For reasons we aren’t certain of, MAN OF STEEL has become the most-discussed film of the year among TVWriter™ visitors/staff/students/fans. Here’s the first of two passionate viewpoints:
by Kathy Fuller
Continuing onward with my #1 summer activity, I went to the movies again and saw Man of Steel. Now, I love me some superhero movies. I don’t care if they’re from DC or Marvel, I enjoy them all. So Man of Steel would have to literally be unwatchable for me not to enjoy it. And enjoy it I did. But it’s not without its problems.
First, the good. I loved the story concept. The CGI was very cool–I kinda wish I hadn’t made a vow for eternity not to watch another 3D movie, because I think this one would have been excellent in that format. The casting was spot on. And I’m not afraid to swim in the shallow end and say Henry Cavill is so easy on the eyes it’s hard to believe he’s real. Despite all that, there were two main problems with the movie.
1) Dialogue. As the movie progressed I started to feel like I’d heard all this before. Which was stupid because it’s been years since I’ve seen a Superman movie and it wasn’t like the lines were lifted straight from the comic books. (They weren’t, were they?)
Then halfway through I realized the problem–George Lucas. The stilted and at times corny dialogue sounded straight out of the Star Wars prequels. Everyone sounded the same. Some of the actors even delivered their lines identically: A few words, a long pause as if they needed to reach for an inhaler to continue, then end the sentence. The only two characters who made this work were Clark and Jor-el. Being from a more advanced planet, stilted made sense. Coming from Lois Lane, not so much. I think the actors tried to give trite, meaningless, over-explaining dialogue some gravitas but it didn’t really work.
2) Characterization. The big story question facing Kal-el is whether he will choose to save his own people or save the humans. In order for his choice to make sense (the humans, of course) he’d have to be motivated to save them. We get tiny glimpses of this motivation–his close relationship with his human parents (told in flashback) his connection with Lois Lane (which is so superficial you’d think he’d never seen a girl before she came into his life) and the Snidely Whiplash evil of Zod (so completely over the top I wanted a mute button every time he spoke). There are also a few scenes of him being compelled to save humans (again shown in flashback) and holding back his anger when provoked by bullies–guess how that part of the story was told? All this is good in theory, but the execution is one big fat fail.
The use of nonlinear storytelling and numerous flashbacks crush the character of Superman. He makes no real human connections. There’s one scene of adult Superman talking with his human mother, but it’s short and like his relationship with Lois, superficial. All the emotional notes are in the flashbacks, leaving very little insight into the heart of adult Superman. He doesn’t choose to save humans because he wants to, it’s because he’s compelled–or even programmed, since he seems almost computer-esque at times–to that purpose. Basically Superman 2013 is really Robo-Superman.
I caught glimpses of what this film could have been through Cavill’s performance. The times he was allowed to show emotion–a smile, an angry roar, a confused lift of the brow–gave Superman some humanity. But then the scene would abruptly cut off to a sterile, stone-faced Superman. Or Zod. Or Lois. For most of the movie they look constipated, both physically and emotionally.
All this was a reminder to make sure I give my own characters opportunities to hit the emotional beats. It’s also a reminder not to be fancy with the storytelling for the sake of being “different”. This is a genre movie. It has rules for a reason. Plot is important but character is key, and when storytelling gets in the way of character then you have…Man of Steel.
The second POV on MAN OF STEEL is here.