Man of Steel? Man of misery more like

Spoilers ahead – well Superman’s been spoilt for me, so why should you be saved? And you wouldn’t be, not by THIS Superman.

Anyway, the moment I saw the new suit I had cause to worry. Mock the red underpants all you like but without them, Superman is effectively going commando. By the way, why does the new suit need a belt? It’s not a utility belt nor is it holding anything up, so why is it there?

It’s a remnant, a reminder of what used to be there, it assumes prior knowledge from an audience that recognises that the bright red outer-underwear is no more – even though in this new Nolan universe, it never was, because it’s the first time we’ve seen Superman’s workwear.

Actually the first time we see it is on an alien ship. Which arrived on Earth 20,000 years earlier, and presumably, still several millennia before Kal-El was born and shot into outer space. And despite being an ancient craft, Kal-El’s ‘super-key’ immediately interfaces with the ship. Oh, and the suit is blue with a bright red cape even though virtually all of Kryptonian fashion in this universe appears to be sombre shades of black with accessorising in bronze and silver.

That’s the problem with this whole movie – no not the bright hues clashing with Krypton’s classiest threads, but the assumption of past knowledge. That is, a deeply held previous appreciation and affection for Supes and his long-established boy-scout goodness.

Except that it isn’t, long-established that is. Not in this new Nolan-verse. Come to this movie cold, as if you’ve never picked up a DC comic book, or stumbled upon the multitude of TV and movie interpretations of the invulnerable super-hero – including what was and remains the definitive depiction by Christopher Reeves in the 1978 movie and… actually that’s not really likely, is it? It’s almost impossible to not know about Superman, so ingrained is Supes in contemporary pop-culture.

I guess that’s what the filmmakers banked on. Nonetheless, starting from a premise of utter ignorance is correct basic story-telling, isn’t it? And besides, just put yourself in the shoes of the mortals actually living in this Nolan-verse. They DON’T know Supes. Think of how they perceive this story as it unravels.

Here’s how it plays out to them: an alien’s been hiding amongst us here on Earth. His big, bad, nasty long-lost alien relatives arrive outta nowhere (actually Kal-El trigged a distress beacon that lured them here – which makes it even worst) and proceed to inflict a mini-Armageddon on us because they want his stowaway earth-squatting ass, and some other resurrection voodoo plot-device that no one can quite comprehend.

Kal-El nobly surrenders himself, taking his girlfriend with him – hang on, he’s barely known her a couple of minutes of screen time max, and during much of which Lois Lane stalks him viciously, uncovering his secret identity and then refusing to divulge it, even under threat of torture, after hearing Supe’s sob-story about how he stood by and let his surrogate mother watch his surrogate father be smashed to smithereens by a tornado, even though he could have saved him in the blink of an eye – so why didn’t you pal? She then proceeds to run around most of Kansas and Metropolis screaming ‘Clark, Clark!’ a lot.

The least-convincing superhero love story aside, Lois then escapes with the help of Russell Crowe’s ghost – he’s playing Supe’s dad, Jor-El but seems to have more screen time than everyone else put together and actually does more too (old Marlon Brando barely taxed himself to recite a few dialogues in the 70s motion picture, whilst unattractively plump Crowe even gets to do a bit of Avatar – jumping from a great height onto a tamed winged beast. So Kryptonians have floating personal robot assistants that can morph into anything, yet they still need animals to ride around on for transport?!).

Old Jor also tells Lois (who seems to be taking all this being on an Alien invasion space ship in outer space facing an end-of-humanity-scenario rather in her Pulitzer-winning stride, happily blasting away at Kryptonian warrior types who are too stupid to fire back) how to defeat General Zod. Which turns out to be rather simple actually.

Though that’s not surprising since Zod did manage to stage the most incompetent coup d’état in the history of coups. For which he was sentenced and banished to certain salvation away from a planet about to implode and kill everything upon it. They even put him in a handy and deadly looking ship he could go war on planets with. Smart lot, that elder council.

Then, of course, they all die because none of their exhaustive contemplations and deliberations revealed to them that they could simply jump on the numerous space craft they have (like the one they just sent off a handful of villains off in), or seek sanctuary in the phantom zone, or emigrate to all these supposed outposts they had (and it’s never really explained why they stopped having outposts).

They just all stand on ledges and mournfully look at spewing lava fountains and wait to die, as Kal-El’s mum does. Frankly this supposedly superior race of beings is either quite dumb or pathologically suicidal.

Zod seems to be the only smart one here. Even the Els should have been wise enough to get the ‘El’ out of there with their son. I’m sorry, but you just don’t feel any sympathy towards these mighty morons. And yet the far more simplistic yet deeply shocking death of Krypton from the 78 movie is a tear-jerker and you’re left both appalled by the loss of an entire planet, and touched by the sacrifice of parents who against the odds, reach out and grab a sliver of survival for their son.

But let’s get back to Zod, the reason he wants Kal-El is because of the voodoo he is carrying around with him – which just so turns out to be the potential to regrow the Kryptonian species. As Zod argues he’s not an evil man after all, but has been bred to secure the future of his species. Well what would you do having seen the total annihilation of humanity? If there was a way somehow to give mankind a second chance, wouldn’t you give it your all, even to the apocalyptic detriment of an alien species? I know what Captain Kirk would do – screw the Prime Directive.

So Superman, ensures that he remains the ‘Last Son of Krypton’ TM by ruining Zod’s plans, destroying the resurrection technology and wiping out all his remaining brethren (what happened to Supe’s no killing policy?). Admittedly Reeve’s Superman also uncharacteristically ends the lives of Zod and his travelling companions, in his second outing as the Man of Steel. But Zod’s motives then were very clearly evil – he wanted to rule and enslave. He HAD to be taken down. Today’s Zod seemed like he could be reasoned with – of course we’d have to try UN-approved sanctions first!

Anyway, back to that whole sympathy thing – not to say that Crowe, Costner and the two mums didn’t do a sterling job at their roles. They did. But they all do irredeemably  stupid things. And the movie moves too quickly and too loudly (if someone drops a pen in this film the resulting thud resonates with the ferocity of a thermonuclear explosion in the theatre hall itself) to allow you to build up any rapport with, or relate to any of the key characters.

Going back to Superman and the people of Earth – why would they care about this alien who ponces about in a lairy leotard flexing his muscles and looking pensive a lot. Meanwhile his presence results in the destruction of a town, several blocks of a major city and some part of the other side of the planet – the financial ruination and loss of life is unthinkable.

Remember in the Reeve movie when the General starts ripping up a street just by blowing at it, Superman takes off. Everyone thinks he’s fled. But in fact he wants to take the fight away from a populated area, to avoid casualties – that’s the Supes I know. He couldn’t tolerate a single loss of life, whilst Henry Cavil’s Superman stands around on an airfield cracking jokes with Lois (it’s not even funny) whilst every second thousands are being pummelled into the ground in Metropolis – which, may I point out, is not yet his adopted home city, so why should he care about it? Well he doesn’t.

In fact this new Supes has barely saved a bus-load of school kids, some oil-rig platform workers, Lois and couple of army types whilst the rest of their comrades get vapourised around them, and left utter devastation and catastrophe in his wake. He simple hasn’t earned his cape.

If it takes another character (yes just a character because we’ve had no chance to get to know Perry White and the other Daily Planet staff, so couldn’t really give a damn if they all died too, so why the drawn out nearly death of the newspaper editor?) to actually say – ‘he saved us all’. It is so unsubtle it’s like the movie jumped to its own defence before we had a chance to raise a finger and say ‘but…’

By the way – when did Jimmy Olsen get a sex change?!

At the end of it all, as if he hasn’t caused enough damage, Superman wantonly destroys a $12bn spy-drone to make a point about the government not trying to find out who he is and where he goes, as if it has any hope of monitoring his speed. Plus are they all really too stupid to make the connection between Lois screaming ‘Clark’ and the Kent farm being attacked specifically by the aliens, and where Superman was later found? Superman even pointedly mentions that he grew up in Kansas.

Yet in order to find out if he is a ‘threat to America’ the best of the US army intelligence has to send a spy-drone after him rather than just put two and two together. Hey, even the humans in this Nolan-verse are imbecilic, perhaps they deserved Zod’s wrath after all? Or perhaps Nolan was making some political point about terrorism and jumping to conclusions about immigrants that live in Kansas – okay, maybe not Kansas specifically.

With its completely topsy-turvy plot, the movie ends by introducing ‘Clark Kent’ to the surprisingly jovial Daily Planet staff (considering half their city was just levelled) despite Lois now knowing more about Kal-El then he does himself – I’m sorry but that girl is no Margot Kidder, even Teri Hatcher was more convincing in the TV series – and more attractive.

The movie also ends with yet another dilemma. As sequels always require an escalation of action – where do you take it from here? Are they going to introduce Superman’s arch-nemesis Lex Luthor in the next movie? How deadly and dangerous is a very smart but still very human bald guy going to seem after we’ve had alien Generals with enough destructive power to wipe out life on our planet?

The problem is that they’ve crammed an epic intergalactic vendetta battle into a movie that should only have had to cope with the considerable burden of reintroducing the oldest comic-book superhero of all, to a modern audience that is too cynical and jaded, to buy the untainted moral goodness of a god-like being that has no flaws but tremendous capacity for servitude to his adoptive planet.

This film should have focussed purely on creating a new age Superman and allowing us to get to know and like him – which is, after all, what Nolan did with the Dark Knight – before thrusting him into the glaring harshness of a do or die struggle for the future of our species. As it stands, it’s a case of – you caused this mess, you’d better bloody well clean it up!

Frankly I can’t really judge if Cavil is worthy enough to fill Reeve’s substantial red boots (no one, not one single actor, has ever been able to bring grace, dignity and gravitas to such an absurd but inspirational character as Superman the way Reeve did). Cavil certainly looked the part, if a little too vulnerable and uncertain at times, and he carried himself well, even if he was walking around without any underwear on!

Overall it’s a spectacularly made movie, with stunning visuals and gob-smacking CGI and effects. Its epic scale is befitting of a man that can move mountains. But unlike Reeve’s first three Superman movies, this new edition is completely devoid of humour, charm, touching sentimentality and the almost naive belief in the good and right. Despite frequently touting the ‘S’ logo as a symbol of hope, it doesn’t leave us with any at the end of it.

It’s a great pop-corn muncher, so do go see it if it’s still on, but you will not leave the cinema believing that that is Superman. The whole movie is way too contrived to leave you with any emotional buy-in. It fails to sell you Superman.

Yet when we walked out of cinemas in 1978, with John William’s stirring and uplifting score still resonating in our heads (the new soundtrack is all doom and gloom), we’d not only fallen in love with Superman, but we really did believe that ‘a man could fly’ as the movie’s hype had promised.

Shame really. I really, really wanted to like this one.

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