I have a friend who's a big fan of DC Comics franchises in general and Superman in specific. He's seen Man of Steel four times, to put it in perspective, including the midnight premiere with me. We both came out of the movie with similar thoughts. Or so we believed.
Last night, we got into a little argument about the whole thing and he brought up a really interesting point. The argument hinged on the idea that Man of Steel didn't feel like Superman to me. Now that's a very subjective thing to argue about, sure, but there's something in there that's worth exploring.
Superman's been called The Blue Boyscout many-a-time because of his moral compass unflinchingly pointing to true north. I don't think this is the Superman we saw in Man of Steel. I don't want to get into the specifics of why I think that since the movie's still new and I don't like spoiling things for anybody, but let's talk about The Avengers movie for a little bit and then we'll get back to Supes.
If you haven't seen The Avengers by now, first of all, what are you doing with your life? Second of all, I'll still try not to spoil anything, but fair is fair past this point.
There comes a time in The Avengers when a horde of monsters is unleashed on New York City on such a grand scale that ultimate destruction is all but certain.
Save for the Avengers.
This is the interesting point my friend brought up. One of the big contentions with Man of Steel is what can best be described as "disaster porn." It's not spoiling too much (hey, it's a Snyder film, after all) to say that the city of Metropolis is practically leveled. Scientists, however they do this math, estimate that the damage done to the city hits about $700 billion.
So, he asks me, why was this a problem for Man of Steel and not in The Avengers?
First of all, a quick Google tells me the same estimates for The Avengers are about $160 billion in damage. Still a massive scale, but literally a fraction of Man of Steel. The math isn't the point here though.
The story is.
Why is it okay in The Avengers but not in Man of Steel?
First, let's go back to the Blue Boyscout thing. Because that's important. That's what the trailers for Man of Steel promised us. "He'll be a god to them." "You will give the people of earth an ideal to strive towards. They'll race behind you. They will stumble, they will fall, but in time, they will join you in the sun. In time, you will help them accomplish wonders." "It's not an S. On my world, it means hope." And those are all lines from just one of the trailers.
A god? $700 billion in damage. An ideal to strive towards? $700 billion in damage. Hope? $700 billion. In. Damage.
The Avengers never held to nearly the same premise of the ideal that Superman does. Iron Man is an alcoholic egotist. Thor, a war-loving god. Black Widow and Hawkeye are government hitmen, essentially. The Hulk is literally a monster himself. Okay, so Captain America is essentially Superman in comparison, but he did not directly cause or fail to stop $700 billion in damage.
Superman is supposed to be someone better than us. The Avengers are, for the most part, people like us doing the best they can with the abilities they've been given. They have weakness of character. Superman should not.
His struggles come from defeating things as indestructible as he. That's what the movie did really well, I think. Superman was finally allowed to be super. He was just not a man.
Second, there's the story. The script. And specifically, the dialogue.
The hardest part of any comic book movie, I'm sure, is the 75 years of mythology and character voice and things to comply to. I can't imagine the stress that would put on writing a script. I hope it's clear that what I say about the script are not so much problems with it as they are my problems with it. That's the key.
The script, frankly, just wasn't any fun. There were moments of awe and wonder, undoubtedly, but where was the humor? Where was the heart? Going back to The Avengers, and it's cheating a little bit because that's Joss Whedon and the man's a hero of mine, but that script crackled with clever dialogue. There were so many lines to catch the ear.
In Man of Steel, characters spoke because they had to speak. No one said anything surprising or funny until a one-off in the second-to-last scene. And even that was just an underdeveloped female character saying that Superman was hot.
Again, not a problem, but my problem. I've got nothing but respect for someone who can write a movie on that kind of scale. I just wish there would've been some joy in it, instead of a Batman-filter of dark and brooding. Even the color palette of the movie reflects this. The brightest colors and Superman-est moments to experience were the flashbacks to his childhood.
In the middle of writing this, I took a break to run some quick errands. While out, I stopped by my favorite comic book shop and asked the owner what he thought of Man of Steel. He answered in a way that I think fits the way I felt, but couldn't express, when walking out of the midnight showing. And now that I've had a few weeks to chew on it, I think this covers it pretty succinctly.
"It's a movie about a man from Krypton who comes to earth and kills people."
That doesn't make it a bad movie. It just doesn't make it a Superman movie.