In honor of Man of Steel recently debuting in theaters, we will start off the Superhero Movie Power Rankings (trademark still pending) in an appropriate place–with Superman. If you missed the first post on the Superhero Movie Power Rankings, I suggest you head over here to get started. I should also note that there will be MASSIVE SPOILERAGE below. So don’t blame me when you find out what happens in the movie.
Before we jump into the five major categories, I feel like we should address a major issue. With Superman, perhaps more than any other superhero out there, there is a massive disconnect between what the critics want and expect and what the average moviegoer wants. Case in point: Man of Steel has been a massive box office success. Word of mouth reviews are typically very strong, and Rotten Tomatoes’ audience rating says 82% of people liked it. However, it only gets a certified rotten 56% from the critics, and even lower than that from the so-called “top critics.” This offers and interesting juxtaposition with Superman Returns, arguably the biggest superhero movie flop of all time. Despite the fact that it is clearly a terrible, terrible movie, and the fact that it was widely panned by fans, the critics on Rotten Tomatoes give it a certified fresh rating of 75%. How can this be? My theory is that most critics are unable to judge each Superman movie on its own merits; instead, they compare each one to the original Christopher Reeve films (and probably the first two to be honest). The dirty secret is, none of those films were very good. They may have been good in 1978, when the first one came out, but today we are capable of seeing so much more. The critics seem to like the lighthearted tone of those movies, and Clark Kent was an absolute goofball. Even Lex Luthor was degraded to some sort of evil real estate shark rather than the criminal mastermind he should be.
While I know everyone in the 1970s ate that stuff up, casual and hardcore fans wouldn’t take it seriously anymore. We demand serious storylines that make sense and characters with nuance. Yes, Superman is the Big Boy Scout, but he should also struggle with some serious moral and ethical dilemmas–no one, even the Big Blue, is above that. That’s why almost all casual and hardcore fans hated Superman Returns, even though it was so incredibly faithful to the Donner films that it was basically a giant ripoff. So why should we compare every new Superman movie to the old ones, even if they are clearly inferior superhero movies? We shouldn’t, and simple nostalgia is not a good enough reason to. With that said, let’s move on to the rankings.
1. How entertaining is it? (30%)
Man of Steel is flat-out fun to watch. There was not a single second of this movie in which I was bored. Of course, it really helps that the most enthralling action scene in the movie didn’t look like this:
This movie went balls to the wall from start to finish. Superman was punching, kicking, and flying. Zod and his cronies were causing general mayhem. Heck, even
MaximusJor-El got in on the action. Without a doubt, this movie’s main success is that it is the first Superman movie (out of 6 tries mind you!) to give him a villain worthy of challenging him. No, Poisonous Electric Fingernails ManNuclear Man doesn’t count. You may say, “But Zod was also the villain in Superman 2.” Well, you would be right, but I have a hard time taking any villain seriously when he’s relying on this guy to be his wingman.
But seriously, this movie was a lot of fun to watch. Another contributing factor was the non-linear storyline. We got to see a lot of Clark’s formative years without having to spend one hour straight doing it. I expect to see some future comic book flicks copy this format, as it allows the audience to experience some action sequences in the beginning, as opposed to spending the first half of the movie watching the hero become said hero, before finally seeing him don the costume and get to fighting. Man of Steel doesn’t quite meet the same standard of entertainment as a powerhouse the like Avengers, but it comes pretty darn close in its own right. I imagine this movie will be just as fun to watch the second and third times around, and I think it will still be entertaining me 20 years from now.
2. How good is the plot and character development? (20%)
Yet another strong area for Man of Steel. Too many superhero movies these days come out with a paper-thin plot and/or wooden characters. Here is the basic plot of Man of Steel: Krypton doesn’t allow natural babies to be born. Superman’s parents secretly have a natural birth. Superman is sent to earth by his father to avoid blowing up with the rest of Krypton. Zod, who’s entire purpose in life if the protection and preservation of the Kryptonian people, finds out the Jor-El sent the means of reproducing Kryptonians via genesis with Superman to earth. Zod finds out the the code is stored within Superman and that earth would actually make a pretty good foundation for a new Krypton. Zod wants to kill Superman and destroy earth to resurrect Krypton. The plot makes perfect sense, and gives Zod a real, justifiable reason why he wants to cause chaos, as opposed to, you know, just having a random grudge against Superman’s family for no reason. It was interesting and allowed for plenty of action. The character development was solid too. We saw Superman struggle with being hesitant to get involved in anything because of the influence of Jonathan Kent, while he was also struggling with wanting to be involved in everything because of a deep-seated moral responsibility, also the influence of Jonathan Kent. Then we saw him move into full-fledged hero mode at the influence of his biological father. Solid development. Zod even had some nuance, as opposed to being just a megalomaniac.
3. How good is the casting and acting? (20%)
WB did a solid job of casting this movie, and the actors were solid as well. While no one was knock-your-socks-off incredible, there were no poor performances either. Henry Cavill performed well in the most important role. He did a great job of displaying a reserved strength. Michael Shannon did a solid job as Zod, though he could have been slightly more intimidating. Overall, Amy Adams was a good Lois Lane. Certainly better than the past two, but readers of the comics will probably feel that something is missing. Lois Lane is a tough-as-nails reporter, and while Adams did display some of that attitude, I thought she displayed a lot more of it in The Fighter. Maybe the Boston accent just makes people seem tougher, but since I have seen her do it better before, I thought she could have brought just a little more. Some people will be disappointed in deviating from the comics by casting Perry White as a black man, but I really like what Lawrence Fishburne did and can’t wait to seem him get a more prominent role in the sequels. Good move WB. So overall, it wasn’t perfect, but very solid.
4. How true is it to the source material? (15%)
This one is tricky, because the movie deviates from the comics in three main areas, but I can see why each of the decisions were made. Note: I’m not counting minor changes like Perry White being black or Lois Lane having red hair. Those decisions worked out just fine. Jimmy Olsen apparently being recast as a female is a little weird and a more drastic change, but I’m also tabling that to focus on the main three changes.
1. This is the first time we’ve ever heard anything about couples not being allowed to reproduce on Krypton, and how Superman was the only natural birth in centuries, etc. If you examine this change closely, it appears to be made only for the sake of the plot. Without it, the whole story and Zod’s motivations for his actions throughout the movie fall apart. Normally, I’m against making changes simply for the sake of the plot. It’s indicative of poor writing. However, we know that Goyer and Nolan are anything but bad writers, and the change did make some sense. It allowed Superman to represent hope, and that is one of the major themes of the comic book character. Overall, it wasn’t a perfect change, but I’m okay with it.
2. Jonathan Kent died differently.Depending on the continuity, we’ve seen Jonathan Kent die of hearts attacks and Braniac attacks.
In the movie, Jonathan Kent dies in a tornado, which really isn’t that drastic of an alteration considering they live in Kansas and every Spring, their lives look something like this:
The major and somewhat disappointing change was that Clark sat there and watched and didn’t do anything about it because his dad didn’t want him to. This is a little bit of a change from the comics, and I think the comic Superman would have found a way to save his dad. So I’m deducting some for this one.
3. SPOILERS!!!! In the most controversial change, Superman kills Zod by breaking his neck. I’m actually okay with this, as previously, Superman has shown the willingness to kill when no alternatives exists. Superman actually executed Zod in the comics, though this has been retconned by the New 52. Superman also “killed” Doomsday. It turns out Doomsday can’t really die, but Superman didn’t know that at the time. Point is, he will kill for the greater good when his back is up against the wall. It should also offer some character development in the sequels, as perhaps he will decide to never kill again.
Besides these three things, the rest of the movie was incredibly faithful to the Superman mythos I thought.
5. X-factor (15%)
Finally DC proved they can make a non-Batman superhero movie with a major character without it completely sucking. That’s really all you need to know. We already know that this movie is going to have at least a sequel or two, and there’s real reason to hope that those Justice League rumors they’ve been teasing us with for years might actually come true. If DC can manage to produce even 75% of the quality of the Marvel Cinematic U, it will all be worth it. I should also mention that Man of Steel has some of the best, if not the best, fight scenes in any superhero movie ever.