Welcome to the latest installment of Doom and Doomer, where Jim Doom and I take a back-and-forth look at comic book movies.
Today we discuss Man of Steel, which most of you probably saw awhile ago. To explain: We live on opposite sides of the globe, so it’s difficult to find times where we’re both awake and not busy with other things. But we finally did it! Enjoy.
DOOM DELUISE: So Man of Steel came out a couple of months ago. Its success in its first weekend led to all of the key players almost immediately signing on to do a sequel, and, in the subsequent time, we’ve learned a lot about where they’re headed with this franchise.
The main question, though, is whether or not that direction will be any good, and in order to figure that out, all we have to go on is the quality of Man of Steel.
Based on Man of Steel, how confident are you in the much-hyped Superman/Batman team-up movie?
JIM DOOM: Well, it’s funny you ask it that way, because I think Man of Steel was truly terrible in almost every way, but I don’t know if it necessarily makes me any less interested in the sequel.
I shared my thoughts on the Ben Affleck casting in the comments of Fin Fang Doom’s post, and the basic idea there was that by casting such a well-known name, Affleck has the potential to overshadow the character.
But I also think that he has matured enough as a film presence that I could see him maybe not wanting to be in a movie as bad as Man of Steel was.
I was also under the initial impression that they were going straight from Man of Steel to Justice League, so I’m somewhat relieved that they’re going in these relative baby steps.
DOOM DELUISE: Yeah, it’s interesting how everybody online is reacting to this news as if they just cast Reindeer Games Ben Affleck. He’s changed a lot in the past few years.
Unfortunately, whether his performance is great or not, I don’t see how he can do THAT much to make this series any better or worse than it already is. As far as I’m concerned, as long as they have David S. Goyer writing it and Zack Snyder directing it, we’re in for nothing but absolute crap. Like Man of Steel.
JIM DOOM: So let’s talk about what made Man of Steel such crap.
DOOM DELUISE: In your mind, what is the single greatest problem this movie has going for it?
JIM DOOM: The obvious comparison that sprung to mind when I watched this was Transformers 2 — the two movies that I’ve most wanted to walk out of.
The single greatest problem this movie has for it is a lack of understanding of who its main character is.
It doesn’t bother me when movies change things about characters when doing adaptations, but I think you’d better have a good reason to do so.
What this movie did was preserve some aspects of Superman’s origin while changing others, and apparently not paying any attention to how the changes affected the things it kept the same.
It ended up creating a mess of a character, and one that I found myself not caring about at all. Even worse, when Lex Luthor inevitably comes along and says Superman is a menace and a threat to Earth, I’m really not sure why anyone should disagree.
He’s an asshole who stops to make out with his obnoxious and unlikeable love interest while a city crumbles and presumably thousands are dead or dying, followed by the even more tasteless act of cracking a joke at humans’ expense.
What a prick!
What would you say is the major flaw of the movie?
DOOM DELUISE: I think the number one biggest problem with the movie, and it goes hand-in-hand with yours, is that none of the characters really seem to be motivated by anything that resonates. And, thanks to the atrocious dialogue throughout, it seems like their motivations even flip-flop a few times.
It’s hard to get a sense of what these characters actually want at any given time. This leads to the viewer just not giving a damn about any of them.
JIM DOOM: Yeah, I agree. I just found them all so contemptible.
It made me completely unable to get wrapped up in what was happening to them. And in the case of Lois and Pa Kent, it made me root for their demise.
DOOM DELUISE: To give you an example of what I’m talking about, though: During the final fight, Jor-El has explained that the Kryptonian codex is what bridges the gap between Krypton and Earth, and so Superman is trying to protect the codex against Zod, onboard his ship, at which point, out of nowhere and apropos of nothing, Superman just screams something about how Krypton had its chance, and he tries to destroy what’s left of his home planet by crashing the ship, hoping it’ll kill Zod in the process.
JIM DOOM: Man, I really hated this movie.
Think about the codex in the first place. Ma and Pa El so despised the Kryptonian way of procreating that they went about baby-making the old-fashioned way. And it worked! So what does Pa El do? He steals the codex and puts it in his baby and sends the baby off to another planet.
I THOUGHT YOU HATED THE CODEX, PA EL?!
This movie just felt like a lot of plot benchmarks laid out first, and then fill in the in-between action later, without thinking about the fact that the in-between action needs to bridge those points — not just fill the space between them.
DOOM DELUISE: Exactly. And these complete reversals of character motivations during the in-between spaces are everywhere!
Superman can’t save Pa Kent because he’s terrified of using his powers in front of people. Then the next time we see him, he just… does it anyway.
JIM DOOM: That Pa Kent death scene was one of the funniest scenes I’ve ever seen.
I felt bad for laughing but I couldn’t help it.
Hey I have an idea. Superman can move super fast. Howsabout he sneaks out behind everyone, zooms in, saves his dad, and then the two of them walk in from behind the overpass or something?
Or howsabout you don’t shut the dog in the car in the first place, idiots.
And man, Pa Kent — what a piece of crap!
He thinks his son should let a bus full of school kids die!
DOOM DELUISE: FOR NO REASON!
JIM DOOM: If that’s the morality that Clark was raised with, no wonder he ends up killing people!
“You need to do what’s best for you, Clark. Sometimes innocent people get in the way.” #realamerica
DOOM DELUISE:That was the thing he kept harping on again and again, that Superman shouldn’t use his powers, because they’re dangerous and blah blah blah, but his warnings were completely without foundation. How are they dangerous powers? He just says that and then acts like it’s gospel fact.
JIM DOOM: Well, wasn’t it because the world wasn’t ready, but he also needed to save the world?
“Someday, you might lift up the wrong school bus from the river.”
“Your powers are out of control, son.”
DOOM DELUISE: “Someday, you might end up saving somebody who grows up to be the next Hitler.”
“Be careful. Let them drown.”
JIM DOOM: “If they’re worth saving, the Lord will intervene.”
“The Lord will send a sign if these people are to be saved. In the meantime, super-powered baby that landed in our yard, you stay put and don’t draw attention to yourself.”
DOOM DELUISE: “Wouldn’t want to miss that sign.”
JIM DOOM: “You keep your eyes peeled for that sign. Your super-powered eyes.”
DOOM DELUISE: Is Pa Kent capable of speaking in normal sentences in this movie, by the way, or does he have to speak in nonsensical overly dramatic platitudes about saving / not saving mankind at all times?
What a terrible character.
JIM DOOM: His death was appropriate in that way.
Really pointless, attempting to be dramatic and meaningful but ultimately shallow and unintentionally hilarious.
I hope you landed on your head, tornado bait.
DOOM DELUISE: You can’t blame that death scene entirely on the filmmakers, though. If only there were six or seven decades worth of stories where Superman saves people without the masses figuring out his secret identity. That would have been really helpful.
JIM DOOM: But this is a new take on Superman!
Audiences haven’t seen “Really dumb Superman” yet!
DOOM DELUISE: “Really dumb and petty Superman” – – the kind that can’t figure out how to save his dad because of all of his distracting super powers but who also robs from people’s back yards and destroys a man’s livelihood (semitruck) because the guy made fun of him.
JIM DOOM: “It’s not an S. The A and the other S and the HOLE are just really small.”
DOOM DELUISE: Another idiotic character whose motivation makes no sense: General Zod.
He wants to save Krypton and its people, that’s his entire mission, yet he kills a bunch of Kryptonians at the start of the movie who hold the key to its future (the codex). After Krypton blows up, he could rebuild Krypton on Earth, but he instead just tries to kill the person it’s housed inside of and resigns himself to the fact that Krypton is now dead.
I think. It was really hard to follow him, as he said so many stupid, asinine things, all the time, seemingly at random.
JIM DOOM: Now this may be the one area in which we disagree, because I thought Zod was the one character who made sense.
I thought he needed to kill Superman because he eventually figures out the codex is inside of him. And so his basic motivation, for me, was actually one of the few things that worked in this movie, because it was so simple and most of his actions followed from it: re-establish his people.
DOOM DELUISE: Fair enough. I’ll give you the fact that his actions are consistent with that motivation throughout the movie. But it seems like he’s all over the place with his dialogue. Maybe that’s why I got confused.
JIM DOOM: Mind you, when I say his character made sense, it’s in the context of the mess of everyone else.
DOOM DELUISE: Small example that sort of stands next to my point, without necessarily enforcing it: When Zod first fights Superman, he can barely focus on anything, and Superman’s like, “See, it’s overwhelming, but I’ve been honing my powers for years and years, so you may as well give up.”
And then, a minute later, Zod’s like, “I have been honing these powers for years, Superman, where were you? On a farm?”
They can’t both argue that.
JIM DOOM: [laughter] Man, this movie was so bad.
DOOM DELUISE: Another terrible thing: By not having Superman work at the Daily Planet, there’s literally no reason at all that we should follow Perry and the gang throughout the movie (especially during the finale, but we’ll get to that). If it weren’t for the knowledge of the EXISTING Superman universe (that is, the one this movie completely ignores in its retelling), the audience would be completely confused as to why the Planet workers are main characters.
JIM DOOM: Yes — and that’s another great example of retaining certain aspects of the Superman backstory but ditching others and then forgetting to reconcile the changes with the preservations.
I’ve said this many times before, and I realize journalism is a dying profession, but every time I see a movie or read a comic book with a scene that takes place in a newsroom or a broadcast or whatever, it’s just jarring how unrealistic it is.
Note to creators: just because you deal in words and pictures doesn’t mean you can just bluff your way through a journalism setting. That’s a profession just like any other, and you need to do your research or it’s not believable.
So call up a friend who works at a paper. Hire a consultant. Whatever.
Just ask someone in journalism, “Is my depiction of the journalism world accurate? If not, why?”
Efforts are made to accurately depict other professions.
DOOM DELUISE: I totally agree with you, and that illustrates a larger problem with this movie.
Let me ask you a question really quickly. Do you have any friends of yours who have ever tried to do a really hilarious Harry Carey impression?
JIM DOOM: Yes, and I think I know where you’re going with this.
And it’s a very good point.
DOOM DELUISE: The depictions of farm living and working at a newspaper and even what it’s like when an alien attacks a giant city – – they’re not realistic.
They’re hollow, trying to recreate the feel of different movies that have done those things before (and done them immeasurably better), just in the same way that, when you hear a friend doing a Harry Carey impression, he’s doing an impression of Will Ferrell doing a Harry Carey impression.
And more often than not these days, the person mimicking Will Ferrell doesn’t even know who Harry Carey was.
JIM DOOM: Exactly.
DOOM DELUISE: Look at the stuff on the Kent farm. That’s not a farm in the year 2013. That’s the farm from the first Superman.
JIM DOOM: I grew up on a farm. I’ve worked in journalism. I’ve attacked a giant city. This movie understands none of those things.
It’s so condescending — to its audience, to its projected subject matter.
It’s like one of those dumb people who thinks they’re super smart, and they think you’re super dumb because they don’t understand where you’re coming from.
And you can’t have a meaningful conversation because they’re too busy talking down to you than listening to you.
This was imposing a simple-minded vision onto Superman instead of really exploring Superman — whatever the interpretive equivalent of listening is.
It was the conversational equivalent of listening in order to prepare a response rather than listening to understand.
And another thing — why is it so hard to cast a good Lois Lane?
I thought nothing could be worse than the Lois casting in Superman Returns – –
DOOM DELUISE: Wait, this wasn’t the same Lois from Superman Returns?
JIM DOOM: But holy cow, Amy Adams was awful. Lois Lane, in modern times at least, has become one of my favorite characters in comics. She’s smart and awesome and fearless.
This was a poor man’s version of smart and awesome and fearless. It was stubborn and obnoxious and foolhardy.
DOOM DELUISE: Exactly! But it wasn’t Amy Adams’ fault. She’s an amazing actress. She was given NOTHING to work with here.
One of the first introductions we have to her, she’s told to stay indoors, because it drops to deathly cold levels outside at night. The very next scene, she’s outside in a thin winter jacket and what look like yoga pants.
It’s like, that guy wasn’t just saying that to be a dick. He was giving her sound advice.
JIM DOOM: The one “smart” thing she does is figure out who Superman is in like two days, except it’s presented as being such an easy discovery that the whole scenario just seems unbelievable and unimpressive.
Otherwise she just needs to get rescued a lot.
And apparently tags along unnecessarily on suicide missions.
One of my absolute favorite pop culture writers active today is Alyssa Rosenberg at ThinkProgress, and she thought this movie was a great depiction of a strong female lead, and I simply do not see that at all.
It’s the one time I’ve ever disagreed with her.
DOOM DELUISE: I’m just looking at the notable quotations section on the IMDB page. Want me to share some fun ones?
JIM DOOM: Oh yes please!
Clark Kent: “I’m going to get a job, where I can get close to dangerous events without attracting attention.”
I don’t even remember that line from the movie, but it’s such a dumb line.
JIM DOOM: [laughter] Me either.
That line is amazing.
“I’m going to wear a cape, so that it flaps in the wind.”
Dr. Emil Hamilton: “Oh my God, they’re terraforming!”
Major Carrie Farris: “Terraforming? What’s that?”
JIM DOOM: I’m trying to remember when I came to the sad conclusion I was hating what I was seeing.
I had really high hopes from the trailer!
DOOM DELUISE: I never had high hopes. When I was buying my ticket, I chuckled and told the girl at the counter, “I don’t really even want to see this movie. But hey, it passes the time, right?” and she laughed and said, “Sweet as…” which is a really annoying Kiwi expression. Hanging similes all over the place, damn them.
JIM DOOM: Are you sure she didn’t say “Sweet ass?” You bike a lot.
DOOM DELUISE: But there was one point, when I stepped out of the theater to use the bathroom, as Superman was first entering the Fortress, and when I came back maybe fifteen seconds later, he was in his suit, getting ready to fly.
I know I must have missed something important, but I was seriously gone for hardly any time.
That’s when I decided I really hated the movie.
JIM DOOM: I’ll tell you what you missed:
He found a suit.
DOOM DELUISE: My hatred was solidified even more when he surrendered to the army and then… didn’t anymore.
JIM DOOM: Yeah, that’s a good point. I didn’t even think about that.
When did he surrender to Army?
I remember him abandoning Army. I remember Army walking him down the hallway.
DOOM DELUISE: I remember him in an interrogation room.
I remember him flicking off his cuffs and standing up to Army, telling them he’s not the enemy, literally TEN SECONDS after he told Lois it wouldn’t be a very good surrender if he didn’t keep the cuffs on.
JIM DOOM: Maybe he was just prepping her. Like “Hey, it wouldn’t be a good surrender if I had my cuffs on. OOPS there go my cuffs.” Then she’s supposed to think “That was NOT a good surrender!”
DOOM DELUISE: If you think about things that way, Superman goes through, like, five face/heel turns throughout the movie.
JIM DOOM: His interactions with Army remind me of another thing — what is the point of Superman having a secret identity now? Everybody knows his identity!
Lois figures it out in a couple days (after traveling for a story that her editor kills — how does she get approval for those trips anyway?), and he sort of brags about it to Army at the end.
Why does he need to be an undercover reporter now? This is just another example of this movie just sort of going through these motions of things we’re supposed to know about Superman’s past, but making these arbitrary changes in ways that make them meaningless.
DOOM DELUISE: Maybe it’s Zack Snyder’s way of being charitable.
Like, “Oh, we’ll keep this movie close enough to what’s recognizable so that when a guy with more talent comes along, he can fix this mess I’ve made.”
Not actually. It’s more likely that it’s just really stupid.
JIM DOOM: Shall we talk about the ending?
DOOM DELUISE: Yes!
Ok, so this company named Watson Technical Consulting (WTC) ran simulations on the ending, using Chicago and New York as templates. Here’s what they found:
They estimate 129,000 people would’ve been killed, over 250,000 left missing, and almost a million injured. In total, WTC estimates the physical damage to be about $700 billion (compared to, for example, the $55 billion 9/11 caused).
In total, WTC estimates the entire economic impact at $2 trillion.
And I think that explains what’s wrong with the ending, more than anything else. Superman draws the line at that one family in the train station, after contributing to the rest of that shit storm without even a wince.
Did he just SUDDENLY learn the value of human life between the front door and the lobby?
JIM DOOM: This gets to my big question — if the people involved in this movie wanted to make a movie about an unconscientious man who is willing to kill people to win a battle, why on earth did they want to make a Superman movie?
What about Superman appealed to them?
Because that simply wasn’t Superman.
That wasn’t a “darker” take on Superman.
That was simply putting the Superman name on an unrecognizable character.
DOOM DELUISE: Exactly. In the similar Destruction of New York scene at the end of The Avengers, at least the team worked to bottleneck the portal so that new enemies couldn’t join the fight, and then centralized everything around Captain America so that they could contain the damage.
This Superman just doesn’t even try to save people or protect the city.
JIM DOOM: I’m glad you brought up Avengers, because I watched that again recently after having seen Man of Steel and it was stunning how differently the two films treated a giant otherworldly attack on a metropolitan area.
And you’re right — even though Avengers included quite a bit of damage and surely some casualties, the characters acknowledged the collateral damage from the battle.
There were consequences beyond special effects to what was happening, and the characters — being heroic — acted accordingly.
It’s why these criticisms aren’t mere nitpicks, because obviously more sophisticated filmmakers who are still dealing in the world of summer blockbusters are thinking about these issues when they’re building their heroes and their narratives.
These aren’t distractions. They’re essential to what make characters admirable and they’re essential to what make the consequences gripping.
DOOM DELUISE: And that is what always bothers me when I criticize idiot movies like this. The response is, “Well, it’s a superhero movie, what do you expect?”
Yet there are other people making superhero movies who raise those questions and increase our expectations by being thoughtful and crafting quality stories.
Movies like this just throw all that goodwill out the window.
JIM DOOM: I’m really curious — and maybe this has been covered elsewhere — but why wouldn’t DC step in and be like, “Oh, hey — Superman doesn’t kill people?”
From a business perspective, why allow someone to do such fundamental damage to one of your strongest properties?
DOOM DELUISE: Maybe the intention is for Batman to come in and deal with that in the next movie.
JIM DOOM: You know, if Batman does come in and deal with that? I’ll actually be pretty happy. Because I’d like to see them acknowledge the consequences.
That’s where this movie truly fails. The first kiss is completely tonedeaf to the destruction that surrounds them. There is no remorse over taking a life.
But if Batman steps in and says, “Heroes don’t kill,” or something, I will actually be very happy about that, because it acknowledges consequences of those actions and treats Superman’s actions as serious and heinous and not just, “Well, this is how the good guys win the battle.”
That honestly to me is one way in which I could see Man of Steel 2 kind of redeeming the flaws of Man of Steel 1.
The problem is that there was just nothing about MoS1 that implies those consequences are coming.
DOOM DELUISE: Nope. After killing Zod, we cut to Superman joking around in the desert with some guys from Army.
JIM DOOM: Exactly. I think I would have liked this movie much more if there were more at the end to suggest it wasn’t just a happy victorious day.
And Superman working for Army is so … creepy and dirty.
That’s what kind of makes me hope that a Dark Knight Returns showdown could be brewing for MoS2.
But I’ve learned not to get my hopes up, and the lack of care in the construction of this movie makes me have next to no faith that this was done with a long game in mind.
DOOM DELUISE: That’s what she said.