Why The World Doesn’t Need Superman: An Analysis of Zack Snyder’s MAN OF STEEL by Ryan Bijan

Why The World Doesn’t Need Superman: An Analysis of Zack Snyder’s MAN OF STEEL by Ryan Bijan

A note from the editor: Ryan Bijan did not like Zack Snyder’s MAN OF STEEL.  Outside of being a passionate Superman fan, he’s also a frequent attendee at the local Dallas screenings, many of which we host.  After seeing the new DC Comics epic, it was immediately obvious he didn’t care for the end result. We’ve chatted a bit on Facebook about the film, but Ryan (unbeknownst to me) decided to write a rather thorough piece on why the new film doesn’t work. Now as many of you may already know from reading my review, I liked MAN OF STEEL, and found the darker tone and daring changes in the character mythos to be a smart move. Ryan disagrees… very much so. This is why I love movies, as they’re always subjective and different people will perceive them in different ways. For example, if you read what he wrote below, you’ll see he praises Amy Adams – someone I found to be the weakest link in the film. Agree or disagree, I definitely admired Ryan’s passion in the writing, so it’s my pleasure to present his first article/commentary (and perhaps the start of many) at Bigfanboy.com, which explains why he thinks MAN OF STEEL is super mistake.    – Mark Walters



Why the World Doesn’t Need Superman:
An Analysis of Zack Snyder’s MAN OF STEEL

by Ryan Bijan

Are you a Superman fan?
“Naah… I’m more of a Batman guy.”

Do you like DC Comics?
“Marvel’s more my thing.”

These exchanges are as old as geekdom itself; But since the cinematic superhero renaissance of the 21st century, this debate has never been more heated.

Warner Bros. and DC Comics created the modern comic-book picture when Richard Donner directed SUPERMAN (1978) starring Christopher Reeve. The film eschewed the overboard camp of previous superhero films and serials for a more grounded approach and self-awareness that made the character relevant and relatable.

SUPERMAN and its sequels paved the way for the first “dark” hero film, Tim Burton’s BATMAN in 1989, which itself spawned an immediately growing franchise. In the 90’s, DC had the market cornered. But by 1997, Warner Bros. had descended into the dreaded camp they had once tried hard to avoid, with the one-two punch of BATMAN & ROBIN and STEEL (itself a Superman spin-off.)

This left the door open for rival Marvel Comics, who’s BLADE (1998) picked up the ball dropped by DC, and lead to the successes of X-MEN (2000), and SPIDER-MAN (2002). The Marvel franchises lead the modern era of superhero films, culminating in THE AVENGERS (2012) and the expansion of rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Did the world still need a Superman?

Superman, the ultimate purveyor of truth, justice and the American way or Kal-El, the last son of Krypton, who as Clark Kent, worked as a mild mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, turned 75 this year. Created by two Jewish kids living in Cleveland, Superman was to be the ultimate savior in fiction.

Writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster, combined dramatic elements from the stories of Moses and Heracles, borrowed freely from the pulp heroes ofthe day (such as Zorro and Tarzan,) gave him a distinctively sci-fi twist andthrew him in the tights of a circus strongman. Topped off with a distinctivered cape and a name borrowed from the writings of philosopher Friederich Nietzsche, Superman became the flagship character for National Allied Publications (which later adopted the name of its own popular Detective Comics series.)

Warner’s had sought for years to bring the Man of Steel back to the big screen after the critical and commercial failure of SUPERMAN IV: THE QUEST FOR PEACE (1987), but it was the success of BATMAN BEGINS in 2005, which gave the studio confidence to trust their flagship hero in the hands of X-MEN director Bryan Singer. Singer, a lifelong fan of the Donner original, made SUPERMAN RETURNS a direct sequel to SUPERMAN and SUPERMAN II (1980), setting the film with one foot securely in the character’s nostalgic past, and another in uncharted dramatic waters.

Despite making more money worldwide that BATMAN BEGINS, SUPERMAN RETURNS did not meet the studio’s financial expectations.

In fear of losing the character’s rights to the Siegel and Shuster estates, Warners was prompted to hit the reboot button and start anew. Stripped of of any connection to the universe established by Richard Donner, MAN OF STEEL completely drops the original’s memorable John Williams themes and colorful imagery. The end result has director Zack Snyder and producer Christopher Nolan retelling familiar material without any fun or sense of wonder.

The biggest offender is the bland, heavily desaturated cinematography by Amir Mokri. The framing and shot compositions are nice, but Snyder’s decision to gray it up in post and throw blue filters all over it diminishes any impact. Yes, the film is filled with vistas of snowy wildernesses, and smoky destruction, but even the sunny Kansas scenes are just a shade away from sepia.The decision to sell the film in 3D makes matters worse by the glasses making the visuals darker than they already are.

Thankfully, the fine casting helps bring some freshness to this most familiar of origin stories. Henry Cavill steps into the red boots previously worn by Brandon Routh and brings his own likability and quiet charm to the role. He’s pretty and certainly looks the part, but other than having his CGI double do all the punching, he isn’t given a lot to do besides brood.

Amy Adams is wonderful as Lois Lane, and comes off as a competent journalist without being annoying or facepalmingly stupid like the Lois Lanes of previous incarnations. Her chemistry with Cavill is a highpoint of the film, and it is easy to understand their mutual attraction.

Michael Shannon is excellent as General Zod. That said, the choice of villain is strange for reboot/origin story, making it feel even more like a depressing CGI-filled remake of SUPERMAN I and II Before the 1978 film, General Dru-Zod was a nonentity in the comics, appearing sporadically amongst a variety other Phantom Zone prisoners.

In a film series where the most memorable villains were Lex Luthor, the Phantom Zone crew and Richard Pryor, Zod’s inclusion is uninspired (when there is a veritable pantheon of villains in the comics to choose from) but works by having him tie directly into Kal-El’s Kryptonian origin.

Shannon is intense, calculating and creepy, making the character his own without touching the suave, sophisticated despotoriginated by Terrence Stamp in the first two films. Antje Traue’s Faora fillsin the Ursa role of Zod’s right-hand bad-bitch. She’s committed to her cause and looks nothing less than heavenly slapping Cavill around. The decision to make the Phantom Zone criminals rebels, fighting for racial purity, fleshes out the characters motives beyond what was seen in SUPERMAN II and works for the film’s story.

While the cast is more than serviceable, Hans Zimmer’s score is almost as bland as the film’s color palate and as generic as any other action movie soundtrack in recent years. Zimmer is abrilliant artist, no doubt, and I respect him for going in a different direction than Williams. But a character as iconic as Superman deserves an equally iconic score. Other than the vanity of the filmmaker’s, there’s no real reason not to reinvent William’s instantly hummable theme in the same way Monty Norman’s legendary James Bond theme was heard in the rebooted series starring Daniel Craig.

In an attempt to be all things for a contemporary audience MAN OF STEEL is a bizarre mixture of everything to come before. The origin and villains from the Donner films, a Krypton that looks like a random planet from the STAR WARS prequels, villainous spacesuits that would make H.R. Giger proud, and destructive spaceships that would seem at home in J.J. Abrams STAR TREK universe. The tone recalls Nolan’s own Batman trilogy, but without the storytelling finesse seen in BATMAN BEGINS and THE DARK KNIGHT.

Superman himself seems out of place insuch a world (which perhaps is the point) and seems to rely more on pummeling his enemies into submission than going out of his way to save innocent bystanders. While he does save a soldier who falls out of a plane, he lets his hometown burn around him (where’s that ice breath when you need it?).

This is perhaps why this film feels somorose. Nolan’s Batman prevented most of the worst stuff from going down in thefirst place, saving lives in the process (at least in the first two films.) In MAN OF STEEL, the damage is done and the repercussions are never addressed on screen. Sure, Supes come out on top, but at what cost? The message of this movie is that the only way to stop space terrorists is through more “wanton violence and destruction.” The damage is literally apocalyptic and left me wondering how the hell they’ll clean up the mess, AND find a bigger threat in a sequel.

Is it so strange for a Superman movie to rely on ball-numbing action? No. It’s what we expect from a summer blockbuster. But when the set pieces steal directly from better films and seem more at home at a funner video game, they lose their impact.

SUPERMAN RETURNS was torn apart by comicbook fans for it’s depressing tone, weak protagonist and lack of action. MAN OF STEEL rectifies only one of those flaws by going overboard in the violence department but embracing the darkness of this fictional universe.

SUPERMAN RETURNS is a somber, sometimes imperfect film, but is best viewed as a character study about an icon facing an existential crisis. In this regard, it works, if not as a feel-good summer blockbuster. At the end of that film, Routh’s Superman accepted and overcame his personal obstacles, and still stood for hope.

On the other hand, MAN OF STEEL is meant to revitalize the character for the 21st century, and ends up a tonally gray film filled with apocalyptic imagery, lacking the fun and sense of wonder the best (and even worst) Marvel movies have. I just felt empty at the end, wondering about the millions of people killed when Metropolis is more or less leveled to the ground. (Not a spoiler, it’s in the trailers)

If this is the Superman Warner Bros., Nolan and Snyder think the world wants, maybe we don’t really need him. THE DARK KNIGHT does “dark and gritty” better than anyone, and Marvel seems to have a monopoly on charismatic, selfless and humorous characters in an equally vibrant, expanding universe.

MAN OF STEEL is alien in more ways than one, trying to be all things to all people, but falling short of creating its own identity. But who knows? Maybe it can trick the world’s audiences by disguising itself with a pair of (3D) glasses…

P.S. – there are no direct references to a broader DC Universe, or a set up for a JUSTICE LEAGUE movie. Don’t bother staying after the credits.


Ryan (right) with SUPERMAN RETURNS star Brandon Routh (left) at Dallas Comic Con

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