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Monday, June 17, 2013

'Superman Begins' ... or 'The Clark Knight'

Saw Man of Steel over the weekend and, TL;DR, I loved it.

I'm going to hit a few points in particular, the things I didn't like and then address the big criticisms at the end.  If you want to be spoiler free, don't click the JUMP.  I'll be "spoiler lite" at first, but get spoiler heavy at the very end.

It surprised me to find out that this film was very much a science fiction movie.  It addressed what it would be like for the world to find out that there are, in fact, aliens and also Kal-El's struggle with his ... shall we say, citizenship status.  It was the scifi superhero movie that Green Lantern tried to be.  While GL did fine in space, he floundered on Earth.  Not so here.

Yes, there's a crap-ton of action and the camera's a bit shaky.  Lots of BSG-style snap-zooms.

What didn't I like ... hmm.  Well, the reviewers are right on one point and that's the lack of humor.  There are a couple of funny moments, but those are few and far between.  I think a big reason for this has to do with the plot.  Because the timing of Superman's "coming out" is tied to the potential destruction of the world, there's not much time for cracking wise.  Quips would have seemed out of place for a good hour or so of the film.  I saw a couple of reviews that said the film skimped on the romance.  You see, if the world's coming to an end, there's no time for love, Dr. Jones.  Lois and Supes kiss.  There's a hint of more to come.

Some have also said that there's a lack of "humanity."  Well ... that's kind of the point.  He knows he's an alien and he's been told for years by his adoptive parents that "they" (black helicopter types) might come to get him.  Despite being loving people, the Kents have unwittingly fostered a sense of alienation (pun) within Clark and made him stand at a distance from mankind.  A big part of the movie is about him learning to trust humanity (something Jonathan Kent didn't believe possible) and, in turn, Clark becoming human, too.

Here are a few points I want to make and expound upon.
  • Lois Lane.  Whatever concerns I had about Disney princess Amy Adams playing the part vanished when she referred to comparing anatomy.  Follow that up with some actual journalistic detective work and you have the only version of Lois Lane on screen to date who seems like she may have won a Pulitzer.  And thank Rao that she isn't being dumbed down to not see the mind-numbingly obvious.  Very good move to let her be clued in from the start.
  • Krypton.  Beautiful and alien all at once.  I wanted to spend more time there.  And the concept of their society, too, was fantastic and well realized.  Particularly the caste-based breeding program which brings me to ...
  • Zod.  Great job, Michael Shannon.  Zod isn't some power-hungry tyrant, nor is he insane.  He is simply doing that for which he was created.
  • The Kents.  A different death for Jonathan and a very different dynamic.  Very real, though.  Couple the dysfunction of having a semi-rebellious child who knows he was adopted with the palpable fear they had of him being discovered and taken away ... strong, strong stuff.  I also liked how relaxed Martha seemed to be after Jonathan's death.  (And I liked her line that seemed to homage 1978's, "Say, Jim!  Whoo!  That's a bad outfit!")
  • Superbeings doing super things.  An element previous films never seemed to capture, though the various DC animated series (Superman, Justice League) did: super power and super speed.  I laughed during the scene where Faora takes on the soldiers and she zip-zip-zipped from one to the other, taking them out.  It was marvelous.  And the massive destruction caused by the end fight ... oof. Stunning, amazing and exactly what I hoped for.  (I'll elaborate on the destruction at the very end.)
  • Distancing itself from what came before.  There are, of course, multiple ways this was accomplished but I'll focus on two.  Origin.  Despite this being an origin story, it stays away from the linear setup given to us in 1978's film.  The flashbacks were effective and well spaced throughout the film.  Music.  Hans Zimmer has been in this position before.  He had to score a new Batman movie back in '05 without using the iconic Danny Elfman score from 1989.  For MoS, he had to score a new Superman movie without using the amazing John Williams score.  I've seen some moronic reviewers point to this as a weakness.  Seriously?  If you're trying set up a new vision for a character, why would you want to connect yourself to previous versions so viscerally?  The quiet Clark Kent theme is evocative and the Superman theme (heard in earnest at the start of the end credits) is rousing.  What more could you want?
  • Odds and ends.  How the heat vision looks.  The flush of x-ray, etc., imagery.  The fact that there are probably a few people in Smallville who put two and two together (I'm looking at you, Pete).  Jon Peters finally got Superman to fight a mechanical spider (sorta).  The shockwaves from each punch that Zod and Superman deliver on each other.  The sound of the World Machine's gravity weapon.  The satellite in space that Zod and Superman destroyed.  The name of the bully truck driver.  The name of the general's assistant (the captain at the end; it's not a perfect match, but it's close).  The laughter in the theater caused by seeing the launching of black dildos within which Zod and crew are encased.  The next-to-the-last line in the movie.
  • Henry Cavill.  Last but not least.  An unenviable position to be in, for certain, but he carried it very well.  




OK.  Now to address the big criticisms I've seen from fans and others regarding the climatic final twenty or so minutes of the movie, namely the battle in Metropolis and the death of Zod.

Funny: for years I've heard people dismissive of Superman because he's "a big blue Boy Scout" and here he is not being one (in their estimation) and people are complaining again.  Maybe not the same people, though. But still.

Wanton destruction.  I'm not talking about the World Machines here.  I'm talking about the buildings that get destroyed by Superman and Zod in their final battle.  (Also, the battle between Superman and Faora & Nam-Ek in Smallville.)  

Read any one of dozens of comic issues.  Watch the great Superman: The Animated Series and the Justice League follow-up series.  When there's a big fight between Supes and Jax-Ur or Darkseid or Brainiac or Mongol or Metallo, etc., buildings get knocked down.  Now, in those comics and cartoons, we don't see bodies laying in the rubble.  

In MoS, everything is played for real.  Like Nolan's Batman films, this movie takes place in a very real universe.  So, when there's a big fight between superbeings (see above), stuff gets tore up.  It looks frightening because it seems so real.  It gives the proceedings weight and consequences.  These Kryptonians are powerful and they can wreck a city when they fight.

It's important to note that I saw Superman try a couple of times to fly away, perhaps get away from the civilians, only to be attacked or pulled back down toward them.  Also, it should be noted that there was an evacuation called for Metropolis that was possibly lost in the din of those scenes, so many of those buildings many have been near empty.  Still ... people died.  No question.

Now: is Superman to blame for this?  How could he be?  Zod was ready to destroy the world in order to repopulate it with Kryptonians.  Superman fought back.  He tried to escape and deal with things elsewhere, but it didn't work out.

Not that this is a great excuse, but you also need to remember that this Superman is a rookie.  He's only been wearing that suit and flying for a few days when this all went down.  

Killing Zod.  This is the one that really has people talking.  Superman doesn't kill.

Except when he does.

He killed Zod, Faora and another guy with kryptonite back in the day.  Killed Doomsday.  Killed the Anti-Monitor ...

"But those are just comics," you say.  "Those don't count."

OK.  On TV, in Smallville (I never got into that), he killed Titan.

In Superman II, he killed Zod:  
Yeah.  Zod, remember, is now without his Kryptonian powers.  Smirk, dismissive head shake, toss.  Zod falls into a chasm and isn't seen again. *

That's wanton.

Compare that to the finale of MoS.  Zod was about to incinerate four or five people.  Plus, he promised Superman that he would never stop, now that he was without his purpose.  So ... crack.  And then Superman wails.  Why?  Despair, frustration, anger, etc.  Zod was his last connection to his homeworld and he had to kill him.  I read an interview with writer David Goyer who said that this is when he developed his distaste for killing.  Sure, you can be against something without ever having to confront that thing.  What happens when you do have to confront it?  

Man of Steel 2 - You didn't ask, but here's what I'd like: Lois and Clark trying to keep their relationship on the DL.  Lex Luthor as a tech magnate who gets hold of some mysterious green ore.  Being a tech magnate, maybe he can beef up one of his enforcers, a fellow named John Corben.  And maybe we can find out who was in that sleep chamber aboard the 18,000-year-old scout ship (no, not the skeleton; the one that was open with no one inside).

* - Yes, I know there's a deleted scene that shows the trio being rounded up by the North Pole patrol, or whatever, but it's not in the movie.  Doesn't count.  Plus, imagine the absurdity of the police reports: "Called to the home of one Kal-El, 1 Polar Bear Way.  Domestic disturbance involving three illegal aliens, escaped supercriminal Lex Luthor and the resident's girlfriend.  ..."

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