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Sunday, 16 June 2013

Man-Child of Steel.

This isn't gonna be a review so much as a written depiction of my gradual descent into a nervous breakdown while watching Man of Steel -- an experience I shared with the two five-year-olds sitting in the row in front of me. Definitely introduce your children to Superman via this movie, because it contains all sorts of child-friendly features! Such as a childbirth scene, Superman snapping a dude's neck in the middle of the vaporized ruins of Metropolis, and a complete lack of humour or a sense of fun. (HAHAHA NO SPOILERS THOUGH LOL no.)
Everyone spends the entire time stating the obvious. I'm not joking. 80% of the dialogue in this movie is like a masterclass in how to break the first law of writing: "Show, Don't Tell". Before anyone does anything, they tell everyone what they're about to do. And once they've done it, someone else explains what just happened. Sample scene:
"I'm very strong, and have no morals!" growled Zod. "I don't care about anything except Krypton!"

"But I will stop you," Superman replied. "Because I grew up on Earth. I'm going to defeat you!"

Superman punched Zod. Zod punched Superman. "Oh my god!" screamed a nameless extra. "They just punched each other! They are both aliens!" 
"I hate both of them," said another extra. "Because aliens are a new and confusing thing, and we humans are afraid of things we don't understand."
Then a building fell and crushed all the extras, killing them and everyone they knew. Sadly, Superman did not know or care about this, because he was busy listening to someone explain why Zod was a very dangerous man who needed to be stopped.

The worst part was that it wasn't even expository dialogue. It was completely unnecessary, because even the traumatised five-year-olds in the audience could understand that the bad guys were evil murderers, and the big scary spaceship was dangerous. I'd like to imagine that this was an homage to vintage comics when everyone explained everything in their speech bubbles, to make up for the limitations of having to tell an awesome superhero story in eight pages and three colours. But no. It was just deeply, deeply stupid dialogue. 
Superman has no personality. The two things you need to know about Superman's origins in this movie are as follows:
  1. He's the first natural-born Kryptonian in centuries, and therefore the only Kryptonian who isn't genetically engineered to play a specific role in society. In other words, his parents created him as an avatar of free will.
  2. On Earth, his purpose is to be a leader and a role-model to humans.
Man of Steel's Superman is even more Jesus-y than usual, to the extent that it gets kind of embarrassing. Like in the scene where he (INEXPLICABLY) goes to a priest for advice, and there's a giant glowing Jesus right behind him. Or when he floats into space in the shape of a Crucifix. Of course, it isn't really a problem for Superman to be Jesus-y, because that's kind of his thing. It's more that they really, really don't need to hammer the point home like that. WE KNOW. WE KNOW HE'S JESUS. HIS FATHER SENT HIM TO EARTH TO SAVE US AND TEACH US A BETTER WAY OF LIVING. PLEASE STOP POINTING IT OUT. Particularly since, while there are a whole bunch of allusions to Jesus, Superman's behaviour isn't terribly godlike. Like that one time he kills a guy. Or obliterates half of Metropolis while needlessly fighting Zod. Or fails to make any life choices for himself, like an adult.
In Man of Steel, Clark Kent is a likeable enough guy, but he really... doesn't... do anything. For a bastion of free will and leadership, he sure doesn't make very many decisions. Or even give the impression of thinking about anything at all. Instead, he passively does what other people tell him to do. As a child he takes Jonathan Kent's advice and as an adult he takes Jor-El's advice, but at no point does he ever formulate his own moral code or mission for life. He's a Super Man-Child.

As an origin story, Man of Steel is total garbage because there is just no character development at all. Instead of actively rebelling against Jonathan Kent -- or, indeed, going the "I don't want to be a hero" route and then changing his mind, like Peter Parker -- his journey from "nice young guy with a secret" to "nice young alien alien superhero with a secret" is smooth and conflict-free. Even his anonymous gap-year (with obligatory cameos from Angst Beard and Blue-Collar Job) is free from the kind of learning experiences we see in the Wolverine and Batman movies. In a film where so much emphasis is put on the role of free will, he comes across as a bizarrely passive protagonist.

Krypton makes no sense. Even taking into account the fact that Krypton is a decaying society run by traditionalist morons, it's still difficult to understand why anything is the way it is. Yeah, the Vulcan high council has mined the planet's core to the extent that it blows up and kills everyone, but how... does all the genetic engineering stuff work? Like, if you're gonna design some people to be worker ants and some to be soldiers, why would you engineer the soldiers to be immoral, psychopathic killing machines? Wouldn't it make more sense for soldiers to be tactical, logical and highly moral, so as to avoid, you know, highly-trained killing sprees? Also, WHY DOES KRYPTON EVEN HAVE A MILITARY? They're ruled by a single government, apparently have no outside enemies, and their empire is shrinking inwards rather than expanding. I DON'T UNDERSTAAAAND.

Genetically engineeried predestination is something that works as a science-fiction thought experiment, but is absolute trash garbage if you try to apply it to a real-world setting -- even if the "real world" is an alien planet. It could probably work if the genetically engineered people were a downtrodden underclass, but if they're leaders, scientists, warriors? THIS COULD NEVER HAPPEN. Not unless you actually removed everyone's free will, which just... wouldn't work. That's not a thing you could do, and still turn out characters like Zod, Jor-El, Lara, and the councillors. Instead you'd have a race of mindless slaves, run by genetically engineered "wise overlords", which is patently not the case here, because all the people in charge are idiots. Man of Steel's Krypton was a poorly-organised, science-phobic Avatar/Vulcan crossover planet that nobody ever wanted or asked for.
Even Kryptonian designs don't make any sense. Lara wears a flowing medieval gown at all times, including during childbirth. Everything everywhere is made from polished marble, and looks about as comfortable as a refrigerator. The only way to access stuff on the space ships is by plugging in a USB stick. And don't even get me started on the Kryptonian military armour, which is covered in about 400 extraneous spines that will catch on literally everything and turn the wearer into one of those deer who get their antlers caught in a tree and then die of starvation.
Most noticeably, the armour has a weird, rigid collar that makes it impossible for anyone to comfortably turn their heads. I'm pretty sure the reason why the Jor-El/Zod fight scene at the beginning had such shaky cinematography was because if they zoomed out and focussed properly, we'd be able to see that the actors could barely move in that armour.

The fight scenes are nonsense. All superhero movies have to end in a big fight scene, so it's easy to fall into the trap of just escalating a bunch of explosions until you reach the end. So while I do enjoy action movies, I tend to find "final battle" scenes in superhero movies to be pretty dull -- with the exception of The Avengers. The final battle in the Avengers went on for half an hour but was still entertaining because each of the characters had an interesting role to play, and it was full of jokes and snappy dialogue. Unfortunately, there are no jokes or snappy dialogue in the entirety of Man of steel, never mind the fight scenes.
Logistically speaking, the extended final battle sequence in this movie made no sense at all. From an ethical and strategic standpoint, every one of Superman's decisions were a nightmare. Most of the fights took place in heavily populated areas and he made no attempt to, you know, fly Zod out into the desert or something, where he couldn't raze any more skyscrapers to the ground. Seriously. SO MANY PEOPLE DIED IN THIS MOVIE. And in really unnecessary ways.

Spider-Man and The Avengers both have major fight scenes in inner-city areas, but that's because Spider-Man and the Avengers have to defend the city. Superman is in the unique position of being powerful enough to at least try to move the fight somewhere safer, like space, or the middle of the ocean. In Man of Steel, Superman is fighting Zod because... well, Zod Is Bad. So they have to punch each other a lot. But once the spaceship has been destroyed, there's definitely no good reason why they'd still be fighting in the middle of the city. So why do they keep going? For hours and hours? Sorry, Metropolis. RIP.
For a guy who usually seems ridiculously nice and caring (Henry Caville's Superman is great boyfriend material, if you overlook the part where he snapped a guy's neck), he is oddly callous about the vast number of civilians who die during the course of this movie. As are the audience, because the film never makes an effort to illustrate the real, human casualties of Zod's attack. Instead, characters just sort of... talk about it. Because that's what people do in this movie. They tell each other really obvious things, but totally fail to illustrate or express anything on a deeper level. Which is more or less the opposite of what you want to be doing when you make a film.

Man of Steel is far from groundbreaking, but the movie it most reminded me of was Thor. A really, really bad version of Thor. In Thor, the main character goes through some awesome character development, changing from a well-meaning spoiled brat into a sensible, adult warrior. In Man of Steel, Superman is sent to Earth by his father (like Thor) and ends up fighting people from his home planet on the streets of smalltown America (like Thor), but there the resemblance ends. We never see him struggle with his heritage, and he never really learns anything or comes up against a challenge more complicated than the physical fight between him and Zod. The whole thing was framed as a serious, grittier version of Superman, but in the end it far less intelligent and emotionally complex than the "lighter" movies of the '70s.
To cap off this semi-coherent rant, I thought I'd mention that there were a couple of things I did like. In no particular order:
  1. Lois Lane. SHE WAS AWESOME. I can't believe that Zach Snyder and Chris Nolan teamed up to create a movie starring a dynamic, interesting female character in one of the lead roles.
  2. Perry White.
  3. The hilarious casting of about a million "hey, it's that guy!" actors from Battlestar Galactica, The West Wing, Dollhouse, etc. 
  4. Jor-El's Kryptonian dragon thing. Really, just Jor-El in general. Is Russell Crowe's new hobby just taking roles where he's unintentionally hilarious all the way through? My favourite part was when he was pointing out directions to Lois by materialising in front of her every five steps. How was it that "Jor-El is a holagram" was instantly understood by everyone, but things like "We're in danger because someone is shooting at us!" had to be loudly and repeatedly explained by multiple people all the way through??
  5. The final scene where Lois says "Welcome to the Planet", ie the only funny or charming line in the entire movie.
  6. The fact that we now know that as well as traditionally using his baby blanket as a cape, Superman actually IS fighting in his underwear. Because that whole body-suit thing is literally Kryptonian underwear. 
Postscript: Most unintentionally funny moment in the movie: When, standing in the ruins of central Metropolis, surrounded by (presumably) the corpses of thousands of civilians crushed by buildings needlessly destroyed by Superman and Zod, someone stood up and said loudly, "He saved us!"

37 comments:

  1. I also thought Lois Lane was great, but her best line was when she shouted, "It's supposed to go in all the way!" Hahaha

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  2. I'm glad my friends and I skipped this movie and got cake instead. O_o

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  3. Thanks for the brutally honest review! Looks like I'll be skipping MoS and going to see Iron Man 3 again instead.

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  4. It's as bad as I feared. Bless you for seeing it and taking one for the team, as it were.

    I'm very pleased Lois is awesome, because I had my doubts about Amy Adams, much as I love her. All I want is raven-haired, snarky Lois and a sweet but witty Clark… okay, all I want is The Adventures of Lois and Clark. At all times.

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  5. I regret buying a T-shirt especially for this movie.

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  6. But wait, isn't this directed by the same Zach Snyder who made The Watchmen entirely about a twelve-foot long blue penis?

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  7. ✖ √Čva ✖17 June 2013 at 10:33

    Oh god, thanks for this review. I already read plenty of bad about this movie, but this was the final nail in the coffin. I didn't intend to watch it in cinema, but now I won't even go for the DVD.

    I'm gonna patiently wait for "Thor: The Dark World" as the next awesome superhero film :)

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  8. Beryl Autumnramble17 June 2013 at 12:50

    I think I'll buy me and Mako T-shirts especially for this movie. There will be "MST3K" on them.

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  9. This review-rant is a great critique of MoS. I definitely agree with everything you said. Admittedly I thought the imagery of the film was pretty and a great sight (I saw it in IMAX 3D) so I give credit for that effort. I hope that a lot of the faults in this film will be fixed in the next film, but who knows. Anyways, thanks for the great writing! This definitely made my day.

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  10. i've never seen lois and clark, and pretty much everything anyone ever says makes me really want to ;)

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  11. YES. THOR 2. BE GOOD PLEASE.

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  12. thanks! :) i thought the movie was fairly good-looking, i guess, but i mostly attribute that to money? like, once you reach a certain amount of budget, your cgi more or less HAS to be awesome. but tbh there were moments where the cinematography seemed kind of a mess to me (as a complete novice re: camera stuff, that is)

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  13. ... good point, haha

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  14. your main point about this movie--that superman had NO character development--is exactly what my problem has always been with superman ever since i was a little girl. He's *boring* and he never ever changes at all. he's like a robot version of justice--there's never any question about whether he'll do what's "right" in the end because unlike bruce banner or tony stark or bruce wayne he operates within a really rigid moral framework. The only real suspense there ever is with his character comes because OH NO KRYPTONITE! now he's weakened and he can't do this super strong thing--oh wait THANK GOD someone got rid of the kryptonite and superman can go back to being *yawn* superstrong.

    it infuriates me and has for decades.

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  15. A rigid moral framework can be really fun -- see her review of Judge Dredd -- my problem with Superman was always his invincibility. Where's the suspense in that?

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  16. As a hardcore Superman fan, and someone who loved Smallville, this movie had me pointing out what they did wrong more than actually getting sucked into the 'plot'. I think the money would have been better spent on a Smallville movie, as far as I'm concerned, the only great Supermen were played by Christopher Reeve and Tom Welling.

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  17. what were your thoughts on that "leave me to die son, although you are absolutely capeable of saving and have shown your superpowers to people before"?

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  18. I couldn't watch it to the end, and I LOVE staring at Henry Cavill... but that's what gif sets are for, right? I agree with all the points you make. In the end it was just so utterly BORING.

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  19. (possible spoilers, assuming anyone cares)
    I also agree with many points of this, I mostly just sat back and enjoyed the ride, but with the long winded final battle I started off thinking "Okay, fine, battle it out." Then it went to, "Is this necessary?" and finally ended with "Now you are just pissing me off! You broke all the shit, and then somehow found more to break! STOP!" Not to mention Zod spending half his time complaining how long it will take him to learn all that Clark did, and it took him, what, 30 minutes to master flying? And why not just learn to adapt to Earth and be a god among humans? Instead you decide to make yourself weaker? Zod, get your priorities straight!

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  20. Movies are like food, or more specifically, the taste of food. Some foods many people enjoy, while others only a few enjoy them. One person might tell you a certain food is "delicous", while another person says its simply "alright", while yet another person says its awful. The question is who do you believe? You can narrow it down by thinking about which person you know best (friend vs stranger), whose opinion you value most, and/or which person you think is most like you.

    Or you know, you could simply try the food out for yourself and maybe even like it (or not) its entirely up to you.

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  21. I just wanted to say that I liked your comment the best. It was very un-biased and straight forward. And I have to say I agree with you. There are some things one person will fall in love with, while others will look at the same thing and just say what the hell was that. It depends on each individual person and what their personal likes, dislikes and interests are. But I am a big fan of, try it out for yourself before making a final judgment. I myself try and uphold myself to that standard. And if I find myself judging before I know the facts, I actively take a step back and re evaluate. Because you never really know, you may go your whole life thinking you despise something, and when you finally try it, it could turn out to be the best thing that happened to you. Or not. To quote you Steve: "it's entirely up to you.":

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  22. Ahahaha, these things you have written here were my thoughts while watching the movie, with the addition of "why? Why??WHY??" scattered here and there.


    And I loved the Avengers final battle. Literally.


    and umh. sorry for my bad English.

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  23. It was really hard to stop laughing throughout this movie, because everyone in the theater WAS JUST SO INTO IT, AND I WAS LIKE DOES NO ONE SEE HOW UNINTENTIONALLY FUNNY THIS IS??!?!

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  24. So much truth it hurts

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  25. You want a funny, witty comedy with epic action scenes? Wow, there are a million Marvel movies out there for you to watch. What, you really think 6 superheroes can FIGHT AN ARMY WITHOUT CASUALTIES? Good thing all those bad guys weren't targeting civilians at all. Superman, by himself, had to fight three other people with the same powers as him. You think they're gonna play nice and go fight in the desert because Superman asks?


    Are you pissed off that Superman snapped a guy's head because he was about to kill innocents? Tell that to Tony Stark killing all those terrorists, Captain American with those Nazis. What makes you think him killing Zod is any more worse? Because he used his bare hands instead of a gun?


    No character development? Yeah well, what about Batman? His parents die, then he's basically gritty and angsty throughout his trilogy. Captain America? What, his transformation was the only change to his all-American charm. Tony Stark is the same exact character after Afghanistan, though anxiety attacks was the new change in Iron Man 3. Superheroes, after their initial reason for becoming a superhero, usually do not change or develop at all. Oh and by the way, his character development from childhood to adulthood was there, it was just faint. His flashbacks when he wanted to hurt the people that hurt him, how he wanted to fight back, how he and his father constantly wondered what kind of person he wanted to be. No character development? He chose not to be a deviant and exact revenge. I'm glad he didn't change.



    This review makes me mad because the reviewer wonders why this isn't a cookie-cutter Marvel movie with witty characters and funny jokes surrounding a charming superhero. Maybe because Superman is actually focused on trying to save a city instead of making jokes. And he doesn't save everyone, just like the Avengers didn't save everyone. But this movie made you feel the loss and destruction, unlike Marvel movies. So this won't be a movie I'll watch 4 times in the theaters (I really loved Avengers that much), but only this movie and The Dark Knight made me feel loss and sadness and other emotions that I will never see in Marvel movies.

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  26. There were a lot of things logistically wrong with Man of Steel, or any action movie for that matter. However, the goal of most films it to get the audience emotionally engaged and in particularly to root for the main character. I was personally attached to the struggles of the main character, Superman, and thus was willing to forgive everything else. I just wanted him to win. Comic book heroes are all about ordinary people (well except super man, but the boy hood pain made him human for us) being given the power to fight back. When ever I hear or read a rant against Man of Steel I immediately assume that the person didn't really connect with the story, or the characters emotionally and thus had time to analysis all that you have pointed out. For example, I LOVE Armageddon because I had space shuttle wall paper on my wall as a kid. I can think of nothing better than filling shuttle with all my best friends, rocketing around the moon at 22,000 miles and hour and saving the world. The rest is just window dressing.

    With regards to the destruction of the city in Man of Steel. I've said the following quite a few times. Superman was getting his ass kicked for most of the movie. When one is on the defensive you don't set the terms of the fight.

    PS. How did you get these awesome comment icons down there for FB and Twitter? I have a football blog and website. Would like to do the same.

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  27. Thor looks awful. Other than Natalie Portman I thought the first one was terrible. If you have dark side to you, or enjoyed darker movies that don't paint the world as rosey and warm go see this movie.

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  28. I saw it twice. The music is awesome

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  29. I love when mankind's shit gets broken.

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  30. you didn't connect with being utterly powerless as a child yet having more power than everyone around you? Watching his father die knowing he could save him, but not...

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  31. I don't expect this film to be hilariously witty at all or full of comedic moments, but if you're gonna make a film for people to watch, perhaps one where characters spent pretty much the whole film frowning and delivering stilted obvious dialogue isn't the one for people to see.

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  32. And no, before you blab on about Marvel movies not having any consequences or weight just because they didn't spent the whole movie with a serious face and being super serious about everything - civilians did die, we are shown people at memorials, but at the same time, we are also shown each Avenger playing a specific role in containing the enemy force at a certain radius and actively trying to get civilians out of the line of fire - in Man of Steel, we see nothing of much civilians being helped until the last moment in which Superman kills Zod, we see civilians trapped in buildings, we see civilians saving themselves, we see diners getting blown up, buildings with people being rammed into, in fact, there is even a scene where Zod and Superman are fighting outside of the city and then Superman proceeds to fly back into another part of the city that was unharmed and cleared out of the fighting and goes to fight there, it wasn't even Zod going there, it was Superman essentially leading Zod to some new buildings to smash into. And as for killing Zod, I get it and I don't really care, but if you're gonna portray Superman as this bastion of greatness and light and savior and all pure perfect, murder and the death of civilians is perhaps not the best way to show that - all the people will see is the bad guys are here because of Superman, this destruction is brought on because of him, so why should people trust him at all? In Marvel's world, no one is expecting Tony Stark to be perfect hero or play by the rules, he's not this bastion of Jesus Savior, Stark is about as messed up as a rich playboy can be so him going into killer mode on terrorists, hardly something new to expect. And Captain America was a soldier, the world may have seen him painted as this perfect soldier hero propaganda but he was a soldier who was all too familiar with killing, a fact missed by no one and commented on many times. And as for character development, as we see something, we see a glimpse into his childhood, but perhaps the film would have been better spent showing his journey, showing what he learns and how he becomes the hero rather than just suddenly he's the hero

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  33. And superheroes can develop and have multiple layers of growth even after their initial change into their superhero status - Batman was an angry kid who learned to control his anger and channel it into something good before he became tired and exhausted and was close to giving up the cowl, that is character development and transformation through multiple films - Captain America was a idealistic good hearted kid given a turn to be a super soldier, but even he had to deal with losses and basically channeling his need for revenge after the loss of Bucky into something positive, and in the Avengers we see him focusing on the mission instead of what he's lost - Tony Stark's character development has changed so much, if you think he hasn't, if you think charming witty guy is all Tony Stark is, then perhaps you don't know the character as much as you think, we first see Stark as self centered, we see him living his rich life status quo not giving a damn, but after Afghanistan we see him opening his eyes to what he was wasting his life away with and proceeds to change that, we see him change his company, we see him face old demons and deal with death, in Avengers we see him learning to be part of a team, learning to belong to something more than himself, that he can get along with these people, that he cares about people more than he lets on, and we see him grow up, become more mature, more responsible, more aware of how his actions effect others and learning to apologize for them and rectify his mistakes, we also see him learning to compromise instead of just hiding and not talking and be obsessed just about his machines - and if you think Marvel movies don't show emotions or loss or dealing with destruction, then perhaps you are just being a shallow watcher - I'm sorry but just because everything is exploding on a screen doesn't make it emotional, it doesn't mean the movie suddenly has meaning, I'm sure Transformers or Expendables or Red has more explosions and destruction dealt and shown, but much of that is shallow and not emotional - we don't even see the effect it has on a city, we just see things blowing up but there are no consequences to them. The movie ends with Clark coming to Daily Planet and everything looks perfectly fine, there is no mass panic, there is no memorials, there is no sadness, just Clark starting his new day. We don't see a city rebuilding, everything is just back to normal, so really, please don't act like death and destruction equates to emotions and meaningful feelings because it doesn't, especially if you show nothing of the aftermath - in Avengers we see the city mourning, we see reconstruction, and we see also how people have hope and faith because of the Avengers, because the Avengers were actually trying to save the city and keeping civilians out of the line of fire by drawing attentions of the enemy - even in Amazing Spider-Man, we see death and consequences being dealt with, we see the father of a child Peter saves coming to his aid at the end, we see innocent lives being saved and cured - those are scenes that are meaningful, that sees consequences and effect, but we see none of that in Man of Steel, yes it is sad Superman kills Zod, but whatever happens in between that and Clark coming to the Planet isn't seen at all. We don't see the city's damage, we don't see how people cope, people become nothing but human punching bags and needless collateral damage.

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  34. Have you seen the original Superman? Because as much as I like Amy Adams, her Lois was practically a cipher in comparison to Margot Kidder's Lane. I haven't seen the old Superman movies since I was maybe eleven and I'm still amazed at how the depth and hilariously heartfelt humanity of the old Lois has yet to be surpassed in the current deluge of superhero movies.

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  35. Brilliant post. Despite all the detractors yelling about this, Film Crit HULK totally agrees with you: http://badassdigest.com/2013/07/18/a-few-clarifications-on-hulks-man-of-steel-article/

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  36. Sorry for the late reply. This is a message from me from 2013. That was a bit ago, so the contents may be a bit distorted. Anyway, I was here then, but the response wasn't ready. Thanks for maintaining this preserve for me and my colleagues, who are spam bots, to poke around in.

    As for the post, something about it is surprising and makes an impression on me. I was not aware of the existence of this movie before reading this post, and I was never anywhere near a set of circumstances that might have conspired to have me willingly or unwillingly see this. But I reading this I am like, damn, this person is smart and I am enjoying thinking about this movie with them.

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