June 23, 2013

Man of Steel and its socially fragmented world

[BTW, in the comments there's a lot more discussion of the storytelling, music, action sequences, and what puts the "Dumb" in a Big Dumb Ending, vs. a climactic and apocalyptic ending.]

Like the critics who are throwing a fit over the new Superman movie not having much cheer, joy, humor, or romance, I prefer my kickass summer action movies that way, too. Die Hard perfected this mix in 1988; already by 1994, the romance, humor, and cheer felt more strained in Speed, even if it still felt real enough.

But it's not the '80s anymore, and those emotions have all but evaporated from real life. Mortal actors draw on the range of emotions and motivations that are present in real life, so you can't expect them to convey cheer etc. very convincingly in the '90s or 21st century. Demanding that actors "transcend" their zeitgeist is like asking them to deliver the dialogue impeccably in a foreign language.

We're back to a mood of mass isolation last seen during the mid-century, so good acting and film-making will have to harness that reality to greatest artistic effect. That's why we remember all of those film noir and Hitchcock movies from the mid-century, and not so much the relatively passion-free rom-coms, the airheaded gay musicals, or the bombastic epics. *

In our return to the mid-century zeitgeist, the greatest movies will also have an alienated, noirish feeling to them -- among others, those of Christopher Nolan, who had a fair role in Man of Steel as producer and contributor to the story. Unfortunately Nolan's cinematographer Wally Pfister is not present, leading to disappointment for those who were hoping for the striking visual style of the Dark Knight trilogy or Inception.

But an interesting story, characters, and set of themes can still make the movie enjoyable to watch, as long as the look and feel isn't distractingly bad (and here they were average and competent, not a disaster like most other contemporary movies).

Perhaps the most notable feature of all of the human characters is that not a single one of them is very likable -- not that they're loathsome, but none of them makes you care about them in a way that you'd consider being their friend in real life, dream about having them as your boyfriend or girlfriend, or enjoy working with them at the office.

Well, aside from Clark's Baby Boomer parents, who you might wish to have for your own. But they don't appear to represent the mainstream of American society -- they're fairly cut off from the other families in rural Kansas, let alone from the increasingly urbanized parts of the country.

Lois Lane is introduced as a sassypants who is only defiant because some court order allowed her to backtalk to an Army colonel. She's more pushy and nosy than assertive and feisty (like the original Lois Lane was), in the way that women tend to act in a sheltered and micro-managed office environment. And she never really lets her guard down in an informal, interpersonal context.

Her newspaper editor Perry White, along with all of the military figures, are distant, reserved, and emotionally cold. Even among the military themselves, there's zero camaraderie -- not that they're turning on one another, but simply that their superorganic fellow-feeling has come unglued. Again, even as recently as 1994, camaraderie was still part of everyday life (if in decline) that the key actors on the police force in Speed could make it come to life on the screen.

From what my two brothers have told me about Army life in the 21st century, this is a very realistic portrayal -- the Cold War is done, so there's no felt need to band together as a team against a huge enemy. Even at the end of the movie, when you'd think the whole "invaded and nearly wiped out by aliens" experience might have brought them closer together, they still don't come off as tightly bonded. A little more willing to make jokes, but still not close. Fluke attacks do not leave enduring bonds. It has to be something perceived as a more enduring threat, like Indian raids or Russkie missiles and submarines.

The various office workers are your typical group of inane, self-centered, guard-up, staring-at-their-phones-while-walking kind of drones you're familiar with from real life. The customers in public spaces, such as bars or restaurants, also don't seem very involved in who they're with and where they are. There's no feeling of togetherness in those places, more like people are showing up just avoid hermit life.

Lois Lane's star-blogger friend is a smug, pompous faggot.

And so on. Cast your net at random, and 21st-century Americans don't appear very likable or cohesive, although they're not caricatured or demonized either. And the writers were generous in not portraying the even more deplorable parts of the citizenry: the suburban Supermom with a fake tan and "butt-sculpting" jeans, the People of Wal-Mart, airhead hipsters, and ghetto trash.

Is this really a society worth saving?

Here is where the movie makes good use of our background social mood. If we saw Americans as they were during the late '70s and '80s, the answer is simple. People were more endearing and sympathetic back then, and our hero would not face as dramatic of a choice. And Superman himself was more closely integrated into his host society in the Donner movies, so that gives him an added incentive to fight on their behalf. He's standing up for his own group.

In Man of Steel, however, he's much more of an outcast, although I think that's not the most important part of his characterization. Yes, there's the adolescent theme of, Would you save a group some of whose members have picked on you? This movie goes beyond that in focusing on whether all of those who did not pick on you are still worth saving.

The social climate is not one of tight bonds among the in-group of Americans, while Clark is mercilessly ostracized. None of the other kids seem very close to each other either. There's one scene where a couple of jocks tempt him to fight back, and they're there with a few girls -- presumably their girlfriends, but you couldn't tell from how disconnected everyone is, even within this supposed group of friends. Their blank faces and total lack of touchy-feely behavior, keeping all to themselves, looks pretty accurate for today's young people.

The hero must decide, then, not whether to save a cohesive group that has ostracized him, but one that hardly seems to be hanging together itself. Not a group whose members are likable, yet who have rejected you from playing in all their reindeer games, but who are bland, lifeless, and often irritating toward one another. As the outcast, you'd feel pity and sadness more than anger or envy toward the in-group.

By having Superman act more out of empathy and charity than sympathy or group loyalty, the movie gives us a hero who embodies transcendent values that we haven't seen in a long time. Instead it's General Zod as the tragic anti-hero who loves his fellow Kryptonians enough to revolt against the corrupt and impotent central committee, and risk his life in chasing after Superman to get the material he needs to re-create his race.

I have to repeat that: Superman's is not the adolescent angry/envious motivation, where I'll show those pricks who cast me out -- by saving their asses, and it'll just eat them up inside to have to thank me and beg me to join them, revenge will be so fucking sweet.

America in the 21st century may be socially fragmented and emotionally lifeless, but at least it's not as corrupted and decadent as Krypton was (...yet). Superman makes that clear when General Zod continues his appeal to recreate their society, and Superman emphasizes that "Krypton had its chance." A society that blew itself up is not worth recreating. America is in a murky twilight period, where it's not clear which way they'll go, so they're more worth saving. Sure, they might end up fucking it up just like the Kryptonians, but until there's clearer proof of that, give the unlikable bastards the benefit of the doubt.

The central theme of saving a society that you don't feel connected to and whose members are not particularly likable, because they still aren't rotten enough to deserve destruction, makes the CGI demolition work to its advantage. Normally that fake-looking crap is just off-putting and takes me out of the movie. Here, whether intentionally or not (probably not), it echoes the larger theme -- you don't have to like or feel connected to all of those glass-and-concrete, neo-mid-century big dumb ugly boxes. They still don't deserve to be annihilated in such catastrophic fashion, with all the people still inside.

When King Kong climbs the Empire State Building and starts taking fire from airplanes, the unconscious part of your brain is saying, "Holy shit, they're gonna wreck the Empire State Building!" But some sterile eyesore, some charmless Bauhaus hunk-a junk whose demolition looks like a video game? Well, yeah, I guess it isn't so offensive that it deserves to collapse as part of an indiscriminate and senseless destruction.

Maybe a selective targeting of the oppressive-looking buildings, and hands off of the Art Deco buildings, would have let us feel more comfortable with the demolition of the former. But you know that General Zod had no such motive, so you can't root for their collapse, and are uncomfortably compelled to feel loss when the buildings fall apart -- aside from caring about the human beings inside, of course. I mean even for these hideous carbuncles themselves.

I wonder if the reason that all the critics are so angry at the tone in this movie is because they have no conception of a hero whose motives are more transcendent than personal or group-minded? "OMG, 'nobler virtues' = so 2000-and-late." I also wonder if the typical audience member has totally missed this, and is seeing it primarily through the lens of personal revenge or patriotic duty to one's in-group, only differing with the critics by believing that those are good rather than bad motives.

* Women back then were too fast-talking and wise-cracking to serve as ideals worth putting it all on the line for in a romance movie. The popular musical climate was too subdued for the musicals to really bring the audience alive (unlike, say, Footloose), leaving them with a more superficial and underwhelming feeling. And notwithstanding WWII, mid-century men felt more out-of-place and overwhelmed by mass society, rather than ambitious and heroic, hence the forced quality to a lot of the grand-scale acting in epic movies.

22 comments:

  1. Ras Al Ghul6/23/13, 1:53 PM

    I think, considering what you have written, that on some level the audience and the male audience recognizes themselves in Clark Kent in a way they haven't perhaps in a long time.

    They are disconnected, and feel powerless and yet yearn to be great.

    And the critics, as I have said, do no like the reflection of America they see there, the America they have a hand in creating

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  2. I wonder if, in particular, the liberal and/or weenie type of critics are disturbed by the fact that they're disturbed by the army's lack of camaraderie.

    In their abstract, reality-free conception, camaraderie in the military inevitably leads to warlord rule over the citizenry.

    But here's their wet dream -- a military with absolutely no camaraderie at all. Gee, guess I didn't think that maybe that would make our main line of defense completely impotent if we faced a real danger... especially one who had high camaraderie among themselves.

    Nothing stings the airhead brain as sharply as a simple reality check.

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  3. "They are disconnected, and feel powerless and yet yearn to be great."

    The total lack of a romance angle, aside from a throwaway kiss, is another strength of the movie. Keeping with our neo-Victorian / neo-mid-century atmosphere of high segregation between the sexes.

    First men start to have larger dreams and act more ambitiously, against the wishes of the women who would prefer them to be the more safe, reliable, and low-volatility good provider / good dad type. After women see the risk-taking strategy pay off, they start to come around and prefer more entrepreneurial types of guys.

    For now, though, he's too out-there to draw much attention. Isn't it strange how little attention he seems to get from girls, whether in high school or as an adult? Even at the end, a young female soldier only feels comfortable enough to verbally confess that "I just think he's kinda hot" to a colonel -- not, y'know, actually flirting with or chasing after him.

    Girls these days don't really dream about star athletes, lead singers, etc. like they used to. They want a docile "non-boyfriend" or "practice boyfriend" who they won't put out for, followed by a castrated beta-male provider dad when they get married. Someone they can boss around.

    The fact that the movie hewed to this reality, rather than attempt an unconvincing and awkward passionate romance sub-plot a la Spiderman, shows how committed the writers were to realism.

    It makes it much more believable that 21st century girls might be posting "Superman is actually kinda hot" on their Facebook feed without ever planning to lay their paws on him.

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  4. BTW, I wouldn't call this a great movie... and would debate even calling it "good" -- in the sense that I'll have a list of "good movies" in 5-10 years that this would definitely qualify for.

    I'm just going on at such length because there seems to be such a bizarre critical reaction to it, especially about the tone and themes, and that needs to be corrected.

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  5. Now that I think about it, it's not only that he doesn't get lots of attention from girls -- he is probably a virgin.

    There's a sequence where Lois Lane tries to find out his identity, canvassing the entire North American continent for anyone who's ever come into fleeting contact with him. Including his mother and a boy who Clark had saved decades ago as a child.

    And nowhere does she interview an old girlfriend. I guess he could've gotten lucky with a random hook-up or fling, but he doesn't seem outgoing enough for that to happen.

    Googling around, I found this quote from the director:

    "On the one hand, Mr. Snyder suggested that for Clark Kent to be fully fleshed out, not every moment in his maturation needed to be depicted.

    'We assume that Clark is not a virgin -- I do,' he said. 'You don’t see that, but that’s the assumption.' "

    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/26/movies/man-of-steel-aims-to-make-superman-relevant-again.html

    So maybe he's not meant to be portrayed as a total virgin, but still someone who's never had a real, longish-term girlfriend.

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  6. This movie was no different than anything in the 2000s. There are no changes of pace, no stopping to take a breath. No pauses in the droning dramatic orchestra. Maybe if they took a breath we would see some character development. But with those millions spent on special effects, they cant afford to stop and smell the roses.

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  7. I just saw the movie this afternoon. First of all, good observation on the virgin thing; I hadn't consciously noticed this while watching but as soon as you mentioned it I realized that I thought it was kind of weird there was no romance or any hint of past girlfriends.

    I actually found Zod to be the most interesting character in the movie. The plot suggests that he was engineered from conception for military service protecting Krypton, so it's natural that he would feel a strong sense of belonging and purpose and go mad at the end when that purpose is taken from him. When his girlfriend/sidekick (once again, no sexual tension) is beating up on Superman or the military leader guy, can't remember which, and says that their side would win because they have no morals, I found myself silently disagreeing since they appeared to actually have stronger in-group morals that the people of earth.

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  8. If you haven't seen it yet, the RLM review makes some good points: http://redlettermedia.com/half-in-the-bag-man-of-steel/ (actual review starts at 4:27)

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  9. "There are no changes of pace, no stopping to take a breath."

    Sure there was. Most of the long second act is less frenetic than the opening collapse of Krypton or the final showdown. It's nice that they don't dwell too long on any particular period of his upbringing -- that would feel more like an RPG video game.

    We just get enough of a vignette to clue us into how he was treated, and how they treated each other.

    "No pauses in the droning dramatic orchestra."

    There was no droning in the music, and wasn't orchestral. It was typical Hans Zimmer, highly percussive, tribal jungle war drums. The primitive savage that beats underneath modern civilization.

    I didn't like the soft, wispy piano parts, though. No melody or motifs, just notes here and there to give an impression.

    And when Clark's father gets swept away in a violent tornado, they pull that cheat on the score where it's all crazy and chaotic and then -- right when he's getting sucked away -- it abruptly goes dead silent, with those impressionistic piano notes.

    I can't stand when the score does that because it denies the audience the full cathartic effect. There's a build-up, climax, crescendo, and *then* the resting / reflective mood. We're right about to experience the climax, and suddenly we're in the resting state...

    They only did it that one time, but it really robbed that key moment of its cathartic force. If they don't want to have a climactic score to echo the action, then don't use any music at all, or use it minimally. That jarring build-up -> resting sequence woke me up from the dream and gave me that "want to slap the fucking alarm clock across the room" feeling.

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  10. "If you haven't seen it yet, the RLM review makes some good points"

    Actually, that review was the one that made me want to go see it. The print / internet reviews seemed a bit weird about the whole lack of joy, humor, romance thing -- y'know, like what were you expecting when you knew Christopher Nolan had a decent influence, and that it was going to be the Dark Knight-ification of the Superman story?

    But that RedLetterMedia one was such an over-the-top pile-on, with such out-of-place screeching laughter, that I knew they were being unfair and/or retarded about it. Usually I really like their reviews, too, but you can tell if someone is veering way off-course.

    Most of it was an amplification of the "Superman, why so noir?" complaints.

    Y'know, like if they released an album full of Duran Duran covers by today's hit groups, I wouldn't expect any of them to sound good at all -- our creative climate and social mood is so polar-opposite of the early '80s that there's no way they could recapture that original style and feeling. I'd be surprised and grateful if even one of them sounded good.

    Same with the modern re-imaginings. Spiderman movies sucked, even though they were generally keeping with our mood -- Spiderman as an emo dope, Mary Jane as an emotionally lifeless chick, and so on. X-Men as emo faggot revenge fantasies. Etc.

    But while those movies reflect the contemporary mood, they don't channel it toward good artistic effect.

    The Dark Knight movies and now this Superman movie take what's available on the creation/production side (including the background social mood), and make a more noirish rendition of stories we'd heard before. They feel very new, though, and work well in themselves.

    Most of their confusion about the plot and motivations of the characters was off too. I think they showed up drunk to the theater, and were clearly drinking during their conversation.

    Just as one example, Mike was confused about the motive for sending the infant Superman away from Krypton -- was it to help preserve his race in a less self-destructive environment, or was it to send a savior figure to a group who needed saving?

    Well, they didn't say anything about saving another group at the beginning, and Jor-El goes through all that trouble to upload the Krypton DNA into the baby, he's our only hope, let's get him out of here before it's too late, etc. Obviously the original motive was to preserve his race in a more hospitable environment.

    Might that bring danger to wherever he landed, as General Zod goes chasing after the baby? Well sure -- but when your whole planet is about to blow up, and this baby is your only hope, you kind of figure that that's a risk you're going to have to take, aware that you're putting some other world in potential danger.

    Jor-El didn't have that "I'm going to send a savior to another group" motive, so it makes sense that he didn't weigh the potential danger to the new, host planet so heavily as preserving his own race when it's on the brink of collapse.

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  11. They made another point about how the endings to the Donner movies are more subdued, like in the second one where Superman bests Lex Luthor and General Zod in a game of wits, as opposed to the Neverending Big Dumb Endings of recent movies.

    Again, I think I prefer my action endings that way too -- something subdued, or a game of cat-and-mouse. The Terminator, Alien, Aliens, Predator, Die Hard, Commando, Ghostbusters, etc.

    For some reason, our current environment can't pull that off, and I don't know why. But that's just a constraint they're going to have to work under. And channel it toward good artistic effect.

    The balls-to-the-walls apocalyptic endings to the Dark Knight movies don't feel like the empty, pointless Big Dumb Endings that you see elsewhere. The protagonists have been developed as all-too-human, and they've been put to an escalating series of tests. This is the be-all end-all of their tests, a real gauntlet -- can they master this one as well?

    In the typical Big Dumb Ending, the characters have been developed up to that point as basically invincible video game characters who have infinite health, or health regeneration, or weak / stupid enemies who they just mow through. Like the Jedi knights mowing through the clone troops in the new Star Wars movies.

    In their cases, the protagonists are never put to any tests because they are designed never to fail. So each "confrontation" with an enemy is really more of a showcase or a demonstration of their invincibility. The ending then serves as the ne plus ultra ballet recital of invincibility, with some throwaway damage dealt to this or that good guy. Still basically invincible, and never in any danger.

    In Man of Steel, it felt more like the Dark Knight movies, where a vulnerable and inexperienced hero has to take on a force way beyond what he's faced up until know. He's mostly been saving people from natural disasters, or getting back at some two-bit redneck punk in a bar, and so on.

    He hasn't even been fighting mighty human forces (organized groups) -- let alone a more advanced one, and with much higher cohesion among themselves. "Donnie, you're outta your element!"

    At the same time, he isn't exactly facing legions of that advanced army, where he'd obviously get creamed. Usually he's "only" fighting Zod or Faora alone, and at times as a team.

    That makes the ending a believable "final test" in a series of escalating tests, neither the empty bombastic showcase ending, nor the implausibly successful underdog ending. It has that final gauntlet feeling to it.

    The action sequences do have a kind of hollow ring to them, like the movements are a bit too swift and video-game-like. Though maybe those were the scenes where Faora was the focus; she's definitely more robotic. Overall they didn't feel pointless.

    Also unlike other Big Dumb Endings -- especially those with deep focus, 3-D, etc. -- there wasn't a ton of clutter on the screen at any given time. Usually Superman and one or two of Zod's group, maybe a handful of human bystanders or army men.

    It wasn't like 5000 different objects all clashing against each other. I think keeping most of the combat hand-to-hand made it a little easier to focus on too, though it did still get blurry at times. I wrote it off as those occasional moments in a fight where both sides are on auto-pilot, and the fight has a frenetic life of its own, before they regain their focus again.

    Projectile weapons, laser beams, etc. -- all those initiators, trajectories, and targets are impossible to keep track off if there are a lot of players.

    And thankfully there was no bullet-time gimmickry, and no abrupt changes of pace, like chaos-chaos-chaos and then -- ohhhh nooooo, sloooooo-moooooo.... psych! chaos chaos chaos again.

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  12. The original Superman was a hardworking everyman who repressed his identity intentionally for the good of humanity. He wasn't an ostracized nerd, though he did work a shit job.

    Superman, unlike other comic superheros, didn't really have any neuroses or social issues he had to struggle with. In fact, I remember, when they made "Superman Returns", the media commenters discussing about how Superman was too normal to appeal to modern audiences.

    But that was the character's appeal. He was just a normal guy, who happened to have superpowers, trying to do what was right. that meant that Superman was more mainstream, more popular with the wider public than with fanboys. For instance, in the "Seinfeld" TV series, the character Jerry is obsessed with Superman, having memoribilia scattered in his apartment. But Jerry is no nerd, being a semi-famous standup comedian with an active social life and dating beautiful women.

    I guess this is why some critics have been so vocal in their hatred of the movie - they were fans of the original Superman, and realized that the filmmakers got the character wrong.

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  13. I knew that the movie was going to be for resentful outcasts when I saw the trailer - "the world wasn't ready".

    you never saw that in 80s superhero movies, like the chris reeves Superman and the Batman with Michael Keaton. In those movies, Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne were trying to live normal lives, but the superhero thing kept interfering. For instance, in Batman, the butler Alfred is always trying to get Michael Keaton's character to get more involved in the social scene. When Bruce Wayne meets Kim Basinger's character, he thinks this is a chance to finally enjoy his life, before the Joker shows up.

    Modern movies are a radical departure. The superheros seem to identify more intensely with the fact that they are screwed up.

    -Curtis

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  14. Spiderman 2 and 3 were better than the first one, because they were made in the wake of 9/11, when people temporarily acted normally.

    Spiderman 3 was maligned by critics, but I thought it was good. It shows Peter Parker becoming arrogant because of his powers, and acting like a hotshot jock. This is portrayed negatively, yet it still touched too many nerves for some fans of the first film. They didn't like seeing spiderman act like the type of guys they hate.

    Spiderman's motivation is also more normal - he is pulled back into the costume because he must take out the man who killed his beloved uncle.

    I guess so many fans of 1990-2013 Superhero movies like the idea of totally escaping their real life identity. 1960-1990 superhero movies, on the other hand, are more about how superheros must prevent their superhero status from crushing their "real life" identity.

    -Curtis

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  15. >dudes and dudettes

    Isn't 'dudak' Polish for city retard? Like 'Polak' for country retard.

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  16. Anonymous said:

    "But that was the character's appeal. He was just a normal guy, who happened to have superpowers, trying to do what was right. that meant that Superman was more mainstream, more popular with the wider public than with fanboys."

    and this

    "I guess this is why some critics have been so vocal in their hatred of the movie - they were fans of the original Superman, and realized that the filmmakers got the character wrong."

    And yet the general audience has responded more positively then the critics.

    I suspect it is because this "superman" is in fact what a normal white guy of his age is now.

    This is a reflection of them, a portrayal of them. There is no normal white guy in the under 30 set that is not saddled with ambivalance toward a culture that on various levels tells him they don't trust him, they are afraid of him, that they don't like him.

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  17. Right, like if part of the point of making the movie is to motivate young or young-ish males to defend or save American society and its customs (the good ones), you can't make it like the Reeve Superman movies -- the audience will know instantly that that's not their world, not the people they'd be saving. Even if they'd enjoy it as a movie.

    And you can't make it all X-Men-y or Spiderman-y, where it's just a teenage reject's revenge fantasy against the popular crowd, only getting revenge by saving them and having them in your debt.

    In order to speak to contemporary American males who are potentially heroic (and not escapist / bitter nerds), you have to acknowledge how difficult the choice would be to defend and save such an alienating and twilight-period society.

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  18. Yeah, that's a good point. I didn't think of that.

    -Curtis

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  19. Very empathetic, Agnostic. The Reeve movies were pretty family-oriented (those types of movies were until Batman; I remember how radical this was at the time, but embraced). It sounds like this one continues the trend of being aimed at teens and young men.
    As such, it makes sense why they went with someone physically more relatable than a Reeve who would be loved by young boys and women.

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  20. Maybe more kid oriented than family oriented (and moms and dads tend to go with kids). You have your superhero comics changing from child oriented to adult and adolescent oriented over time in the period from those Superman to Burton Batmans. So films would track. Part of this was more kids and a younger society in general, back in the 60s - 80s and even the 30s - 50s compared to today.

    That's why the noir of the 1930s and 1940s never would've actually really had a noir superhero as such (even if adults then found juvenile pulps as popular as agnostic suggests, superheros were for children).

    Also plus the CCA comic codes and Hays movie code (reaction to various sadistic violence in 1930s - 1940s comics and 1920s movies respectively), which both oriented violence and adult themes away from media children or impressionable persons might experience.

    The movies code maybe explains a bit more of the difference in movie cultures between mid century, 60s-80s and 90s-10s that isn't explained already by the differences in falling and rising crime, inequality and national eminence (and other linear trends like later marriage etc).

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  21. I'm surprised you don't mention that Superman killed someone. Like Batman's no kill rule, in comic canon it's very very rarely been violated and it's also been very rare or completely absent in other media like movies, radio, tv shows, cartoons etc.

    The reason given for killing Doomsday (who killed him first) was that Doomsday was basically a non-sentient force of nature. There was no reasoning, no madness, no pain, no fear. It was just a killing machine.

    There was another instance early in the history of the comic where he killed another version of Zod from a different universe, but nothing since then until Doomsday.

    For this to show up in a movie is a pretty radical departure from one of the core components that makes Superman Superman. In this respect, the movie out-realisms the Dark Knight movies. Superman has no set core of un-alterable beliefs in this universe. He's a guy saving the world as best he can, and when he has to make a split second decision to save a life, he won't hesitate more than that split second to kill.

    That's not the Superman that we've all grown up with. I don't have a problem with that as I'm not in favor of being wed to canon when it hurts the story, but I can understand when people say they don't recognize this version of Superman.

    A Superman without a no-killing rule is a pretty scary thought. Much of the tension in Superman comics (and even earlier in the movie) revolves precisely around this rule because he's basically a demi-god who has to restrain himself all the time. For the rule to be violated from the get-go in the reboot speaks to an extremely dark interpretation of an all American hero who everybody knows won't kill. It says there are no rules. It says if you push me into a corner and threaten the ones I decide to protect, I will kill you without hesitation to stop you. This isn't your mom and dad's Superman.

    The fact they chose to do this instead of having Zod get sucked back into the phantom zone had to be a major decision. I'm frankly surprised that DC okayed the script with that in there.

    I'm surprised that the killing made it through when Batman didn't kill the Joker in The Dark Knight when the Joker was much less of a sympathetic character than Zod. Zod's flaw was that he was too loyal to his own race (this being a trait bred into him before birth) while Joker was chaotically insane. There was nothing that could redeem the Joker in any conceivable scenario and he was saved from death, but Zod whose sole motivation was the rebirth of his people and in another situation might have been a great friend (as he was to Zor-El) was killed. It's a very peculiar choice, and if there's a sequel this has to be one of the angles it explores or else it risks turning Superman into something of a well intentioned overlord of Earth rather than the protector of truth, justice and the American way.

    The movie seems to say that American exceptionalism is over. It was a pipedream to begin with and now we've woken up.

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