Geek Cinema: “Meh” of Steel
Jul 26, 2013 by     8 Comments    Posted In: Columns, Geek Cinema

Man of SteelIt’s taken me awhile to get around to this, but yeah… I saw Man of Steel. I couldn’t bring myself to write about it immediately after seeing it, and I couldn’t figure out why. Now I have. More on that in a bit.

It was this past weekend that did it. I don’t know if you heard, the Internet was pretty low-key about it, but there was a comic book show in San Diego. Apparently they do this every year? It’s actually a show for movies and TV shows and stuff but sometimes somebody mentions something about comic books there too. Anyway. So Warner Bros. gave a presentation there… again, you may have missed it… and at the end of the presentation they announced their follow-up to Man of Steel would be Batman vs. Superman.

Superman Punching BatmanThat’s right. Henry Cavill’s Superman is going up against a brand new non-Newsies cast member Batman. Frackin’ awesome, right? So I wish the idea of the whole thing filled me with eager sillies and not just a gnawing sense of dread.

And that’s my in for talking about Man of Steel. I’m terrified that my reaction to THAT movie is going to be my reaction to the NEXT movie. I’ll put it like this: before seeing Man of Steel, I really, REALLY wanted it to be good. After seeing Man of Steel, I still really, REALLY wanted it to be good.

My early post-Man of Steel discussions with friends seemed to involve a lot of earnest back-and-forth of what we should all really appreciate about the movie. (“Boy, they really got his power set right!” “Man, it’s good to see a Superman who is REALLY ripped.” “Superman actually fought someone in this one! Awesome!”) Every conversation seemed to end with somebody making the following observation: “It was a TON better than Superman Returns.” Well, sure it was. But a five pound turd is better than a ten pound turd. It’s still a turd, though.

Even with our REALLY REALLY EARNEST OPTIMISM about what we LOVED LOVED LOVED about Man of Steel… things crept in. Annoying things. Irksome things. Things we kind of mumbled at half volume, knowing they needed to be out there but wanting to get past them quickly. (“I mean, I guess they could have had SOME humor in it.” “They spent a whole lot of time talking about Krypton and genetic codes and stuff, huh?” “Did they really destroy half of Metropolis? In the first movie? And nobody seemed to care?” “That was just kind of a punching contest at the end.”)

Batman Vs Superman TDKRIt went on like that. Those are just some samples. Please, feel free to insert your own nitpicky OKAY THIS KIND OF BOTHERED ME BUT IT WAS STILL AWESOME observations in the comments below.

Screw it, though. I’m not in the business of making excuses for Warner Bros. and DC, and the more time I spend away from Man of Steel the more my true feelings on it fight their way to the surface, and those true feelings are this: I did not think it was very good. They came SO CLOSE to being really, really RIDICULOUSLY good, and they had some crucial working parts there: the Kryptonian segments looked amazing. Henry Cavill was great, looked great, could be a great Superman going forward. The flights and fights were stellar. But did it have to be SO melancholy? Did there have to be SO much stoically and quietly staring off into the yonder whilst Maximus waxed poetically about the potential of the human race? Superman interacting with human-type people was a joy to watch. Couldn’t we have had some more of that? COULD WE STOP WITH THE CHRIST IMAGERY IN SUPERMAN MOVIES PLEASE? And did anyone else notice that they stretched about an hour’s worth of plot into two and a half hours?

See, Warner Bros., I get that you might want to do something different than Marvel Studios and Disney. I get that you look at the Nolan Dark Knight trilogy and think THAT’S your superhero path. You’re missing something crucial, though: Nolan’s trilogy was a very specific vision from a very specific auteur. The Batman mythos is better for their existence… but they are NOT direct translations of Batman, and by the third movie the style was wearing thin; truth told, I find The Dark Knight Returns just about impossible to re-watch (and I can’t watch Bale’s Batman anymore without thinking of the guy from the College Humor Badman sketches. Kind of ruins the whole thing.) I’m sure Man of Steel made a truckload of money. I haven’t checked; I assume you’re all doing just fine, financially speaking. But there’s a reason that all the Marvel Studios Avengers-verse movies were so successful: they were fun.


Why couldn’t you have made a Superman movie that was, above all else, FUN?

TDKR Batman punches SupermanBecause Man of Steel was a lot of things, but it was not fun. Like The Dark Knight Returns, it was at times uncomfortable in its brutality. Example: as a lifelong New Yorker I admit I may be overly sensitive to this, but Metropolis collapsing in on itself brought back some very hard memories of 9/11. I know, yes, in The Avengers a big chunk of NYC was destroyed. But that was the CLOSING ACT of Marvel’s movieverse 1.0. Man of Steel was your OPENING act. If you destroyed Metropolis before the Act 1 break, what the hell are you going to do for an encore?

Which brings me back to the recently announced Batman vs. Superman. This is a concept that we should all be 80’s California surfer dude stoked for, but I find myself terrified, Warner Bros., that you’ll forget to put in the element that made most of us love superheroes in the first place: fun. Superhero adventures are fun. So please, make your heroes fun again, Warner Bros. Make them fun. Is that so much to ask?

Oh, and put Robin in the next movie. Thanks!

Tom Hoefner (@TomHoefner on Twitter) is a playwright, theatre director, college professor, and would-be novelist living in Brooklyn with his wife and daughter. He really misses Chris Reeve.

Check out “From the Casefiles of Race and Cookie McCloud”, a blog of super-short stories chronicling the adventures of Race McCloud, Private Eye, and his 15-year old former-secret-agent-in-training niece Cookie:


8 Comments Add Comment

  • CountingGardens July 26, 2013 at 10:05 am

    To be fair, the imagery in Superman has always been less Christian and more so Judaic. Since Christians believed their messiah to already have come while Jews are still waiting. HOWEVER, I thought this movie was amazing and literally nailed everything that I wanted out of a Superman flick. Literally, there were parts where I felt it had so much freaking heart, especially the scenes with Papa Kent. There were also parts like the ending fight sequence that were just awesome.

    Mainly however, DC movies are still outdoing the Marvel movies in the villain counterpart. You really do actually feel compassionate for Zod at the end of the movie because you realize how broken he has become. He was born, bred and programmed for his duty, and his duty has been taken away from him. What has he than become? See, Marvel movies may entertain and put butts in seats, but they very rarely ask these sorts of philosophical questions.

  • TomHef July 26, 2013 at 4:23 pm

    Take everything you said, and flip it, and that’s my opinion on those points.

  • TomHef July 26, 2013 at 4:24 pm

    Although I will say this: DC, generally speaking, has better villains than Marvel. But then, generally speaking, they have better HEROES than Marvel, which goes back to my main point: they are wasting their characters in boring movies.

  • CountingGardens July 26, 2013 at 5:03 pm

    Also, the idea that you want these movies to be more fun is a little abstract. A lot of people say that DC movies aren’t as “fun” as Marvel movies – it’s strange. If the idea of “fun” in a movie equates to jokes and little one liners, well sure, Avengers was basically constructed around that entire concept. The plot was paper-thin in Avengers yet everyone still loved it because it was easy to follow and flashy.

    Superman is fun for different reasons. You essentially get to see two Gods smash each other around Metropolis. The effects are pretty much jaw dropping as well. However, if you’re going to say the movie was less fun because it was less original, I wouldn’t go that route. Nothing is original anymore, so the idea of originality is a moot point. You need to view the film as its own thing, building its own world. Stop with preconceived notions of Superman from comics and past films because they WILL NOT mesh well with this film.

    But heck, I don’t really know what fun is in movies anymore because its a subjective term. I thought Green Lantern was fun. It was definitely entertaining and we know how well that turned out.

  • Danny D July 26, 2013 at 5:21 pm

    They DID make a “fun” Superman movie! It was called SUPERMAN THE MOVIE! And you HATE IT!

    I’m not sure a superhero has to be “fun”, per se. I see nothing wrong with a superhero movie taking itself seriously. And I’ve been seeing this sentiment a lot, that just because it’s based on a comic it needs to be fun, otherwise it’s not good. Why CAN’T a superhero movie take itself seriously? Tell a real story? Anyway.

    I agree with a bunch of your points. The movie started off strong. Really strong. Krypton was great, even with the LAND OF THE LOST sized bugs and junk. I liked how Amy Adam’s Lois is portrayed as a smart reporter who tracked down Superman. I liked the development of the relationship between Lois and Clark, as it felt more organic than the immediate “Lois loves Clark at first sight” way frequently portrayed in the… everywhere.

    I liked how there was really a fine line between making him alienated versus making him gritty. He wasn’t broody, like many claim. He was introspective, and restrained. Well, he was in the first 2/3 of the movie. More on that in a sec. Clark’s love for his parents was great. I’m glad that he wasn’t strictly an obedient son. He was a teenager, he rebelled, was whiny, etc. Clark felt REAL. I liked Zod, but Michael Shannon had a really tough job, which was no matter how much time goes by, General Zod IS Terence Stamp. Faora was bad fraggin’ ass. Henry Cavill was terrific, and to those who say he can’t act, don’t confuse subtlty with no acting ability. He was quietly restrained. And in contrast, Cavill’s scream at the end of his fight with Zod is equivalent to Christopher Reeve’s roar at the end of SUPERMAN THE MOVIE in that it’s got the same visceralness and pain that they feel in that moment. Great stuff.

    What I didn’t like: the Pa Kent tornado scene. That’s when they lost me. I didn’t like the relentless fight scene for 45 fraggin’ damn minutes. What’s more, I didn’t like that the fight had no escalation. It started at 150 mph and just stayed there. I HATED that Superman didn’t really save people. I HATED that the Zod/Superman fight just leveled everything, and that nobody mentioned the damn death toll? I HATED that Superman DIDN’T REALLY SAVE PEOPLE. Let me say that again… HE DIDN’T SAVE PEOPLE. And to this day, I’m still torn on the ending to the Zod fight. I get what they were going for, but I’m still torn on whether it was a really Superman-y thing to do. And then… business as usual at the Daily Planet.

    The movie left me with a disjointed feeling, because they got so much right and then got so much wrong. And the right doesn’t cure the wrong in this case. I’m hopeful about a sequel, because they can fix a lot of the problems here and make a great Superman movie, but I think they need to get somebody besides Goyer and Snyder to do this. Goyer is terribly overrated, because he was only really good on JSA when Geoff Johns was reigning him in.

    As for the Superman/Batman news… I’m with Tom here. Meh. You gotta get Batman right in a new movie with a new Batman before you can go straight into a team up movie. I get wanting to get started on a shared universe thing, but there’s a hundred different right ways to do it. And this ain’t it.

  • Danny D July 26, 2013 at 5:28 pm

    By the way, you kept on saying DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, when you probably meant DARK KNIGHT RISES. It’s an understandable, but still completely appaling and unacceptable, mistake.

  • TomHef July 26, 2013 at 10:49 pm

    Wow! Good call on Danny D! Dark Knight Returns? Whoof! I’ll have to take a thousand lashings for that one. And from you? I’d like it…

    I actually liked Henry Cavill, quite a bit. I didn’t like the script or the film direction or the editing, all of which dictate pace, which, if I want to get all film-critic (which I never do) is what bothered me most about the movie. It just plodded along from one boring scene to the next until the end, when it hit you over the head non-stop for about 45 minutes. More or less, Danny, I agree with your assessment of the film.

    As for this one: “Stop with preconceived notions of Superman from comics and past films because they WILL NOT mesh well with this film.” You know, Superman IS a character with almost 100 years of baggage. We all KNOW who Superman is, and what his adventures look like. Sorry; can’t help that.

    What is fun? Fun is like pornography. I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it.

  • Kelly Bahoric August 24, 2013 at 3:04 am

    I’d have to say that Superman Returns was better than Man of Steel. While it didn’t have as much action as a comic book movie should have, it had more heart. Man of Steel was, well, cold. It was all spectacle and no emotion. Every moment where they tried to make you “feel” was trite and felt forced. It was just trying so hard to be profound that it actually distanced the audience from harboring an feelings for the characters and what was happening to them. At least in Superman Returns I actually cared about Superman as a character whereas in Man of Steel I couldn’t have cared less.