It’s been over 3 years since I’ve reviewed a film. After seeing Zack Snyder‘s remodeling of the Man of Steel, and the dismantling of a personal childhood hero, I felt compelled to get back into the game; at least one more time.
I think most of us thought the trailer was phenomenal. Am I right? And sensationally reviewed or not, I was going to sit in that theater and watch Superman fly into space, back into our lives and consciousness again.
Now, I don’t consider myself very resistant to change – but as I sat in that theater, I could feel my body cringe and the lightness in my heart sadden (similar to the feeling I had with George Lucas’ changes in Star Wars).
I needed to face some facts. The viewing audiences are not the same as they were, nor are the studio executives and movie critics of Hollywood. Critics don’t want to stand against a film, obviously because there is more exposure and more money in promotion. Directors are becoming fixated on smoke & mirrors (CGI), diluting the story and disrupting the pace in order to keep viewers stimulated. What they miss (when they follow this formula) is that people go to the theater to be “moved” (as James Lipton once put it). Man of Steel, although superbly cast, is over-stimulating, devoid of humor, and re-invents Kal-El as a confused and somewhat immature orphan.
MY QUICK OVERVIEW
“I think it’s safe to say that Christopher Reeve still holds the mantle, that simplicity is best, and that 2-hours of special effects and blowing stuff up doesn’t amount to one General Zod being flung into a big Coca-Cola sign.”
THE BEGINNING (No ‘real’ Spoilers)
The malaise began immediately – no John Williams music*, no traditional Superman opening – instead, we go straight to Kal-El’s birth (and labor is just as just as painful on Krypton as it is on Earth). Was that a spoiler? I apologize if it was.
After Jor-El (Russell Crowe) sends his son to planet Earth, we meet a seemingly steriod-laden ‘Clark Kent’ (Henry Cavill) [who actually didn’t go by that name in order to hide his identity] as he helps man a fishing vessel. I was confused to see that there were no ‘crystals’ to speak of on Krypton or in Superman’s possession, and a mode of Kryptonian transportation is a flying komodo dragon (very ‘Avatar’ of Synder/Goyer/Nolan).
One of the saving graces of this film is due to the fact that it is star-studded, with each actor delivering a great performance. It is a bit concerning, however, that the 13 year old Clark exhibits more emotion and depth than the main star. But with that aside, Laurence Fishburne makes an excellent Perry White, Amy Adams Lois Lane, Diane Lane Martha Kent, Kevin Costner Jonathan Kent, and the list goes on.
Being a fan of the strong women in films, I greatly enjoyed Faora-Ul (Antje Traue) who plays the Kryptonian ‘right hand’ of General Zod (Michael Shannon). But if you’re going to have General Zod and play on the banishment into the Phantom Zone, then why not have Ursa and Non (from Superman & Superman II)? If you’re going to have Perry White and Lois Lane, why no Jimmy Olsen? Did Snyder/Goyer/Nolan want the movie devoid of any comic relief (apart from the unneeded ‘measuring dicks’ remark from Lois Lane)?
THE SENSE OF URGENCY
A strong element that I feel should be attached to any action film is a sense of urgency, suspense, or of possible death. In Superman you had the intense helicopter scene where Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) is tangling from a seat belt. In Superman II, you had 3 super villains hell-bent on provoking Superman through the destruction and killing of Metropolis citizens. Superman had to change the battlefield, he had to use brain over brawn in order to save lives. In Superman Returns, the ‘Man of Steel’ saves Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) yet again, this time in a Boeing-Space Shuttle Launch catastrophe – not to mention, 2 near drownings, a Kryptonite shiv stuck in his side by Lex Luthor (Keven Spacey), and Superman’s death/’resurrection’.
Iron Man has Pepper Potts, Spiderman has Mary Jane Watson, and Superman has Lois Lane. Love, whether guys like it in their films or not, is a potent ingredient when it comes to film. On-Screen chemistry is a hard thing to pull off in a lot of cases. Some have it and some don’t. However, in Man of Steel, there wasn’t enough time and attention to the Superman-Lois Lane story to feel that love was even possible. But maybe ‘Love’ wasn’t what the director and writers were going for?
As someone who dabbles in script-writing himself, I don’t think we should simply ‘forgive’ Goyer/Nolan for this problem and I don’t think the audience should overlook the importance of this connection. You must remember, Nolan played the same trick on us with the last Batman movie. How did Catwoman go from unobtainable, pesky thief to finally locking lips with Batman in the end? Shouldn’t Bruce Wayne find that odd or suspect? Again, I suppose a kiss at the end of the movie is all studios think we want out of two attractive actors.
Both Richard Donner and Bryan Singer are directors who care deeply for story. They go to great lengths to make sure that their actors understand the characters of the film and the tone, mood and intensity at which they want their actors to play their respective parts. To be fair, there is so much that goes on behind-the-scenes between directors, producers and studios that criticisms are merely opinions on the final product; nothing more. Why was there nearly 45 minutes of non-stop action in the third act of Man of Steel? Was it because they wanted to show us something new (which they did not) as far as visual effects, or did they do it to cover weaknesses to the story?
The integral component to any movie is story. Ideas, themes, scenes can be amazingly brilliant – but if there is little-to-no originality, if it’s un-relatable, and/or has no consistency, the film may be doomed to fail. The way for audiences to relate to Superman is through Clark Kent. Yes, Snyder/Goyer/Nolan gave us flashbacks of young Kent being bullied, and learning that he was an alien – and maybe the placement was decent (given the pace of the film) – but it wasn’t enough for the audience (in my opinion) to understand how these feelings changed his constitution, challenged and helped to form his sense of right and wrong.
When it comes to original, forward-thinking ideas, I thought the movie was shallow. Krypton had a Matrix-like incubation chamber, villians that climbed after Superman using The Hulk method, and I already mentioned the flying dragons of Avatar. In Superman II, Mario Puzo‘s story had Superman outsmarting the General Zod and his entourage by reversing the direction of his radiation chamber, deceiving both the villians and the audience at the same time. I won’t spoil it for those that see Man of Steel, but let me just say that General Zod meets his end not-so-spectacularly. It left both my wife and I looking at each other going, “huh!? well,… alrighty then.” On thing it certainly reminded me of was Nolan’s Dark Knight Rises and the seemingly obvious way at which he ‘permanently dispatched’ Bane. Any warrior knows to go to his enemies’ weakness, and Bane clearly had a breathing problem (sorry if that was a spoiler, but the Dark Knight’s been out for a year!).
I can’t believe I forgot about the music [I’m a fitting this in several days later]. While John Williams’ epic tracks continue to be what people hum when they think of Superman, Hans Zimmer didn’t do a bad job at all. Hans has a great understanding of rhythm, pace, and mood and thereby, creates a superb soundtrack to a less-than-mediocre movie. The sound is bold and original and would definitely be something I’d listen to at home. My only criticism is that I wish it had a small resonation, an echo, of Williams’ theme(s). I don’t believe, especially when it comes to Superman, that to incorporate the old with the new (in this situation) would be “taking the easy road” or plagiarism, but of a musical collaboration.
A QUICK ASIDE
I have even more respect for Bryan Singer’s vision, Superman Returns (2006). Some of the reasons why people didn’t like Singer’s version is are: too close to Donner/Lester’s version, Brandon Routh’s portray was too like Christopher Reeve, it was too heavy with the the love triangle and with the Christ mythology/symbology. As Singer explained to Ed Gross (2011. ComicBookmovie.Com),
“…I am very much in love with the Donner picture, and for me the journey was exciting because I got the chance to reprise those images and explore it. When you’re fascinated by something and you love it, part of making the movie is trying to please everyone and make a successful movie, but part of it is an experimental kind of thing.”
In Singer’s version, there is a sense of peril, urgency, and you truly felt for the characters involved – partly because they are extensions of the characters we know and love. The Boeing/Space shuttle scene that reintroduces Superman to the world was genius, nail-biting, unique and nostalgic. A good example (Superman) of this
“I hope this hasn’t put any of you off flying. Statistically speaking…”
Great nod to the original. It was almost as if Mr. Reeve was mouthing the words. It sure felt good to hear those words again.
It will do me some good to get some time and distance from this film. It might seem silly to some, but writing has always been a cathartic and certainly stress-relieving experience for me. It’s a difficult thing for any director to tackle – especially trying to live up the the expectations of the 8 year-old inside me. But on the other hand, I don’t feel like I was asking too much. What I got from Man of Steel was mind-numbing action with only glimpses of greatness thrown in here and there (i.e. the touching scene w/ Mr. Kent and young clark, the school bus scene); all of which were in the opening trailer. I will have to come to terms with this I know… because I share Bryan Singer’s thought (as he said to the Voices of Krypton), that my idea of a great Superman film “would simply be a reboot” of Donner’s (/Puzo’s) visions with “balls-to-the-wall” action sequences*
Of course, done the right way!
by: MICHAEL JOYCE
WARNER BROS. 2006
PG-13. TIME: 2 HOURS 28 MIN.
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