Man of Steel (2013)
Starring Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, Russell Crowe, Antje Traue, Laurence Fishburne, Harry Lennix, Richard Schiff
Director of Photography: Amir Mokri
Music by Hans Zimmer
Written by David Goyer
Directed by Zack Snyder
Rating: 3 out of 10
I had read so much about Man of Steel that I was surprised how angry it made me anyway. Here’s why:
1) The total disregard for human life
So many people have written about Superman’s appetite for destruction in which he has no problem completely eradicating Smallville and Metropolis, so it would seem I have nothing to add. But it really must be seen to be believed. It really seems like this destruction is done on purpose. He barely looks at innocent people and he obviously doesn’t think about them when making buildings collapse and crashing through windows in hyper-speed. Ten thousands of people must have been killed by him. It is rumoured that this sets something up for the sequel (much like his killing of Zod) but even if that was true, there’s no indication whatsoever in the movie for it. He doesn’t care about it, he doesn’t react to it, he doesn’t even mention it and in the end everything seems to be fine. He becomes the reporter and you have to wonder how fast the newspaper got a new building already.
But Superman in the last scenes is cool and relaxed. The military guy who observes him says they don’t know if they can trust him, Superman is all cool and goes: “You can trust me, I’m from Kansas.” and military guy accepts. But the problem is not that Superman is an alien or has superpowers but that he doesn’t care about his responsibilities at all. They have very good reasons not to trust him but the film plays it as if the Big Brother/NSA-like military is the problem and not the godlike mass murderer.
Apart from that, the scene that I found even more disturbing was the part where Zod (Michael Shannon), the villain, starts a machine that is meant to terraform the earth to create a new Krypton. Forget the nonsense explanation, what happens is that in waves the people of Metropolis are crushed, thrown into the air, dropped again, thrown up again and again and again. Scenes of people and rubble flying up and down with the soundscape of humming machines and screaming people. Of course, Zod doesn’t care about those people, he only wants a new home. But the movie itself doesn’t seem to care about them either. Those scenes of helpless people flying up and down, screaming, go on and on, while we see people watching them rather unaffected. It isn’t just the waste of human life (which many movies show and Snyder’s 300 might be a good example for it), but the ongoing depiction of suffering without any clear purpose. It isn’t even used to underline Zod’s evilness but it’s just there to see people being tortured like dolls on a massive scale.
2) The depiction of women
It’s a Zack Snyder movie, so it should be clear that the depiction of women is problematic (hello Sucker Punch). I haven’t seen that point mentioned in many other places, surprisingly. The movie’s first shot is a close-up of a woman’s face in pain. As it turns out, it’s Superman’s mother who 20 minutes later dies passively while her husband gets another big fight before he goes down. When she has doubts about sending her baby away, her husband just looks at her as if she’s stupid.
There’s only one other female left for the rest of the movie and that is of course Lois Lane as played by Amy Adams. Yes, she is a ‘Pulitzer-Prize-winning reporter’ as she tells her boss (who must have known that already) and she gets to act tough from time to time but when things really become important she remains on the sideline or is controlled by men. When she is injured in Superman’s arctic cave, he heals her but that scene is very similar to the first shot as we see her screaming in excruciating pain as Superman ‘burns’ her wound with his laser eyes. It doesn’t feel like he’s saving her but more like he’s raping or torturing her. Later on the spaceship she has a weapon and gets to shoot many bad guys but she is only able to do that by following exactly the instruction of Kor-El, Superman’s father (which makes no sense, since he’s dead but Russell Crowe is hard to kill I guess). Later she is rescued by Superman and they kiss for no reason at all and she gets to stand around and watch him fight. His adoptive mother, Martha Kent (Diane Lane), is there too but try to remember why, after you’ve seen the film. Her husband is barely there, too but in his few moments is given all the ‘important’ scenes (more on that below). But his mother is not that important except for being a victim when Zod, the villain, arrives.
In the aforementioned second-to-last scene, when Superman confronts the military guy, there is a female military assistant and when Superman is gone, she smiles. Her boss asks her what’s wrong and she says: “I just think he’s kinda hot.” To me this was the worst moment in the whole movie. It both tried to make Superman look cool and hot instead of dangerous and reckless, and it emphasized the idea of women who just can’t stop themselves from falling for him.
3) The father/authority figure
This is my pet peeve, since most Hollywood movies deliver messages of confused obedience to father/authority figures without being too explicit about it and you rarely find any discussion of it. The reason for this, and I might delve into that in some other post, might be that our culture has those ideas so engrained that it is hard to see them as problematic. But just like in Thor or The Lion King (there are endless more), the same point is made over and over again: it is more important to obey and follow authority’s rules then to listen to your own feelings.
In Man of Steel Kevin Costner has the father role and I saw lots of praise for him because his presence is so significant. But looking at what he is doing to Clark is extremely questionable (but typical for father roles in our culture).
Step 1: Clark saves a school bus full of children. His father tells him that might have been a wrong decision, maybe it would’ve been better to let them die (because Clark risks to expose himself to others). Naturally, Clark is emotionally very confused about that. On the one hand, he wants to do what his father tells him because he assumes his father only wants his best. On the other hand, this contradicts everything he feels because his instincts tell him to save a bus full of children. This must lead to a deep confusion in a young person’s personality. The movie never portrays Jonathan Kent as being wrong. Debatable perhaps but not clearly wrong.
Step 2: 10 years later the Kent family is on a road trip. Father and son have an argument but it remains unresolved because they drive right into a tornado. Everyone runs to safety but the father goes back to save the dog. He tells his son not to save him under any circumstances and we watch as Clark stands under a bridge, doing nothing else but watching his father die. He cries and screams and Daddy Kent is sucked up into a tornado. Look at it: now he is obedient and the price for that is losing his father. His father didn’t have a good reason to sacrifice himself. Clark could’ve saved him easily, even without exposing himself. But his father told him what to do and Clark, having learned his lesson from the bus incident, obeys even if it means passively watching his father die. Again, the movie portrays this scene as if it was necessary for Jonathan Kent to die, like a noble death. He doesn’t even run away, just stands there, holding out his hand to Clark as if saying: “We both know that is what has to happen now, so don't you dare coming here.” He goes out as a hero. At least that’s what the movie wants to say. Instead, he scars Clark for life. Better to let your father die than to fear the consequence of disobeying him. This is the message: disobedience is worse than your suffering. You’ll be sad and traumatized but at least you behaved.
Let’s not even talk much about his real father. He is also dead but haunts him too by constantly telling him what to do. No wonder Superman becomes a mass murderer!
Is this movie worth so many words and analysis? I think it’s representative of many things in our culture that seem questionable to me. You can argue that’s it is just a dumb action movie (and it is!) but I think it’s important not to ignore the messages it is conveying to the audience (even if they didn’t like it.)