Man of Steel - Make It Better

Man of Steel was great, but it could also be better! On this week's podcast, Daryl and Jay each offer 3 changes that would make Man of Steel better. And below, Ashley Pauls offers a third perspective! What do you think?

Daryl and Jay ALSO have a 4th change they'd make to make to Man of Steel better. It's available on Patreon for our supporters:

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For better or worse, “Man of Steel” set the stage and defined the tone and style of Warner Bros. and DC Comics’ cinematic universe (a project that, so far, has experienced somewhat inconsistent levels of success). Although “Man of Steel” received a mixed reaction from fans and critics, I happen to feel it’s a better film than people sometimes give it credit for. The movie has some powerful themes about fatherhood and legacy, and of course the classic “with great power comes great responsibility” superhero dilemma. Still, the film does have a few flaws — the same type of flaws that unfortunately have continued to plague DC films.

Here are the three things I would change to make “Man of Steel” an even stronger film and perhaps have set the DC cinematic universe on a steadier course.

#1: Lighten the tone (but not too much)

There have already been plenty of debates about the overall tone of the DC cinematic universe, with some fans arguing that the initial movies (aside from “Wonder Woman”) were too dark and grim. Warner Bros. obviously tried to “fix” this in “Justice League,” though the end result was a disjointed, Frankenstein mashup of the styles of two very different directors.

I don’t mind the DC cinematic universe taking on a darker tone, especially since it’s one way to differentiate it from the more “quippy” Marvel Cinematic Universe. The DC cinematic universe needs to feel like its own, unique world that isn’t just a slightly altered copy of certain other big-budget franchises. There’s definitely nothing wrong with a bit of grit and grime in superhero films; some of our generation’s most respected superhero movies — Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, for example — went to some very dark places (and were better for it). In our postmodern world, a squeaky-clean hero with a too-overpowering sense of optimism would feel too trite.

However, a tad more “lightness” might have made Superman’s character just a *little* more relatable. I think that’s one of the things “Justice League” did well, in that it let Superman smile and show a little warmth. I liked that “Man of Steel” depicted Superman struggling with whether or not he wanted to embrace his destiny as a superhero, and it’s always good to see a superhero film that dares to reflect on the moral implications of having superpowers (a discussion that was continued in the underrated “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice”).

Still, Superman needed to feel just a tad more human, and I think either the director or the script was holding Henry Cavill back (he got to show off his more fun, charismatic side in the also underrated “Man from U.N.C.L.E.” — seriously, if you haven’t seen Cavill in “Man from U.N.C.L.E.,” go watch it now). Clark Kent spent all those years growing up with down-to-earth, human parents, and I think his upbringing should have influenced his character depiction more. Overall, the film could have done more to emphasize Superman’s legacy as a symbol of light and hope.

#2: Tone down the CGI

I love big-budget special effects. There’s something truly special about sitting in a darkened theater and watching amazing things happen on the big screen that could never occur in real life. Our modern superhero films wouldn’t be possible without CGI, and when done well, these visual effects can transport us to exciting new worlds and present us with jaw-dropping action sequences that stretch the imagination.

But there needs to be a balance, I think, between practical effects/sets and the CGI, and overall the DC cinematic universe has swung too far towards the CGI end of the spectrum. If you fill the screen with too much CGI, no matter how realistic or expensive these visual effects are, the story can start to feel a little “fake.” I apologize for jumping franchises here, but as an example, I think the Star Wars sequel films have done a great job using practical effects and real locations and then “seasoning” them with CGI. It makes the whole film — story, characters, etc. — feel more grounded and realistic.

If “Man of Steel” had toned down the CGI just a bit, the story and characters might have come across as a little more warm and real. The film’s themes also might not have gotten lost in the bombastic final fight sequence, either. I love lots of action in superhero films, but there comes a point when all the punches, CGI, and blur of motion become too much, and “Man of Steel” definitely suffers from this a bit, especially in the final act.

#3: Superman vs. General Zod... how should this fight have ended?

One of the biggest points of contention with “Man of Steel” is the ending, where Superman is fighting famed nemesis General Zod and decides to kill him by snapping his neck. Some fans did not like this portrayal of Superman as a seemingly cold-blooded killer and felt it was not true to the character.

I actually go back and forth on this one. On the one hand, General Zod is definitely a bad guy who has a lot of power to do some really destructive things, endangering the future of the human race. He had to be stopped, and so Superman stopped him — permanently. However, I can also sympathize with fans who thought the ending to this fight was too dark and violent for Superman’s character.

After seeing both “Batman v. Superman” and “Justice League,” I do wish the final fight in “Man of Steel” had ended differently, without Superman killing Zod so violently (and without so much death and destruction in general — seriously, that fight had A LOT of collateral damage). Batman is the character in these films that is supposed to operate in more of a moral gray area. He skirts closer to the darkness and is overall a more brooding and violent character. I think it’s better to have Superman as a contrast to that, to be more of a symbol of light and hope, as referenced earlier.

Perhaps in “Man of Steel,” Superman could have found a way to take Zod captive instead, and this could have set a slightly different tone for Superman’s character in the later movies. Or, maybe they’re fighting and Zod ends up making a mistake that results in him being partially responsible for his own death. Anyway, it is interesting to ponder how “Batman v. Superman” (and even “Justice League”) might have gone differently, if “Man of Steel” had ended in an alternate way.


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