Monday, June 17, 2013

Man of Steel

Two things are incredibly clear upon watching Zach Snyder's take on Superman: Henry Cavill has made the ABS-olute most out of his time in the gym and Superman is Jesus.

The first fact I was aware of.  A Google Image search of Mr. Cavill, the brooding Brit in the lead,, will indicate that he is indeed, tall, dark and handsome.  What I wasn't prepared for going in to the film is that he  is also Messianic.  Ok, let me rephrase, Cavill isn't the Messiah, though ogling him could have one saying "dear Lord" in a very short amount of time, but Snyder's take on Superman focuses quite a lot on the fact that, basically, Superman is the great savior of humanity in the long tradition of other saviors, primarily, Jesus.  I would have almost been distracted by the attention paid to this analogy, if my senses hadn't already been overloaded with everything from Michael Bay-esque expolosions to the most bombast-tastic score I believe Hans Zimmer has ever produced.

Let's start at the very beginning, which Mr. Snyder believes is a very good place to start.  And he's right.  For comic book neophytes, like myself, it's always good to have a refresher course.  Krypton is dying.  Jor-El (Russell Crowe) is arguing with the planet's council that the core is exploding.  In order to save the future of the race, he needs control of the codex (basically the DNA bank of all future Kryptonians, from what I could gather).  I'm not sure what his original plan was for the Codex, but it doesn't really matter because, in a moment, General Zod (Michael Shannon) interrupts the pow-wow by also demanding control of the Codex.  Classic good v. evil stuff, you know?  Zod is the military, the belief that only by complete dictatorship can a new Krypton survive.  Jor-El is a scientist whose basic belief is...hope?  That's what I got at least.  When Jor-El rebuffs Zod's plans and takes the Codex, he makes it home just in time to upload the Codex into his newborn son and send him off to the stars, before being attacked and killed by Zod.  I hope none of that was spoilers for any of you.  I mean these comics have been around for more than half a century, so don't say you didn't have time to brush up on the details.  For now, I'll leave the fact that Jor-El's plan could have easily gone horribly wrong, aside.  I mean what if Kal-El had landed in Papua New Guinea, or something?  He doesn't, of course, but I'm just throwing it out there.

Next we get a sequence I'll refer to as "Postcards of a Wanderer".  The newborn has now turned into an exquisite example of a (super hu)man, a fact which, and I'll thank Zack Snyder for this now, we know by the inordinately long gaze at his sweaty washboard abs as he attempts to save some men from a collapsing oil rig.  Beyond the fact that he's incredibly buff, the next twenty minutes or so don't really give us much as to the actual character of Clark Kent.  He wanders from town to town, taking on odd jobs, quietly displaying his physical powers and seeing things that remind him enough of his childhood to give the audience flashbacks of a couple of key moments.  I guess the powers that be didn't believe the audience would need to see much of Clark's adolescence.  I mean, if you want to see that, aren't there like 7 seasons of Smallville?  Still, the fact that we never really get to know Clark is indeed an issue with this film.

It's not until Lois Lane (Amy Adams) appears that the story really begins to take shape.  There's something lurking under the ice and Lane is sent out to get the scoop from a military outpost that's trying to figure out just what this mysterious thing might be.  Turns out, it's a Kryptonian ship and lucky for Clark, who happened to get work there as some sort of gofer, he has the key to start it up.  In the process, Ms. Lane gets injured, and upon losing track of her savior, she puts her Pulitzer-prize winning investigative skills to the test to find him.  Again, through her search we get more flashbacks, but none of these ever really lead to a fully-fleshed out character.  Still, she does meet Mrs. Kent, Clark's mom and then, Clark himself.  She agrees to drop the story she was going to do on him, mostly because he asks nicely and looks nice when he asks.

Just as the story about an alien who saves people has been tabled, another alien shows up, and it's Zod.  He's back and he's pissed and he wants the Codex (I know, you'd almost forgotten about that thing, right?).  What follows is about an hour of Clark discovering how to be Superman, and three extensive battle scenes.  It all really just becomes a bit of a blur, much like the flying man himself.  In the end, Zod is defeated, but not because Clark/Superman really wanted to kill him, but because he chose to save humanity.  I think that's the take away.

What I did appreciate about this take on the OG comic book hero is probably the same thing that most fans will hate, and that's that it kind of reverses the order of everything.  That's the point of reboots, but this is much more a story of the human Clark discovering that he's Superman.  The best part of that is that it leaves plenty of opportunities for training montages.  The upsetting part is that the past is all told through flashbacks that always seem to fast-forward over the important details.  But I'm not sure that details were ever meant to be important for this movie.  I loved the casting of the film, and just wish that more of the actors had been given something juicier to chew on, although Russell Crowe and Michael Shannon do make the most of their appearances.  In addition, I really believe without the Hans Zimmer score here, Man of Steel would be more like Man of Aluminum.

That being said, although I know I was meant to care, I just never did.  There wasn't enough Lois Lane for me to actually believe that she was a great reporter (this has been an issue for me through all of the incarnations though, and Amy Adams does what she can with the role) or believe that there was any connection between her and Clark beyond the fact that he's, as one of the female soldiers states towards the end of the film, "kinda hot".  I appreciate that they figured out a way for Lois to be part of the action of the story, but it just makes it so much more clear that Zack Snyder has pretty close to no idea of how to handle female characters.  I think I've been spoiled by growing up in the Joss Whedon era of female kick-asses.

Aside from the tenuous connections between characters, the action sequences are so choppy that at times I felt like it was possible that I was going through some sort of seizure.  I mean, the VFX guys must have been working overtime on this project and just when they got it right, I feel like someone came in and said, "yeah, I like it, but can we have a couple of MORE fireballs?"  

I think that part of the problem is that the darker take on Superman, a tone no doubt desired by the studio when Christopher Nolan was brought on as a producer, just doesn't necessarily work the same way it worked for Batman.  These are different types of heroes and the fact that Cavill maybe gets three one-liners as the humor of the entire film, is a bit disappointing.  The fact that he's turned into Emo Jesus is even more disappointing.  Here's what this movie confirms: Clark isn't ready to face his destiny until he's 33, his human parents think he'll be rejected by the world because humans will always turn on someone who brings the larger truth to light, that his real father, who lives in the sky, is sending him to Earth to be a god among men,  and that he often likes to just hang out in the sky with his arms outstretched.  It's all just too much.  I wonder if the next film will have Clark going around collecting 12 followers with a third installment where he attends weddings and brings people back to life.  I'm curious, is it just because I haven't read the comics that this association with Jesus took me by surprise or is this a new found emphasis to appeal to the Bible belt of Middle America?

The problem isn't that Snyder lacks talent entirely, it's just that he wants to do everything all at once, and more often than not, it doesn't work cohesively.  Snyder does have great style when it comes to creating other worlds, it's why there are certain parts of Watchmen that work very well, and I would have actually much rather seen his version of how Krypton got to the point of imploding starring Michael Sheen and Russell Crowe working together and ending with Kal-El being sent off, essentially a prequel to the prequel, than have had him try to hamfistedly fit everything into one movie.  The essence of  Man of Steel is that what begins as a promising new take, quickly turns into an assault on at least 2 of the 5 senses, leaving you with your head spinning more than if you'd just been kissed by a superhero god.  Not to mention the fact that the ghost of Christopher Reeve is still the elephant in the room, and that there are several shots of Cavill styled to look EXACTLY like him.

Go see it for Russell Crowe and Michael Shannon fully embracing their comic book origins and Henry Cavill in spandex (which, to be honest, I'd pay 7 dollars to see anyway).  Don't go see it if all you want to do is compare it to other Superman movies.

Overall: 3.5 out of 5

Just because I think it kind of fits the thought process behind the making of this film and because it deserves to be seen by more people, here's the opening sequence of The 2013 Tony Awards.  Yes, I truly believe that Zack Snyder walked into his pitch meeting at Warner Brothers and the first words of his mouth were "Let's Make it Bigger" and that meant everything from the explosions to the biceps:





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