A Brief Defense of Man of Steel

Posted: May 1, 2015 by Blaine Grimes in Uncategorized

Man-of-Steel-poster2-610x904Unless you’ve been off the internet for the past week, you’ve probably seen the debut trailer for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. I’ve watched the trailer (multiple times);  and the more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that Zack Snyder and company did a very good job of setting up BvS in the 2013 Man of Steel. In fact, the trailer has made me think a lot about BvS’s predecessor; and in light of the recent buzz, I would like to take a look back at Man of Steel—a film that received a good deal of criticism—and offer a brief defense.

Soon after its premiere, people rushed to the blogosphere to denounce Zack Snyder’s approach to Superman: the film was too dark, too serious; it was too dry; the suit wasn’t right—the blue and red too subdued. The majority of the complaints, however, centered around the film’s third act and contended that Henry Cavill’s Superman destroyed so much of Metropolis and Smallville, consequently taking the lives of numerous innocent bystanders, that he was a disgrace to the uniform. “Superman would do whatever it takes to keep people from getting hurt,” they said. Some even went so far as to estimate the actual cost of the damage done in the film. What I want to briefly argue, however, is that it is precisely these aforementioned issues that make Man of Steel both an excellent origin story and a smart setup of BvS.

Yes, Superman causes a lot of damage in Man of Steel, and I admit that Snyder’s team probably had a little too much fun with destruction and chaos in the film. That being said, there is one important thing that I think most critics of these aspects of the film overlook: Man of Steel is, first and foremost, an origin story—and one that aspires to some semblance of realism. As an origin story, a large portion of the film is devoted to showing how Clark grew up and lived most of his life as a boy from Kansas—not as the titular superhero. He avoids school fights and uses his powers sparingly in his early years. In fact, by the time the infamous third act rolls around, Clark has only been the Superman for a day or so. This means that he’s not an experienced fighter (in this world superheroes aren’t born knowing martial arts), and he doesn’t have much experience saving the world; but he finds himself pitted against one of the greatest military leaders in the universe, General Zod (Michael Shannon). In other words, Zod is at an advantage. He gets to choose the battlefield and decides that he will build a new Krypton on Earth. Superman can’t take the battle to the moon or another planet because Zod has decided to destroy Superman’s home world. Of course there will be destruction, and lives will inevitably be lost.

Now, does the fact that Zod chose earth as his battlefield mean that Superman had to throw his enemies though power plants andMV5BMTc0NjcxNDQ3OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNjI4NTkxNg@@._V1__SX1394_SY660_ buildings? Did he have to drag Zod’s head through a building as they fought midair? No, he didn’t. And that’s the wonderful thing about Zack Snyder’s approach to this iconic superhero: he is human. He makes mistakes—costly ones. His aforementioned inexperience as a fighter shows itself in Man of Steel. What all of this means is that Snyder succeeded in giving his audiences a grittier, more realistic take on the world’s most famous and greatest superhero. You may not like that approach (and it’s fine if you don’t), but that doesn’t make Man of Steel a failure. I even think that this movie will make even more sense once we see Batman v Superman.

Superman’s failures and mistakes in Man of Steel provided the canvas on which  BvS will unfold. He saved the world in Man of Steel, and many people worship him in BvS as a result. That Superman destroyed a large portion of Metropolis explains why some people are so angry with and afraid of him in BvS. The crowd’s angry chants of “go home!” in the newly-released trailer reinforce this notion. And now an older Bruce Wayne will be able to look down on Superman and dismiss him as young, inexperienced, and possibly dangerous. This kind of world-building would not be possible were it not for Man of Steel.

I love being able to talk about movies in this way. Part of that is because I’m a hopeless nerd; the other part is that as a Christian I have a special love for stories—especially the old, old one. When I dig into a film like I have here, I don’t do it to be tedious, but because I rejoice that God reveals Himself in His creation by giving the ability to tell stories and build worlds and enjoy seeing them told and built. By delighting in these gifts, I love the Giver.

That being said, what did you think of Man of Steel? Did you like it? Was the destruction too much? Is my explanation all wrong? I’d like to hear from you. Comment below.


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