If there’s one redeeming quality in Zack Snyder’s bloated Man of Steel, it’s Amy Adams as Lois Lane. I’m not the biggest fan of Adams’ work, so this was a truly pleasant surprise. In a film brimming with absurd special effects and stoic men speaking monotonously about the fate of humanity, she brings a much-needed dose of humanity.
In the Superman universe, Lois’ primary purpose is to ground Superman. As a boy, the Kents do that job, imparting a sense of right and wrong to an otherworldly Kal-El. As an adult, with the weight of the world on his shoulders, it becomes even more important for Superman to have real and specific relationships with humans, and especially with a do-right woman like Lois.
While the plot holes in Snyder’s film are big enough to drive a World Engine through, Lane’s story actually makes a ton of sense: She’s a Pulitzer Prize winner and a war correspondent’ early on, she tells us, “I get writer’s block if I’m not wearing a flak jacket.” After Kal-El becomes the subject of a manhunt, Lois refuses to give up her source (Clark Kent) to either her boss or to the U.S. government. It’s a moment that is timely, and very telling about Lois’ character. She’s the last honest woman in journalism, by gum, and she’s not going to back down.
Lois Lane is one of the rare iconic women in pop culture who’s defined primarily by her job — she isn’t really Lois if she’s not a newswoman. From the beginning of the Superman comics, Lois has been characterized by her curiosity, her drive to uncover the truth. Whether you layer on Margot Kidder’s swooniness, or Teri Hatcher’s sex appeal, she’s still a tough-as-nails working woman. Pepper Potts doesn’t really have a job without Tony Stark, and Mary Jane Watson flits from actress to model. The closest cousin to Lois Lane is scientist Jane Foster in the Thor series. Certainly there are plenty of examples of female supporting characters in comics with intense day jobs (Maria Hill, for one), but few who get as much screen time over the years as Lois Lane. In summer blockbusters (whether based on comics or not), it’s rare to see a woman who is as unabashedly career-focused as Lois Lane. Moreover, it’s her career that brings her into contact with Superman.
In Snyder’s film in particular, where Superman’s manliness is trotted out at every turn — He saves an oil rig while shirtless! He hitchhikes through Canada while wearing flannel! — it’s nice to see Lois butching up a little as well. Adams wears pants during the entire film, and her wardrobe consists of a lot of tweed vests. She looks like a real, live journalist (even if she is in stupidly pointy stilettos in a few scenes).
Giving Clark a dose of humanity doesn’t mean that Lois needs to drape herself in femininity. Kidder and Hatcher fell to pieces in front of the Man of Steel’s big muscles, and Erica Durance kept things flirty on Smallville. However, Adams keeps herself together, and that works for her backstory in this film. If the chemistry is a little bit off between her and Superman, it’s only because the plot doesn’t give them much room to get to know each other. The scene in which Clark takes her hand as they board Zod’s ship is actually kind of sweet — and the movie could have used a little more of that human touch amid all the alien battle scenes.
As Adams portrays Lois, she doesn’t need Superman to save her. She needs to be near him to get in on the world-saving herself, to fulfill her own desire for justice. It’s an old-fashioned notion that reporters are doing work for the public good, but it’s nice to see Lois’ ambitions line up with Superman’s in unexpected ways. In the inevitable sequel to Man of Steel, I can only hope that Adams gets to pull on another flak jacket and ride straight into the center of the action again.