Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Man of Steel

Spoiler-Free Verdict: It was fine. Better than Superman Returns. Stable--though unimpressive--foundation for a trilogy. 


My issues with Man of Steel weren't with the overall plot or the adaptations they made to modernize his story for the big screen. The heart of the character was clear throughout the film (except at the end, see The Kicker below). I thought Henry Cavill made an excellent Big Blue. The setup for kryptonite was well handled. I liked exploring his childhood. I enjoyed the twist on the Fortress of Solitude, and the nods to several DC heroes, villains, and supporting cast. I normally hate the TV/Movie need to kill Jonathan Kent (which has never happened in the comics or the Animated Series), but I found this version both interesting and touching. My issues, and they are significant, were with the storytelling.

Though moved to tears by several scenes, I was never emotionally invested in the story or characters. I was being told a story, not experiencing it. The film was a collection of mini-trailers, jumping from one to another with no emotional bridge in-between. The fate of every fight scene was irrelevant, the life threatening events affecting Lois, or Perry, or Martha, or Kal, or even Earth actually bored me at times (with the singular exception of Jonathan).

On a similar note, the relationship between Clark and Lois was based on a single incident of her not outing him. There was no chemistry, no longing, no cultural urge for a relationship, no mutual respect even. Most of their scenes are the two of them talking at each other. Lois came off as a borderline-stalker fan-girl and Clark...well, awkwardly naive at best. He's been desperately lonely his entire life (which is a brilliant take on Supes, BTW), so his attraction is presented like falling for the first girl who discovers his secret, even though he knows nothing about her (and honestly, neither do we).

David Goyer and Chris Nolan put together a great story. It's always interesting to watch a scene and think, "Wow. I bet that looked good on paper." What a writer writes and what a director/ producer/editor puts on the screen is sometimes shockingly different. Sometimes it's culture shifting (like the editor that saved Star Wars: A New Hope from George Lucas). In a movie like Man of Steel it's clear when you're enjoying a few specific scenes, even tearing up in them, but can't figure out why you don't really care that much about the movie.

Still, Zach Snyder didn't break the character. There weren't any giant plot holes for me to point out (see Geek Rant below). If there's another one, I'll watch it (which wasn't the case with Superman Returns). And if there's a Justice League movie with this Superman, I'm sure I'll throw my money down.


Geek Rant

This is where I let my Geek go to town on the things I loved, the missed opportunities, and the absurd elements that irked me that most watchers won't care about. Geek Rants are chocked full of spoilers, so if you don't take your movies that seriously or you haven't seen the movie yet, you'll want to stop reading.

Jor-El vs Zod: I'm pretty sure the intent was for Jor and Zod to have a history, perhaps best friends, longing for political, economic and ecologic change on their world. Jor tried to make change from inside the system, including having Krypton's first natural birth in generations (awesome plot element, IMO), while Zod went Dark Side and tried to take over the government. This could have been a movie in itself and I'm sure it looked great on paper. Unfortunately, as with the rest of the film, we were being told about this history with not a single moment where we actually felt a friendship coming apart at the seams.

Krypton: Loved that the instability in Krypton's core was caused by attempts at sustainable energy. I loved the glimpse of the unique ecology, architecture, and culture. I loved that personal computer/robots were following characters around ala: Superman the Animated Series. I loved that Krypton had a birth-management system and that Kal was an exception that symbolized freedom of choice. It was unfortunate that they didn't bother to have the floating robots be Braniac. It was unfortunate they didn't make reference to Kara or Zor-el. It was odd and biologically bizarre that a single skull held the genetic diversity of the race (not much diversity in a single skull). It was absurd that Jor had a machine that could break down that DNA and hide it in a kryptonian's cells! And why in the world would you want to when blood cells (at least in humans) die and regenerate every 2 weeks?

Flashbacks: This is where the disconnect started happening for me. Jumping between flashbacks without an established character to care about yet doesn't work. It becomes telling instead of showing. Let us experience the emotional moments with Clark, not have him say "Remember that time on the bus," and we say, "Well. No. Tell us about it." I would have loved to either be buried in the emotional and cultural conflict of his modern life first and then reference his past, or live through his childhood with him and then be standing beside him when modern life's choices emotionally affected him. Having said that, the individual scenes for some of the flashbacks were emotionally brutal and thematically excellent, which made me long to take that ride with him instead of being an outsider.

Missed Opportunity #1: Big Blue crashes into an IHOP during one of the not-so-climactic fight scenes--an IHOP his childhood friend Pete Ross now works at. Will Pete recognize his old friend? Will Clark's only childhood support be put in danger by the villain?! Will this scene set up drama and tension for the next film!?!? Nope. Apparently this was just an ad for IHOP.

Missed Opportunity #2: Emil Hamilton, director of S.T.A.R. Labs, ally and friend to Superman, a man Supes trusts to safely and responsibly research the technology from his home world, a man who has often been portrayed as the friend who loses faith in the superpowered and leads the underground fight to defend humanity--dead in the explosion of a military vehicle he had no reason to be in. [In fairness, it's possible he may have been trapped in the Phantom Zone, but the plot seems hazy on this point.]

Missed Opportunity #3: Someone cared enough to reference the obscure Metropolis hero, Guardian, and make him a key player in the film, but then kills him. Okay. Thanks.

Missed Opportunity #4: So Kal's biological dad gets downloaded into an ancient scout ship that has nanotech capability. Okay. His dad presents him with an armored suit similar in design and feel to the ones we've seen on Krypton. Weirdly handled on screen, but okay. This suit has a flowing red cape unlike anything we've seen in the movie. Eh? What?

It was vaguely established that Zod had some kind of mind-control/interrogation tech. In a flashback shown at the end, Kid Clark is running around with a red towel or something pinned to his shoulders. Cute, but what the hell is he referencing? Himself? And then, what, his dad somehow reads Kal's thoughts and produces this outfit? Awkwardly handled at best. Why not the following:

Flashback of Clark playing with his dog as he runs through his mom's hanging laundry. A red towel/shirt/whatever gets caught on him. At first he tries to get it off, but then tucks it into his t-shirt and starts to play with it. Self-discovery. THEN, we see the scene as an adult and when Jor-El produces the suit we have some emotional attachment to the costume, something connecting him to his home world of Krypton and his adopted childhood on Earth. Gives me geek chills just thinking about it.

Missed Opportunity #5: The "Big Reveal". The "Giant Easter Egg". The "Man of Steel Blows the Lid Off the DC Movie Universe!" is a barely perceptible, vague reference to a C string hero no one but comic fans know and almost no comic fan wants to see on the big screen? Hell, I'm actually a Booster Gold fan and I never, ever want someone to waste money putting him in a movie. Two other "reveals" were a Wayne Enterprises satellite and a LexCorp truck. Cool. Appreciated. Expected.

The only subtle reference I caught was the female officer at the end named Ferris, referencing Hal Jordan's love interest, Carol Ferris of Ferris Industries. Carol was never in the military that I know of, but that's cool if it works.

Missed Opportunity #6: No post-credit carrot. I don't care how much people would bag on you for duplicating Iron Man 1. IT WORKED! We were so excited about a potential Avengers movie we were free advertising that couldn't stop talking about the film! We tried our best not to spoil the excitement and made our friends go pay money to see it for themselves. Of all the things I Geek Rant here, this, THIS is the stupidest mistake I can think of.

Hero?: Zod wants you dead. He's willing to nuke a city to make that happen. The absolute best way to save the people of your adopted world is to:

A) Fly into space and make the bad guy follow you.
B) Fly into the desert and have the bad guy follow you.
C) Fly over the ocean and have the bad guy follow you.
D) Fight the bad guy in the heart of the largest city in the US, raining buildings on innocent people below.

Final Solution: "Zod is terraforming the planet to resemble Krypton and there's a destructive gravity wave destroying things within miles of the machine!" "Let's crash another starship drive into the machine and create a black hole! That will stop that pesky gravity problem." Outside of the terraforming-couldn't-possibly-work-that-way issue, I say again WTF?

The Kicker: Most of you know that I believe comic characters are like Greek Myths--each has key traits that make them who they are, but their stories are so flexible that they have been successfully molded and reinterpreted for decades (nearly a century, actually). As long as you get the heart of the character right, go ahead and have Batman be trained by the League of Shadows, tying him to Ras al Ghul. Just don't mount machine guns on the batmobile.

So, Supes has Zod in a headlock. Zod is threatening to murder three innocent people with his heat vision (why he didn't just glance a little to the right, I have no idea). Out of options, Superman kills Zod. Under normal circumstances this would have really pissed me off. Superman, like Batman, does not kill. Period. The times they've shown him kill (see the brilliantly handled Justice Lords episodes of the Justice League Animated series), a skewed timeline occurs where we get to see what happens when the good intentions of Big Blue get warped. Having said that, this scene didn't bother me as much as I expected. It's possible that my emotional disconnection from the character made it so I didn't really care, but for whatever reason I thought "Huh, that's interesting. What are the consequences of that going to be?"

The Answer?

Nothing. Not a single damn thing. Supes screamed, very upset apparently at the genocide he just committed. And I think he got a hug and a pat on the head from his new stalker girlfriend.

No emotional scene sitting on the porch with his mother talking about being forced to murder the last member of his race.

No moment where he swears he will never, ever kill again (giving us a personal motivation behind why he never kills).

No lesson about how Zod's psychotic behavior showed him that his powers could be used for evil and he will never let himself go there.

No questioning look on Lois' face about the murder she just witnessed.

The next scene we get is him intimidating at best, nearly killing at worst, a couple of military officers with a drone, then saying "I'm here to help you. I love the people of Earth. Don't try to find me or I'll come back and intimidate/nearly kill you again. By the way, I grew up in Kansas, and the Bad Guy landed in my mom's yard, but, you know, don't think too hard about that."

1 comment:

  1. I still don't get the anti-Sup Returns... 😝