There’s a trope, whether it’s on TV Tropes or not, called “Just Shoot The Doctor.” You see, in Doctor Who, the titular character causes all manner of trouble for the variety of militaristic aliens (The Doctor’s an alien too, so they’re not all bad). It would be far easier for the Daleks, Sontarans, and Cybermen of the universe to just shoot the insufferable Doctor the moment he emerges from his little blue box.
But they don’t. Why? Because the universe of Doctor Who does not work that way. There are in fact, quite a few writers who work very hard to make sure that universe expands according to a set of rules which start with and sit below that one. As with every other piece of entertainment, the creative team are a pantheon of gods, defining the hero’s method of triumph by crafting every atom of the conflict from the ground up.
So, like Captain Picard staring down Armus on Vagra II, we find our selves face-to-face with the skin of evil that is Man of Steel. (Spoilers after this point)
For those of you who haven’t been keeping up with Hollywood summer blockbusters featuring globally-recognized figures and/or can’t be arsed to Google it, Man of Steel is about the life and times of Joseph Stalin (Adam Sandler), specifically his desperate efforts to initiate a homosexual relationship with the Teutonic trickster-god Loki (Thomas Hiddleston).
My first line of notes on Man of Steel concerns the rusted metal motif for the studio branding which doubles as an establishing shot for planet Krypton. It’s interesting how rust can make metal look both venerable and corrupt, so in terms of symbolism, Man of Steel is right up there with that dream you keep having about being chased by a pack of your father’s penises; dead-on. Krypton is very old and the Pin-Art ™ technology distracts you from the fact that it’s not quite as shiny as we would expect of a futuristic society.
Each moviegoer, whether it’s from the very first scene or one of the last, eventually realizes the truth about Krypton; beneath the veneer of civilization and progress, Krypton rotted eons before Russell Crowe decided to become king of stage, screen, and pentagonal USB drive.
Man of Steel has little more regard for the history of its source material. I always respect a movie adaptation that dares to have its own voice, especially after director Zack Snyder drove Watchmen right into the uncanny valley by aping the comics (like the animated adaptation of All-Star Superman, the parts where it diverged from comics are the strongest). So when Superman is just a guy instead of a good guy and his morality comes from 2010 Robin Hood dad instead of 1991 Robin Hood dad, I can get on board.
I don’t like it, but I can appreciate that MOS went for its interpretation and appreciate the actualization of that interpretation instead of bitching about it. Given that Dads-with Wolves is going to raise his son to be mistrustful of the outside world and given that Quick and The-dad is going to be the guy with the inspiration, Man of Steel is executed well and I can accept that. I can judge it for what it is.
I can even get over the parts where Superman has to fly harder and punch harder to overcome major plot obstacles, even while expressing that 0 shits are given for the humans which are acting like the increasingly-browned lube in the disaster porn orgy scene unfolding around him.
What I explicitly and immediately reject is that somewhere along the line, the people behind Man of Steel forgot that they were the gods that shaped this narrative. They forgot that they make the narrative up from its most minute particles to create the conflict and resolution that suits the character. Untoucha-dad’s message about the potential to scare people gets kinda fuzzy and Gladia-dad’s message about setting a better example gets completely forgotten as the story tries to wrap itself up in the allotted six day run time.
When Kal-El snaps Zod’s neck, the movie collapses like a couple of Kryptonian vertebra. It stops being a unique endeavor to adapt Superman to modern audiences and becomes just another action-hero punch-up where the hero kills the bad guy in the end because that’s how we deal with bad guys. Sure, it had laser eyes and a set of technobabble set pieces that cleverly fit together like a plot-resolving combination Ouroboros/Matryoshka doll, but it might as well be fucking Commando. If you’re going to have Superman knowingly and willingly snap the neck of your antagonist, you might as well cast Arnold fucking Schwarzenegger as fucking Superman because you abandoned making a creative and original Superman movie and it’s better that you’re honest with yourself about these types of things.
Sure, it said a lot about Krypton, but no matter what CGI buildings you collapse and no matter how many indeterminable, irrelevant punches your characters throw around, it’s a long circle jerk that ultimately fails in the one job it had; to show the audience there’s a better way.