LOIS LANE BEGINS
*This is the second part of my 4 part review of Man Of Steel. It’s mostly a discussion of what I enjoyed about this film, in other words, I am going to wax both fanboy and academic!*
For starters, on the comparison of Marvel’s/Disney’s The Avengers and DC Comics/Warner Brothers’ Man Of Steel, in some cases is unfair. Avengers is the culmination of years of hype and build up with five movies preceding before it to make it happen. The first of which was Iron Man, which was impressive, but I would compare Man Of Steel to Thor than anything else, for the building of the mythology (Thor did it better because it was supposed to be fantastic and unbelieveable in story, and I admit, Thor is probably in the top 3 comic movies of all time).
MYTHOS/KRYPTON: The truth about Krypton, Clark Kent’s home planet in this movie was a pleasant surprise. The story takes a magnificent, and interesting twist towards the middle of the film. When we are introduced to Krypton, we get to see flying dragons, alien life-forms, the harsh atmosphere, the advanced technology, as well as the science behind artificial life creation. Like Vahalla in Thor, there is a sense of majesty and awe that should have ideally swept the average movie goer away (and for me it did). Compared to Thor, there is also a darkside to this universe, a planet in danger because Krypton’ government officials have used up the planet’s core as an energy resource to travel all around many galaxies, exploring, sharing its greatness with other planets. Enter Michael Shannon as General Zod (a well executed performance I may add) who shares Jor El (Kal El’s/Clark Kent’s) concerns for Krypton, but his solution is a military coup rather than natural reproduction or the stoppage of digging the core (since its already too late). Jor El escapes Zod’s wrath just in time to launch a shuttle that contains his son. Lara Lor-Van, Kal’s mother/Jor El’s wife, has to make the key decision: she must choose to mourn with her son or mourn without him. She choose the latter. Although she has very little dialogue, because she is given ethical choices, and because we see Krypton’s destruction from her perspective, Lara can be considered a strong character. Lara’s(played by Israeli actor Ayelet Zurer) eerie words haunt us the rest of the movie: “Make a better world than ours, Kal El.”
ETHOS/SMALLVILLE It’s at this point of the review that I take a different direction than most praises from the film. We first meet a more physically mature Clark Kent as he is working on a fishing boat. An accident happens, the coast guard is called in, but Clark rescues the a crew that been caught in a fire on an oil rig. The parallels between corporations digging for oil on Earth and Krypton wasting its core to expand its power can be immediately held into comparison. Our protagonist is a reject, made fun of for being a rookie by his captain, and even had a beer thrown on him by an angry guy in a bar. Clark is relateable in that he is bullied, he is an outcast. The scenes featuring him in Smallville, in middle and high school, being picked on by Pete Ross, and then members of the varsity football team, are to show us that this is a Clark Kent who is struggling in his identity, who will be unsure of himself even though he has principles. Jonathan Kent (played by Kevin Costner) is overprotective of Clark, unaware of Clark’s full range of powers, but Pa Kent knows people will react in fear. Pa Kent’s role in this movie further stress Clark’s status as Other. Pa Kent represents one possible response to people who are different than us. The other, superior response is shown by the grace and openness given to Clark by Ma Kent, Martha, played by Diane Lane. Martha shows up to Clark’s elementary class when Clark is hiding in the janitor’s closet. While Clark’s classmates are calling him a freak and weirdo, Martha’s love and embrace are gives Clark’s the strength he needs to get through the day. Her affirmation of him become the key ingredient in his Superheroism. Superman is not one of the favorites, he is to become a hero from the margins. I prefer this version of Superman, the one made to be a foreigner and outcast.
As an outsider, Kal El blends in with humanity, hiding, traveling from farming land in Kansas to the seas to the icy Artic searching for himself. It is on the Kryptonian spaceship covered with ice that we get to meet Lois Lane who is investigating what appears to be a Russian submarine hidden by the U.S. military. We learn this isn’t the case. Instead, Clark unlocks the spaceship with his key, and flies off with it. He meets and talks to the conciousness of Jor El. It’s both reminiscent of Batman Begins when Bruce finds a mentor in Henri Ducard and in The Dark Knight Rises when Bruce dreams and sees Henri/Ra’s Al Ghul in his dream. Clark learns of his real name (Kal El), and thus his true identity, and he learns that he can fly, that he can rise above his fear of his own Otherness and use his powers to save others.
The ship tipped off General Zod’s crew, and Zod interrupts all broadcasts and cell receptions to inform the people of Earth that they are not alone. This is a significant moment because now the worlds’ citizens are overwhelmed and filled with uncertainty and fear. I could feel this from this point of the movie forward, and I think this is what Snyder wanted show us, just how world-changing the existence of other lifeforms and planets could be. Zod requests that Kal El be surrendered over to him, but on Earth, the only person who knows Clark’s whereabouts and identity besides Martha Kent is the other person who chooses to believe in Kal El, Lois Lane. Lois Lane the Pulitzer prize-winning reporter, like the accountant for Wayne Enterprises in The Dark Knight, finds herself on the run from the law. The FBI and military immediately catch up to her. The moment of decision, in a church building of all places with pictures of white Jesus in the stained glass windows, for Clark Kent reveals he does not trust humanity, but he will surrender himself over to them anyhow. The “S” on his chest, the symbol for the House of El, is a sign of hope, that anyone can choose to be a force for good.
Superman and Lois Lane are both handed over to General Zod and the last of the Kryptonians. They are greeted by Faora, Zod’s second in command, and a believer in the genetic superiority of some bloodlines of Krypton over others. Faora’s imposing presence caused Lois Lane to be scared speechless, helpless. Zod breaches the recesses of Kal El’s mind, and tells him why Kal should join Zod’s crew, working together to create a New Krypton. And I believe it is in this interaction, that we get the truth about Krypton’s Golden Age. Zod informs Kal that Krypton was a great society that would send space ships with world engines to change the environment and atmosphere of differing planets to fit Kryptonians needs. In short, these planents were COLONIES to be settled upon. Krypton died because of its overreaching greed as an intergalactic imperial power. The leadership died, acting out of fear that their empire would crumble it they did not use more and more energy. Zod existed to protect Kryptonian imperial interests as its military leader. As Lois Lane is trying to escape the ship, she meets Kal’s father, Jor El, who teaches her how to defeat Zod and his invaders. Lois escapes in a pod, but is crashing to Earth after a struggle. Kal El gains his strength, happens to run into Jor-El, and asks if what Zod says is true. Notice, Jor El does not deny what Zod said, only that Jor El had hoped Clark would be a “bridge” between humanity and Kryptonians.
One more optimistic than I can read this as Jor El hoping for a friendly Kryptonian settlement on Earth, but really? Who was going to lead this colony? And why should, as Zod pointed out, the Kryptonians wait thirty something odd years for Kryptonians to adjust to Earth’s atmosphere? No, I don’t think this was the case, the critical thinker in me says. Rather, from the beginning, Lara Lor-Van is right, that she and her husband were very much a part of Krypton’s doom as the Council was.
At this point, Clark can’t ask anymore questions, he has to hurry, fly down to Earth to save Lois, as well as do battle with Zod and Faora in Smallville. Contrary to the popular rendition of this movie, Man Of Steel WAS NOT a dude-bro showdown, all about “Superman and His Two Fathers.” Rather, the movie, if you pay close attention, is about Clark’s two mothers, and his best friend Lois Lane affirming him when he could not believe in himself. Furthermore, Superman rejects the approaches preferred by his fathers, Jor El’s empire-building approach, as well as Jonathan Kent’s fearmongering, to make choices instead out of love and justice. Like Lois said, Clark could not help but help others and save them. There is probably one major instance where my argument falls short but I would like to save that for my criticism.
Pathos/Metropolis: In the penultimate battle between Superman and Zod, as the last of the Kryptonians are disrupting and destroying Earth’s own core and atmosphere to suit their needs (hint hint: colonizing), Lois and the military work on their plan to send the invaders back to the Phantom Zone. Zod embodies the truth about Krypton; he is not a maniac, genocidal, yes, but his is the natural logic that flows from the ideas racial superiority and imperial expansion, those ideas held dear by the late, great planet Krypton. The emotions that I as the audience member felt was that of being overwhelmed, with disaster taking place in South Asia and in Metropolis. There was an apocalyptic feeling, as in a destructive judgement brand from an outsider, and at the end, the world as we know it would not be the same. I would like to save the details of this struggle between good and evil for my next posts, but the end results is what I want to discuss in conclusion.
A triumphant Superman appears before General Swanwick, in front of a satellite worth millions of dollars, just totally dismantled. This use of Superman’s strength is humorous. Superman indicates that the military should trust him, that he is American as the Kansas territory he was raised in. This should give the viewer some pause, in light of what was shown to be Kal El’s Kryptonian roots. Like Batman Begins, Superman has rejected living in terror and making decisions based on fear as a way of life (Jonathan Kent, General Zod). This is always going to be an American struggle after September 11th, 2001. Superman has also refuses to identify himself with the powerful, imperial hierarchies (the Council on Krypton, Lara and Jor-El, Faora, and again, Zod). The American way is not with LexCorp or Haliburton; the better American way comes from the underside of its history, in the bodies of the refugees and exiles who bring with them hope and reconciliation.