“Man of Steel” – Movie of Slop


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.

  • Joanne

    APPLAUSE! (For the review, not the film!)

  • TuckerAndrewTeague

    Fr. Robert Barron takes a somewhat different angle: https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=KjyOUC_dWsU#at=585 Your thoughts?

  • Ian Rutherford

    I had a similar reaction to The Hobbit.

    • Paul Staples

      The scene fighting the orcs in their lair made me dizzy on the big screen. Way too much going on. It was actually easier to watch on a home screen.

    • BobNYCatholic

      I do agree with her about overdone action scenes. Too much CGI is a bad thing. Compare a classic car chase from the French Connection to the action scenes used now. Why do the have to create thousands of spiders, orcs, or goblins to enhance the scene? We get it they’re being chased by monsters. As to Barbra’s point, You never know what the Holy Spirit will use to convict someone maybe even something from this movie, but it would be nice to see a movie that’s well written and uses Christian themes.

  • TuckerAndrewTeague

    What do you think of Fr. Robert Baron’s take on it? http://youtu.be/KjyOUC_dWsU

  • Micah Murphy

    Did we even watch the same movie?

    The fantastical, if somewhat drab-colored, Krypton was meant to be a world so beyond ours that their science appeared as fantasy. The fight was instigated by a General who believed Superman would be an easy kill, so why not just try to take him out in Smallville or Metropolis? As the battle went on, why would Zod bother to move the fight anywhere but earth. He wouldn’t have had better odds in another location, as both he and Superman had the same powers due to the same environment, so I simply don’t see your point. You complain, “they haven’t figured out that they really can’t do a lot of harm to each other here on earth.” They figured it out, they just knew the location wouldn’t make a difference between equal opponents.

    Yes, the CGI was heavy. I didn’t mind it. Superman is a colossus of a superhero. The magnitude of any fight involving him required heavy CGI. I would, I admit, have liked to see him drawing the enemy away from the city, but if he had done so, would they have followed? I have my doubts.

    The Christological symbolism was strong, but you’re correct, it was also far too obvious. There were moments, however, when it was far more subtle. He turned himself in, twice, willingly and peacefully.

    As for character development, it was FAR better than Christopher Reeve’s version. The dweeby Superman is an unfair caricature of Kansas farm boys, really. This Superman was much more real.

    It wasn’t perfect, but it was without a doubt the best of all the Superman movies.

  • Michael Fraley

    I didn’t know until yesterday that Warner Bros. had created an entire “ministry sources” web site to help promote MOS. Ridiculous. So yes, we have, indeed, become just another demographic to exploit. The scene in the church had a lot more to do with the “action” taking place at Sears and IHOP than we ever knew.

  • Howard

    “Particularly too many Evangelicals today desire with everything in them to be beloved of the secular culture…. 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.”

    Wrong, on two counts. As a convert from the Southern Baptists, I can assure you that Evangelicals fully expect opprobrium, or at least they tell themselves they do. They like to count minor slights, like a loss of friends over an important moral or theological point, as though they were a kind of dry martyrdom. And on the other hand, many Catholics are fawning supporters of the secular culture you talk about: think Biden and Pelosi, for starters. Even after Obama had some newsworthy clashes with the Church, 50% of Catholic voters voted for him in 2012. On issues like contraception, the Catholic laity is indistinguishable from the public at large. You may say that they’re not being Catholic enough, and I’d agree — but by the same token many Evangelicals will say that pastors rushing to embrace a silly movie are not being Christian enough.

    A more important difference is that Evangelicals simply lack any meaningful appreciation of history — even “recent history” — and this makes them subject to fads of any kind. Remember the “Prayer of Jabez”? Back at the height of its popularity, I somehow offended an Evangelical acquaintance by suggesting that the Lord’s Prayer would be a better Biblical prayer to make a part of one’s core prayer life — something that still seems both unoffensive and remarkably obvious to me. Maybe the Lord’s Prayer (the Our Father) was taboo because “it’s what Catholics do” (Evangelicals and Fundamentalists are very afraid of the lure of the Church), but it’s still odd to see a group that so regularly condemns “rote prayers” buy into a rote prayer as a fad.

  • Norman

    Ok I think that, while you gave away the ending to a story you didn’t like, you glossed over what I think Christians would like it for… I’ll give these away, I particularly liked the symbolism of Jesus’s 40 Days in the desert with the Devil:

    Superman’s Father, like Jesus’s Father, is anti-eugenics, preferring natural child birth… Anti-Eugenetics- The whole issue at hand was being engineered by (what humanity wanted from you with) preconceived notions, vs. your (God given) freedom.

    Superman’s Father is charged with heresy for this, much like those who were charged with the same for embracing Jesus’s virgin birth…

    Superman’s Father is privy to danger and sends his son away to avoid his death, Jesus’ Father does the same when Herod orders the death of every child under two in his Kingdom…

    When he jumps out of the boat (water is symbolic of purity, baptism), next shot he’s on fire (symbolic of the Holy Spirit)…

    When Superman is a boy, he gets knocked down and the book he’s reading is ‘Plato’, which if one does their homework, would be aware that ancient Greek philosophy is fundamental to Christian truth. Which explains why, in the Vatican there is a famous painting by Raphael called “The School of Athens”, with Plato right smack in the middle (with Aristotle, and they, surrounded by many others). It’s explained in full detail here (you can actually hear me ask a question at the end of the second one audio)- http://www.instituteofcatholicculture.org/the-ancient-biblical-world-preparing-the-way-of-the-lord/

    The ‘S’ stands for Hope, 1 Timothy 1:1… who’s “our hope” again?

    When Superman talks to the priest and the priest tells him “Sometimes a leap of faith has to come first, and then the trust will come later”, Christianity as a whole, take a leap of faith in God and the trust will come later…

    Also with the priest, the cross is present in the background taking up half the shot , and then superman has stained glass in the background and on it, a picture of Jesus, again taking up half the shot…

    Superman’s dream sequence where General Zod offers Superman to be a foundation for a new Crypton, at the cost of humanity and against his father’s plan, is; Jesus’s trip into the desert for 40 days where the devil tempts Jesus via offering the earth and all its people, saving everyone by surrendering to him at the cost of humanity and His Father’s plan…

    Pete Ross makes three appearances, and in the third, during the final fight with Zod specifically makes eye contact with Superman for a moment… Coordinates with Saint Peter denying Jesus three times during the Passion and locking eyes the third time…

    33 years old is specified right after asked, “You’re surrendering to Zod?”, and replies “I’m sacrificing myself to humanity”; very comparable to Jesus’s sacrificial death at 33 years old…

    Superman’s Father says “you can save all of them”, and he floats away in the shape of a cross, symbolic of Jesus ability to save us all via the cross…

  • Matt Vaughan

    As messy as the movie is, the alternatives for interesting Christian narrative aren’t fantastic. I wrote about it this week here: http://muchvaughanted.blogspot.com/2013/06/man-of-steel-son-of-man.html

  • Esky

    I can’t go on enough about how wrong you are about this film. The character development was great as it was brief and to the point, and William Shakespeare said something about that once. Zod is a villain with clear motives that are wrong, but understandable. Jor-El is an intellectual who has discovered scientific and philosophical truths that others want not hear about. Clark is a drifter who knows not what his talents are for or how to use them (sound familiar to today’s young men?), but finds inspiration in silence of searching and listening. Lois is tough, smart, feminine, courageous and caring. Perry White is honorable, and overworked. Ma and Pa Kent are humble, over-protective, and loving. All of these developments occur in subtle fashion that serve the story well.

    The backstory illustrated what happens when an advanced society becomes slaves to their own progress; it showed what happens when people only ask “can we?” and never “should we?”.

    Sure there are some plot-holes, but tough; it’s fiction. I care more about theme than I do about details being sewn together, and this film certainly took less fictional liberties than Donner’s “Superman” in terms of story.

    I found the fight scenes overly destructive as well, but I also wanted to see epic Kryptonian battles in a Summer film. Every super-hero has collateral damage we accept, but when the most powerful super-villains arrive we somehow still want it to be no more than a Gotham city car chase? They did imply that the city was being evacuated, but it was done too quickly, with little reason to believe it.

    I loved the Christian symbolism, even if it was a tad spelt out for us. Yes, we’re hungry for the Christian culture to return to cinema, so forgive us for going nuts when it does. Superman makes his decision to be a sacrificial victim after he talks to a priest, showing how talent and humility need to go hand in hand to produce courage.

    The neck-snap was not a shock if one knows the comic-book story, or (surprise) Superman II when Kal-El drains Zod and company’s powers and kills them anyways. It was an unfortunate moral situation where Superman acted as justly as possible in a non-idealized world.

    The movie ain’t squeaky clean, but neither is the Bible nor the human condition. It demonstrated well how difficult hope and morality are in a fallen world obsessed
    with progress and steeped in cynicism. This Superman was not lofty, was not inaccessible, was not non-human. This Superman was great to watch on screen.

  • Eric Barr

    [NOTE FROM BN: I deleted the insults according to the blog protocol.]

    I’m actually pretty sure we didn’t watch the same movie. Best of all the Superman movies, this movie did a great job of visualizing the Superman mythos that the comic strips, comic books, tv shows, and movies have created over the years. Really–is an iconic American hero with hints of Christological greatness all that bad? Is the world better or worse for this movie? Better, I say. You all want something to be put in this film which would utterly destroy the film itself. Tens of millions of people, many who don’t even know what the Bible is, will see this film and say, “This is so cool; I wish it could be real.” All it takes is a Christian to say, “It was a cool movie, let me tell you that the movie is just a shadow of the real guy who embodies all the things you thought were spectacular in the film–namely, Jesus Christ.” I’m a priest, I grab hold of anything in the secular culture that might lead folks to Jesus. This film opens a doorway to Christ–why criticize a film that might open doors into a soul to let in Jesus. Elitism is pretty sterile and dry. It sucks all the joy out of everything–even a summer film. So if you’ll excuse me, I’m going for a drink of water and then back to encouraging folks to see this film and discover its Christian symbolism.

  • Renard N. Bansale

    Ms. Nicolosi, could you release your list of your Top Favorite Films? I’ve never seen reviews like yours before. I think a list of your favorite films of all time ad well as what you thought were the best made films of some recent years were, I’d be able to grasp a sense of your unique cinematic taste.

    • brnicolosi

      Maybe some day, Renard. I’ve never written it all out and it would take a bit of work.

  • Author Jonathan Ryan

    I have to say, I’m a bit disappointed in this review. There are times where I understand your point (no one would object cutting 15 minutes of action from Man of Steel), but some of your other statements rather mystify me. I find your definition of spectacle leaves out some nuances and begging a few questions. Sometimes, story IS spectacle and that is kind of the point.

    Further, super heroes and comics are just as serious as any other cultural story. They can either be well done or they can be terrible. However, just dismiss them out of hand “because they are superheroes” demonstrates a tendency in the evangelical art sub culture that drives me nuts. The snobbery mystifies me. Just saying super heroes are “not serious” because you don’t get it is not a very convincing argument. In fact, it’s no argument at all.

    Lasers coming out of eyeballs is no weirder than the four creatures that surround the throne of God. In fact, it’s probalby way more normal. Dismissing weirdness just because its weird seems to be more than a bit curious.

    Like it or not, “Geeks” and comic movies now rule the cultural discussion.

  • Michael

    Would no religious references at all been better? Or blasphemy? Superman is not really supposed to be the Passion with campy jokes. What the makers of the film wanted to do is make up for decades of television which turned the Superman character into a clown and a joke, especially with the utter disaster 2006’s “Superman Returns” was (from a moral standpoint and also the fact there was nothing “super” about the character at all). So there was a lot for Zack Snyder and Christopher Nolan to tackle. The religious
 references aren’t necessary
    but they are there… Christopher Reeve’s first Superman film is often put in
    the “drama” section, and for the most part that’s what it was, a superhero
    drama, and at the time it was groundbreaking. 
Reeve has his place but his
    version is definitely not the “end all be
 all” every future project is to
    revolve around. When Superman first hit the stands back in the late 30’s he was
    actually a bit violent and rough. He was then
 softened up for a period of
    time to the point it was just ridiculous. If it wasn’t for past failures, Man
    of Steel might have been a bit different… I doubt
 many went to it hoping
    or expecting to see Thomas Aquinas in a Superman costume with campy
    humor. I did like the fact he was reading
    Plato and went to the priest, and there are some deep philosophical undertones
    in the film… Fr. Barron’s commentary
    referenced in the comment below is great, except I disagree that Superman
    represents Nietzsche’s “superman”, rather it is Zod, for it is with Zod that the end that justifies the means.

  • Evan

    I agree the movie is a disaster in just about every sense, but other than Movieguide, what Christian critics are praising it? The most opinions I’ve seen are neutral at best, and most are substantially negative. The Arts and Faith group is overall quite negative, with one or two exceptions, and those exceptions are very mixed, hardly positive.

  • http://wasteyourtime.mtgames.org/ Scaevola

    Problem is that you went into a comic book movie expecting Art. Not every comic book movie is a Dark Knight, just as not every comic book is a Watchmen, nor every book a Brothers K (nor every piece of music a 9th Symphony, nor every…etc, etc). You went in with unfairly high standards, and were duly disappointed.

    • derbingle

      It was a bad movie by any measure, whether you have Action Comics #1 or you went in like Who The Heck is Superman? It was a bad movie. stop making excuses. It doesn’t have to be Citizen Kane but it shouldn’t be an M Night Smammalamma fiasco either. This movie made the freakin Star Wars Prequels look like the originals.

      • http://wasteyourtime.mtgames.org/ Scaevola

        Changes nothing, my friend. The review was unfairly harsh; one can legitimately criticize a bad movie without staking such a criticism on the fact that it isn’t Citizen Kal-El. Besides, based on the purely subjective measure of myself and the group of friends I saw it with, it was a good movie–it met our expectations for an entertaining comic book movie. We were satisfied.

  • Mark S. (not for Shea)

    Look at this director’s resume. He makes 120 minute big screen video games. Lack of character development and sense in this film should come as a surprise to no one.

  • Adam

    Man of steel was terrible! I feel cheated out of my $10! This guy was not superman. What happened to Brandon routh?

  • Chris John

    It was good to read an overwhelmingly negative review from a
    faith-based perspective (that’s not sarcasm either!) But I think the Christian hype around the film has too much negative influence on this review of the movie.

    The CGI wasn’t the most cleverly assembled, true. But it was full of things that Superfans would want to see Superman
    do. It is interesting how the last Superman movie was criticized for
    having too little action and this one seems to have too much. I didn’t
    have the same hang up about “spectacle”. That’s partly why I
    enjoy movies -Giant robots hitting each other etc. And though you hint at this, I think a more charming story would have solved most of the problems with the “Disaster porn,” as Mark Waid called it. Superman’s never really made me think of Christ on the Cross. Ayn Rand’s John Galt maybe. http://www.catholicpulse.com/cp/en/columnists/menzhuber/061813.html

    On the other hand, I think there are some good messages to be found and
    enjoyed, especially given the state of modern media. Fatherhood and life
    issues brought up in a movie like this? Wow. I feel like I have the
    freedom to chuckle when people get a little goofy with it.

    I’ve heard a lot of people criticizing it next to
    “Superman II” with Christopher Reeves. That was a good film and
    definitely shaped a piece of my entire childhood, but I wonder if people have
    romanticized that version for what it did for them as a kid.

  • Tom Kaye

    Man of Steel was bad, yes. But JJ Abrams is the antichrist! Talk
    about movies with plot holes big enough to pilot a starship through,
    action and battles and fight scenes that make no sense, piled one on top
    of the other! And characters with emotions and motivations so mixed up
    they may Sybil sound like Joe Friday.

    And every one of these movies is making close to a billion dollars worldwide while garnering five star reviews????!!!!!

    Has the world lost its collective mind? More than Israel becoming a nation, THIS is the sign of the apocalypse!