Zack Snyder’s Superman reboot, MAN OF STEEL, wasn’t just DC/WB’s ticket to Box Office Gold- it was a defining piece of American film.
A year ago when Man of Steel flew into theaters, no one could expect that Zack Snyder would give us a pure slice of American pie with almost 2 and a half hours of patriotism. Now, come to 4th of July weekend 2014 where we can look back fondly on what might be the most American movie ever made.
The character of Superman is, at it’s core, an immigration story- something that Snyder never loses track of as Kal-El lands in the heart and soul of America itself- Kansas. More importantly known as “The Bible Belt.”
Like all kids, growing up in a small town such as “Smallville” isn’t easy on those who want to be different especially if you’re the (known) last member of your race and you discover from an early age that you’re just a bit more gifted than the rest of your peers. Those who watched the CW’s expansive television program Smallville know Clark had to deal with a lot more struggles, such as school dances, not being able to try out for the high-school football team, and even the struggle to get into college as well as dealing with his father’s farm.
Home means different things to different people. Among U.S.-born adults who have lived in more than one community, nearly four-in-ten (38%) say the place they consider home isn’t where they’re living now. But there’s a wide range of definitions of “home” among Americans who have lived in at least one place besides their original hometown: 26% say it’s where they were born or raised; 22% say it’s where they live now; 18% say it’s where they have lived the longest; 15% say it’s where their family comes from; and 4% say it’s where they went to high school.
In Man of Steel Clark leaves the quaint plains of the fly-over states to go soul-searching and to possibly find himself in the world, as many small-town kids aspire to do, only this time on a much more grand scale of things. Through Clark’s personal journey he recalls more and more of his life back in Smallville before eventually returning back to be with his mother, Martha Kent (Diane Lane) before trouble really starts to brew.
Born to a dying world and finding shelter in the United States, Snyder’s Biblical epic paints for the first time- the strictly post 9/11 world and view on immigrants who are considered “dangerous”, regardless of their affiliation to the United States of America. Such parallels can even loosely be drawn to the Japanese internment camps stationed throughout the U.S. during World War II and recently with their persecution of Muslim-Americans after the devastating attacks on the World Trade Center.
Clark, despite growing up in Kansas and being raised on American values in a God-fearing town- is treated with fear and hostility later in life after General Zod makes his threatening appearance to the world- despite earlier in Clark’s life when he is seen as an act of God in a way.
Clark Kent’s journey is also one Snyder and screen-writer David S. Goyer make sure connect with the grander scheme of growth starting out in a small town, raised on American values, before seeing the world and slowly becoming a part of a bigger picture, rather than fitting into a smaller window. A criticism of the film was that Superman wasn’t “global”, comparing it to the scene in 2008’s Iron Man where Tony Stark takes the battle back to the Middle East.
This complaint is, essentially, a core reason in to what makes Man of Steel so touching. Superman *is* a global hero; but he doesn’t just begin that way- he grows into it, he ages into it, like so many others; which makes an alien more intimate to the audience than anything else.
Besides the deeper implications brought up above, Man of Steel also had some of the best product placement in a film (an estimated $100 million alone recouped to Warner Brothers) that not only sold some beer and phones; but also cemented the movie further into reality.
We see Lois Lane talking on her NOKIA Lumia, wearing her North Face traveling gear, while Clark casually sips on a cold long-neck Budweiser watching a K.U. Football game against Louisiana Tech- seen previously in a flashback also wearing a Jayhawk’s t-shirt.
SEARS and I-Hop are also seen (in passing) in Smallville during Clark’s fight with Faora and Zod’s other henchmen, as well as a 7-11 which is destroyed.
Some call it a “groan inducing” use of product placement; but It’s actually lending to the realism of this world and makes it seem like all the more this could be happening- rather than Clark drinking a “Brewskinwiser” beer, Lois talking on a “Frapple” phone, or Clark and Faora duking it out in a “Pancake Palace” or equally generic restaurant.
Jonathan Kent even expressly mentions Kansas State- which Kansas-native Pagelady points out on her blog actually lends credence to the Kents as a farming family:
“This was in the chamber with you,” he says. “I took it to a metallurgist at Kansas State. He said whatever metal it’s made of didn’t even exist in the periodic table.” That would be K-State, home of the Wildcats, in Manhattan, KS. It makes sense to me that Mr. Kent would have gone there rather than the other major university, KU, because as a fifth-generation farmer, (a fact he mentions in a later argument with Clark), he likely would have gotten an agriculture degree from K-State, so he would have more ties to and been more familiar with that campus than rival KU’s in Lawrence, KS.
When the thought of America enters the mind, the iconic “truth, liberty, and justice” flash as well as a bald eagle and some gorgeous mountains but more than that, it’s the United States Military.
According to By The Numbers (2011), in the mid-west alone over a thousand in 100,000 civilians were active Military- and as any small-town reisdent knows, that is a common and highly praised professions. It makes sense that Snyder has gone out of his way to make the U.S. Military a key role in Man of Steel with respect and care shown the servicemen and women who fought and provided information during The Battle of Smallville as well as the fight for Metropolis.
Colonel Nathan Hardy, played by the wonderful Christopher Meloni, even goes so far as to directly confront Faora with his combat knife after all else fails- showing the bravery and respect that Snyder gives the U.S. Military (as well as the National Guard’s “Soldier of Steel” campaign).
If there’s a film to join Independance Day, The Patriot, and Band of Brothers in a 4th of July or Memorial Day weekend marathon it is Zack Snyder’s ode to Americana: Man of Steel.
With poetic understandings of American values, products, notions, and pride, Snyder has given not only the definitive and respectful motion-picture experience; but also the first chapter in Superman’s broad realization that he was born to America; but will slowly become the world as Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice prepares to thrust Clark Kent into a web of heroism and diversity that will ensure the ‘Man of Steel’ isn’t just a Man for America; but a’Man’ for us all.