Spoilers for Man of Steel below. Go watch it and then come back.
I can’t think of Man of Steel without comparing it to Christopher Nolan’s Batman Trilogy. For me, the three Batman movies are almost perfect and while Nolan only produces Man of Steel, I was curious to see what kind of Superman would appear on the big screen. This was the summer movie I was waiting for. Nothing else mattered. It goes without saying my expectations were high. Yet, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I avoided all previews and interviews leading up to the film, only watching the trailers. I stayed away from my Twitter timeline the night and morning before I went to see it. I didn’t want someone else’s opinions in the back of my head as I watched.
As I sat in my seat as the credits rolled, I wasn’t sure what to think. If you asked me to explain how I felt about it, the only word which came to mind was, “Whoa.” The movie felt heavy. After watching the Nolan Batman movies, I felt a rush. Those movies made me say, “Wow.” They made me want to have a remote to the theater and hit rewind. Man of Steel – I needed to go for a walk and process what just happened. I don’t have much connection to Christopher Reeve’s Superman movies. Even though Superman Returns wasn’t bad, the connection to the older films does nothing for me. In a way Man of Steel is my introduction to Superman on the big screen.
Man of Steel is a story about the ultimate outsider. When we are first introduced to Clark on Earth he is a wanderer. Someone who has kept his identity a secret. He is a ghost, a myth, an urban legend. He helps those he can, from something as small as protecting a waitress from harassment from customers, to as large as evacuating workers from an exploding oil rig. He comes into town, does what he can, and leaves forever. Clark has been raised to believe that while his powers may be a blessing, the world isn’t ready for them. At the start of his journey, Clark is a man who is looking for permission as much as he is looking for meaning. It’s as if his life has all the pieces but he isn’t sure how to put them together or if he even should. It isn’t until he hears of something found in the arctic, which may have alien origins, that he finds the answers he has been searching for. There he finds a Kryptonian outpost, built during a time when Krypton looked to the stars. He meets a programmed consciousness of his biological father Jor-El. He explains to Clark his origins: where he is from, who his mother is, what his name is, what happened to Krypton, and why he was sent to Earth. Jor-El tells Clark that while Earth might not feel like it, it is just as much his home as Krypton is. He explains Clark’s purpose is to lead Earth and ensure that what happened to Krypton does not happen on his adopted home. In order to accomplish this he must realize the goodness of humans. He isn’t to impose his will on the populous; rather, work with them and be there when they stumble and fall. Clark is to give humans something to aspire to. He was sent to Earth to provide hope.
Man of Steel is a story about trust. Clark’s father, Jonathon Kent, worries how the world might reject him if they ever found out the truth about his powers; they would be scared of what he could do. At the end of the day, he is a father trying to protect his son the best way he can. He ends up paying with his life holding onto this ideal. A tornado touches down as the Kents are driving on a crowded highway. Jonathon tells Clark to get his mother to safety, while he helps the people around them get to safety. He hurts his leg saving their dog. With the crowd watching from a distance, the tornado moves closer to him. Clark holds his mom back as he contemplates revealing his powers to save his father. Sensing what Clark wants to do, Jonathon holds up his hand. This tells Clark two things: first, whatever Clark’s ultimate destiny is, it is bigger than Jonathon’s own life. Second, it is a father saying goodbye to his son, and giving his own life to protect him.
The flashback sequences in the movie are some of the most striking. While Jonathon Kent worried about his son and his power, Martha Kent saw them as a gift, as something beautiful. When Clark’s extrasensory powers awaken in school, he sees and hears everything. He runs out of class and finds refuge in a storage closest. His teacher cannot coax him out and calls Martha. She asks him what’s happening and he replies, “The world is too big.” She tells him to make it small then imagine that her voice is an island in the middle of the ocean. Clark focuses on her voice and learns to control his new active powers. He opens the door and falls into Martha’s arms. He then asks her what is wrong with him, to which Martha answers, “Nothing.”
The support of his parents isnt’t enough for Clark to truly embrace the embodiment of hope who is Superman. He needs someone else to trust besides his parents. The person who fulfills this role is Lois Lane. She arrives in the arctic shortly after Clark does, where he works as a crew man for the project. One night Lois is taking photos of the project when she spies Clark at the top of the hill. Never one to sit on the sidelines, she follows him. She wanders into the Kryptonian outpost moments after Clark has discovered it for himself. Lois is attacked by a drone but Clark saves her. However, by doing so he has revealed himself to her – the whistle is blown about him. Yet, when she returns to Metropolis, the Daily Planet won’t run her story because of the lack of proof. Frustrated, Lois gives the story to another publisher to leak, while she hunts down Clark. She retraces his steps and ends up at Jonathon Kent’s grave in Smallville. Clark appears before her, and explains to her why he can’t be exposed yet. Until there the time is right for him, he must blend in.
Man of Steel is a story about nature and nurture. Before Krypton’s destruction, General Zod stages a coup against the head council. He blames them for the demise of their race and he decides the only way to save the planet is to take over. During the chaos, Jor-El uses the opportunity to steal the Kryptonian genetic codex. The codex contains every single Kryptonian DNA blueprint. It is revealed that Kal-El is the first natural born child on Krypton in centuries. The codex decides every Kryptonian’s purpose: whether they are a farmer, a scientist, leader, or warrior. Their lives are predetermined before birth and are grown in a birthing matrix. Jor-El sees as Krypton advanced and grew, they traded this advancement for free will and choice. What doomed Krypton was not the lack of resources but the abandonment of spirit and heart. Before sending Kal-El to Earth, Jor-El imprints the entire codex into him. The entire blood line of Krypton lives within Kal’s blood.
With information provided by Jor-El, Superman and the army are able to send Zod’s followers and ship back to the Phantom Zone. Meanwhile, Zod has gained control of the Kryptonian outpost found on Earth and all he needs is Clark’s DNA to rebirth Krypton. Clark destroys the ship, leaving Zod stranded on Earth. Zod emerges from the wreckage and scolds Superman, wondering how he could choose Earth over Krypton and threatening that since Superman loves Earth so much he will kill every single human. He explains to Superman that he was born to be a warrior, to protect Krypton and ensure it’s survival, and everything he has done he would do it again because it is in the best interests of Krypton. Their fight is a spectacle through the wreckage of Metropolis. They crash into a building and Superman gains the advantage. To force Superman’s hand, Zod uses his heat vision on a trapped family. Superman begs for him to stop but Zod will not submit. Right before Zod kills the family Superman snaps his neck.
Superman kills Zod. What? That can’t happen, Superman doesn’t kill. He always finds another way. There’s always another way right? This can’t be. I’m sure some people will find this unforgivable, but it isn’t the worst thing to happen. Now, if Superman began killing all of his enemies then we’d have a problem. In another flashback scene, Clark is pulled from his car by a group of bullies. They push Clark over and taunt him, trying to provoke him into a fight. Clark stays down and Jonathon Kent scares the group of bullies away. He asks Clark if he’s okay and Clark tells him that they couldn’t hurt him if they wanted to. Jonathon explains that wasn’t what he meant. Clark admits that he wanted to punch the bully. Jonathon stops him and asks, “What then?” Clark doesn’t answer but the message is clear. If Clark had punched him, he wouldn’t have gained anything, he wouldn’t have felt better; instead his whole world would have come apart.
After Superman snaps Zod’s neck, he falls to his knees and screams in horror over what he has done. Once Zod’s forces were banished once again to the Phantom Zone without him. I braced myself for the possibility that Superman would kill him, it was in play. I mean, what else could’ve happened? Zod wouldn’t have been held on Earth and there was no way to send him to the Phantom Zone. Superman is in a dire situation to say the least: he is a product of both Krypton and Earth, the fight is the physical manifestation of this point. Zod has threatened everything on Earth, but at the same time he is the only thing left of Krypton. The entire scene is shocking and powerful. Killing Zod reveals that Superman isn’t perfect. His death doesn’t teach Clark the value of life. He already understands that, but it does teach Clark what it’s like to feel vulnerable – to feel what it is like to be the bully. Clark understands where killing leads. In his weakest moment, Lois arrives to comfort him, to let him know the world isn’t going to dissolve around him; rather, he has saved it.
After watching The Dark Knight, I was buzzed. I couldn’t stop myself from thinking about the next movie, of where this Batman story was headed. Would the League of Shadows return? Would Talia be introduced and bring hell to Gotham and Batman would be the only one who could stop her? I talked about Joker’s introduction and his speech to Batman as he hung upside down. I went to go see it again the next day. Talking about the movie right now, I’m giddy. With Man of Steel I’m not thinking about what’s next, or where Lex was, or anything minor like that. Instead, I keep thinking about Superman snapping Zod’s neck and realizing the world isn’t as black and white as we think sometimes. I think about the character of Superman and how he always knows what to do. I think about how he always wins and never lets us down. I try and picture what I would’ve done if I was in his position. The picture keeps coming up blank. This is the first time after watching a superhero movie which forces me to reflect on myself. Would I be as brave? Could I handle the burden Superman carries? Could I make the decision nobody else can make? I do not know the answers to these questions but I can hope.
It’s Like I Have ESPN or Something – Nicole
I feel Superman Respect right now. Superman Respect for everything that Superman is. Everything.
Superman Respect means I don’t have a lot to say – just a lot to think about.
Thanks, Superman Week. Thanks, Superman Respect. Thanks, Superman.
(P.S. My offer for Nicole method acting lessons still stands. Text me.)