Saturday, June 15, 2013

HOW I LOST MY FAITH IN the MAN OF STEEL... AND FOUND IT AGAIN

When I first heard they were making a Superman movie, yawn, I sort of shrugged my shoulders and said, "That's nice."  I mean, four Christopher Reeves movies, Lois and Clark, Smallville, Superman Returns... the poor guy has been done to death.

Then I heard that Christopher Nolan, the man who single-handedly resuscitated Batman, was involved.  That peaked my interest, but it didn't guarantee a winner.

Then I saw the trailers, and OH BOY!  It looked good.  No, that's a diabolical understatement; it looked great.

Next thing you know, I'm going around saying that Man of Steel is going to be the big movie of the summer.  Well, Iron Man 3 came and went.  Star Trek: Into Darkness was unnecessarily panned by the critics.  After Earth was a disaster.  So many people have an ax to grind with Tom Cruise that they overlooked Oblivion's many charms.  And, finally, out comes Man of Steel.

The critics, to say the least, did not give this movie a hero's welcome.  In fact, by the time I went to the theater to see it, its Rotten Tomatoes collective score was down to an anemic 56 percent.  This didn't stop me from going to see the movie, but it made me suspicious.

Man of Steel opens with a long, heavy-handed, needlessly melodramatic, special effects-fest on Krypton.  Okay, yes, Russel Crowe looks and sounds very heroic as Jor-El.  In this movie, Kryptonians apparently call each other by a single syllable in an effort to economize.  Jor-El is simply known as, "El."  (Okay, fine.  In several Asian cultures last names are really first names.)  When Jor-El speaks to Kal-El, his son, he calls him, "Kal."  (No problem.  In several Western cultures, first names are really first names.)

So El and Lara, his wife, live on a dying planet called Krypton... Stop me if you've heard this one before... wait, don't stop me; I know you want to rehear it.  Here's a new spin--the world is at war and it's been all-but-destroyed by evil Kryptonian industrialists who have exhausted its resources and raped its core.  Apparently this advanced culture did not have a Gor-Al to teach it a few inconvenient truths.

So, with the planet on the brink of imploding, General Zod...  Wait, wait!  Stop interrupting.  Where was I?  Oh, yeah.  General Zod, a brave military leader, decides to overthrow the government and kill it aged, feeble, unarmed leaders in a bid to save the planet.  See, he's twisted.  He wants to save the planet, but he only knows how to do good things through violence.

Jor-El, who like me, has lost his faith in Krypton, decides to send little baby Kal to Kansas, where the skies are blue and Gor-Al is protecting the environment.  And the scene goes on, and on, and on, giving its little spins to one of the most over-told stories of our time.

So I watched this scene and I realized that we haven't even reached Kansas yet, and I'm thinking, Oh good night!  This is going to go on forever.  I started wondering if I should just walk out, swing by Best Buy, and pick up a few seasons of Smallville on DVD.

That was when it happened.  I lost faith in the Man of Steel.

And then a miracle occurred.  The film skipped a reel.  No joke.  It didn't jump from the Kryptonian version of Wagner's Ring trilogy to Kansas.  Instead, Clark Kent was magically grown up and living in an episode of Deadliest Catch.  Well, I hate to miss part of a movie, but judging by the Krypton scenes, with its fighter ships chasing dragons, I didn't mind.

A few moments in, Clark does something heroic, and then the movie divulges his backstory in tiny shaky-cam doses.  Here, an eight-year-old, there a twelve-year-old, and it never gets dull and the next thing you now, you are all caught up.  What's more, it was interesting, entertaining, heart-felt, emotional!

And just that quickly, I re-found my faith in Superman.

I'm not giving away any spoilers.  I will simply say that the first part of the movie deals with Lois Lane trying to find and prove the existence of a superman, and the second half deals with the arrival of General Zod.  You can see that much in the trailers.

Now to the particulars.  I am getting a little tired of this whole shaky camera thing.  Why the hell do all of these directors believe that making audiences seasick lends credibility to their films.  Sometimes I think we should handcuff these guys and place them in a dinghy in the middle of the Atlantic in a perfect storm, leave them there for a couple of hours with nothing but a life-jacket and a box of popcorn, and then see how they direct their next movie.  (Hang on a moment, I have to wipe the foam from my mouth.)

Okay, so, forgetting that shaky camera business, the movie was filled with gorgeous shots.  There were lots of great special effects, and the way Superman left a vapor trail was cool  The movie handled his lifting heavy objects and flying through walls and buildings and even mountains in a convincing way.

Good.  Good.  Good.

Dialog?  Good.  Convincing characters?  No complaints.

And the acting?

The only movie I ever saw with Henry Cavill was Stardust.  He was fine as Humphrey, the goofy and growing good guy in that film.  I enjoyed the movie.

As Superman, Mr. Cavill faced a harder task.  Here he had to convince the world that he was a virtually indestructible demigod who can fly (without the use of a hammer), shoot lasers from his eyes, and noble enough to be trusted not to stare at women's breasts using his X-ray vision.

Cavill pulled it all off.  It helps that he has one of, if not the best, physiques in Hollywood.  He's muscled, but he looks more like an incredibly muscular guy than a contender Mr. Universe.

The other thing Mr. Cavill did well, quite well, is this--he looked both amused and slightly perplexed about the weak, vain, insignificant humans whom he felt compelled to protect.  He spent a lot of the time scrunching his forehead and smiling as he tried to explain things to the people around him.  It was endearing.

Several critics have charged that Man of Steel lacks a sense of humor.  Guilty as charged.  On the other hand, any movie about a guy in blue tights with a red S on his chest and red boots is going to have an inherent amount of self-deprecation.  I suspect Henry Cavill is a natural at comedy, and he brings a wholesome smile to the less combative scenes throughout the movie.


That is a very good thing because the bad guys in this movie are absolutely humorless.  Take Faora-Ul (played by Antje Traue), the gal looks like a sociopath and says things like, "We have no morality, and that gives us an evolutionary advantage over you.  If history proves anything, it's that evolution always wins."

This gal is a bitch.  She likes beating up helpless enemies, be they male or female.  Judging by her flat, uncaring expression, I suspect children and babies would not be out of bounds for her.

And then there is General Zod, played by Michael Shannon, whom I mistook for a computer-youth-inized Willem Dafoe.  Nasty.  Nasty, nasty, nasty.  The movie makes him understandable, but that does make him any less nasty.

Man of Steel has plenty of nasty humans as well.  There's a belligerent trucker, the mandatory high school bullies whom young Clark must tolerate, and other creeps as well.

I've generally found the career-driven Lois Lane to be a bit on the irritating side, but in this movie, she's been given a layer of decency.  I actually liked her.  Amy Adams, stepping into the role, has all of the ambitions and curves, but she also has a conscience.

Thank you Christopher Nolan and Zack Snyder.  It's a nice change.

Amy Adams makes a good Lois Lane.  I must say, she pretty much fits into every role she plays, from Man of Steel to Muppets.

Amy Adams isn't the only Lane associated with this movie.  There is also the actress, Diane Lane, who is still very pretty when the camera allows her to be pretty, a pleasure the cameras in Man of Steel went out of their way to avoid.  In this role she is old, and home-spun, a woman who won't be bothered with dying her hair as it goes from young to white.

Diane Lane is an excellent actress.  She absolutely bewitched me in Lonesome Dove.  She played Martha Kent for all the part was worth, turning her into a spunky, strong, Mid-Western farm mom who can look unbeatable death in the eye and tell it to "Go to Hell."

And then there is Kevin Costner, whom I have been guilty of referring to as "Cardboard Kevin" and comparing to Sonic The Hedgehog--a past blockbuster whose star has set.  Well, SEGA just released a new Sonic game that proves that the blue rodent still has life in him, and, in Man of Steel, Mr. Costner proves that he has aged gracefully into an dignified actor who can fill a screen.


There were other heroic humans as well.  My favorite was Colonel Nathan Hardy, played Christopher Meloni, a soldier who doesn't have much use for reporters like Lois Lane, but damn if he won't step into the line of fire to protect them when duty calls.  In truth, I walked away from this movie seeing Jonathan Kent and Colonel Hardy as the most heroic figures in this film  They were brave and mortal, which is a lot harder than being brave and  indestructible in my mind.



One other mere mortal got to shine as well.  I don't know who came up with the idea of hiring Laurence Fishburne to play Perry White, but that executive deserves a raise... maybe a double raise.  Fishburne is brilliant in a fleeting little role that should be, if anything, forgettable.  I mean, who remembers that Frank Langella played Perry White in Superman Returns?  Jackie Cooper played the part perfectly in the Christopher Reeves movies, but nobody remembers him.  Fishburne, I think, may have broken the curse of Perry White's invisibility.  With Fishburne in the fole, Perry WHite may be just as memorable as J. Jonah Jameson.


26 comments:

Adam Mauldin said...

Ah goood. I can't wait to see it then.
All, I heard was nay says from EVERYONE for the longest.

Joshua Tamasovich said...

Great review...but I think I will wait on this one...for a while.

Steven L. Kent said...

Doesn't interest you?

Joshua Tamasovich said...

Great review but no...Man of Steal does not interest me. I have not seen the previews but the movie has been in the news a lot. I have not seen Smallville or Lois and Clark but I have seen all the Superman movies with Christopher Reeves and even seen the old black and white superman series.

You hit the nail on the head though in your review...this story has been told to death.

I have not heard anything about Oblivion or After Earth. I will wait till Man of Steel is on Netflix then maybe...maybe watch it.

Steven L. Kent said...

With all of the travelling you do, I can imagine you are careful how you use your time.

JenMo said...

I saw it last night, and really enjoyed it. I felt the same way as you did after the whole krypton beginning, "now we have to watch him grow up too? Ugh!" But no! Skip to man in boat, then shirtless man on fire! The way in which Clark's childhood was shown to us was brilliant.

The idea that Superman needed humans, and couldn't save the world by himself was a great touch.

For me, the strength of Cavill's acting came from all the things he DIDN'T say. He used his face (and what a face!) to portray what pages of exposition still wouldn't have gotten right.

On the downside? Have I missed a step in my geek education, and kryptonians have always been test tube babies? That was weird, and the scene put me in mind of The Matrix, then all of a sudden Morpheus is there, and I'm not sure if I stalled the red or blue pill.

Gor-Al.... Hehehe

Steven L. Kent said...

The birthing chamber was just plain strange.

Steven L. Kent said...

BTW, think kind thoughts this week, JenMo--I may end the week with contracts for three books.

JenMo said...

Fingers crossed!

Joshua Tamasovich said...

I am somewhat careful of what I do with my time and am rarely bored with nothing to do when I am off ship...but an occasional bad movie slips in there now and then on date night.

Awesome news even if its not 100% on the book contract. Is this the book (soon to be series?) that you posted not too long ago with the kid that busts out of the hospital?

Steven L. Kent said...

Two of the books would be that series, the other, a Clone book.

Joshua Tamasovich said...

I am stoked for the series! I have not read much of that genre and it would be an entertaining change. I am almost done reading Battlefield Earth and may switch it up to Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six.

So...you have The Clone Assassin in stores October. Is there another clone book in the works after that because...I thought you said...

Aaron Spuler said...

Thanks for the rundown on Man of Steel, and thanks for keeping it spoiler-free.

Steven L. Kent said...

All a pleasure, sir. Thanks for reading.

Steven L. Kent said...

Yup, I am in discussion for a tenth and final clone.

Aaron Spuler said...

Ready to spread your wings and do something different for a bit?

Steven L. Kent said...

The question is, "Will anybody pick it up?"

Joshua Tamasovich said...

Just like Superman who was killed off by Doomsday...the clone phoenix rises again.

I remember when that comic came out. There was a lot of controversy about the end of superman and other writers came out with these new superman comics where he survived the fight but was re-constructed; metal arms and such. I do not know how that went and I think that is when a completely different spin of comics/graphic-novels tool place in the lime-light like Sandman, Hellboy and Watchmen.

Congrats on a tenth book...If it starts off like..."Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology. We have the capability to construct the world's first Liberator Clone. Harris will be that man. Better than he was before. Better, stronger, faster...I am sure it will be a winner!



Steven L. Kent said...

I was thinking more along the lines of "There are those who believe that life here, began out there..."

Joshua Tamasovich said...

Now that send chills!!!!!

Joshua Tamasovich said...

I like the idea and it should turn out pretty well. Reading through the series, you can see how Harris's beliefs evolve from pious nature to that of deconstructionist...character depth galore!

Do the stranded Japanese Officers and SEAL Clones stumble upon something while trying to make a sake distillation plant?

Do the Avatari comeback and did Morgan Freeman actually make a deal with another sentient race?

Does Freeman have a sudden change of heart?

Steven L. Kent said...

All strong possibilities... especially the one about the sake'.

Joshua Tamasovich said...

Oops....Morgan Atkins is what I meant...not Morgan Freeman.

Steven L. Kent said...

That makes a lot more sense, though Morgan Freeman could have made a pact in Oblivion.

Alex Baldwin said...

I loved everything about Man of Steel. I had my reservations about Zack Snyder, but with the assistance of Christopher Nolan, it turned out perfect. I don't understand the dislike of the beginning. I could have watched an entire movie set on Krypton. It was insanely awesome. I was so enthralled by watching an epic scifi movie, I almost forgot I was watching a Superman movie.

Steven L. Kent said...

I've heard others defend the Krypton scenes as well. Maybe it's just me.