Last Friday, Kendell and I went to see the new Superman movie. Now, I should preface my comments with this startling fact: I have never seen a movie about Superman. I've never read a comic book or a novel retelling or anything else Superman related. I do like the song "Kryptonite" by Three Doors Down, and I know the generalities of the story, but I have no serious affinity (nor dislike) for Superman.
So I went into the movie thinking "a few people on this morning's TV news thought this was good. Let's see if they're right!"
And I have to say: I loved the first half of the movie. I liked the angles of the shots and the way that the camera shook a little between scenes. I liked Russell Crowe as a moral Kryptonian (I usually like anything Russell Crowe is in); the birth scene and the scene in the birthing chamber gave me chills.
But the scene that made me tear up was the one where Lara says goodbye to Kal-El. She doesn't want to let him go—he is tiny, and she knows she won't see him grow up. But she sends him off, both to try to save her people and to save him. I think she was able to stand fearlessly in the face of her death because she knew: at least she had made that one meaningful sacrifice. She made herself stronger while simultaneously saving her baby (which we could say of many birthmothers, couldn't we?)
That was when I started thinking: Superman isn't really a superhero story. Or, not exclusively. To me, it felt like an adoption narrative. This small baby is sent out into the world with the hope that he will be in better hands with someone else. And, when he is old enough, he starts to wonder: who am I? Who are the people I came from? He needs to know all the stories, not just the memories of his childhood but the things only his birthparents can tell him. For me, his yearning to know his true origin story was the heart of the movie, and when he finally found the consciousness of Jor-El on the alien ship, I teared up again.
The knowing. That unbearable tension dissolving as he learns where he is from. And then the fact that he went back to Jonathan Kent's grave, and to his mother Martha's house. It isn't, I don't think, just one thing—coming from two different families. It isn't either/or. He needs both sets of parents' wisdom and sacrifices to become Superman instead of just another superly-bad villain.
All of which is to say: I loved the first half of the movie. It made me think about what makes us who we are—the old nature/nurture argument, yes, but in a more personal way. What power and influence do I have as a parent and what is simply genetic? How can I be better at teaching my kids how to figure out what their potentials hold? How can I teach them to hope while still living within what is real and possible?
But once the fighting started, the experience changed for me. It wasn't about the internal anymore. True: it was sort of about Clark Kent figuring out how to be the person his potential would allow him, how to sharpen and strengthen and how to know. But it lost its edge and became more about the battling superpowers than anything else.
And battle scenes are always boring to me
So my review of Superman: Man of Steel is mixed. I loved the first half; I thought the second half was pretty mundane, driven by special effects instead of story. But the first half was good enough that I don't regret paying full price on opening weekend (something we almost never do, especially the full-price thing) to see it.
Also: I loved science-fiction-novelist-extraordinaire Elizabeth Bear's review.