Saturday, March 26, 2016
"Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice." Oh boy, I don't think it was a good movie per se, but there were a few things that worked for me and many that did not. There are shades of greatness marred down by a wonky script, a ridiculous plot, too many contrived conveniences and the ugly shadow of "Man of Steel."
There are MAJOR SPOILERS in this review.
That's the disclaimer. I'm not a "Man of Steel" fan. I don't think it was a particularly great film and I think it fails on just about every level as a Superman film, as is well-documented.
I love Superman, that much is proven by my essay "Why we look up in the sky..."
With that said, let me get this part of the review out of the way. For me, the biggest failing of this film was the treatment of Superman. There were a few things that became abundantly clear after I saw BvS, one of the most glaring things being that the filmmakers have a complete misunderstanding of Superman. That much was clear after "Man of Steel," but you'd think maybe, just maybe they'd take a different approach and take Superman and maybe present him in a more classic form. In fact, had they actually done that... made Superman that wide-eyed optimistic boy scout we all know and love, BvS might have featured a far more compelling narrative between Batman and Superman.
I for one held out hope that maybe we'd be surprised. Maybe after all the criticism of "Man of Steel" - the destruction porn, the killing, the depressing and mopey Superman - maybe the events of "Man of Steel" would make this Superman embrace a more optimistic and cautious approach to the world - hopeful, smiling, inspiring, valuing life - a way to show the people of the world he shouldn't be feared and to even atone for killing Zod.
Not only does that present a stronger dynamic for the character, its also more of a reason for Batman to be fearful. The older, more cynical Batman would push, trying to bring Superman back down to that dark, broody level and Superman resists... proving he's grown, that he is incorruptible. With a few small choices like that, we would have had a Superman that still fits within the narrative of "Man of Steel," but is more in line with who the character really is at his core. Immediately, you now have the classic tenant of the entire Batman vs. Superman argument - The Dark Knight's cynicism and the Man of Steel's optimism. That's what "The Dark Knight Returns" - the book which this film borrows very heavily - basically presents. Two good men and friends who have two completely different perspectives on the world, so much so that they have an argument with their fists.
Instead of what seemed obvious - to me at least - we're presented with a Superman who shares the same level of cynicism and lack of faith towards the world. Being Superman feels like it is a burden for Clark Kent, some people accept him, others outright hate him. In fact, some people straight up fear him and that to me is where everything about this version of Superman goes wrong. Superman shouldn't be feared by the general populace. Yes, certain powerful individuals with control complexes can fear him and look for ways to destroy him i.e. Lex Luthor and Batman - but in terms of him being generally feared? No. Never.
I guess I just don't want or need a Superman movie that is a bizarre think piece and commentary about how the world would react to a super-powered, godlike being. Which is kind of funny because I write a comic that sort of deals with it, just not on the "god" level. Especially a mopey and broody one. I'm not saying there isn't a place for it obviously, though Superman it is not.
After we have to relive the death of the Waynes (AGAIN) and the destruction porn of "Man of Steel" - though on a smaller scale but with more horrific 9/11 imagery (stop it, Snyder) - we're treated to a scene in Africa where Lois Lane and an undercover CIA agent posing as a photographer (who Zack Snyder confirmed is Jimmy Olsen... UGH... I mean really... UGH) meet a warlord/weapons dealer. There are some mercenaries there who kill the photographer with a headshot at point blank range and the warlord kidnaps Lois. The mercs then kill the warlord's men, essentially gunning down a village, they leave the scene as Superman enters bombastically crashing through a hut to confront the warlord who is holding Lois at gunpoint.
This was it for me. This was the moment that was going to show me how the filmmakers had evolved Superman. Here we had a classic Superman situation. I thought to myself, "is he going to melt the gun? is he going to disarm at super-speed? is he going to do a super-speed light tap and put the warlord to sleep?" I waited, expecting to see a classic, iconic moment... Lois nods, lowers her arm and then...
At super-speed Superman literally PLOWS through this poor guy and drives him through layers of walls. My head fell in my hands. I had all those feelings of heartbreak again. For a split second I thought "okay, maybe we'll see a scene where the guy is still alive..." No, we cut to a press conference where a U.S. Senator is addressing the carnage caused in Africa and blaming Superman. Seriously? Did Superman just turn this guy to mush?
Superman would have taken down the Warlord, then gone after the mercenaries. Of course, then we wouldn't have a movie. Instead, Lex Luthor is trying to frame Superman for shooting up a village.
It was after that scene that I gave up hope of Superman finally being Superman in this movie. I should have known better after "Man of Steel," and I struggled to stay in my seat. This Superman is also completely indifferent to collateral damage, which is 100% against the core principles of the character. Forget the killing for a second... the destruction porn in "Man of Steel" and Superman's attitude towards it is one of my biggest criticisms of that film and its a driving plot device in this movie. As I mentioned in "Why we look up in the sky..." one of Superman's weaknesses in a fight is his compassion and his desire to limit collateral damage. Call me names, call me a fanboy... whatever I don't care. This portrayal of Superman was just depressing and that ultimately is the overall tone of the film, depressing.
There are some bright spots and some cool moments, and I can see why, especially in the CGI-wild final battles people came away loving the movie or saying it was fun. Getting there for me was a slog.
Here's a massive spoiler: The final fight with Doomsday ends with Superman stabbing the beast with a kryptonite spear and getting impaled himself, ultimately dying. Yes, Superman dies. At least they filmmakers got that part half-right, that in killing Doomsday, Superman sacrifices himself... but it doesn't really count because 1) Doomsday is basically a zombie and 2) Superman isn't really dead.
As I am writing this, I came across this piece from Kastor's Korner, which I found matches my description of Superman's attitude towards collateral damage and also perfectly sums up a lot of how I feel about the way the filmmakers represent Superman. "That’s what undercuts the end of this film, as the death of Superman feels less about heroic sacrifice, and more of the filmmakers washing their hands of a character they just can’t seem to understand. All this adds up to a profoundly cynical perspective for a comic book movie, a shriveled black heart beating beneath the surface of the movie." YES.
What was abundantly clear to me in this movie and makes so much more sense looking back at "Man of Steel," Zack Snyder and David Goyer HATE Superman. This is who they are (and I back this up by reminding everyone about David Goyer's feelings towards Martian Manhunter): they are the type of readers who hate Superman because he is "too good" or "can do anything." This is one of the main reasons some people just don't like Superman. I'm curious to know whether or not either of them have really read anything beyond the "mainstream graphic novels" like "Watchmen," "Dark Knight Returns" and "The Killing Joke." Seriously, this version of Superman is the embodiment of people I know who just outright hate Superman for being the all-powerful boy scout... and you know what? It is THOSE same people who like this version.
I don't think Snyder and Goyer understand Clark Kent and Superman as human, or as what makes him human. They see what he represents as a thing of the past and that is evident through some dialogue throughout the film. They are grossly wrong, especially when you bring Chris Evans' Captain America into the argument (I hold Captain America in the same regard as Superman and Evans and Marvel Studios NAIL Cap). What's clear is they see him only as an alien or an angry god. That's the real difference. Superman doesn't see himself as a god. In fact, there's a PHENOMENAL issue of "Green Lantern" from 2002 where Superman confronts then-Green Lantern Kyle Rayner who possesses the god-like powers of Ion. As Kyle starts to intervene everywhere he can, cults start to pop up and Superman delivers this fantastic lesson about how they have to draw the line, ultimately they aren't gods and have to ensure they aren't treated as such.
I bring this up because throughout BvS, the religious iconography and blatant call-outs to mythological gods and monsters is exhausting. I get the whole "DC Pantheon is like the Greek gods" gimmick, but it is so heavy-handed in this movie that it becomes eye-rolling. I don't and never have liked the 'Superman is Christ" interpretation. I find it to be wrong and frankly stupid, though that seems to be how the filmmakers think he's meant to be.
What does the shoe-horning of "Death of Superman" into this movie mean? A couple things of course. 1) He could be the vessel for Darkseid, 2) He could be revived and less-powerful, building his strength back up or... my foolish hope... 3) He emerges as the classic Superman. At the end of the movie, the world magically accepts him in death. And when he returns (forget the insane religious implications), he could be the Superman that Grant Morrison described as "the most relaxed and laid back person alive." He would have cheated death (which is a whole new set of problems as Max Landis once so eloquently pointed out), but THAT could serve as the catalyst for Henry Cavill to put on the charm and charisma I know he has and be the Superman we deserve (Cavill is great in "The Man from U.N.C.L.E.) That ideal to strive towards. That is, simply put, the way to redeem this version of Superman and inspire next generation the same way Reeve did. I just don't need to see Zack Snyder or David Goyer attempt to handle the character again. There's a hopelessness to this, and that's the exact opposite of Superman.
Why do I care so much about how Superman is portrayed? That's a question I get a lot. When these characters are presented in the movies, the general public takes them as definitive. That THIS is who the characters are, this is basically their mainstream. I think we're moving away from that with the constant reboots (especially with Batman and Spider-Man)... my point is this: how many people thought the Joker killed Bruce Wayne's parents because of Burton's "Batman"? Yet Superman is different. Superman is much different because he means so much more, to me especially. I also have two sons. Little guys, one of whom I've been introducing to the superheroes. He likes Batman, he likes Superman, he likes "America 'Merica" (Captain America). Superman for me was the gateway to Marvel, DC, everything. That idealism is where it began and everything deviates from that - I've called every superhero post-1938 a derivative of Superman in some way and to an extent they are. So for me, and for my sons and daughter, given what Superman means to me, I'd rather not have the "mainstream" version be this misunderstood, cynical "god."
I'll come back around and touch on this idea that Snyder and Goyer hate Superman... because I don't think they just hate Superman... more on that at the end.
Okay, now that the Superman bit is out of the way, and you're probably exhausted reading that, I'll breakdown the movie the same way I did "Star Wars: The Force Awakens."
Wonder Woman. Yes, she is awesome. It is kind of random and very deus ex machina when she shows up in the finale to fight Doomsday, but Gal Gadot OWNS this role. She is absolutely fantastic and it just makes me more excited for her solo film.
Alfred. I really liked Jeremy Irons' portrayal as Alfred. The dry wit, the kind of "you're an asshole" approach to Bruce, it was all spot on. I especially liked that Alfred is as much a part of Batman as Bruce. This was a version of him that was as weathered as Bruce and hadn't lost his sarcastic charm. He's also the voice of reason, as the character often tends to be. I suspect Geoff Johns may have had something to do with this Alfred as he's similar to the one from "Batman: Earth One." Although some characterization and dialogue was off (more on that later).
Perry White. Laurence Fishburne made the most of his screen time as the Daily Planet editor. He was so unequivocally Perry that I felt his performance was the most true to any character being portrayed and was one of the absolute stand outs. And it is implied that he does indeed know Clark is Superman, which I have always believed is true of every iteration of Perry.
Soundtrack. Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL do a nice job. Really. I honestly didn't like the new Wonder Woman or Batman theme until I heard them in the context of the movie.
Ben Affleck's performance as Batman. Overall, I really liked Affleck's Batman. His performance is definitely a highlight of the film. While this Batman is inspired by "The Dark Knight Returns," it is not that version at all. This feels almost like every version rolled into one tried and true Caped Crusader. There are some things I didn't like about this Batman, but in terms of Affleck as Batman? One of my biggest takeaways is that I want to see a Ben Affleck-directed Batman movie.
The visuals. Say what you will about storytelling ability or direction. Zack Snyder does know how to create visual spectacle. Unfortunately for me, visuals aren't enough to win me over.
Lois. Lois Lane is one of my favorite comic book characters. On paper, I love Amy Adams as Lois. She was one of the better things about "Man of Steel," though here I was left underwhelmed by her use in BvS. Not Adams, Lois. She's just kind of there and conveniently shows up at all the right places. And the thing with the kryptonite spear? She throws it into water after Batman and Superman fight... then she goes to get it back during the Doomsday fight and almost drowns until Superman saves her. After all that, he's the one to get the spear... wow. Lex ultimately uses her to get to Superman multiple times, again I just think her utilization was weird.
The title fight. I was a bit underwhelmed by the titular fight. On the one hand, Superman pretty much refused to fight and did manage to show some restraint, on the other hand Batman kicked his ass (remember I mentioned that Snyder and Goyer HATE Superman?). Granted Batman had the kryptonite and all, the whole fight felt forced because (see "Martha" below). And where the hell did Batman get the armor suit? There is ZERO explanation for it.
Final fight. This is in "Meh" because Doomsday is in "Nope." The final fight itself, was neat. Unnecessary and forced, but neat. A grand spectacle of CGI. There's also something interesting here that I think is prevalent to the mixed reaction of the film. Sometimes, a movie can be really bad, yet the finale is grand and vice versa. This could be a case where that third act and final fight outweighs the rest of the movie for some people.
Between "Meh" and "Nope"
The plot. This movie is ALL OVER the place. Honestly, the Kryptonite plot-line was the strongest, there were just a bunch of others battling for screen time, including plots from other movies, and it just wades into convoluted, barely glued together territory. On one hand, I give it points for having something coherent i.e. the Kryptonite... there was just too much happening that didn't make sense.
Batman killing and the implications of the bat-brand. Seriously? Look, I get that we've seen Batman kill dudes before (see Burton) and it was wrong then and it is wrong now, but what many consider the "greatest Batman movie ever," "The Dark Knight" was basically all about how Batman doesn't kill. In BvS he does it with such ferocity that it's off-putting, not to mention hypocritical. One of the themes of this movie is consequence to actions and that's kind of the driving force behind Batman wanting to take down Superman, yet he's legit killing dudes. I get that he's been at it for 20 years and he's a bit weary and war-torn... if he's just killing bad guys and Gotham is still a mess, then he's the bad guy. Also, for a version of Batman so heavily inspired by "The Dark Knight Returns," the filmmakers missed a crucial point... when Batman kills, The Joker wins.
And then there's the bat-brand. In essence and in theory, I didn't mind it, especially from this older Batman. My issue arises when it results in guys getting killed when they get to prison? Come on. I don't mind his brutality when he fights - he's an older, angry man - but the killing and essential condoning of murder via the bat-brand was way off-character.
Why Batman hates Superman. In the comics, there's always a disagreement over methods. Optimism vs. cynicism. Here, Batman hates Superman because when fighting Zod, Bruce Wayne's building was destroyed. Totally not Superman's fault, especially according to "Man of Steel" defenders, still it serves as why Batman has to destroy Superman. This is a weird motivation because later in the movie we see Batman exercise the same kind of recklessness and destruction in the Batmobile. This was a little ridiculous.
Lex Luthor. I just wasn't a fan of this Lex. He was too spastic for my taste and there was really no clear motivation for him. Was it the destruction? Was it a thing against aliens? Was it a thing against deities? Was it an abusive father? Was he just a pawn of Darkseid (which to me is a disservice to Lex)? Eisenberg was all over the map. More or less Gene Hackman's Luthor mixed with Heath Ledger's Joker taking orders from Kevin Spacey playing Hackman's Luthor. And all that heavy-handed god-stuff I mentioned? Shut up, Lex. It was too hammy and over the top. His reasons for anything are unclear. To me, the ultimate Lex is the Clancy Brown-voiced Luthor from The Animated Series.
Retconning "Man of Steel": This is really bizarre. Superman says to Lois, "Superman was never real, he was the dream of a farmer from Kansas." Wait... what? In "Man of Steel," Jonathan Kent is a jerk. He doesn't want Clark to be Superman at all and "maybe" let a bus full of kids die. It was Jor-EL who very much wanted and pushed Clark to becoming Superman. BvS ignored the previous movie to rewrite its own continuity. The scope of the highly criticized Battle of Metropolis from MoS also seemed to be down-sized.
Pa Kent vision: What?
Doomsday. There was no point to having Doomsday in this movie. Cool final fight, yeah, but why did Lex go through all the trouble of framing Superman and getting him to fight Batman if he was just going to create and unleash the unkillable beast he can't control that kills Superman anyway? Also, Doomsday was Nuclear Man from "Superman IV" on steroids.
The script. There's a lot going on in this movie. A lot that the studio wanted I'm sure, and there are moments where things feel "by committee." For that, the script suffers. There is a lot of cringe-worthy dialogue, few clear motivations and only Batman has a real, concrete story-arc. There are way too many contrived conveniences and there are so many gigantic plot holes it'll make your head spin.
Stop destroying everything. The most Superman thing that Superman did this entire movie was fly Doomsday into space to fight. That was obviously to get that "Dark Knight Returns" moment with the nuke, however there comes a point where the destruction porn is too much. It was overkill in "Man of Steel"... there's just too much collateral damage. One of the things I found REALLY intriguing about the "Civil War" trailer is that when General Ross is going over all the Avengers battles with Cap, the human toll is minimal because the Avengers are saving lives, but the monetary cost is astronomical. That seems like a real and legitimate motivating factor for politics in that film. Everyone in BvS is just flippant about the damage and it's evident in the dialogue directed at people like me who criticized the destruction. "This building is uninhabited" and "The docks are abandoned."
The Justice League. I honestly could have done without the Justice League. I didn't like the Flash time portal bit, and the reveal of Aquaman, Cyborg and Flash was forced. It could have been a little more nuanced... no, WB decided that everyone already has their logo and we basically get a trailer for each. Oy.
Religious iconography/god complexes. STOP IT. Seriously. STOP IT.
Martha. This was RIDICULOUS. Batman spends 90 minutes preparing to kill Superman and when they fight, Batman get the upper hand via Kryptonite. So when he's about to kill Superman, Supes utters "save Martha." And now, out of nowhere, because their moms have the same name, they are bros. WHAT? Okay, I get it, that was the moment Batman realized he was being manipulated, but the entire title fight of this movie could have been completely avoided if Superman had just said "Hey Batman, Lex kidnapped my mom Martha, can you help?" Instead there is more a feeling like: "Hey Superman, people paid $12 to see us fight, so I'm going to beat you up until your girlfriend shows up and tells me Martha is your mom's name too."
The self-loathing, depressing tone. This movie, like "Man of Steel" is depressing. The film is dark, it takes itself WAY too seriously and everyone is so self-loathing. A friend of mine put it pretty well: "The superheroes were the sad people that everyone hated, who hated themselves and hated each other until they realized they looked cool when they posed together." There is little joy to be found in this movie. It starts and ends with a funeral, that's pretty telling. Look, I get some people like the more serious and darker stuff, my argument is that isn't what Superman OR Wonder Woman is about.
I've seen a lot of people point to "Avengers: Age of Ultron" as a movie "critics like, fans hate." I disagree. I don't think AoU was a perfect film at all, but the tone made a huge difference. AoU served a specific purpose - to be an Avengers movie about the Avengers avenging and setting up the next steps. They save lives, they are superheroes, the tone is lighter and more fun. The other BIG difference - I'd be fine taking a kid to AoU, or any Marvel movie for that matter. I wouldn't take a kid under 12 or 13 to see "Batman v. Superman," and if you can't comfortably take a kid to a Superman movie, that's a failure in my book.
Finally, Zack Snyder and David Goyer are laughing at you. Through their dialogue and some plot points of the movie, they are laughing at comic book fans and people who criticize them. They are essentially the same people that tell you to "grow up" or "comics are for kids" or "comics are stupid." Seriously. It is evident in bits of dialogue like Perry telling Clark "it's not 1938 anymore," which on the surface is a nod to "Action Comics" #1. In reality is their middle finger at Superman fans who criticized "Man of Steel" for not portraying a more classic Superman. It also happens again with Alfred. As much as Alfred helps Batman, he tells him to "meet a girl" and little things like that. These are veiled insults at people like me, people who were fans before the movies started happening. How do I know? Because these are the same kinds of things people say to me.
Further evidence of this? The entire existence of Scoot McNairy's Wallace Keefe. The Kastor's Korner article I posted earlier actually hit the same exact note I thought. This character's entire existence is a criticism on people who didn't like "Man of Steel." He's injured in the Battle of Metropolis, he hates Superman as a "false god" (read it as "false Superman"), and then he's manipulated by Lex and given a motorized wheelchair that explodes as a suicide device at the U.S. Capitol building. The bombing comes during a hearing about people criticizing Superman's actions. You know what Wallace Keefe is? Zack Snyder and David Goyer's way of telling people who didn't like "Man of Steel" because of the destruction and version of Superman to go kill themselves. They hate you as much as they hate Superman.
Overall, I did not like this movie and the depiction of Superman again was a big reason why. There's some hope for the character, only if Zack Snyder and David Goyer are no longer involved. In fact, I don't know if I'll ever bother to see another Snyder-led DC Comics movie. "Man of Steel" and "Batman v. Superman" were enough to tell me they don't understand the characters or the universe.
There are some really neat ideas at play here and things like Wonder Woman are really intriguing, most just aren't executed that well. There are some good scenes I could see myself watching again out of context ("Green Lantern" also has some of those). More importantly, if Warner Brothers doesn't care and just wants to make money on bad movies like the "Transformers" franchise that's their prerogative, but the long-term brand damage could be devastating.
Sunday, March 20, 2016
UPDATE: You can read my spoiler-heavy "Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice" review here
UPDATE 2: You can read my "treatment" for a Superman movie here
For me it started when I was very young. There was a red cape I wore regularly - and that my Mom still has - a VHS tape featuring a handful of the Fleischer cartoons, Superfriends, Ruby Spears, George Reeves and a handful of comic books. It has since become a life goal of mine to write Superman in comics or some form of media.
I love Superman. I love his mythology, what he stands for and ultimately, the idea of what he represents, something I'll mention a few times here... an ideal to strive towards.
I have been an outspoken critic of "Man of Steel" for the last three years. I don't outright hate it... I don't think it's a particularly great movie, but as a Superman movie it fails on multiple levels and is not very good at all. I hate it's portrayal and representation of Superman. It's unfortunate, because I LOVE the cast. But I'm on the same level with Mark Waid, Dan Slott, Jamal Igle, Tom Brevoort and many other outspoken comic book personalities who know a thing or two about Superman.
When I first saw "Man of Steel," I was left very uncomfortable. I tried to be positive and justify what occurred as the fog of Superman on the big screen was still thick. After a day or two, it started to wear off and I realized that like Waid, the movie broke my heart.
With that said, I am also NOT a huge fan of the Donner movies. I understand why people love them, and yes, Christopher Reeve embodies a near-perfect Superman. But from a story standpoint, I've never been a huge fan. That extends to "Superman Returns." "Returns" is essentially "Richard Donner's Superman III" and that was both it's greatest strength and greatest weakness.
I'm going to see "Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice," albeit with low expectations. On one hand, I'll see it to form an opinion. On the other hand, I'm interested to see Ben Affleck's Batman and the big screen debut of Wonder Woman. Will they improve this version of Superman to be more like the Superman that has been built for three-quarters of a century? I don't know, there's a lot of ground to make up, but as you may see by the end of this, because I believe in who Superman really is, the truth of the character, there may still be hope. Going dark and broody is against what Superman is and if you think it makes him "interesting" then we're all a lot more cynical than we care to admit. If you make a Superman (or Batman movie for that matter) that you can't take a child to - even Ben Affleck has said he won't let his 4 year old see BvS - then you've already failed. Of course, kids will still go - after all, kids went to see "Deadpool" but that's not the point I'm making, obviously.
As "Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice" is upon us and my Facebook postings have been rife with Superman material and questions raised by friends, I decided it was time to finally address this issue in one fell swoop. This particular writing deals with one of the more controversial aspects of "Man of Steel" - Superman killing Zod and the ultimate question of "does Superman kill?"
No. Superman does not kill.
Let me get that exhaustive Forbes article where writer Mark Hughes justifies "Superman the killer" out of the way. I read it. A few times, actually. And it's still wrong. There's an argument out there that "Man of Steel" defenders use regularly, arguing "well, Superman has killed in the comics before, so there's precedent" or "in the Golden Age he killed people, 'Man of Steel' was the Golden Age version!"
Two things here about "it happened in the comics." 1) Batman used to carry a gun when he was first created. Shortly thereafter he no longer did and he began to abhor guns because they were the instrument used to murder his parents. To this day, Batman hates and does not use guns. Batman also doesn't kill. 2) As comic creator extraordinaire and Superman authority Mark Waid so passionately pointed out in response to that Forbes article:
You see how stupid the "well he did in the comics in the 1940s" argument is? This is a character that over 75 years has become an icon, an American myth. Something that obviously means something more to a lot of people. Suggesting it's okay to present a betrayal of a character and brand's core values because of something that happened in the early days doesn't hold water. It's also important to note that in the Golden Age, you never really saw the villain die and it was often in outlandish, pulpy ways which were typical at the time (think the German Mechanic in "Raiders of the Lost Ark"). You can't really point to those and say "See!"
To quickly divert, but keep with his "it happened in the comics idea," a serial "Man of Steel" defender often points to a panel from Superman #1 as the definitive take on Pa Kent and the justification for Pa Kent's out-of-character portrayal in said film:
Unfortunately for the defender, this is a man telling a child to hide his powers and show restraint, followed up by his mother telling him to assist humanity when the time comes. There's no malice, no message of "maybe let people die," there's a father just being concerned for his son - something that is part of every iteration of Pa Kent. There's no way to state or use this panel as definitive. 1) Clark is still a boy who has yet to understand his powers and 2) Pa Kent could be referring to using a secret identity. There's no definitive statement of Pa Kent's true feelings.
Back to the "no killing" thing. The Forbes article highlights other examples too. Like in the imaginary tale "What Ever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?" Superman kills Mr. Mxzyptlk. The article's author outright IGNORES the thing Superman does immediately after, without hesitation - he kills himself out of guilt. He stops being Superman.
Another example Hughes uses is Superman #22 where Superman kills a version of Zod, Quex-Ul and Zaora after they commit a genocide. What the writer ignores is that after Superman does the deed, he's so wracked with guilt and shame he exiles himself from Earth. Eventually returning after an alien helps him come to grips. Also of note, the public was unaware of Superman's actions, his exile and decision to stop being Superman was completely self-imposed.
Superman #75 is also cited. The famous "Death of Superman" where Superman and Doomsday apparently punch each other to death. Except neither of them die. Superman had entered a "Kryptonian sleep" and Doomsday was in a coma, only to be found, revived and strapped to an asteroid by the Cyborg Superman. And if you aren't satisfied with that and want to still believe that Superman killed Doomsday (which he didn't) it was an instance where he sacrificed his own life.
Each one of the author's citations can be easily picked apart as alternate tales, or Superman making the ultimate sacrifice himself, or being willing to make that sacrifice. Each comes back to the same conclusion. Superman does not kill. So if your argument is "well, it happens in the comics" then "Man of Steel" should have been the beginning and the end of Superman, because when he kills in the comics, he stops being Superman.
Another argument often made is "Superman II." When Superman depowers Zod, Ursa and Non in the Fortress of Solitude. Supeman throws Zod into a smokey abyss, Lois punches Ursa into a smokey abyss and Non stupidly falls into the abyss. If you know the history of the first two Superman movies, you know it's a mess. In Richard Lester's version, that's how the villains meet their end. It's ambiguous as to whether or not they're dead, but you're just meant to assume it. But in original director Richard Donner's cut, which is now considered the definitive version, the three de-powered Kryptonians are arrested along with Lex Luthor. That was actually shot. That's how the movie was supposed to end. It once again reinforces the point.
Let me explain why as simply as I possibly can. Take the very core basics of the Superman mythos. Clark Kent was raised by two genuine, non-religious, mid-western Americans. Their politics didn't matter, all that mattered was that they were good people. They cared deeply about others, enough so that when they found a crashed rocketship in a field carrying a baby, they feared the worst. They feared for the child's life. Who did that to a baby? Were they going to come and take the child? They didn't know this child, where he came from or what his future would entail. All they could do was what they thought was right: take him in as their own and give him a sense of hope for a brighter tomorrow. They valued the life of this complete stranger and raised him on something we once considered a core American value - the American Way, if you will - compassion for your fellow citizen and the value of life. That's ultimately what has been built upon for more than 75 years from what was created by two young Jewish immigrants looking towards their better tomorrow.
Clark Kent was raised to help others less fortunate than him. Even if the Kents didn't have much, Clark was raised to show compassion, valuing every life above even his own. When his powers started to develop, Clark was steered by the good people he was raised by to use those abilities to help people when necessary but keep them a secret for his own protection, before he developed the Superman identity. As any parent would - but not to the extreme extent of Kevin Costner's Pa Kent - there would be some justifiable trepidation along the way. But Jonathan and Martha Kent's motivation for taking in that alien baby was giving him a sense of hope. They knew eventually it would be their son's duty to pass that on. That's what any parent ever wants, for their child to learn from them and improve upon them. The Kents, not Jor-EL, gave their son an ideal to strive towards. Now as Superman, the most powerful person on the planet, it was his duty to take what he learned from his parents and improve upon it, giving all of humanity a sense of hope for a better tomorrow - an ideal to strive towards.
For this reason, we as consumers of the Superman myth, and beyond that - as humans - people who in real-life believe in the good of our fellow human - are never supposed to relate to Superman. We are supposed to aspire to be him. We aren't supposed to connect with him on a level that says, "I share this experience." Over time, as we've all become more cynical over the years, we start to relate and identify with things - people, causes, ideas. Superman - once the most popular character on the planet - becomes "too good," or "boring" because he "can do anything" and he stops being what he is meant to be - a symbol of hope. He has to be explained as an alien, or a messiah. But Superman is more than just a super-powered alien, he's not even supposed to be a Christ-like figure. In fact, the moment you want Superman to be "grounded," "realistic" or "believable" is the moment you're not really looking for Superman.
|Even New 52 Pa Kent gets it.|
Superman is the best version of us, he's above all of us. He's everything we hope for and everything we can hope to be and attain. Using his abilities to help the less fortunate, stalwart in his belief of doing the right thing, unwavering in his compassion for people and always being able to see the smallest shred of decency in a person - even Lex Luthor - human, alien or otherwise. Ultimately, he believes in the inherent good in people, sometimes to a fault. That's who we are meant to be, that's the ideal we strive towards.
If Superman becomes a killer even when "absolutely needed", then there is no point to him. When Superman kills, he's not better than any of us. He no longer represents that ideal. He's just an alien with powers. He becomes just like any other person, who as Forbes' Rob Salkowitz put it: "The character who spent the last 75 years being better than us because of his ability to place principle above power is now just like any flawed mortal who can be pushed to extremes by fear and desperation."
That's the thing about Superman to reiterate the earlier point, the abilities beyond those of mortal men is not what makes him super, it's his values and who he is, the pinnacle of the human spirit and compassion - his principle.
In "Man of Steel," Superman snaps General Zod's neck, killing him. For many it's the ultimate moment of contention. For some like me, it's just the icing on the cake of an entire story that had already misrepresented everything about not only Superman, but Clark Kent. Many say "well, he had only been Superman for three days" or "he had no other choice." But that's not entirely true, he had only learned to fly in the past few days. He'd already been saving people and had already been using his powers. He had also been Clark Kent for 33 years at this point and should have at least developed the basic core value of the character - to rise above human pettiness and always find a better way.
He could have done anything else. Flown Zod away, covered Zod's eyes, found a way to knock him out, put him in some kind of stasis, found another way to send him back to The Phantom Zone, ANYTHING besides killing him, because that goes against everything Superman is and is meant to be. But this was a story choice that Snyder, Goyer and Warner Brothers decided to make that went against EVERYTHING that has been built around Superman, his character and ultimately as Salkowitz points out, the brand.
But this was a cynical, construed version of the character who destroyed a man's livelihood by wrapping a tractor-trailer around a tree because said man was a bully. This was a character who nonchalantly floated over a gas truck, allowing it to hit a parking garage and explode, likely killing a few people. This was a character who - rather than taking the fight elsewhere or using his super-speed to remove bystanders - simply told people on Smallville's Main Street to go inside and lock the doors while he fought equally as powerful people and the U.S. military reigned down enormous firepower. This was a character who made out with his girlfriend in the center of a literal crater of death. Long before Superman and Zod tore apart the skyline of Metropolis, and long before Superman snapped Zod's neck, he was already gone.
The opportunity was there to show Superman's real weakness - have him not focuses on Zod, but saving as many lives as he could, ultimately giving Zod a huge edge in the battle. The filmmakers chose not to go that route.
"Man of Steel" did some things really well, honestly. The cast is EXCEPTIONAL. The first quarter of the movie that took place on Krypton was really well done (the world established and history behind it was neat). The visuals when Jor-EL explained to Clark the history of Krypton were really neat. And I really liked how Lois figured out who Clark was and ultimately helped him develop his secret identity. But those were ultimately small tweaks that were bogged down and muddied by the darker aspects and overall depressing tones of the film. The moment Superman takes off and flies for the first time was great. And that soundtrack... oh man, that Hans Zimmer score is fantastic (I did and still love the new theme). Those story elements were well-done, but they paled in comparison to the dour, mopey characterization of Clark, The Kents and the ultimate misrepresentation of Superman. Making Superman dark, broody and a ultimately a killer doesn't make him more mature or interesting, it betrays him.
There was absolutely nothing hopeful about Superman in "Man of Steel." It was a movie about an alien invasion and another alien who decides to stop them leaving behind a wake of death and destruction.
As many will say, "well just because it isn't YOUR Superman," or as a friend of mine often says to me, "I'm rigid," "extremist" or not "open-minded" about other interpretations of Superman. Not "open-minded." I know he means well, but it's kind of insulting. For example, The New 52 Superman is a different interpretation of the character. I've been open-minded about it, there's a lot right and a lot wrong in my opinion. But if you read Superman comics religiously like I do, you know that the New 52 Superman has started to adopt the more classic traits, and even that the pre-New 52 version is still around. It feels like DC is trying to reset the brand at least in the comics.
But what of interpretations? When you strip away the core values of what makes a character special, then you're no longer in the realm of "interpretation." Take Daredevil for example, since that's timely and amazingly relevant. The TV show is an interpretation of the comic character that has many differences from, but shares the same core values as the comics. He seeks justice, doesn't kill and he's Catholic. In fact, one of the show's biggest running themes in season one and two is about how Daredevil won't betray his principles and become a killer. Had the TV show removed just one of those principles, for example his Catholicism, you're stripping away a core aspect of his character and no longer telling an "interpretation," you're presenting an entirely different character. And it's funny, Stan Lee and Bill Everett didn't outright make him a Catholic or have his religion motivate him at first, but it's become such defining trait of the character that you'd never think otherwise.
Yes, there are exceptions... in Superman's case the "Injustice" franchise is a good example. But the difference there is that "Injustice" is about what happens when Superman abandons his principle and kills the Joker in a fit of rage... becomes a tyrant in an alternate universe... and is ultimately stopped by the "true" Superman from the main universe. Confusing right? It's not though, because Superman doesn't kill.
One of my favorite Superman stories ever is "Ending Battle." In this story-arc, the telepathic super anti-hero Manchester Black unleashes every Superman villain from Master Jailer to Lex Luthor in an effort to break the Man of Steel. The climax of the story features Black using his telepathy to make Superman believe that Black murdered Lois. Superman walks into his apartment to find her dead, truly believing everything he sees. Black is trying to push Superman over the edge, prove that deep down and pushed hard enough, he's a killer. But even with his dead wife in front of him, Superman refuses to kill. Dumbfounded and realizing the truth about Superman, Black ends the ruse, Lois is fine and the last we ever see of Manchester Black is him committing suicide. In trying to get Superman to break his moral code, Black himself became a super-villain and he couldn't live with the fact that in trying to corrupt Superman, he corrupted himself.
The divisiveness "Man of Steel" has caused over the years proves that the decision to make Superman a killer in "Man of Steel" has hurt the overall brand. The critical and fan response to "Man of Steel" was so tepid that it did feel like Batman's involvement was rushed (I am seriously intrigued by Affleck as Batman, and I think there are some neat ideas at play in the DCEU, the characterization of Superman - and that's a big one - is not one of them).
Superman is a fictional character owned by Warner Brothers. They can do whatever the hell they want with him. I shouldn't care, right? Quite the opposite. The character is iconic, what he means transcends the comics, movies... all of it. The Superman shield is instantly recognized all over the world, a brand that has been built for nearly 80 years, one that arguably every superhero is a derivative. So when you fundamentally change the characterization and principles of that brand after nearly 80 years for a mass audience, you're running the risk of destroying the brand. The divisiveness caused by "Man of Steel" is proof of this questionable brand management tactic. Ultimately, as Forbes' Rob Salkowitz put it:
"What did Warner Bros. get for undoing 75-plus years of equity in a multi-billion dollar brand? Well, it appears they set up the next movie, which picks up the thread of having a super-powered alien around who is unbound by any firm principle, and feels entitled to dispatch his enemies if he sees fit.
That might be a cool story. It’s just not a Superman story that anyone would recognize."
So why doesn't Superman kill? Why should he be the ultimate good guy?
Because he's better than you, than me, than all of us. He's Superman.