Man of Steel – An Opportunity Lost

A quick bit on the movie, Man of Steel.

I was entertained, but it was not a Superman movie. Though visually punchy, it was little distinct from any over-the-top big action movie like Transformers. Lots of destruction without consequences, as though the adversaries were wrestling in a sandbox, not in a city where people by the thousands are being killed. People, supposedly, the hero(es) is trying to protect.

Worse, the movie was a missed opportunity.

I did not understand why we needed to revisit the origin story. Of all the superheroes who have and will ever have movies made of them, Superman is the least in need of an introduction to a general audience. Therefore, if you’re going to revisit the origin, then make it more consequential than exposition. That wasn’t done. Superman: The Movie told the same story more succinctly. Man of Steel had superb visuals and some of the technology of Krypton was neat to see (as was the part of young Clark learning to control his powers) but ultimately, so what?

If we’re insisting on the origin story, then here’s what I think the filmmakers missed, or rather, failed to follow through on. They almost had it: a first contact story, mankind’s encounter with a space alien.

For that to work, you need a human POV. And you need to hide your alien at the same time. Lois Lane could have stood in for us. She would have been perfect. But in this movie, not only was the character not utilized well, she wasn’t even essential to the story.

My approach would have been to begin with Krypton’s destruction, Kal El’s journey to Earth, and his discovery by the Kents. End there for the time being.

Then years pass and we are in Lois’s shoes. We get to know her, her relationship with Perry, her breaking in of a new reporter – a clumsy, Boy Scout named Clark. She begins to hear incredible stories of heroism. Though too fantastic to believe, her reporter’s instinct insists there’s something to these tall tales.

She investigates, allowing Clark to tag along. Clark is a goof. She can hardly believe his optimism and guileless nature. But he’s naive, stumbling. Is he ready for the big story?

Lois finds the mounting evidence and witness testimony compelling, but X-Files-style, they are explainable by skeptics, including Clark. Nothing superhuman here, just luck or flights of the imagination. Still she prods till she endangers herself.

Whereupon she is rescued by the very man she sought, astounded to be a subject in her own story, and in the arms of a man who can fly. There is something familiar about him. She needs to learn more and scores an interview. And perhaps at that moment, to the astonishment of Lois and Superman, alien crafts appear in the sky.

Zod speaks. And the world changes as does our POV.

We’re Superman now. Through his interview with Lois, we can learn about his growing up in Kansas and the struggle he faces every day in trying to save lives while remaining anonymous, afraid of what the world would think of him. He has decided to trust Lois. But can he trust himself? He has incredible power and he fears it. He wants to belong, but he isn’t human, is he?

As the hours and days pass, people wonder: Who is Zod, what does he want? At the Daily Planet we see myriad reactions to alien contact. Fear, awe, curiosity, hope. We hear countless questions – can the aliens breath air, do they possess psychic powers, have they been to Roswell, what did the US military know, what has the government been hiding all these years, does Zod and his company come in peace, can we defend ourselves if they’re hostile?

Superman has his own questions. Are these aliens his people? What can they tell him about himself? What were his parents like? Zod might provide Kal El with answers to questions he had always wanted to know. He asks Lois what he should do.

Amongst the humans, Superman will be regarded with suspicion. If he was here on Earth all along, was he sent here as a herald? An ambassador? A spy? Lois knows. She will stand up for him, appeal to leaders that he is not a threat.

Likewise, Superman knows his mother, and Lois, and thinks of them when it becomes apparent that Zod intends to dominate the planet. He sides with the humans, despite their flaws. They don’t know him, but Lois does. She’s his touchstone. Someone with whom he feels he can finally belong.

Then there’s a fight. One that hopefully would be far more brief than what was filmed (or rather, programmed) in Man of Steel.

The movie would end mixed. People would be grateful that the invasion was repulsed, but Superman remains. An alien with incredible power. Can he truly be trusted?

A question that can lead into a sequel where human scientists seek a weapon to counter-balance Superman’s power. They don’t wish to ever use it, but just in case…

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