It’s actually very simple: by taking the property seriously. You might not think it matters with a comic as the source material, but just hear me out.
Let’s start with the premise of what Superman really is. He’s an extraterrestrial alien being with near-godlike powers. He can fly at supersonic speeds. He’s nearly impervious to physical harm. He has the strength of ten thousand retard gorillas. He can shoot heat rays out of his eyes that burn through rock and metal. He has X-ray vision. And for most of his childhood, he has no idea why the hell he can do the things he can do, because his parents neglected to mention that they pulled him out of a crashed spaceship as an infant. Sorry, son. We were just hoping to avoid having you vivisected by Uncle Sugar or milked for your alien man-juice so that the Army could create a race of hybrid super-soldiers.
And that causes real problems for young Clark Kent. And they should. Do you think a little kid could take the manifestation of some pretty disturbing abilities in stride? Or would he maybe be upset by them and ask Why am I so strong? Why are the slightest noises so deafening to my ears? Why do I set shit on fire with my death ray eyes whenever I get – OH MY GOD WHY CAN I SEE EVERYBODY’S BONES AND INNARDS THAT IS SO FUCKING GROSS! MOOOOOMMMMMMYYYYYYYY!
If you saw Slim Goodbody every time you opened your eyes, you might be a little upset, too.
A little kid who’s freaked out and upset by all the things he could do, compounded by a family who wants to keep his abilities secret makes sense. That’s what I mean by taking the property seriously – the characters in this movie may make good or bad choices, but you can understand why they make the choices they do. Dad’s scared for his son – so much so that he would rather die than be saved and risk exposing him as an alien. The Army wants to put Superman in chains. Wouldn’t you? Motherfucker is Hovering. In. The. Air. Mayhap he’s a little dangerous. They also want to hand him over to General Zod. Wouldn’t you? “I don’t even know this asshole, Mr. Zod. Can I get you a beverage or something?” Again – this makes sense. They don’t want to involve our country over some foreign spat in which we have no national interest. Hmm – he’s not shown on screen, but maybe the President is Ron Paul in this scenario.
Speaking of General Zod - his actions may not make sense to us, but they make perfect sense to him. “There’s only a handful of my race left, I was born and bred for the sole purpose of protecting that race, and the only way for that race to survive is to juice this Kal-El kid like a fucking space orange and reconstitute the Kryptonian race. Oh, and they’re going to need air to breathe when they’re born, so I’m going to have to just refuckulate Earth’s atmosphere until every living being on it that isn’t a Kryptonian suffocates to death. Sorry about that.
Well, no. Not really. Can’t do nuttin’ fo you, man. Tha Z-O-Dizzle’s got problems of his own.”
Speaking of which, and this may be a throwaway part to many of you, but this next bit perfectly illustrates my thesis in just thirty seconds of film:
To set up the clip, General Zod’s henchmen, Nam-Ek – a nine foot-tall giant, and Faora – a smallish female, have been fighting Superman on the ground and kicking his ass. Which makes perfect sense – they’re soldiers who were bred for battle and trained in combat for their entire lives. Clark Kent hasn’t been in a single fight in his life, because he’s afraid of killing someone with a light jab that ends up with bits of pancreas on his knuckles.
They haven’t had as much time to adjust to their new powers as Clark Kent, but they were also expecting that they would gain them because they understood the significance of Earth’s sun type – they even have a scientist in their crew. So Colonel Hardy, played by Chris Meloni, has just witnessed Zod’s crew not only beat the shit out of Earth’s only hope, they’ve soaked up whatever damage America’s weapons can dish out, and he’s just had his chopper swatted out of the air like a tsetse fly with a gimpy wing. Now Faora moves in for the kill.
So Colonel Hardy dumps an entire magazine of 9 mm into this broad’s chest and face and she doesn’t even drop her smirk. So what does he do? He pulls a knife. A. Knife.
Why? Because Fuck Her, That’s Why.
This is what I loved about this movie, and what I hated about the first Superman movies, in which our soldiers ineffectually rattle off a few shots while backpedaling in terror. All humans in these films are simpering pussies who are waiting for Space Daddy to come along and save their bacon.
Col. Hardy isn’t having any of that shit. “You want my blood? You’re gonna have to work for it, honey. See this? I’m going to shove this knife up your ass and tote you around like a Krypton-flavored bitchsicle.”
He doesn’t look terrified. He looks grim and determined. The humans in this movie are fighting desperately for their survival, and generally losing pretty badly. But they keep fighting, because that’s what you do. That’s taking the subject matter seriously.
No campy bullshit. No Otis. No Lex Luthor fumbling with his toupee. No Jimmy Olsen, with his useless “Gee willikers!” faggotry. Lois isn’t a helpless, bowling alley-grade, two-pack-a-day Margot Kidder gutterskank, but neither does she swing all the way into some annoying, unrealistic Grrl Power! asskicker. She uses her smarts and turns out to be very useful.
Oh, and the Kryptonians’ godlike powers are GODLIKE. When they collide in Metropolis, the worst thing that happens isn’t some guy’s ice cream cone blows into his face when General Zod uses his totally gay Super Breath and we get a Keystone Kops slide-whistle sound effect. Oh, hey! There’s a guy in a telephone booth that just blew over, and is sliding down the street, and he’s still talking on the phone! He’s so clueless to the titanic struggle taking place all around him! (Sproing! sound effect).
FUCK YOU, RICHARD DONNER.
No, when Kryptonians fight, skyscrapers collapse. Shit catches on fire. Thousands of people are burned, lacerated and crushed to death in the mountains of rubble that these superbeings create. And in the meantime, our armed forces don’t sit on their hands and wait for some alien dude in a fucking cape with unknown motives to come and save their asses. They make their own plans and take their own actions as best they can. When you take your subject matter seriously, it makes it easy for the audience to suspend their disbelief and lose themselves in the world that the filmmakers have created. Thank you, Zack Snyder for making this one of the easiest movies to enjoy that I’ve seen, especially in the superhero genre.
Great movie, great cast, good script and backstory to set up the final showdown. Highly recommend, and I’ll definitely buy this one when it hits DVD. My only criticism, and this is more of a general criticism of all action movies these days: Why does EVERYTHING have to be in 3-D? I understand the economics behind it, but for once, I would love to not have to either wear those stupid glasses which are still slick with some kid’s pimple grease if I don’t want to wait until the home release.