Review: The Man of Steel (Movie)

A little away from my normal posts – but right now I am learning about editing, revisions, and making stories better.

Some authors say, after you start being an author yourself you stop enjoying books and other story forms. You see the flaws. So far I have been fortunate – except in this particular case. I don’t look forward to the time when I react to all stories this way – I hope I never do.

Man of Steel Review

I went expecting the epic blockbuster with typical Superman twists related to an origin story. In that respect, the movie delivers. Explosions, buildings destroyed, flying, etc. – all the wonderful special effects one needs for a summer superhero flick. The slow unveil of the back story of Clark Kent growing up was acceptably poignant. A bonus with the Krypton sequences just as unique and otherworldly as Superman (Christopher Reeves) version. Gritter and more complicated than the ice-white sets of the 1978 version, but perfect for 2013.

If you liked the movie, don’t read further. I don’t want to ruin your pleasant experience. I am going to go into a lot of details (SPOILERS) because this movie is the perfect example of why you need to be consistent about a magic system and worldbuilding. I don’t remember any other movie where I was thrown out of it so often and so far by poor content. If you remember anything I missed or would like to comment about it, please respond. If it will be a spoiler, please clearly state where spoilers.

If I could have enjoyed blockbuster features and only those features, the movie would have been perfect. But the worldbuilding was so cringe-worthy I nearly walked out during the last third of the movie (you know, the “best” part of a summer action flick – the final battle). Maybe if I hadn’t spent the day studying editing … but no, if I was using AJ Hartley’s ABC(D)s for Beta Readers  (p. 220 in How to Write Magical Words: A Writer’s Companion) the whole movie would have been marked up with D: Don’t Believe. Time after time I was thrown out of the story

I mean I am okay with the bad science already integral to the mythos. Superman flying, and getting his power from the sun, and wormhole transportation from Krypton, and X-ray and Heat and the dozen of other Visions and Super-Senses. Those mythos were absorbed as a child and part of me still believes them. I’m okay with the comic book violence and the emphasis of action over plot for a summer flick. But …


At least get night and day correct! My movie companion says I should treat the errors related to night/day as continuity errors. I am laying them at the feet of worldbuildng or fact-checking. Since we are using a present-day Earth as the base instead of a fantasy planet like Krypton, I feel the writers/directors should have gotten night and day correct under worldbuilding rules.

Technically Bad – Fact-Checking Editing Errors

So the first night-day issue was General Zod’s announcement. They go around the planet and we see people huddled around TVs (should have had more variation in size and “age” than shown) – all in twilight. Kind of cool – sunset around the planet at the same time. The other one (the final straw to throw me out of the story and want to crawl out of the theatre) – The world engines – one in Metropolis (New York) and other in Indian Ocean – on the other side of the planet. Both are in daylight. – WHAT? I mean, they even had Kal-El fly into space, have the planet (half-day and half-night) rotate around him and come back down. That was an awesome way to “fly” faster – use the planet’s rotation in your favor. But if the planet is half-day and half-night, …. Why isn’t the two terraformers under different light? If the world engine near Australia had been dark, I think the action sequences would have been spectacular – reimage the scene with dark and all the light happening around it – the water floating reflecting rainbows against stars.

How hard is it to get time correct? Pretty hard from the looks of it. Perry and his crew are at work always – no one but Lois traveling away for stories. I think we see the Daily Planet staff in the office early morning to late evening. Do they live there?

Other “technical” issues: (1) On Krypton, a broken moon is shown in the sky, yet when we pan out for Krypton exploding this is gone. I forgave the “art” issue. (2) Girl screaming under water on the school bus.  Really bad “foley”. I was going with it as an action flick, tension heightening item, UNTIL she inhaled and screamed again – really how did she get that second scream out … underwater? Check out of movie. I pushed myself back in as Clark brought the bus out of the water – I told myself this was a sound-editing mistake, one of the last things a movie lies down. No one caught the issue.  (3) Zod aged (beard goes white) in the 33 years since Superman grew up on Earth and Faora, his female sidekick pet-psychopath, did not.

A mantra I often use to enjoy movies with a few glitches – “It is art; let it flow over you”. A couple technical issues are to be expected. The daylight on opposite sides of the planet during the biggest battle – well, that is just crap. Like walking into the Louvre and discovering the Mona Lisa had Tammy Baker makeup added by the Joker.

Bad Worldbuilding

Worldbuilding is all about making consistent mythos. We all remember the scene in Supergirl as she slides while crossing the tilting floor and we are screaming at the screen – Fly! You I.D.I.O.T., you can Fly! Not very consistent in 1984. Destroys the dramatic moment.

Kal-El gets his powers from (1) Low Earth gravity, (2) Earth’s “rich” atmosphere (as explained by Jor-El) which seem related to super senses (Zod gets them when exposed to Earth’s atmosphere), (3) Earth’s “younger” sun producing radiation to harden skin and strengthen his muscles and structure still further (also explained by Jor-El), (4) End product of years of Kryptonian genetic manipulation with a bit of natural mutation by parental breaking of rules (implied).  All clearly explained.

The movie not only explains (tells) the world building, but also shows the world building, making the mythos believable and real. I assume the Oil Rig knocking him for the loop and pushing his superstrength to the limit is because he was growing older and in power. Initially the scene is dissatisfying because oil rig – pah, he can handle that. But if he was and is still growing in power because of time on Earth, I will happily absorb the worldbuilding.

We see him gaining control of his super senses – I guess that just hit him suddenly (?). He already seemed to have a good handle on the heat vision since the door handle heating was controlled. Poor Martha having a toddler with that power. Kal-el  learns to fly by jumping then ignoring gravity. I remember one comic stating low level telekinetic/levitation ability might have been something Kryptonians had bred into.

The worldbuilding shows time and again you need to be on Earth a while to gain all the abilities Superman has. Then throws it out the window making all Kryptonians are as strong, fast, and invulnerable as Superman. Ugh!!!

How did Zod get supersenses immediately upon exposure to the atmosphere when Clark didn’t get them until Elementary School – nearly a full decade on the planet?  How the heck did Zod get HEAT vision so quickly and under control to threaten people? Kal-el fell down coughing blood on the Kryptonian ship and took hours to recover – yet Zod can get rid of his breather and go to town in seconds? Faora and Ursa get POUNDED on by Kal-El and the American military – guess they spent lots of time in Earth-like tanning beds on the trip through space because they walk out without a scratch. Invulnerability much?

I am willing to give Zod flying since that seems to be related to Earth’s gravity and/or natural Kryptonian telekinesis. But the rest wasn’t needed. These Kryptonians came in BATTLE SUITS. Can you imagine the epicness of Kal-el going toe-to-toe with very strong people in the best armor ever made? Would have been awesome and believable. I didn’t believe Ka-el fighting a unit of elite military troopers – as strong and fast as him – bred and trained for war and surviving. The storytellers didn’t need to break down the worldbuilding they did to give Superman his powers, they could have used the Battle Suits and superior technology. I think that is why I don’t forgive them – they had an alternative works just as well, if not better! (And imagine them coming BACK in another movie after exposing themselves to the environmental features of Earth– sure, Kal-el will always be a little ahead, but EPIC possibilities!)

Bad Character Decisions

Still all of that may have been forgiven (well, I still think the night-day issue of being on opposite sides of the planet is a killer like Supergirl not flying), if the characters worked. Characters drive the story. At the end of the day, I don’t care about the invulnerable Super-Duper can do everything man – I care about the corn-bred boy from Kansas in over his head living in New York City – Metropolis – whatever you want to call it.  Therefore the actions of the characters and their decisions need to work.

And they don’t.

How did Clark infiltrate a military base in the arctic? More important, how did Lois Lane backtrack Clark from the base to his mother? Remember she has been pulled off the story already. Remember she does this quickly (the clock starts ticking from the time Kal-El activates the scout ship). Does she have private funds of her own? I know people who work even when rich – if she is one of them, establishment of her resources would be nice. “You are on two-week sabbatical without pay.” – “Dang it, I love to work.” “Right, money doesn’t matter since you are a Lane – make that a three-week sabbatical.” We don’t need to know where the Lane family has their money – we just need to treat the name like Hilton or Mars or Walton or Kennedy. One sentence, only one more sentence was needed in the dialogue.

Extremely annoying is the New Yorkers – I know Metropolis isn’t officially New York, but any comic collector knows the truth. In Avengers, the on-the-ground normal New Yorkers scream, but they also fight, they run, they plan, they move.  These people have seen buildings fall over. They know to leave the buildings, get on the streets, and head for the bridges out of town. You might walk for hours, but you get gone. Unlike the Avengers – the Man-of-Steel civilian counterparts stay put. What? At least let them be reporters – with Perry turning around and shouting at people to get the Story and the office emptying. Watching the battle forever and finally announcing “It’s time to leave now”. No, really it is not time to leave – it was time to leave half an hour ago!!!

The only gem of character action-development was General Zod. Once all his plans fail and he was alone in the world, his soliloquy about being bred only to protect Krypton and her people is perfect. You understand everything this man has done was for one purpose, the purpose he was bred and shaped for. He could not have chosen any other path. Confirmation and foreshadowing in the Krypton backstory and Jor-El remarks about wanting to give Kal-El, his son, choices no one on Krypton make you believe this. I was little put off by Zod then attacking the Man of Steel. He had just said he didn’t have any people left, but he did have one. Kal-el. I think the soliloquy should have ended with “All I have left is you, and you … you chose humans. You are human. You killed my people!” Still, I believe Zod beginning to end as a character and the actions he choose.

The scene where Superman has to kill Zod is suppose to be an OMG moment. Anyone following Superman mythos – comic and movie – knows Superman doesn’t kill. It is the one weakness (?) this god-power man has. Him killing Zod is suppose to be the climax of the emotional journey. Except this journey was NEVER ADDED TO THE PLOT!!!!  In this particular movie, Superman’s aversion to killing was NEVER established. Instead we see him going toe-to-toe with Faora and Ursa on Smallville’s main street with the army shooting guns and releasing bombs. He told people to go into buildings, but bullets ricochet. He tosses Ursa through buildings. Some of the Kanas residents must be hurt and killed. He never debated attacks on the villains – maybe in this scene he could have established an aversion to killing.  His heartache at failing to save people.

Or how about regretting losing his temper and beating on the villain after his mother was attacked?

I was so far out of the story by the time Zog was using his Heat Vision to hold the people hostage in Union Station (I know train station is “unnamed” – but come on, we all recognize where that scene was shot!), I couldn’t care. All I could think about was – Superman, you just destroyed half a city. Tens of thousands are dead, hundreds of thousands are seriously injured, a couple million have lost their home or their work. And you are upset by four people? Why were you not upset before? Why did you toss your enemies through buildings?

So do you agree with my assessments? Did you see anything else that is bad? What did you think they did right with plot and character development?

I think my problem boils down to this – I have a “Willing Suspension of Disbelief”. I worked with the movie as best I could. They just used up their quota. Or as TV Tropes put it I was able to “believe the impossible, but not the improbable.”