Sunday, 16 June 2013

Man of Steel - Review

Directed: Zack Snyder
Starring: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Russell Crowe, Michael Shannon, Ayelet Zurer, Antje Traue, Harry Lennix, Christopher Meloni
Written by: Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer

Rating: 7/10

The title could have easily have been "Or how Superman left me feeling alienated."

I remember watching a lot of the made for TV superhero movies - or even some of the 'older' veterans of the genre, say Adam West's Batman or Reeve's Superman. But ever since 'Batman Begins' and 'Iron Man', Hollywood has been obsessed with flaws and extreme mortality in their heroically mythic stories. But superhero movies used to be wonderfully good at one thing; making grown adults act like giddy children and transporting them back to their childhood with a sense of wonder and excitement. 'Man of Steel', unlike previous Superman movies left me under no illusion that I was watching a careful dissection of the story and life of it's protagonist - I didn't get to escape or to live out my dream. The old Superhero movies made kids want to strap red capes to their backs and fly around the back garden as they pretended - the current generation will lead them onto quiet contemplation, and perhaps like the kid sat in front of us in the cinema, utter boredom. Cavill's Superman, where the 'S' on his chest doesn't even stand for Superman anymore, but rather a symbol denoting 'hope' from the planet Krypton won't inspire a generation the way the over the top films of the last century did. This 'Superman' film, just like the last superman franchise that Nolan worked on, is almost exclusive aimed at everyone from the end of adolescence upwards - which is a great shame, in my opinion.

Yes, I get that superhero films are made with characters that are broken or human so that we can relate to them, to show that even gods can bleed. It's great that a film series like The Dark Knight can offer me everything from action, to humour, to romance to an exposition of the condition of the human soul that even Blake would have fawned over. But sometimes, maybe just sometimes, I'm not looking for that. I went to see 'The Place Beyond The Pines', to see a hard hitting, emotionally unsettling drama. I went to see 'The Big Wedding' to see a romcom where everything goes wrong - I didn't go see 'Man of Steel' to watch a film laden with metaphorical and literal references to saviours of the human race, an exploration of the mortality of god-like alien races. I went because I saw those Reeve movies, because I read the comics. I went because it was fun. It was a part of my childhood, as it was for many other millions. I went because I like the cheesy grin, the breaking-of-the-fourth wall of Reeve's characters. I love the romance with Lois, and I love the hilarious set-ups.

Hollywood is obsessed with the story of the tragic and the broken and the wounded. So it should be - it's what puts those nice box office numbers up, because it's 'new'. It's a 'reboot'. It's 'tougher' and easier to get critical acclaim too in this fashion than with older movies with the words "POW" coming up every time our hero punches a bad guy. It delivers more.

But I remember a time when movies like this were fun. Where you didn't need a critic to explain the biblical references, or an artist to describe obscure and abstract ideas. I remember being swept up as a kid watching Reeve save the world. This movie may offer more meat and grandiosity to the adult section (read: those who can pay for tickets), but is this how we want to introduce a new generation to what is arguably one of the greatest superheroes of all time? Will kids who don't know of Superman's story, be swept up in this origin story and enjoy the large-scale visual effects and the idea that Superman is not all that he seems to be? When I watched Superman, or read the comics or heard the stories, he was always played out as this 'whiter-than-white' knight who would sacrifice everything for a race not his own. But his epic struggles would be comic and fun, rather than metaphoric and grandiose. I didn't have to sit through 20 minutes of Superman engaging in a fight with an enemy that had more than one homage to the Matrix, watching as the consequences of his fight caused wanton and realistic destruction as he tried to fight to save the ones he loved. The amount of walls that people went through in this film was incredible; it seemed that Snyder was ridiculously intent on destroying every piece of 'set' he had in his world. I miss the small pleasures that made Superman the 'comic' book superhero that he was - not the parts of his troubled existence that involves choices of genocide.

After watching Man of Steel, I asked the Misses if we had just seen The Avengers mixed with The Matrix, if it was directed by Michael Bay. Explosions, visual effects and incredibly fast paced, expensive and destructive fights that played out on a galactic scale where as far as the eye could see. But Cavill's tense and tepid moments with the woman he's meant to end up loving were less flirtatious and potential, and more burgeoning to the story. As if the beginnings of the romance just had to be included, but they weren't needed. The focus was on Cavill, his father (played by Crowe) and the fate of his people. All hefty stuff for a first origin film - 'Batman Begins' only had us think about fear, the fate of a single town and the true limits of madness. His father, despite Crowe's magnanimously stoic approach to every character he seems to play recently, had very few words of actual wisdom. Cavill's Superman had more to learn from the broken relationship with his Earth father (played by an experienced Costner) than any potential words of wisdom from his father.

Lane (Amy Adams) used to be one of the 'original' archetypes of the damsel in distress on screen - largely due to her own unheeded actions. In this film however, instead of falling for Cavill's Kal-El (it ultimately feels wrong calling him 'Superman'), she ends up simply falling from different heights.

'Man of Steel', because it's the first in a vague tribute to the Dark Knight trilogy, explores the origin story of Kal-El. It goes way back - back to before even most people would probably be interested. Crowe, in a role vaguely symbolic of his role in 'Gladiator' as Maximus, is a soldier-scientist who disagrees with the mismanagement and expansion of the Kryptonians - and he's proved right as the planet's core becomes unstable. As the planet, and literally their entire world is imploding, General Zod (played by a Michael Shannon that is less symbolic and more another off-the-shelf version of his killer-with-a-heart character) stages a military coup. Jor-El (Crowe) sends his only son to Earth where, through flashbacks, we see how the young Kal-El grew up. As Krypton goes into nuclear melt down mode, the elders of the world see it fit to banish Zod to a black hole prison - but considering they are locked away and frozen, I heavily doubt the prison would change their personalities and outlook much when they thaw out. Once General Zod has left the confines of the prison, he goes hunting for Kal-El who has grown up accustoming himself to life on Earth and coming to love it's people.

The third act also leaves me feeling rather void. Other than the obvious Matrix references with the visuals, the sheer scale of the destruction caused by Kal-El's fight, as he tries to save the people of the Earth, are also cause to stop and think. Sure, the visuals are stunning, but it's like watching the Transformers on steroids. Pretty confident that a sizeable number of human lives would be lost in the wanton destruction. The overly mythic and biblical references don't help Kal-El's case much in this regard.

Zimmer, who has scored the music to more than one childhood, sends up his usual epically inflated operatic infused score. It's on point and poignant - but also battle ready whenever it needs to be. The visual effects are similarly stunning and well done - if in some cases, also slightly overdone. The design, costume (ironic term to use once you see the film) and the whole atmosphere is beautifully crafted and shifted with a rapid intensity. The acting is professional - but Cavill's brooding no-nonsense Kal-El does leave a lot to be deserved. Shannon, Crowe, Adams, Costner and co all reprise roles that they are all one too familiar with, but to their credit, it's role types that they all handle with finesse and skill. It's a treat at times to watch the scenes between Crowe and Shannon, who are at such different ends of an acting spectrum.

Goyer brings some of his trademark Batman symbolism and metaphysical commentary over from his work at the Dark Knight, and Nolan/Thomas bring their mega film management experience to the table.

Eagle eyed audience members may also note the trucks with the LexCorp label on them towards the end - which, by the end of the film, just end up being another set of references to the Superman we all know and love. As we move from epic spectacular to wondrous spectacular in visual effects and set pieces; we have to wonder - where's the heart? Where's the human interest? It's fun watching the gods battle, but at some point, we have to see what they see to 'understand' them. You'll find very few moments like that among the million/billion dollar worth shots (depending on box office, of course) and the tumbling skyscrapers.

But the real question remains - will Cavill's Sup...sorry, reinvented-only-a-few-shades-darker Kal-El, be the Superman we imagine the next time we talk about the red caped superhero?

And... how much scope does this film leave for any sequels with so much borne out in the narrative?

What the Mr Thought:
Despite the flaws; it's a moving and epic film. It's not the greatest superhero film you'll see, but it's not the worth. It's a fitting entry to the series, despite it not being as 'enjoyable' - it definitely looks and feels better than most previous entries. The battle sequences and the shots in air are worth it alone if you go in for that during a film - it is beautiful.

What the Misses Thought:
The film itself was stunning. The visual effects, the score and the lighting were amongst my favourite things. What I loved though were the subtle hints towards a sequel and cute jokes such as "No accidents in 0 days". However (and this is a big however) the film felt lacking and in parts dragged for me (and as the Mr said, the poor fidgeting kid in front of us!)

Today, as a first time exclusive, we happened to drag along one of my siblings; here's what she had to say about the film (hopefully, she'll become an intermittent regular for the summer on here!);

What the 'Sis' Thought:
‘Man of Steel’ drops you straight in the action (and Armageddon) of a darker and ‘edgier’ Superman than any have ever seen. It approaches the topic of genocide, a bold choice for an origin film, with Michael Shannon delivering a strong performance as a General Zod. Also delivering a strong performance as Kal-El’s adoptive father Jonathan was Kevin Costner who, along with Diane Lane as Superman’s adoptive mother Martha, beautifully showed the mortal and human side of Superman film (which usually requires Kryptonite to do so). In addition, my fellow reviewers and I noted that this remake includes no trademark ‘Superman swirl’ of his hair, however does keep the iconic ‘glasses disguise’ of Clark Kent  (which I have always particularly enjoyed due to its utter absurdity) and several Lex Corp references that movie-goers should definitely keep an eye out for. So to just simply and briefly sum this film up I will let the ‘shaky cam’ fixation, mass (hopefully empty) skyscraper destruction and encroaching moral gray area of cape stardom speak for itself. 

But remember, you didn't hear that, at all, from any of us,

The Mr, Misses and 'Sis'.

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