The attempt by director Zack Snyder and writer David S. Goyer to get me and other bubble-headed females into our expensive seats to see their MAN OF STEEL, was so blatantly manipulative I left the theater feeling like I’d been groped.
And the romantic elements in this revisionist vision of Superman were so clumsily handled I’m about to go off on a romance-genre version of the SF dinosaur rant of a few weeks ago. (What would that be—a unicorn rant? A My Little Pony stampede?)
Don’t get me wrong. There is much to like about MAN OF STEEL. The beginning sequence on Krypton is amazing. We’ve never seen so much of Kal-El’s home planet, or his parents, Jor-El and Lara, and this, the most unapologetically science fiction-y part of the story, is also the most intriguing. And what’s not to like about a kick-ass Jor-El? We always knew him as a man of principle (at least until the writers at SMALLVILLE got hold of him), but who knew he could throw a punch, too? Russell Crowe does a great job with the role, as does Ayelet Zurer as the brave, ethereally sad Lara.
The writers, one of whom is Christopher Nolan of BATMAN fame, also do a fantastic job of creating a credible villain in General Zod. They took a risk in going straight to the top of the heap of Superman’s nemeses in this first film. I mean, what’s left after you eliminate the top threat? But this Zod is cut from the cloth of all great villains—he has a point. He may be crazy, but he operates from his own moral code, one it is difficult to argue with. He is trying to save his people. The only problem is, he’s determined to do it at the cost of the people of Earth.
I can’t even complain too much about the special effects. They were spectacular. Of course they were spectacular. No summer blockbuster can afford NOT to have spectacular effects. But how many skyscrapers can you destroy before it just becomes too much? How many times can Zod (or Zod’s sexy little lieutenant or some faceless guy in a robot suit) and Superman pummel each other over the city skyline before you decide to go out for more popcorn? Really. None of it has any emotional weight. Since it’s Superman and we know he’s going to win, can we really care? You’d think they’d throw an endangered kitten or a little kid or something in there every once in a while to give the scenes some emotional depth. (To be fair, an intern from the Daily Planet was trapped for a while in the rubble, but we hardly knew her and Superman didn’t save her directly.)
But, then, I suppose they thought there was enough “emotional depth” in the scenes between Clark Kent and Lois Lane. Please. Now, I’m a long-time Superman fan—comics, George Reeves (ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN), Christopher Reeve, LOIS AND CLARK, SMALLVILLE, the whole nine—and in all that time, the character of Lois Lane hasn’t changed a lot. She’s a smart, meddling, too-curious-cat of a woman, always putting herself in harm’s way, requiring Superman to come to her rescue. You would have thought that paradigm would have been one of the things revised in the revisionist vision of Superman, but no. Amy Adams’ Lois is all these things AND she lacks a sense of humor.
The biggest problem is that, though her basic function in the story hasn’t changed (that is, to be rescued), the writers apparently thought we females would be offended if Lois had nothing to do, so this journalist is also brought in as a strategist (“We have a plan!”) and put into the thick of the action. (What? Journalists don’t cover things from inside?) So Lois is turned into Mary Sue.
But the guys still weren’t happy so they took a hammer to the romance. I stopped reading the comics after I hit my teens, so I don’t know how or whether the romance between Lois and Superman ever developed there. In Christopher Reeve’s film series, Lois didn’t tip to the Supe’s identity until at least the second film. Similarly, in the television series, Clark is cautious about revealing himself to anyone, particularly this woman he has feelings for, FOR A LONG TIME!
In any romance, there is a progression that normally takes place. Revelations happen gradually, trust builds over time, even when the attraction is instant. There is conflict, disagreement. There is the black moment, a period of reassessment, and finally resolution. I’m tempted to say, like our critics in the SF world, that these people have no knowledge of the conventions of romance!
Because there is none of this in MAN OF STEEL. Superman (“I can do things other people can’t”) and Lois see each other and BAM! That’s it! They’re in love! She goes digging and discovers who he is. He confesses. Then it’s them against the world. Openly. Oh, yeah, at the end he decides to go undercover again as Clark Kent, but I’m thinking the cat is pretty much out of the bag by then in this age of cell phones and Facebook. I mean, everyone has seen him crying into her lap after he kills his enemy. And what the hell is that all about?
Yeah, you heard me. Sorry for any spoilers, but Superman defeats Zod, then agonizes over it. With his girlfriend. **sigh** Aren’t you feeling just a little bit exploited right about now, too? I mean, I write this stuff for a living (well, not really a living yet, but you get my meaning) and my popcorn hand stopped halfway to my mouth. This is a superhero? No. This is Superman?
The real question is why Snyder and Goyer felt it was necessary to take it this far. Weren’t Henry Cavill’s bare torso and his winning grin enough? (They didn’t trust him much as an actor—Superman spent most of his time fighting or being lectured at, by Jonathan Kent, by Jor-El, even by Zod.) Did they think the Superman franchise was so old and creaky by fanboy standards that it would take a massive infusion of estrogen to revive it? And if that’s the case, what does that mean for SFR?
I certainly don’t mind being seen as the white knight riding to the rescue on a unicorn, but for Krypton’s sake, guys, get it right next time, or I just might ride on by to catch STAR TREK or PACIFIC RIM or the next AVENGERS.