Warning: Spoilers throughout.
Here is a video of Max Landis, the writer of 2012’s Chronicle:
Just to get it out of the way, I thought Chronicle was one of the better films of 2012 and one of my personal favorites of the last few years. The film meshed the best use of the handheld gimmick with the great mythos inherent in superhero films with some genuinely cool sci-fi elements. In the aforementioned video, he talks about how he cares about characters more than plot; characters should drive plot, not plot driving plot. With respect to that, his troubled teen-turned villain character, Andrew, was perfectly done. So much so, that by the end, you empathize with what his cousin, Matt has to do to stop him. Thus, going into this video, I was very curious what he had to say about Man of Steel and superhero films in general.
Essentially, Landis sees Clark Kent/Superman as the ultimate good guy that’s good because well, the other option, as a God among men, is to take over the world. He says, “You’re looking at someone who’s a superhero because being a superhero makes the most sense. You can either save the world or you can take it over…why not try to save it?”
Fair enough, I suppose; of course, the “why not try to save it” makes it seem a bit whimsical. The choice to do so was instilled in him by his parents, the Kent’s.
He also says, “Instead of absolute power corrupting absolutely, absolute power has absolved him from fear, greed and hate and all of the weaknesses that stem from human insecurity.”
Then finally, he says, “What’s special about Superman is that he will always make the right choice.” And indeed, I do agree with that characterization.”
Those last two points are certainly very true. His powers have indeed imbued him with a confidence that negates any normal human emotions. Although, it could be argued he still fears not being able to save everyone, but I digress.
Likewise, Superman is Superman because he always makes the right choice. He’s the superhero other superheroes look up to because he always makes the right choice. We expect that of him.
And these two points are why I feel like Landis missed the point of Man of Steel. I’ve been saying since I first saw the film the day before its official release that the film is about the journey Clark takes to become Superman. In other words, there’s a reason “Superman” is not in the title; he’s learning to become the character we all know. He’s simply not there yet.
To expand upon this notion, Clark has not arrived at the point (until the end of the film) where he does have that confidence absolute power enables. He was just coming into his own in trying to figure out what his powers were, where they came from and what the limits (if any) there were. For instance, he struggles at first with flying after putting on the suit. Up until his battle with an equally superpowered Zod, his only real challenges had been saving school children from drowning and workers from an oil rig. To expect Clark to go from alien spaceship to Kansas farm to Superman with all the confidence of Superman without anything in between? Not only is that narrow-minded, but as I see it, goes against Landis’ own love of characterization.
He also made an off-hand remark that was somewhat inaccurate to me. He said, “Humans can never be as good as him.” The whole point of Superman and the hope and inspiration he symbolizes is that we can indeed be as good as him. In Man of Steel, one of the most significant lines from Jor-El was, “You will give the people of Earth an ideal to strive towards. They will stumble, they will fall. But in time, they will join you in the sun.” So, there is definitely this concept that we can be as good as him, if only we follow his example.
All that said, Landis did throw me for a loop when he actually didn’t mind the killing of Zod, which has been one of the biggest criticisms of the film. In fact, he said Superman should have killed him as soon as possible to avoid the absolutely annihilation of Metropolis that we later see after the ensuing battle between the two. Obviously, I disagree for two primary reasons, which go back to the “coming of age of Superman” and characterization driving the plot.
First, as mentioned, Superman has never faced a challenge like Zod or anything remotely close before. Why would his go-to logic once Zod arrives and makes his plans known be, “I’ll just kill him?” That again, seems like quite the leap and brings with it a lack of characterization. And that brings me to my second point; the killing of Zod in the end was a great moment of characterization for the Superman character. He’s clearly emotional about the fact that he had to kill Zod and with him, his Kryptonian lineage, but also, if one notices, after that moment, he does start showing that all-to important confidence characteristic known to Superman.
As for the destruction itself, that’s an apt point about all superhero films to be honest. However, again, why would Superman, an untested superhero have first thought be, “Take him to the moon and fight him there?” And in fact, he did take Zod into space at one point when they collided with a satellite. The destruction has to be massive: it is two superpowered beings fighting it out. For once, a live-action film has captured the power of Superman and what happens when he faces someone of equal stature.
But as I said, his point about destruction and the hero standing tall in front of the destruction behind him is a solid criticism of the superhero genre, as in the genre should find new ways of going about it. Destruction itself isn’t a problem because that’s a tenet of the comics, which is where most of the superheros in film have been adapted from.
I would dig a superhero film that explored the aftermath of such destruction and how humans responded. Hell, maybe that could be how the next film’s villain rises up: he points to the superhero menace, the destruction wrought, and helps rebuild; the humans begin to trust him and enter conflict. Hey, maybe you could even call that person Lex …and oh, wait.