How to Fix Man of Steel
The first of a possibly recurring feature here called “How to fix” looking at various shows and movies seen as terrible, or problem filled, and pondering how to fix them. It’s still possible to like these series while acknowledging their problems, and you may not agree with me, and that’s okay. Everything here is my own opinion of what went wrong with these works, not based on some idealistic metric of what’s considered good and bad. The movie I’ll be tackling this time is Man of Steel, love it or hate it the movie still had its fair share of problems. I don’t expect to get through all of them, but I’m hoping to hit the major ones. I’ll also try to line up these fixes with up with what’s been shown in the sequel trailers, to show that there didn’t need to be big fundamental changes in order to get a better movie.
The big disappointment for me when watching Man of Steel is that I can see how it could’ve been a great Superman movie if it had just made some better choices, some sharper editing, and not desaturated the colour out of it so much. As a director Zack Snyder seems to have a big flaw in his films (300, Watchmen, Sucker Punch, and Man of Steel) he doesn’t seem to push the themes of his movies into the forefront too much. Take Sucker Punch, an original film from him, that had a lot of themes going throughout it but because they were all in the background in favour of big action set pieces there’s so many different variations on what the film is trying to say. Fans have said many contradictory things about what the film is trying to say, when in reality the film itself is confused what it wants to say because it doesn’t try to focus on the themes and leaves them as background fodder. The themes are in the script but Snyder doesn’t make them come alive on screen so we’re left wondering what the movie was trying to say. The same goes for Watchmen, 300, and this movie.
There’s a climate change message in the beginning with Krypton expending all of it’s natural resources and they destroyed the planet because of it. There’s a pro-space program message there too as Krypton had cut off it’s space program leading to their race dying out with no alternative but to stay on their dying home world. Do these themes matter at all or are ever brought up again, no. In fact there’s an equal chance that it’s an anti-space program theme since all of Krypton’s colonized worlds had died off for under-explained reasons (the film says they were cutoff from their homeworld, but they’re pretty terrible colonists if they couldn’t survive on their own). So these ideas are just fancy background decoration without much of an influence on the plot and could easily be removed.
The biggest theme of the movie seems to be “is the world ready and able to accept a Superman” and the film’s answer seems to be “wait till the sequel to find out” because that question is never really answered at all. It is a through-line from the flashback scenes to when Zod shows up, and the answer presented is either “no,” “maybe,” or “he’s here regardless so you need to deal with it.” The only real reaction to Superman that we get beyond Lois is from the military, and they clearly don’t trust him as at the end of the movie they’re sending out spy drones to find out who he is and where he lives. There is no sign anyone has actually accepted him one way or the other. There are signs that they will be dealing with this in the sequel, Batman V Superman Dawn of Justice, but that doesn’t fix the fundamental storytelling problem from this movie. It should’ve been addressed in this movie because otherwise the ending feels weak and more like it stops rather than having a conclusion. You can answer the question in many ways while still being able to bring it up in the sequel, the easiest way being just having Lois walk past a guy selling Superman t-shirts on her way to the Daily Planet and then end on a reiteration of the question with the answer of “it’s a start” giving it an optimistic ending while leaving it open for more deeper probing in the sequel. It’s easy enough to show people are open to the idea of Superman while also not needing to show total acceptance of him.
Now regardless of themes the film itself is overstuffed with things that could be taken out, while there’s lots of other things that aren’t given enough of a fleshing out and explored. Cutting out the former to make room for the latter would be ideal. For example we don’t need a 20 minute Krypton opening, especially when it does nothing but explain stuff that is explained later on in the film anyway and is just an excuse to have some pointless action scenes. Cut it down to just Jor el and Lara putting baby Kal in the ship, them putting the Codex in, then Zod comes bursting in trying to stop them, and we see them dying as the ship is launched. Their death giving life to their child. Add the Zod getting sentenced to the Phantom Zone part to his flashback explanation when he talks about how they escaped the Zone and what happened between then and getting to Earth. Even if it cuts down the big introduction of Zod the film already has a large chunk where Zod isn’t a player, it’s about 40 minutes between when he gets sent into the Phantom Zone and coming back into the film with his “You are not alone” message, and a full hour between him actually being on screen, halfway through the film. So cutting out the opening isn’t going to effect his villain presence in the film too much.
Jonathan’s “you have a great destiny” lines need cutting out too, in fact all of the “destiny” talk could use cutting out or scaling back. We get that he’s Superman but these characters don’t know that and it undercuts the “realistic and relatable Superman” this film seems to be going for. When he’s talking about if Clark shouldn’t have saved the bus cut out the “maybe” line and add in that he “doesn’t know” if Clark should’ve or not. The scenario itself is rather silly given that if he doesn’t save the bus then even more questions will be asked for why he was the only survivor. Jonathan’s character needs to be clearer. Show that he’s worried what would happen to Clark if the world found out about him and not that he’s worried that Clark has a “great destiny” that he can’t live up to if people found out about him. It just makes him sound like he would’ve preferred those kids die rather than Clark save them, but only because he can somehow see future Clark’s destiny. He can be proud of Clark for saving people and also worried that he did it too openly so Clark’s life might be ruined because of it. Building up to the secret identity idea. The role model for Superman shouldn’t be saying he should leave people to die to save himself, especially not if his death scene teaches him this.
His death needs a severe overhaul too, either dying of cancer to have Clark learn that all life is precious and he can’t save everyone. Or if you want to keep the tornado have him have to choose between saving all those people and saving his father, and Jonathan urges him to save the others bringing his arc to a close as he realizes that Clark needs to save others more than he needs to protect himself. Also the film-makers need to do some research before making a tornado a linchpin scene of the movie, or else everyone will call out that going to an overpass is the worst thing you can do in a tornado situation. It takes two seconds to google that, there’s even a Tornado Myths page on Wikipedia with myths about safety information, tornado behaviour, and even geographic influences. Basically it’s a ‘what not to put in a movie involving tornados’ page.
Thematically Jonathan Kent’s death can be played as ‘what is Clark willing to sacrifice to save people’ and that question is asked again in the Zod situation and he’s willing to sacrifice his principles to save people. Logically the callback would end with a subversion, and I would like it better if Zod had lived. Much like how the 70s Superman movie had Jonathan die to show Clark can’t save everyone but then have him faced with that again with Lois and he said ‘screw that’ and rewound time to save her. It’d be better if when he had to chose to kill Zod and he instead refused, thinking back to his father’s death and deciding that he can’t take a life. I’ll go into this more when I get to Zod’s death.
Recut the diner scene so that he is keeping his head down and trying to avoid conflict because of flashback Jonathan’s words, “stay safe, don’t bring attention to yourself.” Have it be that he is looking for the good in people and being conflicted about that, tying in to his conflict of revealing himself. To that end make the trucker asshole a racist, it can be played as Clark thinking ‘if humanity can’t even accept people from the same planet as them so how could they accept someone from a whole other galaxy.’ Don’t have him ruin the guy’s truck either, have him go to punch it and then stop and walk away. If he’s conflicted about whether he should get involved to help people then he should properly stop himself from getting involved. He’s wandering the earth, he’s conflicted over if he did the right thing in leaving his father to die, and because of that guilt he starts thinking Jonathan might’ve been right.
The flashbacks should be cut down, we really didn’t need to see more after Jonathan died and it really interrupts the flow of the movie after that. Make the flashbacks end when he’s learning to fly. He falls the first few times and then we get a flashback to Jonathan’s death, the thing that has been holding him back this entire time. He was conflicted over if he made the right decision, and when he lets that go we see him fly, finally able to be Superman. It’s a simple thing but it’ll add more weight to the scene and a reason why he hasn’t flown before. Especially more so than the “he never bothered testing his powers before” reasoning of the film, which makes his time on the road more head-scratching since it says he never once tried to test the limits of his powers in all those years.
Cut the part where he goes to see a priest and replace it with him going to see Space Dad and getting his advice on Zod. He says Zod’s untrustworthy and stuck in the old mindset of his people, and that the only way Space Dad could help is if he was plugged into his ship. Superman forms a plan to do that, in case Zod is really lying. Maybe tie that to Lois getting on board somehow, fix that plot hole. It’s simple enough to say the army wants her as an impartial observer to make sure nothing untoward happens with Superman.
In fact remove all the Jesus imagery, if this film is meant to make him “real” and “relatable” then constantly beating the Jesus metaphor into the ground makes him the opposite of that. It’s literally is at odds with the themes of the movie, they need to pick one or the other, is he a relatable character or the son of God. Given the film-makers clearly want to get away from the last few Superman movies keeping the Jesus metaphor is definitely the wrong move.
Cut out the “it’s downhill after the first kiss/luckily I’m not from Earth” horrible line. In fact don’t have them kiss in the pulverized ashes of the nearly terraformed Metropolis, it’s not romantic when the ashes of the dead are falling around them. Why not have them hug and not play it as romantic but just joyous that they survived. The kiss itself is rather out of place and forced since they’ve known each other for only a few days and there was really no set up for a romance other than the audience already knowing Clark and Lois are an item due to all the other Superman media. But just because the audience expects it doesn’t mean it should be half-assed with no build up at all, either build to it properly or just leave it for the sequel.
Just have the movie be in colour, don’t desaturate everything. Seriously it’ll add at least ten percent to the enjoyment factor of the movie. It can be done in subtle ways too, maybe have the colour pallet get lighter when he becomes Superman, adding to the theme that he makes the world a better place by being Superman. It doesn’t need to be so dark and dreary all the time.
Actually have Superman’s first night as Superman, saving people and such. Have Clark actually have a big moment or moments as Superman before Zod shows up, because in the film he gets the costume, learns to fly, finds his “destiny,” and then just goes home and talks to his mom. That’s not him embracing his destiny after he finally finds the answers he’s been looking for all movie, that’s him going ‘I’ve got this cool destiny, I’ll get to it sometime later, maybe Monday.’ Have him do some heroic feat that would actually make the people of earth slightly conflicted over handing him over to Zod. Saving a plane is rather cliché for a Superman coming out display, how about stopping a train crash. Something that’d earn him the name Superman rather than it just being given to him off screen and said by a random army communications guy for the first time. Because that should be an iconic moment rather than just an underwhelming thing some guy without a name says. We could also see some great character moments from Clark as we see him learn how to be a superhero. He’s unsure of himself at first and then after a few other rescues he grows into it. These scenes could start in Metropolis and he could go from city to city saving people as he head home to Kansas to have the scene with his mother. It also adds the sense that things could’ve turned out like the standard ‘Superman is accepted right away’ story if Zod hadn’t come in shortly afterwards and gave people doubts about him. That can fill at least some of the 20 minutes of time that was cut out earlier from the Krypton scenes.
The fight scenes in this movie, while certainly big and epic, feel like the expression “turn off your brain” applied to the crew making them. The movie just turns into a ‘disaster porn’ film with a keen focus on exactly how much damage would be caused if Kryptonians were fighting in our world of cardboard. There doesn’t seem to be much sense to it other than admiring how much destruction is going on. Part of the reason why fans blame the destruction on Superman is that the movie is too focused on making the fights look “cool” and the destruction “epic” that Superman trying to save people doesn’t really get shown other than a bi-product of him winning the fight. A perfect example is the Kansas fight where before it starts he tells people to “go inside where it’s safe” and then the fight kicks in where the Kyptonians get thrown through those buildings that were “safe.” It’s not about Superman saving people, it’s about how cool it looks when Superman gets punched into buildings and that’s not a great thing for a Superman movie. The reason why fans pick on Man of Steel for this is that we do get to see heroes saving civilians in the big fight scenes in the Marvel movies, that’s a key component in those fight scenes. In Avengers there is as much time spent on saving civilians as there is alien killing, we get them saving buses and buildings with people trapped in them, along with trying to actively stop the main threat. Man of Steel didn’t have anything like that for Superman, the most we got was the Daily Planet crew trying to save their intern but we didn’t get Superman doing any of that. At the beginning we saw him save some oil rig workers, and in a flashback we saw him save a bus, but when the fighting starts we don’t see him doing anything like that. The fight scenes are squarely focused on the fighting and the how “epic and cool” looking they are that Superman things, like saving people, doesn’t factor into any of it.
The fix for this is actually simple, show him in the fights noticing civilians and then moving the fights away from them. They wouldn’t even need to change much from the fights, add some close ups of Superman’s face and then a close up of civilians in danger showing he’s noticing them, then trying to make sure the fight doesn’t hurt them. Instead of the quick cutting fight scenes we can get some slower moments where we can see Superman’s thought process. Actively show Superman isn’t in control of these fights and is trying to stop people getting hurt by them, because in the film at most the audience can infer that’s what’s happening but there’s no implicit confirmation of it. It can even play into the Zod fight at the end, where Zod sees Superman is trying to stop their fight from hurting anybody so he starts directly targeting them, which leads into the climax of the fight. There could have even been a part where Superman tries to save people from the building Zod destroyed with his heatvision, and him failing to save everyone. That motivates him to try and end the fight, which then leads to the part with Zod threatening to kill a family. In the film we can see Zod is in control of the fight and Superman is just reacting to it, but there’s no sense that these two crashing through buildings and blowing stuff up is affecting anyone, it’s just there to look cool.
Zod’s motivations need to be made clearer. It’s implied by the film that Zod and his men are traditionalists, that they are bred literally to preserve Krypton and that’s why he uses the terraform machine rather than keeping his superpowers. He wants to bring back the glory the old Krypon rather than embracing change, that’s also why he pushes Superman to kill him at the end since to him his life had ended when the chance to bring Krypton back was destroyed. Unfortunately that wasn’t communicated too well on film given the amount of people confused why Zod doesn’t want to keep his superpowers.
Now the big controversial part of the movie, Superman killing Zod. Personally I don’t mind it too much so long as it’s established that Superman values life and doesn’t want to use his powers to kill only for him to be forced to do it anyway. Then afterwards we see he does feel regret for killing Zod and establishing that he doesn’t want to take another life again. The big problem with it in the movie was that they don’t set up that he wouldn’t kill someone, and the moment didn’t have any consequences to that action. In an interview Snyder has said that killing Zod lead to Superman vowing not to kill again, but that is not communicated in the film at all. If you really don’t want Superman killing Zod in the movie then the fix is to just have him refuse Zod’s ‘suicide by Superman’ and have Zod kill himself, obviously the circumstances would need to be changed up and the heatvisioning of a family wouldn’t be imminent. But in either case there should be some follow up with Superman on how the events have effected him rather than the nothing the film actually has for it. The film could have Superman killing Zod or not killing him and the scenes afterwards wouldn’t change because those scenes aren’t about that decision. If it’s meant to be a big character moment for him, which the drawn-out scene and cinematography fully suggest it was, then have some build-up and follow-up to it. If it’s not going to change the character then what’s the point of doing it?
You don’t get credit for things that weren’t in the movie because, simply put, they weren’t in the movie. Doesn’t matter how much extra information the creators say in interview, or consequences that get added to the sequel, it still doesn’t erase the fact that this movie didn’t have those parts in it. In the sequel trailer we see distrust of Superman because of Man of Steel, we see consequences for the destructive fight in Metropolis, and there’s some follow-up to Zod being killed, things that I’m confident to say were put in due to fan complaints. If there was any thought of setting those things up for the sequel then it doesn’t show in Man of Steel, as we would’ve seen something to indicate these things weren’t afterthoughts to the film-makers. Superman feeling remorse for killing Zod, dissatisfied with himself for causing so much damage to Metropolis and Smallville, those moments should’ve been in the movie. But there wasn’t anything at all beyond the disaster porn visuals for the destruction Superman causes. Batman V Superman Dawn of Justice isn’t a do-over for Man of Steel, it’s a signed confession that they screwed up with this movie, that they want to try and fix things and repair the damage that was done.
Lastly don’t end the movie on Clark suddenly becoming a Daily Planet reporter overnight. End with him talking to Lois and she asks what he’ll do when not in his cape. He says he wants something he can earn without needing his powers, something where he could also help people, and that he’s always fancied journalism. They kiss, or platonicly embrace if the romance is cut out, end of movie. That way he can be a reporter in the sequel and imply he did the minutia of sorting out his secret identity, sorting out his qualifications and getting the job, off screen between movies. Time between movies is nebulous as it takes years to make them, actors age, and unless it’s a period piece the sequel’s going to be in the ‘present’ rather than whatever year the first one was made. What usually happens is no one mentions time passing unless it’s a plot point, so if a character needs to get work as a reporter there’s spare time to imply that’s what he was doing between movies. So potentially there’s 3 years between Man of Steel (2013) and Dawn of Justice (2016), so that can sweep the plot hole under the rug. It’s not a great fix since he still somehow went from ‘no qualifications hobo’ to ‘reporter for major metropolitan newspaper’ in a relatively short amount of time, but it’s better than tacking it onto the end of this movie as a throwaway bit of mythos fluff and implying that he walked in a few days/a week after killing Zod and somehow got the job.
This doesn’t really cover all of the problems with Man of Steel, there’s just too much to list and my sanity couldn’t take it, but I think these are some of the larger problems that’d help the movie run smoother. The movie has issues with communicating its themes and not bothering to show consequences of its actions. As always with storytelling you need to think about why things are happening and what you’re trying to convey in your scenes. If Superman smashing through buildings is only there to show you how cool it looks then it doesn’t need to be there.
Leave a comment for what you think of the blog’s new feature, any suggestions for what I could try “fixing” next, and what else could’ve been fixed for Man of Steel.