Man of Steel: A Redemptive Reading

(114 comments)


I’ll put my premise in the first sentence: Man of Steel is a scathing deconstruction of Superman and particularly of Grant Morrison. The second sentence will warn about spoilers for Man of Steel and, for that matter, for Sucker Punch.

Let’s start with the Watchmen movie, since it wasn’t very good. Because the thing is, as many bad things as there are about it, it at least tried very, very hard to be a Watchmen movie. It’s clear Zach Snyder wanted to film the movie version of Watchmen, and just failed, largely because you can’t make a movie version of Watchmen.

Notably, he moved on to Sucker Punch, a film that is about pretending to offer one kind of pleasure only to suddenly turn on a dime and become a blisteringly angry critique of that pleasure. It starts by being about sexualizing badass women who are horribly scarred, and then ends by being about the importance of giving survivors the agency to tell their own stories. It's a glorious inversion of the male gaze. After all, the act of gazing that the film is most focused on is the one the film repeatedly elides. Whenever the narrative comes to a moment where Babydoll begins her erotic dance it switches realities to an over the top action sequence. We’re repeatedly given the wrong kind of pornography, and then we cut back to close-ups of the post-orgasmic bliss on the faces of the men who have seen what our pornography of violence was standing in for. So the male gaze is being complicated and critiqued from the get-go.

Similarly, I think it’s telling that the final sequence openly admits that Babydoll is not designed to function like a real person. Everything in the film is working towards that voiceover and its call for allowing survivors to tell their own stories. That's the eponymous sucker punch.

If the movie fails - and I’m at least willing to grant that a movie that spectacularly misread has failed in part - it is because we are too trained to take pleasure in the violence-as-sex pornography that the film attacks such that the point when it turns ugly simply isn’t upsetting enough. Though I think the scene where Blondie and Amber are killed is quite upsetting, and consciously so - it’s the scene where Blue really becomes properly unhinged, and he’s genuinely scary in it. And the violence is allowed to be shocking and fast, in marked contrast to the excessive slow-motion used for the pornographic violence. But it perhaps doesn’t go quite far enough in turning on the audience and making them suffer for having enjoyed the film. (And note that there’s no more “fun" violence after that.)

Still, this is clearly what the film is trying to do the entire time. It is carefully constructed to turn ugly and then, finally, show a viable alternative to what it critiques. The worst that I think you can say about it is that the turn could have been crueler and more effective. But the critique only works because the film is still able to disguise itself as a mainstream action-adventure flick. It wouldn't work if it couldn't fool the audience, which makes a portion of the audience missing the joke a necessary risk.

So let's take Man of Steel in this context and ask what sort of movie it is.

The obvious answer should be that it's angry and deconstructive, much like Snyder's last two films. And yet this is not an answer anyone seems to have taken seriously, with a large swath of otherwise sensible people suddenly clutching their pearls. Like Mark Waid, who is, to be clear, a comics writer I usually really enjoy and respect. But…

So after complaining about the disaster porn and death toll of the final sequences, Waid complains, basically, that this vision of Superman isn’t a hopeful and utopian figure. “The essential part of Superman that got lost in MAN OF STEEL, the fundamental break in trust between the movie and the audience, is that we don’t just want Superman to save us; we want him to protect us. He was okay at the former, but really, really lousy at the latter. Once he puts on that suit, everyone he bothers to help along the way is pretty much an afterthought, a fly ball he might as well shag since he’s flying past anyway, so what the hell. Where Christopher Reeve won me over with his portrayal was that his Superman clearly cared about everyone."

He’s not wrong, but equally, let’s ask why this matters. Waid, ultimately, is asking to be allowed to enjoy Superman as an unproblematic utopian fantasy. He wants to enjoy the basic fantasy of Superman and doesn’t want any unseemly questioning of that premise.

This is not good, not least because of the nature of that fantasy. Let’s look specifically at Pa Kent. In most renditions of Superman, the character learns his flawless values of truth, justice, and the American way from his hardworking agrarian father. As I suggested in a previous post on this subject, given that the American values of hardworking folks in rural Kansas are, not to oversimplify, responsible for almost everything wrong on the planet, I am not averse to this being interrogated a bit. The fact of the matter is that a Superman raised by hardworking farmers in Kansas who has fully adopted their values would, and we can state this as empirical fact based upon their voting patterns, be overwhelmingly likely to be a misogynistic, racist religious fundamentalist who actively supports regressive politics that leave the poor to starve so that the rich can get just that little bit richer. Perhaps the Kents are one of those handful of progressives that exist in rural Kansas, but with counties that went 85% for Mitt Romney last year, well, you know.

The Pa Kent of the film, however, embraces this problem. He instills no sense whatsoever in Superman that he has a responsibility to the world, or to anyone but himself. He teaches Superman to hide and suggests that maybe he should never surface or help people. He teaches selfishness and individualism. Real American values.

But more fundamental is the basic conception of Superman. Note that the film begins on and spends an awful lot of time on Krypton, which it presents as a vast and terrifying sci-fi spectacle. The random injection of personal dragons really makes it. Krypton is the dead world before ours - ancient Von Danniken style aliens who seeded the cosmos and died out, the race that existed before us. To us they are gods and giants (and notably, it’s only in relation to our world that they become gods and giants).

My favorite bit of The Hobbit, which I also unpopularly loved, was the scene where the mountains start to fight because they’re giants. Because it so captures a particular feeling within the Norse mythology that Tolkien is remixing. Sometimes you find out you’re standing on a giant, and then you die. And the giant never notices you or cares, because it is a giant, and you are not. This is how the old gods work. They are from an order older and scarier than ours, and we cannot even comprehend them.

Man of Steel is Superman done as Norse-flavored mythology. The Kryptonians are ancient gods from a world before ours, and when they fight there is nothing for us to do but die in their wake. It’s a film about power, and about how the people who have power can never really be in touch with humanity. Power is for old gods who live far above us. And in typical Snyder fashion, it gives us what we think we want, and then turns it to be just a little too horrifying to actually enjoy. It gives us the big, epic fights we think we come to see in superhero movies, and turns them from wish fulfillment to disturbing and uncomfortable spectacles. And it worked - everyone was, in fact, made uncomfortable by the ending of Man of Steel. The problem is that people missed that this was the point - that the movie wasn’t supposed to be wish fulfillment and mindless fun.

This has always been a problem with superhero stories. They are not, as some suggest, power fantasies. The joy is not that we can fly. It’s that we can cower, looking up, asking helplessly “is it a bird? is it a plane?" while other people we can never be make the big decisions. They are a fantasy that we can stay asleep while traumatized psychopaths fight unending wars against the forces of darkness. As Warren Ellis put it in the promo line for his Supergods, praying to a man who can fly will get you killed.

Supergods, of course, is also the title of a Grant Morrison book, and it is Morrison’s vision of Superman that is perhaps most at odds with Man of Steel. For Morrison, Superman is the ultimate version of Jesus - a resurrected solar god we can really count on. The perfect, caring man who will always win and whose fundamental role in the narrative will make it all right.

And Man of Steel asks, OK, what does that entail? What happens if you make a perfect and all-powerful man who will always save the world? And it suggests that this would be monstrous. That the last thing we actually want is God himself flying around punching whatever he judges to be evil. (Or, worse, not punching the things he judges to be humanity’s problem and not his.)

I should note that I don’t hate Superman. I love Superman. My dog is named Krypto for God's sake. But much of what I love about Superman is that he lets you tell stories about the entire idea of superheroes in a way no other hero can. Not even Batman. Superman stories are about their entire genre, and there are things you can do as a Superman story that you simply cannot do anywhere else.

But this is not something that has ever been done. Not really. Nobody has ever really called into question the possibility that Superman is an unequivocal good. Only Lex Luthor ever gets to voice that suspicion within the comics themselves, and, you know, he’s the bad guy and all. A Superman story about how superheroes may not actually be a very nice fantasy is new, especially a well-done and properly vicious one with teeth. The idea that Grant Morrison’s blithely utopian view that someday we will all become superheroes is complete shit, and that in fact all superheroes would be is another structure of power that we cannot affect and that does not care about us is one that Superman comics have never voiced. And I'm glad to see one major piece of Superman that goes down that road, because Superman is a large enough concept to handle that. I don't want every Superman story to do that. But I want one to.

And Man of Steel does. It takes aim at Grant Morrison directly, using his “join you in the sun" speech from All-Star Superman. And it says, no. Superman would be terrifying. Cities would be leveled in his wake, and when he fought the evil gods victory would mean that not all of us die. That’s what one roots for when the old gods fight. That the side that wins doesn’t actually kill us all. That we get to go on living in their shadow.

Because someday we will join Superman in the sun. And we will be incinerated.

Comments

Nyq Only 3 years, 8 months ago

"A Superman story about how superheroes may not actually be a very nice fantasy is new"

Maybe not as a movie but Kingdom Come (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kingdom_Come_%28comics%29) by Alex Ross and Mark Waid does examine this surely?
On the issue of Waid, I haven't read the review you mentioned could you include a link to it?

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Froborr 3 years, 8 months ago

I dunno, I think Kingdom Come is more about criticizing a particular construction of superheros (the 90s kind that emphasizes "super" while minimizing "heros") and restoring the legitimacy of a more Silver Age view.

The Superman book I thought of here was Red Son.

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Campion 3 years, 8 months ago

Irredeemable?

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Anton B 3 years, 8 months ago

Hmm...Well yeah ...you nearly got me there and I'm glad you found your redemptive reading but...well as you say -
" Snyder...gives us what we think we want, and then turns it to be just a little too horrifying to actually enjoy. It gives us the big, epic fights we think we come to see in superhero movies, and turns them from wish fulfillment to disturbing and uncomfortable spectacles."
Disturbing and uncomfortable spectacles are still disturbing and uncomfortable spectacles even with a deconstructive narrative collapse sub-text. I was actually musing during the film how much the Superman mythos now resembles the RTD Doctor Who - All that lonely god from an omnipotent but stagnant techno-world who chooses to protect the Earth angsty stuff. But even 'The End of Time''s bombastic duel with the Master wasn't as grim as 'Man of Steel''s overlong slug-fest with Zod that destroyed Smallville and Metropolis.

Isn't this just the equivalent of the misjudged concept of a Dark Doctor? Is Henry Cavill being asked to play Colin Baker?

If this is actually the Anti-Superman I need the closure of seeing the real one turn up and whup his ass.

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jonathan inge 3 years, 8 months ago

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Matt Largo 3 years, 8 months ago

By this logic, keeping it close to home, the Doctor Who TV movie, with its British fop who knows all our futures, is an unambiguous success, because that's what happens when old gods fight: the world gets turned inside-out.

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Andre Salles 3 years, 8 months ago

I think I would have an easier time accepting this reading if Snyder bothered to show us the aftermath of the devastation at the end of the film. If people were cowering in fear, wary of Superman, unable to trust him, then it would make sense. But they're not. Lois jumps into his arms, the military folks don't even confront him about the greatest massacre in U.S. history. And at the end, Clark Kent starts his job at the Daily Planet, which has miraculously been rebuilt exactly as it was. I think Snyder just wanted to blow a lot of stuff up, and wasn't even thinking about the consequences, to the point where he forgot about them by the end. I would love to feel like there's a deeper purpose to the tarnishing of Superman that occurs in this film, but I don't see it.

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Froborr 3 years, 8 months ago

As I said in response to the draft post, I haven't seen Man of Steel yet so I can't speak to that part. I'm glad you revised the Sucker Punch portion, it's a much stronger argument now... but still ignores the larger context, which is that Snyder has no history of depicting women as anything other than objects of male gaze, and thus has not earned the benefit of the doubt you give him. He is not an established feminist filmmaker who maybe didn't quite pull off what he was going for; he's an established maker of dudebro action movies who made a dudebro action movie with an all-female cast.

Also, if I'm remembering the film correctly (I watched it only once, and regretted that once), isn't the call for survivors to tell their own stories interrupted by the main character getting lobotomized? Isn't that a rather likelier candidate for the titular low blow?

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John Toon 3 years, 8 months ago

^ This. (Where *did* Daily Planet v.1.1 come from? Did they just switch the building off and switch it on again?)

And also, this is supposed to be DC's big push towards setting up for the Justice League film, but it's no kind of basis for future Superman and/or JLA films for reasons given in the main post. It's something that should have been done, maybe needed to be done, as a side thing, not as *the* Superman relaunch.

Personally I blame Frank Miller via Christopher Nolan for everything. (Burnt toast, A-line flares, everything.) There's no point critiquing the simple escapist joy of superhero titles if the titles themselves aren't allowed to be simple joyous escapism any more. And however much or little I care for simplicity or escapism, I sure as hell like a bit of joy in my superheroes. And on that note I go to run crying into the welcoming arms of Marvel Studios.

(One final parting shot: if this was supposed to be a "realistic" take on the story of a bloke who flies and shoots laser beams from his eyes, there was one absurdly easy win that Man of Steel failed to make. I have yet to see any version of Superman that actually talked with a realistic Kansas farmboy accent.)

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Col. Orange 3 years, 8 months ago

I think there was a balance to be struck (realism vs. wonder), and the film failed to deliver.
That Metropolis gets broken makes sense to me - this isn't a Superman who's been in super-brawls since he was a teenager. He's 33, has never faced anyone as strong or fast as he is, and all of a sudden he's facing Kryptonian *soldiers*.
That said, I hate that he's on Earth for 33 years before he stops hiding. From the thing on the oil rig, you can infer that he's been helping out when he can, but for 15 years it feels like he could have been doing so much more. He should have worked out what he was "for" a lot sooner.
I guess his douche-bag father's to blame there. Not the Jonathan Kent I wanted to see.

A friend of mine said he'd have felt better if he'd seen Superman helping to rebuild Metropolis at the end of the film. Can't say I disagree.

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That Guy 3 years, 8 months ago

Hold on - Dawn of the Dead definately depicts its lead character, played by Sarah Polley, as something other than an object of a male gaze. She is an independent, functioning person in the middle of a complex, dangerous world, and is never particularly sexualised. She's depicted almost throughout as intelligent, capable and skilled. (I say almost because there is one inevitable "endangers herself to rescue a dog" moment, though that' not particularly gendered stupidity so much as it's standard movie stupidity).

And I wouldn't call Watchmen completely "dudebro action" either. In fact, I can't name any of his films that are uncomplicatedly "dudebro".

I think your'e assuming "Hollywood Filmmaker" automatically means "idiot".

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Neo Tuxedo 3 years, 8 months ago

Or, to put it another way: Man of Steel only looks like a superhero movie. It's actually a giant monster movie.

(I remember seeing Gamera: Guardian of the Universe on VHS in 2000 and drawing similar parallels between its portrayal of kaijû battles and the portrayal of superhuman battles in Bryan Singer's The Usual Mutants, I mean X-Men.)

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Ross 3 years, 8 months ago

This reminds me of my reaction to the first (of the Michael Bay series) 'Transformers' movie: This isn't a transformers movie; it's a disaster movie where the earthquake is played by giant robots.

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Rhe Talon 3 years, 8 months ago

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Froborr 3 years, 8 months ago

Wait, Dawn of the Dead was Snyder? Had no idea he directed that. Anyway, never seen it, I'm afraid, but I'll take your word for it. Still not sure that's enough goodwill to make up for the embrace of the vile moe aesthetic that Sucker Punch represents.

As for Watchmen, it was fairly intelligent for dudebro action, but it was still a movie about men punching other men, explosions, and a single prominent female character in a skintight costume who existed to further the men's stories. Everything the original comic actually had to say is largely erased by the movie.

Perhaps, however, a better tack to argue against Phil's defense of Sucker Punch is that Snyder has fetishized violence in many of his previous films, so it's not clear that from his point of view--nor, given the aesthetic that dominated the portrayal of women in the anime and video games whose iconography Snyder drew heavily on, the POV of the implied audience--that the action-fantasy scenes are the wrong kind of pornography. Under the moe aesthetic, a woman stripping causes her to lose attractiveness because it makes her overtly sexual and therefore threatening; a woman wearing a fetishistic outfit while fighting monsters is more attractive because "pure," and if she gets injured all the better as it makes her vulnerable and thereby less threatening.

Have I mentioned that moe is utterly disgusting and misogynistic? Because it's utterly disgusting and misogynistic.

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Jesse 3 years, 8 months ago

As wrongheaded as your Kansas paragraph is, it does allow me to imagine a book called What's the Matter with Krypton?

Anyway. I haven't seen this movie and am in no rush to rectify that, as I actively disliked the two Zack Snyder films I've seen prior to this (Watchmen and 300). But I'll pop up to say that my favorite rude reimagining of Superman is Chris Ware's.

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Pen Name Pending 3 years, 8 months ago

There was one scene in the movie that I felt mirrored 9/11 uncomfortably.

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Scott 3 years, 8 months ago

@ Froborr:

It looks like that on first glance, and the critique of the 90s Anti-Hero breed of superhero is certainly central to the book, but reading a bit deeper, Waid clearly gets some good shots in at the ethos of the Silver Age-style heroics as well. Just look at the cliffhanger to the first issue, where the narrator begins to rejoice in the fact that the old superheroes have returned to sort out the younger generation and show them what's what and generally save all the little people -- only to have an apocalyptic vision which makes him realize with horror that Superman's return isn't going to save the day, it's going to destroy the world. And the ending, where all the heroes collectively realize that putting on masks and setting themselves up as an elite just makes things worse and decide to work with humanity on its level. It's a lot more subtle than the standard "hey, aren't superheroes really really messed up?!" style of deconstruction, but it's taking them apart all the same.

In any case, without having seen "Man of Steel" yet I'm not sure that saying that Waid just wants his 'unproblematic utopian fantasy' and 'doesn’t want any unseemly questioning of that premise' is entirely fair to him.

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Iain Coleman 3 years, 8 months ago

I wonder how much better the world would be if America regarded as its heartland, not Kansas, but New York City.

(Always seemed to odd to me that the "heartland" is the place where relatively few Americans actually live. I guess it's a state of mind sort of thing.)

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Jesse 3 years, 8 months ago

I wonder how much better the world would be if America regarded as its heartland, not Kansas, but New York City.

New York was founded as a colonial capital; Kansas was founded in rebellion against slavery. There's not much question as to which strain of American culture has had a greater impact on the larger world—and, sure enough, there are a hell of a lot more powerful New Yorkers than powerful Kansans.

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Bennett 3 years, 8 months ago

I see Superman as more of a Sisyphus figure - a man endlessly going through hoops trying to save the people he loves, fully aware that when he does the moment of victory will be fleeting. Who fights against nothing more significant than faceless henchmen and poorly rendered villains. Who limits his super powers to token uses as he desperately tries to hold onto his place in the real world.

Of course, all this could be because I've played an awful lot of Superman for the Nintendo 64...

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Matt Largo 3 years, 8 months ago

Agreed. And, speaking as an elitist New England liberal myself, I fear Dr Sandifer's almost gleeful pleasure at Jonathon Kent being a scumbag because he's from a flyover state has more to say about his own prejudices than it does about authorial intent.

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Chris Andersen 3 years, 8 months ago

A *what's the matter with Krypton* approach to the story might be a fascinating tale to read. After all, Superman was created at a time when Kansas was the heart of progressivism in the United States. The world has changed radically since then, yet we expect a Superman raised in Kansas to have a similar take on life? I don't think so.

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Spoilers Below 3 years, 8 months ago

I personally enjoyed Joe McCulloch's essay on Sucker Punch and The Spirit, and the yawning gap between intention and interpretation:

http://mubi.com/notebook/posts/disreputable-vision-frank-millers-the-spirit-and-zack-snyders-sucker-punch

"Regarding the film closely, I don’t think it’s too far off to suggest that Snyder intends his Game scenes to be fleeting moments of empowerment for his female characters, places to be beautiful and kick ass, if always for a very short while; this at least suggests Snyder has picked up some mono no aware along with his anime cutie-pie moe tropes. Critics, meanwhile have suggested that Snyder’s planes of empowerment are nothing more than a cheap excuse to leer at girls half-clad in sexy clothes, objectifying the notion of “empowerment” into yet another commoditized item of hetero male gratification. As luck would have it, everyone is correct!"

[...]

"Absolutely everything in Sucker Punch eventually boils down to the male gaze, which is to say the showing of Snyder’s cinema, his action, which is to say the whole of his film. The “Sucker Punch” of his title is that the only way for the film’s heroines to find peace is to strike quickly and evade the narrative entirely, and, as in 300, the main ticket out is annihilation. All of the supporting heroines die, and Browning is left a lobotomized ruin, though her sacrifice eventually leads to Cornish’s escape from the Theater, while reverberations of her actions echo down into the Hospital, promising to bring the bad guys to justice; Snyder evokes Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, and though his usage much closer to the studio’s infamous Happy Ending cut than anything else, what’s vital is that Browning is able to exit the shit of her world, which is apparently the absolute best it can provide in the way of a Heroine’s victory.

"The problematic aspects of this setup are obvious and several. Sucker Punch, as I’ve noted before, is patched together from aspects of “geek” or “alternative” culture, from neo-burlesque to steampunk to anime to gaming; at first I though that Snyder’s relentless sexualization was evidence of wide-reaching and banal fetishes, but then I realized that he was taking things potentially appealing to women—and make no mistake, every cited alternative/nerd element of Sucker Punch is potentially female-friendly, down to the combat in scant, sexy clothes, if almost certainly not high heels—and engaging with them visually in the way that men might stare desirously at women. To Snyder, women (as in female characters) are inevitably trapped in this process, though this can’t implicate genre material as a whole—I mean, you could just dress all of the characters in pants, or not direct the camera up their skirts."

[...]

"For now, Snyder’s film is uniquely self-loathing and messianic in equal turns, a story about women that’s really about a man staring at women for the sake of men thinking harder about looking at women, since they’re not going to stop looking; is the history of cinema mostly that of boys filming girls, as Godard suggested? Showing us so many sexualized women while damning our eyes is hypocritical, perhaps, as critics have said of Snyder, but the impulse is also fused to the very basis of his approach to genre action, a flawed cinema, but far from the distant rumblings of upcoming no-doubt less troublesome fantasy extravaganzas, where Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury promises nothing more than setting up later, more lucrative adventures, having learned something in another movie life about never-ending conflicts."

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shadesofcaruso.com 3 years, 8 months ago

Superb post, you absolutely nailed it. And much more concisely and wisely than I did; forgive me for pimping out my own post but we agree on quite a lot about the downbeat ending.

http://shadesofcaruso.com/2013/06/25/what-have-they-done-to-the-man-of-tomorrow/

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Sean B 3 years, 8 months ago

This says a lot of what I've been trying to articulate for weeks -- and helped me finally articulate it myself. Thanks!

http://wineandsavages.blogspot.com/2013/07/zod-hates-women.html

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Jesse 3 years, 8 months ago

Superman was created at a time when Kansas was the heart of progressivism in the United States

In 1938? Not really. Though the Kansan that the GOP put up to run against Roosevelt two years earlier did come from the relatively liberal wing of the party.

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IG 3 years, 8 months ago

I think Moore and Gaiman did the superheroes-as-not-necessarily-beneficent-gods thing in Marvelman / Miracleman.

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Spoilers Below 3 years, 8 months ago

Anecdotally, if the farmers 300 miles north of where I live are anything like the ones down here, they're perfectly decent and nice folks who just happens to want to live under a system of religious fascism while simultaneously being left completely alone. It's a well known that you don't do business with anyone you don't go to the same church as because they'll screw you as hard as they can.

Now, I'll be the first to admit that anecdotes are not the same as evidence and hard data, but I'd be hard pressed to imagine a small town farmer who's in debt to the bank and attends a small town church every Sunday raising Superman and having him turn out exactly the way he does in the comics without Clark getting over a lot of the cultural values that would have been ingrained in him.

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 8 months ago

Superheroes, yes - scads of general superhero stories that are about questioning the genre. Not a lot of specifically Superman ones, however.

And notably, Kingdom Come still preserves the innate moral integrity of Superman. It posits a world that Superman is too good for, which is, to me, a fairly uninteresting take.

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 8 months ago

The trouble is that the TV Movie gave little to no indication that it had thought for a second about the possibility that its world might be problematic. Mind you, if you wanted to suggest that it was the model for, say, Doomsday or Last of the Time Lords...

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 8 months ago

Again, though, a measure of pretending you're the good little franchise film applies here. Sucker Punch was discrete and could end on the totally deconstructive note. This had to follow the endlessly serialized nature of Superman. Which is the basic truth - even the most deconstructive film would not have ended Superman. Superman as a franchise is going to go blithely on after this movie. For the movie to embrace that doesn't bother me in the slightest.

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Froborr 3 years, 8 months ago

On the other hand, if we assume that Superman is meant to be roughly 30 in Action Comics #1, then he was adopted by the Kents around 1908, which WOULD be when Kansas was the heart of progressivism.

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Andre Salles 3 years, 8 months ago

Then what's the point? If we're going to deconstruct Superman to the point where he kills thousands and levels a city without showing any concern over it, and then just act like none of it happened when it comes time to keep the franchise rolling, what's the purpose behind it all? Either we have a Superman film with a realistic and gritty take on the character, which would imply that consequences are real and important, or we have a good little franchise film. We can't have both. We can't have a massacre that no one even mentions later, because neither us nor Superman will have learned anything from all those deaths.

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 8 months ago

The thing is, I think Snyder adamantly does not intend the Game scenes to be moments of empowerment, although he does expect that the audience will mistake that as his intention and, in many cases, also mistake them as actual empowerment. I think the film is acutely aware that this sort of thing is not empowerment, which is why there's a clear point where the the fantasy stops and is replaced by genuinely brutal and upsetting violence. And that point is meant to make the audience reevaluate their supposed pleasure in what came before. Does Snyder know he's putting together extremely well-done section of male gaze lechery in those scenes? Of course he does, which is why he *overtly equates them to erotic dancing* in the film. But that doesn't mean that he's endorsing the pleasure. It's the classic trick of absurdist and existentialist theater - taking pleasure and making it unpleasant over time.

I mean, the banter at the start of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf is genuinely funny, but I've never seen anyone seriously suggest that this means that the movie endorses the emotional abuse that the banter is eventually revealed to be.

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 8 months ago

Well now, let's pause a moment and distinguish. Yes, as I noted, it's perfectly possible that Clark could find a lovely upbringing in Kansas.

But Clark isn't raised by a particular Kansas family. He's raised by an archetypal one - in a town that's actually called "Smallville" for God's sake. He's raised by the broadest portrayal of "Kansas-style American values" it's possible to conceive of.

And Man of Steel comes out as Kansas has, over the time it was being made, launched a pogrom on moderates in its state legislature, passed a cripplingly regressive budget, and become the model state for the Koch Brothers.

I think some anxiety about the archetype is in order.

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 8 months ago

Yes - it is significant that the nature of the Kansas archetype has changed over the seventy-five year history of Superman. Mainly, as I said, I think reconsidering the mythos in light of the current political climate in Kansas is worth doing.

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Jesse 3 years, 8 months ago

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Jesse 3 years, 8 months ago

he was adopted by the Kents around 1908, which WOULD be when Kansas was the heart of progressivism

Not really then either—Kansas went for Taft over Bryan in 1908. Bryan himself lived in Nebraska.

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 8 months ago

To create a bit of grit that haunts Superman's ongoing narrative. To create a little bit of pressure within the broad spectrum of what Superman is that alters how future writers approach the character. Much like the Sylvester McCoy era haunts Doctor Who without the series ever fully embracing the most manipulative and callous version of the character again. The film alters the cultural memory of Superman.

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Jesse 3 years, 8 months ago

I think there might be better ways to determine whether someone is a "misogynistic, racist religious fundamentalist" than to see whether he voted for Mitt Romney.

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 8 months ago

Well, fine, what was Brownback's best county?

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Jesse 3 years, 8 months ago

Either we have a Superman film with a realistic and gritty take on the character, which would imply that consequences are real and important, or we have a good little franchise film. We can't have both. We can't have a massacre that no one even mentions later

Coming next summer: Superman and the Silurians.

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Jesse 3 years, 8 months ago

Sam Brownback the Catholic, whose big foreign cause is assistance to Africa? Not sure I'd want to use him as a proxy for fundamentalism and racism either.

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 8 months ago

The Silurians is a good comparison. It had zero effect on the UNIT era, and its challenge to its morality was completely ignored, as made sense, as it was profoundly cackhanded. But its effect on the ongoing development of Doctor Who was massive and positive.

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 8 months ago

Oh, yes, and thank you, Froborr, for your comments on the draft. The Sucker Punch section is just my reply to you folded into the original essay, of course.

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 8 months ago

Are we deciding Catholic fundamentalism isn't a thing?

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Jesse 3 years, 8 months ago

I don't think Brownback is a pre-Vatican II guy.

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Jesse 3 years, 8 months ago

My point, anyway, is that you're trading in stereotypes & running roughshod over all kinds of distinctions. If you had just said, "Kansas is a culturally conservative place, and cultural conservatism tends to be associated with various forms of ugliness. What would a Superman raised with those values be like?" then I wouldn't have objected.

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Froborr 3 years, 8 months ago

No problem, Phil. Your take on Sucker Punch is fascinating. Not enough to make me willing to rewatch the movie from that perspective (or any perspective, for that matter), but a legitimately intriguing different take.

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 8 months ago

Yes, well, that's the tradeoff between nuance and being evocative that often comes up. I am aware that I made the choice. If anything, I think my mistake was trying to hedge it as much as I did - I chickened out on that paragraph between first draft and final draft, and fear in hindsight that I hit an unsatisfying middle ground.

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IG 3 years, 8 months ago

That's fair enough, though I think it's pertinent that (a) Marvelman was originally a direct copy of Captain Marvel, who in turn was (allegedly - according to DC's lawsuit) a direct copy of Superman, and (b) Moore said in interviews that his inspiration for the conclusion to his run on MM was an old 'imaginary' story in which Supes actually did become all-powerful and brought about eternal peace and prosperity for the Earth. ..

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Dave 3 years, 8 months ago

Demanding artistic integrity from one's superhero movies seems a touch naive. Yes, even after all this reading and deconstruction, Man of Steel remains a contradiction, and a rather jarring one at that, judging by the mainstream reaction to the final fight. And the franchise will indeed go blithely on, because that is it's nature, and more generally: the most self-aware and deconstructive pop spectacle is as much a spectacle as the most straightforward and uncritical. Superhero movies are capable of recognizing but never resolving this contradiction for us, and to say it is pointless if the movie indicates the problem of Superman but doesn't resolve it within the movie is to miss the point.

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jonathan inge 3 years, 8 months ago

Two things I take from Joe McCulloch's article:
1) People really need to watch a film before passing judgement. (Too many who haven't seen "Man of Steel" talking as if they had. Although I don't like the movie, I think most audiences would find it entertaining.)
2) Folks need to stop comparing "Sucker Punch" to "Brazil." A fitting comparison would be to Gilliam's "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen." One film is about a dreamer who has trouble with reality, the other is all about fantasy vs reality.

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 8 months ago

Thematically, perhaps. But the lobotomy scene is nicked straight from Brazil.

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BerserkRL 3 years, 8 months ago

The "steady erosion of individual choice, rights, and freedom" represents the triumph of "individualism"? That seems to be a strange use of the term "individualism."

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encyclops 3 years, 8 months ago

It would be interesting to see a Superman story that reconsidered the established facts not by keeping the adopted hometown and adjusting the character's values to match, but by keeping the values and adjusting the adopted hometown to match the values.

That is, if it's true (and I'm not saying it is) that Kansas in 1993 isn't where an adopted alien acquires a sense of compassion, decency, charity, humanism, and selflessness, where is it?

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BerserkRL 3 years, 8 months ago

become the model state for the Koch Brothers

The antiwar, pro-gay-marriage Koch brothers? I don't think Kansas is exactly their ideal.

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encyclops 3 years, 8 months ago

I've always assumed Ozymandias and Dr. Manhattan were standing in for two aspects of Superman. Not quite the same thing as interrogating the symbolic character himself, but the questions are similar.

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Doctor Memory 3 years, 8 months ago

Against this redemptive reading of Man of Steel (and, implicitly, the loathsome Sucker Punch), stands every interview Snyder has ever given and every other movie he has made. It's a valiant attempt, but sorry: no sale. Sometimes a hack is just a hack,

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George Potter 3 years, 8 months ago

Bravo, I say! *applause*

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Andre Salles 3 years, 8 months ago

I feel like The Silurians set the tone for the Doctor/Brigadier relationship, though. Its reverberations were felt throughout the UNIT era, and its specific events were, in fact, mentioned again, in both The Sea Devils and Warriors of the Deep. I guess it would be a closer comparison if the Doctor himself had wiped out an entire race and not felt even remotely conflicted about it. And the Silurians had ended with a joke about the Doctor's sex appeal. I feel like the show took itself much more seriously than that, which made the ending feel consequential.

At some point, I think we might be giving Snyder and Goyer too much credit. It feels to me like the entire intention with Man of Steel was to show as much "awesome" destruction as possible, because it's summer and that's what people want. And then to forget about all of that destruction before the end of the film, much like most moviegoers will forget about Man of Steel before they get to their cars. Perhaps there just isn't much more to it. That strikes me as profoundly irresponsible, but perhaps I am caring too much about the ideal of Superman.

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Theonlyspiral 3 years, 8 months ago

Terrance Dicks was a hack. Just because someone is a hack doesn't mean they can't throw together an entertaining yarn.

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Nyq Only 3 years, 8 months ago

To Jese: Yes he was trading in stereotypes but that is because the Kents are intended to be a stereotype. The problem is a conflict. The Kents are intended to be small town mid-west farmers because that is intended to suggest grounded traditional values. Which superficially sounds heart warmingly reassuring - until we ask what kinds of values are those likely to be?
Superman is one kind of myth, the Kents are another. As it happens they are a myth that is a politicized myth - and a politicized myth that the GOP has been utilising (for example in McCain/Palin's appeal to the 'real' America).
I don't think that is a bad thing as it happens - I think it helps the notion of Superman as a stand in for US hegemony (he is from the rural world but lives in a big city).

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Jesse 3 years, 8 months ago

The antiwar...Koch brothers? I don't think Kansas is exactly their ideal.

To be fair, it's been a century and a half since Kansas last fought a war.

Yes he was trading in stereotypes but that is because the Kents are intended to be a stereotype.

No, the maneuver was more complicated than that. When you say things like "state this as empirical fact based upon their voting patterns," you're stating that you're stepping out of the stereotype zone. But in fact Phil is just trading in a heartwarming stereotype for a vision of Kansas as the Other.

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Matt Largo 3 years, 8 months ago

Two stories the interpretations of which I an quite stoked to see. Personally, I think you're giving Snyder too much credit. In this case, I think apocalypse porn is just apocalypse porn.

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George Potter 3 years, 8 months ago

The "steady erosion of individual choice, rights, and freedom" represents the triumph of "individualism"? That seems to be a strange use of the term "individualism."

Strange indeed. And then I got to wondering what real world entities might fight savagely against each other for their own lofty interests, using their devastating power to destroy cities and kill citizens in the pursuit of their own disagreements? What would be stoic faced and callous enough to write off that death and terror as 'collateral damage' and demand praise from their victims for 'protecting them?'

I thought of a couple.

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BerserkRL 3 years, 8 months ago

It's been a century and a half since Kansas last fought a war

Voting for warmongers is fighting a war by proxy.

Of course both Republicans and Democrats tend to be warmongers, so that doesn't say anything specific about Kansas.

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Nyq Only 3 years, 8 months ago

OK, fair enough it was perhaps better said as a deconstruction of a stereotype or an attempt to hold a stereotype up against a different kind of generalization: a mean or modal group. Perhaps there is a clearer error - after all the Kents are fictional and live in fictional Kansas. This is a bit like fictional 1950s America - stable families, low crime, material prosperity and good, honest values and comparing it against a reality of entrenched discrimination.
Of course the other side to this is that the world has many people whose values don't match their values. It is perfectly possible for our socio-politically deconstructed Kents to have both a set of values that are deeply humanistic - valuing people intrinsically, and a naive Kantian deontology (don't lie, don't treat people as a means to an end etc) - but which is poorly generalised. I'm sure many people have older relatives who combine strong positive values with ugly patches of bigotry. That makes Superman more interesting, come to think of it.
Xenophpbic Kents who are kind to the neighbours (including neighbours who are immigrants or ethnic minorities that they regard as exceptions to the rule) who nevertheless bring up Clark with their values would present a dual challenge to the young Clark. As he grows he needs to fit the values he was raised with two realities: firstly his desire to be part of a big city liberal newspaper and secondly that he is an alien with almost god like powers. What does he shed from his Smallville world and what does he retain?
Oh how much more interesting if his baby-space-capsule-thingy had landed in Alabama? Or perhaps on a Afrikaaner farmstead in Apartheid South Africa?

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Jesse 3 years, 8 months ago

Oh how much more interesting if his baby-space-capsule-thingy had landed in Alabama? Or perhaps on a Afrikaaner farmstead in Apartheid South Africa?

There's a graphic novel that imagines the capsule landing in the Soviet Union. I haven't read it, so I don't know how good it is, but what a brilliant idea.

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Spoilers Below 3 years, 8 months ago

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Spoilers Below 3 years, 8 months ago

There's a graphic novel that imagines the capsule landing in the Soviet Union. I haven't read it, so I don't know how good it is, but what a brilliant idea.

Red Son, by Mark Millar, Dave Johnson, and Kilian Plunkett. It's awesome and worth the time to read.

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BerserkRL 3 years, 8 months ago

There was a story, I forget where or by whom, about Superman's being raised in Nazi Germany too.

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jonathan inge 3 years, 8 months ago

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Spoilers Below 3 years, 8 months ago

The "steady erosion of individual choice, rights, and freedom" represents the triumph of "individualism"? That seems to be a strange use of the term "individualism."

I believe this is colloquially referred to as the "Fuck you, got mine" school of individualism, wherein the priorities of some individuals (those on top and in power) are prioritized over others through force (usually economic or militaristic), and empathy is treated as a silly and worthless consideration. Sociopathic solipsism is its most extreme point.

So, pretty much the exact opposite of traditional individualism, and not really worthy of the title.

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George Potter 3 years, 8 months ago

There are really few ways to consider a character like Superman when it reaches a level of depicted power that may as well be called 'divine.' In my opinion because one of the more obvious questions is going to be: 'Why would this God hang around coddling us?'

From Superman's beginning (and well before he was truly god-like) that answer was most often: 'Because he's whimsical like that.' That's what, I think, was the thing he got from the Kents. A gentle upbringing by decent folks who stressed love for neighbors and lived in a whimsical, rural place called 'Smallville.' It wasn't a political or religious code being evoked, it was a far more general belief that ordinary, rural people were decent, level headed and whimsical. Norman Rockwell painted pictures of it, Frank Capra would soon start making movies about it. Post-WW1 and pre-WW2 media is filled with it.

And of course it was a fantasy, but we're talking about a fantasy comic with a main character who liked being shot at because it amused him.

The 60's Superman Family titles probably pushed the whimsy factor to the breaking point, being almost entirely whimsical and often with a dark, surrealistic edge. The worry of: 'What if my whimsical God becomes angry or hateful?' plagues the Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane series.

Since then the whimsy's been scaled way back, but it never really goes away. Seriously, only in a whimsical world would Superman's identity remain secret. And please, no hand-wavery like 'He vibrates his face molecules at super-speed' because -- if anything -- that's about as hundred times as whimsical as 'well, nobody just ever noticed.' John Byrne's modernization in the 80's amounted to 'Let's just treat this guy like Spider Man,' for awhile.

And from what I've read of Morrison's Superman work, he's brought a great deal of whimsy back.

So, MAN OF STEEL sounds like Superman with the whimsy extracted, or as close an attempt I've ever heard. I quite look forward to it, just on those experimental grounds. I may love it, I might hate it. But it sounds interesting enough.

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jonathan inge 3 years, 8 months ago

Zack Snyder says he was influenced by "Brazil" (http://herocomplex.latimes.com/movies/sucker-punch-zack-snyder-says-big-crazy-fairy-tale-influenced-by-brazil/). Even though that seems to be the end of it, I still don't agree with the comparison. I figure I will provide a detailed analysis elsewhere.

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Jesse 3 years, 8 months ago

It wasn't a political or religious code being evoked, it was a far more general belief that ordinary, rural people were decent, level headed and whimsical.

That in itself is a political belief, isn't it?

Norman Rockwell painted pictures of it, Frank Capra would soon start making movies about it.

And they both -- particularly Capra -- did explicitly political art about it. In Capra's case, art shot through with ambivalence: He loved that idea of America but he saw darkness in it too.

And from what I've read of Morrison's Superman work, he's brought a great deal of whimsy back.

That must be what I liked about it. As I've written elsewhere, I think Superman works best when it plunges into outright absurdism.

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jane 3 years, 8 months ago

"That is, if it's true (and I'm not saying it is) that Kansas in 1993 isn't where an adopted alien acquires a sense of compassion, decency, charity, humanism, and selflessness, where is it?"

Metropolis.

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encyclops 3 years, 8 months ago

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BerserkRL 3 years, 8 months ago

How It's a Wonderful Life ever got misidentified as a cheery heartwarming holiday story staggers the imagination. It's as though people remember only the last few minutes.

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George Potter 3 years, 8 months ago

I'd call it a meme more than a political theory when Superman was being conceived and introduced. A very-slow-then pop-cultural-context reacting to the worst of the Depression, or at least the Media as popular culture context

And they both -- particularly Capra -- did explicitly political art about it. In Capra's case, art shot through with ambivalence: He loved that idea of America but he saw darkness in it too.

Yes, they sure did -- but mostly after the intro of Superman. I'm actually a huge fan of Capra. He was the chief architect of the [/i]Why We Fight[/i] propaganda films, with much help from George Stevens, and I have huge respect for his talent and (though many deride him for this) his moral focus.

That must be what I liked about it. As I've written elsewhere, I think Superman works best when it plunges into outright absurdism.

I've read that article many times. :)

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George Potter 3 years, 8 months ago

And I apologize, Jesse, I didn't quote the first bit. :(

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Nyq Only 3 years, 8 months ago

I haven't read Red Son. I seem to recall an Elseworlds story where Ka-El is found by the Waynes rather than the Kents (i.e. he grows up as Batman rather than Superman). I don't recall a Nazi era Superman (no Nietzsche jokes please) but wasn't there an Elseworld's Batman along this line? I recall it as being a bit naff (Batman sets off to preserve the Austrian school of economics)

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Jesse 3 years, 8 months ago

Capra made some stinkers but at his best he was a really compelling and complex artist. A man who makes movies like Meet John Doe and It's a Wonderful Life is not to be underestimated. And to my taste the "Flying Trapeze" scene in It Happened One Night is one of the high points of '30s Hollywood.

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George Potter 3 years, 8 months ago

How It's a Wonderful Life ever got misidentified as a cheery heartwarming holiday story staggers the imagination. It's as though people remember only the last few minutes

Well, it's not really in any situation I've ever encountered. My family never celebrated Christmas, and I wasn't allowed to watch much TV.

In the situations other than that I've encountered, it's constant running on TV during Christmas has become a strange thing in my experience. I know lots of younger people who kind of hate it, and I've actually been to two Christmas parties where the subject of 'should we let the kids watch this?'

My answer was, of course, YES. It's not a movie about Christmas and Santa Clause. It's a movie about how being non-famous and decent makes you important and better than a rock star.

That's a message that always needs airing.

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Jesse 3 years, 8 months ago

Batman sets off to preserve the Austrian school of economics

This exists, yes.

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Nyq Only 3 years, 8 months ago

//This exists, yes.//

Phew - I was worried I may have hallucinated it. Now don't get me wrong, I like Batman, I enjoy Batman but if there is any superhero likely to fall into Nazi-pathological politics surely it is going to be the revenge minded guy with a grudge against society who likes to dress up in black to intimidate those he sees as the scum of society. His alter-ego is his mockery of bourgeois decadence in a state that is on the verge of collapse and which needs a strong (and ruthless) hand to take control. Its why Frank Miller writes Batman well...
In other words - Batman make an odd fit as a proto-libertarian (not a terrible fit but not a good fit).

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Nicholas Tosoni 3 years, 8 months ago

RE: The Superman "Elseworlds" stories--

I've read a really funny one called "Superman: True Brit," with John Cleese (as Kim Bread) and Ron "Howard" Johnson as two of its writers.

In a nutshell, it imagines what would happen if baby Kal-El had landed in Weston Super-Mare (Cleese's real-life birthplace). And...the Clarks raise their son Colin to conceal his powers; their motto is, "What would the neighbors think?!"

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Scott 3 years, 8 months ago

"There was a story, I forget where or by whom, about Superman's being raised in Nazi Germany too."

I don't know about comics -- although a Superman raised in a parallel earth where the Nazis won the war popped up in at least one of DC's recent 'Crises' -- but this sounds like "Ubermensch!", by Kim Newman. It's a short story in one of his collections (can't remember which), not an actual comic, though.

"I seem to recall an Elseworlds story where Ka-El is found by the Waynes rather than the Kents (i.e. he grows up as Batman rather than Superman)."

This was the first comic I ever read.

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r. j. paré 3 years, 8 months ago

I enjoyed MoS but, it seems, the parts I enjoyed are the opposite of yours doc [I hated the third act]. I get the impression you're a big fan of the tired, dystopian, deconstruction movement... Which is fine, but at some point we [comic book fans] do want our Superman to be a moral, noble, incorruptible champion and there's nothing wrong with that IMHO: it is called escapism for a reason.

If every single superhero comic were written in the vein of Watchmen... the genre would disappear. Bitter deconstruction only works when the predominant construction is hopeful.

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r. j. paré 3 years, 8 months ago

My family watches "It's a Wonderful Life" every year during the holidays. Often, multiple times. How anyone could mistake it for not being a heartwarming holiday tale boggles my mind. It is as though they only remember the dystopian world where George was never born and forget the rest of the story. It was also a powerful and incredibly moral tale as relevant today, in regards income/social class disparity as it ever was.

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BerserkRL 3 years, 8 months ago

Haven't read the Newman story. The Nazi Superman I had in mind was the Earth-10 Superman, also called Overman, in Final Crisis.

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BerserkRL 3 years, 8 months ago

I think it's a morally pernicious movie whose chief message is that morality and personal fulfillment are mutually incompatible, and that morality ultimately requires you to give up everything you care about in order to satisfy other people's expectations, even if it drives you to suicide. The tacked-on happy-ending reconciliation doesn't change the basic message. It's designed to make Aristoteleans reach for their xiphoi.

But aesthetically it's very well done.

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BerserkRL 3 years, 8 months ago

The horrifying part of the movie isn't the dystopian world without George. That part of the movie is just silly. (Without George, Mary would have been a timid librarian! With glsses!) the horrifying part is all the rest of the movie up to that point, where George again and again tears up everything he longs for in order to satisfy the demands of duty.

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BerserkRL 3 years, 8 months ago

I have no problem with bitter deconstruction when it's as good as Watchmen. My problem with Man of Steel is that it didn't do an especially good job at bitter deconstruction and it didn't do an especially good job at hopeful optimism either.

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r. j. paré 3 years, 8 months ago

My full review: https://www.facebook.com/notes/randy-par%C3%A9/man-of-steel-the-review/10151711824045152

I felt that most of the first 2/3 of the movie was brilliant [exception, the appallingly dumb death scene for Pa Kent]. The final 1/3 almost, but not quite, ruined the movie for me. I still give the film a hesitant thumbs up.. only because I so enjoyed it prior to the video game levels of mindless destruction and the un-Superman like killing of Zod.

Thankfully, these negatives were offset by the truly awesome fall of Krypton opening scenes, Clark's young life and journey of self discovery becoming a hero. Heck.... if the film ended with his successful leap to flight in the arctic.. it would have been short -- BUT almost perfect.

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Chadwick 3 years, 8 months ago

Dr Philip Sandifer likes Sucker Punch, Dr Mark Kermode hates it.

Which Doctor is right? There's only one way to find out...

...FIGHT!

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John Toon 3 years, 8 months ago

I don't think anyone's addressed this yet, but I think the big problem with the Zack Snyder Defence is that it attributes authorship of the film exclusively to Zack Snyder, who may or may not arguably have some sense of self-awareness.

As the director of Man of Steel, he could certainly have influenced the tone of the film, notably in the big long bust-up, but the script he was given was written by David Goyer, and one might assume some conceptual input from Christopher Nolan. Things like the narrative concept of Science-Fascist Krypton and Douchebag Pa Kent would have come from them. And while Snyder has form in filming deconstructive superhero scripts, one of which he co-wrote, Goyer and Nolan as collaborators have authorial form in the Christian Bale Batman trilogy, which wasn't so much smart and deconstructive as a trowelled-on grimdark homage to Frank Miller.

I think it's worth comparing Miller's Dark Knight to Man of Steel, as - like Man of Steel - I think it was an interesting idea in principle but one that should have remained separate from the main run of the comic it was commenting on, instead of which - like Man of Steel is probably expected to, for all I know - it became the basis for the next wave of the comic mainstream, quite a lot of which was cargo cult stuff that just seemed to want wallow in violence and misery (see also Nolan, perhaps?).

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Ross 3 years, 8 months ago

The bit that bugs me is that Mr. Potter commits grand larceny and there is never so much as a hint that he will ever face any consequences for it, or, indeed, ever face anything but a profit of several thousand stolen dollars.

(That alone negates any fantasy escapist angle. If I wanted to see a rich banker shamelessly, brazenly and literally steal a bunch of money, bankrupting a hard-working american, and never face any punishment for it, I can just watch the news)

The SNL alternate ending is an improvement.

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BerserkRL 3 years, 8 months ago

I think it's worth comparing Miller's Dark Knight to Man of Steel,

Though again, as with Watchmen: for all its problems (which I could go on about), Frank Miller's Dark Knight was really good; I don't see MoS as being in that league.

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vitaminbillwebb 3 years, 8 months ago

I like this reading a lot, actually. But I think the film is actually about Supes gaining human compassion and responsibility. He learns these things in crisis--"What was I supposed to do? Let them drown?"--and among working-class people like the fishermen he works with. Superman's ethos is a synthesis of Kansas-America's emphasis on the individual and Krypton-America's radical collectivism/fascism. It rejects both and founds a new way forward in the spaces it negates.

For my money, this is why the pornographic violence of the final act doesn't work. everyone in the movie wants to make Superman choose between Krypton and Kansas, and the film does a good job showing the results as his battle with Krypton requires him to obliterate both. So that's good, but it actually goes nowhere. Where Superman should be learning a lesson about compassion, as his character arc telegraphs for audiences, the plot requires him to participate in ever-escalating pornographic violence. The violence, of course, culminates in Superman's act of violence, killing Zod to save a family. There, we finally get altruistic and compassionate Superman, crying because he has to destroy the representative of Krypton in order to save Metropolis, but it's really too little too late. *Man of Steel* fails because it's so caught up in seeing that we get the money shot in Metropolis's destruction that it overlooks its thematic and character arc. As Snyder films always do, it puts spectacle before substance and fails as a result.

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jsd 3 years, 8 months ago

Kermode's right. Sorry, Dr. S, but there is no possible redemptive reading of Sucker Punch. It's just misogynistic and gross and icky.

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 8 months ago

Picking on jsd because he's the most recent commenter to make this point, not because he's the only one, but...

Why? I mean, perhaps my reading of Sucker Punch is wrong. I don't think it is. In fact, I stand strongly by it. But it could be wrong. But I gave evidence and the like, and if I'm wrong, you know, there's presumably some counter-evidence and all.

I mean, nobody is under an obligation to refute me at length or anything. But I do wish someone who disagrees would actually go cite evidence to explain why what I identify as the film's turning point is not, in fact.

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Froborr 3 years, 8 months ago

That is, if it's true (and I'm not saying it is) that Kansas in 1993 isn't where an adopted alien acquires a sense of compassion, decency, charity, humanism, and selflessness, where is it?

Aunt May's house.

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Roger Whitson 3 years, 8 months ago

Actually, I think Kingdom Come is pretty good on the Gods kill angle. It's just that Superman backs down before he levels the UN building in the last issue.

I also think your reading is compelling, Phil, but it's giving way too much agency to Snyder as someone who intends to deconstruct Superman - especially when Superman is a tightly controlled corporate character. Although a vision like the one you articulate here certainly sets up a pretty interesting characterization for a Luther who might not be entirely wrong.

I'd be more willing to believe that the levels of superhero violence in films have escalated to such a degree that this film was inevitable (if in the form of Superman or not). So, instead of an intentional deconstruction, the superhero film has simply become so excessive that it has simply deconstructed itself. IMO, there's absolutely no reason why DC would want an Elseworlds-style deconstruction of the character to launch a new film franchise. They probably see the darker image as more in line w/ what happened in Nolan's Batman films but on a larger scale.

As someone who grew up in Missouri, I feel that the Pa Kent portion was pretty over-generalized. Yes, there are obviously many conservatives in that region, but the Kents were based on dust bowl farmers. There's a Steinbeckian aspect to the Kents that I feel is aptly portrayed (if not as memorably) by Costner - i.e. the resilient character who is acutely aware of his limitations in the face of nature.

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Roger Whitson 3 years, 8 months ago

I'm still pretty-pissed (but not surprised) that Morrison's promised "socialist" Superman was so cordoned-off by DC that he basically faded out after about 7 issues of the new Action Comics.

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 8 months ago

I think the difference between Snyder and Morrison in terms of their corporate-unfriendly takes on Superman may come down mostly to the fact that Snyder had the good sense to shut up and make a movie figuring that Warner wouldn't be looking too closely beyond "ooh, it's shiny," whereas Morrison bragged about his socialist take such that they couldn't ignore it.

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Froborr 3 years, 8 months ago

So, I watched Man of Steel tonight. Sorry, Phil, but I see zero evidence for the deconstruction, and a huge piece of missing evidence that should be there--there is no suggestion that humanity actually does fear Superman. The one general doesn't count--he's Action Movie Military Type A, so of course he's paranoid and reactionary. (Type B-for-Bay is hypercompetent and unfailingly honorable, that was the general played by Benson from Law and Order SVU.)

This wasn't the terrible movie people are making it out to be. If nothing else, it's a live-action Superman that has Emil Hamilton (who was GREAT in the DCAU) in it, and he's played by Toby from West Wing to boot!

Mostly, it was just not any fun. The action is tedious and familiar, there's absolutely no sense of wonder, no lightness or levity or humor, and everything is X-Box Gray. (Did Zod in his armor look astoundingly like the Gears of War guy to anyone else?)

No, I'm okay with a movie not being fun. There's some very good movies with absolutely no fun to be found in them. But they have ideas, and this... doesn't. It apes the form of a coming-of-age story, but there's no character growth, no personality, no chemistry between Lois and Superman. I mean, it's competently put together and does successfully generate sufficient interest in the events on-screen to keep me watching, and at no point does it fill me with rage like, say, Sucker Punch, but it's not actually at all good. It's decidedly mediocre.

Two stray observations:

*Time elapsed from Jor-El criticizing Zod for being willing to kill Kryptonians to Jor-El killing Kryptonians: 10 seconds.

*Okay, seriously, the Kryptonians have found a solution for the single worst thing about being a mammal, and we're supposed to think it's a bad thing? I mean, preprogamming people for their jobs, okay, that's awful, but there's no necessary connection between that and artificial wombs! You couldn't have set one up, Jor-El, and just not turned on the behavioral programming? You had to implant your wife with a crotchburster?

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Froborr 3 years, 8 months ago

Oh, one more. "I grew up in Kansas. It's hard to get more American than that."

Fuck you, everyone that worked on this movie. We really needed a suggestion that white folks from Kansas are more American than everybody else? We don't get enough of that shit already?

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Alan 3 years, 8 months ago

I think it's a morally pernicious movie whose chief message is that morality and personal fulfillment are mutually incompatible, and that morality ultimately requires you to give up everything you care about in order to satisfy other people's expectations, even if it drives you to suicide.

Thank you, BerserkRL. Thank. You. This is the best description I have ever seen that articulates why I loathe It's A Wonderful Life with a fiery passion. To me, it's the story of a man whose martyr complex and compulsion to sacrifice his dreams for others drives him to the brink of self-destruction, and then God Himself personally intervenes to show him that his self-destructive martyrdom is actually a Good Thing because of how beneficial it had been to other people.

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Alan 3 years, 8 months ago

"I grew up in Kansas. It's hard to get more American than that." Wow. That line is in the movie? I think I might have walked out at that point.

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ricky james 3 years ago

Wow Great movie!!! My family watches "It's a Wonderful Life" every year during the holidays. Often, multiple times....
Superman Leather Jackets

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Andrew Bowman 2 years, 9 months ago

@Nicholas Tosoni

True Brit is very good, with plenty of Pythonesque moments and references (most obviously with The Rutles) but I have to correct your reference to Cleese's co-author: it's Kim "Howard" Johnson, not Ron. In fact, Kim "Howard" is a Python friend and biographer of some renown; I would imagine some the references were his! :)

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