Posted in Comics n Stuff, Films

Defending the DCEU – Part 1: Man of Steel

I have decided internet people that 2023 is the year I start being positive. Instead of constantly looking at a half empty glass, I will try to view things from a more rose-tinted lens. This came into severe focus yesterday morning as my son SuperSam was failing to find his school tie. Whilst it’s disappearance (and later discovery) brought up some issues to discuss later as a family, I tried to cool him down from getting in a flap with the following 3 questions.

1: But did you die?

2: Was anyone severely hurt?

3: Did you s**t your pants?

Since all three was a no, it wasn’t worth getting so upset.

Now that’s easier said than done, but it showed me that I could look at things in a different way than I used to and that became even clearer when the other night we started watching 2013’s Man of Steel.

Now I have been less than kind to DC’s movie output over the last decade or so as they’ve tried to replicate the success of Disney’s multi-media powerhouse franchise the MCU. Sadly DC haven’t done the work that Marvel did for the first 4 years of it’s existence and so it’s been a series of mixed bags, rather than a shared movie universe full of interconnectivity and multi-layered storytelling.

So lets ignore than comparison, let’s leave the MCU juggernaut to one side and look at DC’s efforts as their own thing. Are the films good? Do they get the spirit of the characters? I thought this is something to look at and decided to start with Man of Steel.

This film had a story by Christopher Nolan and script by David Goyer and the whole thing was directed by Zack Snyder and featured Michael Shannon as Zod, Russell Crowe as Jor-El, Amy Adams as Lois Lane and Henry Cavill as Kal-El/Clark Kent/ Superman.

Rather than take the 1978 movie’s pattern and show the story of Superman in order, the origin of Clark’s life on Earth is given in flashback. The story opens with the destruction of Krypton and the efforts of scientific cassandra Jor-El to save his son and preserve something of his race, his world and culture. We see Clark living on the road, constantly moving as he often uses powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men to save lives. During this part of the film we also see the difficulties in his early life and how his desire to hide was informed by his father, who wanted his son to do good and be great, but recognised the flaws in this world. Eventually he learns of his origins, encounters a villain (Zod) and does everything he can to save this world that adopted him.

Now there are several complaints about the film that whilst valid are understandable and easily explained and they became clearer to me as I watched it this time. Now I’m going to spoil this ten year old film, so be warned and stuff.

The main complaints I see online and from people I know seem threefold:

1: Superman kills Zod. Now for me this was an easy thing to accept. The version of Superman I am most fond of and familiar with is the Post Crisis/John Byrne version. There was a famous story where he had to execute Zod and two other Kryptonians to prevent further atrocities and genocides from just these three. This messes him up for years of stories to come and the audience learns why he has such a code against killing.

2: The massive amount of damage and body count that the Kryptonians cause. Again, this makes sense, when you have a big budget film you need big budget stakes and consequences. These are people with years of combat experience up against a guy raised as a farmhand during his first day fighting anyone. Honestly, I think he did okay.

3: The take on the character and story. Now this is two separate things. Yes the film does have a dour and grim tone. The fear that permeates it does go against the cheerfulness and optimism that the character is based on. Maybe its the times we live in and fear and suspicion would be a much stronger element in this story that it would have been in what we often think of as ‘simpler’ times. That is true. This is a valid and completely understandable criticism. But then we look at the character of Superman himself. He’s a guy who instinctively does the right thing as he is travelling the world trying to stay under the radar. When he learns about his past it’s a lovely moment. He also has a fun and loving relationship with his mother and he puts his faith in humanity in the hopes that it will work out. I mean it doesn’t, they throw him under the bus almost immediately. But he still does the right thing. Trying to keep everyone out of the line of fire, saving lives and when the 3rd act kicks off, he tries to save the world, despite the high level of risk to him. The fact that where he needs to be will drain him of his strength, putting him at risk of death is pointed out to him and his response is simply “I can’t let that stop me trying.” Well at that point, Superman was in the film. His battle with Zod is skill versus determination as the stronger and more skilled fighter is held at bay by a man fighting for the world that has adopted him.

The film ends with a bit of a standoff between Superman and the US Army and establishing the identity of Clark Kent, mild mannered reporter. This is a springboard for a more traditional Superman franchise that acknowledges we don’t live in 1978 anymore but this is a very recognisable Superman. No matter what people think of what happened next, this was a solid story that was let down by some stylistic choices and an uneven tone.

I genuinely enjoyed this film and it’s worth a bit of a reappraisal.

Next Time: Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice – the extended edition.

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Author:

Liverpool based unrepentant geek, trying to understand what's going on in my own head, which is not always being a good place to be. Remember always, we live in a world of wonders.

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