Archives for : man of steel

On Altruism


Altruism: (noun) the belief in or practice of disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of others.

So Captain America: The Winter Soldier was frickin’ awesome.

I’ve already seen it twice and I plan to see it plenty more times. I’m so endlessly pleased with everything from the cinematography, to the fight choreography, to the chemistry between Steve and pretty much every single person in his life, and everything in between. I just adored it from start to finish.

However, sometime this week, my part-time mentor had a heated conversation on Facebook about why The Winter Soldier succeeded where Man of Steel (2013) failed. I didn’t participate and only saw it in passing, but it definitely got me thinking in terms of the writing.

First off, a disclaimer: I am one of the few people on the planet who doesn’t hate Man of Steel. That being said, I am also not quite a fan. I straddle the fence. Gun to my head, I’d give the movie 3 out of 5 stars—passable, mediocre, decent. The reason why is that Man of Steel did something that the other Superman films had not done yet: it took risks. Now, did those risks pay off? Ehhhhhh, kind of? In certain respects, the risks Man of Steel took paid off, like deciding to have Lois know Clark’s identity or showing Clark’s alienation and struggle to use his powers in non-selfish ways. The other risks, like Papa Kent being a selfish douche and dying for absolutely no reason or making Superman kill his first villain, no, I don’t think it pulled those dramatic changes off properly.

That’s what I want to chat about today: the differences between the attempted altruism in Man of Steel and the altruism that actually carried through in The Winter Soldier.

Mind you, it’s not my intent to compare the movies as a whole because they are two different entities—a reboot and a sequel with vastly different tones. Instead, let’s just focus on the super fellas themselves.

So in The Winter Soldier, Steve has begun to adjust to his surroundings. He is a great deal more cheerful than we saw him in the Avengers, where he was still in a bit of mourning for what he lost during his frozen slumber. He immediately bonds with Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie for President! Whoo hoo!) and has oodles of chemistry—both friendly and sexual, you ask me—with Natasha, all the while still having major issues with SHIELD. It’s for good reason, too, since the Battle of New York caused infinite amounts of fear and paranoia with the world powers.

What I think TWS did correctly was the internal struggle of Steve’s orders versus Steve’s gut feeling. Especially with the opening sequence where they told him to save the hostages, and it turns out it was Nick Fury manipulating him. Steve’s anger was completely justified. Nick Fury tends to be the ultimate “big picture” kind of leader, so he could sacrifice a few lives if it saved billions, but that’s the problem. Alexander Pierce had the same idea, but in horrendously huger numbers. Steve had a choice to make, and it was by far one of the most important of his life. What’s more is that this idea carried through with Bucky as well. Once he learned the Winter Soldier’s true identity, Cap had to make a choice. He could have believed what Sam said, that the Winter Soldier was beyond saving, but he didn’t. He chose to have faith in his past friendship, a decision that could have cost him his life, but he still did it. I think that is definitely “the belief or practice of disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of others.”

Now let’s take a look at the Man of Steel. Clark grew up confused and angry after learning that he had powers beyond anyone’s imagination to comprehend. He was bullied, and wanted badly, like any normal kid, to get some payback, but he restrained himself. He also ran into cosmic a-holes as an adult—seriously, Clark is an angel for not killing that guy in the bar, I’d have shoved that mug of beer right up his ass Hancock-style—and managed not to act on his anger there either. However, one of my many issues with this version of Clark is that they never directly address what the comic books bring up: the idea that Clark is against capital punishment. I might have cited it before, but the story “What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice, and the American Way?” by Joe Kelly, and later adapted into an awesome DC animated original film “Superman vs. the Elite” deals with the idea that Clark has the ability to stop a threat permanently, but chooses not to, and there are dire consequences for that decision.

If the film had perhaps started with Clark stopping small crimes here and there and resisting the urge to kill, then maybe Zod’s fate would have been easier to swallow, or perhaps more meaningful to the narrative. The film tried to give us an altruistic Superman, but because of Pa Kent’s negative behavior, the way he died, the way Clark constantly brooded over whether to trust the human race or not, it ended up shriveling up instead of flourishing. I could see the seeds trying to grow, but the joyless tone that Zack Snyder and David Goyer enforced on the movie prevented our Boy in Blue from his true Boy Scout nature.

I think Marvel has a better understanding of what makes our heroes the kind of people everyone can root for. They have darkness in their lives, and secrets, and flaws, but Marvel doesn’t let it swallow up their characters. There were plenty of hilarious lines (especially Nat and Steve and Steve and Sam) and heartwrenching dramatic scenes (I’m still crying about Steve and Peggy, hand me a tissue), but the overall effect is surprisingly hopeful. Even with SHIELD branded as terrorists and the world on the hunt for Nick Fury, the fact that Cap did the right thing in the end—choosing to try to save Bucky and trying to root out the Hydra from the good guys at the SHIELD HQ—is what made him an altruistic hero. We never really got that moment in the Man of Steel where Clark chose to believe in humanity. Sure, he protected it, but I didn’t feel his love and sacrifice for the people living alongside him. The only person he truly bonded with was Lois and you certainly felt his devotion to her, but not the human race.

Writing makes the difference between these two men, these two heroes. It’s perfectly possible to make a hero who has darkness in his life, but doesn’t let it define him. DC seems to not understand why The Dark Knight saga was successful and why Man of Steel couldn’t follow in its footsteps. Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne are opposites in every way: one from humble beginnings, one from privilege; one with an optimistic view, one with a pessimistic view; one who operates using the fantastic, one who operates using the practical. The Dark Knight seemed like it had a dark view of the world, and it did, but oddly enough, Bruce had a better grasp of altruism than Clark did, and that is why the Man of Steel couldn’t reach its potential. Bruce believed in his city without flinching. He believed that the people in Gotham were not beyond saving and that if he gave them an ideal and a symbol to believe in, they could get better and rise to the occasion. Captain America did that too. But Clark never did that.

In the end, I think the positive reactions to Captain America: The Winter Soldier are directly a result of Marvel and the movie writers understanding of what makes our heroes true heroes. It’s not that they are perfect and powerful, it’s that they are just as screwed up as we are, but they put their own needs aside to help us. They fight for our freedom and they make it personal. Cap didn’t have to give that speech asking the members of SHIELD to disobey direct orders. He could have been cynical and just tried to stop everything on his own, but he didn’t. He trusted us. And that’s why we love him.

*salutes* Here’s to you, Cap’n. Now get in my bed.

Things Christopher Nolan Taught Me About Writing


What can I say? I’ve been a fan of Batman since I was barely out of diapers, and so of course I have mad respect for the brilliant Christopher Nolan. And it’s his birthday, so the post is totally valid.

Now, calm down, I’m not going to spend this entire post worshipping the ground he floats over. I think he’s a great writer/director, but I don’t mean to put him on a pedestal. Today, I’m going to focus on his methods and their effects. Pull on your cowls and capes and join me, won’t you?

  1. Respect your characters. This, above all, is what I think what made the Nolan Batman films (and hell, The Prestige and Inception, while we’re talking about the subject) so successful. It sounds rudimentary and obvious, but unfortunately in today’s world, this concept is not mandatory. Want proof? Three little words: X-Men Origins Wolverine. Did that send chills up your spine? It should have. If you do not respect your characters, you get things like the Merc with the Mouth getting his mouth sewn shut, one of the most bad ass characters of all time turned into a whiny love-struck kitten, adamantium bullets that cause frickin’ amnesia, and an entire sea of pissed off comic book fans who swear off of your movies for life. Nolan taught me to take my time, spread open a character, and examine them from top to bottom with a creepy Dr. Zoidberg kind of patience. With each of the three Batman films, Nolan paid attention to the various traits that made up Bruce Wayne, Alfred J. Pennyworth, and an assortment of other characters from the Batman comics. He incorporated different versions of the characters and streamlined them into the incarnations we watched on screen. If a writer does their homework and creates a three-dimensional character, people—in their key demographic and sometimes beyond it—will show up. Guaranteed.
  2. The devil’s in the details. An old phrase, but a good ‘un. Nolan’s scripts have always been filled to the brim with detail. Hell, that’s why he waited ten years before deciding to film Inception. The story is that he kept it in a drawer for years and chipped away at it until he finally came out with something he liked and thought would work. Details help fill in the spaces that a writer might not notice are there. It can be dialogue, it can be setting, it can be backstory, anything. It can also be easy to pack in too many and lose focus, but that is something I learned as I edited my first novel. Details and editing seem to be natural enemies, but this isn’t always the case. For instance, think of all the little things in The Prestige that added up over time. The story left us tiny clues that eventually congealed with the tremendous reveal at the end of the film. It was still a lengthy running time, but the film never felt long because the details kept us hanging on the edge of our seats. Details should help the reader invest, keep them interested, and move the story along.
  3. Realism is a double-edged sword. Some fiction excels because it has the ability to take a ludicrous concept and make us believe it. This concept is one of the reasons why the Nolan Batman films broke barriers. While Tim Burton’s version was certainly entertaining, it existed in its own bizarre plane of existence. And don’t get me started on Joel Schumacher’s versions. (Mind you, I enjoyed Batman Forever for all its cheesiness, but I’m not disillusioned that it’s not really Batman. And Batman & Robin is In Name Only.) Nolan was the first to take the hero and apply him to modern times—our cinematography, our technology, and our current social and ethic standards. It worked. It flourished. It made us believe that it could happen. However, this concept cannot always be applied to every hero. It’s here that I put on my critic hat. I thought Man of Steel was pretty good, but one of its biggest flaws was that they took the realism concept too far. Actually, one of my friends put it into perspective perfectly. Heard of ItsJustSomeRandomGuy? He’s a friend of mine (Insert shameless Name Drop here) and his biggest criticism of the film was that it wasn’t fun. I agree. Man of Steel was a lot of things, but I never got the sense of fun that I feel is absolutely essential to the character of Clark Kent. Superman is meant to inspire. He’s someone to look up to. The realism in MoS was an admirable attempt, but it took away the wonder that Superman should instill in the audience. He was much more cynical and harder edged than I felt he should have been. There is a reason they call him the Big Blue Boy Scout. I didn’t want to give him a merit badge by the end of the movie, and that’s a crying shame. So, when writing, realism should be a guiding light, but not the main focus. Many novelists can write realistic characters, plots, and stories, but Nolan’s work has taught me that it doesn’t always have to be that way. Lighten up. Fiction operates under the Willing Suspension of Disbelief. We can accept a lot under that creed—even that a man can fly.
  4. If you truly love your work, someone will love it too. Now, this is subjective. Loving your work and vanity projects are NOT the same thing. For instance, most people agree that Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch is a vanity project. Loving your work means investing fully into everything in it—cinematography, script, casting the actors, dialogue, soundtrack, all of it. It is for this reason that Inception was such a big hit. It took a concept that might be a bit hard for the Average Joe to accept and turned into a terrific story that also made quite a good bit of cash. Nolan spoke in interviews and commentary how he sat on the project for so long, and that is a labor of love. We have all seen movies and read books that were rushed. It steals a lot from a story if you don’t take the time to sweat, cry, and gnash your teeth over it like a misbehaving toddler. I believe that if someone truly pours passion and devotion into their writing, someone else will respond with the same amount of passion and devotion. It may not happen immediately, it may not be across the board, but love of writing cultivates love of reading.


So thanks, Mr. Nolan, for your tireless work. We look forward to seeing more of it.