Monday, July 15, 2013

Man of Steel thoughts

—I arrived pretty late to a 6:55 showing. I live only a few minutes walk from a movie theater, so I didn't even leave my house until 6:56, figuring the excessive amount of previews would give me the time cushion I needed not to miss anything. When I walked in, I saw some some big elephant-esque animal in the foreground and a spaceship in the background on the screen, and wondered what movie this was a preview to. Turns out it was Man of Steel, already underway, and I'm not sure how much I missed. I hope what I missed was Jor-El and Lara and their baby hanging around the house with their dog Krypto. Otherwise, this movie was Krypto-less. And if Jor-El can have a four-winged Avatar dragon pet to fly around on, he can have a Kryptonian space-dog.

—I liked how much they set on Krypton at the beginning, and think it was a smart to choice to go so hard in the direction of science-fiction for the trappings of this film (and by science-fiction, I just mean spaceships and lasers and robots and aliens and shit, not like, whatever the actual, literary definition of science-fiction is, according to people who give a shit about such things). It certainly helped differentiate this Superman film from all the previous ones (as did all the action, violence and destruction) and from so many of the other superhero films that have been made between the original cycle, Superman Returns and this one. So many of the superhero movies have been superhero-genre movies, that making Man of Steel a superhero/sci-fi film seemed like a good choice (Similarly, I think Captain America benefited from being a superhero period piece).

—That said, I was a little disappointed by how unimaginative and generic Krypton looked. It basically looked like every non-Star Wars American live-action science fiction movie made since, I don't know, when did Alien come out...? Or maybe Dune? No color, generic metal junk everywhere, the same damn sound effects on everything. It was drab, with the possible exception of the funny hats the council people wore, and looked just like the locations in, I don't know, Chronicles of Riddick or something.

I don't know that a straight Silver Age Krypton woulda worked, or a John Byrne version either, but it seemed lacking in imagination and didn't really pop as a distinct place.

—Russell Crowe was really good, I thought. Maybe it was just the beard and the accent, but I thought he did a real Sir Alec Guinness job of classing up a big, stupid summer movie.

—I liked when Jor-El put on his armor to Jason Bourne-fight General Zod, who had his suit of armor on, and neither of them wore helmets of any kind. Had this advanced society neglected the invention of a way to protect one's head when one gets in a fist-fight wearing metal from the neck down...?

—Krypton must have the most expensive, most inefficient criminal justice system in the universe, if it literally involves shooting their criminals into space, artificially creating a black hole and shunting them into it.

—Henry Cavill was very handsome, whether bearded, shaven or wearing a light frosting of scruff. A lady I worked with said she found the movie long, boring and remarkably humorless, and it would have been a complete waste were Superman not so easy on the eyes. I think he did a fine job playing this version of Clark Kent, who apparently spent 33 years brooding, and a few weeks fighting aliens.

—I liked the flashbacks to his childhood, rather than having to sit through all that again in another movie, especially since everyone on Earth knows Superman's basic deal at this point, thanks to some 40 years worth of movies and his almost continuous presence on television since, I don't know, my dad was a little boy, maybe...?

—High-five to the casting directors who found all those kids to play Clark at various ages. I thought they did a good job of finding kids who basically all looked like the same person at the same age, and weren't annoying.

—Fat, ginger Pete Ross was a bit of a surprise. A bigger surprise, really, than Smallville's black Pete Ross.

—I wasn't terribly impressed with Amy Adams' Lois Lane. But then, I didn't like her Lois any less than Kate Bosworth's. I'm not terribly familiar with any of the TV Lois Lanes, and while Margot Kidder was the best of the movie Lanes, in my estimation, she's still not the Lois Lane that exists in my head, or that the comics suggest to me—that Lois Lane is essentially Rosalind Russell from His Girl Friday. Of all the non-comics Lois Lane's I've seen, I think the Bruce Timm-designed, Dana Delany-voiced version from the 1996 cartoon version, Superman: The Animated Series, is probably the best.

—Hey, Detective Stabler!

—I am totally okay with Perry White being played by a black guy, but I am not okay with Perry White having a diamond earring.

—Laurence Fishburne did fine, but like every other character in the movie, he lacked much personality, and didn't seem like himself: He didn't say any of his catch phrases, he didn't yell at Jimmy Olsen, he didn't even seem gruff.

—And speaking of Jimmy Olsen, WTF Man of Steel...? I suspect that he was in an earlier draft and became Rebecca Buller's Jenny at some point, perhaps to get another female character in the cast instead of another dude...? That would be cool if DC then publishes a comic entitled Superman's Gal Pal Jenny Olsen or Superman's Totally Platonic Friend Jenny Olsen.

—Kevin Costner's Pa Kent's "maybe" line doesn't sound any better in context.

—And his death by tornado was just silly. I get what they were going for—Superman feeling guilty for not acting, even though he was obeying his father's dying wish—but jeez it made Clark seem like a horrible, horrible person. Man, I woulda ran out there for my dad, and I'm not even indestructible. Maybe if they staged it so that he had to choose between his mom and dad and his dad told him to choose his mom? Or...I don't know. I think this panel from a part-comics/part-prose illustrated review Ryan Alexander-Tanner did for Bitch sums up the silliness of that scene pretty well, though:

—Superman's new costume looked much better on film, in the film, than it does in stills and promotional images and print ads. The darker colors, the weird wristbands, the lack of shorts and yellow belt all made it look more like the costume of an evil alternate Superman from an Elseworlds or possible future (ditto the New 52 suit, with it's high collar and and armor-like appearance) but it looked a lot better here than I expected, given what I'd previously seen. The only really distracting part was the weird belt-like part that hugged his ribs—it made it look like he was wearing some sort of girdle.

—I think using the Kryptonian villains as the first villains in a new Superman cycle of films (if this one makes enough money, I guess) was a bold choice, but probably a good one. It's kinda what they did with the last Batman cycle (building up to his archenemy in the sequel) and it seems to be the approach they're taking with the just-rebooted Spider-Man cycle, with minor villains like The Lizard and, next, Electro in the mix, while Norman Osborn is mentioned and lurking in the background.

—That said, I think it was a mistake to go completely Luthor-less (other than a "Lexcorp" logo on a truck in the background of one scene). I'm not sure where they could have fit him in, exactly, maybe alongside Dr. Emil Hamilton as a more hot-headed, arrogant, fuck-this-alien-guy assistant or co-worker of some kind, and it might have slightly warped the plot a bit, but I guess they could have cut out like 15 minutes of office buildings exploding and collapsing, or some of the crasser 9/11 allusions, to make room for Luthor.

If they make a second one, and they put Lex in it, he's certainly gonna have a pretty good, pretty compelling motivation in hating Superman, as there's a pretty compelling argument to be made that Superman is an alien menace who almost brought about the complete destruction of Earth (even if by accident) and killed, I don't know, thousands and leveled a large portion of Fake New York (Seriously, right before the climactic battle with Zod, Metropolis looked like a wasteland, with only four Daily Planet staffers surviving). (Also, he coulda lost his hair when he got doused in chemicals or set on fire during one of the many fights, thus keeping his comic book origin intact!)

—A lot of the hand-to-hand fighting was clumsily staged, particularly the Jor-El/Zod fight at the beginning, and, oddly enough, the Superman/Zod fight at the end. Matrix Revolutions probably had better Superman fights in it than this Superman film did. The best action scenes by far were probably Faora's super-speed kung fu.

—I was amused to see Clark Kent take a swig of a Budweiser while visiting his mom at the farmhouse, given the fact that DC changed that one cover from that one storyline that heavily-inspired this movie (Along with Superman: Birthright and, I think, some of Kurt Busiek's post-"One Year Later," pre-New 52 run) so that rather than sharing a beer with his father, Clark was sharing a "Soda Pop" brand soda pop:

—I didn't really understand how the yellow sun (Well, they say "young sun" and atmosphere/gravity of earth here) works on the Kryptonians; I thought Superman was so powerful (more powerful than Jor-El calculated) because he was there sucking up solar energy for 33 years, whereas the bad Kryptonians just arrived and were as powerful as Superman lickety-split. I didn't get a lot of the "science" in this though, to be honest.

—Tonight was the first time in my entire life I thought the phrase "Eye-beam him, you idiot!" It was when Zod was down for the count, his senses being overwhelmed by his sudden acquisition of super-hearing and super-vision powers, and his men came to drag him to safety on their spaceship, while Superman just kinda stood there looking at them, not blasting them with heat-vision. Than the U.S. military came and blew up half of Smallville with missiles.

—The collateral damage in this film was just ridiculous. Perhaps because it was a Superman film, and I'm so used to him getting into super-fights with zero civilian casualties from the comics. The last Superman comic I read was Superman Unchained #2, in which he figured out a way to stop a skyscraper full of civilians from crumbling without any of them getting killed during less than twenty seconds, while fighting a giant robot.

—If they do make a sequel, I'm not sure what they'll do as far as giving Superman someone to fight, like he's got here. I mean, I know he's got a rogue's gallery of other super-powered folks to fight, and I suppose they could have Luthor build a Bizarro clone or Brainiac a super-robot body or have one or the other of those two manufacture Doomsday, but with the Phantom Zone villains kayoed, most of the biggest names in Superman's rogues gallery are thinkers and/or 5th dimensional imps, which won't allow for all the punching and and car-throwing we get in this first movie, and generally sequels get more and more action-packed, right...?

—I wasn't as upset by the fact that the climax turned on a sort of 9/11-from-space sequence as at least one of my favorite comics bloggers was (that is, I didn't walk out of the theater; but then, I was in Columbus, Ohio on September 11, 2001—hundreds of miles, seemingly worlds away from the ash-covered, terrified New Yorkers running for, jumping for and losing their lives), but I think Snyder went way too overboard with it. I've seen American cities similarly decimated by alien invaders in a couple of similarly huge summer movies since 9/ll—L.A. in Battleground: Los Angeles, Chicago in Transformers: Dark of the Moon and Manhattan in Avengers come most immediately to mind—but they weren't as obvious nor as ham-fisted in their appropriation of imagery from the 9/11 attacks. I'm not even entirely sure why those scenes are even in the movie, save to give more screen time to the Planet staffers, and to give them something active to do.

It's possible that Snyder and his screenwriters wanted to tie the origin of their new Superman into some sort of 9/11-inspired zeitgeist, but they just did a really poor, really clumsy job of it. Not unlike their efforts to make Superman seem like a Christ-like, savior figure, even right down to his age, his turning the other cheek, his fully human-but-fully god(-like) nature and even framing his face with a stained glass window image of Jesus in a few shots. I mean, yes, they made him pretty Christ-like in a lot of respects—right up until the point where rather than giving himself up to be sacrificed, he rebels, beats the shit out of all his foes and kills a dude. It woulda been like if, in Passion of the Christ, Jesus tore himself off the cross, beat up the Roman Empire, and then snapped Pontius Pilate's neck.

—And speaking of neck-snapping...

What the fuck was that all about? I agree with Chris Sims pretty much 100% here. Fans could argue over what Superman could have or should have done in that instance (I would suggest maybe cover Zod's eyes with his own invincible hand, or turn Zod around so his eye-beams weren't gonna hit those people...dude was able to fly straight up through the gravity beam that was terraforming earth and out-fly a collapsing black hole or whatever by trying really hard; he couldn't push Zod's face into the pavement by gritting his teeth and trying?), but, as Sims pointed out, why on earth would the writers and director put Superman in a position where he had to kill a dude anyway?! They're controlling all the circumstances, after all; have the Phatom Zone hole stay open slightly longer, and have Superman and Zod fight it out until it culminates in Supes tossing Z in right before it closes or something. Jeez.

It was just weird and unnecessary and out-of-place—as Sims pointed out, having Superman execute a guy (which is something Kryptonian society doesn't even do!) on the spot is probably one of the few things they could have done to make a creepier, more morally dubious Superman than the deadbeat dad one trying to break up Lois' engagement to Cyclops and super-stalking her family in Superman Returns.

—Another bold decision was that of keeping Clark Kent out of the equation until the very end. Well, I mean, young Clark Kent is in this, and everyone calls him Clark, but he doesn't become a reporter until the very end of the movie. That's the first time I felt let down by Cavill's performance, by the way (Well, that and the weird exertion faces he made when he was trying to Superman really, really hard). Christopher Reeve completely transformed himself in terms of mannerisms, voice, posture, everything when he went from Clark to Superman to Clark again; Cavill seriously just wears glasses.

—Say, did they actually go this entire film without making any reference to kneeling before Zod? Because that's some accomplishment. No one ever passes up an opportunity to quote or riff on that line...

—I do hope they make a second one of these, if only so they can make a third or more, because I really wanna see some of Superman's other great enemies make it into a film someday, and so far all we've gotten are Luthor, Luthor and the Phantom Zone criminals, a fake Luthor, Luthor and Nuclear Man or whatever, Luthor, and The Phantom Zone criminals again. I'm ready for some Brainiac, Bizarro and (fingers crossed!) Mxyzsptlk some day.

—Ryan Reynolds didn't show up in a teaser mid-way through the credits to ask Superman if he ever thought about forming a League of some sorts, did he? Because I didn't stick around, as the Marvel movies have trained me to do.

—Speaking of the credits, if they're not going to use the Superman theme from the original cycle, or some new version of it, would it really kill them to, like, think of a new theme? This movie had a score of sorts, but unlike that of the originals—or Star Wars ( both trilogies) or Indiana Jones, movies whose themes have been in my head almost my entire life, or the original Batman films, which has been in my head my entire adult life—I can't remember a single bar of the music from this movie I just got done watching about a half hour or so ago.


SallyP said...

Well, if Ryan Reynolds doesn't show up in a glowing green suit in the end credits, then I'm not watching it.

Akilles said...

I suppose that I`ll still watch this. Not sure though.

David said...

My family had less problem with Zod than they did with Clark's douchebag behavior before becoming Superman.

Stuff like wrapping the guy's truck around a tree and stealing clothing just feels out of place for Superman.

William Mercado said...

I'm so glad not to be the only one who got the 9/11 vibe, especially with Perry & others covered in ash. My company was 11 blocks away from ground zero when that happened, and encountered people covered in ash. That scene along with all that destruction got me queasy and detracted from the film.

FYI I'm not usually sentimental about 9/11 like most people