Ok. So Man of Steel wasn’t actually that bad. It was ok. It had some nice ideas. It was a bit bland, the fight scenes were understandably criticised for being over-long and underwhelming and the villains were dull. I’m told some critics hated the score as well. The relationship between Superman and Lois Lane didn’t exactly set the screen on fire either. But unlike Batman V Superman it wasn’t awful.
It could be better though and it needs to fit into my ‘fixed’ version of the DCEU.
So what WAS good about MoS?
- The bits on Krypton looked cool.
- The fact that Superman had anger issues and Daddy issues to counterbalance his essential goody two-shoes nature was nice; it made him a more rounded character.
- I liked the news feeds of people reacting to the alien invasion and the obvious destruction caused by superhumans fighting each other.
- Henry Cavill has nice hair?
So let’s build on some of these strengths and cut out some of the crap. Let’s not have Supe’s earth-Dad die rather than let Supes use his powers to save him. Mr Kent Senior is alive and well and telling his son to keep his head down throughout the film. Clark Kent can be on the run because he did save his Dad and somebody saw him.
Let’s have Lois Lane, a star journalist, be involved in the news chatter which pops up throughout the film.
Let’s fill the soundtrack with a series of classic rock tracks because why not? Or turn it into some glitzy, orchestral, Sci-Fi thing because this film is, after all, a reboot of a very old franchise about an alien spaceman who saves the planet. (Clark A-Aa!). Retro worked for Guardians of the Galaxy.
Now how do you make Zod and crew more interesting villains? Besides making Zod look like the awesome picture in the Wikipedia article I linked in the previous sentence?
Despite the fact that they are aliens I would humanise them. Give them PTSD. Make the audience sympathise with them a little even as they attempt to trash our planet.
Because these villains have an absolutely excellent motivation. Consider how much screen time has been dedicated to characters who have lost their parents, partners or children. Zod and Co. have lost their entire planet and every last member of their species apart from themselves and they are trying desperately to regain what they lost. They may be space-fascists who tried to overthrow their planet’s government but they still have feelings.
- Make one of them have a breakdown and get locked in the brig.
- Have another enjoy bringing destruction to Earth because she can’t block out her memories of Krypton’s death.
- Have another be quite cheerful and upbeat in a nihilistic way; he thinks that he and his companions are basically walking ghosts so he’s just going to enjoy the sensations of life while he can. He might even wax poetical here and there.
- Zod himself should contrast with his underlings by being completely emotionless. Whether it’s because he was already a psychopath or because he’s dealing with his trauma in his own way; he is utterly focused on his goal and won’t hesitate to do anything, including killing his own crew, to succeed. That would give the moment when he loses his cool and accuses Kal-El of destroying his reason to exist, (rebuilding and protecting Krypton), more emotional weight. As would the grief that the other Kryptonians demonstrated for their lost homeworld.
- Alternatively Zod could present himself as a third father figure for Kal-El/Clark Kent/Superman. Try to win him over with stories of Krypton and a chance to belong. Fatherhood, (or son-hood) was a key and quite effective theme in the film after all. That would also make their final confrontation more emotional.
Another other thing you could do is emphasise that Zod and Co. are highly trained military types who understand teamwork and tactics. Zod actually points out that he has trained all his life to be a soldier. As opposed to Superman who is a lone civilian that just happens to have spent years absorbing solar radiation and becoming incredibly powerful. He can’t even have much experience of brawling because he wouldn’t be able to fight humans without revealing his powers and probably killing them into the bargain.
Yes he is far stronger and tougher than the other Kryptonians but they have cool battle-suits and spaceships and laser rifles and above all they have a plan. So after Supes surprises and wipes the floor with Zod’s advance team the first time round they work out what he can do, lay a trap for him and kick his arse in the rematch.
You’d lose the bit where Superman gives himself up but that self-sacrifice can appear in more meaningful ways later on in the film.
Cue a bit of character development as Superman is rendered powerless, imprisoned on the Kryptonians’ ship and forced to watch as they carry out their plans to transform Earth into Krypton Mark Two. This also gives him a chance to talk to and relate to the only people he has ever met who come from his home planet. Have them try to recruit him, have them wax lyrical about Krypton. Maybe have their version of what Krypton was like clash with what Jor-El’s hologram says about it.
Maybe Kal-El doesn’t immediately understand the scope of Zod’s plans. Maybe he is tempted to help.
And then Lois Lane rescues Superman.
I don’t know or particularly care how she does it but this is the 21st Century and it’s time for Lois Lane to break out of the mould of damsel in distress and actually do something besides falling off buildings and getting into scrapes. (She probably has done that already in the comics, I wouldn’t know, haven’t read all of them). Maybe she finds something in the Fortress of Solitude and uses it to remotely access and mess up the Kryptonian ship. Maybe she finds a crashes space-ship and leads a team of marines to invade the ship and rescue Superman. Maybe she just gets someone to bounce a message off a satellite that scrambles the Kryptonian ship’s systems and/or reminds Superman that he needs to sort himself out and get on with saving the day already.
Now Kal-El has a chance to do the self-sacrifice thing and e.g. download his father’s hologram into the Kryptonian ship in order to crash it and stop Zod.
The ship is brought down and Kal-El survives but so does Zod and he still has some way to carry out his plans. So we still get our final confrontation.
And let’s build on the destruction that Superman’s showdown with Zod unleashes. Let’s have him looking guilty afterwards as he watches news footage of families being dragged from the wreckage, not snogging Lois in the ruins. Let’s have him realise that he should have forced Zod to fight him somewhere less populated and swear to do better. Maybe he even swears not to fight anyone ever again. A pacifist, angst-riddled Superman would make for an interesting foil to the extremely violent Batman I presented in Part 1 of this Blog series. Although it would also be interesting to show US governmental spin doctors already working to make Superman into an all-American hero to make the government that worked with him look good.
Speaking of Part 1 of this Blog series. I pointed out in that post that SUPERMAN DOES NOT KILL PEOPLE. (Except when he does). So don’t make him kill Zod. Have him lock Zod and Co. in the Fortress of Solitude. They can get out in time for Man of Steel 2 or even 3 and summon Doomsday to get revenge on Superman and Earth. Because Doomsday and the Death of Superman plot arc, (which is one Superman story I do know), is superb and deserves at least one film dedicated to it, not just the tail end of Superman V Batman and a justification for Justice League. But I’m getting off track.
Going back to Man of Steel 1. There’s one last thing to fix and I don’t know how to do it. How to make the often criticised fight scenes better? I consider myself to be pretty knowledgeable about stories and how to tell them but I don’t know much about cinematography. I don’t know how to make the fight scenes in this film feel more real and less cartoony.
I guess you could make them shorter in favour of a bit more character development like the imprisoned Superman scene I mentioned above. And again you could emphasise that Zod is a far superior fighter with better technology so Superman has to win through sheer strength and heart. Or you could get a team consisting of a physicist, a martial artist and a pilot to work out how super-strong flying beings could fight each other effectively and ‘realistically’. The only other thing I can suggest is having Kal-El and Zod act as though the blows they exchange are actually hurting each other.
Of course you could just have Zod fight Superman in a mecha suit because all films, (including any version of Pride and Prejudice), would be improved by a giant robot battle.
So that’s it for now. Next time I blog about the DCEU I’ll be trying to fix Batman V Superman. Wish me luck!