The Hero We Need, and Perhaps the Movie We Deserve

man-of-steel-trailerThe best scene in “Man of Steel” is also its purest, and sim­plest, and least com­pli­cated, and many peo­ple hap­pen to agree. It hap­pens when Super­man takes his first flight—streaking dar­ingly low across con­ti­nents, rock­et­ing like a super­sonic bul­let pierc­ing through clouds, and grace­fully soar­ing up into space. A noble, stir­ring feel­ing of absolute awe emerges. I was expect­ing more moments like that in Zack Sny­der and Christo­pher Nolan’s film, but they never mate­ri­al­ized. Instead, New York City once again bears the wrath of some extra-terrestrial evil­do­ers descend­ing from outer space. Armored super­hu­mans grap­ple together and are forcibly thrown into unfor­tu­nate sky­scrap­ers many times over, emerg­ing with­out a scratch, until it becomes monot­ony, and the same sky­scrap­ers pre­dictably top­ple over with a resound­ing crash of steel and glass over scream­ing throngs of help­less denizens. Instead of ter­ror or ter­ri­ble thrills, tedium set­tles in to stay.

Per­haps that is unfair. I’ll be the first to acknowl­edge that “Man of Steel” has its moments, or rather had the poten­tial for so many more moments like the afore­men­tioned one. It’s odd because it seems to rec­og­nize that also—that it could have been the polar oppo­site of the “Iron Man” films, where gleam­ing tech­nol­ogy and snarky one-liners are replaced with a lit­tle inspir­ing pro­fun­dity. Or, at least, some­thing more akin to what Rus­sell Crowe’s Jor-El likes say­ing aloud—how his son will be like a god to the human race, how they will love him and admire him, how he will show them the path to great­ness. That’s the story that I was hop­ing for, as some­one who has never read a comic book nor seen the Super­man movies. A  story about an inde­struc­tible super­man, born on a dis­tant planet light-years away and raised in the corn­fields of Kansas. No need for fancy-pants gad­gets or rela­tion­ship prob­lems. He’s beyond that. At the end of the day, he still calls him­self an Amer­i­can, and embod­ies all the Amer­i­can ideals. It was Michael Caine who said that if Bat­man is the way the world sees America,Superman is the way Amer­ica sees itself.

If “Man of Steel” was really that movie, one could for­give all its atro­ciously redun­dant and bor­ing bat­tles, and, in gen­eral, its lazy script. How­ever, every­thing that hints at greatness—there are some scenes with Kevin Cost­ner, the young Superman’s adopted father, that seem to be writ­ten by an eleven-year old but are imbued with clumsy earnest­ness which I don’t take par­tic­u­lar offense to—are over­shad­owed by gigan­tic explo­sions straight out of whichever sum­mer block­buster of your pick­ing. Ah, but there are Amer­i­can flags fly­ing in the dust and rub­ble, and in the back­ground of nearly every scene! There are cen­tral ele­ments that work, such as the British hunk by the name of Henry Cav­ill, who is shy, unas­sum­ing, yet when he stands on the Antarc­tic ice and, clos­ing his eyes, turns his head towards the sun he resem­bles an oth­er­worldly man. The char­ac­ters of Lois Lane, played by Amy Adams, and Superman’s adopted mother, played by Diane Lane, how­ever, are just badly writ­ten in all aspects, and Michael Shan­non gives a valiant turn as Gen­eral Zod, but what lingers in the mind is his scowl and strange hair­cut. Not to men­tion his stub­born unwill­ing­ness to give up the fight, yawn, already, after being slammed into whatever’s still stand­ing for the six­teenth time.

The most dis­ap­point­ing thing, at the end of the day, is that I  know that the Super­man movie I (per­haps naively) wanted to see—simple, hon­est, seri­ous, and with some self-respect that is lack­ing in most of today’s super­hero movies—will prob­a­bly never be made by Hol­ly­wood, because it would be con­sid­ered bor­ing, and bor­ing movies don’t make a lot of money. Bet­ter to muck around in the mud with the rest, and, oh, can we get the same VFX house that Michael Bay used for the whole third act? “Man of Steel” should have fully com­mit­ted to being that which it occa­sion­ally yearns to be, or could have been. After all, some­times, you have to take a leap of faith…

Photo via Google Images.