Any Superman movie is going to receive a tremendous amount of criticism. Superman is the iconic superhero in America…nothing, nobody, defines what it means to be a hero in American fiction in the modern era better than Superman, after all.
Zach Snyder’s Man of Steel had mixed reviews as well, with numerous hard-core fans criticizing a variety of plot choices, from the structure of the narrative, to the wanton destruction of Metropolis, to ultimate killing (murder?) of Zod at the hands of Superman…an event purposefully avoided in all his comic book lore.
As such, critics were just waiting to pounce, as Snyder was given the unenviable task of not only making a sequel of the Superman movies…but also making a prequel of the upcoming Justice League movies at the same time.
Simply put: there was no way to achieve everyone’s perception of what this movie should be.
Should it focus on Superman’s story arc? Should it be, like The Empire Strikes Back, or The Dark Knight, the zenith of the arc of this saga?
Or is it just supposed to be a set up for the eventual grand introduction to the Justice League, that DC comic fans have dreaming about?
Lets start with the missteps.
First, Lex Luthor…or to be more correct, Alexander Luthor. Yes, this is not the original Lex Luthor at all, but his son, who confusingly goes by the same name. His father, the founder of Lexcorp, is either dead or gone…the film only alludes to the former, but never states so outright. In any case, played by Jesse Eisenberg, this Luthor is either going to be loved or loathed. Eisenberg pulls no stops…he is over the top in virtually every scene he is in. I like the character as written, per se, but not the acting at all. It didn’t work for me. In some ways, this character has far more depth than the previous iterations of ‘Luthor’, but Eisenberg’s portrayal again makes him far more cartoonish, and not with enough of the threatening, genius, maniacal dread that I think Luthor actually should convey.
Second major problem: Doomsday. Dear Lord, I think Snyder got this character terribly wrong. Doomsday is one of those epic villains that Superman is actually terrified of. Here, I feel like our heroes don’t know how to defeat them, but I am not sure they feel all that worried about actually losing to him either. Not to mention, did Snyder just basically steal a troll from The Lord of the Rings?
If this was just a random monster, it wouldn’t have been so bad; as Doomsday, it just seems to miss the point of that character. For those that know the character, Braniac is a huge part of who Doomsday is; but no Brainiac in this movie at all. Furthermore, with core story being Frank Miller’s Batman/Superman fight…why introduce the Doomsday/Death of Superman plot to the story? Seems like Snyder just wasn’t happy enough with one story that he had to plug a second on just for the heck of it.
My final problem is a problem that Snyder was forced to deal with, not an editorial decision: that this is a prequel for the Justice League. By forcing him to re-introduce Batman, introduce Wonder Woman, and then squeeze in the Superman story in between…it was really a hopeless endeavor. I think he did a fine job, given the task presented to him. But ideally, DC could have followed Marvel’s strategy of slowly building up to the Justice League. Of course, in the end, I presume that was a business decision, and not an artistic one.
O.K., so enough about what was sub par. What did Snyder get right?
I think he nailed Bruce Wayne/Batman, the older years. I was a huge critic of hiring Ben Affleck, but Affleck plays the role beautifully. That said, Batman has only one emotional speed: dark and brooding. Thankfully, Affleck does dark and brooding quite well.
But it is more than that. In some ways, Snyder nails Batman in ways that The Dark Night series didn’t. It makes him more of a genius investigator, a P.I. who is searching for small clues, and has a fantastic ability to put puzzle pieces again. I think that the penultimate fight scene with Batman also nails my perfect vision of Batman fight scene. Not to mention…I think this version of the Batsuit, Batwing, and Batmobile are probably the best we’ve seen.
The long-awaited fight scene between Superman and Batman to me was also very close to the mark; it wasn’t perfect (far too short, and still seemed to me that Superman should have and could have ended the fight earlier), but overall hits all the right chords.
Some people didn’t like the political fighting about Superman’s place in modern America. I for one thoroughly enjoyed it. How would the government, who tries to be in control of all facets of national security, deal with a wild card as uncontrollable as Superman? Of course they would try to destroy him in the media, undermine his credibility, and then make him out to be villain. The fact that it literally blows up in their face simply is because they don’t realize there are far larger threats that they are blind to.
Bruce Wayne is used quite well as a foil for the worries of humanity in the face of this new ‘God’. How would humanity react, when a major city is destroyed at the hands of two alien visitors? Half of humanity views him as a villain; the other half views him as a savior, with the obviously Christ-like comparisons to boot.
The final fight scene with Doomsday (even with my above caveats about the Doomsday character itself) I thought does a nice job of introducing Wonder Woman to the general audience. We see here she is every bit the warrior as Batman, and virtually as indestructible as Superman. And unlike either of those two men…she seems to savor the fight. There is one quick scene, where Doomsday pummels her and throws her into a wall; afterward, you see a small smirk on her face, as she turns back to the fight. That is Wonder Woman.
The teamwork that you immediately see from Wonder Woman, Batman, and Superman is a prelude, hopefully, to what we see in the next Justice League installment. The question then becomes, what Big Bad Space Baddie will they face? And will they be able to roll Flash, Cyborg, Aquaman and others into the storyline seamlessly?
My overall take away from this movie? I think what many reviewers really missed, or may be ignorant of, is in many ways this is Frank Miller’s original vision of this story. I’m sure Miller would have done things differently, but the artistic echoes are quite apparent. Furthermore, that dark vision is precisely why many reviewers didn’t like the movie; this is no Marvel movie, after all. DC is knowingly taking a different path for their series. I presume that is going to turn off many viewers, and may actually be less successful among general viewing audiences. That doesn’t make it a less interesting story arc; just a different one.
In the end, I enjoyed this far more than I thought I would. No, it isn’t as good as the first Marvel’s The Avengers movie. Yes, it could have been far more concise story wise, and would have been easier to follow for the non-comic book viewing audience.
That said, I have been heavily critical of many decisions they made over the past year, but seeing the final product, I really can’t complain too much. It is far from a perfect movie; however, it does a reasonable job setting up the Justice League stories, and hopefully gives us enough room for a nice future Superman arc to boot.
I, for one, can’t complain too much about that.