Directed by Zack Syder; Written by David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan; Starring Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Russell Crowe, Diane Lane, Kevin Costner (and lots more under-utilized talents); Rated PG-13 for “destruction” and language.
Man of Steel is an excruciatingly long and loud sloppy mess of a story. The big question for the Christian critics/pastors/leaders/scholars lining up to praise this thing is, “REALLY?!” So, what we’re saying is, you can have a really bad story with lots of ridiculous plot leaps and holes; and you can have flat one-dimensional main characters who never change, and youcan have too many stars popping up doing nothing in the movie just because they have been paid to be there; and you can have awful dialogue without any cleverness or subtext, and you can have spectacle inappropriately being served by all the other story elements — and all that is redeemed just by a few overt, but achingly banal, religious references?! We’re all supposed to fall over like Man of Steel is the new Fifth Gospel?
Here’s the Truth. Man of Steel is not the worst comic book movie ever. But it isn’t half the coherent story of (the un-Amazing) Spiderman. It lacks any of the charm we expect in the best fruits of the genre and suffers from that “Comic books are real serious!” thing which always strikes me as peculiar. Because, you know, um, they’re not. The hero here is wearing tights and burns steel with his eyeballs. Just keep that in the frontal lobe. I actually preferred the campy Christopher Reeve movies because they made me laugh. Now, we’re all supposed to brood over the tight-wearing ones like their adventures are literary quantum mechanics. Sorry. There’s not much here except the spectacle of a really handsome lead and then all the over-produced CGI visuals. (And it’s too frickin’ loud.)
A word to the studios about the CGI here: Less really is more. Did the Kryptonians suits HAVE to be that lumpy? Did their Council folks NEED to be quite so “Paris Fashion Week is for the Repressed”? Did the spaceships really need to look so much like flies? Did we need to see building after building get smashed and explode? It was self-indulgent filmmaking, which is what happens when spectacle is god instead of story.
It will bore me too much to list all the story problems in the movie – and really, why should I put more thought into the story than the writer and director did? How about I put one and then all of you chime in with the stupid things that bugged you in Man of Steel? Let’s see… Oh, I know. In the early part of the film, I was just perplexed as to why the Kryptonians and Superman spent so much time smacking each other into buildings. Aren’t these people supposed to be, um, smart? The movie asks us to believe that they have solved the space-time continuum, but they haven’t figured out that they really can’t do a lot of harm to each other here on earth. “SMASH!” “BANG!” “POP!” It got annoying pretty fast. Back and forth flying each other into buildings and then getting up staggering only to do it again and again and again. “Smack!” “Pow!” And again and again and again and again and again and again and, uh, again. Until finally, when they needed the movie to end, Superman just goes “Twist!” on the bad guy’s neck and that does it, he’s dead! Bad story stuff. Bad, bad stuff.
When I say that everything is serving the spectacle here, I am referenceing that spectacle is, according to the observations of Aristotle, supposed to be the salt and spice that enhances all the other elements of a story. It is the least of all and should be at the service of the plot, characters, theme, etc. In Man of Steel, it’s grossly, just the opposite. I kept thinking that the effects folks were calling the director every other eek saying, “Hey! We just figured out a cool way to make shiny skyscrapers fall over! Can you work that in somehow?” And so they do.
As for the vaunted religious references, well, they really aren’t that profound, guys. Superman stands in front of a window of Jesus. WOWWWWWWWWWW. Superman is – get this – the Son of a wise and loving father – MIND-BLOWING! THAT’S JUST LIKE YOU-KNOW-WHO!!!! Superman in the movie is 33 YEARS OLD!!!!! Holy Summa Theologica, Batman! I hope every church is ready this weekend for millions of converts! Because how could the average pagan brain resist THAT kind of deep magic wisdom!? Good grief.
What is wrong with us? First I came up with the notion that this fawning reaction to so very little was coming from the fact that Christians are desperate to see some of our stuff in mainstream culture. Particularly too many Evangelicals today desire with everything in them to be beloved of the secular culture. They strain and writhe around finding things to bless in the ever-rising swamp of Post-Sexual Revolution cultural decay. I don’t get it, maybe it’s the Catholic thing in me which emphasizes opprobrium as the natural state for disciples as opposed to ticker tape parades.
On the other hand, it just might be that this frenzied scurrying around by so many pastors and leaders of the Church to preach and write about Man of Steel isn’t really flowing from the project’s wisdom, worth and value as a catechetical tool. Maybe, the whole thing is just coming from a marketing campaign funded by Warner Bros. to turn the People of God into a commercial demographic. You just have to sell the leaders on the notion that they are culturally backward if they don’t get on the bandwagon. And I imagine somebody had their laptops greased somewhere. There just couldn’t be a spontaneous clamoring to all get behind this kind of silliness, right?
Go see Man of Steel if you like staring at CGI game landscapes. Go if you like staring at a gorgeous actor. DOn’t go if you want a good story. And don’t don’t don’t go if you are looking for some kind of spiritual inspiration. It’s a PASS.