At this point it seems pretty safe to say that Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice didn't exactly set the world on fire. A box office disappointment and an unmitigated critical disaster, it's the kind of film that will be best remembered for the sheer level of "What the shit is going on" on display throughout, a movie that even a lot of die-hard Man of Steel apologists have to admit simply doesn't work - which makes me want to take a look back at the first film in what would later become known as the DC Extended Universe.
Because Man of Steel is, at best, a divisive movie. Even a full three years after it was released you can still find people arguing about it online, and it's usually an argument based around one of two things - either that Superman isn't meant to kill people, or that Superman didn't do enough to stop the destruction of Metropolis. And there is a very good reason why these two in particular are the most common complaints that people have with Man of Steel.
FilmCritHulk, someone much smarter than I am, once wrote an entire article on the nature of criticism and tangible details. From that article (which I strongly encourage you to read);
MOST OF US ABLE PROCESS SIMPLE GOOD OR BADNESS OF JUST ABOUT ANYTHING: MOVIES WORK ON LARGELY VISCERAL LEVEL. FOOD CAN TASTE GOOD OR NO TASTE GOOD. SPORTS TEAMS HAVE WINS AND LOSSES. PRODUCTS CAN SIMPLY WORK OR NO WORK. THERE WAY WE UNDERSTAND SOME FORM RELATIVE VALUE OF ALL THESE THINGS.
BUT WHEN COME TIME ACTUALLY EXPLAIN THEM, NOT EVERYONE HAVE LANGUAGE/VERNACULAR TO BEST EXPRESS WHAT AT PLAY. SO ONLY WAY CAN EXPLAIN ANYTHING BY PRESENTING EVIDENCE. AND EVIDENCE 100% DEPENDENT ON THINGS WE NOTICE. AND THOSE THE TANGIBLE DETAILS.
…AND FOR MOST PEOPLE, IT NOT ALWAYS THE RIGHT DETAILS PER SAY, BUT INSTEAD THE ONES THAT SIMPLY STICK OUT MOST.This is important because "Superman isn't meant to kill" and "Superman didn't do enough to stop the destruction of Metropolis" are just the tangible details around which people express the simple idea that the Superman we see in Man of Steel doesn't feel like Superman. Hell, if Man of Steel was your introduction to the character, free from any knowledge of him picked up through larger pop culture, you'd be forgiven for thinking that he's... well, kind of a dick.
I mean, this Clark Kent is a man who refuses to use his powers to save his father's life, but will happily use them to wreck a guys truck when he gets annoyed. He's someone who has no interest in the collateral damage he causes in Smallville and Metropolis, and his reaction to thinking that he's won the battle isn't to go and look for survivors in the rubble of the destruction that he caused, it's to try and seal the deal with Lois Lane in the epicentre of his own Ground Zero.
And yes, these are just more tangible details, but they begin to build a picture of why Man of Steel's Clark Kent just doesn't feel right to a lot of people. Superman is meant to be a symbol of hope, as frequently pointed out by Man of Steel - but it seems that Zack Snyder doesn't realise that actions speak louder than words, and no matter how many times he has various characters tell us how inspiring this version of Superman is meant to be, we can only judge him based on how he acts. And he doesn't act like Superman, an inconsistency between what the film is telling us and what the film is showing us that goes a long way towards explaining why general audiences are so split on this version of the character.
There are some who say that director Zack Snyder's version of Clark is easier to relate to than the more traditional "boy scout" version of the character, but I have to disagree - surely it is easier to empathise with someone who just wants to make the world a better place than it is someone who struggles with his place in the world thanks to his godlike power? That was never what Superman was meant to represent, and the version of him we see in Man of Steel simply isn't a good representation of who Clark Kent really is.
Instead, Man of Steel gives us a version of Clark who has never been able to allow himself to get angry in case he accidentally kills someone, a man who would love to use his power for good but fears the consequences of showing the world that part of him. The conclusion to Clark's character arc in Man of Steel comes when he finally uses his power to attack someone without reservation, letting an entire lifetimes worth of anger out on the first person he's ever met who can actually take it. It's a powerful moment when taken as part of the larger character arc on display in Man of Steel, but it isn't an arc that suits Clark Kent as a character - it's an arc that belongs in an origin story for The Hulk.
Which makes Man of Steel the best Hulk film made to date, but as a Superman film? Beyond the surface level details and the iconography of the property, it simply isn't one. Snyder's version of Superman is all power fantasy and no compassion, the defining parts of Clark Kent as a character stripped from him in order to bring him and the film itself more in line with what Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy gave us. But Superman isn't Batman and shouldn't be treated as if he is, and by either forgetting or ignoring that Man of Steel lost all of the things that make Superman... super.
Which is so frustrating, especially when the rest of Man of Steel is, at worst, decent for the most part. The decision to show us Clark's childhood in flashback format helps hide the fact that not a lot actually happens in the first half of the film, and despite the overly muted colours it is hard to fault Amir Mokri's cinematography, which is consistently good-looking. Yes, the finale may quickly devolve into nothing more than drab, unengaging destruction porn - but the fight scene in Smallville is a well-shot sequence that is actually contains some pretty (dare I say it?) fun action beats.
But that doesn't make up for the films mishandling of the most iconic superhero of all time, and it certainly doesn't make for a good starting point for what Warner Bros hope will one day compete with the now omnipresent Marvel Cinematic Universe. Is Man of Steel a bad film? No, it isn't - but it is a distinctly average one, a film that takes itself too seriously in an attempt to seem more mature than it actually is, and in doing so signposts a lot of the issues that Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice would eventually suffer from a full three years in advance. It's clearer than ever that Zack Snyder isn't right for the DC Extended Universe in the wake of Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice - but Man of Steel shows us that the warning signs have been here since the start.