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Monday, July 08, 2013  

M. Ovie Reviews: Man of Steel

Some people were nervous about Zack Snyder directing the new Superman movie. I suppose the question was which Zack Snyder it would be: the Zack Snyder who directed 300, a somewhat controversial but generally successful stylistic experiment? Or the one who directed Watchmen, another superhero epic but one that slavishly recreated dozens of panels from the graphic novel in the process of getting almost everything else wrong? Personally, I was holding out for the Zack Snyder who directed Dawn of the Dead, my favorite modern zombie movie (yes, even in a world where 28 Days Later exists). Alas, we got the worst-case scenario: Man of Steel was made by the Zack Snyder who directed Sucker Punch.

If one prefers to think of Sucker Punch not as a single narrative but as an anthology of over-the-top action sequences, it's not nearly as bad. However, that approach isn't really going to work for a Superman film, origin story, reboot, remake, or whatever this is. Look, comparisons to the best superhero movie of the twentieth century (yes, even in a world where Batman exists) are going to be unavoidable here, especially given that they both feature a prestige cast surrounding a little-known pretty boy in the title role. But that doesn't prevent Snyder from trying his best to avoid those comparisons. And being Zack Snyder, his primary strategy is to turn every major story beat into, you guessed it, an over-the-top action sequence. Which backfires.

Like, the 1978 version of Krypton made it look like the entire planet was some kind of new-age church. Whereas Snyder populates Superman's homeworld with steampunk Time Lords and tasks his Jor-El (Russell Crowe) with feats of derring-do that would have killed Marlon Brando several times over. A simple race up the driveway from Richard Donner's 1978 film morphs into a scene from Twister. Clark can't even discover his Fortress of Solitude without getting into a fight with a flying robot.

This is not to say there weren't things I liked. Most of the effects were pretty good, although the technology to make super-speed look anything other than totally dumb on film remains frustratingly elusive. Henry Cavill looks good in both The Suit and his Clark Kent civvies, though I wish less of his emotional range registered as irritation. The story structure is interesting, jumping back and forth through time rather than Superman: The Movie's rigidly chronological take (well, except the end there). I mostly buy the new Clark's story and motivation, as much as one can when talking about an all-powerful alien orphan. And I certainly can't fault the movie for having an unambitious scope or low stakes. I mean, almost literal planet-raping with double penetration? Plus the third act practically rains 9/11s.

Despite its destruction early in the film (sorry, spoiler!) Krypton dominates this movie. Old Kryptonian conflicts spill over onto our planet, along with overwhelming loads of Kryptonian production design. Almost to the point where at times I felt like I was watching Prometheus (another not-terribly-flattering comparison). Fortunately, Kryptonians also have the little-known power of Super-Exposition, an ability that allows them to explain heady interplanetary politics to each other even when one of the parties to the conversation is dead or unconscious.

And then there's the gender politics. The men are all brave and noble and self-sacrificing (even Michael Shannon's General Zod, in his twisted way), but female characters tend to be the object rather than the subject. Actually, the movie does fine with Kryptonian women, as Zod's lieutenant Faora (Antje Traue) and Superman's birth mother Lara (Ayelet Zurer) are both pretty bad-ass. But for such an allegedly tough broad, Lois Lane (Amy Adams) spends a lot of time being told what to do, threatened, and physically carried by dudes. And Martha Kent (Diane Lane) is just borderline batty.

Finally we get to the end of the dark, scary, brooding tale and the movie does something really irritating: it starts to get witty. Like, do you mean to tell me we could have been having fun all this time? It's like getting to hear one of Arnold Schwarzenegger's one-liners after you're the one he just beat up.

By complete coincidence, M. Edium is almost exactly the same age I was when my dad took me to see Superman: The Movie. I, however, will not be taking M. Edium to see Man of Steel any time soon.

posted by M. Giant 11:47 AM 0 comments


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