Thursday, April 17, 2014

Blue Bomb Buzzes Metropolis (into rubble): My long overdue review of 'Man of Steel'

I wrote this as a Reddit comment ages ago and I imagine it's the best summation of my opinions on the film I'm likely to write:

Review: **

"Man of Steel Theatrical Trailer #3" is the greatest superhero trailer I have seen in twenty years. I have never been as feverishly excited for a film purely based on a trailer, maybe ever. From the opening bars of Hans Zimmer's soft piano and Russell Crowe's 'Goodbye my son', through Kevin Costner's "You ARE my son!" and into Cavill's pure charm, I could not wait to inject this film into my veins. 

I've been waiting for a movie version of 'Superman: Birthright', for years and this seemed like it. That story to me legitimised Superman for the new age, without undermining his beliefs, his stances, his methods. It was the perfect way to redo Superman's origin. 

When I went to see the movie in theatres, it wasn't quite what I was expecting, but I'd still say I had a good time. 

The large amounts of pseudoscience and space opera were a bit overwhelming at times when really I just wanted a character drama, but it was still really enjoyable. It was later on upon further reflection that I realised that it just wasn't the film for me. 

Defenders of the film CONSTANTLY claim that people didn't like the film because it wasn't like Donner's Superman - for me it was actually quite the opposite - once again Clark is adrift, unsure of himself and lonely until finally Jor-El basically tells him to become Superman, becoming a major character for the rest of the film and eradicating any chance of us seeing Clark really FORMULATE the idea of a 'super-hero' on his own, the way he did in 'Birthright', many other comics and 'Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman' (a very under-rated show, especially the first season).

Remember this is part of what made the Dark Knight films so interesting - Bruce didn't just get handed the keys to the Batcave, he had to CREATE the entire idea of what a Batman would be. I was HUGELY looking forward to a similar approach for Superman, but instead it's just "Here's your 40,000 year old suit son." The film just didn't develop enough of its characters well enough and it just drifted from place to place, from time to time. Frankly it was a mess.

The characterisation of Jonathan Kent was really troubling as well. A character who should really embody everything that's decent and good about America basically amounted to a coward who didn't want to help anyone and just wanted his family to stay safe at all costs. His death was just badly handled in every respect...even if you liked the way he was characterised, I'm having trouble trying to make excuses for how ridiculous that scene is. After ten seasons of Smallville with Clark using his powers in secret, you're telling me movie-Clark can't just whizz Jonathan to safety without anyone seeing him? It was dumb guys, I'm sorry. 

The level of attention given to members of the American military was a bit uncomfortable - especially when characters like Perry White were getting shorthanded. I know this has become a subject of derision for a lot of defenders of the film, but we really don't get to see Superman actually SAVE many people other than soldiers and Lois one time. 

And finally there's that awful turgid tone of the last half an hour. It's dank, dark and depressing, it almost fetishises disturbing images of 9/11 disaster and even if he does have to kill the bad guy, having Superman snap Zod's neck was grotesque and ugly and something I don't want to see in a story that's supposed to be about hope. No one can argue that Superman didn't do the right thing by killing Zod, but there's no artistic merit in it - he cries out about it for a second and then it's all smiles for the finale in the Daily Planet. 

Last thing - I'm a journalism graduate with a masters degree in multimedia and the idea that someone who has been drifting around America (we don't see him leave America like we do in other stories) working in bars and on fishing trawlers can just waltz into a job working for the greatest newspaper in the world (unless I'm mistaken that is still DP's rep in this film - Lois has a pulitzer for crying out loud!) is flat out offensive. Not only that, but unlike the meticulous attention to detail 'Birthright' gave to the plausibility of the glasses disguise, there's no explanation for it whatsoever here. You're just supposed to already know that Superman wears glasses and accept it. I thought this was (in Nolan's own words) "A film for people who've never seen a Superman film before?". 

This film could have and should have been an exploration of an honest man villified for his honest actions by an uncaring and cynical world and that honest man proving the legitimacy of his actions and showing people how to be better than they thought they could be. Superman IS an interesting character, especially when juxtaposed with the cynical frailties of modern society - all this film tried to be was a cool space opera with explosions and fights. All attempts at interesting character drama was surface-level, and I think this is why I initially enjoyed it. 

It's a really shallow movie and as a huge fan of The Dark Knight Trilogy (I am a STAUNCH defender of 'Rises'), I was massively disappointed.

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