Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Man of Steel

Get out your capes and red underpants, we're reviewing Man of Steel!

When Krypton is dying, Jor El(Russell Crow) decides to send his son to Earth. Kal-El, or Clark(Henry Cavill) as he's now called, grows up in Smallville, Kansas, finds out he's an alien, and wanders around the world trying to figure out who he is. With Lois Lane(Amy Adams) tracking him down and General Zod(Michael Shannon) on his way to Earth, can Clark find his way to being a hero?

It feels as though this is the summer of movies that are enjoyable when watched but get more annoying the more you think of them. Is that just how movies are these days? Is that something new with how we watch them? Are we just scrutinizing movies more now and they've always been kinda bad? Anyways, Man of Steel is one of those films.

The visuals of Man of Steel are fantastic. The fighting(which is about 80% of the movie) feels super and larger than life and punchy-in-the-face-with-pew-pew-lasers-y. Zack Snyder knows how to do action really really well, and if you can imagine the fight scenes in Watchmen from heroes who weren't suppose to have powers, you can imagine what he does with characters that can beat each other through whole city blocks. The strength feels right, the speed feels right, the flight and lasers feel right, they even have a number of scenes of Clark getting the hang of his super hearing and vision that are a great take on the character. I'm glad Snyder directed a Superman movie, I just wish it wasn't a Superman origins movie. Also, 3D is not worth it. It looked like it could have been, but it was done after the fact.  I would recommend seeing it just for the super fights. Which, considering the story, is kind of what you have to do. 

I can sort of see what they're doing here. To have a Superman origins story in the year 2013, you need to imagine an alternate world without superheroes. Not even the idea of a superhero. Superman is what started the whole "people in tights saving other people" thing. Without him, we don't have that concept(side note: if Superman was originally called Megaman or Ultraman, would we be talking about Megaheroes or Ultraheroes now?). That's what they're trying to do with Man of Steel, postulating how big a deal, especially today, it would be if a superhero, an alien superhero especially, were to come on the scene. People would lose their shit! The downside of this is that the entire movie, instead of feeling like a superhero movie, feels more like a sci-fi invasion movie. It barely feels like a Superman movie as it is.

Instead of Clark being asked "Should I do good?" or "How can I best use my powers to help people?" the question is "Should I reveal myself to the world?" and "Are people ready for me?" And that's an interesting question, but it should not be your guiding question. Superman's whole deal is that he is a really really good guy. He's the best! He will save someone no matter what. And here he's weighing the option of saving someone vs. telling people aliens exist. That should not be that big of a quandary for Superman. I would believe if it came down to it, Superman would risk his secret identity to save someone, not let them die. Which is exactly what he does at one point, let a character die so to save his identity.  Sure it wasn't his decision exactly, but it's a dumb death that didn't need to be there.

This is to say nothing of how they're going to incorporate this world into a Justice League movie. You'd think if that was their end goal they'd be more open to...well an open world where weird shit happens. In all of the Marvel movies, people freak out about the weird stuff going on, but there's always this underlying feeling that they're in a bigger universe where weird shit happens all the time. It's going to be that much harder when people are still freaking out about Superman when a guy who can create stuff with his brain or a lady with a truth lasso or a dude with giant hawk wings come out.

There's also a lot of imagery suggesting that Superman is the messiah, which, can we not? First there's his immaculate birth(do we really need to keep seeing our protagonists come out of the womb at the beginning of movies?), then there's him being the savior of his people, then there's that one scene of him in a church, talking to a priest, with pictures of Jesus behind him, and then there's the scene of him falling to Earth in the Christ pose. It's a bit much is what I'm saying. And there's also these undertones that the bad guys are pro-evolution and he's not? What? There are more weird jesus metaphors and product placements in this movie than there are easter eggs and comic references. Less Jesus and more Great Caesar's ghost, guys!

The pacing is way way off for the movie. There's a huge amount of set-up, then 20 minutes of middle, then it goes straight into the 3rd act. It's like they focused on all of the origin stuff, went right to the punching, and left out all the character arcs. It's to the point where when Superman and Lois kiss it feels like it comes out of nowhere.  But hey, at least Lois gets to do stuff this time! SHe has a bigger role and she feels like an actual reporter instead of some dope who can't spell.

Henry Cavill is perfect for the role of Superman(We'll have to wait and see how he does with Clark Kent in the sequel). Not just because he looks the part with his giant pecs and chiseled jaw, but because he exudes this humility and patience when he dons the Superman suit. That's really important. Shannon kills it as Zod, and is probably my favorite character in this. He even comes off as sympathetic more than tyrannical crazy person. He's fantastic at yelling and punching. They extended Jor-El's part, first in the beginning(whcih last's forever but is fun nonetheless) and also as super agent hologram guy. Russell Crow has fun with it. What I'm most surprised and delighted about is Amy Adams as Lois Lane, especially since she gets to do stuff.

It feels as though a lot of the stuff with the origins they changed because they read too many comics on Dorky and Cracked. They went, "Hey this aspect of Superman is silly and I don't understand how it would make sense, so let's take it out or super over-explain it." That's fine for something like Watchmen that's deconstructing the superhero genre, it's even ok for Batman who redefined it, but you don't need that for Superman. We don't need a serious Superman movie that completely changes what we think of the character. We've barely had a movie that gets the character!  This is the character that defined the superhero genre. Embrace it!  Go with the silly stuff! It feels like they have such a disdain with goofy stuff that's 'just for kids'.  It's a little insulting. I wish he had just had fun with the character. People who like their superheroes dark, drab and brooding may like it, but it doesn't feel like Superman.

There is a ton of destruction in this movie. And sure it looks nice, but Superman looks like he's doing bad at his job. He should be saving people more than destroying everything. Metropolis basically gets leveled, and I find it hard to believe that everything is back up and running by the final scene. You have all these shots of Superman punching things, but how about a few scenes of Superman helping to rebuild? Superman looking for survivors? Also, Superman should not kill. I know it's kind of Batman's deal too, but Superman is this inherently good character that likes to find peaceful solutions and help people. Why is he killing dudes. Stop it.

It has to be mentioned that Hans Zimmerman's score is immaculate. It's perfect for the movie, perfect for the character and will get stuck in your head for days. It's one of the year's best scores and I'de recommend picking it up as soon as possible.

On the plus side,  I like that we finally have a Superman movie that's not reliant on Kryptonite or Lex Luthor. Now how about we get some more villains in there like Braniac or Livewire?

Man of Steel is a fun and enjoyable romp, but it's not a perfect Superman movie. There are some major problems with the character and major fans of Superman will have problems. But if you're a fan of super powered fighting you'll enjoy it.

THE GOOD: Great cast, Henry Cavill feels and looks, like Superman, Shannon as Zod, Lois does stuff, Super fighting is great, krypton sci-fi is fun, great score, dealing with powers in a cool way, no kryptonite for once.

THE BAD: Superman punches more than saves, pacing is terrible, lots of product placement, too much jesus imagery, Superman can't have fun, some of the origin stuff is dumb, some characters die for dumb reasons, superman shouldn't kill.

THE VERDICT: $$$$ It's a pretty great film, but it's not perfect. Let's hope the next one will let Superman be silly and fun. Still a lot of punching though!  Oh so much punching.

MOVIES LIKE IT: Batman Begins, Superman Returns, Watchmen, Green Lantern

ONE-SCENE METAPHOR: Superman is fighting Zod's lackeys through downtown Smallville. Sure it's fun to see them smack each other around through buildings, but what is the first thing Superman, or any superhero really, say in a cartoon? "We need to draw these bad guys AWAY from civilians!"

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