for a movie series. On television and in comics you have more time to let stuff simmer but in a movie series where you are only getting one installment every two to three years the pacing has to be different. Having Lois know from the beginning is the perfect way to not only sidestep her learning the secret but it’s better for her as a character. My wife has a serious mad on for Lois not knowing Clark is Superman because she thinks it makes Lois look like an idiot. (She also has a problem with the whole glasses as a disguise thing but I’ll save that for another time.) Lois finding him before he’s Superman is rather elegant. What it takes away in drama it adds in character because now the two are on equal footing from the beginning. Also Superman now has an ally at the Daily Planet.
Above and beyond anything else the main reason this Lois works so well is Amy Adams. She carries herself with an aura of confidence with the hint of vulnerability. They also gave her things to do besides being saved by Superman or being his romantic interest. While I am not all that hot on the first contact angle Adams is the driving force behind that and I liked that she was able to get so much from her interview subjects.
I’m of two minds on Krypton. On one hand I agree with my friend Andy Leyland that it’s main purpose is to blow up. On the other hand I enjoy seeing how the planet works before that fateful day. The Krypton in this movie is a nice mix of the Silver and Bronze Age version with John Byrne’s take on the planet with a dash of Mark Waid thrown in for good measure while still being something new and fresh. Seeing things like Rondors and the broken moon of Wethgor went a long way to winning me over as did the presence of Kelex. One of my few problems with Superman: The Movie was its version of Krypton that was used throughout that film series, in the syndicated Superboy series, in Superman Returns and eventually the comics circa 2006-2011. It was visually interesting but at the same time there wasn’t any life to it. This version of Krypton had a history and a language that you can really sink your teeth into, especially if you have the two disc Blu-Ray set.
5. Zod and Faora
After Infinite Crisis writer Geoff Johns created a new backstory for General Zod that cast him the role of villain by circumstance. The ruling council of Krypton was out of control and even lobotomized one of their leading scientists and General Zod led his revolt to deal with an unjust government. That was an interesting reinterpretation of the character but at the end of the day it makes him a bit too sympathetic. I want to understand the villain’s motivation but I also want him or her to be the bad guy otherwise why is the hero fighting him or her?
Thankfully we were given a villain that had noble aspirations but went about his mission in the worst possible way. Zod in this film firmly believes in what he is doing whether that’s trying to overthrow the government on Krypton or obliterate humanity to bring back his people. To his mind he is doing the right thing but his ends do not justify his means. Michael Shannon gave us a more complex Zod than previous film (but not television) Incarnations. He’s almost a cautionary tale. Like Who Moved My Cheese by Spencer Johnson but instead of mice evolving or dying we get a super powered zealot that can’t get passed who he was genetically designed to be.
Let’s face it…if the idea of making the Rondor with two backs with his female subordinates to continue the Kryptonian race wasn’t so repugnant and heretical to Zod a lot of the problems in the movie would have been solved without so much destruction and bloodshed.
Faora was a total surprise for me. Antje Traue brought a lot to her performance even if she didn’t have all that much screen time. She was the perfect enforcer; totally devoted to her leader and completely ruthless in her actions. There is a coldness to her but also a passion at the same time. She comes alive in the thick of battle and has a nobility to her actions even if those actions are to further the extinction of the human race. Her line, “A good death is its own reward,” tells you all you really need to know about her even if it sounds like the pull quote from a G.I. Joe file card.
6. Colonel Hardy and Emil Hamilton
Confession time; I am addicted to Law and Order. While I love the original series best I have a lot of affection for Special Victims Unit and Elliot Stabler had a lot to do with that. So when he was cast in Man of Steel I was excited that two of my worlds were crossing again. Colonel Hardy represented the negative first impression the military has for Kryptonians but he was also the man that tells everyone that they don’t have anything to fear from Superman. It was one of my favorite moments of the movie. The dynamic he had with Faora was great as well. It might seem a little silly that he would pull a knife on her after emptying his clip but it spoke to the fact that he is willing to fight to the end no matter what, which mirrored her worldview.
Emil Hamilton was one of my favorite characters during the Post Crisis era of the comics so it is always nice to see him in the adapted material and Richard Schiff was great in the role. They didn’t give him much to work with but he made the best with what he had and Hamilton even got to play hero by activating the Phantom Zone drive towards the end of the film. I am hoping that he’s not dead but if he had to go out I’d rather he go out a hero than have his reputation ruined.
For those that get that joke I apologize.
I can’t talk about Emil Hamilton in this film without mentioning that we actually had two Hamiltons.
I apologize for the quality of this image but it’s the best one I could find with Google. The seated gentleman is named Officer Sekowsky. He is played by Alessandro Juliani. Alessandro Juliani was also on Smallville…
…as Dr. Emil Hamilton.
That made me squee a bit in the theater.
7. Perry White…and the Daily Planet in general.
There was a lot of chatter when Laurence Fishburne was cast as Perry White in this film and not all of it was good. From the moment I heard that he was going to be playing this character I knew that Fishburne was going to crush it. Like Emil Hamilton he didn’t have a whole lot to do but his interaction with Lois and the scene where he was getting his people out of the building and especially that moment between him and Jenny when the World Engine was about to kill them more than made up for this. We got to see an editor that not only cared about his people but also cared about the integrity of the paper.
Jenny the Intern and Steve Lombard were good background characters. I hate Lombard in the comics but Michael Kelly made him at least somewhat likable. With the benefit of hindsight I am disappointed that Jenny didn’t turn out to be Jenny Olsen because that could have been fun. As it is she was there to give the Planet scenes some depth. Like Perry we didn’t get to see these people a whole lot but they managed to shine in the scenes they were in.
I could sit here and write all day about the bits and pieces of Man of Steel that I liked but this post has gone on for long enough. Hopefully this is a nice balance to my Problem With Man of Steel post because I really did like this film. Was it the Superman in my head projected on to the screen? No, but to be fair none of the adaptations have done that and they never will. Oddly enough the closest I have ever seen the Superman in my head on the screen is in the weekly Supergirl series on CBS. Having written all of that there was a lot for me as a Superman fan in Man of Steel and that is what I choose to focus on.
And in all honesty I wish more people would feel that way. It isn’t my place to police the fandom but it seems that Man of Steel has not only become the whipping boy for comic book films but it’s also a shorthand for getting a property wrong and I completely disagree with that. The fact that some of the people that are down on this film are so smug and self-important about it doesn’t help the situation. The reason I stay out of those conversations as much as I can is that I don’t want to argue with someone that is obviously rigid in their hatred for the movie. If they want to feel that way fine. It doesn’t make them right.
Besides, I tend to go for the throat in those arguments and that never helps the situation. Especially if I know more about the history of Superman than the person on the other side of the table. And then it turns into a nerd fight.
So there you have it. My defense of Man of Steel.
I hope Rebecca likes it.