Between a nasty stomach virus and a really busy work week, I'm afraid that I've fallen behind on blogging...particularly on my summer blockbuster series. I've seen both Man of Steel and This is the End, so I figure while I have a moment, I should at least catch up on one.
I'll start with Man of Steel. I'm still trying to decide if I'll write about This is the End, but I'll figure that out another day.
Let me preface this with a number of disclaimers. Firstly, for the purposes of this series I simply analyze the movies through my personal interpretations. That is to say that I do not take anything from the source material into account (in this case, decades of comic books, cartoons, and other films) partly because I haven't read or seen most of it. Secondly, I do try to remain relatively spoiler free in this, but there's no guarantees.
|[Image text: Henry Cavill as Superman]|
Listen, I'm going to come right out and say it. I really liked Man of Steel. From strictly a film making perspective, I thought it was done incredibly well. I was invested in the characters, and moved by the humanity of it all. It was action packed but not to the degree that my brain turned off. The story was fresh and pulled me in far more than any other Superman incarnation has ever before. It seamlessly wove stories from Clark/Superman/Kal-El's past with the present action. The performances were great, with Henry Cavill as the lead, his adoptive parents Diane Lane and Kevin Costner, his biological father Russel Crowe, Amy Adams as Lois Lane, and the rock solidly creepy Michael Shannon as the supervillain, General Zod.
Plus let's just be honest...Henry Cavill is easy on the eyes.
Beyond that, there were themes and elements that interested me, specifically the various depictions of masculinity.
Superman, who was raised on Earth but is of Krypton, struggles understanding how these two identities will play out in his life. On one hand, he cares deeply about humanity, but on the other hand, he has witnessed the persecution of being different and the fear that can be directed at him for what he is.
But luckily, he had two fathers who taught him compassion, one his human adoptive father, Jonathan, and the other his biological Krypton father, Jor-El. Jonathan taught Clark all throughout his childhood that he was meant to be something important to humanity. He taught his son morals, compassion, and sacrifice. In this incarnation of the story, Clark as an adult, is able to interact with the spirit of his biological father, Jor-El. Jor-El reaffirms Jonathan's lessons and shows how Clark was saved and sent to Earth as the hope of his people. He teaches Clark how the Krypton people lost their way by pillaging planets and breeding all people for certain jobs, robbing them of their free will. He tells Clark how much more him and his biological mother wanted for him.
In other words, Clark/Superman/Kal-El is given two men who serve as lessons of strong, healthy masculinity. This all stands in grave contrast to General Zod who, in my interpretation, represents the dangers of unchecked hyper-masculinity. Zod was bred to be a general and the predisposition for war and violence runs in his very veins. He cares singularly for ensuring that the Krypton people survive, but his methods are cruel and ruthless. At one point in their final battle, Superman gives Zod one last chance to agree not to kill innocent people and when he refuses, then and only then, does Superman realize he has to destroy Zod once and for all. While Zod is from Krypton like Superman himself, he represents the dangerous ambitions that Jor-El intended Kal-El to stand against, and so he does.
I took this scene to be Superman finally, fully choosing a path of honor and taking a place as the Earth's protector. And thereby choosing healthy masculinity over anger, rage, and violence.
Pretty great stuff.
All that said, I would be remiss if I didn't mention that I was disappointed by the women in the movie. Superman's adoptive and biological mothers don't really contribute much to the story or action. There's another woman who is one of the evil General Zod's crew. She plays the villain role perfectly--ruthless and cruel, but that's all she contributes. The main female character, Lois Lane, does display some important agency. She's an excellent reporter and stands up bravely in the middle of some pretty terrifying situations. But ultimately, she's Lois Lane and her main purpose in the story is to be rescued and adored by Superman. That much has not changed.
People of color were also underrepresented in the film. Laurence Fishburne plays Perry White, the head of the Daily Planet and Lois Lane's boss. The United States General Swanwick (Harry Lennix) who helps try to defeat Zod alongside Superman, and is keeping an eye on this strange, new protector of the world, is also African American. But when I try to think of any women of color who play a significant role in the film, I come up short. It's a classic case of intersecting oppressions, rendering women of color nearly invisible in this story.
Ultimately, I'm happy that this film contained some messages that I can get behind. But that happiness is dampened by the same old disappointments linger in my mind after watching nearly every superhero movie.
Why do white men get to have all the fun and glory?
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