Disclaimer: This editorial contains spoilers for the 2013 Zack Snyder film, “Man of Steel,” as well as the recent Comic-Con First Look at “Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice.”
Fresh off the excitement of DC and Warner Bros.’s stellar Comic-Con trailers for “Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice” and “Suicide Squad,” I thought I’d revisit the film that launched the cinematic universe: “Man of Steel.”
I’m not breaking any new ground by stating that it isn’t a strong film. I thought giving the movie another shot would change my mind on the subject, but it really didn’t. Sure, “Man of Steel” was absolutely gorgeous, but it was choppy, bloated, and exhausting to watch. But that isn’t to say the film doesn’t have its merits. Regardless of its mixed reception, this is the film that DC and Warner Bros. decided to launch their entire DC shared universe off of–and for good reason. The film, while riddled with flaws, got one important thing right: It NAILED the character of Superman.
A bold claim, I know.
Before I go any further, I’d better clarify my stance a bit. Full-on disclaimer: I’ve never liked the “Boy Scout” Superman character. As a superhero with few physical flaws and even fewer character flaws, it didn’t exactly make for compelling reading. These are things I never really noticed when I was younger, but as I grew older, that idea really did begin to bug me. Of course, the writers of the comics were perfectly aware of this, and tried to fix this fairly often. I think the closest they’ve gotten so far was with the “Superman: Earth One” comics, but even those had middling success in the eyes of many critics.
Zack Snyder, in my opinion, took the character one step closer to interesting in “Man of Steel.” In the film, I wouldn’t say that Clark Kent is moody, dark, and lonely like he is in “Earth One,” but rather, an alien trying to find his place on Earth. Like all of us, he’s just trying to find his place in the universe.
From a young age, he is told by his dad, Jonathan Kent, that the world simply is not ready for his existence. This is an understandable perspective. If an alien like Superman were to appear on Earth, how would we react? This question was pounded into Kent’s head constantly growing up, and the culmination of this moment was in the incredibly frustrating tornado scene. Looking in from the outside, that scene is dumb as hell. Why would you stand by and let your father die like that? Character-wise, I think of that as sort of a solidification of Kent’s beliefs: that mankind is not ready for him. And someone as great as his father believed in this so much that he was willing to die for it.
Would revealinghis powers ultimately cause more harm than good? These are all questions that are addressed in “Man of Steel,” and by the end, Kent’s character arc is complete when he decides to take a leap of faith on humanity. This is a very standard “Superman-like” action, and it shows him moving one step closer toward the man we all remember reading growing up.
Enter “Batman V Superman,” sort of a thematic follow-up. It asks the question: was Superman’s leap of faith a mistake?
If “Man of Steel” was about taking a leap of faith, “Batman V Superman” seems to be about riding out that leap, in hopes of being proven right. In the film, Superman faces the turmoil and backlash of destroying part of a city. This dark event has left the humans on Earth both fearful and angry.
“People hate what they don’t understand,” Ma Kent tells Clark in the “Batman V Superman” trailer. “Be their hero, Clark. Be their angel. Be their monument. Be anything they need you to be…Or be none of it. You don’t owe this world a thing.” This is Kent’s moral struggle in the film. Whereas a character like Spider-Man has the motto “With great power comes great responsibility,” Superman is struggling with a question, “Should I be saddled with responsibility just because I have great power?”
It’s a bold question, but we all know what’ll happen. By the film’s end, I expect Superman will have faith in humanity restored, where he can take yet another step toward becoming the real Superman.
So what does all of this mean?
“You still haven’t told me why Zack Snyder’s Superman isn’t crap,” I hear you say. Basically, we’re getting a developing Clark Kent, one who is still finding his place in the universe.
While we’re all used to the “fully-baked” Superman we read growing up, realistically, that Superman doesn’t just happen overnight. Were he to appear as such in the films, there would be no interesting way for his character to develop. But as he stands in the two movies we have thus far, we can experience the rewarding journey of seeing him become the ultimate superhero.
I’ll close out by addressing one of the more controversial moments in “Man of Steel”: The killing of General Zod. Many fans point to this as a complete betrayal of the character. Superman doesn’t kill, right? Sure, “Superman” doesn’t kill. But in “Man of Steel,” he isn’t Superman yet. He hasn’t established his moral code yet. I’d even argue he isn’t quite Superman yet in “Batman V Superman.” Sure, he claims the title, but he’s still finding his way in the world, and along the way he’ll no doubt make mistakes that’ll help shape him into the man we know him to be.
But that’s just what I think. What do you think about “Man of Steel” and “Batman V Superman”s portrayal of Superman? I expect this to be just a catalyst of a conversation, so don’t be afraid to speak your mind in the comments down below!