Like millions of other people all over the world this weekend, Mike Fahey and I both saw Man of Steel. There’s a lot riding on this reboot of the Superman movie franchise, which comes during the year of the 75th anniversary of the character’s first appearance.
If you’re a longtime comics reader like Mike or myself, then all those previous versions of Kal-El from the last three-fourths of a century probably flew through your head if you saw Man of Steel. But, while Man of Steel draws on that publishing history, it delivers a very different Clark Kent to the silver screen.
In the chat below, Fahey and I talk about what we wanted and got from Man of Steel, from how it started to how it ended. This isn’t a review. For that, head over and read the excellent iO9 write-up. This is just two people talking about a man in a cape. Join us in the comments below if you want to talk about how you felt about the newest Superman movie.
Spoilers from here on out. Seriously, stop scrolling if you haven’t seen the movie yet.
Mike: Before we begin discussing Man of Steel, I have something important to share with people who've not seen the movie yet.
Evan: Please do share.
Mike: For the full effect, they need to bring an MP3 player to the theatre, and play this song over the entire opening sequence.
Evan: I thought the same thing for the opening moments on Krypton, too! It reminded me so much of the kid of science-fantasy that I used to see in old Heavy Metal magazines. The re-imagining of Krypton was what I liked most about Man of Steel.
Mike: Russell Crowe was just a few black leather straps away from being Taarna from 1981's Heavy Metal movie. Maybe some hair extensions.
Evan: Krypton here diverged pretty wildly from previous interpretations. This was the first Superman adaptation to make me feel like something awesome was being lost when Krypton died.
Mike: It certainly did! Jor-El has never seen this much screen time pre-explosion.
Evan: Yeah, and he felt more human, more knowable. That planet felt lush, wild and unpredictable.
Mike: He was more "I'm a scientist and a preacher of peace but I can really kick arse when hard-pressed".
Evan: Let's step back for a second: how did you feel when you left the theater?
Mike: When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, I felt fulfilled. I felt like this was a big-screen version of Superman I could believe in, at least until the inevitable sequel comes along and ruins it.
Evan: I liked it when I left but kept turning it over in my head and got very cranky at parts of it. This keeps floating to the top of my brain: There wasn't enough sunshine in Man of Steel. I don't mean sunlight. There were god-rays for days…
Mike: You're talking about lightheartedness? Frivolity? Feel-good?
Mike: This isn't that Superman, and I'm glad.
Evan: I don't know… there was this subtext of embarrassment for me. All the jerky handheld, all the grey ash dampening things: they just stand in for the sense of shame hovering over the movie. Shame that demands that Superman's brightness be dampened to make it, what, easier to swallow?
Mike: Strange. How long have you been reading the Superman comics?
Evan: Man, since I was 7, 8? The first comic I remember reading was a DC Comics Presents, which was a team-up title that was always Superman and somebody else.
Mike: And you've enjoyed the character? Would you consider him one of your favorites?
Evan: Definitely. I hate the backlash that people throw at Superman. Batman's darker persona seems more real-world, yeah, but that doesn't mean that Superman can't be great in a different way. (It was this comic, BTW.) I recognise that Superman can be corny and feel unwieldy in terms of creating conflict. But when the creators nail the execution, the character's best stories are freakin' great. That's what frustrated me about the movie: parts of it didn’t rise to the challenge.
Mike: So, then, perhaps the shame you're feeling hovering over this film is coming from you, sitting in a room filled with movie-goers who might not have accepted the character as you've come to know him. It's like dating someone who's really quirky when you're alone, but puts on a different face when you're out in public. He's betrayed you, Evan.
Evan: Wow. Turnabout, huh?
Mike: That's what happens when your Superman is darker. He hurts your feelings. And you let him, because he's so pretty.
Evan: Cavill is hunky, right? By far, the most beefcake-y, macho-looking dude who's played Superman.
Mike: Which is a little bit off, if you ask me. Christopher Reeve was handsome in a completely unique way. Same with the Smallville guy. Cavill is smouldering. Superman probably shouldn't smoulder.
Evan: But I did like a lot about the movie. It was inspired in how it dealt with Lois Lane, for example.
Mike: Lois was handled brilliantly. For the first time, she really feels like an award-winning investigative reporter.
Evan: I also liked how Lois was the first person to mean anything to him after his family and how she required not that much saving. The inverse secret identity thing was great, too. How it shows up at the end. No way glasses would've fooled her.
Mike: Well they only had a couple of hours. He saved her at least three times.
Mike: And, let's face it, there's no way those glasses would fool ANYONE.
Evan: That's gonna be a problem for the next movie, for sure.
Mike: The main problem with the next movie will be that they've told the dark story there was to tell.
Evan: I hope that things lighten up at least a little.
Mike: Krypton, Zod, choices — - now that those are out of the way, time to just be Superman! You and your light-craving. Embrace the darkness, Evan.
Evan: Sure, say that to a black guy.
Mike: You know what the greatest triumph of this movie was?
Evan: Getting you out of the house?
Mike: It's the first Superman movie that doesn’t rely on glowing green rocks as a major plot device.
Evan: Ah, right.
Mike: Sure, it fires giant metal penises into a space vagina, but it doesn't do it with Kryptonite. A+++/
Evan: Hahahahaha. If that's them being exiled for their crimes, I'd like to know who thought up that punishment. I liked the way they handled Zod, though. His motivations made sense and he was almost sympathetic.
Mike: The council of elaborate space hats, that's who. Zod would have been more sympathetic if he weren't always chewing on the scenery and trying to be the loudest in any given scene.
Evan: I felt that the scenery-chewing wasn't that bad until the end. How'd you feel about the Pa Kent death?
Mike: I WILL FIND HIM! I WILL FIND HIM! My caps don't get big enough.
I feel as if I would make a lousy Pa Kent.
Mike: If I were Pa Kent, I'd regularly say things like "Son, we're gonna need a couple more zebras."
Mike: I certainly wouldn't give the poor boy a complex about his powers by LETTING A TORNADO KILL ME WHILE HE WATCHES
Evan: "I'd sure love some of those fancy French cookies with the cream inside. Only, you know, from France."
Mike: I bet his last thoughts were "Man, this is really gonna drive this point home. Go me!"
Evan: That reminds me of something that struck me as I was watching.
Mike: A tornado? Pa Kent?
Evan: The movie starts on Krypton with all this wild natural beauty followed by the fishing boat and the frozen tableau. Then it's on to this rustic farmhouse Americana that kinda invokes the innocence of Silver Age comics. By the end of the movie, though, it's complete carnage. Craters of death. And that really bothered me because, again, Superman's a saviour character. He didn't save nearly enough people in this movie
Mike: ...he saved ALL THE PEOPLE. All of them. *makes circlular globe motion with his hands*
Evan: In the falling buildings?
Mike: The needs of the many outweigh those of the few, Evan.
Evan: Wrong franchise! Look, more shots of him zipping people to safety then getting sucker-punched by a Kryptonian soldier would've made what he does at the end a bit more palatable. Or tell me that Metropolis is being evacuated.
Mike: He's new at this, and quite frankly I couldn't imagine how he could have saved those people. If I can't imagine it, there's no way Superman could.
Evan: Hahahaha. *Pictures Mike in that Super-suit* Speaking of that thing at the end, how'd you feel about it?
Mike: He saved the Law and Order: SVU guy. That's what really matters.
Evan: Him killing Zod, I mean.
Mike: In case you missed it earlier, Evan, this isn't your Superman. Once the Phantom Zone option was out, there really was only one way the conflict could have ended.
Evan: I know. But there wasn't enough done to sell me on the idea that this Superman needed to kill. And, yeah, I know he's killed in the comics, too.
Mike: If felt natural to me. I just worry that it'll become habit-forming. Next movie: Superman breaks all the necks. Then he cries.
Evan: But, either balance that by him saving loads of people or finding another way out.
Mike: Killing Zod did save loads of people.
Evan: I mean, if they're smart, this'll be the thing that haunts him in the next three movies and that gets Batman all mad at him in the Justice League movie.
Mike: His ‘Why do we fall, Master Bruce?’
Mike: I can understand why this feels so unnatural to you, but somewhere Silver Age Superman is watching this and going, "Wait...I could just...oh man."
(*superman slaps his forehead, people behind him go flying*)
Evan: *starts crying* Ok, I think we're done here
Mike: We should end on a song.