Saturday, June 15, 2013

Man of Steel

The latest in the blockbusting Superman franchise Man of Steel, directed by Zack (300, Watchmen) Snyder, produced and co-written by Christopher (Dark Knight) Nolan. I was really looking forward to this. Henry Cavill looked great in the trailers. I wasn't too crazy about the costume redesign but I was prepared to let that pass. The clips of Clark Kent wandering in the wilderness looked interesting, and I wanted to see what Kevin Costner and Diane Lane did with the Kents.

Spoiler warning, some plot details ahead. You have been warned.

To begin with we get a lot of time on Krypton and Russell Crowe's Jor-El may get nearly as much screen time as his blue clad son. Then we join a grown up Clark Kent wandering the Earth doing good deeds before leaving town while wearing denim jackets and plaid shirts. If the famous Incredible Hulk TV series music had started playing I wouldn't have been surprised. Then there is almost no time for him to discover his  true heritage in an ancient Kryptonian spaceship before General Zod and the rest of the Phantom Zone prisoners arrive and start blowing stuff up. Forcing Kal-El to suit up and begin a lengthy series of battles of mass destruction. Snyder celebrates with the soundtrack turned up to 12 (one more than 11) and with an almost pornographic fixation on property damage, with no thoughts for all the people who must be dieing in those buildings.

What a terrible film. Oh, the disappointment! Let's get the positives out of the way early on. I like Henry Cavill in the title role but he is given almost nothing to do apart from be rendered as a CGI sprite that bashes into other CGI sprites. Lois Lane starts out the picture as a convincing reporter who tracks down the urban legends about a man walking the earth performing miracles, and the idea that she knows Superman is Clark Kent but nobody else does actually works quite well. However by the last reel she is reduced to her usual role of falling out of aircraft only to be snatched up by a very fast moving hero (no doubt smashing many of her bones and internal organs as he does so). Kevin Costner looks right as Jonathan Kent but the messages he gives the young Clark are just too contradictory and it's never clear whether he wants his son to help people or just leave them to die. And Pa Kent's own death scene makes no sense. In the comics and the proper films Clark's dad dies of a heart attack, something that even the most powerful being on the planet is powerless to stop. Here Costner gets swept away by a Wizard of Oz sized tornado, while a fully grown Clark stands about 50 feet away and just watches. Why?

The Christ imagery which blighted Superman Returns is hyped up even further in this movie. Again we see Superman posing in crucifixion mode. He tells the military that he has been "on this planet for 33 years". Clark spends time in a wilderness and even gets taunted by a satanic figure in a road side bar. And then just before his epic battle with Zod he has a crisis of faith and sits in a church in front of a large stained glass window of Jesus and almost asks that this cup be taken away from him. Couldn't we just have the big, blue Kryptonian who saves people because he can, and does so with a smile on his face?

If the Christ imagery is a little bothersome the recurrent re-creation of 9/11 is really disturbing. Snyder wants to show us those towers coming down again and again, and again. Buildings crash to the ground, planes, trains and automobiles are tossed around like frisbees. Metropolis is basically annihilated while the few survivors emerge from the rubble coated in the same ashen dust that we saw after the attacks on the World Trade centre. And Superman continues to hurl Zod and his followers through buildings with no apparent thought to the humans in them. Superman should try and save people, that's what he does. But Snyder just wants to blow stuff up and twist that volume dial to deafening levels.

And then there is the ending. After a huge science fiction technobabble plot device returns most of the bad guys to the Phantom Zone it comes down to Kal-El versus Zod. In the first act we saw Zod kill Jor-El with a spiky Kryptonian blade which popped from his battle armour, so I was expecting this to return in the final act like a classic Chekhov gun. Instead we got some more punching through buildings before Zod turns his laser vision on some trapped humans forcing Superman to do the one thing he never does. Ever.

Humourless, extremely loud and extremely long, offensive and, in the end, boring. How many times do you want to see a battle suited Kryptonian throw Superman through another building? I can't remember the last time I wanted to walk out of a film but I nearly did here. I only waited for the end to give the filmmakers a shot at redemption by playing the John Williams theme music, and they couldn't even give us that.

0 out of 5 exploding planets. Someone please stop Zack Snyder from making any more comic book movies.

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