Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel – Why So Dull?or: How I Learned To Stop Hoping And Embrace The Suck
“What’s the ‘S’ stand for?”
“It’s not an ‘S’. On my world, it means ‘hope’.”
“Well… here, it’s an ‘S’. How about… Supe…”
Picture it: Sicily, 2012; a young(ish) Alan is sitting in a darkened cinema, carbonated beverage in one hand, processed-meat-filled stale bun covered in ketchup in the other (I had not yet seen the light at this point). Suddenly, the lights dim and the trailers begin; stirring strings, a washing line full of clothes, a seagull, an angelic voice added to the music. Who’s this? Some ruggedly handsome, manly, beardy fisherman!
From Zack Snyder, Director of Watchmen & 300
“You’re not just anyone,” says a gravelly voice over footage of a young boy running through longish grass. He has a red tablecloth tied around his neck; almost like… a cape? The scene changes to ruggedly handsome, manly, beardy fisherman, only now he’s on terra firma, hitchiking his way ‘cross the USA. “One day, you’re gonna have to make a choice” continues the rasping voiceover dude.
And Producer Christopher Nolan, Director of The Dark Knight Trilogy
“You have to decide what kind of man you wanna be. Whoever that man is, good character or bad, he’s gonna change the world.” Back to the young man with the tablecloth cape, his hands, balled into fists, resting on his waist, red cape billowing in the wind.
Man of Steel
What’s that? Up in the sky? Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No! It’s… Superman? Kinda?
One minute and thirty five seconds (give or take). That’s how long the teaser trailer for Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel lasted. Young(ish) Alan was… intrigued. Not blown away. Not turned off. Just… whatever. He’d go see it with an open mind. After all, he quite liked 300 didn’t he? And he thought that Watchmen film was pretty good too. He had hope.
June 2013 rolled around soon enough and a bunch of us got tickets to the midnight showing. I know! I know! So much for not being all that bothered. Popcorn, fizzy drink and hotdog (yup, still on that bullshit…) purchased, Alan took his seat, sat back and… enjoyed the show. There he was, bigger’n life and twice as handsome – Superman! The titular Man of Steel. Those arms? Oaft! Hold me Henry! Tell me everything’s going to be alright…
Well, the years start coming and they don’t stop coming (or so said Bob Dylan anyways). Zack Snyder followed up Man of Steel with the utterly atrocious, abominable, absolute affront to cinema that was Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. A film so bad, I had an almost visceral reaction to it upon leaving the cinema (midnight showing again – like an absolute CHUMP!). We’ll get to that in due course.
Thus began my dislike of Zack Snyder‘s films. I went back and re-watched them all (except Sucker Punch and Dawn of the Dead obviously – I’m stupid, not a masochist!) and… they look good? Kiiiinda? We’ll get to that. Mr. Snyder can’t take all of the blame for 300, of course. When your source material is… problematic (Frank Miller‘s been squatting in embittered, embarrassing, fascist-old-uncle-one-avoids-at-parties territory for quite some time now), the end result is going to be of dubious morality regardless of the director’s intentions.
(My mistake; apparently, there was no film based on a popular DC comics from the 1980’s written by Alan Moore with art by Dave Gibbons. Oops.)
However, all of the signs were there. Egregious use of slow-motion? Check. Hypermasculinity on full display? Double check. Dreary, bleak, monochromatic colour scheme? Bingo, bango, bongo! Now, Man of Steel doesn’t suffer too much due to the over-use of slow-motion: it’s in there, just, not enough to drive me insane. Hypermasculinity? Definitely an issue; everywhere Clark goes there seems to be some really aggressive, ‘roided-out assholes with little or no redeeming qualities. Even Clark himself shows a petty, mean-streak where he refuses to let someone “get one over on him” which doesn’t sit right with me (the trucker’s rig as pin cushion scene in particular).
My main issue, at least to begin with, was just how… dull Man of Steel was. Two hours and ten minutes of bleak, joyless, humourless, washed-out looking “super-heroics.” It begins with twenty minutes of ubermensch, super-scientist, Olympic athlete and all-round bad-ass, Jor-El, (Russell Crowe) shootin’, fightin’, flyin’ an’ divin’ his way across a dying Krypton. The apocalypse has never looked so drab (unless one counts X-Men: Age of Apocalypse, which, I don’t).
Richard Donner’s 1978 film had Marlon Brando, Susannah York, Terence Stamp and, very young Alan’s first onscreen crush, Sarah Douglas. It set up the antagonists, Zod (Stamp), Ursa (Douglas) and Non (Jack O’Halloran) for what ended up being the sequel. It gave us a plausible reason for Superman to know who he was and where he came from (Jor-El gives him the means to find out at a later date) and it blew up Krypton all in roughly the same amount of time. Krypton was practically in black & white and it was still more colourful than Zaddy’s disaster-porn, Russell Crowe-as-action-man, over-the-top nonsense!
Snyder, David S. Goyer (Blade, The Dark Knight, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance) and Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight Trilogy, Inception, Tenet) give us a Krypton which has embraced eugenics, fracking and never-ending bureaucacy; a Jor-El who is simultaneously “Krypton’s foremost scientist” and a one-man killing machine/Olympic diving champion/virile stud; and a General Zod (Michael Shannon) who is appropriately unhinged and menacing (one of the few, genuine highlights in this film is Shannon shamelessly masticating every piece of scenery in [x-ray] sight).
Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel – Why So Dull? continues below
What they don’t give us, is a Superman who knows who he is. They had his parents shoot him off to a new world, one where “he’ll be a god to them.” Jor-El and Lara Lor-Van (Ayelet Zurer) had the foresight to look for a haven for their son (“Krypton’s first natural birth in centuries” so you know Supes’ daddy is a real man…) from this dying planet, but didn’t think to include an in-flight movie? Y’know, maybe a documentary telling him who he was and where he came from? They didn’t give him a brightly coloured blanky with, oh, I dunno, sayyyyyyy… the family crest on it or something?
Nope. So instead, we get a boy who doesn’t find out he’s an alien at all until he’s thirteen years old. Young Clark is upset because his adoptive daddy, Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner) is giving him shit for… saving a busload of kids from drowning? That’s right, good ol’ wholesome, salt-of-the-earth, God-fearing farmer with a heart-of-gold, Jonathan Kent; the man who, along with his equally loving, wholesome wife, Martha “WHY DID YOU SAY THAT NAME?!?” Kent (Diane Lane) rather than teaching Clark to use his amazing gifts for the benefit of mankind, tells him he “maybe” should have let his classmates drown in order to preserve his secret!
Jonathan Kent is not yo’ daddy’s Superman’s daddy. Gone are all the namby-pamby, loser-like, SJW, snowflake cuck traits like, “help other people,” “use your powers for good,” and (my personal favourite) “save drowning kids.” No, New Deal, post-Depression, “we’re all in this together” Pa Kent for us! Now we have a gritty, modern, “keep your head down,” “stick with your own,” and (my personal favourite) “let your pals die a horrible death rather than help them and inconvenience our cosy way of life” Pa Kent.
Constantly lecturing young Clark and talking down to him. Literally. Not one scene shows young Clark and Jonathan speaking eye-to-eye; isolationist, build-that-wall, MAGAish (come on, you know he woulda voted for him…) Pa Kent is always shown towering over Clark, growling his down-home, folksy, downright terrifying homilies to the confused boy. “You can’t draw attention to yourself son, but you’re going to change the world one day. Just, don’t get any practice in now. But be good.” Thanks for clearing up all my questions and assuaging these feelings of self-doubt dad.
This, “fly under the radar” take on Jonathan Kent explains why Clark Kent seems to have spent most of his life drifting aimlessly. Helping people by sheer luck of being in the area. The Donner version has a teenage Clark actively seek out the answers that he can’t get from Jonathan and Martha. And, because the writers – Mario Puzo (The Godfather), Leslie and David Newman (Santa Claus: The Movie, Bonnie and Clyde), Robert Benton (Kramer vs. Kramer) and Tom Mankiewicz (The Eagle Has Landed) – built-in a way for Jor-El to inform Kal-El of his roots and abilities, adult Clark has grown into the mantle of Superman.
Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel – Why So Dull? really ain’t done
By the time Christopher Reeves shows up in Metropolis for his first day on the job at The Daily Planet, he is Superman. This Clark Kent is a journalist. He saves Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) from a mugger and makes himself look like a big (like, really, really big – dude’s huge!) coward in the process. Young Clark (Jeff East) in the Donner version learns a valuable lesson when Pa Kent (Glenn Ford) dies of a heart attack – no matter how powerful he is, Clark can’t save his dad from a myocardial infarction. Poor Henry Cavill’s Clark Kent has to stand by and watch his dad die because… reasons? Kevin Costner’s Pa Kent dies to… make a point to his son? It makes no sense. Clark could have easily saved the dog and gotten to safety. Stubbornness is what kills that Kent.
Zack Snyder’s Clark Kent is a loner with no close friends. His parents wouldn’t even let him play with other kids when he was young! What made them think he would grow up to be a well-adjusted, socially competent saviour of humanity? Puppies need to be socialised fercryinoutloud! It’s a miracle (or kiiiinda rubbish writing) that we eventually get a “Superman” who wants to save Earth from General Zod rather than some kind of Brightburn-like nightmare.
That’s not to say that Man of Steel‘s Superman isn’t a problem. The decision to have him start being Superman when he’s 33 years old is dreadful (and an excuse for a lot of unnecessary Clark-as-Jesus imagery) . Clark hasn’t been in a fight in his entire life, why would he suddenly be able to defeat multiple opponents never mind elite soldiers who were “bred” to fight? He’s only ever saved people because he happened to be in the vicinity, so, when Metropolis’ skyscrapers are falling on its citizens (mostly because he’s, y’know. throwing Kryptonians through them willy-nilly) he has little or no regard for the people he is inadvertently murdering below.
Which makes the murder of Zod, and Clark’s reaction to it, even more puzzling. If only they’d shown us a Superman who seemed to be bothered by any of the death and destruction he helped to cause up to that point. The Smallville battle in particular is shocking in that Clark pretty much demolishes his home town and only seems bothered when he thinks his mum’s in danger (poor ol’ Pete Ross and his IHOP). He is the least-heroic superhero in cinematic history (until Ben Affleck’s Batman shows him how it’s really done in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. But we’ll get to that.).
The film-makers spend the final ten minutes of the movie telling us that Zod has to die. On three separate occasions, Goyer has Zod tell Clark that “there’s only one way this ends, Kal. Either you die or I do.” He’s determined to force Superman’s hand, and, after watching this dull, punch-punchy, buildings-fall-down-go-boom, disaster porn finale, it comes as somewhat of a relief. Never mind that Clark has taken Zod’s back and sunk in the rear-naked-choke, meaning he coulda put that maniac to sleep. Never mind that he could have, oh, I dunno, flown straight up in the air to save that one particular family from being heat-visioned to death (again, forgetting the countless, faceless families he’s already contributed to murdering). Kill him and roll credits, puh-lease!
Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel – Why So Dull? still ain’t done
Once again, the decision not to have Clark find out about his Kryptonian heritage much earlier comes back to bite the filmmakers. Maybe if they’d included the Fortress of Solitude or some other technology from Kal-El’s home-world, it could have given them a different resolution to the conflict (Phantom Zone Projector, helloooo). That’s not what they were going for though. It seems pretty clear that they wanted to have Clark Kent murder Zod, so they manufactured a no-win situation and put him into it. Gritty.
I have no love for this film anymore. I know a lot of people dig it, and that’s cool. More power to you if this darker take on The Man of Tomorrow floats your boat. I’m not even a particularly big fan of the Richard Donner films to be honest; they just speak more to me and what I think of when I think of Superman – bright, primary colours, joie de vivre, a desire to do good, and, most of all, hope.
Next issue: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice *shudder*
Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel – Why So Dull? is done at long last.
Join us on Twitter, Insta, Discord etc – https://linktr.ee/BGCPComicCon
Buy tickets for BGCP Comic Con in and around Glasgow Scotland – BUY TICKETS