Serious Humor

promo picture of superman being all superman

I finally got around to watching “Man of Steel” this weekend and I was entirely disappointed.

The basic idea is that, after Supes’ adopted dad dies (in a tornado, acting as a martyr because Superman totally could have saved him), Supes runs around the world trying to figure out who he really is and what he really is. The concept is pretty interesting. If young Superman never learned what he was, who would he be.

promo picture of superman being all superman

But the story falls entirely flat because it’s too serious. I counted two moments that I found amusing in the entire movie. The first was when the hologram of Jor-el told Lois Lane to dodge a punch and the second was when Superman crashed into a sign saying it had been 150 days since the last workplace accident, knocking the sign to 0 days.

They were both ‘blink and you miss it’ moments.

I don’t think that the movie had to be funny and campy. The original Superman movies with Christopher Reeves bordered on that. Actually it crossed the border with Superman III and went right into full on ‘stupid’ – that was a bad movie. But at it’s heart, Reeves understood that there had to be a humanity and poignancy to Superman. We had to believe he was human when he wasn’t.

This is not to diss Henry Cavill (or ‘Buff English Matt Bomer’ as we call him at home). He did a good job with the script. He tried to put the pain of harnessing power into his moments. Because Superman is absolutely a terrifying creature. Here’s a being, from outer space, who has super strength, invulnerability, shoots heat ray beams out of his eyes, and he can fly.

There’s a moment where this terrible power is touched on, when Jonathan Kent cautions his adoptive son to guard his strength and hide it, but it falls short. Instead of explaining why, teaching Clark the lesson of moderation because he can kill with a flick of his wrist, they just tell him to keep his powers secret because people will fear him. There is no teaching moment to bring the humanity to our big dumb alien. There is no successful imbuing him with love for his world.

That’s the other thing. I didn’t see why Clark loved Earth. There was no reason for him to love it! All he saw was death and pain and he was constantly told that he had to hide and could never help anyone because people would hate him. Awesome lessons, Pa Kent! That’s probably why Superman did the unthinkable and killed someone in the end. Superman doesn’t kill because he cherishes life (all life) and his parents taught him to love. Batman doesn’t kill because he knows the agony of death and abandonment (unlike Superman, Bats was grown enough to know what he’d lost — Supes was a newborn). Wonder Woman kills because she knows that Mans’ World is a violent place, and there is a cost that comes with her powers. That’s why the three of them work as a trio. Supes wants to believe in the best in everyone, Batman sees the worst, and Wonder Woman can make that last judgement call neither of the boys are capable of.

But above all else, there was no levity. There was no serious humor. I don’t mean funny ha-ha moments, though it could have used a few of those too. Serious humor is needed to give a break between the drama moments. You can’t keep chaining together pain and pain and pain without a pause. It makes the pain more poignant if we have a moment where we see hope and humor. “Man of Steel” missed that entirely.

It walked when it should have montaged. It hemorrhaged plot when it should have dosed it out slowly. It lingered on things that didn’t change. It hung onto the moments as if that would make them more powerful,  and in the end did not.

All in all, it was a flop for me. The action was forced, the science was so terrible that it failed as a sci-fi work, there was no romance (seriously how the hell did they do that with Amy Adams!!??), there was no family. All the things that should have made it a decent super hero flick came off as trite.

Go watch Supergirl on CBS Mondays. It’s better.

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