Saturday, June 22, 2013

MAN OF STEEL: Superman for a New Generation

I got to see the ‘Man of Steel’ during the Friday afternoon showing of its Premiere. A previous attempt to attend the special opening last week with my twin bro and his wifey didn’t work out because tickets were sold out way in advance.

Anyway, I braved the bad reviews (truth be told, critics don’t usually favourably review B-movies) to watch this new version of Supes; I definitely did heed the warning about how post-processing washed out the colours in this movie in the 3D version, and decided to watch it in traditional 2D.

[Disclaimer: Two super-hero movies that I actually enjoyed (but got panned by critics) will inevitably end up being part of this conversation: Ang Lee’s HULK and Bryan Singer’s SUPERMAN RETURNS. It was to be expected once we ended up in reboot land] 

The film gets off to a good start with an expansion of the world of Krypton. Like one critic had mentioned, a whole other movie could have been based entirely off the visuals presented in the first 20 minutes. I certainly enjoyed the new take on Jor-El.

After that, we dive into the ‘second movie’, with its quite jarring non-linear narrative. Don’t get me wrong, non-linear narratives can be pulled off well. ‘Batman Begins’ (my best movie in that trilogy) did a great job with a non-linear narrative, but that movie was presented as an Origins story. Why it failed in this case is because we have Zack Synder and Co. trying to give us this new version of Superman without giving us a detailed history (…because that’s what causes Origins stories to drag out so long); hence, in essence, we are supposed to believe that this is a totally new take on Superman, but where the production and script fail to give us any guidance and direction we are supposed to recollect upon Superman-lore and fill in the gaps.

This new take on Superman makes him look particularly weak, and nothing exemplifies this more than the ‘Jonathan Kent incident’. By trying to make Pre-Superman Clark more restrained in the use of his powers, they insert one of the most half-hearted attempts at a noble gesture by Jonathan Kent – death by tornado (the traditional heart-attack wasn’t good enough anymore, huh!). Not only was Daddy dearest the wrong person to be risking his life needlessly in that situation (God Complex!), the object of his sacrifice is no less than the family pooch. Don’t get me wrong, I love when animals survive. Why, I just remember that part in INDEPENDENCE DAY when the alien ship is annihilating a bunch of humans on the highway, and Vivica Fox (with child in tow) finds some form of shelter in a tunnel, and their lovely dog races against all odds to find shelter in the same tunnel. Sure it sucks, but seeing animals (dogs in particular) survive is uplifting. Not so much in this movie; by trying to distance Clark from his SMALLVILLE interpretation or anything else currently out there, we are treated to the weakest most impotent version of Superman ever portrayed onscreen. Before Superman could FLY, before he could even LEAP over those tall buildings, he could at least RUN… and RUN VERY FAST he could! Unless running fast seems like a stupid power to show off in this Pre-Justice League Universe that they’re setting up (which includes a hero, THE FLASH, known for just that), there was no reason for that whole scene; it diminished the movie with all its talk of a Superman Unbound with regards to showcasing his powers. All they succeeded in doing here was flipping our notion of Clark’s two fathers: Jor-El is a true warrior in this one, and Jonathan Kent is the troubled overbearing father who gives Clark one heck of an outsider’s complex.

Next up, Lois Lane! Ben, a good friend of mine, reminded me that this is possibly a less stuck up version of Lois who won’t fawn over Superman while mistreating Clark as was the case in the days of old. But nothing in this whole production convinced me that she was a Pulitzer Prize winner. Bryan Singer and Kate Bosworth’s version of Lois may not have been liked, but now, even 7 years after watching it, I can still remember why she was a Pulitzer Prize winner: ‘The World without Superman/Why the world doesn’t need Superman’ story, which was key to the events of SUPERMAN RETURNS. What do Snyder/Nolan/Goyer put out there that makes me believe that this Lois is a laureate besides what she claims? Nothing at all!

The dearth of characterization with regards to Lois seeps into the supposed Superman-Lois chemistry. Let me clarify that there isn’t actually an ADULT Clark Kent in this movie. We get a view of baby Clark through to Teenage Clark, then we skip on over to the ‘drifter/hobo’ characterization in which he uses falsified identities. The only time we kind of get a glimpse of ADULT Clark is when he is with Martha Kent, his adopted Mum. So, going back to the Superman-Lois story, in this movie, Lois only interacts with Superman. She knows nothing about his earthly background, she only knows of his godhood. Hence, by trying to get rid of the Superman-Lois-Clark love triangle, they’ve actually only left us with the Superman fan girl (groupie) version of Lois. I challenge anyone to show me how she can possibly connect with the angst that Superman feels about the great big No No that he commits in this movie. Heck, I can’t even see why she kissed him (unless we're talking about ‘Groupie’ Lois).

Alright, enough Lois-bashing! Back to Supes! Bryan Singer gets a bum rap for SUPERMAN RETURNS (yeah, yeah! Kryptonite and no super baddies to fight it out with), but he showed us something that Superman is really good at doing: Saving people, and saving them in really spectacular ways (from a plummeting plane, from a sunken ship, from falling glass, from the Daily Planet’s Globe, from an explosive gas leak, from Lex’s expanding Island, from gun-toting thugs, etc.). This time around things couldn’t work out this way because of the scope of the movie and its penchant for destruction, but it is certainly insulting to have Superman save a terminal-velocity Lois for the second time and then indulge in kissy-face as if he just won an Oscar. OK, I get that we can’t return to the silliness of having Supes reverse the earth’s rotation or ‘pound on the walls of reality’ to reverse the carnage, but please, don’t try to give saving hapless Lois a gravitas that it does not deserve…unless you’re trying to tell us that the more realistic-darker version of Superman is a sadist. New Supes can’t even save his Mum properly: notice that when he begins to put a pounding to Zod for threatening his Mum, he’s already miles away, but has left his mother in the clutches of 2-equally-murderous super baddies. Luckily for us, the story played out like bad A.I. from a computer game and all the baddies chased after Supes without frying his Mum for her impudence. 
Oh the scope of this movie! It got too big for even them to handle. Bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better. Richard Donner must have known that, and thus wisely chose to split this whole Origin-Zod Saga into two complete movies. Even the idea of ‘adding a super baddy to pound the heck out of’ doesn’t necessarily save your movie. Case in point: Ang Lee’s HULK vs the reboot INCREDIBLE HULK. One scene in particular takes the cake – THE DOGFIGHT. The intensity Ang Lee put into that one scene made it a truly visceral experience. That mere dogfight trumped the big (?) Hulk Vs Abomination showdown in the reboot by a mile. Goes to show that you can often do More with Less. I’m not averse to enjoying a good punch-up onscreen (actually been craving a good one for some time), but this movie left me craving the levity and heroics of SUPERMAN RETURNS.

Last gripe, that’s one heck of a bland super suit? Sure, new Superman, no undies on the outside, Darker Supes for the new generation … Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! Okay, I get the Siegel/Shuster court-ruling kinda put a lock on the old design. (DC, just pay up and help redeem the back-story to this whole Superman creation affair). Back to the movie then – I get that the suit is Kryptonian-ish, but why is it Red and Blue? There is no basis for those colours this time around. This time, because there isn’t an Adult Clark-Superman dichotomy, Superman merely wears the suit because Daddy gave it to him (maybe this was a way to explain why the suit is as durable as Supes is without that projecting a ‘protective aura’ explanation). The whole “Mother sewing up the suit/Baby Blanket as Cape/Concealing Identity” angle works far much better.

Superman for the new generation certainly left me feeling a bit marooned. This is not the Superman I know (felt more like Superman from Earth-Two). Actually, no one could really know this Superman because he just isn’t fleshed out. Heck, some producer could just have likely substituted Will Smith’s HANCOCK character for Supes in this movie and we would have had a great HANCOCK 2: BATTLE OF THE GODS. 
I recommend that you go watch this movie for the spectacle it is, then go back and watch SUPERMAN RETURNS and appreciate just how much Bryan Singer got right (…and apologize to him if you were mean to him

God Bless.

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