Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Man of Steel Movie Review

I’m not even sure there’s much point in having a critical view of a movie like Man of Steel. What exactly does it add to the conversation? When an indie or an arthouse film is bad, at least it’s bad in a way that still contributes something to cinema. When big, bloated action films are bad – and most of them are – they’re just plain bad. And anyway, they’re not made for people who actually try to put nuanced thought into their movie watching.

It is hardly worth mentioning that it’s badly written. The dialogue is bad. There’s way too much exposition and characters telling each other things they should already know for the benefit of the audience. Badly written is just part for the course when it comes to these types of movies. But this is Superman. There should be some mythmaking. It should make my spine tingle. Because they recreated the origin story, going all the way back to the destruction of Superman’s home planet Krypton and his birth father Jor-El (Russell Crowe) sending his infant son off to another world and brought back the villain General Zod (Michael Shannon), I found it hard not to think constantly of Superman and Superman II starring Christopher Reeve. I kept thinking of how concise those films were and how little they relied on special effects. Why did it have to take Man of Steel twenty minutes just to cover the Krypton part of the story when it was once done in five? Did we understand any less who Zod was thirty-five years ago?

One thing this version has going for it is that the scenes of Clark Kent’s youth are truly well-managed by director Zack Snyder, who sprinkles them throughout as flashbacks. They add texture to an otherwise dreary and dull story. Kevin Costner and Diane Lane play Jonathan and Martha Kent in scene that flesh out Clark the boy much more than did the 1978 film. We get a better sense of the boy who doesn’t understand his place in the world (and who just wants to exact revenge on his bullying classmates) who becomes a man who struggles to understand where he belongs and who he is.

Amy Adams and Laurence Fishburne have been roped into thankless roles as Lois Lane her editor at the Daily Planet, Perry White. They are little more than filler and place holders. Henry Cavill plays Kent/Superman. His chiseled jaw line and impossibly muscular physique hue much closer to the comic book drawings than Reeve did, or even Brandon Routh in the forgettable reboot Superman Returns. What Cavill lacks in the role is a genuinely hokey sense of protection toward humanity. He fails to express the anguish at Zod’s callousness that Reeve struck so forcefully in the 1980 sequel. I also noted with interest that Superman no longer fights for truth, justice, and the American way, an indulgent credo from the days of radio and a time when the United States was just beginning its WWII campaign. Reeve’s Superman intoned the phrase, but today’s action heroes have to sell themselves on the global market.

There’s an interesting story to be found here, but David S. Goyer’s screenplay doesn’t extract it from the story credited to himself and Christopher Nolan. Superman is an immigrant story and he’s a Christ figure (an image that Snyder exhausts). Instead of sticking along these themes, the movie devolves into a forty minute destructive action sequence that leaves about 75 percent of Metropolis in rubble. Even if this hadn’t been done to death in films like Transformers and The Avengers (all of which seem to be attempts at exorcising our collective demons of watching the World Trade Center towers collapse on 9/11) it would still be a dull waste of time. Where is the interest in watching two essentially indestructible characters pound each other into oblivion? There are no consequences for either Superman or Zod as they smash their way through countless skyscrapers, although apparently as strong as a Kryptonian is on earth, you can still break his neck if you try hard enough.

All this and I haven’t even gotten to the sheer goofiness of the alien Krypton spaceships, the absurd science of how Zod and his band of evil Kryptonians survived after escaping from the Phantom Zone, and why recreating the Krypton atmosphere on board a spaceship is enough to counteract the strengthening power of earth’s sun. Also, why did Zod insist on Lois coming aboard with Superman? To provide a way for an incapacitate Clark to escape, with a little assist from a phasma ex machina in the form of Jor-El. Yes, I know it’s a comic book movie and comics are hokey and without grounding in reality. And I accept that – for comic books. But as long as movies based on comics insist on looking and feeling grounded in the reality I see around me daily as opposed to setting the parameters a few steps beyond, I will continue to be irked by inconceivable science and gaping plot holes. Incidentally, Zack Snyder’s Watchmen worked on this respect because it made a decision to not be tethered to the real world the audience is familiar with.

The real problem is that I genuinely found myself bored for the entire second half of the film to the point that I really just wanted to turn it off. I didn’t even care how it might end, although I suspected Superman would defeat Zod. Surely it’s not just a matter of nostalgia that keeps bringing me back to the Superman of my childhood, which I can still watch today and find that it holds up especially well in all aspects of cinema. I don’t think any ten-year old today will be speaking similarly about Man of Steel in twenty or thirty years. The mythmaking has died.

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