Man of Steel’s Krypton – Great View, Shame About the Dictatorship

With Suicide Squad hitting cinemas on Friday 5th August, I’m celebrating by posting blogs that fill in the blanks of the DC movie universe.

Man of Steel divides geek-culture down the middle. With sweeping changes to Superman and his background, it remains a controversial movie that’s still hotly debated three years after hitting cinemas. All the same, most agree that the opening scenes on Krypton were some of the film’s best. Fast-paced and spectacular, they were desperate yet surprisingly heartfelt. Boasting an unusual design, the production team based its look on everything from medieval Europe to sea-dwelling crustaceans. Unfortunately, it’s also a pretty naff place to live.

Krypton may have been advanced, but it wasn't exactly civilised - concept art by Christian Lorenz Scheurer for Man of Steel
Krypton may have been advanced, but it wasn’t exactly civilised – concept art by Christian Lorenz Scheurer for Man of Steel

Everything about Krypton is a worst-case scenario. The natives have used up every last resource available to them, their society is spookily robotic and the planet is about to implode. It’s a set-up that continues to fascinate me; this is a far cry from the idyllic, crystalline world of movies past. I think Man of Steel’s Supervising Art Director said it best; in a featurette discussing how they made Krypton, she says that Marlon Brando’s version was a place where people ‘wafted around in lurex kaftans… obviously that had to go’. What we have here is the polar opposite. Sporting a feudal structure with strict societal roles, deviation from the norm is neither allowed nor tolerated. There isn’t any room for individuality, and the punishment for nonconformity is severe.

Straightforward execution seems beneath the Kryptonians, though. They opt for psychological ‘reconditioning’ instead (read: brain-washing). This strips away undesirable behaviour until you meet society’s vision of a well-adjusted citizen. While this may sound promising, there’s something eerie about it nonetheless. What’s left of someone after you’ve fiddled about with their mind? Are they still the same person? Why not use that technique on everyone else to ensure compliance? It’s very 1984.

This brings us to an equally unnerving break-through. Artificial population control was enforced after the Kryptonians used up their natural resources. As seen throughout Man of Steel, foetuses have been grown in ‘Genesis Chambers’ ever since. These aquatic nurseries are reminiscent of The Matrix, and the results aren’t dissimilar; each child is designed to fit a specific role, be it leaders or scientists. It’s not unlike a hive of ants, an idea reinforced by their underground city and disconcertingly insectoid ships.

This makes me wonder which bloodlines were selected to rule over everyone else. Did those in power opt to keep their families there out of a belief they were better suited to the role? That tallies with the arrogance of those in charge during this film, while comments from the producers make it sound like the Mafia.

Of course, not everyone conformed to such a neat lifestyle. Russel Crowe’s Jor-El is one example. I’m curious about whether anyone else opted for a natural birth and what happened to them if they did. It’s likely there were fail-safes in place to stop this occurring, but if Jor-El overcame them I don’t see why others couldn’t. Considering General Zod’s reaction to the news of Superman being born (he called it ‘heresy’), it probably wouldn’t have ended well. You can’t have your population breeding when there’s barely enough to go around, so we’ve got to assume the children were destroyed without mercy. More disturbingly, previous generations must have convinced everyone that something so natural was abhorrent.

This kind of dystopian nightmare is why I’m keen to see how the proposed Krypton TV show turns out. Following Superman’s disgraced ancestor as he attempts to restore his family name, it demonstrates that this is a setting with many more stories to tell. Even though Kryptonians may seem civilised (they managed to spread out across the stars, for instance), the truth is rather different.

Not that the DC universe is as depressing as this would suggest. Man of Steel’s prequel comic mentions Thanagar, the homeworld of a winged and ‘barbaric’ race who gave us the Golden Age heroes Hawkman and Hawkgirl. There’s the Green Lanterns to consider too, an intergalactic police force who’ve protected the galaxy for generations (even if nobody asked them to). Happily, their ranks feature a talking squirrel – bearing this and the success of Guardians of the Galaxy in mind, I can’t imagine it’ll be overly serious.

Seeing as Krypton was the best-received part of DC’s new cinematic universe, it makes sense to revisit that intergalatic well. Roll on Green Lantern Corps in 2020.

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