Man of Steel (2013)

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Man of Steel (2013)

Post  BoG on Thu Dec 11, 2014 1:20 am


This late entry in the Superman film franchise was to the Superman franchise what Batman Forever (95) was to the Batman film franchise. It was with Batman Forever that the Batman films began to go sideways for a time, off the rails, as it were.  Man of Steel, smack-dab at the apex of the computer FX overkill period in cinema, is the Superman version of flash-over-substance. This is apparent from the outset: the first sequence is on the planet of Krypton  - this reworks the origin story for the superhero as if to restart the '78 film - and is simply an exercise for the computer artists to do some world building. This reinterprets Krypton as a strange mixture of the advanced and the primitive, including flying lizards as pets to even give it a slightly mythological or fantasy-inspired feel. As in the 1978 version, the sequence is dominated by a veteran star actor as the hero's father, Russell Crowe instead of Brando, but the world he lives in is very different from the old version. The sequence goes on for too long in its goal to impress the audience with visual piled on visual; it's frenetic, elaborate and ultimately boring.
But, beyond that, the filmmakers chose to tinker with the details - in this version, father Jor-El is killed by villain General Zod (Michael Shannon) just before the planet explodes. As before, Zod and his fellow radicals are sent into exile - an act which saves them - and mother Lara has to face the sudden destruction of the planet alone, without her husband. Why was this done? There seems no reason, except to illustrate Zod's viciousness, and this may be a problem with the film in its entirety: yes, it foreshadows Zod's later actions, giving us an early glimpse of what is to come, and so this film may be more about the villain and his obsessions than about the hero. The hero, in essence, becomes a secondary character in his own movie. A bland hero being overshadowed by a colorful villain is nothing new; however, it's not that big a problem here because, besides his viciousness, there's not much more to Zod in this version.

"I WILL Find Him!" he yells for the 3rd time - yes, I heard you the first time...

The true villain of the piece may be director Zack Snyder, who apparently wanted to have his cake and eat it, too. Besides an epic with state-of-the-art computer FX, Snyder also wanted to craft an art-house film for the super-hero crowd. This becomes evident as the scenes on Earth begin: non-linear narrative as the story cuts back-and-forth between the present and Clark Kent's childhood years; an abundance of close-ups, usually focusing on some random, routine action (to ground us in the middle of a fantasy?); shaky camera style to, again, add a sense of realism to a fantastic setting?   Unfortunately, all this calls so much attention to itself that much of the impact is lost (and resulting in my going on about it in this post). In the plot, Clark Kent/Kal-El as a young man (Henry Cavill) is living the life of a drifter on Earth - we first see him working on a fishing boat, then performing a big rescue on an oil rig. He is bearded, bulked up and there's this hint of freakishness about him - the rare aspect to this film that does seem clever - he is, after all, an alien, not an Earthling. But, even at this early stage, an awkwardness intrudes, a sign that things are a bit 'off': a bully trucker sees his vehicle impaled on trees 30 feet in the air and his reaction is as if he'd seen the same thing a week before.  scratch
Then we meet the latest version of Lois Lane (Amy Adams), doing her snoopy reporting bit at the site of a mysterious vessel which the military has uncovered in  the Arctic. This turns out to be an old scout ship from Krypton which may have crashed there by accident long ago. Clark hears about this so he investigates as well. A hologram of Jor-El appears and explains to him the full backstory. In no time, Kal-El is suddenly in a new uniform and shaven, learning the basics of flying at super speed; he looks happy, for the first time. Lois does some more snooping, but stops after she actually meets him, deciding to keep his existence secret. Then, again, suddenly and in no time, Zod and his gang arrive in a Kryptonian ship, demanding that Earth surrender their Superman to him. Of course, the irony here is that Superman has not yet revealed himself to his adopted world. If all this developing plot sounds awkward and unrefined, that's because it is. There is a massive coincidence involved in the discovery of the long-hidden old ship and then Clark's abrupt shift from aimless wanderer to super-heroic figure, a far less elegant approach when compared to the legendary virtues of the '78 version.
Or maybe the script is the true villain - the awkwardness continues as Lois is hunted down and targeted by the FBI & military as if she were a super-villain; Perry White (Laurence Fishburne), supposedly the ultimate newsman, urges Lois to give up her journalistic integrity; Zod includes Lois in his demands; how does he even know of her? It seems a contrivance to include her in the action. As easily predicted, it all leads to some massive super battles and a final one-on-one between Supes and Zod. Even here, though, with the computer FX utilized to its full potential, there are moments which seem not very well thought out - Lois manages to escape the ship despite the powers of the Kryptonians (all supposedly as powerful as Superman); Earth's military becomes involved in the battles and commits a grievous strategic blunder in targeting Superman along with the villains, knowing better; frail soldiers survive conflict which should see them immediately squashed; at one point, the commanding officer (Christopher Meloni), his gun having no effect on Zod's sub-commander (Antje Traue), deduces that a knife fight is the way to go; there's inconsistency - sometimes the Kryptonians seem invulnerable, then they get knocked out by a missile strike.
The biggest blunder, however, is in one of the flashbacks which shows how Clark lost his foster father (Kevin Costner). This is usually brought up in discussions about the film's weaknesses and I agree that it's the worst scene - Mr. Kent simply allows a tornado to sweep him away and bars his adopted son from rescuing him. Clark is not a young boy at this point even though it's a flashback; he's already a young man here (think Clark from the TV series Smallville) and could have at least tried a rescue, in a surreptitious manner. It would have been one thing if the father's death was something even Clark couldn't prevent, showing that he was not a god, but this scene just shows him to be a simpleton.  Costner and Diane Lane (as the foster mom) actually give the better performances in the film, but they are saddled with the silliest scene, and Costner's Kent then seems to have had a hidden death wish. In addition, there is no spark between Clark and Lois Lane - they kiss near the end but it's an empty scene - there was nothing in the previous two hours to lead up to it. The final massive destruction of an entire city indicates a death toll in the thousands, so this introductory chapter of the greatest super-hero of all suggests that he really needs to work on his people-saving skills. BoG's Score: 6 out of 10
Super Trivia: the previous Superman film was Superman Returns (2006) but this - Man of Steel - was not a sequel to it, but a reboot.
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What if Man of Steel in the sixties

Post  BoG on Mon Apr 13, 2015 6:59 pm

Here's what one site imagines the film would have been like circa 1964:
____
__ https://www.behance.net/gallery/16088367/What-If-Movies-Re-Imagined-Vol-III
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