Rule #20

Have you all seen Superman – Man of Steel?

My brother thinks it is the bomb, but other than the wickedly splendid Faora Hu-Ul (played by Antje Traue), I think they got it all wrong.

Why?

I didn’t care whether Kal-El/Clark Kent/Superman survived or not. As a matter of fact, I don’t think I cared whether earth survived. Though I did think Faora could kick some super-butt, and wouldn’t mind seeing a whole movie centered around her.

How can you not admire this?

Take that, Superman-chump!

So, okay, I didn’t care for the characters.

Why?

For me, the narration – the flow – was disjointed.

The movie starts out on the planet Krypton, where we are treated with a visual cornucopia of that dying world and to the first natural-born Kryptonian in centuries – Kal-El. After his birth, Jor-El, Kal’s father, denounces the ruling council, steals the all-important growth codex, implants it into his son’s DNA, and readies to launch him to our planet. General Zod, the protector of the codex, has other plans and thus ensues a massive battle to re-capture the codex from Jor-El.

Kal-El gets away, of course, and ends up…

…on the Bearing Sea in a fishing boat – all grown up. That’s nice and all, but what the heck does that have to do with the mini-movie we just saw? Where’s the freakin’ baby? What’s gonna happen when General Zod and his posse get out of the black hole?

Okay, never mind gotta keep up, because this movie moves.

Kal-El, using some pseudonym (Joe?),  then quickly goes out to save a bunch of guys trapped on a burning oil rig (after showing his utter ineptitude on the fishing ship’s deck). Okay, that’s expected, and a bit cliché, but whatever, Joe is in the freezing water now and we got to keep going because then we get to a…

…flashback.

Yup, one of several. In my opinion, this first one is horribly misplaced because it has absolutely nothing to do with the previous scene. This particular flashback is about his hearing and vision going all super and how hard it was for little Clark Kent to tame those beasts.

Then we end up back with Joe, or whatever, as he gets to shore and steals some clothes (he was near naked after saving those folks on the Bearing Sea – keep up!). During this, he’s reminded (by a randomly passing school bus) about his own childhood school bus and we go into a…

…flashback.

This time, this one sort of makes sense, because it sort of relates to the previous scene. There’s a school bus, he has a school bus memory, but…isn’t that sort of stupid? I mean, so every time the adult Clark sees a school bus he thinks back on that particular school bus day?

Anyway, after that flashback in which Clark saves a kid that had bullied him, we then cut back to what I assume is present day and Joe (or Clark) is at a bar, where he just happens to over hear something about an alien ship out in the arctic. Of course, that means it’s time for another…

…you guessed it…

…flashback!

Actually, no. We end up somewhere in the arctic, seeing the military alien-ship-investigation operation from Lois Lane’s perspective.

Ah…we’re you not paying attention? Did you just get side-swiped? Who the hell is Lois Lane?! And why is she measuring dicks?

Of course, we all know who Lois Lane is. And we know Clark Kent. And we know his origin stories. There have been so many superman movies, just about everybody knows his story. But that doesn’t mean you can hack it to pieces, throw the story elements up in the air, and allow them to land in a jumble.

And this is just the beginning, folks!

As it is, the Man of Steel jumps from one story line to another and back to flashbacks before taking us down the CGI-never-never-land of super-fights (which, on their own, I enjoyed, but within the context of the movie, the carnage didn’t make sense). We are never given a moment to pause and follow the one story we all want to see – Kal-El’s struggle to save us.

For me, the story has to make sense and flow from one scene to another in some logical fashion. While the Man of Steel may work for younger audiences with attention spans smaller than a gnat, it didn’t work for me.

Now…what if I had all the awesome scenes of the Man of Steel laid out before, how would I re-cut this film?

First – Start with the Main Character

I’d start the story from Kal-El’s perspective, and give the audience time to bond with the younger – and older – versions of that character. Give us some time to care about him and figure out why he’s enamored with us.

Because, in this movie, humans come in two versions: bullies (even Lois seems to be emotionally void), or fodder for Faroa.

Kill ‘em, baby! We don’t need ‘em…urm…I guess…

That’s the range of characters this movie provides for us humans. I mean, since the audience doesn’t have any one human character to latch onto, we really can’t care too much about them, can we? So, why is it that Superman wants to save us so badly when all we’ve ever done is bully him or stood on the sidelines?

After establishing that we are worthy of saving, then I’d launch into the bit where General Zod comes in to take over the world.

Second – Kill the Prologue

While it is kick-ass in terms of visual appeal and story (would love to see a whole movie on Jor-El’s and Lara Lor-Van’s struggle to have their baby), it distracts from Superman’s story. This movie is about Kal/Clark/Superman deciding whether to fight General Zod to death. While the end of Krypton is the start of Superman’s story, it is not his story. It’s his father’s, Jor-El’s, story. Use it for flashbacks, if you must have a flashback, but otherwise, make another movie.

Third – Give Antje Traue More Screen Time

No joke. She’s just too awesome, and her facial expressions could tell an entire movie-worth of story, right?

Excuse me?

So, that’s how I would re-cut a block-buster hit movie. Do you agree? What would you do?

pixar20

Exercise: Take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How would you rearrange them into what you do like?

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10 thoughts on “Rule #20

  1. Yes, the film was deeply flawed for all of the reasons you stated above. I expected it to be better.

    Prologues don’t really work in films (though arguably you can get away with it in flashback). I’ve been experimenting with the flashback concept for the sequel to my completed novel. Every couple of chapters has a short flashback to somebody’s boyhood so that particular element of the plot unravels at the same time as the regular plot. It was necessary to do it that way because there is a big twist coming at some point and I wanted the revelation to make sense with the reader having full knowledge of the backstory at that point and I don’t see a better way to do it. I might even try something similar with my Romans vs Aliens novel but to a lesser extent. Time will tell whether it works in either case.

    Where’s the freakin’ baby? What’s gonna happen when General Zod and his posse get out of the black hole?

    That was too much, I agree. However, cutting out the “what he did when he was a child” thing never stopped The Bible having billions of followers the world over ;)

    1. Yeah, that jump was too much for me. Especially since we end up on a fishing boat. I thought his space-pod was going to come crashing into the water and the fishermen were gonna fish ‘em out, you know? When that didn’t happen, I was deeply disappointed. More so because he was such a (super)loser…

  2. Good analysis and tie back to writing. I liked Antje, too. She would have made a more interesting villain than ol’ Lantern jaw.

    My family and I watched it the past weekend and were very disappointed. None of us are big superman fans- after all, Superman is a hero without any real flaws aside from a mechanical weakness to kryptonite (which is not a character flaw).

    But the movie was almost rated ‘fresh’ on Rotten Tomatoes and on Vudu had an audience rating of 4.3, which is pretty high so we gave it a shot. Plus my wife has a thing for Henry Cavil.

    Obviously many liked it but all four of us thought it was awful. The main knock we had was that the pacing was god-awful boring. I don’t think you can do a Superman reboot without a prologue or some flash back but it all smacked of extremely heavy exposition, which is the death of most speculative fiction, although I agree with your other critiques, especially the uninteresting characters. It reminds me of Prometheus. The only character I had any interest in in that movie was the android. All the rest, I couldn’t care less if they lived or died.

    1. Note on Rotten Tomatoes that the critics gave his one a splat. I think the die hard fans liked it just because there was a guy in a superman suit. Anything would have filled their super-junkie habit, but I wanted a story.

      Sorry your kids didn’t like it. I hope someone comes along and does it properly, both modernize it and tell Superman’s emotional story.

  3. I only saw part of this movie — I was writing! — so I can’t speak to the flashback issue. I felt the performances by Superman and Lois were too understated. I mean, Lois was always so aggressive, chasing down the story, cutting Clark down, whatever it took to get the scoop. And the Clark/Superman actor only had one expression the whole time. Until the very end, when he smiled at Lois and totally lit the screen. I said to my husband, “He should have been doing that all along. It would have been a totally different movie.”

    I had some doubts about Perry White, too, although at least the Daily Planet staff brought some diversity into the cast. The actors I liked best were Ma and Pa Kent, actually.

    1. Actually, I think the parents of Kal, on either planet, held far more of my interest than Superman himself.

      I hadn’t noticed the smiling/non-smiling, but maybe that’s what I didn’t like about him. He was acting like the typical brooding teenager, feeling sorry for himself most of the movie – it put me off. Good catch.

      1. Yeah, now that I think about it… Nobody in that movie was smiling. Not that you’d smile at planetary destruction, but you know what I mean. Nobody smiling = nobody having fun = audience not having fun.

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