I went to see Man of Steel yesterday and I found myself comparing it to The Dark Knight Rises. Both Superman and Batman are characters that originated in comic books so one would expect the stories to be equally over the top with comic book violence and destruction. Yet, somehow, The Dark Knight Rises comes across as more real. Perhaps it is that Batman is just a wealthy man making the most of fitness and technology while Superman is an alien with god-like powers. Both movies have contributions from Christopher Nolan. Man of Steel features Nolan as a co-writer of the story while The Dark Knight Rises screenplay was written by Christopher Nolan and Jonathan Nolan and the movie was directed by Christopher Nolan. Christopher Nolan’s directing is more subdued than the directing of Zack Snyder in Man of Steel. Snyder goes overboard with the violent destruction of Metropolis – building after building is destroyed and tips over on people below. He seems to want to make use of as much computer generated animation (CGA) as possible. Nolan, on the other hand, uses his fair share of CGA but limits the destruction of Gotham to a level that could be caused by over-zealous criminal master-minds rather than that caused by two gods wrestling throughout a vast cityscape. I think that movie audiences will soon tire of watching fight scenes of the calibre found in Man of Steel. How many times can we watch Superman get punched through a building or see the villain get knocked clear into earth orbit and take out a geostationary satellite before we tire of such over the top ruin and simply find it boring? I found myself waiting for the fight scenes to end so we could get on with the story.
There is another level at which to compare the two movies. I have previously written about the theme of self-sacrifice in The Dark Knight Rises and the theme is again present in Man of Steel. At one point we see a submissive Superman being led in handcuffs by a team of soldiers. The audience knows full well that the puny handcuffs will not hold him and sure enough we later see them pop off with no effort at all. Superman is seen as a potential danger to the humans of earth. Superman responds to this by saying that he has been around for 33 years and has not harmed anyone yet. In both these words and the scene with the soldiers there are definite allusions to the Christ story of the Bible. Just as Jesus was led away (at about 33 years of age) by a group of soldiers who could have been felled by a single word from his mouth, Superman submits to these humans who truly have no power over him. Superman is willing to sacrifice himself and be turned over to General Zod from Krypton to save the lives of the people of earth. Yet the theme is not developed as well as it was in The Dark Knight Rises and does not have the same emotional tug.
Perhaps the Batman story is simply a better story with which to work as compared to the Superman story. Batman is everyman. His struggles and his weaknesses are common to humanity. Man of Steel tries to play upon the foreigner in a strange land aspect of Superman but the reality is that Superman is still a Kansas farm boy with good old American values. He also has god-like powers and very few weaknesses. Batman is someone with whom we can relate; but how can we truly relate to this super man?