Wednesday, July 16, 2014

On Man of Steel

My oldest friend referred to this film as a religious experience. 

... which just goes to show that a mutual love of Digimon in the 4th grade may not be the basis for a longstanding friendship. I mean, Jesus, this movie was ... bad. Just bad. So bad. Holy Sh*t was it bad. 

I might be a minority opinion on this one, but while Superman Returns was a complete snooze and had its share of in-universe stupidity ... Man of Steel was a poorly made ass-fest piece of pretentious pompous poo. IT WAS COMPLETE SH*T.

Why? Glad you asked. Let's take a look at Zack Snyder's visual ejaculation by way of Nolan's masturbatory grandstanding, Man of Steel.

Most Idiotic Review

"Man of Steel is more than just Avengers-sized escapism; it's an artistic introduction to a movie superhero we only thought we knew." Steve Persall (Tampa Bay Times)

I wonder what counts as art anymore. I can only imagine in the next century people looking back will list the classical greats, like Citizen Kane, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Casablanca, and obviously, Man of Steel. I don't get it. Just because Nolan's mind is incomprehensible and Zimmer's scores are overblown does not make these films art. Also, we do know Superman. We know Clark Kent. But honestly? After watching the movie, I started wondering if the filmmakers knew the character, and I also wondered, after the viewing, how we were supposed to know the character.

Most Accurate Review

"I just think it's terrible! There are some things I like. All the actors to play these roles are good choices, the action scenes are awesome, and though I like the more upbeat Superman, I'm open to the idea of a darker version. But these characters have no identity. Outside of their job and how they look, you wouldn't even know that this was Clark Kent or Lois Lane if they didn't call them Clark Kent or Lois Lane. The millions of sub-plots are not needed and get in the way of any emotional connection we want to make. The incoherent storytelling is pointless and annoying, and as a superhero, he lets way too many people die in this! Even if you took Superman's name off of this, I still wouldn't like this stupid, illogical mess!" -- Doug Walker (Nostalgia Critic) 

What more can I say? The characters are despondent even when they're yelling, have little to no connection to the audience, and there are too many subplots considering the lack of investment the audience should have toward the primary plotline. 

What I Say

Every time I go back to this film, I like it less. Honestly. 

So we get about twenty minutes on Krypton and, while it is flashy and stylish, and the script does succeed (for the most part) establishing the three main conflicts of the film, Clark sent to Earth, Zod imprisoned, and the Codex being stolen, there's really nothing that original here. We have Avatar birds and Matrix babies on top of a story we already pretty much know.

Part of the problem is the approach to the story. Unlike with Batman Begins, Man of Steel's flashbacks don't feel like they're truly informing the decisions to come, so they're oddly hollow. And since we don't know this version of Clark Kent, throwing a bunch of flashbacks at us without context doesn't really help us show who he is. It's like when a person whips out their family album or high school yearbook and you get to spend half an hour nodding that little jimmy is indeed adorable, and half those girls they claim to have banged are in fact not hideous.

So we see him save people on an oil rig, then a flashback to him struggling with his powers as a kid. Then we see him steal some clothes (what a dick), then a flashback of him struggling with his powers as a kid. We get the controversial scene where Kevin Costner says to have 'maybe' let the little bastards drown, which honestly doesn't bother me. What bothers me is at no point does Pa Kent act like a father. He's so busy damaging this kids psyche with messianic speeches that the kid will never have anything as simple as an, "Dad ... wanna have a catch?" moment.

Then we get the overly contrived death-by-tornado which is in fact as bad as it sounds. Again, we're never shown him having a normal life before or in spite of the manifestation of his powers. At least with Bruce we saw him before he plummeted into a hole with a bunch of flying mammals. 

With Clark, all we see is that his life is ... well, dramatic. It gives us very little to relate to, as is one of my main complaints about any film Nolan's name is attached too. His characters are all very dry and they're attempts at humor are ... well, stilted. And I'm not looking for comedy, but ... the amount of times Superman cracks a wry smile are few and far between. He spends more time with his forehead furrowed looking gloomy and serious about the weight of his destiny.

Beyond the schizophrenic nature of Clark's own developing story, we get, once again the destruction of Krypton as seen through the eyes of every sci-fi director who's come before, and most of the story still makes little sense to me. Mostly the whole, "We're already dead," implication. Why? I have no idea. F*ck you movie. 

So we have Zod, a genetically engineered war-criminal who's not bad, he's just drawn that way. His motivation? The good of Krypton. How's he go about it? A complete disregard for everything and anything not Krypton ... or his view of Krypton, seeing as he's a homicidal screaming jackass even before the planet is destroyed. 

When they collide on earth ... uh ... fights ... for reasons (we all know the reason for at least one of the fights. PRODUCT PLACEMENT. It's like the movie got overtaken by Yogurt from Space-Balls. MERCHANDISING). We also have the subplot of the Codex ... which I'm just going to ignore. We also have Lois Lane ... who is there, being a touch, feisty modern women who is still as dull as cardboard. 

The characters are were I really have a bone to pick (if you couldn't tell). I'll tolerate all manner of weirdo plotlines if the characters are well done, and here they just aren't. If you subtract the talented cast and just look at some of the dialogue, it's really bland. It's right up there with some of Khan's dialogue in Star Trek Into Darkness. There's a quote from novelist Dennis Lehane (Shutter Island), “Character is plot; character is dialogue; character is scene. A story with a few strong characters can occasionally survive a weak plot, but a story with a strong plot cannot— ever— survive weak characters.”

So what it with the characters? They don't feel like they exist outside their reaction to the weight of Superman's destiny. Perry White, Lois Lane, Pa Kent, Jor-el all have, at one point or another (or multiple) variations of this damned speech. He's special, we get it. He's also Jesus, we get that too, and don't need a damn scene where he goes to a church. That poor priest was so unbelievably in over his head to deal with that scene.

It's actually amazing that a cast as diverse as this is so uselessly bland.

Honestly, the first draft of this review, I completely forgot to saw anything about Henry Cavill, but, seriously, he didn't leave much of an impact. Truth be told, for all of the angst he goes through in this film, I thought Superman Returns made the character a lot more relatable, and in one scene no less, where we see him listening to all the people of earth from outer space. That 30 seconds encapsulated all of what it means to be Superman better than all the hamhanded symbolism that Nolan and Snyder could cram into this film. That said, I think Cavill does the best he can with what he has ... which isn't much.

There is one other thing that I've hated for years now. I am really sick of Hanz Zimmer. He's the perfect foil for Nolan bland, bombastic, and repetitive. There is this single pattern to nearly every single song Zimmer writes that has none of the heart of a John Williams or Howard Shore score. Hell, say what you will about his movies, James Newton Howard's scores to M. Night's films are really damn evocative. Probably the best part of his films. 

I will give the movie some credit. It had some damn visually pleasing (heartless) action scenes. The CGI usage was fantastic. The wanton destruction hearkened back to the worst of post 9/11 right wing conservative fears. This in and of itself is not what bothers me. It's that the movie tries to make a point about Clark being put in a position where he has to make a choice between killing Zod or not saving a group of people. 

Nowhere in the previous fifteen minutes of the film, though, did this seem like an issue. They never illustrated it as an internal battle that Clark was going through during the course of the fight. In the Avengers, 1) they still caused less damage, and 2) they verbalize that they're trying to contain the Chitauri, save civilians, and control the situation until a solution can be found. Clark ... just punches, which is fine, but don't try to tell us that it's part of some deeper meaning or symbolic struggle. 

Also, was anyone else bothered that the story of Superman went from a retelling of Moses being shoved down the rive to Jesus ... even if he doesn't die at the end? The symbolism in this movie is really heavy handed and ... again, WEIGHED DOWN BY CLARK'S DESTINY. It's overtaken every aspect of the movie, except the fight scenes, making them even more laughably out-of-place (than the product placement already did). 

Lastly, to wrap up, I want to comment of Zack Snyder. I really hate this guy. He's as pretentious as Nolan in his own ways. Did anyone else catch that spat between him and Terry Gilliam where he said he made Watchmen to save it from the "Terry Gilliams of the world." This is one of the most laughable statements I've ever encountered. Terry Gilliam is a damned fine director and actually has artistic merit, and as far as utilizing the artistic medium of film, go watch Fear & Loathing and then watch 300, and tell me which one was made by an artist. 

But, get this, Snyder goes on in this same interview to unleash this gem, "I always believe the movies I've made are smarter than the way they are perceived by sort of mass culture and by the critics. We set out to make smarter movies than what they're perceived to be ..." 

So there you have it folks. The man who brought us the intellectual and thought provoking magnus opus 300 everybody. And on that note. Good friggin night!

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