MAN OF STEEL is an alien invasion story.  The film has a tragic underlying theme about a once glorious species that literally crumbled under its own ambition in a desperate move to preserve a failed way of life. Without a planet of their own, these aliens make Earth the setting for an internal conflict between two factions: where one man courageously rejects his people's plans to revive their species.  If you took the red S off of that one guy's chest, it might even be a better film because there would be no messing with the fundamentals of the iconic character of Superman.

Who is Superman? My answer to that question has always been Clark Kent. Without Clark, Superman has no purpose, no values and therefore no motivation to become a hero. Clark is the son of Jonathan and Martha Kent, a hardworking couple who believe in the goodness of others and more importantly in helping people. If Clark Kent was a human child only, he would have grown up to become a cop or a doctor because he possessed a sense of belonging. Smallville wasn't a place where people hid from responsibility, it was a town where simple but strong folks created a safe place in the world.  Superman's mythos is fundamentally bred from Smallville.

MAN OF STEEL ambitiously, and wrongly in my opinion, cuts the meaning of Smallville from Superman's origin. In fact, it goes one step further in having Jonathan Kent tell Clark that he maybe should have let his classmates die in a bus accident in order to keep his powers secret. I could forgive this film for trying to portray the real world fear a man like Jonathan would feel after such an event, but the film goes further when it shows Clark standing idly by as he watches Jonathan get swept up by a tornado. Two things are wrong with this scenario: 1) that Clark would fail to save the only father he's ever known and 2) that Jonathan would let his son live with the guilt of watching himself die in order to keep his secret. This scene in particular guts these two characters from what I see as the brilliance of Superman's origin and meaning.

So, who is Clark Kent? MAN OF STEEL has no answer to that question, and therefore we don't really have an answer to the first question of who is Superman?  This Clark is afraid of the world, distrusting of humans, fully believing that he is an outsider. Aside from the fact that his parents loved him, he has no connection with a community or humanity for that matter. He drifts from one menial job to the next, fulfilling this Jonathan Kent's directive to hide from people. Since when did Clark Kent become Bruce Banner? This is a guy who may be good inside, but he sure doesn't care to do anything about it. Oh, but he gets a suit...

Clark meanders onto a military expedition researching an alien craft embedded in the ice for tens of thousands of years. He gains entry into the craft and happens to interact with an artificial intelligence version of his birth father, Jor-El. Jor-El tells Clark all about Krypton, its destruction, its failings and oh, by the way, here's a suit readily made for you on a spaceship that predated your arrival on Earth. This perfunctory hand-off of the suit leads to the emergence of Kal-El flying around for the first time ever, clumsily taking down mountain tops. On this basis alone, Kal-El decides to become a hero. Not because of his human heritage, but because his A.I. dad tells him that he's super powerful, that the family motto is "hope" and oh yeah, here's a cape.  Luckily, General Zod arrives to give Kal-El something to do now that he's all decked out.

And now, the world knows of aliens. People are afraid of the guy with the S on his chest as well as these super-creepy dudes led by General Zod. Kal-El tells humans that he's on their side, delivering his message to Lois Lane in a clinical setting that is meant to cement their liking of one another.  Just a side note, I like this Lois Lane quite a bit. She figures out that Clark Kent is Kal-El before anyone else, and she decides to keep it a secret based on her respect for Kal-El.  Finally, Lois is the smartest person in the room, an investigative reporter who actually investigates the biggest story ever and gets the answer before anyone else. Her being a protector of Kal-El's life and identity forges a real bond between the two characters, and that is a phenomenal twist on the origin.

Then the film gets hazy- a fight breaks out in the CGI version of Smallville between Kal-El and the Kryptonians. Why are they fighting? Because Zod wants to turn Earth into a wasteland in order to bring about a New Krypton. Part of this is to terraform Earth into a planet that emulates old Krypton, a place where... Kryptonians will not be as powerful as they are now? Okay. I'll give Zod a pass, he's been hanging around Nero from J.J. Abrams' STAR TREK, logic and motive are not necessary factors when you have big fights going on, right? I know I'm basically trashing the movie here, but it does not hold up well to critical thought.

Anyway, Zod kicks off the terraforming scheme before he even subdues Kal-El, a tactically risky if not dumb move by Krypton's greatest military leader. Kal-El forms a tacit alliance with the United States Armed Forces to stop Zod, somewhere along the way a communications specialist mentions "Superman is on his way to the Indian Ocean." The human general asks "Superman?" and the comms specialist says "Oh yeah, that's what we've taken to calling him." Nice christening, screenwriter.

The film enters a sublime state of action choreography for the ultimate fight between "Superman" and General Zod. Director Zack Snyder achieves great visuals and captures the impact of the showdown in ways never shown on film. Unfortunately, it becomes destruction porn in the vein of Michael Bay. So much havoc is caused that I turned to my friend at one point and said "Zod turned Metropolis into Detroit."

The fight ends with one final insult to the remaining character of Superman. While in Kal-El's grasp, Zod trains his heat vision on a family cornered in a train station. Kal-El begs Zod to stop, but Zod insists that it's time to start killing random, defenseless people to prove that Kal-El chose the wrong side in the fight. What does Kal-El do? He snaps Zod's neck. After a moment of silence, Kal-El just screams like a madman at Zod's lifeless body, or is he screaming at himself for killing the bully finally (after a lifetime of being bullied)?

All of these flaws come from the script. The acting and directing were fantastic, and they keep the film afloat. I love the music as well, very epic, space-age material that speaks more emotion in many scenes than the words forced through the mouths of the actors. Like I write above, take the S off the guy's chest and you have the elements of an interesting action movie. Unfortunately, this is a film about a guy that some people call "Superman." Superman means something to me, and to many others familiar with his purpose. MAN OF STEEL is not a Superman movie because it misses the essential elements of the character. It's entertaining but so deeply flawed in how it measures its hero.

Below is a panel by John Byrne from his 1986 comic book miniseries "Man of Steel." This one piece captures the meaning of Clark Kent and Superman perfectly. This hero is man enough to wear his underwear on the outside.


  1. Well done JackSack!

  2. Excellent read Adam, you make a lot of good points.

  3. Thank you both for reading and commenting! Model citizens...

  4. ahhhh I want to read this so bad! trying to wait till I see the film :P
    Great stuff I'm sure cousin! will read soon!

  5. My biggest complaint about the movie is that unless people were *directly in front of him*, Superman Did. Not. Care. If he cared, he would have steered the fight out of Smallville instead of *into* it. He would have fought Zod in the air, or in space, or over the ocean, or in New Jersey, or someplace else that nobody lives in or cares about, not THE MIDDLE OF THE STILL INTACT PARTS OF METROPOLIS! He would have tried to stop that tanker truck instead of flying over it and having it explode against the parking garage *demolishing* it, and anyone who happened to be in it.

    Inexperience only goes so far to explain the sheer level of damage caused *BY SUPERMAN FIGHTING WHERE HE WAS FIGHTING*.

    Also, why exactly didn't the carrier groups that are in the Arabian Sea send anything over to the Indean ocean to attack the World Engine? Why did Superman go to THE PLACE HE'S WEAKENED, which would make his fight take longer and thus let the destruction of Metropolis go on longer? Send some fighters, ICBMs, SOMETHING, at the World Engine, then have Supes slam the pod into Zod's ship personally!

    And he didn't have to kill Zod, either! Moving in any direction would have saved that family. Cover his eyes. Fly up. Shove his face into the floor. Point his face up into the air.

    Hell, THAT FAMILY could have saved themselves if they'd just went AROUND that piece of debris! Zod was moving too slowly to catch them! There was room! Climb OVER the debris!

    ....The more I think about this movie the more problems I find in it.

    But it's still not a *BAD* movie. It was just....written badly.