My husband and I went to see Man of Steel when it opened in theaters three weeks ago. I really enjoyed the movie with its grand action sequences and multiple world adventures. I think this movie is the best Superman movie yet and will likely rank high on people’s superhero movie favorites lists for a while. That said though, I have to admit that I like Batman Begins better.
On the ride home from the movie theater (which for us is about 85 miles long), my husband and I discussed the fact that the movie did not have a lot of character depth to it. While that is not necessarily odd for an action flick, I couldn’t help but feel that the movie makers did a disservice to the character of Superman by not allowing the movie to have more “heart”, as I call it. Because I was spoiled with a lot of character depth in the movie Batman Begins and its sequels The Dark Knight and The Dark Night Rises, I was really hoping to see that same approach utilized in Man of Steel, especially since Christopher Nolan was involved with the project.
For me, the storyline of Man of Steel lies less in the coming-of-age tale of Superman and more in the story of how the love and sacrifices of Superman’s two fathers shape him into a superhero. The love of Jor-El demonstrated by sending his baby to earth to avoid extinction is powerfully shown in the film’s beginning and, in many ways, helps to guide the film to its conclusion. The steady love of Jonathan Kent displays through raising and eventually sacrificing himself for a child not his own is even more powerful. Compared to these steady streams of inspiration, Superman’s precious few personal epiphanies are far less exciting.
We have moments where young Clark realizes that he is adopted, but we don’t really see a change in his character in reaction to that. There were indeed parts of the movie in which the audience is introduced to Clark’s/Kal’s character building moments, but those points are shown as tightly-controlled flashbacks to service the present day story rather than being allowed free reign throughout the film. We watched 30 minutes of breathtaking fight scenes in which Superman in all his flying glory goes head to head with his main enemy and knocks over half of downtown Metropolis in the process. Yet we saw a mere 10 minute flashback-scene of the traumatic death of Clark Kent’s earthly father and little explanation of how Clark overcomes the grief and survivor’s guilt associated with that death. In another flashback, Clark gets bullied and never once fights back. You can see the hatred for his tormentors burning in his eyes (and in his crushing grip on the nearest metal object), but he does nothing. Why would a teenage boy—any teenage boy—not at least shove another in pure anger? Why not show the terrible consequence of that encounter gone wrong as the character-building moment in which our hero realizes the terrible potential of his own power and vows then and there to only use his abilities to help others? But, alas, there is no such moment in this movie. The lack of that internal conflict and external aid left me scratching my head.
With every problem Superman faces, he always rises above it with a minimal amount of internal conflict and minimal amount of help from others. Oh, sure, the intrepid reporter Ms. Lois Lane helps out a little, but she feels more like a goofy sidekick than a real love interest. Of course she constantly gets herself stuck as the damsel in distress for most of the movie, which means that rather than really helping Superman protect mankind, she usually manages to distract him from that goal by forcing him to rescue her first and then save everybody else while he’s in the neighborhood. It’s almost as if the movie-makers wanted to thumb their noses at those other superhero movies and say: “Our superhero kicks all of your superheroes’ tails in his sleep!” That is all fine and dandy, but a bit boring after a while.
The overall static feel of Superman’s character led my husband and me on a long discussion of movies with true “heart.” When I say a movie with heart, what I mean is a movie in which the main character begins the story with a very large disadvantage that he or she has to overcome. The problem is too big to undertake on the character’s own, so the character has to reach out for help and encouragement from others to overcome that disadvantage. Most stories use this idea to a certain extent, but the movies with true heart absolutely depend on the relationships between the characters to push each individual to overcome the odds. These are movies that are very powerful because the characters in them go from being unsure of themselves to becoming empowered in some way. Many of these stories are not “action flicks”, but usually involve more subtle drama. However a few movies stand out in my mind which satisfy my need for deep story telling combined with some wonderful fight scenes. To that end, here is a list of some of my favorites:
High Action with Heart
Lord of the Rings: Fellowship if the Ring
Pirates of the Carribean: At World’s End
High Drama with Heart
The Blind Side
The King’s Speech
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