Tuesday, June 18, 2013

What I Found Lacking In "Man of Steel"

I think many people will agree that, as a summer Hollywood extravaganza, "Man of Steel" is pretty much up there. It's a fresh take on one of the greatest pop culture icons we've ever known, with over-the-top special effects to match. Personally, looking at it as a popcorn flick, it delivers. Some didn't like this darker version, but I appreciated it. After all, becoming a true hero demands going through a great trial.

(Spoiler Alert)

In a nutshell, what I found lacking in the movie was a thematic resolution. Yes, that whole main plot involving General Zod was put to rest when Superman snapped his neck. I wholeheartedly agree with Gerry Alanguilan when he said in his review that it wasn't something we expected from our hero, that Superman should be Super more than Man, but what concerned me was how the film's themes of identity and free will were articulated and resolved.

Superman let out a scream, presumably because he felt he gave into impulse and did something he wasn't supposed to do, which was do harm to others. Or maybe because he killed off a fellow Kryptonian, considering there weren't a lot of them left to begin with. But for me, that whole scream felt empty.

I'd be leaning towards the first reason but, still, I left the theater thinking that something was missing.

We mostly base our current actions on the consequences of what has happened before. If you get burned when you played with fire, you'd vow never to play with fire again. If you witnessed someone playing with fire and that person got burned, you'd be wary. But if your parents told you not to play with fire, and you didn't, you would never know how painful it would be to get burned.

Now if you had to play with fire and you had no other choice, which of the above three experiences would make you think twice?

In "Man of Steel," Clark Kent tried to live his life cleanly. When he was bullied by other kids in the farm, he wanted to fight back but didn't. When he was mocked in the bar by a thug, he took out his anger on the thug's truck. There was never an instance in his past when using his powers actually caused severe injury on another. He never experienced extreme regret because of something he did wrong with his powers.

If, out of anger, Clark had actually killed the kid who bullied him, he would have known then the consequences of his actions, that playing with fire can burn. There would be shock, there would be pain, there would be introspection, there would be regret, and the words of his father about "being a better man" would carry more weight. This would then justify his taking out his anger on the thug's truck instead of the thug himself.

If the above had happened, his scream after killing General Zod would have had more impact. More meaning. He wanted to be the better man by vowing never to kill another, but then ironically he had to kill to save his new home. This would have then launched him into resolving those thematic questions about identity and free will, something that Lois could have helped him with in the denouement.

Instead, we have a happy, chirpy ending with the Daily Planet abuzz with activity as if nothing happened. No reports about the rebuilding of Metropolis. No updates about that big hole punched through Earth. It had "Let's end this movie now!" written all over it. The tone shifted too abruptly, when it could have been done on a more somber, reflective note, consistent with the rest of the film.

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