SPOILERS for Man of Steel, obviously
I’m not here to talk about whether or not Superman would’ve done that. As many have pointed out, that was already settled for mass audiences in Superman II. Instead, I’d like to offer six things that could have made Man of Steel a much better movie, regardless of whose Superman it represents.
1. A more appropriate title
It’s perfectly fine not having Superman’s name in the title (or almost not even in the movie), but Man of Steel is not what this movie is about. This movie is clearly about the Last Son of Krypton. That should have been the name.
2. Clarify Jor-El’s intentions for the Codex
Jor-El makes it pretty clear that he intends for his son to bridge the gap between Kryptonians and humanity, but he never describes how that will happen. From a practical, scientific standpoint, Zod is actually right about how to accomplish this. It has to be physically separated from Superman’s cells. If Jor-El is thinking of bridging the gap in metaphorical terms, why go through the trouble of downloading the Codex into his son in the first place? With all the other exposition that made it into the script, a couple of lines explaining this would have been helpful.
3. Clarify Jonathan Kent’s intentions for Clark
More important than Jor-El’s intentions for his son are Pa Kent’s. This is a crucial part of the story of Clark’s development into Superman, but Jonathan never says what it is that Clark should be waiting for. If saving his father from a tornado isn’t the right moment, when would be? I understand the idea of Clark’s using his powers for a Big Reason. That was also Pa Kent’s point in Superman: The Movie back in 1978. But this Jonathan makes such a huge deal out of it – to the extent of giving his own life – and then never helps Clark (or the audience) understand what he thinks that bigger reason is. That’s not just a failure of parenting, it’s a failure of the script.
4. More character moments
Superman’s dads aren’t the only problem. We could have used a lot more time getting to know some of the secondary characters and why they do what they do. For example, Antje Traue, Richard Schiff, Christopher Meloni, and Rebecca Buller were great as – respectively – Faora-Ul, Dr. Hamilton, Col. Hardy, and Jenny. I would have loved more time with them. “But the movie’s already two-and-a-half hours long,” you say. Well…
5. Less disaster porn
I agree with those who complain about what all the collateral damage says about Superman, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about how – from a filmmaking standpoint – those scenes just went on way too long. In the same way that the final fight in the first Transformers movie went on too long. Or the way that all the parts of any Roland Emmerich movie go on way too long. If Zack Snyder had cut in half the number of shots of buildings falling down and used that time for more Richard Schiff or Rebecca Buller, Man of Steel would be a better film.
6. Make the right sequels
I’ve tried to make this list about what the movie is and not about what I want it to be. I’m sensitive to those who say this isn’t “their” Superman, because honestly, it’s not my Superman either. But even this could be rescued if the sequels go in the right direction. There’s a way of reading Man of Steel as being about the growth of Superman into the character so many fans want to see. This was his first time out as a superhero and boy did he ever make mistakes. If the next couple of movies were to show him learning from those mistakes, we could have the making of a terrific trilogy.
What if the next film featured Lex Luthor as the villain, pointing to the devastation of Metropolis and saying, “Look! We have to keep this from happening again!”? And what if he ponies up a lot of the money for the rebuild himself? That fits with motivations that have already been established for Luthor and deepens the character by giving the audience reason to think, “You know… he’s not wrong.” A film about Luthor’s trying to objectify Superman as a threat would be really powerful after this first one. And Man of Steel would have been a great title for it (see Item No. 1, above).
A third movie could show Superman’s ultimate transformation into the aspirational hero so many fans see him as: the Man of Tomorrow.
It’s just too bad that that rocket – like the others in this list – has already left the exploding planet.