So, where did Superman’s conscience go?
A battle between two nearly invincible superbeings is tiresome to watch. As General Zod and Superman crash into building after building, over and over, it’s a tedious exercise in CGI excess. This is where the movie the really lost me. I couldn’t help but wonder how Superman felt about the destruction he was causing – destruction that, if it happened in real life, would make 9/11 pale in comparison.
The key here is that director Zack Snyder never actually shows us the countless hordes of people that must be getting killed and maimed as Superman chucks Zod through yet another skyscraper. Out of sight, out of mind, I guess. It reminds me of one of the most abhorrent action sequences I’ve ever seen in a movie. You know that scene in ‘Bad Boys 2’ where Martin Lawrence and Will Smith, the supposed heroes of the tale, go careening down a hillside in Hummers, straight through a packed shanty town no doubt full of poor citizens living out their lives until getting squashed by a giant SUV driven by a couple of morons? Yeah, that scene.
A queasy feeling rose up inside me when I realized that not only is Superman destroying densely populated city buildings, but there are moments where he seems to enjoy what he’s doing, dragging Zod across the face of a skyscraper like a big brother rubbing his little brother’s face in the dirt. I think I checked out after Superman chucked Zod through the perfectly product-placed IHOP. I couldn’t help but think of the poor families, enjoying their morning hash browns, whose lives were certainly ended in an instant. Again, where did Superman’s conscience go?
Only once during his battle with General Zod (which reminded me far too much of the Peter versus the Chicken fights from ‘Family Guy’) is Superman the least bit concerned about human life – when they end up in Grand Central Station and Zod is about to fry a family with his heat vision. Didn’t this strike anyone as disingenuous? It’s a moment where the script finally realizes that, “Hey, people are in real danger here. We should probably acknowledge that somehow.” It’s a flimsy scene that hopes you’re too ignorant to realize how many countless individuals Superman killed before we get to that moment.
No amount of crash-zooms, frantic pans or needless shaky-cam can distract from the movie’s overall defunct storytelling. It’s all about layers of exposition. There are moments with Kevin Costner, Russell Crowe and Michael Shannon that feel as if greatness will finally sprout, but soon enough the movie devolves back into its punch-kick-and-crash-first/ask-questions-never mode.
Other topics worth discussing include the film’s ham-fisted way of shoehorning in a Christ analogy (Superman is 33-years-old, wink wink), its inane need to point out the completely obvious (“It’s because I think he’s hot.”), or its irritating habit of repeating story elements that don’t need repeating. (Thank you, Jor-El, for your pop-up book history lesson of Krypton.)
Yet, all of the movie’s other faults don’t come close to the fact that ‘Man of Steel’ reduces one of the most moral of all superheroes into just another city crushing Neanderthal.