Superman was my favorite when I was growing up. Also the Hulk. The two of them had to share the crown. In retrospect, they both probably say a lot about where my little head was at. All superheroes have secret identities, but mostly those identities are in service of protecting the heroes’ girlfriends and adoptive families and/or evading detection by the numbskull police forces who don’t approve of vigilante justice. In the cases of Superman and the Hulk, it was literally that people could not know who they truly were or it would destroy them. Admittedly, the weird face blindness that everyone suffered in Metropolis never sat particularly well with me, even as a child. His only disguise is a pair of glasses? And a slightly unruly cowlick? Maybe on the street, but in a room full of NEWSPAPER MEN? Yikes. The other thing I never liked was that Superman never used the bathroom. Whatever, kids get concerned about the darndest things. It wasn’t that he even needed to use the bathroom necessarily, but if he wasn’t going to ever go to the bathroom then I felt they should at least explain it. Does he not need to, because of the sun? Show don’t tell but sometimes tell. For the most part though, Superman was just so great. He is so powerful! And fun! He literally gets his strength from the sun! Or at least, he used to.
Despite being the #1 movie in America (and the biggest June opening weekend of all time, for people who enjoy pretending that business revenues are fun and interesting) I don’t know anyone else who saw Man of Steel, and so over the course of the weekend (I saw the movie on Friday) people would ask me how it was, and my answer was always that I didn’t hate it, but that it was a weird movie. It’s for sure the best movie Zack Snyder has ever made, although I’m not sure that’s saying much. There are some cool fight scenes in it. Henry Cavill is very handsome, although apparently there are no human braces on Earth strong enough to straighten Superman’s crooked bottom teeth. (JK LOL but seriously.)
This reboot of Superman really focuses on how Superman is a space alien, who comes from a planet with super advanced Kindle technology. Seriously, what was up with all of those talking Kindles? Anyway, he comes to Earth and is raised in a blue jeans commercial and then grows up to star in a Toby Keith video. His enemy is Commander Zod, who is a Space Hitler. One of his henchmen even has a Space German accent! So, Space Hitler wants the magical skull (!!!) because it contained everyone’s Job Listing and without everyone’s Job Listing, how will the Space Nazis know jobs to give The Matrix battery cells?! So he comes to Earth using Google Maps and tries to kidnap Superman and his girlfriend but then Hologram Russell Crowe saves them. Space Hitler causes 9/11Billion but luckily Hologram Russell Crowe already told Amy Adams that she just needs to drop the little ship on the big ship and it will make a black hole. No duh! Then Space Hitler and Superman have a fist fight in the sky and after killing, like, a hundred billion people, the laser straw that breaks the supercamel’s back is when Zod tries to kill one nuclear family in a lobby. Come on, Zod! Not that ONE family! So Superman snaps his neck and screams his tears of woe because now he is the only Fascist Totalitarian on Earth.
When the movie isn’t a CGI hellscape, it’s a weird cross between a Terrence Malick parody and a blue jeans commercial. You have expect to see Superman running his hand through fields of tall grass while Sean Penn whispers something about papa’s bouts of anger and the cool beads of sweat that dripped down mama’s pitcher of iced tea. It was an interesting and not unwelcome choice for a superhero movie, although I’m not sure it ever really did what it was intended to do. If you borrow the tropes of a tone poem but you aren’t actually making a tone poem, then there’s not really any there there. The emperor has no clothes because they’re all still hung on the line, blowing in that goddamned wind.
There are some silly things in the movie, but that is by accident. Like, when Zod is first landing on Earth, one reporter says to another reporter “Did you see what’s happening? It’s all over the news!” WHILE THEY ARE BOTH AT WORK AT A NEWSPAPER. Everyone at the Daily Planet, ostensibly the most important paper in the world, stands around watching CNN. No one is like, hey, wait, should we, uh, guys, should we also be doing something about this right now, since it is our work? That was funny. But again: by accident. There are no jokes in Man of Steel. The first time we meet Clark Kent he is on a fishing boat and a one of the massive fishing baskets breaks free from its chains and comes crashing to the deck. One of the fishermen bum rushes Clark Kent and knocks him out of the way just in time. But how? Superman can withstand the weight of an entire deep sea oil rig, and have a choo choo train thrown in his face, but some dude can just push him over? At one point Superman puts Zod in a rear naked choke. That’s funny. (Also why were people still hanging out in the lobby of Chicago’s Union Station as if the city isn’t being destroyed all around them? IMDB Goofs!) Like I said, there are some silly things but they are accidents.
Because what this movie is above all is FUCKING GRIM. It’s relentlessly bleak and sad. When Zod turns on his World Engines to turn the planet’s atmosphere and gravitational pull into the atmosphere and gravitational pull of Krypton, and thereby bury Superman under a pile of skulls, the machines belch red and black smoke into the air, and hit Metropolis with the power of a hundred 9/11s. Seriously, so many 9/11s. It’s crazy how many 9/11s are in this movie. You know how the tarmac was comically long at the end of Fast Five? That is how comically long this 9/11 is. And at the end of it all, Superman and Lois Lane stand in what is now Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and kiss, which I think, somehow, impossibly, is the only time the movie makes a joke, there in the Apocalyptic ash wastes. GET A ROOM! OH RIGHT, YOU CAN’T, ALL OF THE ROOMS WERE JUST DESTROYED.
The original Superman music, which is an intrinsic part of my youthuful Superman experience, and which still does something to me (no krypto) embodies and elicits my primary emotional response to Superman. It’s so epic and exciting and STRONG. It builds. It DELIVERS. You hear this music when, after some hand-wringing or a couple of minor defeats, Superman is just like, yo, fuck this, I’m SUPERMAN. He clenches his superhands into superfists and gets out there and does his thing. And you are like, “fuck yeah, Superman.” Through the entirety of Man of Steel I was waiting for this moment. Clark Kent feels like an outsider? OK. He misses his dad? OK. He’s not sure what his purpose is? OK. He’s torn about the conflict between where he is and where he came from? OK. But throughout the entire movie I was just waiting and waiting for him to get his shit together, and for that hopeful, stirring, exciting music to kick in.
I’m still waiting.
I’m not normally that picky or even attuned to music. When I go out to eat at restaurants with friends, they will always complain about the music, or point out that the same song has played three times since we sat down, but I am the one who didn’t even notice what was playing in the first place. It gently fades into the background for me, which is often its intention. So it is particularly meaningful (to me) how noticeable and how affecting the grinding, dour, mournful music was in Man of Steel. Even the closing credits was just dark, ominous, sad music. Really? DID WE JUST WATCH A SUPERMAN MOVIE OR IS THIS A FUCKING NIGHTMARE?!
Again, I didn’t hate the movie. Like, what I would say is that if you were at all interested in Man of Steel then you should see Man of Steel. That’s what I would say. Why not? Go ahead and see it! It’s a movie! You wanted to see it, so see it. Just know that it’s a bummer. And that you will never even get to say Fuck yeah, Superman. All I wanted was a single moment where I could say Fuck yeah, Superman! Zod gets two, TWO, “Fuck yeah, Zod!” moments if you’re into that kind of thing, and we don’t even get one Superman one? Is that too much to ask from a Superman movie? Well, ask in one hand and make your business in the other and see which one is mildly disappointed but still didn’t hate it but it’s weird first. (What?)
Man of REAL TALK.