Superheroes Round 9: Man of Steel
I admit, I like superheroes. And I’m something of a fan of the old Lois & Clark television show. Superman is a difficult hero to portray, since he’s been around long enough to experience very serious power creep. A large part of the reason why I liked that show was that superpowers were not the solution to every problem – and could, indeed, make it worse. “More brute force” was rarely the answer. I also liked it because while, as is standard for the character, Superman is portrayed as taking the moral high ground, he isn’t absolutely perfect. He makes mistakes, and asks other people for help and advice. (I also liked Lex Luthor in the earlier seasons of the show, but that’s another matter.)
For related reasons, I absolutely hated the next-most-recent film, Superman Returns. Lois never figures out who Clark Kent actually is under the glasses, she had a kid with him out of wedlock just before he decides to fly off to check out the wreckage of Krypton for a few years (and she lies about who the kid’s father is to everyone including her current boyfriend). The constant lies and utter lack of responsibility, along with the absolute absurdity of the plot and the version of Lex Luthor (think Bond villain) completely ruined it for me.
Man of Steel? Well… it’s better than the last film. It deals with the issue of power imbalance by bringing in a bunch of Kryptonians for Clark Kent/Superman/Kal-El to punch. Whee.
Lois Lane Catch Count
I only remember two Lois Lane catches from this film, which, for Superman, is doing pretty good. He also catches a soldier falling out of a helicopter. Still, the constant rescues of Lois Lane bother me (see this link for a discussion of the general phenomenon).
These are always pretty annoying, but at least it wasn’t always Lois playing damsel this time. Of course, all the usual comments about falling damage still apply here.
For bonus points, one of the Lois-catches was from an escape pod coming from the Kryptonian ship. Which was falling to the planet below. Given that this is an escape pod… from a super-advanced ship… was it really necessary to pull Lois out of it before it hit the ground? I would have thought that escape pods should be designed for that sort of contingency. Speaking of problems inherent in the design…
Keeping It Secret
This is just awful. Clark’s (human) dad is… misguided at best. He strongly pushes Clark to keep his developing powers to himself. Keep it secret, keep it safe, kind of a thing. When Clark rescues a bunch of kids when his school bus crashes, his dad is annoyed that he showed off his powers. Clark asks if he should have just let them all die. “Maybe.”
This is utterly repugnant and horrifying.
Then again, he does go through with that view all the way. At one point, there’s a tornado. Clark and his mom get to safety, but his dad goes back to get the dog. The dog gets to safety, but Clark’s dad injures his leg and gets sucked up by the tornado. He waves Clark off, to prevent Clark from having to show off his skills to a bunch of witnesses.
First problem: If you’re in a disaster situation, people outrank pets. You may be sad about losing Fluffy, but it’s worse to lose you.
Second problem: Is keeping your son’s extraordinary gifts secret worth your life and the grief it will case your family? I don’t think so.
I just can’t give this version of Clark’s dad much credit. Ugh.
Super Power Adjustment Period
On the plus side, having the superpowers, X-ray vision and super-hearing come with a need to adjust to using them makes perfect sense. They start to phase in when Clark’s a kid, and he has some entirely reasonable adjustment issues.
When the Kryptonians visit Earth, they have the same kind of issues with the super-senses. I appreciate the consistency. That said…
General Zod and Krypton
There’s so much wrong with the science in the film that I’m not going to bother going into much detail. It’s Superman; science goes bye-bye. But, I do have some thoughts about Krypton and its (former) inhabitants:
What were you people thinking?!
Okay, so you’ve gotten to the point where you no longer have natural childbirth. Cool! Pregnancy, while a normal process, carries significant risks for mother and child. Modern medicine has made matters much better, but growing your kid in a healthy, comfy sphere somewhere safe sounds like a great idea. Oh, you’re doing genetic construction, too? Awesome! No more genetic diseases. I like it.
Next, you’re determining what role the kid is going to have in society before birth?
That… well, doesn’t work so well. The creators of this story seemed to be missing out on the massive impact of the nurture side of the nature-vs-nurture argument. Early childhood environment, and everything thereafter, counts for a lot. Assuming Kryptonians are anything like humans, anyway. A significant part of Jor-El’s motivation is “returning the element of chance” – i.e., natural birth, complete with birth-scene for Clark/Kal-El – to allow the kid a choice in what he wants to be.
You know… there’s a happy medium, here. You have awesome super-tech. Why not make sure the kid is healthy, and avoid the pregnancy and childbirth risks, while at the same time not restricting any of the kid’s attributes? And, seriously guys, nurture. Big impact. Huge. The fact that you culturally restrict what kids get to grow up to be is probably a bigger factor than your genetic tweaking.
Meanwhile, you store all the genetic data you use in a single codex? Seriously? I mean, backups, anyone?
Meanwhile, our lead villain General Zod appears to count as a well-intentioned extremist. His only excuse seems to be that he was genetically set up to be a warrior, a defender of Krypton to the end. I don’t know about that… but I would bet that his training combined with his (probably learned) obsession with protecting Krypton at all costs had something to do with it.
Ooh, World Engine. Sounds nifty. What does it do? Well, it increases the gravity and changes the atmosphere to match that of Krypton. It’s like the devices you drop onto planets in the game Spore to speed-terraform a planet. Definitely nifty. Except for the drawback where you kill all life on Earth while you’re terraforming it. Oops.
Given that we’ve already got FTL, let’s not worry about how this works. (Aside to say that changing a planet’s surface gravity requires changing its mass or radius, which this device is clearly not doing.)
Instead, let’s ask the question, what happens after you’re done fixing the gravity and the atmosphere? Earth’s biosphere is actually critical to maintaining its habitability. Even ignoring the fact that everything we eat is something that needs to breathe the air here, killing all the plants that help maintain the oxygen in the atmosphere seems like a really bad idea. I can only assume that there’s a phase two to the World Engine which provides the basis for a stable Kryptonian biosphere.
Then again, these are the people who drained so much energy out of their planet’s core that it exploded. So maybe they’re not so good with the planning. (And about Krypton… I’d expected it to implode a little, if anything. The amount of energy you need to do the exploding of a planet is pretty large.)
Finally, the World Engine essentially has two ends. One is in the ocean somewhere, and the other end is dumped in Metropolis to prove to the humans how pointless fighting is. Or something. Anyway, they are on opposite sides so they can play pong with power going through the Earth’s core. Which means… it should be night-time in at least one location. Or dawn at one and dusk at the other. Maybe there’s something else funny going on, since it looks like daytime for both.
How’s Your Insurance?
So… who insures satellites? Because, seriously man, you just threw General Zod into a fricking satellite. Um. I guess “Superman” must be in there in between war, acts of God, and alien invasions. Holy how, they blew up a lot of stuff.
Zod does at least do a good job of pushing Superman’s buttons. Can’t hurt the hero? Threaten everyone else. It’s a classic, but it’s reasonable. For someone willing to take hostages, anyway.
On the other hand, Superman has some problems with this. There’s a crap ton of collateral damage from all the fighting. I was really, truly hoping to have at least one scene where he tries to draw Zod or the other Kryptonians away from the target-rich environment of Metropolis. But, no. And, at the end, he gets into something like one of those classic moral quandaries – the train with busted brakes that will run over a hundred people if you do nothing, and three people if you switch tracks. When Superman finally gets Zod down, Zod turns on the old eyebeams and starts pointing them at some innocent bystanders. If Superman kills him, the motion will move the eyebeams onto the bystanders before Zod dies.
Zod dies. Ouch. And you didn’t even try to juggle him around so they didn’t have to die? Or maybe poke his eyes out? Maybe Superman thought it was too great a risk, given all the collateral damage that must have come in from their fighting in and around skyscrapers, and Zod’s stated interest in killing everyone on Earth in vengeance for Krypton. Regardless: yikes.
Glasses Are A Great Mask
Yup, at the end of the film, it’s glasses time. Good job, Clark, that has got to be one of the worst disguises ever. I mean, if it were at all a good disguise, no one would recognize me when I put my glasses on. Which nobody has an issue with, oddly enough.
One of the reasons I liked Lois & Clark is that prior to when Lois figures it all out, the whole issue is epically lampshaded. It’s hilarious.
This version of Lois sees through the glasses thing entirely. She’d better – she spent a good chunk of the film doing the research to track Clark Kent down! When he finally gets his job as a journalist, she says, “Welcome to the Planet.” Nice touch.
NSA vs Superman
Okay, so it’s not the NSA, but somebody at the army wants to find out where Superman hangs out. So… they send a spy drone after him.
He notices and crashes it. In an empty plain, which is good. When the army guy shows up to complain, he basically says that he’d like to be left alone.
“That was a $12 million piece of hardware!”
Just this once, the property destruction was hilarious.