My love of superheroes extends beyond comic books and trade paperbacks. I like playing superhero video games (my favorite is Spider-Man: Web of Shadows), watching superhero television shows (CW’s The Flash is arguably my favorite), and of course, watching superhero movies. I love me some superhero movies. For the longest time, my favorite was Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 (yes, I’m a fan of Tobey-as-Spider-Man although Andrew Garfield did a good job too), but it was supplanted by the first Avengers movie, which hit *all* the notes I was looking for in a superhero movie (it didn’t hurt that my favorite comic book has been the Avengers for the last several decades). IMO, it was damn near perfect (it could have used another woman or two on the team, and at least one PoC). Aside from Avengers, there have been multiple superhero movies I consider among my all-time favorites, such as The Dark Knight, Iron Man, The Amazing Spider-Man, and X-Men: First Class. I really wanted to add Man of Steel to that list but I can’t. And I’m worried that I won’t be able to add Batman vs Superman to that list either bc based on Zack Snyder’s work on Man of Steel, my excitement level is lukewarm.
What were my issues with Man of Steel, you might ask?
One of Superman’s core abiding principles is a not just respect for life, but an unwavering devotion to helping save lives. Its part of the core of his character. Hell, you can see it in Superman II when he takes time out of his battle with the Phantom Zone criminals to save the citizens of Metropolis. He did so bc, as General Zod noted “He cares. He actually cares for these Earth creatures.” You can see it when he *finally* leaves Metropolis (this was one of my problems with the movie-Superman shouldn’t have battled them in downtown Metropolis in the first place), bc he realized he couldn’t defeat them and the people of the city were caught in the chaos. He did little of that in Man of Steel. Yes, he saved lives on the rig in the beginning and he saved Lois’s life in the Kryptonian ship. And he told people to seek shelter in Smallville (bc simply going indoors is going to save people from gods waging war in the streets). That’s about it. And you know what? That’s not enough. He engaged in a heated battle with Ursa and Non in the streets of Smallville and did nothing to prevent any damage or save any lives. Same thing in Metropolis when he fought Zod. All that destruction…all that property damage…and he did almost *nothing* to help the people he was ostensibly protecting. I didn’t really get the impression that humanity meant all that much to him in throughout the film.
That plays into another issue I had with the film: the ending. Superman has Zod in a chokehold and he faces the decision over how to stop his opponent from killing civilians. Superman was clearly meant to agonize over the possibility of killing Zod to save civilians, but the scene just doesn’t work for me. Was it an aversion to killing his opponent that tore him up inside? Or was the dilemma that he didn’t want to kill the only connection to Krypton that was left? If it was the former, we never saw any indication that he had an aversion to killing (and we can’t take it for granted that this version wouldn’t, since Snyder already failed to capture other essential qualities of Superman). If it was the latter, well it’s not like he seemed to have any great connection to Krypton, so being torn over that would have been hollow. And then there’s the fact that he all of a sudden cared about the possibility of civilian casualties. If he’d spent more time in the movie actively trying to prevent suffering and death in the midst of the action he was participating in…or if he’d flown back to Metropolis to help save lives when he saw all the destruction going on there…if he’d done more to show how much he will fight to save lives, even at personal cost to himself–I’d have bought that ending more. What would have made the ending more powerful IMO, would be to have established throughout the movie that Superman longs to have ties to Krypton, that he is dedicated to protecting humanity (and show this multiple times), and show him develop a worldview that opposes murder. That way when he’s faced with killing Zod, it would have been real and tragic. I might still quibble that he killed Zod-bc to me, Superman always finds a way to not kill-but I’d buy it as more justified.
Another problem I had with the movie is that Superman is more than a guy in tights with the power to bench press mountains, take a steam bath in a volcano, or incinerate objects with a glance. He’s a character who not only saves lives, he tries to inspire, to lead by example, and be a symbol of hope. These are the qualities the define Superman:
Despite all of his powers — faster than a speeding bullet, so on and so on — it’s his personality which makes him such an iconic character. People recognize the symbol on his chest and his superhuman abilities, but it’s his unyielding optimism which makes him such a special character. While some strike fear into their enemies or give their allies the confidence to rush into seemingly impossible odds, Kal-El is all about lifting up your spirits, being the best person you can possibly be, and always finding a positive approach to your situation. He’s about casting aside those depressing or angry thoughts and moving forward with a clear head and enthusiastic thoughts. It’s about seeing a glimmer of hope in what feels like a sea of darkness and holding on to it, no matter what.
A sea of darkness is a fair description for Man of Steel. It’s too. Damn. Dark. There are no inspirational moments from Superman in the film. Aside from when he first flies, there’s no happiness, joy (cf. the flight between Superman and Lois in Superman: The Movie), or levity. I’m not talking about the slapstick shit in Superman II or the buffoonery of Otis in Superman: The Movie. I’m talking about the type of light-hearted humor we got in Avengers (I’m thinking here of the two moments of humor involving the Hulk). I recognize that Snyder’s Cinematic DCU is darker, and rougher. But this is Superman we’re talking about. The above scene from All-Star Superman is a powerful Superman moment. It’s a moment that encapsulates Superman so effectively. There was nothing like that moment in this movie. Amid all the death and destruction, there was just more death and destruction (that’s another problem-all the casualties in Smallville and Metropolis were faceless nobodies. We’re meant to be wowed by the scale of the destruction, which is all well and good ((seriously, the battle scenes were awesome)) but we’re not made to care for the people who would suffer in the face of a divine clash of the titans. Snyder gave us set pieces, but failed to inject a human element in those epic set pieces.
All that destruction contributed to a dour and bleak film that didn’t seem very Superman-like at all. Dark and dreary may work for other characters. They may even work for the world around Superman. But not for Superman himself. The bleakness of Man of Steel seemed to infect Superman as well, which can be seen in a Superman that lets his father die and does nothing to prevent the deaths of civilians caught up in his epic battles (cept Lois, ‘natch).
As a result of my qualms with the movie, most of which I lay at the feet of Zack Snyder, I just don’t feel confident that Batman vs Superman will deliver the kind of movie I want to see. It’s set in the Snyderverse, which means more dour and much bleakness. Of course this time, Batman will be in the film, and he invented dour, dark, and bleak. Which has me wondering how Superman will be contrasted with Batman. From the previews, we know that the narrative places Superman in the role of savior and Batman as the dark, vengeance-driven urban avenger, but the previews have been crafted to push that narrative upon the public. I want to see if these differences will be played up and explored in the movie. And then there’s the elephant in the room-the one thing I’m *really* worried about: how will Snyder portray Wonder Woman.
In the comic books, few writers have captured the nuances of a character who, on the one hand, is one of the finest warriors on the planet, but who would rather resolve conflicts non-violently and with diplomacy. Diana will fight to the bitter end-if she has to. She’d rather not, though. She’d rather talk through problems, and with her ability to discern the truth via her lasso (which is an extension of her character), she often does so. But when necessary, she can bring a level of power comparable to Superman, but with skills exceeding his and ferocity comparable to Batman, but with power exceeding his. But Wonder Woman is not an amalgam of Superman and Batman in female form. Her compassion, empathy, and desire to resolve conflicts peacefully where possible differentiate her from the two of them and allow her to stand as an equal beside them. I’m really worried most of this is going to be lost and she’ll be presented as Wonderful Warrior Woman. Given the tone of the Snyderverse thus far, I just don’t see the more nuanced, multifaceted Wonder Woman showing up, for all that I want her to. I hope I’m wrong, but based on what I’ve seen so far, I won’t be getting my hopes up.