Anne talks film: Man of Steel

manofsteelinsertAs a child of the 70’s my view of Superman will forever be coloured by Superman (1978), but I do very much enjoy super hero films – given that I have produced one of my own – and I love to see reboots and updates as much as any super hero enthusiast.
That being said, I was quite disappointed with this one.
First of all I was a little confused as to why Superman needed to be rebooted again. I had the same feeling about Spiderman last year when The Amazing Spiderman (2012) was released but I absolutely loved that version and so confusion quickly gave way to delight. With The Man of Steel I had quite the opposite response.
I never saw Watchmen (2009) but I understand from recent twitter conversations with other super hero enthusiasts that director, Zack Snyder is thought by some to have poorly interpreted that franchise as well. All I can say is that after waiting for some time to see this film I was very disappointed. The film has grossed more than it took to make and did so in the first weekend so obviously from a business perspective it was a success but from an artistic viewpoint I can’t call it that.
By far, the biggest disappointment for me was the script. There was not story to speak of. The entire film basically consisted of the back-story that most Superman renditions either skip or devote the first 10 minutes to and not without reason. Whilst novels (graphic novels included) are written to create a universe that the reader immerses herself in, sparing no detail right down to smells and thoughts, the art of script writing is completely different. When you only have around two hours to tell a three to five act story the most important general rule is that if something does not provide information that changes the viewers understanding of the plot, it is best left out. By this standard I would say that 90% of what I saw in Man of Steel (2013) should have been cut from the script.
Why would the epic alliance of Warner, Legendary, and DC make such a mistake? My first thought was that this production fell victim to the lack of development money in Hollywood right now. Honestly, I do think this scrip was put into production before any development was attempted. Any script doctor would have thrown it back for a major overhaul before even tweaking it. Honestly it has the feel of a first draft.
After some research learned that the Superman brand was subject to litigation that for complicated reasons would have meant that on of the owners would have a cause of action against the studio if production were not started by 2011. I find this unfortunate, as it may be the reason why the project did not spend enough time in development. If a film does not spend enough time in development, you are quite honestly wasting the money you spend on production and I am of the opinion that the money spent on Man of Steel was thusly wasted.
My first, and biggest gripe is that in any Super hero film, the main character is the city in which it takes place. The city is the damsel in distress that the hero saves. This is the bedrock of the genre and if you don’t have respect for this, you should move on to another genre. In Man of Steel, the city was rarely seen and there was not a wide areal shot of it until it was being demolished. The city character of a film should be put into peril but never die so following on from my assertion that this genre requires the city to take center stage, I was left in shock that I even saw one building fall.
The reason that the city must be the main character in any super hero film is that the whole genre came about as cities were taking up their role in the development of the United States. Though it is never said, Metropolis is widely held, though sometimes publicly denied, to be New York City as is Batman’s Gotham, Hawkman’s Central City is Cleveland, and Flash’s Midway City is Detroit. Spider Man, which came along a few years later, was simply set in New York City but everyone knows that all of the most popular DC heroes live in New York, no matter what they call it.

Man of Steel’s Metropolis does not appear to have been intended to be New York City. We only once or twice get a wide shot of the city and when we do, it does not appear to be the Big Apple. It just looks like a big, boring city with no major landmarks or interesting architecture which I supposed in the end is a good thing since it is relegated to the role of not very featured extra and then, much to my horror, destroyed.
And the mistreatment of the city is not the only way in which Man of Steel turns its back on the genre it purports to be a part of. Most heroes were created in the 1930’s and the genre reflects this. The stretchy suits reflected the new fabric, BanLon that was the fibre of the future. Many of the things we find quaint about the genre were as cutting edge at that time as the latest Bond gadgets are to us today. Even Superman’s choice of changing facility, the phone booth was something new and exciting that most people in America did not have access to. Even Superman’s job as a member of the print media was the latest, hottest profession facilitated by new technologies such as wired communications and film photography.
Along with these new technologies came major changes in the fabric of society, changes that caused anxiety and rises in crime, poverty and exposure to disease. Cities were exciting and dangerous places where people felt like an interchangeable parts more than a valuable members of society. Morals were slipping and people longed to believe in a future that was better than the present. Enter the super hero. In the case of Superman, a secret identity as the ignored and underrated Clark Kent masked a man who single handedly saved Metropolis. The message was that every man is Superman. Everyone can be virtuous no matter how little he feels valued by those around him.
The reason that Superman 1978 was so successful is that when it was released was that New York City was once again as dangerous as it was exciting. The city needed a hero as much as it did in the era of the depression in which Superman was first created.
The point of Superman as a mythical character is not that he is alien but that he possesses humanity that is to be emulated by those around him. Additionally there was no sexual tension in Man of Steel between Superman and Lois Lane. The 1978 film was nothing but sexual tension coupled with great shots of New York City this made that film romantic and exciting. Man of Steel (2013) was nothing but explosions and destruction. If I were to sum up the plot it would be ‘Aliens versus Humans plus one. It lacked any human interest. Gone was the vulnerable Clark Kent persona. All we see is a brooding and tormented Superman who seems more like a Batman style crime fighter than the larger than life Man of Tomorrow should be.
The film felt more like watching a tween boy playing a Superman themed video game than a true film. It just did not hold my attention. Judging from the box office it is appealing so someone out there, perhaps 12-year-old gamers but there is nothing in it for the ladies in my opinion. Unless you are very curious or simply have nothing better to do, I would skip this one and it pains me to say so. I hate to be so pessimistic about any film but at the end of this one I wished I had my money and my time back.

About Anne La Barbera

Our resident film critic Anne LaBarbera was born in Austin, Texas. A joint US / Italian national her varied film career spans writing, directing, producing, wardrobe and (even) running for the BBC – she’s nearly done it all! When not at home in Hollywood, Anne likes to travel and feature her classic VW Scirocco in the movies, mostly her own. Catch more of Anne’s adventures on

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