I grew up reading Superman comics, but I also grew up watching great films (thanks to my Dad, who has great taste in films).Man of Steel fails to be a great comic book film and it fails to be a great film, too.
I wouldn’t have a problem with this, as it is a summer popcorn adventure at heart, if “Man of Steel” screenwriter David Goyer wasn’t going around in interview after interview saying how he put a lot of thought into the script and making it “realistic” (particularly the Empire interview I linked).
Here’s where he went off the rails: Superman *can’t* be “realistic, by the implausible nature of the story itself.
Think of the actual story: a scientist on a doomed planet decides to put his infant son on a rocket to a planet he’s never visited.
The core of the story immediately raises several question, none of which are dealt with in Goyer’s “realistic” script:
1) Why wouldn’t Jor-El build a ship big enough for himself, his wife, *and* his son to escape? (Nothing in the script shows Jor-El racing against time to build a ship and discarding the option of building a ship into which his whole family could fit)
2) Why Earth, out of every place in the universe? (Goyer makes this choice inexplicable by showing later how incompatible Earth’s atmosphere is for Krytonians – Zod can’t breathe there without a special mask…this is where a scientist sends his infant son?)
3) We have to believe that Jor-El has somehow set the coordinates for Earth so that Superman will not only go directly there, but will land (1) on Earth without missing this rapidly spinning object that is rotating around a sun (one wrong calculation and Kal-El misses the planet entirely and continues flying through space) (2) lands on actual land (as opposed to the middle of the ocean, in a river, or in a lake, to remain underwater undiscovered for some time, if not forever) (3) where a couple will find him that decides to adopt him (as opposed to seeing a fallen spaceship and thinking “Holy crap, alien baby, I’m outta here!”).
4) No one in Smallville asks where Clark comes from and without a social security number or birth certificate, he is able to enroll in a small town school. He also presumptively never sees a pediatrician, since the Kents would have some explaining to do (how does he get the shots required for students in most public elementary schools?)
And on and on.
So, we have to accept all that, just to get through the first 20 minutes of any Superman film. As Superman fans, we happily accept all of that. Unfortunately, this fantastic origin story – emphasis on *fantasy* – makes Superman uniquely unsuited for the “gritty realism” take of folks like Goyer. You can’t make Superman “realistic”, because the story is inherently unbelievable and couldn’t possibly work in reality.
Goyer has gone on record to say he wanted the film to be science fiction based, yet there is barely any science in the film. Goyer mentions he borrowed the bit about a society where births are genetically engineered was borrowed from “Brave New World”, but he never bothers to explain why Krypton adopted this cultural practice, nor why Jor-El stepped away from it to pursue a natural birth (the first in a thousand years), nor why he would be the only person to decide to do so (is natural birth illegal? somehow discouraged?). How does Zod even get to Earth? Why would they send Zod to the Phantom Zone with a fully operational ship that could also somehow escape the Phantom Zone and travel the universe, complete with provisions (Kryptonian food, water and some type of system for providing an artificial Kryptonian atmosphere…for a crew of criminals frozen cryogenically?). Superman is on Earth 33 years, ages from a baby to a man, yet Zod arrives and looks essentially the same as he did when he was first frozen. It took Zod apparently zero time to travel around the universe visiting random failed Kryptonian colonies, then flies to Earth after he receives a signal that Superman sends from Earth accidentally (said signal apparently transmits to any Kryptonian ship anywhere in the universe instantaneously…how does that work from a scientific perspective, again?).
How many more problems can I spot in the film? Let’s count the ways…
1) Lois traipses about in arctic temperatures (already said to be 40 below) in the middle of the night (which means it should be pitch black). Yet after seeing Superman in the distance through binoculars, she is able to amble about in the dead of night and track Superman until she’s almost right behind him (he never hears her with his super hearing, in a desolate environment).
2) On this ship, that has been abandoned for roughly 20,000 years, there are still floating robot sentries protecting it. Powered how? With zero maintenance?
3) Even though the ship crash landed on Earth and no one appears alive who might have maintained (or repaired) it (after what must be damage caused from crashing into Earth’s surface and being covered by ice for millenia), the ship takes off into flight with the insertion of Superman’s trusty Kryptonian USB stick.
4) Lois is wounded and in her first up close encounter with Superman, he cauterizes her wound (without medical training, he comes up with this, on the fly) and she becomes intensely interested in this fellow who just scarred her for life (and left her with sealed internal organs she might need, like intestines).
5) Lois somehow tracks Superman’s origins back to Smallville. How? She met him in Alaska. His stepfather has taught him the importance of secrecy to the point of giving his own *life* over it and we’re supposed to believe Superman has been leaving a long trail of clues that Lois can follow on her unauthorized vacation/quest?
6) Superman goes from jumping to suddenly teaching himself how to fly. No scientific explanation is offered for how he can fly (telekinesis?). Hulk-like jumps make sense (our gravity is weaker than Krypton, check), but actually been able to fly like a plane, making sharp turns, etc?
7) Why did none of the terraforming efforts in the failed Kryptonian societies work? Shouldn’t those planets already have been ready for Zod to move into, regardless of the failure of the colony thereupon? Why did all of these colonies fail?
8) No security for the Kryptonian main counsel’s headquarters? Zod can just storm in and start killing people? Why is Zod killing the leaders of his planet when he’s been bio-engineered to be a military leader, which presumptively means he respects chain of command and has been taught to do so, sine birth? What makes him suddenly decide to do a military coup, against a lifetime of training?
9) Superman is constantly abused by humans in the first half of the movie – bullied twice as a child (in the schoolbus, then near his father’s farm) and as an adult in the bar. Every interaction shown between Superman and humans other than his parents is either humans hurting or taunting him and him saving humans. Why would Superman have any attachment to Earth? Why wouldn’t he show up in Zod’s ship and suggest they fly off together to start a new Kryptonian colony, since this place sucks and is filled with abusive types?
10) Why is Zod dead set on establishing his new Kryptonian colony on Earth? If his mission is to protect Kryptonian life, why is he willing to kill one Kryptonian (Superman) just to establish a colony of one particular planet when there seems to be nothing preventing the terraforming technology from working just as well on Venus, Mars, or any planet at all?
11) Why would Superman surrender to Zod at all, since he says he doesn’t trust him? Why not immediately start fighting him? The man landed on Earth and threatened seven billion people. Why negotiate with someone like that, who is clearly mad?
12) Why aren’t militaries from other countries involved? Why is there no discussion of firing a nuke at Zod’s ship?
13) After half an hour of flying Zod through cornfields, buildings, etc, why can’t Superman fly Zod away during the climactic “heat vision aimed at family” scene? Why can’t that family just run away instead of cowering there waiting to get heat vision-ed?
14) How does heat vision even work?
15) Why did Goyer seem to vacillate between Earth’s atmosphere being the source of Superman’s powers and Earth’s sun? Prior incarnations of Superman can fly in space, this Superman can’t even breathe when he’s in a non-Earth atmosphere? There is an implication that the terraformer can take away his powers because it will make the area around it Krypton-like. Why? It wasn’t changing the *sun*, which is where Superman’s power’s come from. He even re-powers from the ordeal by reaching out towards the sun.
16) Why does Superman not engage in search and rescue after he kills Zod?
17) If Superman can break Zod’s neck, why can’t he break Zod’s arms and legs, then toss him into space?
18) Why would the Kryptonians send Zod and company to the Phantom Zone at all? Wouldn’t just freezing them forever accomplish the same life imprisonment result?
19) Perry doesn’t recognize Superman, who he just saw save the city, just because he throws on a pair of glasses? Goyer goes on and on about how silly it is for Lois not to notice that Clark is Superman, but her employer, Perry, is somehow taken in by this?
20) How does Superman get a job at the Daily Planet without a Social Security number? This isn’t a day labor job he got after waiting in the Home Depot parking lot, it’s an actual business. SMH.
And literally a million other questions.
If Goyer’s goal was to make Superman “believable”, he failed massively.
This, by the way, is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard someone say about Superman, courtesy of Goyer:
“If there were more adventures for our Superman to go on, you’re given this thing where, you don’t know 100 percent what he’s going to do. When you put in stone the concept that he won’t kill, and it’s totally in stone, it really erases an option in the viewer’s mind…you’ll always have in the back of your mind, ‘How far can you push him?’ If he sees Lois get hurt, or his mother get killed, you just made a really mad Superman that we know is capable of some really horrible stuff, if he wants to be. That’s the thing that’s cool about him, in some ways. The idea that he has the frailties of a human emotionally. But you don’t want to get that guy mad.”
“ I felt like that could also make you go, “This is the why of him never killing again.” “
Hey, Goyer, maybe you never got the memo, but most normal people don’t like killing people. I don’t need a particular oath to say I’m not going to go around snapping people’s necks. How about Superman doesn’t want to kill people because killing people f–king sucks? Pretty simple.