So I saw the latest Superman. I wanted to like it, especially after Pete’s enthusiastic recommendation and Ramsey’s eloquently philosophical one in the thread. Too much of the movie is given over to boring fight scenes. It’s just never clear what you have to do to kill someone from Krypton. The last long fight between Kal (Superman) and General Zod is especially ridiculous. They seemingly can throw each other around indefinitely, taking out whole skyscrapers and so forth, without either getting really hurt. Then we finally learn that it’s possible to choke the other guy to death. (Update: Pete in the thread below says Zod’s superneck was broken—believe him, by the time it happened I was too bored to care.) What a relief! But relief comes too slowly for me.

The movie is also very careless on the human cost of the collateral damage of all that violence. Lots and lots of big buildings go up in smoke, but you don’t know for sure that even one citizen of Metropolis actually died. So MAN OF STEEL is too much a video game or cartoon for me. The film for this and other reasons (look at the thread for speculation about the destruction of those Kryptonian babies—are they really babies?) is hardly a celebration of the sanctity of life. Both Superman and Zod agree that it’s either US or THEM, and it’s lucky for us that Superman thinks of us earthlings as his “us.” There’s no COSMOPOLITAN message here. (Update: It is true that Clark initially envisions that the Kryptonians can share earth with us, but that’s because he doesn’t understand who they are, what they’ve been made for. His final thought is “Krypton had its chance!” Pete is probably right that Krypton makes a comeback in some sequel; the status of the future Kryptonians encoded in Superman’s body isn’t clear. The interesting thought—a thought that maybe begins in the REPUBLIC—concerns whether people genetically created to be some part of a “city” are really fully human, whole persons. Does irreducible individuality or personality ironically elude the intentions of the merely political creator? That might be one ironic subtext of “evolution always wins.” Evolution—which includes human freedom—wins over every attempt to control it for non-natural purposes. You super-fans might be thinking; he’s now thinking that the movie is smarter than he originally thought.)

I actually felt Zod’s pain. He’s not a bad guy. He was bred, after all, to defend his people and their eugenic scheme. His is a purpose-driven life. It seemed unfair to say that he wasn’t, but the people of earth are, bred for morality. The early Krypton, apparently, was an empire—not a republic. But it abandoned its colonial outreach, adopted forced population control, and started to artificially bred citizens for various places in their regime—workers, warriors, and leaders. That led to the regime’s atrophying to the point of destruction. An enlightened scientist (Superman’s dad—the Crowe character) did see, if too late, the need to return to a world of choice and chance, and so making the babies the old-fashioned way. The presence of such a wise man (overplayed by Russell Crowe) suggests that they were even breeding philosopher-kings, even if, not surprisingly, not reliably.

So even if we can criticize Father Barron for understanding Plato’s REPUBLIC as a real program for political reform, he is right to see the film as a defense of an “open society” (modern American imperial freedom) against politicized eugenics as the foundation of a closed society. We also see that an open society depends upon hope, and what was wrong with Krypton is that it hadn’t kept hope alive in some sense. (Superman’s S is actually Kryptonian for hope.) But hope in what? We see Clark/Kal/Superman in church talking with a young priest who advises him to take the leap of faith that precedes trust. But faith in who or what?

My big objection, of course, is that all this philosophical or spiritual stuff isn’t really developed. (Or stupid: We learn that SUPERMAN is 33; if that means something, he should have died for our sins.) There’s too much boring action instead. I do have to admit that Ramsey is right that Kevin Costner (who also overplays his part, but that’s his style) is moving as a foster father who sacrifices his life for a son he can’t fully understand. And Crowe is quite the caring biological father to Kal. So Superman has two dads, and he’s lucky (very lucky) to have them both. It’s always great to see Amy Adams, but her gutsy Lois Lane is pretty darn underdeveloped too.

You might say that the real problem is that MAN OF STEEL’s teaching style just doesn’t match my learning style. For one thing, I found out once again that 3-D glasses don’t work me. Because my eyes don’t work together, I have no real depth perception.

I also saw THE INTERNSHIP. It’s the most dystopian movie ever made. It celebrates the triumph of GOOGLINESS over MANLINESS. We will soon be controlled by techno-geeks with enough collaborative “people skills” and fake-EASTERN insight to control us all while never leaving the GOOGLE campus with its free pudding and sleep pods. I just hope SUPERMAN can stop them before it’s too late.

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Articles by Peter Lawler

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