Why I Didn’t Like Man of Steel…or at least not the fight scenes

Spoilers abound; reader beware!

I’m a bit late to the party and there has already been a lot said on the internet about Man of Steel. I haven’t read most of it, because I like to go into movies with limited preconceptions, so forgive me if I’m repeating things that have already been said.

I generally go into a movie wanting to like it. I don’t understand people who would spend money to see something, and then spend the whole time picking it apart and finding flaws. Because of this, I usually enjoy things for what they are, whether it’s an offbeat indie flick like Frances Ha (which is fantastic, by the way) or a major summer blockbuster like Star Trek: Into Darkness. I don’t want all my movies to be deep explorations of the human psyche; sometimes I just want to watch Benedict Cumberbatch sneer at people in a form-fitting shirt. I firmly believe that there is space for all types of movies and that you should like what you like, no apologies necessary.

All of this to say, it’s rare that I don’t like a movie. Really rare. So when I find myself checking the time in the theater, wondering how much longer until this one is over, there’s a problem. And that happened today in Man of Steel. So I’ve been trying to figure out why I felt that way, because on the whole, I LOVE superhero movies. I think I’ve narrowed it down to two very separate things; I’ll deal with the easiest to explain first and then see if I can put the second into words.

First, the fight scenes drove me nuts. A lot has been said about the sheer amount of destruction, and that was part of it, but you can go read about that somewhere else. The thing that bugged me about the fights was that they seemed so repetitive. They just went on and on and on.

I know, I know, I hear you: “But Rachel, The Avengers had crazy long fight scenes, and you couldn’t shut up about that movie.” And you’re right. The difference is The Avengers had long fight scenes full of lots of different types of fighting. Part of that is the nature of a movie about a group of superheroes versus a movie about just one, but still. While watching Man of Steel, I kept wondering how many times the military was going to try to shoot at the Kryptonians, even though they were clearly bulletproof. There’s a scene where one of them is walking towards Christopher Meloni’s character, completely unfazed  as he unloads an entire clip. He runs out of ammo and pulls out another gun and unloads that one. And that continues to happen not only throughout that fight scene, but throughout the rest of the movie. Bullets aren’t working? Shoot more bullets! Missiles aren’t working? Shoot more missiles! After a certain point, it was just boring.

Even the fights actually involving Superman were the same way. One person punches another, who flies into a building. Then someone gets punched and flies into a building. Another punch, more flying into a building. I guess the writers thought it would look cool, but shattering glass and falling beams are really not all that interesting. At one point I thought the fighting was over and breathed a sigh of relief, only to have it start up again with more smashing into buildings.

And I get it. People want to see things blow up. A superhero fight without collateral damage would be a bit unrealistic. But in this movie it just felt like I was being beaten over the head with it.

My other issue with the movie is harder to put into words and definitely falls squarely in the “issues of personal preference” box. There were a couple of times during the movie where a character would say something or react a certain way, and I would be like, “Oh! I want to see that movie!” There were hints of story lines and character beats throughout the film that were much more interesting to me than the story that was actually being told on screen.

One example would be when Jor-El is talking about how Krypton essentially engineering people for specific purposes caused their downfall.  Members of society were given specific roles to fulfill and limiting choice had far-reaching effects on the whole society. General Zod touches on that same topic again briefly, but then we have to do more slamming into buildings, so it’s just kind of left hanging. To me, that’s an incredibly compelling story line with all kinds of implications for modern American society, particularly in parenting and education.

There was also a moment at the very end (as in, THIS IS SUPER SPOILERY SO STOP READING IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW THE END) where Superman very clearly does not want to kill General Zod, but must do so in order to save a group of humans. He makes the choice to save the humans and then lets out a cry of anguish. But there wasn’t really anything in the 2+ hours before that scene that would make that make sense. Just a few minutes before, Superman had called Zod a monster.

So why the anguish? I’m assuming (probably because I watch a lot of Doctor Who) that this is Clark’s reaction to having essentially destroyed all other remnants of his own race for the sake of humanity. Now that’s a character arc I would have loved to see: the struggle between saving his own people or the humans who he has been afraid of his entire life. There were hints and pieces of that story, but I left wanting more of it, and less of the other stuff that was actually there.

I was probably never going to love Man of Steel the way I love other superhero movies. I’ve always found Superman to be the least compelling, just because he’s always seemed so perfect and invincible and I like to see my heroes overcome their own issues of inadequacy or apathy or lack of people skills or whatever. Even so, I wanted to like it, but the hints of what could have been made what actually was much less enjoyable for me.

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2 Comments

  1. Interesting thoughts, I felt the exact opposite about the fight scenes and finding them to be some of the more visually appealing aspects of the movie. Funny how varying different people’s reactions can be.

    Reply
  1. The return of Movie Monday: Now you see me, Epic and Man of Steel

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  • A collection of ramblings and musings on Jesus, life, education, family, and anything else that pops into my head.

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