Man of Steel: Crafting the Average Story

In the previous discussion of antagonists, there were a few take-home points.

  • The villain or antagonist should be specifically geared towards the protagonist.  The antagonist should hit the hero in his weakest points.
  • The side characters should serve to highlight the moral dilemma of the main character.
  • The main character should want the same thing as the antagonist, leading to them facing off against each other.
  • The story should be about what the protagonist is willing to sacrifice in order to get his goal.

Man of Steel is somewhere between average and awful, but mostly it’s just confusing.  Part of the reason for it is the script was developed by three different talents:  David Goyer, Christopher Nolan, and Zack Snyder.  Goyer and Nolan were working on different projects at the time and did the initial collaboration.  Snyder came in at the end and reworked the film.

In addition to the problem of having three completely different creative minds behind the film, there was a lawsuit about character rights between Shuster and Siegel’s heirs and DC Comics.  The film was rushed to get it done before the final verdict, which happened in 2014 when the Supreme Court declined to reverse a lower court’s ruling that a previous settlement between DC and Shuster & Siegel’s heirs in 1992 gave rights to DC Comics.

Unlike The Dark Knight, which has a screenplay available, there is no screenplay available for Man of Steel.  One feels that this is because there’s some embarrassment over it.  Without visuals, the dialogue is groan-worthy in numerous places and bizarre in others.

The other difference is between how Nolan directs and writes films vs. how Snyder does.  Nolan uses comic books as a template for movies, but feels no need to follow them exactly.  It’s more accurate to say Nolan is inspired by comic books rather than adapts them.  Snyder is the opposite.  He tries to follow the comic books, even when it makes no sense to do so, and seems to completely misunderstand the character.

I.e. Superman isn’t there to save humanity.  He’s there to protect humanity.  That’s according to Mark Waid, a guy who wrote Superman comics.

The other big difference in directing is that Nolan always sets up everything that happens in his films.  Snyder doesn’t set up anything, instead preferring iconic still images over coherent scenes.  Nolan directs scenes while Snyder forces scenes to fit a final image.  In trope parlance, Snyder is always looking for the moment of awesome.

crx6vwnwiaanrdqDoes this sequence make any sense?  Nope.  But it looks cool right?  Superman is Jesus.  Do you get it?

Because the scenes are not coherent, Superman often looks inept, Lois Lane appears for no reason in multiple scenes, and Cavill looks bored the entire movie.

why-we-won-t-get-a-man-of-steel-2-anytime-soon-656294Cavill always looks somewhere between bored and confused in this movie.  But he looks really good in that outfit right?

In a Nolan film, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.  In a Snyder film, the whole is always less than the sum of the parts.

The main antagonist is Zod.  The main conflict between antagonist and protagonist is that they should want the same thing.  Zod and Superman don’t want the same thing, and there isn’t really any reason for them to.  Zod also has nothing unique to challenge Superman with, he’s essentially the same as Superman.  Zod is an average antagonist against Superman.

The supporting characters simply exist, but they do not add any dimension to the conflicts that Superman faces.

Another problem pointed out by Folding Ideas is that the editing is wrong.  There’s two types of edits: Momentary and Structural.  Momentary cuts are the shot-to-shot cuts.  These cuts are ok in the film.  Then there’s the structural cuts used to establish the entire tone of the movie.

The structural cuts are all wrong because they give away the moral conflict in the beginning.

In addition, there’s this little gem of an interview with the editor Brenner.

However, Brenner also makes this interesting observation: “Zack knew that on ‘Man of Steel‘ we addressed a lot of script questions in the film editing. So he was confident we could do it again.” I’m not sure that method has quite worked out…

So, this is a little film tip.  You don’t want to try fixing script mistakes in the editing room.  Editors try to reveal the story in the script, they aren’t there to make the script coherent.  If you want to see an example, watch the editor for the Prequels.

After the screening with George Lucas, he says that the movie has too many plotlines to wrap up that don’t make any sense.   But there’s nothing he can do from an editing standpoint, he can only drop the scenes or try to make them coherent.  He looks like a guy who knows this is what his name is going to be attached to and sees his career ending.

Now this did work out for one famous movie, the original GhostBusters.  But that’s because the writers were also the actors, and they all had a background in improvisation.  Paul Feig tried to redo this improv based approach in the reboot/soft remake/whatever it was.  It didn’t work.


Krypton:  An entire 20 minute sequence that you can cut and not ruin any of the movie

The first sequence is a long sequence that shows Kal-El/Superman (Cavill) being born while Krypton is dying.  Jor-El (Russell Crowe) wants the council of Krypton to go to “look to the stars” and try to build a new home World.  He says that there are multiple inhabitable planets.  He’s right and this is going to create a problem in the future. “Harvesting the Core” has lead to the planet imploding.  No idea what any of this means, but sure.

So the Council has decided rather than evacuate the planet, they’re going to sit on it and let the species go extinct.  Sure.

Zod interrupts the proceeding to tell everyone that he’s in control since the Council is doing nothing.  Jor-el says that even though he completely agrees with Zod, he’s going to oppose them.  Here, Zod exposits that Jor-El should join him and his plan is to use the Codex to remove the bad bloodlines.  The dialogue is all high melodrama here, a recurring theme for a “realistic” movie.

Zod:  We’ll sever… …the degenerative bloodlines that led us to this state.
Jor-el: And who will decide which bloodlines survive, Zod? You?

The “Codex” is apparently the DNA of the Kryptonians.  But how is Jor-El the father of Superman?  It later on says that the Codex determines what someone is upon birth, i.e. soldier, scientist, etc.  Zod thinks that breeding a bunch of soldiers would have stopped the destruction of the planet.  Presumably, he would have bred more scientists, and since Jor-el manages to kill a dozen soldiers easily, it doesn’t really seem to make much difference.

How are the Kryptonians becoming degenerate if there’s only one bloodline?  They’re all pre-made, so what is Zod talking about?  These are questions a good writer would try to answer.

Presumably Superman/Jor-El is Jor-el’s son  is also a scientist, given that he’s “Krypton’s first natural birth in centuries”.  We also learn that “And he will be free”.  Like, given that he was a natural birth, how would he not have been free, since he wouldn’t have been pre-programmed? These genetically engineered soldiers aren’t very good, since Superman beats Zod and the other soldiers as well.  So none of this makes any sense, it’s all hand-waving.

Minus this space racism, we all know that Zod is right . It’s hard to understand exactly what situation Jor-el thinks would be the right time to oppose the government since the World is literally exploding around him.   No matter.  We have things to do.

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If you’ve forgotten, this is the Codex.  What the hell is harvesting it supposed to mean?  It’s a skull.

Zod (Michael Shannon) takes Jor-el into custody.  Jor-el escapes rather easily from a bunch of soldiers even though he’s supposed to be a scientist (plot) and is warned that he’s not supposed to steal the codex.  Then he gets shot at with gigantic explosives, even though he’s holding the Codex that’s supposed to be the future  of the planet that Zod is after.

He sends Superman off with the Codex and Zod is captured.  The Council then decides:

Council:  General Zod… for the crimesof murder and high treason……the Council has sentenced youand your fellow insurgents……to three hundred cyclesof somatic reconditioning.

Yes, the Council’s plan is that while their home World is being destroyed, they’re going to make sure that Zod and his cohort survives while everyone else dies.  This is a brilliant plan. Zod gives more melodramatic lines about how he’s going to find Jor-El’s son, even though he’s supposed to be asleep for 300 years, because movie.

Visually, there’s numerous impressive scenes.  From a story perspective, everyone’s an idiot and nothing makes any sense.  Nothing is explained.  It manages to be both too long from a pacing perspective and too short because it doesn’t explain anything.  Worse, this is the longest segment of the movie, the rest of it gets rushed around between various locations.

As Aristotle puts it, anything that can be removed and not change the meaning should be removed.  Most of this can be removed. There’s a McGuffin codex, Superman needs to go to Earth, Zod gets sent into space, Krypton explodes.  End scene.  You can cut out ten minutes of this sequence and not change anything.  Because nothing that happens here is relevant, it’s all Jon Voight’s ballsack.  (Google it).

The only thing relevant here is that the theme gets set up.

Lara/Mom:  He’ll be an outcast.  A freak. They’ll kill him.
Jor-El/Dad:  How?  He’ll be a god to them.

It gets told to us here that the reason why Superman is going to become Superman is because he’s going to soak up the radiation on Earth and it’s going to make him stronger.  Since the Kryptons here can’t fly or do anything and use some dinosaur creature to fly around.  Except that when Zod and the other aliens arrive, they seem just as powerful.

Our introduction to the World of Krypton gives us a space racist, a bunch of idiots, and a fascist.  It’s a planet that deserves to die.

This is the Nolan-esque introduction to the Origin Story Problem.  In most origin stories, the first half is learning how the hero acquired powers, the second half is introduction to the bad guy that they have to fight.  Nolan introduces the main bad guy soon so that they don’t have to go searching for a villain later on.

But nothing works here.  Every single thing that happens here is going to be violated later on in the movie or introduce problems.

This also introduces the problem of tone.  The first part sets it up to be a sci-fi movie extravaganza, with flying dinosaurs, laser battles, 3d holograph talking Moms, underwater baby-crib carriages, skull codex, and a bunch more garbage.  But then…


Earth:  The part of the movie that we should have started on begins

Our next scene after the action scene is another action scene.  An oil rig is exploding and Superman is on a ship where he’s called “Greenhorn”.  As Aristotle says, the more necessary the sequence is, the better.  The less probable a sequence, the worse it is.  When it makes no sense, it’s a just so happens scene.

Superman just so happens to be on a ship, which just so happens to be heading toward an exploding oil rig.  Superman swims aboard the ship and saves the people on it.  Superman is from Smallville, Kansas.  Located next to exactly no bodies of water which have oil rigs on them.

This cuts to young Clark Kent in school.  He starts seeing with X-ray vision, hears heartbeats, and pencils tapping against desks.  He runs out of class and into a closet.  The teacher says that she’s called Clark’s Mom  Clark Kent uses his heat vision to heat the metal and burn his teacher’s hand on the opposite side of the door.  This doesn’t melt the metal though, because that would be realistic.  Also, Superman is a d*ck in this film.

Then we get this melodramatic dialogue where Clark Kent is talking to his Mom through a door.  You could make this an allegory about being gay and Clark Kent is in the closet, hearing his classmates whispering about him.  Except that’s giving too much credit to Snyder, and ignoring what the say in the dialogue.  And the entire scene.  And everything that happens.

From a storytelling perspective, the first problem is that if the teacher is, you know, doing her job, she’d get the kids back to class instead of having them all stand around gawking at the closet door.  What awful teacher just lets her students mill about in the hallways like that?

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Then there’s the perspective of craft.  The scene is supposed to be about Clark and Martha.  So why are all these other people hanging around?

Who are all these random people in the hallway?  No idea.  Why aren’t the kids back in classroom with the Principal or Vice Principal supervising until the situation is resolved?  No idea.  Why isn’t the Principal or Vice Principal the one dealing with Superman?  No idea.  Why don’t any of the children look like they’re in the same grade?  No idea.  What is Martha Kent’s job so that she can run so quickly over to the school in rural Kansas?  No idea.

The first line of dialogue we should expect is, “Mom, why can I suddenly see right through people and hear all sorts of noises?”  Instead it’s:

Clark:  The world’s too big, Mom.

Let’s go back to Aristotle.  Aristotle said that the scene should imitate life as much as possible, even in the realm of the fantastic.  In other words, Euripides Medea is about a woman who kills her children.  But she does so after her unfaithful lover, Jason, decides to marry a princess and tells her that she’s just a barbarian woman.  Medea reminds Jason that she’s left everything in order to be with him, and that she’s an outcast of her people.  She has no home and she’s given Jason everything.

Medea’s revenge is to kill Jason’s wife and his children.  Even though what she’s done is monstrous, Euripides gives her a reason for it.

Back to Snyder:

Martha:  Then make it small. Just, um… focus on my voice. Pretend it’s an island… out in the ocean. Can you see it?
Clark:  I see it.
Martha:  Then swim towards it, honey.

Anyone believe this is a conversation that they can imagine between an 8 year old and his Mom?  In his battle with Zod, Superman is going to say he has an advantage because his parents taught him how to focus his power when we get to the Fallacy of the Talking Villain.  As if this is some profound insight into the Kryptonian condition.

From a storytelling perspective, Oh My Gawd, the melodrama.

melodrama_7456In interviews, Snyder said he was striving for realism.

From a structural standpoint, we now know that Superman is sneaking around saving people.  Lamely yes, but we already know how this story is going to end up going.  So all of the hand-waving later on about the decision don’t make any sense.

Then we cut back to the underwater scene.  Because Snyder doesn’t understand tone.  But he does know how to make pretty shots.  I suppose that compared to many of the muddy/watered down looks of super-hero movies, that’s something.  Not a lot, but something.

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We need to get this image though, forget about the story.  Superman is Jesus.  Do you get it?

Then Superman steals clothes.

Screen Shot 2017-02-14 at 9.52.29 PM.pngBecause otherwise, we couldn’t see Cavill walk around shirtless.

Superman sees a bus, which then  flash-forwards to a 13 year old Clark Kent, being berated by his Mom and Dad.  He saves bus full of children from death, which his Mom and Dad think was a very bad thing for him to do. His Dad Jonathan says perhaps he should have just let all those children die.  Because letting a bunch of children die is the perfect ethos for the Clark family that we remember from the comic books.

You don’t remember all the scenes where Jonathan and Martha Kent tell Superman to let people die all around him and do nothing?  You remember them encouraging Superman and helping him develop his sense of morality and justice, teaching him that even though he has great powers, he can’t stop all the evil of the World on his own and that some things are beyond even Superman?

That’s because you don’t read the same comics that Snyder does.

The problem with these scenes are that they get stitched together like a trailer.  We spend no time with the Kent family, weaving in and out of the present time to flashbacks, so we have no idea what their like as people.  Thus our first impression of them is that they’re a bit psychotic.

Back to characters and how side characters matter.  The theme here is about whether Superman should rule as a God or serve as an inspiration.  The pointless digression here is that maybe Superman should pretend to be normal, which from this scene, is obviously stupid since it means Superman would just stand around and let people get butchered and not do anything about it.

From a storytelling perspective, you want a protagonist who is active.  All of these scenes set up a hero who is reactive, he stands around and stuff happens to him and around him.

But pay no mind to any of these questions. We then get more melodramatic exposition, “Did God do this to me?  TELL ME!”  Jonathan explains to Clark that he must have been sent here for a reason.  Why, it’s as if the last scene would have set up what that reason is.  You know, if we had a competent storyteller.  But it doesn’t.

He ponders the mystery of why his son is here after his son saves dozens of children’s lives.  It’s just…. so…. mysterious.  The line ends with “Clark:  Can’t I just go on pretending I’m your son?   Jonathan: You are my son.”  This is the catalyst of the film, Clark is supposed to be going on a journey to find out who he is.  Except that he wonders around doing nothing for the next twenty years.

Jonathan shows Clark his alien ship and gives him a plot token that he can redeem later.  He says he showed it to a metallurgist (in Smallville?) that had never seen it before and never inquires again how a metal unknown to humanity has ended up in the hands of a farmer in Smallville, Kansas.

We cut back to Clark Kent wandering around doing nothing. He goes into a bar in his stolen clothing.  Why is he going to a bar?  He wears an apron like he works there or something, but it wasn’t established.  Because establishing things is a technique that good storytellers use.  To let the audience know what’s going on.

But nevermind.  He either works there or doesn’t, no one cares.  If doesn’t work there, he doesn’t do anything because he doesn’t order a drink.  Instead, this is set up so he can overhear men  dressed in military gear talking about a strange discovery.  This is called a double bump technique, or using a second catalyst to get the story in motion.

Then we get introduced to a puppy-kicking villain who is harassing a waitress.  Clark Kent tells him to stop.

screen-shot-2017-02-14-at-10-17-01-pmEven the actor looks like he’s thinking, “No one is going to buy this scene”

This is the most miscast scene in the movie since an obviously larger and stronger Cavill is facing off against a very short guy.  The only reason this is here is presumably because after stealing clothes, we need to establish that Clark is still a good guy.  In case you missed that from him saving all the people earlier.  And saving the kids.  You know, because you’re an idiot and can’t remember what happened previously in ten minutes.

This leads to the much smaller man pouring beer over Clark Kent, then punching him.  After hurting his hand and not affecting Clark at all, he then throws a cup at the back of his head.  Back to realism, if this guy had punched Kent like that, his reptilian brain would have kicked in and made him realize that this guy could kill him.  He’s not drunk, so there’s no way for him to not know that he’ll die very quickly if this escalates.

This scene played out in Superman II.

But Clark ignores all this, because he chooses the most passive-aggressive way to deal with the problem.  He takes off an apron and leaves.  If he worked there, then he probably should have called the cops.  You know, sexual harassment, assault, something like that.  No one asks him where he’s going, so maybe he doesn’t work there, but I have no idea why he was wearing the apron thing.  Remember, this is a movie.  Our next scene is this.

screen-shot-2017-02-14-at-10-20-38-pm

So let’s talk about our character here and what this has done.

First, there’s the obvious collateral damage.  Second, does this guy own that truck?  How does Superman know that?  Is that a company truck?  Because Superman didn’t destroy this guy’s truck, he destroyed the company’s truck.  Third, did no one hear him do this?  An eighteen wheeler crashing into things isn’t a soft sound that no one is going to notice.  Did no one see him do this?  Like no one had their suspicion aroused when they saw a man hefting a truck around or however he did this, because he can’t fly at this point in the movie?

It makes no sense, and it’s the worst part about this Superman.  He’s a d*ck.  If he’d defended himself, sure, nothing wrong with that.  But destroying property when he’s trying to keep his identity a secret is stupid.  Superman does a lot of very stupid things in this movie.

Whatever.  Our next scene introduces Lois Lane and Superman somehow knows that this thing is a thing he needs.  He gets a job working with DARPA, because he can, and DARPA doesn’t do anything like background checks.  It seems as if he’s been working there a while, but he waits until Lois Lane shows up to investigate the area by himself.

He goes into the top secret area followed by Lois Lane.  He uses the device that Jonathan gave him from his space capsule to open it up.  He knows that because he knows that.  This is a big budget Hollywood film.

Then Lois Lane follows him in there and sees a robot thing that’s floating around.  She points her camera at it, which causes it to obviously react in distress.  Most people, those with brains, would stop at this point and try not to agitate the hovering alien droid.  But Lois Lane is an idiot, so she snaps a picture of it, which causes the droid to attack her.

Superman runs over and destroys the droid.  Even though she shows no signs of pain, Superman realizes that she’s in serious danger and tells her that she’s hemorrhaging internally.  He tells her that he can cauterize the wound and save her life.

Then the Fortress of Solitude appears and Lois talks with her boss (Lawrence Fishburne) and she has to convince him that the obvious huge structure and space ship that they saw were real.  Instead of doing what a normal newspaper reporter would do in this situation, report the news or send someone to corroborate it, he says no.

We have what writers like to call an Idiot plot.

After this, Superman is still back in the Fortress of Solitude where Jor-El plays hologram Dad, and tells him things that we already saw.  He says that the scout ship which Superman is in is a scout ship that they used to send out.  He says that for 100,000 years, they sent these things out everywhere and transformed thousands of planets.  He says that they stopped the entire program and went into an artificial breeding program, which then stopped them from exploring and having natural born children.  What?


Alternative Plot Line

Now we have to stop the film again to talk about screenwriting.  Remember that the antagonist and protagonist should be in conflict because they both want the same thing.  Here, it’s established that Zod can go to any one of millions of planets that they terraformed over 100,000 years.  And their space ship is fully intact.

That means the movie could have been over with Zod going up to Superman and saying, “Hey Kal-el.  We need that codex to restart civilization.  Can you give it to us so we can go repopulate another planet and start over?”  And Superman probably would have said, “Yes, that seems like something a reasonable adult would do.”  And that would have been the end of the movie.

What a competent writer would have done instead is this.  Remove the entire beginning.  This is our introduction to Krypton.

“We sent out spaceships years ago, but none were successful.  The technology didn’t work.  I was trying to create a successful terraforming machine, but the council decided that instead of risking our survival on technology that hadn’t worked in the past, it would be better spent working on a way to save our planet.  It failed.  I found out in my research a single planet is potentially inhabitable to us, but not to adults.  Only children can survive there after being exposed to our environment.  So I sent you there.”

Later, we find out that Zod is a criminal who was sent into cryosleep hundreds of years earlier and has reawakened to find out that Earth is destroyed.  The last transport signal is towards Earth, so he heads to Earth to find out who the last person to escape Krypton was.

Now we have a reason for conflict, since Zod is going to want to terraform the Earth to be inhabitable to the adult Kryptons, while Superman is going to want Earth to stay the same.  Superman also has a good argument, they have no idea if it’s going to even work since it failed in the past, but Zod sees the survival of the Kryptons as more important than survival of Earth.  Zod’s spaceship is running out of supplies and they can’t live on Earth, so it’s either Zod’s loyalty to his fellow Kryptons or death.

You could even go further and make Zod not a criminal.  He could be one of the scouting parties and he sent his ship into hibernation, until they were awoken by the destruction of Krypton.  Jor-El could send out a beacon to any remaining ships telling them where to go for a planet that terraforming might work on, and it’d be a desperate act, since none of the ships have gone out for a long time and he doesn’t know if any of them are still out there.  But since the World is destroyed, it makes it understandable that he’d do something that has little chance of success.  Now it makes sense that Zod has a terraforming device on his ship and a warp drive on his ship, because he was part of a scout party.

Now the story is even more dramatic, because Superman has to choose between the family he doesn’t know, with Jor-El telling him that he should side with Zod and remake Earth, versus siding with the family he knows and the Earthlings, that are weak and frail and might not fully accept him.

This would create dramatic tension revolving around the moral conflict of the main character and a question of whether or not he really belongs with humans.  It would make him and Zod enemies since they both want the same thing.  It would give the side characters something to do besides stand around.

Now you can get even better with the story.  You can have Jonathan and Martha Kent die of old age because their human.  Superman is now all alone in this World, and he realizes that he’s basically immortal.  He’s going to keep living while everyone around him dies.

That means when Zod makes his offer, and he gets introduced to Kryptonian women, he’s going to have a motivation.  But he forms a relationship with Lois Lane, something this movie doesn’t have at all, and through his romantic interest in Lois Lane, his friendship with Jimmy Olson and the rest of the people at the news station, he realizes that human life is valuable and can’t go along with Zod’s plan.

Without the stupid quasi-Alduous Huxley Brave New World storyline, or Gattaca, or Children of Men, the Kryptons on board the ship have a chance to actually have children on this planet.  Superman can be a father, which inexplicably he’s able to in the Superman Returns film, even though that’s not how genetics work.  So we have another question about family and whether Superman chooses his adoptive human family or if he sides with his genetic family, and about how the power of love can transform someone.

Back to Snyder, his style is like taking a bunch of different elements, and instead of weaving them together like a storyteller, he just smashes them together like a Michael Bay trainwreck.

There’s a movie that did this, using the power of love and connection to save the World.  It’s called The Fifth Element, where Bruce Willis plays a jaded taxi-cab driver and ex-special Forces agent named Korben Dallas.  He’s bitter and jaded about everything.  But Milla Jovovich plays Leeloo, and her simple charms change Korben and make him realize that being a sad *sshole isn’t any way to live.  That’s right, this movie makes The Fifth Element look like a high concept movie.  So that’s a plus for Zach Snyder.

Anyway, let’s stop here and review what these changes would have done for the movie.

  • The Kryptonian council wouldn’t seem like complete idiots.  They made a bet and lost, and didn’t have time to react when the new discovery of Earth occurs.
  • Jor-El’s storyline would make sense.  He’s a rogue scientist focused on saving the species at the cost of their planet.  The most brilliant scientist on the planet focusing on what the council considers the wrong solution would make him a hero to some, a villain to others.
  • Zod would have a reason to be in conflict with Superman besides a made-up one that doesn’t actually make any sense.  Zod picks a pointless battle and loses, wiping out his own people, which makes him one of the worst generals in history.
  • Zod would be sympathetic and we’d understand his motivations.  This is much better than space racism on a planet that has no races, which doesn’t make any sense in this story.  The Zod storyline is identical to the Star Trek: Into Darkness plotline.  The problem with STID is that Khan’s point is completely valid.  So they use space racism to try to hand-wave this problem.
  • Clark Kent would have emerged in the story early on.  Clark Kent doesn’t emerge until the very end of the story and Superman doesn’t emerge until halfway through.  Except he’s not Superman, he’s doesn’t-care-about-civilians man.  But this movie is about finding out who you are, which when someone is 33, that’s a bit late to have this sort of movie.

The reason I’m bringing this up is because most people talk about Superman murdering civilians and that takes center stage.  The Superman fanboys say that this is Superman’s greatest struggle while the non-fanboys say that this destroys the character of Superman.

I’ll get into that later, but I’m noting that prior to any of the civilian murders that Superman commits, the movie makes no sense.  None of it.  Not one scene setup in this entire movie to this point makes any sense.

Back to the problem of introducing Krypton, the story tells us what happens, which means we know everything about Superman and the conflict on Krypton.  The story has already told us who to side with.  So Superman bumbling about doesn’t make any sense, because we, the audience, can’t sympathize with his problem.  We already know who to trust and who to not trust.

This movie makes no sense.


Back to Original Plot.  The Bad One

Our next scene is that Lois figures out that Clark Kent, from Smalltown Kansas, is the same person as the man she met at the Antarctica.  She knows this because when Superman saved the bus, a kid saw it.  And she finds that kid by asking a random person about “Hey, do you know this person?” and that person points her to where he works.  Then that guy, who is supposed to be Superman’s friend in a later scene, tells a random reporter the greatest secret his friend has.

With 375 million people to chose from finding one guy is an impressive feat on her part.  I guess she did earn that Pulitzer.

We then get another montage where we get one of the dumbest scenes in a dumb movie.  Clark Kent wants to use his powers for good, but Jonathan still doesn’t think he should.  There’s a tornado and the dog, Hank, is in the car.  Jonathan decides to risk his life to save the dog, even though obviously it should be Clark, the invulnerable superhuman, who should do this.

Then, during the middle of a Tornado where no one can see anything, Jonathan tells Clark Kent not to save him, which means he dies.  So Clark Kent’s Dad died saving a dog, and Clark could have easily saved both.  This is supposed to be the moral climax of the story, and it’s the dumbest thing in cinema.

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Want to be a hero, son?  Talk to the hand.

This scene is supposed to be about Lois Lane learning that Jonathan died to save Clark Kent’s identity, and that’s supposed to make her stop trying to expose him.  Except, you know, it’s stupid.  And the melodrama comes back.

We cut to Lois Lane, now mystically transported to the Metropolis, (there’s no establishing of distances or locations in this film), who tells her boss (Perry/Fishbourne) that the story went cold.  She also gives an awful line of dialogue, “I’m a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist!”  If this is necessary, then there’s a thousand more clever ways to insert this into the movie, but she exposits it.

He suspends her for two weeks and then reiterates the same thing that was already iterated by Superman.  He asks her to imagine how would people react if they knew Superman was real.

So Lois’s entire two scenes here are pointless, because Snyder has no idea what to do with her.  So she retreads ground and adds in pointless filler.

We next cut to Superman visiting his Mom, who tells him that when he first arrived, he had a hard time breathing and struggled.  She always knew he was special though and worries that one day someone is going to take her from him.  He tells her he’s not going anywhere.  This is another scene that doesn’t add anything to the story except to remind us that supposedly Earth and Krypton are toxic to each other.

Next, the alien ships arrive.  For some reason, even though they haven’t done anything, all the electricity goes out at the newspaper.  The light bulb at the Kent’s house actually explodes.  So does every light everywhere explode?  Do the transformers that connect electrical poles explode?  What’s the logic of this scene?  Never mind any of that, we need to get these shots in.

I can’t remember any establishing shots telling us that this is the Daily Planet newspaper.  This is because there are no developed characters in the film.

screen-shot-2017-02-15-at-8-53-14-am

As with all things Snyder, he does this because he knows the shot he wants, as seen above.  Lois looks frail and vulnerable in that shot, which is what he’s going for.  But this scene doesn’t work for two reasons.

Reason one is she has no relationship with Superman.  For this to work, we’d have to empathize with her, but outside from depending on the fact that Lois and Clark are together in the movies/shows/comic books, these two have zero chemistry.  The second reason it doesn’t work is there’s no logic to this scene.  This is the Snyder hallmark, he shoots shots he doesn’t shoot scenes.

Then all the TVs start magically working and display static and warbled English that says, “You are not alone.”  And this brings up another problem with Krypton:  They’re all speaking English.  The tv then translates into multiple languages, because of course it can.

You could have this be a high concept point. The aliens are waiting outside of Earth, they can’t communicate in our language, and only Superman can.  So he acts as the point of contact between Earth and Aliens and has to decide if he’s going to tell the humans about Zod’s impending attack so they can evacuate.  But this doesn’t happen, they already speak every language.

In addition, Zod somehow knows that “for reasons unknown, he has chosen to keep his existence a secret from you.”  How does Zod already know this?  That’s a plot coupon getting redeemed.  He tells Superman he has 24 hours to turn himself in, and another light shatters.  None of this makes any sense, but Snyder doesn’t care.  It looks cool.

Then the blogger that Lois talked to earlier when she attempted to run the Daily Planet story goes on air and says that Lois knows exactly who Superman is.  Then the FBI comes and arrests Lois Lane for treason.  I don’t think they understand what the word “treason” means.

Then Clark Kent goes into a cathedral.  We get another flashback and now it’s Clark Kent getting bullied.  This is why the Superman character makes no sense in this movie.  He has no motivation.  In the few interactions we see him have with people, they aren’t nice to him.  His Dad is dead and his only human connection left is his Mom.  Assuming he’s been wandering around aimlessly since high school, there’s no reason for him to have any attachment to humanity.

midpointSuperman is Jesus.  Did you get that yet?

The priest doesn’t say anything useful storywise and there’s no reason for Superman to be in the cathedral.  Except, you know, Zack Snyder wants you to know Superman is Jesus.  Have you figured it out yet?

But this scene again highlights the weakness of Snyder’s Superman.  In a real movie, Superman would have a best friend or someone else he trusts with huge issues, and this person would help him work out his problems.

This is usually someone who’s older, more experienced, and has been through some sort of tribulation in the past and wants to pass that knowledge to his younger friend/protege to help them in their situation.

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XXX E0 MCKELLAN WOOD LORD RINGS 14 A ENT

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Superman has no friends or mentors to turn to, so he has to go to a church to ask whether trusting Zod is any better than trusting humans.  The priest tells him that sometimes, you have to take a leap of faith first, and the trust comes later.  Uhh… that doesn’t make any sense, and in the context of the story, who is it Superman is supposed to be looking to for faith?  That’s the question:  Kryptonians or Earthlings?  Fortunately, Zod will answer this question for him by being a cackling villain.

But who cares?  Superman puts on a costume that miraculously fits him from his father and asks to see Lois Lane at a military facility.  Why did he go to that exact military facility?  How did he know this?  The military even asks him, since she was arrested by the FBI, not the military. Why does Superman even want to see Lois, considering that they only talked for two scenes?  Doesn’t matter.

screen-shot-2017-02-15-at-5-54-58-pmThe perpetually bored looking Cavill makes his appearance

The military arrests Superman and asks him who their enemy is, if it’s Zod.  Well yeah, it seems like the guy who threatened to annihilate everyone on the planet is probably a threat.

Superman stands with Lois Lane and tells her thank you.  She says for what and he says “For Believing in me.”  Except, she hasn’t done anything to show that she believes in him.  Like if she had penned her letter explaining that yes, there’s an alien amongst us but that he’s really a hero and we shouldn’t be scared of him, that would be something.

But she hasn’t done anything.  The second-in-command goes down to get Superman and already knows what ranking officers are in the military.  I’m glad that Krypton follows the exact same leadership and rank structure of modern American militaries, it’d be a shame if they used Athenian models and she asked, “Who is the first amongst equals?”  But that would require imagination.

For some reason, the aliens also want Lois Lane to accompany Superman.  No reason why.  This is another huge problem in all of Snyder’s Superman films.  He doesn’t have anything for Lois to do, so she’s just in scenes.

screen-shot-2017-02-15-at-6-09-12-pmRemember, this movie is supposed to be deep.  And has penis jokes.

Lois Lane gets a mask and she doesn’t ask why Superman doesn’t need one.  But Superman starts rejecting the atmosphere of the ship at a plot convenient moment.

So Zod’s kind of stupid.  He needs the codex.  Like, that was a thing that was set up in the first Act.  So, what happens if Superman died here from this plan?  He wouldn’t get the codex.  And then everything he did would be worthless.

screen-shot-2017-02-15-at-6-07-38-pmZod’s plan would fall apart really fast here if Superman just died.


Finally, it’s Zod!!!

So let’s review.  The protagonist is supposed to have a theme and the characters that surround the hero are all supposed to be reflections on that theme.  Batman = Order Without Law.  Maroni = Perverse Law and Order.  Harvey Dent & Rachel = Law. Lieutenant/Commissioner Gordon = Law & Order.  Joker = No Law and No Order.

Superman doesn’t have a character yet.  There are no supporting characters that support him because of this.  People are hanging around.  Like Lois in the shot above.

Superman passes out and we get a scene where Zod is able to communicate with Superman via telepathy or something.  Some hand-waving occurs where he says they were able to “retrofit the Phantom Projector into a Warp Drive.”  All that with no scientists on board.  So why does Krypton have this predetermined system when a scientist is able to kill soldiers and the soldiers are able to do complex science?  Doesn’t matter.

He says that Jor-El made a similar modification, except that the craft that they used for Superman was already meant for space exploration and they didn’t have to retrofit it.  They find one of the World machines that terraforms planets.  But they didn’t use it on the planet they were on.  And the issue of them starving to death for 33 years doesn’t come up.

This is one of the more competent scenes in the movie, but if we look at my Alternative Plot, it makes more sense.  With a World Changer on board, Superman could just say, “Hey, I’ll give you the Codex and you guys leave and set up on a different planet like Mars.”

Why Earth?  Because if it terraforms Earth, all the life on it will die.  So it’s not the life that they need.  Also in the alternative plot, Zod wouldn’t have known about any of the other civilization attempts, so he wouldn’t have any reason to doubt that it would work on another planet.  He also would know that Earth is the only planet capable of supporting Kryptonians, so they would have a reason to terraform Earth.

screen-shot-2017-02-15-at-7-19-01-pmThis is how Zod pitches his idea to Superman.  Very tempting idea.

Anyway, they took Lois on board and then realized they actually have nothing for her to do, so they put her in a room with one of their computers.  She activates it with the key and Jor-El comes back into the scene to help Lois escape by changing the atmosphere.  Instead of changing all the atmosphere, he apparently only does it in particular rooms.  This allows Superman to escape.  We also learn that changing the atmosphere turns out to be mildly annoying to Kryptons instead of life changing.

Screen Shot 2017-02-15 at 7.33.47 PM.pngNo, please don’t mildly annoy me with this new atmosphere.

We get product placement IHOP, Sears, and then generic SmallVille named stores.  Jor-El helps Lois escape and she shoots everyone, until instead of saying “Shoot directly ahead” Jor-El says “Move your head to the left”.

screen-shot-2017-02-15-at-7-36-32-pm

Because this looks more dramatic.  Then Jor-El says that he wanted Superman to be the bridge between two Worlds, but only after he finds out what it means to be human.  Except that Superman still doesn’t seem very human, and this seems like something he would have discussed with him earlier at the Fortress of Solitude.

Screen Shot 2017-02-15 at 7.39.21 PM.pngDid you know Superman is Jesus?  The Choir will Vocalize this if you need help.

Anyway, the reason that Jor-El let the woman punch through Lois Lane’s capsule seems to be that he wanted her to damage it so that Superman could go save her.  Which involves some might impressive calculations about how much damage that vessel could undergo and not completely disintegrate.

We cut to Zod and crew and Lois tells Superman that she didn’t want to tell them anything, but they did something to her mind.  Superman says they did the same thing to him.  Except they didn’t.  Because if they had done the same thing to him, they’d already know where the codex is.

And we didn’t see them do anything to Lois, they just shoved her in the closet.  If they had done something to her, then they’d have known about the key she had on her and they probably would have confiscated that.  Or did they specifically ask her, “Where is Superman’s House?” and she went “Here’s the address.”?

No matter.  We now have the aliens at Martha’s house.  They pick Martha up and ask her where the spaceship is.

Screen Shot 2017-02-15 at 7.44.24 PM.pngWhatever you do, don’t look in there.

Then we get a plot screwup.  Now the reason why Superman is so powerful and they weren’t on Krypton is because he’s been absorbing the sun all this time.  But after two seconds of exposure, the Kryptons can do everything that Superman can.

Then Superman arrives to fight Zod by blowing up a bunch of stuff and Zod takes off his mask.  This causes him three seconds of inconvenience before he’s fine.  Which means the entire plotline is now pointless, since there’s no reason for him to terraform Earth now.

We now go to the destruction porn.  There’s nothing more boring than watching a bunch of people who can’t die fight.  Then we get bad exposition:

“The fact that you possess a sense of morality and we do not gives us an evolutionary advantage… and if history has proven anything… it’s that evolution always wins.”

Except that the Kryptons aren’t evolved, they’re created.  Should have gone with that.  They’re created superior to Superman.  That was the line you were looking for.  This takes us to:


Superman makes no effort to move the fight away from the major Metropolis areas

This is the part everyone starts screaming about.  Superman fights with the bad guys but doesn’t try to remove them from anywhere dangerous or near civilian property.  This was a big deal in the Avengers movie.  They try to keep everyone safe.

Superman occasionally saves someone, but it looks hollow compared to him wantonly smashing bad guys through buildings and exploding everything around him.

We then learn that the bad guys are terraforming Earth.  The military commander somehow knows that these people are from Krypton.

Anyway, after some disaster porn setup, we learn that Zod will now terraform the Earth.  Jor-El appears again to try to lecture him on the ramifications of what he’s doing and the Daily Planet decides that they should leave the building.  Good call guys.

They start screaming each other’s names out, but since we don’t know anything about who these people are, it adds no emotion.

Jor-el then gives the line of the movie.  “Our people can co-exist.  Zod:  So we can suffer for years?”  And this is where the movie screws up.  We just saw that no one died after both the ship had its atmosphere changed and the team that went to Earth.  It takes about three minutes.

Back at Superman, we have what is one of the dumbest plots to the movie.  There’s two World machines (why not) that are on destroying the World.  The first one is over Metropolis and it’s killing everyone.

The second is over the Indian Ocean.  It poses no immediate danger to anyone, anywhere.

Knowing that, which of the two should Superman stop?

A.)  The one that’s going to kill people.
B.)  The one that’s not going to kill people.

If you said A, you are not Zack Snyder.

Superman fights an AI thing while the soldiers are left to stop the invasion that actually poses a threat to people and is killing them.

The World Harvester over the Indian Ocean is linked to the World Harvester that is over Metropolis, and if Superman destroys one, the other becomes inactive.  So the smart strategy is to take out the one over Metropolis.  Of course, he destroys it just in time.

Then the military gets to drive their vehicle into the ship over Metropolis.  Even though the second-in-command has the ability to stop it, she engages in The Fallacy of the Talking Villain to talk with a military commander and watch them drive the ship into the Metropolis Harvester.

Superman goes into Zod’s ship and Zod tells him that if he destroys the ship, that has the baby Kryptons on it, he’ll destroy all of Krypton.  Superman tells him that Krypton had its chance and destroys all the pods with his laser eyes.  Because when I think of Superman genocide is my first thought.  People seem to forget this scene, probably because their brain is trying to protect them from the trauma.

Lois Lane falls out of the military ship just as Superman arrives to Metropolis.  While everything else is being sucked up into the vortex, Lois Lane is falling down.  Reasons.

Everyone at the Daily Planet happens to be standing around.  We see them, the Daily Planet editors, save Jenny.  Yet Jenny says “He saved us.”  No he didn’t.  It was the US military and the Daily Planet that saved you.  When I saw this in the theater, people reacted very strongly to this incredibly dim-witted scene.

Anyway, Lois and Superman start making out.

Zod is also right next to all this, (everyone is very convenient about being in the right place), and gives a speech about how everything he did is for the greater good of Krypton.

Which of course, is stupid.  Zod had plenty of opportunities to avert the disaster and humans and Kryptons can clearly live quite well together.  Zod doesn’t have his face mask on just to highlight how pointless this all is.

Zod and Superman fight and here is where people get really mad.  You might argue that there’s nothing Superman could have done in the previous scenes.  But here, he clearly can.

superjerk0gswo

We get bored Cavill not stopping a gas liner from exploding, you know, because a major explosion like that wouldn’t kill anyone or anything.  He then fight Zod and kills him, giving a yell about having to kill Zod to save four people after an hour of indifference.

Then he blows a drone out of the sky.

Screen Shot 2017-02-15 at 9.58.55 PM.png

Her face summarizes the ending of this movie.

From a writing perspective, I would have had the World machine and Zod’s ship in the same place, since how Zod’s machine can transform into a World machine makes no sense.  Anymore than they retrofitted a projection screen into a warp drive makes sense.  This means that Superman would have been fighting to save Metropolis, not battling against a machine that’s in the middle of the Ocean thousands of miles away from anyone.


Summary

Superman isn’t Clark Kent yet.  And he’s not Superman.  He is neither.  He’s a Vanilla Wafer Good Guy.  When Christopher Reeve becomes Clark Kent, he walks different, he dresses like a nerd, he acts different.  They’re two different roles.  There is none of that in Man of Steel.

The Dark Knight has two distinct roles for Batman, one as Bruce Wayne and one as Batman.  The Batman character resides in a human shell, and the Joker attacks the human shell, trying to get Batman to reduce himself from a symbol to a man by removing his mask or violating his cardinal rule of not killing anyone.

There are no side characters in Man of Steel, which means we have no one to explore Superman/Clark Kent’s growth through.  His few interactions with people have them either bullying him or lecturing him.    Even though everyone says repeatedly, “Superman will do great things”, he never actually does.  Because the side characters are never developed, the only way to show Superman is through melodramatic scenes.  As I say, side characters matter.

Batman has numerous side characters:  Alfred, Lucius Fox, Rachael, Harvey Dent, Commissioner Gordon, Maroni, etc.  Their reactions to Batman/Bruce Wayne and their own morals shape how we see Batman.  There’s no one to see Superman through except Lois, who is Oh my God, hot alien.  And his parents, who are Oh my God, super special but don’t tell anyone.  These do not shape our moral knowledge of Superman.

The romance is forced.  There’s no reason for Lois Lane and Superman to be a couple.  It seems that it was assumed that they would be a couple and forgot that they actually had to make them a couple.

Zod is an average villain.  He has a reason to combat Superman, but it’s a lame one.  The movie shows that the entire reason is forced.  The antagonist should necessarily have to confront the protagonist, not just because reasons.

He also doesn’t attack Superman’s weaknesses, he attacks Superman’s strength.  It’s just strength against strength, with the two of them pounding out Metropolis.  Even if my alternative script were used, Zod still wouldn’t be a good villain for Superman.

Likewise we have a villain problem with how many powers does he have.  Zod and other Kryptons can fly at random after a few seconds, they can breath Earth’s atmosphere just fine if they take a second, and Zod is shooting laser beams out of his eyes by the end.

There’s no tone.  It jumps from sci-fi fantasy to story about finding yourself to an alien first contact to a generic action movie.

If you watch any individual scene, they’re ok.  It’s when you consider the sum total of each scene in relation to the rest that they all fall apart.  None of the scenes reinforce each other, they all conflict with each other.

This is how Snyder directs.  He looks for an individual cool moment, but he never considers how a moment affects a scene, and how a movie is composed of scenes not moments.

The casting is okay for everyone who is not Henry Cavill.  He can’t act.  Now I’m not just judging the Superman franchise, he also did The Man From U.N.C.L.E.  He spends his interviews talking about how hot is girlfriend is and admits that he doesn’t act because he cares about the craft, but because it makes him money.

He’s swappable with any number of other good looking Hollywood guys who can’t act: Jai Courtney, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Luke Evans,  Taylor Kitsch, Sam Worthington, Chris Pine, and so forth.

His facial expressions range from bored to mildly annoyed.  Which were my facial expressions during the movie.

Snyder tries to compare Superman to Jesus, except that Jesus is about God coming into the form of man in order to redeem the World through suffering.  He could choose not to suffer, but takes the sins of mankind upon himself.  It’s a story about redemption, working with the outcasts of society, teaching people that acting holy isn’t the same as being holy, etc.

Superman is Jesus if Mog and Magog were resurrected by Lucifer and they decided to battle it out in New York City and Jesus destroyed the city.  That doesn’t work?  Well, you just don’t understand Snyder’s brilliance.  He said he would redeem this hot mess with Batman V Superman and Suicide Squad.  He’s a lying hack.

1 thought on “Man of Steel: Crafting the Average Story”

  1. Thanks a lot for your work. Now I can finally watch the first LitRPG/Transported somewhere (RPG?) Movie.
    “Warrior’s Gate”.
    I recently saw the trailer in the movie theater (Germany) and it was cringeworthy. Funnily the script was written by Luc Besson and: Robert Mark Kamen. Kamen? Wait, where did I see this combo?

    “Back to Snyder, his style is like taking a bunch of different elements, and instead of weaving them together like a storyteller, he just smashes them together like a Michael Bay trainwreck.
    There’s a movie that did this, using the power of love and connection to save the World. It’s called The Fifth Element,(…)”

    Exactly, the Fifth Element. Now I am really exited to see if it will turn out as the fifth Element or if they will make a total mess out of it 🙂

    Like

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