Warning! Huge spoilers for both the new Man of Steel movie and the Superman movie from 1978.
The new one isn’t bad. It’s better than its Rotten Tomato score, which I guess evens the scales. The new Star Trek movie isn’t as good as Rotten Tomatoes would have you believe. Henry Cavill does well, even after shaving his mustache.
There’s one thing that troubles me apart from the internal inconsistencies that I guess I have to live with. (Seriously, Hollywood — there are talented writers who know and love this character. You don’t have to keep hiring the same hacks.)
Flash back to 1978 or whenever you punk kids saw the original Christopher Reeve Superman. After the opening scene on Krypton, we meet Superbaby’s Earth parents.
We jump to Clark’s high school years, where Pa Kent dispenses from his Wisdom Faucet about how maybe he shouldn’t worry about playing football. (Why did you even land in Kansas then?) The emotional heart of the movie is set up when Pa dies from a heart attack and Clark realizes that despite all he can do, he couldn’t save his dad’s life. It’s a subtle and important message, especially for a comic book movie.
Later, the message comes full circle when Lois dies. Superman is suddenly getting shit from Marlon Brando about not interfering when he remembers his dad’s death. Then this happens.
Okay, that part was dumb and watered down the message into “Superman can’t save everyone but he will literally move heaven and earth for his girlfriend.” Why he didn’t just fly the planet back a couple of hours and stop both the missiles before they launched is a mystery.
But it’s not as much a mystery has how the new Superman turned out so stable and grounded while being raised by a seriously clueless and deranged Earth Dad.
Pa Costner here is worried about how people will react to a flying superpowered alien living among them. He even hints that Clark should have let a bunch of kids drown when their schoolbus goes off a bridge. I’d call that a morally ambiguous Daddy Teaching Moment.
What is less morally ambiguous is the dumbest death scene in recent memory. The Kent family is driving along when traffic suddenly stops because a tornado is forming. In Kansas, they don’t know much about dealing with tornadoes, you see. Clark and Pa are herding everyone under an overpass when Ma Kent realizes they left the dog in the car. Pa Kent rushes up with a recently abducted girl child as Clark is about to go save their dog, secure in the knowledge of his perfect safety. Pa hands him the girl instead and goes back to the car himself. He manages to get the dog out (who wisely runs like mad away from the tornado, because that dog is smarter than anyone who appeared in The Postman) and then stands there and waits for the tornado to whisk him off to his doom while Clark watches in horror and the rest of us watch in confusion.
“All my powers, and I totally could have saved him easily. If the tornado hit, I could meet you guys back at the farm and start trying on new glasses and hair dye.”
It was weird to see, and baffling to understand. I’m not sure what it says about us in 2013 where we get a Superman who lets his idiot father die because he’s afraid of the press. It’s two dozen rural Kansas farmers! So you get a blurb in the Weekly World News and funny looks at the feed store. Lex Luthor is going to give you a lot worse than that later.
Not that we had to deal with Lex Luthor.
Ah, Michael Shannon. You are a good General Zod. And I’m glad to know the legacy of obviously crazy characters will continue after Willem Dafoe is gone. But there is only one Zod I’m kneeling before.
One good thing
I did enjoy the movie, and I’ve always liked Superman. One thing I like about him is that he is invariably portrayed as a dog owner. Most often it’s a standard Earth dog, but always a medium to large one. For awhile in the 60s and 70s, he had a superdog named Krypto.
Always liked Krypto, but he’s kind of an absurd concept. Sure, a humanoid alien with super powers pretending to be a normal man? No problem. A canine alien with super powers pretending to be a normal dog? Too much. But at least Superman has a dog. No wonder he’s seen as morally superior. Does this universe even have cats?
Actually, the attempts in the 60s to give Superman a cat didn’t catch on. Streaky the Supercat lives with Supergirl on a different planet in recent comics continuity. I’ll be curious to see if she adopts six or seven more.
Anyhow, the movie is fun. The stupid death scene is good for a laugh if you don’t overthink it too much, although I can’t help myself. I understand they’ve already greenlit the sequel: Superman returns to Smallville, plows up his fields, builds a storm shelter and waits for his father’s ghost to appear. I hear Costner is consulting on the script. In the meantime, watch The Tudors so you can see what Superman looks like when he has an awful lot of sex.
Lastly — a quick look at how the original should have ended. Enjoy!