Monday, June 24, 2013

The Quest For Hyperviolence. A review of Man of Steel.

The Story of Superman is, I would venture, a very well known one. For those who aren't familiar the next two paragraphs will give an executive summary.

Kal-El is sent to Earth, as an infant, by his his parents, Jor-El and Lara, to save him from the impending destruction of their planet, Krypton. Krypton is a planet populated with technologically advanced inhabitants whose technology cannot prevent its' ultimate demise. Kal-El's ship crash lands in a field in Kansas where he is found by a barren farm couple, Jonathan and Martha Kent. The Kents rename him as Clark Kent and raise him as their own child.

It is while he grows up in Smallvile, Kansas with the Kents that Clark learns many virtuous lessons about human behavior. Most notably he learns about fairness, justice, modesty and protecting loved ones. It is also the time where his abilities or powers from his Kryptonian physiology begin to develop and his Kryptonian heritage is revealed to him. His ship from Krypton has been saved by the Kents and Clark is able to begin learning about Krypton's cultures and way of life. Eventually, Clark outgrows Smallville life and moves to the "big city" of Metropolis, where he lands a job as reporter at a major metropolitan newspaper, The Daily Planet. He becomes Superman while saving a large group of people from a disaster. Covering this event is Lois Lane, star reporter, who then wants to find out all she can about the intriguing and powerful man.

Man of Steel as a movie is another reintroduction to this origin. The movie adds many elements to the Krypton legend. Most notably that Kal-El is the first naturally born Kryptonian child in a millenia. It also introduces us to Zod, a Kryptonian general whose army of followers try to stage a coup under the guise of saving Krypton from destruction. Caught in the chaos of the coup Jor-El winds up at odds with Zod. With all this additional Kryptonian drama, Kal-El is still sent to Earth with his Kryptonian father's advanced knowledge and Krypton still blows up. (If this is a shock to you, then you must have been surprised that the luxury liner sank in Titanic.)

Then the movie cuts to a man, who we must assume is Kal-El/Clark Kent on a fishing vessel in rough seas. Crisis comes about and our hero is forced to take action to save people on a burning oil rig and risk revealing himself to the world. He does this despite his memories of his foster father spouting a platitude about not using his powers in public and making people afraid of him.  He then goes off looking for another place to be anonymous and winds up saving Lois Lane, while figuring out that he has been essentially wearing an Kryptonian USB drive, which just happens to fit in a socket in a mysterious building and allows him to access the knowledge of his birth father.

In an effort to move the plot forward we are treated to the Kryptonian army of Zod makes itself known and demands that Kal-El turn himself in. To figure out what to do our hero he visits his foster mother on the family farm. While there he shares memories about his foster father's advice/platitudes that amount to little more than "don't open a jar of peanut butter at the peanut-free allergy table" and his mother helps him find his fighting duds from Krypton.

From this point on, it is all about fighting, generating epic damage and proving to the Armed Forces who is the threat. It gets there by advice from USB Jor-El, Lois Lane defying the Kryptonian army and memories of the final sacrifice made by Jonathan Kent so that his son will not have to use his powers publicly.

The movie climaxes with a carnage porn battle in which Superman and Zod face off, mano y mano. This battle gets resolved but, whether you agree with it or not, it is done with all the grace and style of someone opening a jar of peanut butter.

This movie has a lot of sparkle and dazzle, but ultimately lands with a thud. It disrespects several of the core values and lessons from fathers while degrading mother's contributions all to get the muscle bound protagonist in to action. This movie ultimately emasculates both the 'super' and the 'man' in attempting to give us a more modern (read dark and gritty) version of Superman.

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