Spoilers Ahead: This article contains advanced talking points for Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel. We recommend reading it after you see the film.
Anyone who called Iron Man 3 or any other blockbuster in the past few years an “epic” will be eating their words once they see Zack Snyder‘s giant toy set called Man of Steel. It’s as if Shane Black and J.J. Abrams were playing with plastic action figures and then, all the sudden, Snyder showed up with real heroes. His Superman reboot is exciting, a visual marvel, and gives fans the movie they wanted to see from Bryan Singer. Finally, we have a 21st century Superman who punches somebody, but is there more here than a few wicked brawls?
For the most part, yes.
There’s some heart present, especially with Russell Crowe taking part in the film’s emotional peak within the first twenty minutes. After that, the movie loses some of that patient drama with certain structural and character choices. This isn’t, let’s say, a Star Trek Into Darkness situation where the experience falls flat by Abrams & Co. consistently choosing spectacle over logic. For every confounding choice made in Man of Steel, there’s plenty of right choices made.
Some of those puzzling choices raise questions, though. There’s no plot holes to drive buses through here, but they feel like issues that shouldn’t go unnoticed.
When, exactly, did Lois and Kal-El fall in love?
Lois Lane rarely, if ever, has a genuine conversation with Kal-El. Despite a few interactions, and most of the exposition variety, Lane falls in love rather quickly with the alien she barely knows. Yes, he’s extremely noble, but so is Perry White and she’s not going to start dating him. Then again, she’s a journalist, so she may simply be enamored with her subject. We already know they’re going to fall for each other, so why show it now? It feels like, “It’s Lois and Superman, of course they have to be together in this movie!”
Why does Martha instantly trust Lois Lane?
During Lois Lane’s voice-over heavy investigation, she pays a visit to Martha Kent. When she tells Martha she’s there to ask about her son, there’s no, “Get the hell off my porch,” but instead she lets Lois in without much hesitation. Because if someone came around asking about your alien son, why wouldn’t you ask them in? And then…nothing. There’s no conversation shown between them. Then Lois is shown standing near Jonathan’s gravestone and Clark is there. And then he shows up at the Kent home, with Martha acting like he just showed up. Is this a clumsily edited sequence or I did I truly miss something? If he’s already home, then why did Martha act as if he just arrived?
Were we supposed to care more about Jonathan Kent dying?
Kevin Costner is terrific in Man of Steel. Every moment of his has a hearty amount of wisdom, except for one key moment. Jonathan Kent’s death is somewhat clunky. Maybe if that beautiful flashback of Jonathan looking proudly upon his son was placed before it, Jonathan’s passing would feel more weighty in the moment. When his death comes we’ve only spent a few minutes with him, far less time spent with Superman’s biological father. Also, why couldn’t Clark have ran at normal speed to save him? He seemed to spend quite a bit of time under that overpass, waiting for Jonathan to leave that car. It’s a strong idea of Jonathan telling Clark to trust him, but the execution felt off. Clark could’ve ran to save Jonathan, at least it seemed that way in during all the standing around.
Superman doesn’t care about the destruction of Metropolis?
There’s only one memorable instance where Superman asks, “Are you okay?” And, no, it does not come during the destruction of Metropolis, surely killing hundreds of thousands, if not millions. He asks a soldier in Smallville, during a battle which doesn’t match half of the destruction of Metropolis. There’s never a brief moment or expression of, “We gotta hurry. People’s lives are at stake!” For such a large body count, Superman doesn’t show much worry or urgency over the people of Metropolis. Yes, he’s attempting to stop Zod’s machine from turning Earth into a New Krypton, but there’s no question of sacrificing the lives of few for many. If this was a Fast and Furious movie, then that type of popcorn destruction would fly. But this is set up as a humanistic genre movie with 9/11 imagery, not mindless fun.
Does Henry Cavill have more than ten lines in that last half hour of the movie?
Cavill impresses in the first half of Man of Steel. Clark Kent is just as entertaining to watch as Superman is, discovering his identity and living his life as clothes-thieving loner. Cavill isn’t only a pretty face, but a guy who can play a joke, throw a punch convincingly, and have a heart-to-heart with his dad. That’s a lot of range which kind of gets sidetrack by the film’s last half hour or so. How many lines does Cavill actually have in that third act? Considerably less than what came before. Even with all the full blown chaos going on, time could’ve been made for Superman not just to run, jump, and fly.
What does Superman have to prove by the end?
Amazing. Just amazing. Every punch thrown in that final fight is felt, delivering on the potential of true superheroes/Gods fighting each other. On a technical level, it’s 100% satisfying. Structurally, not so much. At this point, Superman doesn’t have much to prove. He’s already Superman. Unlike Batman in Batman Begins, there’s no striking catharsis or realization in this fight. The Smallville battle shows that Supes isn’t invincible, conveys the threat he’s facing, and what happens when you mess with his mom, which is why that sequence tops the much bigger Zod and Superman showdown.
And, most disappointingly, they give Zod an ultimate dick villain line, along the lines of, “Where did you train, a farm?” They turn Zod from an emotionally scarred and defeated alien without a home into any other snarling baddie who makes hateful quips. The movie asks you to understand Zod through most of the film, but then turns him into a snobbish bro by the end.
Does the 9/11 imagery work?
A lot of action movies which feature destruction inevitably draw 9/11 comparisons. I’ve rarely had that reaction to a summer movie — with the obvious exceptions, like War of the Worlds — but here it’s far too obvious: Perry trying to free Jenny from under the rubble, ash clouding his face. It’s an emotional scene on its own right, but does it fit? Not too long after this manipulative sequence it’s followed by a female soldier — and one of the few female soldiers we see — comment on how “hot” Superman is. Those are two radically different tones, and with them that close together, it’s jarring. Besides that, it’s such an obvious joke in a movie with a rather sharp wit. Is anyone else bothered seeing a summer movie invoke imagery from a serious tragedy, only to followup it up with jokes and a lack of reflection on all the lives lost in Metropolis?
Zack Snyder has said that he has a three hour cut of Man of Steel, and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn some of that dramatic breathing room is in that version. In the film’s current state, it’s a more than satisfying popcorn movie that could’ve been as incredible as its titular character. That’s also what makes a followup to Man of Steel all the more exciting. There’s room for improvement.
Have more questions? Read our unanswered questions for other summer films Iron Man 3, Star Trek Into Darkness and The Purge.