I come to Superman from the direction that what makes him "super" is his hard core moral center and that center always came from his environment--Ma and Pa Kent. Before he was faster than a bullet, he had that Smallville moral center installed firmly in his brainpan. This Post-Crisis reader of SUPERMAN loved the back to basics approach that John Byrne brought to the man of steel. They all say it depowered him, made him more vulnerable, more than that, it made him a relatable god with the sensitivity of a shepherd. It made him his father's son.
When it comes to these things, I think the thing that makes these characters so great is that they are, on every level BETTER THAN WE ARE. And to truly buy into the characters, we have to accept that there are people who just are better people than we are. As good as we might THINK we are, we probably don’t have the same absolute certainty and belief that we see in these iconic characters. We can't look at them from that "pure heart" perspective of a little kid where the world is cut and dry. We can't turn up the contrast to that level anymore and so the greys take hold and the certainty goes away.
Let me first say that MAN OF STEEL scraped by with barely a thumbs-up from me. I liked the pure spectacle of it, the portrayal of the powers, the performances of Michael Shannon and Russell Crowe, the few scenes of Costner and Lane are a mix bag for me as they should've had more to do. Amy Adams' Lois was hardly given room to breathe and when she did, it wasn’t as loudly or as smartly as Lois Lane should and any other character than Clark beyond those few were cardboard cutouts.
When it comes to the film, the Superman portrayed therein, the Clark Kent portrayed doesn't have that moral certainty that every version of Superman should naturally have. It should have been instilled there and yet it isn’t there. And the reason for this is that
this isn’t your father’s Jonathan Kent.
Pa Kent's very own moral center is very GOOEY, it is as fearful as if Lex Luthor's heart beats in that chest. He tells Clark in one sentence that he was put here for a reason and in the very next, he tells him that to protect himself from curious eyes he shouldn't use his powers to do the right thing. PA KENT says this! When your father figure is as paranoid and selfish and just plain cowardly as that, then what hope do we have for young Clark to grow up to be the hero he should be. And so we have to adjust our expectations for just who is this Superman.
Sure, Costner is good in the roll, but this is a Pa Kent like we’ve never seen him. He is as small as Smallville. It’s as if the real Pa Kent were kidnapped and brainwashed by Glen Beck into fearing the federal government and his fellow man so much that he is afraid allow his son to do the right and just thing. That teaches Clark exactly the wrong lessons.
It makes him fear his own abilities it makes Clark far too humble. It stunts his growth as a character. It makes him afraid to budge, to breathe too hard, to even rebel against his father. It makes Kent into a man of inaction. And we all know Superman is the exact opposite of that.
So, in the scene when Pa Kent saves that dog from the tornado and fades away into the cornfield like some old dead baseball player, one would hope that Clark would grow a pair, would show his father how wrong he is, how selfish and stupid it is for one good man to do nothing by--
get this--actually saving him!
That would’ve been a moment of heroic decisiveness that speaks of knowing the right thing to do--personal danger or exposure be damned. That would’ve been the son growing up and growing into the hero that he should be by returning to the ways of the little boy who saved that bus load of kids just because he could and it was the right damn thing to do!
And, so, when he doesn't even have the courage to put his own life down on the line to save his dad regardless of his dad’s wishes, it is a punch to the stomach. This isn't the Man of Steel, this character doesn't have the right stuff to carry the real Superman's red britches.
Now there are those who'll say that Clark was obeying his Father and thus, he does right by his father’s wish to do the good by saving his son from exposure. But there a dozen ways Clark could've saved him WITHOUT revealing his abilities to the public. Oh, and wasn't he already seen as a freak for his past feats of super anyway? It was the single dumbest death of any character in any comic book movie that I've ever seen. And it jarred me right out of the film.
I was STUNNED to learn (thanks to the good folks at DORK FORTY) that Mark Waid envied Goyer's writing of that scene, I was shocked that anyone could look at that scene and see anything but an old farmer committing suicide by tornado for no real reason. It just sits there, that scene, begging to be shot better, screaming to be told smarter, to have real meaning instead of being nearly laughable if it weren't so wrong. In fact, it reeked of bad storytelling. As if the logistics of it hadn't been worked out properly and so it clunks onto the screen and clubs the viewer over the head with a monkey wrench!
It reminded me quite a bit of the “death” of Hawkeye during Bendis’ ridiculous AVENGERS DISASSEMBLED story, in which, through means of horrible storytelling it appears that Clint Barton kills himself for no good reason. (That one actually did make me laugh out loud.)
I would love to see Goyer TRY to write the scene that follows Pa Kent's death--that had to be one awkward drive back to the farm between Ma and Clark. Clark didn’t even consider his Ma when deciding to let Pa go join Dorothy in Oz. Just think about the burden that Ma Kent would have to take on after losing her farming husband in so senselessly stupid an exercise in morality. No wonder she looks half dead when we return to the farm to visit her years later. She's either worked to death or in a deep depression--hell, she may have thrown Clark out because he just let his Pa go flying off into the next county.
As for the big finale of the film, it just looks like they (the filmmakers) forgot that Superman wants to save lives up until the moment when he wakes up to the fact that there are innocents around being killed by killing Zod.
I mean, just give me a few good sequences where it looks like he’s concerned about those buildings collapsing or give me a shot of the national guard confirming that they’ve cleared the area as Supes flys by. Let me know some effort was made to save lives beyond punching people through buildings and we’re good. I mean, we're talking about a character who is known more for being a "firefighter" than a "policeman", a guy whose last TV show's theme song featured the chorus "Save Me" for Kal's sake!
At least a great deal of the Avengers film was dedicated to showing the heroes considering the lives of those in the line of fire consistently. Superman doesn’t seem to realize people exist in Metropolis (that was Metropolis, right?--they sure seemed afraid to acknowledge it) until that poor family gets cornered by Zod’s heat vision.
Now, I don't have many qualms with Superman killing in a kill or lose lives situation, it's certainly not his preference, it's simply a last resort and I believe they were trying to leave that impression, it's just that they didn't do a very good job of it
after the earlier blow-up-real-good sequences.
Besides, this Superman" doesn't have that moral center that all Supermen before him. He's a good man who is trying, but it's all new to him--he's learning to become what he should've been all along and he's got quite a way to go. This "Elseworld" has a Batman who uses guns and a Superman who was afraid to put himself out there as the iconic symbol of hope and peace, truth and justice until he had no other choice.
No, these aren't quite the superheroes we were looking for,
but at least they look good doing it.
Me? I'm still waiting for Superman to show up in time to save Pa Kent from that tornado with that perfect John Williams score booming from the dolby surround sound theatre speakers, proving to Pa and Goyer and Snyder and Nolan that, yes, there is a Superman. There ARE heroes and they are better than we can even imagine. They are willing to give more than we can understand. They are wise enough to know that one good man can change a world and guide it to a better tomorrow for all mankind!