Friday, June 14, 2013

Man of Steel: I'll Believe This Man Can Fly When I See It

The audience clapped and I was appalled.

Man of Steel is without a doubt an attempt from Warner Bros' part to reboot Superman in Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy's image and likeness in search of creating a similarly successful franchise. And from a practical point of view, I don't blame them. Nolan's Batman has made a gazillion dollars for the studio and the idea of being able to expand their superhero universe into something similar to what Marvel did with The Avengers is only a logical conclusion in age in which the box-office is pandering to comic-book friendly audiences. They seem to think they've found a Joss Whedon-style guide in Nolan (who produced and contributed to the story of this film). After all, he did manage to make two really good movies in Batman Begins and The Dark Knight (To say I'm not a fan of Dark Knight Rises would be putting it mildly). But under "visionary" director Zack Snyder, Man of Steel couldn't be described as anything but a bad movie. 

For the first two-thirds of its running-time, the movie is torn between two impulses. One does feel a certain reverence for the Superman mythos and the characters' previous adventures in the big screen. There are, in fact, so many narrative parallels to Richard Donner's Superman that if you focused only on the first half, you could call it a remake. But an excess in reverence is perceived as the flaw that made Bryan Singer's Superman Returns a financial failure in 2006, and so, the other big impulse behind the movie looks to fill it with all kinds of action bits to make it feel cooler, darker, more contemporary. The filmmakers behind Man of Steel are just desperate trying to use anything that made any action blockbuster successful in the past few years. That's why we spend way too many time in the hero's home planet of Krypton at the start of the movie watching an extended action sequence reminiscent of James Cameron's Avatar in which Russell Crowe (as Kal-El's father) rides a winged dinosaur. That's also why when we finally leave Krypton, the structure of the movie is very similar to that of Batman Begins, with Clark Kent trying to find his identity while flashing back at the most pivotal moments of his childhood as a boy of two worlds. Other aspects lifted from successful contemporary movies are an intense use of hand-held camera (as influenced by The Bourne Supremacy, but really any action film of the past ten years) and lense-flares (as influenced by J.J. Abrams' Star Trek).   

And still, amongst the uninspired filmmaking, stupid plot holes and silly dialogue, there are a few bright spots you can hold on to. Henry Cavill, as Clark Kent/Kal-El/Superman, certainly looks the part and does show a certain amount of charisma in the few moments in which he is allowed to do some acting. I would say he is very good casting and wouldn't mind watching him in another Superman movie. One that isn't Man of Steel. The most earnest moments and the palpable love for the character do come through and for the first half-hour of Man of Steel. There are aspects of the character that make Superman remain part of our culture. There is something inherently interesting in the idea of a man who must reconcile the fact that he belongs to two worlds. That he is an outsider in a world he wasn't meant to be in, but needs him. This is a story that has resonated with many people through the 75 years in which the character has existed. This is a story that can potentially explore fascinating aspects about adoption and Christianity. There is reason to believe this story can make for a great movie. Hell, these themes are even said aloud by Kevin Costner (who plays Clark's earthly father). So I focused on what little worked hoping the movie could use those elements to stick the landing in its latter half... 

...Only to be disappointed. I just wasn't expecting the last hour of the film (yes, it is ridiculously long) to turn into something as reprehensible and insipid as it did. The final confrontation between Superman and General Zod (a Kryptonian villain played by Michael Shannon) is handled in such a misguided way that not only destroys any kind of character arch given to the protagonist, but actually made me feel disgusted at the fact that I was watching this film. The two movies director Zack Snyder wants to lift from in this action-heavy last hour of Man of Steel seem to be Transformers and The Avengers. Similarly to the climaxes of those respective films, we get a series of gigantic action sequences in which, by battling his enemies, Superman pretty much destroys his hometown of Smallville and the city of Metropolis. By the end of this fight, after Metropolis is pretty much been reduced to a wasteland and at least half its population has died during the confrontation, I was infuriated. The whole message of the movie seems to be that Superman's destiny is to protect the inhabitants of earth. That in his time in this planet he has learned compassion and the importance of individuals, and life, and all that stuff. But whereas a good movie, like The Avengers, used its epic climax to show how the heroes worked together to safe Manhattan from destruction, in Man of Steel Superman pretty much doesn't give a shit if everyone dies. He is content to let buildings collapse on top of innocent civilians just to punch Zod in the face. 

That is the ultimate conflict between the two movies being made at the same time in Man of Steel. One movie wants us to feel for Superman's Jesus-like quest. The other wants to be a kick-ass awesome summer movie. One half wants to be The Tree of Life, the other wants to be freaking Transformers. All that is horribly and terribly wrong with this movie comes down to -and these are spoilers for Man of Steel, but really, you're better off not watching it- a supposedly pivotal moment in which Superman begrudgingly, and out of despair, finally ends Zod and screams in pain over the decision to kill a person. My reaction: What? Pretty much half the people in the city have been killed, you hypocrite! If you don't stay true to your own theme, then you don't tell me how to feel, Zack Snyder! Not only is Man of Steel boring and terrible, it will also make you angry.       

Grade: 3/10

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