The movie opened into a world rich with a science fiction fan’s dreams. Visually rife with unexplored culture, fauna, and technology, Krypton can be felt almost immediately. There are several things unclear in the beginning that are explained further in the film, but there is no doubt that Krypton has a history we will never get to explore fully because, well, it’s time to boom. Honestly, the events leading up to Kal El’s departure were extremely bittersweet for me. As I watched the events unfold, I knew that every last thing I saw would cease to exist shortly and I mourned for that. I would have happily watched a whole movie set in that world alone, the tough part is knowing I never will.
Without much to go on, we are presented with Jor El and Lara defying the laws by which Krypton has allowed itself to be governed, because they know it’s all over. They’ve committed the ‘heresy’ of giving birth to a child naturally, all in the hopes that the child will be free to choose his own fate. It’s never explained how Jor knows Krypton is doomed, but since he’s the Chief Scientist we’re lead to assume he knows everything. He also knows that Earth will make his newborn son invincible, which raises a few questions such as why Kryptonians have never exploited this before, but let’s not get off-track.
Zod comes across as an incredibly brutish character, the sort of man you’d expect to be the lackey and not the man in charge. I’m not entirely sure if the actor/director decided this actively or not, but the characterization was either genius as hell or overly stereotypical and worked itself out magically. His drive is explained by the end of the film and actually makes a terrifying amount of sense, but for awhile I was struck by the dedicated amount of thoughtless action the man consistently unleashes. His followers, however, are sadly two-dimensional. A well-placed line or two between characters would have alleviated that, but those were unimportant details when this thing is all about the Supes.
Speaking of Superman, the bastard was well chosen. I’ll admit I was unimpressed by the choice presented in previews because I had no idea how well he was going to fit into the role, they were only useful in showing you how well he fit into the suit. Not that the latter went amiss with me when time came to actually watch the film, mind you, the guy had me panting the moment he was half naked and stealing clothing. You know, when I actually got a chance to see him in all his muscular and chest-hair-y glory. Yes. Chest hair, people. Superman has chest hair. I have to sing praises to the film industry for bringing beefy hunks to the big screen. I know it can be blamed on the comic book genre being thoroughly pillaged for the sake of box office cash, but it’s one I support so wholeheartedly that I get misty-eyed just thinking about it. Just… thank you, Hollywood, for making them look like men.
Ahem, that aside, the actor (Henry Cavill) pulled Clark/Superman off excellently, I feel. The only time I rolled my eyes was a flashback to him being a teenager-y douchebag and that’s not his fault. I roll my eyes at all teenage douche-baggery, so it hardly counts. From the simple body-language of revealing himself to Lois to a scene of desperate emotion for having to go against his character in the name of the greater good, I applaud him.
So Lois. Lois is smart—and stupid. There’s some unspoken agreement that to be a ballsy, career-forward woman that you have to risk life and limb when it’s ridiculous to do so. As if common sense skipped you and Lady Luck is the only force between you and certain death. Lady Luck loves Lois, but I have to admit that aside from the risky choices early on in the film, the woman’s got brass and investigative smarts. She tracks down Clark Kent by chasing leads the old-fashioned way, something she points out is something other people are bound to try to do. From then on, however, all of the bad spots she lands in are the fault of everybody the hell else. Dumb ass bloggers on television, Superman himself, and so on. She handles herself remarkably well and even iced the cake for me in the single most important scene of the film (in my meager opinion.)
Smattered throughout the film are scenes of Clark’s early years, timed to give you an idea of why being a god amongst men sucks royally and why trusting your parents can go just as awry as being a rebel. These scenes hand you all the reasons why Clark spends his life trying to hide what he can do, why he struggles with himself over helping people when they’re in trouble, and so on. It shows loving parents, emotional self-discovery, and one of the worst things I’ve ever seen a father do to a child.
You see, Jonathan Kent honestly thought Clark would have a shitty life if people knew what he could do. Nevermind the fact that even if the government wants to experiment on him, that they couldn’t cut him, cage him, or harm him in any way. Nevermind that the scared woman who knows Clark saved the school bus of children called it a ‘miracle’. Nevermind that the kid who picked on him became his best friend because he saved his life. Forget all that stuff and just think about how a man who knows he’s got a powerful alien for an adopted son might think about this. My kid is weird and I don’t want his life to get any harder, I want to protect him from the big, nasty world, and so on. He didn’t think the world was ready for Clark and, at first glance, the man’s right. Though I think the truth was that Clark wasn’t ready for the world yet and Jonathan was doing his best to teach his son to keep his own secret because of that. The problem with teaching him to hide the truth to prevent him from getting hurt is that it leads directly to hurting him. I don’t know about you, but watching your dad die when you could easily save him is just about the worst thing a father could make a child do, and Jonathan did it. He raised a son who trusted so absolutely in him, that when he made it clear ‘don’t save me from certain death’, the poor kid listened. I’d like to call it a sacrifice of love, but I really can’t. My only relief is in knowing Clark came to understand that too. I think it’s that one mistake that lead him to save others even though it meant leaving a trail of good deeds everywhere, which is a big fuck you that I approve of.
Especially when you take into account the fact that Superman is universally embraced very quickly. Not only did he go out of his way to save people even when in hiding—thereby creating a modern myth through his god-like works—but when shit hits the fan and he shows up to fight the scary-ass mothers from another world, it takes the military about two seconds to figure out there is a big damn difference between the two. So… good job, human race! This is a rare instance of script writers allowing you to have brains just like you do in real life. The writers actually did a rather fabulous job of being intelligent through most of the film, only leaving behind a few loopholes in logic that were probably not their fault to begin with.
What loopholes? you ask. Oh, well, the loopholes in logic would fall predominantly in two groups: superman physics and Krypton’s folly.
The former is definitely not to be blamed on script writers, because the physics of the Superman universe have always been faulty. Nerds around the world have long, long debates over what would actually be possible or not and it’s because there’s no real solution to the problem. Let me give you a basic example: Superman and Zod have equal strength and ability on Earth, which should mean that they can hurt each other when nothing else can. But the truth is that even if Zod’s punch could normally break Superman’s jaw, we’re still using Earth physics. It means a powerful punch wouldn’t hurt Superman one iota since it would only be a fist pushing Superman’s face, which transfers into velocity, which really only means Zod might as well have simply thrown Superman onto the pavement a hundred feet away. Pavement that never has and never will actually hurt Superman when he hits it, grates over it, bounces off of it, and so on. So any fight is pointless. You can push each other around, but you can’t actually hurt one another. Add in to that the fact that supposedly Zod and his followers have extreme trouble with their newfound powers of vision and hearing, yet have no issue at all with their super strength and flea-jumping abilities immediately… and you find it hard to see how the physics possibly work. That said, you can’t have a satisfying movie if you believe the hero is having no effect on the villain and vice versa, so it’s just one of those things you have to agree to suspend disbelief for.
So Krypton’s loophole? Well, Jor explains that Kryptonians were so advanced that they’d spread over much of the galaxy by exploring, making colonies, and so on. It all sounds great until he glosses quickly over the change in the last few hundred years, when Krypton decided to use artificial birth with pre-decided life roles, to completely plunder the natural resources of their planet to extinction, and then have no idea their planet is about to explode. How the hell does a race who has machines that can terraform entire worlds into their natural habitat never come up with the concept of mining their resources on planets away from home? Also, how come everyone looks extremely spiffy in their outfits, have advanced ships and machines that can create black hole prisons, world-making engines, phantom drives, and artificial births… if they’re running out of resources? How come no one but the Chief Scientist has any idea that they’ve made a grave mistake, that there is nothing left, and the planet’s about to collapse? How come Krypton decided to pull back from all the colonies, shut themselves in, and stop having natural births, when they had a whole universe they could fill up if they wanted? And if they’re aware that yellow suns make them super-human, why is this avoided? These just don’t make any sense, unfortunately, and glazing over it by saying ‘we did this’ just doesn’t cut it in the end. It’s not that I don’t believe there could be a genius answer that produces the same ending, it’s just a loophole without it.
The World Engine, by the way, was extremely cool. While terraforming is old hat in science fiction, Man of Steel went about how the technology does it in a way I’ve never seen done before. The idea of slaving the master ship to the World Engine was new, the idea that it pierces through the center of the planet and begins a powerful tug of war with the master ship is new, and the overall visual and audio effects of sawing back and forth was inspired. I really love how that was done.
So Kal/Clark/Supes buckles the World Engine to make the master ship vulnerable while Lois and the military drop his cosmic baby carriage on the main ship to trigger the phantom drive to suck them up into a black hole and disappear forever. It’s actually a plot gimmick that works well in this instance. After all the fighting going on between Superman and Zod’s faction, it becomes fairly clear that destroying the enemy is nearly impossible and sucking them all into space is a good solution. So they’re all gone, yay the day is saved.
Zod is still there. I mean, if he hadn’t been and that was the end, I think the movie still could’ve been acceptable, but there he was and the movie suddenly added in a new layer that improved it. There weren’t anymore phantom drives, this guy was going to have to die. Strangely, in a moment of intelligence, even Zod states that one of them would have the die for it to end. In fact, Zod’s appearance scene was almost surreal for me because Zod actually makes sense for a few minutes. Scary. He is lost, he explains, now that any hope of Krypton being remade is gone, because—get this, this is where it suddenly all starts to make sense—his purpose in being born was purely to protect Krypton. Artificial births with pre-destined roles? Check. He was born to do one thing and can’t seem to break free of it. Brutish characterization? Check. He even says that his purpose was to do whatever it took to preserve Krypton. Well, shit, no wonder he never actually sat there and questioned his actions. I mean, that would’ve meant he’d risk going against his primary objective. You don’t need to think for yourself when you only need to function just enough to beat something into submission in the name of the homeworld. Attempt to conquer your 0wn government and declare martial law to protect your planet? No problem. Kill lots of your own people for putting your planet in danger? Well, of course. Hunt down a rogue Kryptonian to destroy the entire human race in favor of recreating Krypton with a derelict World Engine? Don’t make me laugh. Lose your complete damn mind when the last hope of remaking this world is destroyed? Yes, please, with a side of hot sauce. Make it clear that you will never stop until you’re dead, then try to kill as many people in front of Superman as possible as revenge for killing Krypton? Yes, sir, may I have anoth—neck snapped.
No, really. This is the impending sense of desperation that Superman has to deal with as he grapples a Zod set on revenge. The warm-hearted Superman begs Zod not to do this, but there is a moment when Superman just knows: Zod will never, ever stop. And in that moment he knows there is only one choice, a choice he never wanted to make, and he kills the one thing only he can kill. But the weight of that choice, that tide of realization that he had to go against everything he ever worked for—to save and preserve life—that his perfect record of good has been taken from him, comes out in a cry of absolute anguish. This is, by far, the best scene in the entire movie, because it was palpable and hard to miss the destruction of some small part of him. He makes his commitment right then and there as a superhero by killing for Earth’s salvation.
Lois witnesses this moment and doesn’t hesitate for a moment to run to Superman there on his knees to hold his head and try to soothe him. He clutches onto her and crushes her body into tiny pieces. No, not really, but the moment is a wonderful one, as Lois yields to femininity and uses the strength of a woman to comfort the crumpled emotions of an otherwise invincible man.
What follows is something fairly easy to predict while watching the movie, but insanely brilliant on the behalf of those making the film. They changed one extremely important piece of information that has been consistent in Superman up until now. The end of the film depicts Clark arriving at the Daily Planet to start his new job undercover as a reporter, changing forever the Clark before Superman paradigm and making the epic alteration I previously mentioned. There is no identity to hide from Lois. Lois knows who he is and what he does from the very start and is a powerful ally in his choice to keep an eye on the world from his alter ego vantage point. No more are the days of ‘how come you can’t tell he’s Superman wearing glasses??’ or ‘But if Lois found out the world would explode!’. This film has done a dynamic thing here. He doesn’t really go about this film as Superman or even Clark, he’s in it as Kal El and somehow that’s deeper than any other form of media has yet to have undertaken.
To wrap up, I’d like to throw in a few random thoughts that had no place elsewhere in this review. I was relieved when the previews first came out about this movie when I learned that Lex Luthor was not going to be involved. I really feel like it gave the film a chance to remove itself from stereotypes and strike out on its own ground, and it has. However, there’s no denying that Lex is a huge deal in the franchise and that he is coming. That’s why I was delighted by the single, subtle reference to Luthorcorp in the movie and I have to say ‘bravo’ to it. Secondly, in watching Henry Cavill intently, other bits of my nerd brain connected and I couldn’t help but think: damn, he would’ve been a perfect Richard Rahl if they’d filmed those books properly. Or John Galt, even. Anyone else think that? No? That’s a shame.
So to wrap up, I utterly loved this movie. None of the loopholes dissuaded me from loving the direction they’ve taken with this and I can’t wait to see more. I’ve heard rumors DC wants to follow in Marvel’s footsteps and do a Justice League film, which means—I HOPE AGAINST HOPE—Wonder Woman and others will soon make appearances on the big screen. If this is any indication of how those will be, I’m an excited bunny.