Man of Steel: A Commendable Failure

manofsteelMan of Steel is an admirably ambitious film for a number of reasons.  It not only attempts to make exciting a franchise that has been considered boring and obsolete, and one that has failed to be resuscitated as recently as 2006 with the underwhelming Superman Returns, but it also seeks to forgo popular elements of the franchise in favour of a bold new direction.  There is, for example, no Kryptonite in the film (a formulaic plot device for many Superman narratives). Clark Kent is removed from his traditional role as mild-mannered reporter, while attempts to humanize the villains are made, so that they aren’t so outrageously evil.  Moreover, hypersexualization of  women, which is typical Hollywood fare, is absent from the film, which instead emphasizes environmental as well as political concerns.  Aside from all that ambition, however, the film simply fails to excite and while it stands as an excellent production with a quality cast, the execution of the ideas presented ultimately comes up short.


Ayelet Zurer plays Lara LLor-Van, biological mother to Kal-El.

Ayelet Zurer plays Lara LLor-Van, biological mother to Kal-El.

The film begins with life on Krypton and spends more time there than any film in the history of the franchise.  This is perhaps the most effective narrative within the film, and it lends itself to an ecocritical reading.  Krypton is a dying planet and it is dying because the inhabitants of the planet have exhausted the resources of the planet.  Sound familiar?  The people of Krypton felt no need to reduce their carbon footprint and ignored the foremost scientist who impels them to be more forward thinking.  As a result of their willful ignorance, the planet is on the cusp of being destroyed and the Kryptonian race is about to be wiped out.  The parallels are there for those who wish to see them, but casual movie audiences will likely remember little of this part of the narrative and will also likely fail to reflect on how this part of the film serves as a warning for how we approach our own relationship with the planet we live on.


There are some who might argue that Henry Cavill did not have his shirt off enough during "Man of Steel".

There are some who might argue that Henry Cavill did not have his shirt off enough during “Man of Steel”.

Dying planet?  Enter General Zod (played effectively by Michael Shannon) who recognizes that the leadership has failed and seeks to overthrow the government by force.  In previous incarnations, Zod has been a megalomaniac motivated by his desire for power.  Here, however, he is motivated  by the welfare of his race and seeks to overthrow a despotic and flawed system that has failed the people.  He is of course a flawed character and a despot himself; a fantastical reincarnation of Hitler, perhaps.  He plans a genocide to preserve his own race. Through Zod, we see the flaws of nationalist mentalities, or blind and strict allegiances within ethnic, racial or even religious groups.  The attack on nationalism is furthered in one of the final scenes of the film when Superman is seen knocking down a drone on American soil. When he confronts an American general, he insists that he is as American as anybody and drones are not needed to spy on him.  This couldn’t be any more relevant considering the NSA wire taps as of late and conversation of the use of drones on American soil.  Too often xenophobia is so strong that people who share a common nationality but a different heritage are seen as other despite the fact that they are citizens of and share a common interest in the well-being of a shared country.


With a woman as beautiful as Amy Adam as the lead actress, it might be tempting to sexualize her, but "Man of Steel" steers clear of that course.

With a woman as beautiful as Amy Adam as the lead actress, it might be tempting to sexualize her, but “Man of Steel” steers clear of that course.

Then there are the women of the film.  I respect that there was absolutely no effort to sexualize Amy Adams as Lois Lane.  She is a strong independent woman who takes initiative and does not allow patriarchy to dictate how she is to handle herself.  At the same time. she is capable of reason and compassion.  She exemplifies bravery, dons army fatigues and dresses pragmatically.  Though she takes a trip to the South Pole, much as Angelina Jolie did in Tomb Raider, her outfit is far better suited to the climate typical of Antarctica than was the outfit Jolie opted to wear on her trip to the South Pole.  Diane Lane (no relation to Lois) plays Clark Kent’s mother and likewise is not sexualized at all, though one might be tempted to do so considering how stunning Diane Lane is.  Clark’s other mother, however, is allowed to show a little cleavage.  Faora Ul (played by the beautiful Antje Traue) is an equally strong female character, though flawed much like Zod.  She proves an even match for Kal-El, and like the other females in the film, was not sexualized in the least.  This approach warrants applause.  We see too often in other action films how sexualized the women are.  The problem though is that outside of Lois Lane, none of the female characters are really fully developed and the obligatory romance between Clark Kent/Kal-El and Lois Lane seems forced as there was no really intimacy or chemistry developed in the film.


Michael Shannon, one of my favorite actors, plays the most interesting incarnation of General Zod the Superman franchise has yet to see.

Michael Shannon, one of my favorite actors, plays the most interesting incarnation of General Zod the Superman franchise has yet to see.

Though the film deserves a lot of respect for the mature approach taken with the narrative, it does not ultimately satisfy.  The action scenes lacked suspense, the inter-personal relationships lacked depth and the characters, for the most part, simply weren’t that interesting.  The film has one of the most stellar casts in recent memory, but the actors simply do not have much to work with from the script. Perhaps there are too many characters to develop in a little over two hours to explore any of them effectively.  The title character is largely unexplored.  Outside of a few childhood scenes, we don’t get a sense of who he is. Over a dozen years of his adulthood are unexplained, and what we do see doesn’t make much sense.  With the powers that he has, it seems he could be doing something more productive than washing dishes and protecting waitresses from creepy guys at the bar.  The aims of the film are commendable, the production quality is high, the special effects are adequate, though they fail to separate themselves from other films of the same ilk. The cast, as mentioned, is remarkable.  Still, I couldn’t help but walk away from the film unsatisfied and I think the source of the film’s shortcomings are largely in the script, though it is clear that a very clever mind was at work.


Rambler About Rambler

Jason John Horn is a writer and critic who recently completed his Master's in English Literature at the University of Windsor. He has composed a play, a novella and a number of short stories and satirical essays.


  1. to me the mos movie was a disappointed 🙁

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