Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Man of Steel: There is no such band called 'Get Cape, Wear Cape, Brood' for a reason

To celebrate the long awaited release of Man of Steel on DVD, I decided to finally post my past the point of belated review of the film. Believe it or not, this is a somewhat abridged version of my initial review too. It's fair to say I had a lot to write on the subject.

*der derder de derr der der derrr   derr derder de derrr     Superman!*

Right, let's start this by saying that Henry Cavill is a first-rate Superman.

He has everything: The build, the presence, the jaw, the gallant heroism, manliest and cleftiest of chins and a great head of hair. It's as if the iconic character leaped out of the comic, via a tall building in a single bound, and landed majestically on the screen.

He fills the updated suit pretty nicely too, the design of which is very impressive. It looks imposing, functional and has a definite other world quality to it; a kind of organic looking weave composed of scale, sinew and chain mail. It's beautifully designed and put together, as are all the other wonderfully conceived costumes. It also helps that Cavill looks so at ease in both the role and new age tights than say, Dean Caine; who's single pose consisted of crossing his arms across his chest tight enough to give him meat sweats and looking smugger than Piers Morgan after bathing in his own liquefied egotism.

Cavill encapsulates the gravitas and authority required for such a larger than life role yet manages to make the character come across to the audience as engaging, humble and conflicted. The fact that manages all this with a character known is some circles as the 'Blandy McDrearydull' of the superhero universe, makes for a very commendable performance indeed.

We also have a solid supporting cast to hep ol' Supes on his merry travels; Laurence Fishbourne brings both dead pan humour and compassion to Perry White. Russell Crowe's father of Superman; Jor-El, is suitably noble and has the rare opportunity to flesh (err.. sort of) out the character better than any previous incarnation, but that's mainly because he has more screen time than anyone else had in the role. Diane Lane plays a tender, no nonsense Martha Kent and Amy Adams makes for a surprisingly charismatic, eye catching and believable Lois Lane.

The big surprise for me was Kevin Costner's, Jonathan Kent; which is arguably the best performance he's given since A Perfect World, a good 20 years ago. He underplays the role of the uncertain yet doting father so convincingly that the emotional weight of what Clarke is and how much he loves him none the less, is almost palpable. Especially during one scene when he is questioned by the distressed 13 year old Clark Kent after finally being told of his other world origin:

'Can't I just keep pretending that I'm your son?'

'You are my son'

Costner actually chokes up when he says that line. I almost had a tear in my eye too and I'm not ashamed to admit it either.It is a wonderful piece of father/son drama. Hell, even the kid is great in his short but memorable role too.

The new music by Hans Zimmer took a bit of getting used to at first; with it's minimalistic melodies, restrained orchestra and an overall sound getting a bit too Zimmer-Batmanish for my liking. Yet a good while after the final credits rolled however, I still had the main theme stuck in my head. It's moving, powerful and unquestionably heroic.

Man Of Steel looks breath-taking at times with the attention to detail and sheer scale in terms of scenery and location, staggering (especially the re-imagined Krypton) The visual effects are nought but overwhelming too but this affects the overall presentation in both in a positive and negative way.

So, there are a lot good things about this film, some very good things in fact

But...there are also a lot bad things too

Some very bad things

And the bad unfortunately outweigh the good

Let's start from the beginning:

The opening, whilst a banquet for the eyes, is an overcooked mess of rapid fire exposition, long drawn out action sequences and corny try-hard Shakespearean like dialogue that seems to have been adopted by every sci-fi/fantasy/superhero film going since the start of the millennium. 'What would you have me do?' was a good line but now it's fast becoming a cliché of what I like to call 'the 'serious' phrase; as in, whenever a character wants to convey to the audience that this dialogue is important and meant to be taken seriously, so get your ears straight and listen up, I'm not using this dandelion chewing lingo for my next Globe Theatre resume.' I'm sick of it because it comes across as very fake. Say anything else , please. The time has past, it no longer sounds cool (it's debatable it sounded cool in the first place) and it's not like there's no other way of saying it. What would I have the screen writers do? Anything else would be more original.

'What else could I have done?'   'I have no choice'    'It's done, deal with it'    'I'm not listening la la la'

However, despite this RADA pretence it baffles me as to why all the cast refer to Jor-El as Jerel (rhymes with Duracell) Is that his nickname? I swear down, I think the only time it is pronounced correctly is when he introduces himself to his own son, as a hologram, after being deadded. It comes across as just laziness from all the other actors. It would be like the entire cast of Lord of the Rings name checking the The Dark Lord of Mordor as Sore-Ron. At least Jor-El's wife says it correctly though, which may explain why they got together in the first place.

In fact it does such a bad job of explaining what the hell is happening in general that around about the half way mark the film decides to go through the whole thing again, just in case you missed it, which you most probably did. Almost as if to say: 

'Right, however nice that exploding planet, the flying draconian trademark infringement and the penchant for 3d pin art, it's high time we told you what made Zod go all Caligula on Kryptonians arse and why Krypton went Versuvius on it's own arse. Good! Now that's out of the way, let's turn Smallville into apocalyptic rubble.'

A lot of this could quite easily be trimmed or cut out completely with no detriment to the plot. It's all very stylised with Krypton having a very unique look with a strange fetish for 3d pin art.

I can't claim to be the biggest Superman fan in the world but I thought I knew how his origin story goes but I was definitely watching this section with my 'confused face', bruv. This was way beyond my Kryptonian knowledge but something tells me that a lot of this may not be canon to the official DC universe. Unless Krypton really does use miniature dragons to commute with..

Let me try and recreate my thoughts during this intro

Ok, these titles remind me of Tim Burton's Batman, it really does look like the camera is panning around the Superman symbol. If that is true it doesn't acknowledge it though.

Jor-El looks worried; his wife is giving birth and simultaneously trying to pass a kidney stone the size of watermelon judging by the noise. You'd think those two hi tech robo buddies would help in some way but no, they're just a'floatin round... doing jack

We have a baby; *SPOILER ALERT* 'it's boy'.

Birth now over and Jor-El is talking to a supreme council with fashionable wire lampshades on their heads. (warning: next section contains paraphrasing)

Jor-El :          Krypton is doomed we must leave

Lamphead:    Nah we like it here, there's no danger at all

Jor-El:          You fools, I'm the only pseudo scientist you know and I'm telling you this planet is gonna blow! I can't stay here, it's far too dangerous for my son

Lamphead:   Congratulations Jerel, that's wonderful news! You must... wait a minute, a son? Isn't that highly illegal in our society?

Lamphead 2: Indeed it is, it defies the very principles of Krypton and something about a sword too. Not to mention highly treasonous to boot

Lamphead:    This is terrible, something must be done at once! Oh good here comes our military leader General Zod. He'll know what to do. Greetings General, I require your council on a very important matter. No no, there's no need for that oversized space rifle just yet...


Gen. Zod:      You're all sooooo screwed  

Me: ????????

Seems like Zod is one seriously p'd off dude. Probably due to the fact that he seems to be the only inhabitant on Krypton without a hyphenated name. Michael Shannon is a wonderful actor but this
KNEEEEEEEEL!!!!   what?... that line isn't in the film? Are you s%$ing me?
version of Zod is, for want of a better term, rubbish. He doesn't come across as threatening, at times his menace borders on parody and he doesn't even deliver his lines very well ('I WILL FIIIND HIM!!' being just one of the numerous occasions that me practising the art of chortle suppression) Maybe I'm being too harsh but I think I just expected better of Shannon. He has the right look to play a great villain and he is one of the best off the radar, now coming hurtling towards the A list battleship, actors going around. You want to see a great film staring Shannon? Watch 'Take Shelter'. It is simply sublime.

MoS is much less than the sum of it's parts however, and the equation doesn't hold up.

Brought to us via a collaboration between Zach Snyder, Chris Nolan and David S Goyer as director, producer and screen writer respectively. Nolan also had a hand with the writing too and what he's done is given us Batman Begins in a red cape, with some added scenes from The Dark Knight for good measure. They even go as far as to bring up the whole turning ones self into an ideal and have the main villain sporting a salt and pepper goatee and have him broadcast a threatening home movie to the masses.

I'm amazed that both Nolan and Goyer could be this ... lazy, if I'm being honest. What they have attempted to do is darken this goody goody, whiter than white, Daz door step challenge superhero and make him more gritty and realistic. Nolan is clearly of the opinion if it ain't broke and it can make a gazzilion dollars, don't fix it. Well I've got new for you Nolan, it is broken. This concept and execution is broken for one simple reason: Brooding, mysterious and tortured does not fit with Superman. At all.

That approach worked well in Batman because despite Bruce Wayne being rich enough shove both feet up Roman Abramovich and Mark Zuckerberg's areses and use them as waterskis on a river made entirely of £50 notes, he has no metaphysical properties. So we can relate to his human side. We see him suffer, question his own morality, doubt his own M.O and go though the heartache at the loss of treasured loved ones all of which makes sense for he is only human after all. Superman is not, he is an alien, a demigod and an unfaltering protector/guardian of Earth. He is arguably the most unassuming superhero to ever grace the page, which makes his treatment in this film very confusing. They either didn't get it or thought they could do it better

What is the carnal sin when it comes to Superhero films? Above all else what is that last thing you should be whilst watching this kind of visual representation of a beloved comic book character and the world they inhabit? It should NEVER be boring. Man of Steel is.

You may think that I'm referring to the good length of time focused on Clark Kent's rite of passage and the numerous interactions with his adopted family, but no; I actually enjoyed the majority of those. I'm taking about when he actually is Superman; when the tights are on and the cape is flowing and we can't see shit because the Zach Snyder thinks the best way to immerse the audience into this world is to do so from point of view of someone stuck in a tumbledrier.

For example, when we come to what should be the most pivotal and iconic scene in the entire film; when Superman finally dons the famous tights and gears up for his first flight. The music swells, he kneels dramatically, fists clenched into the ground as it shakes with the building pressure, here he goes, up, up and away! Where upon the cinema going audience watching are catapulted into the point of view of a helicopter so out of control it feels like it's being piloted by Lindsay Lohan on strict diet of speedball and absinthe.

Is this really the way you're going with this Zach? We spend good money to see a man fly and what we get is a headache, motion sickness and Superman pretty much flipping us the bird at the mere audacity of trying keep up to him. At one point the camera view changes to show a red and blue indistinguishable visual effect darting around the screen and it feels like I'm frantically trying to get a missile lock. The shaky cam in this scene is just unacceptable. What makes it worse is that there's no reason for it's existence. Shaky cam can be used to good effect to generate a sense of realism and chaotic action, which at times can be exhilarating (in moderation) and make us feel involved in the action. In a moment like this however we are supposed be following the hero of the piece in a rare moment of unbridled joy as Superman takes to the skies, so why does it feel like the audience are being punished for trying to join in? It could have been done so much better, so much more wonderful to experience, jaw dropping to look at and much less projectile vomit inducing.

Erratic cinematography and gloomy atmosphere are not Man of Steel's only problems however; despite my mentions at the beginning the majority of the supporting cast are written so blandly that they're barely worth mentioning or so redundant that there is genuine look of surprise whenever a principle character interacts with them. I can only vaguely remember the Authority guy from True Blood as some kind of Army commander and feeling less than nothing when he sacrificed himself to aid Superman. Zod's supposed henchman 'Evil Lyn' Lara has about as much impact as Maggie Simpson's left hook and they even resorted to a completely CGI  9 foot tall Emil Muntz, just to make sure that none of the secondary threats can have any depth whatsoever, not even comedy relief.

That's a shame too because this film could have used some. No sooner have the tights come on then the remaining 1 hour and x minutes are filled up with superhuman, super beings being hurled through buildings. Lots of buildings. I'm not even closed to kidding when I say that at the end stand off between Zod and Superman, the city (or what's left of it) around them could have only looked more demolished if it was fired at from the Death Star. It's so gratuitous and over the top that it just becomes boring. You long for anything different; a punch, a kick, a slap, even a Steven Segal backhand just to break up the monotony of another body being hurled through edifice after edifice. It's all done so seriously too, you feel tired just watching it. It's draining. When the final credits rolled I felt like I'd through same amount of office blocks as Cavill's CGI double.

This may sound like I'm being down on superhero films in general but I'm really not. Avengers proved it could be done and done well, mixing exciting action set pieces, witty dialogue, memorable characters and a good helping of self aware 'we know this is a comic book so lets have fun'  humour. Thor 2 managed it as well the end battle in particular being even more outlandish and hilarious than Avengers managed. These are two examples of comic book films done right because they are aware that comic books, by their very nature, are fun. This film fails because it's not fun. Not in my opinion.

I'm going to finish with what for me was the final nail in the coffin.

There is a flashback scene near the end that shows Martha and Jonathan happily watching the young Clark Kent playing in the garden; wearing a red piece of non-descript clothing as . a . cape!
I'm never going to grow up! Lost Boys, are you with  me?!

Question: Why do kids wear capes when they play?

Answer: They are pretending to be Superman

How can a kid who will actually become Superman, dress up as Superman before the Superman knows he is Superman, nay the concept of Superman hasn't been created?

This is the most monumental load of sentimental, self-satisfied paradoxical bollocks I think I have ever seen in film. The whole scene was causing so many questions to burn through my temporal lobe I started chuckling inanely to myself to sooth the pain. Imagining Col Roy Campbell bursting out of the ground, riding a on a purple stuffed worm and barking out 'Time Paradox!' with a tuning fork in his flap jaw. I'm probably going to be the only person who really gets riled up by this (it wouldn't be the first time) but it's a stupid ending to a stupidly serious, comic book film, with zero personality other than pious melodrama and collateral damage.

2 out of 10

(most of that score is due to the acting alone and Cavill's performance. It's not enough to save it though. Bitterly disappointed)

No comments:

Post a Comment