Saturday, June 15, 2013

Review: Man of Steel

*Gonna try and keep this as spoiler free as humanly possible, but if you're one of those people who absolutely wants to know NOTHING before you go to the theatre...I think it goes without saying to stop here.*

I've said for awhile now, since the superhero genre really caught fire at the box office, that comic book heroes are almost our 21st century pantheon of gods. They're the legends that we hand down from generation to generation. They serve as cautionary morality tales, tales to inspire bravery and heroism, and tales that serve as an escape from the mundane reality of everyday life. Their powers make them unlike any of us, so they're set apart. Often, they come from among us, be they chosen by cosmic forces (Green Lantern) or the victims of an accident that brings about a transformation (Spider-Man, and countless others). So if these heroes are a pantheon, Superman is pretty much the Zeus/Apollo/Odin/Ra etc. He's the ultimate. The standard bearer. His morality and sense of justice seem to be pitch perfect (not to mention black-and-white), he's essentially indestructible, and he has no agenda for world domination. His presence as a benevolent beacon of light, who saves people from unthinkable fates at times, might harken to another famous Figure from the pages of a Book. So basically, when you make a movie about Superman A) it's hard to create conflict and a sense of urgency when the hero is an indestructible Christ-like Boy Scout and B) he has SUCH a key place in pop culture, you'd better not screw it up.

SO....did they???????

My answer? No. Not in the slightest.

Before I proceed ANY further, let me say this: I'm anything but a Superman purist. I was always a Batman kid growing up (Adam West was in re-runs daily, The Animated Series premiered and was AWESOME, and Michael Keaton was lighting it up the box office. It was a good time to love Batman.). I watched the old George Reeves television series with my dad on Nick-At-Nite religiously, saw a bit of Lois & Clark here and there, and missed Smallville entirely, and the Chris Reeve films were before my time. So, like many in my generation, Superman wasn't all that accessible, and could pretty much only be found on television (Lois being very short lived, and Smallville COMPLETELY over-staying its welcome, not to mention being far too teen angsty for where I was in life when it premiered) and in comics. So it was hard for me to form a die-hard connection with Supes. As such, the liberties taken with his origin story, etc in Man of Steel do not bother me at all. Some might hate them with every fiber of their being. I get that. But I digress. Let's get back to the movie.

It became apparent to me within MINUTES of the movie's start that JJ Abrams has made a big impact with his Star Trek movies. Man of Steel is RIFE with lens flares, shaky handheld shots, and the sudden zooms (usually a double close attention to both and you'll see what I mean). So if you hate those things about JJ, that might be strike one for you right out of the gate. I don't mind it in theory, I just mind it if it's ripping off another filmmaker's signature look. And it felt that way to me several times. 

The film shifts gears notably as it unfolds, and it almost feels like 3-4 separate movies in one, in retrospect. Act I is on Krypton, as you can imagine, and these scenes felt STRAIGHT out of the Star Wars prequels to me, specifically Attack of the Clones. HEAVY use of CGI for epic battles on a large scale. It's impossible to take in every single thing happening onscreen, that's how big these fights scenes are. I realize invoking the Prequels sounds like an indictment, with the stigma they carry. I don't mean it in a negative way at all. But the visual effects, creatures, and shot compositions had me mentally comparing it to SW the entire time. Couldn't help it. Another thought that occurred to me was "WHY couldn't Green Lantern have been more like this?!"

Act II onwards is set on earth, with the film making jumps back and forth through time, often without warning. It can be a bit jarring at first, but you grow accustomed to it after awhile. Each point in time has a different look, with the past being very cool blue tones, almost washed out to be monochromatic in appearance. The present is more colorful by comparison, but even at its highest example of this, Man of Steel ain't exactly a Lisa Frank piece, if you get my meaning. Its colors and tone are very muted, and almost mournful in a way. More on that later.

Another thing that has occured to me since leaving the theatre was the lack of a discernible theme song for Superman. The John Williams score from the Chris Reeve era is iconic and instantly recognizable. In Man of Steel, I could perceive no such theme. If I tried to whistle the music I heard last night, I'd probably get light headed and pass out. That's a recent trend that has really upset me since the superhero explosion began. Green Lantern had about 5 notes I could hum to you as being distinct. Just makes me realize how much of a class to himself John Williams truly is. Indiana Jones, Star Wars, Superman...even the NBC Nightly News!!!!! All classic, all instantly recognizable, ALL John Williams.

Many critics have complained that the film is much too somber and gloomy. While it's not a stretch to notice Man of Steel doesn't resemble it's cinematic brethren from the 70's and 80's in campy, sunny feels, why does this have to be a negative?? And this is where not being a Superman fanboy personally will almost certainly come into play. The comics are known for keeping it light and fun, not brooding and miserable. I get that. Many Spider-Man aficionados had the same complaint with Andrew Garfield's outing last summer. Both are meant to be fun. But in the times we live in, it does not seem that audiences want to be distracted by nonsense they feel to be inauthentic (for those of you who tend to make snarky observations, YES, I realize that's odd to say about the superhero genre. But it has been proven there are ways to ground it in as much reality as possible without sacrificing good storytelling). 

Audiences seem to want to see something gritty and emotional, that makes them feel a connection with the hero onscreen. And Superman is about the hardest hero to relate to in history, for reasons too numerous to list. Focusing on his isolation, his self doubt, his quest for meaning in the world (done in a VERY on-the-nose way in the film, but I won't say more than that) is the ONLY way audiences filled with people struggling to pay bills and provide for their families can connect with a demi-god. Otherwise, why should they care? What does he POSSBLY have to lose, given his immeasurable strength and unworldly abilities? The only way to threaten Superman, truly, is to make the people he desperately loves, cares for, protects and saves, fear or reject him. It's as simple as that. That isolation is more effective for Superman than Kryptonite could EVER be.

The casting for Man of Steel was especially wonderful, and outside of the costumes and visuals in space, my favorite part of the movie. One of the most glaring flaws of Superman Returns was the casting of Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane. She just never felt right. Amy Adams rectifies this perfectly, with a great blend of fearlessness and tenderness that gives the character a genuine feel. She is not relegated to the role of screaming damsel constantly mucking about and needing rescuing (see: Kim Basinger as Vicki Vale in 1989's Batman). Rather, she assists in any way she can, showing fear on her face, but continuing on regardless. Lawrence Fishburne raised eyebrows upon the announcement he'd been cast as Perry White, but blew any concerns out of the water. Perry is the kind of character Fishburne was born to play. There is no Jimmy Olsen whatsoever, which really does show that Snyder and Co. were determined not to play this thing for cheap laughs. Costner and Lane as Ma and Pa Kent are fantastic, and Russell Crowe does his best at making the Jor-El character all his own. That is extremely difficult, given that his cinematic predecessor was Marlon Brando. Crowe takes the character in a different direction, and breathes new life into it. Michael Shannon also shines as Zod, and the script does an amazing job making his motivations a bit more sympathetic. Zod in Man of Steel is a classic example of the misunderstood, truly acting in a way he sees as honorable in the end, and even admitting that his methods to achieve his goals are fairly reprehensible. To him, his people are all that matter.

Last but not least, I was VERY pleasantly surprised by the scope (or rather, the lack thereof) of Superman's powers. In his cinematic past, his abilities border on the insane and terrifying (even for a comic book character). Donner's first film had Superman going and changing the earth's rotation to reverse time as a way to solve the problem, which in ITSELF creates a whole host of new problems and questions. In Superman II, his kisses can roofie women. We won't even get into the funky cellophane "S" he can throw at unsuspecting villains. In Singer's film he literally lifts an ENTIRE continent on his back, alone, and hauls it into space. In Man of Steel, it's made apparent that he is powerful, but not to those fantastic extremes. He struggles to keep a collapsing crane on an oil rig from collapsing, so you really don't get the feeling he'll be hurling continents like a shotput anytime soon. 

As a side note, I found it incredibly interesting that they made it a point to emphasize Superman revealing himself to the world at the age of 33. The circumstance of this revelation are his wanting to present himself as a sacrifice to Zod in the place of mankind. It has never been a subtle point that Superman is a Christ-ish figure (Brandon Routh's Superman falling to earth in the crucifix pose wasn't at all what you'd call 'subtle'), and according to scripture, 33 was the age of Jesus when handed over to the Romans for execution. This could perhaps be  nothing more than a huge coincidence, but I was so intrigued by its inclusion, I felt it necessary to point out. If nothing else, it opens the door for many interesting conversations.

On the whole, Man of Steel is breathtaking in its spectacle, poignant in its emotion, and well paced from beginning to end. The science behind Zod's plan of attack is so far beyond false and ridiculous, it goes without saying. So if you're an MIT intellect without the ability to overlook such things, you likely won't be having a good time. Cavill brings a quiet sadness to his Clark/Superman, but also exudes kindness and love for mankind. There are several points where you just want to give the poor guy a hug. This, to me, is the sign of an excellent performance. If this film is a sign of things to come for other DC properties, I am extremely excited about the future. I loved Man of Steel, and I'm already planning when I'll be able to see it again. I hope you enjoy the film, and if you've seen it, please start a discussion below! Did you love it? Hate it? Agree or disagree with anything I've said? Let me know! Thanks for reading and have a great weekend!

Friday, June 14, 2013

This Week In Headlines- June 14th

Hope everyone is staying cool as the temperatures are on the rise...and safe from any tornadoes and other crazy weather! Let's talk entertainment!

Buddy comedy The Internship had a very disappointing opening frame, as duo Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson failed to generate a spark similar to their runaway hit, Wedding Crashers. The reason for this could be attributed to several causes, chief of which is cynicism over the fact that its entire plot centers on a corporate tie-in. It can also be argued, somewhat persuasively, that the PG-13 limitations kept it from really covering any distinct or outrageous territory, a problem Crashers certainly did not have (nor did Vaughn's comedy with brother Luke, Old School) (...whatever happened to Luke Wilson, anyway????). The Internship's $17.3 million opening weekend doesn't come close to Wedding Crashers' opening weekend of $33.9 million, a fact that becomes more significant when you factor in 8 years worth of inflation and difference in ticket prices (yes, it's been EIGHT years since that movie was in theatres). I saw the film and enjoyed it, but I won't be putting in a pre-order on Amazon anytime soon. It was funny, but in the end, forgettable and formulaic.

Fanboys of Sony and Microsoft have begun to draw their battle lines and pick sides this week, as the two major companies unveiled details of their upcoming PS4 and XBOX One consoles, respectively. It was not an overly flattering week for Microsoft, as many have raised their voices in complaint over the system's limitations and requirements. It seems that, in their efforts to exert more creative control over their product, Microsoft has come off as totalitarian and uncaring for their fan base. A quote from one major higher-up essentially stated that unhappy fans have a solution: Microsoft's 8 year old console, XBOX 360. The negative press surrounding XBOX One's unveiling gave Sony a tremendous advantage, leaving them in the coveted just-don't-screw-up-and-you're-good position. As long as their presentation did not involve execs wearing clothing featuring racial slurs while using drugs and abusing puppies with prostitutes, they were coming out smelling like a rose (and, this reporter is pleased to announced, nary a puppy was found). However, it's ridiculous to count Microsoft out, current negative press notwithstanding. The console DOES have positives to it, and will likely give Sony a run for its money in this round of the console wars. I'll be eager to see who emerges victorious*.

*Kid brother Nintendo could not be reached for comment, but could be seen peering in through the window on a stack of phone books, mouth agape in an apparent (and very sad) bid for attention. 

A bombshell was dropped in Hollywood this week, as burning effigy and whipping boy M. Night Shyamalan was revealed to have been the scribe behind the emotional, gripping, Shakespearan-level epic She's All That. Said Shyamalan, "See, I haven't always sucked! And I'm still kinda good!" Replied America, "Yes you have. And no you aren't." They promptly went out and did not buy tickets for After Earth.

In reference to After Earth, it appears Will Smith has his first bonafide flop of his career, as the big-budget sci-fi film has grossed $49.5 million in 2 weeks time. Apparently audiences did not want to pay $10 to see a father and son bitch at each other via Bluetooth for over an hour when they can simply go outside or to Wal-Mart and see the same free of charge. The concept of taking the film's largest draw, immediately incapacitating him, sticking him behind a desk, sucking out all energy and personality that his box office drawing characters are known for, and then letting his young son without the chops to carry a movie all by himself run around onscreen as the star, is ASTOUNDING to me. And I'm not knocking Jaden. He seems like a GREAT kid, with a lot of promise. He'll grow into this eventually (or his parents will die trying). But that kind of role is very difficult. TOM HANKS barely pulled it off with Castaway, and even THEN, depending on who you ask, you might get told even HE didn't. Don't take it bad, Jaden. We'll all just blame M. Night, set him adrift on an ice floe like we SHOULD have done in 2004 after The Village, to spare us the horror that was Lady In the Water, and happily pretend like none of this eeeeeeeeever happened. Our secret.

Any opinions on this week's topics? Any major topics I didn't cover that you want to discuss? Sound off in the comments below! Happy Friday, and thanks for reading!

Friday, June 7, 2013

This Week In Headlines- Doctor Who Edition- June 7th

I plan to revisit the headlines feature later today, but I wanted to get my thoughts out on an occurrence near and dear to my heart first. I had a lot more to say on the subject than I realized when I sat down to write, so I felt like it should have its own little entry all to itself. Without further ado...

     After weeks of speculation (more like months or years, even), the BBC announced actor Matt Smith would be hanging up his bow tie and suspenders this Christmas, as the now famous young actor leaves the international sensation "programme" Doctor Who. Whovians, as Who fans are called, have been letting their sadness and disappointment over Smith's inevitable departure be known this week, with many citing him as their favorite ever Doctor (contrary to popular belief, the character is NOT called "Doctor Who," but merely The Doctor).
     It hasn't always been this way for Smith, now 30. Cast at the tender age of 26, not only was he the youngest actor ever cast in the role, but he was also an unknown, following arguably the most popular Doctor of all time, David Tennant (the Tom Baker/David Tennant debate will likely rage on for eternity). Fans were hesitant to embrace his take on the iconic role at first, especially given their sadness over the loss of Tennant. These days, young Smith has found himself beginning a blossoming film career, and will be seen on American movie screens next year, as a cast member in Ryan Gosling's directorial debut How To Catch a Monster. Speculation as to the identity of his replacement has been rampant, with the BBC and showrunner Stephen Moffat keeping silent on their casting status (for any Who fans reading, that's not meant as a pun).
     Before Smith signs off, he will be starring in the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary special in November (the show has been around a LONG time, if I hadn't mentioned that before), alongside previously mentioned Who legend alum David Tennant, and the annual Christmas Special as well on 25 December. It's likely a good time to leave, as someone only just getting started will want to avoid typecasting as much as possible (poor Mark Hamill). I for one enjoyed his time, but I will say he was hardly my favorite. This has less to do with his abilities as an actor, and for for the gimmicky season long story arcs Moffat has insisted on playing out during his run. Those sorts of things were absolutely present during Tennant's time as well, but they weren't the primary focus. Stand-alone adventures have been the cornerstone of the show since its inception in 1963. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Bring on the Twelfth Doctor!

What are your thoughts on Matt Smith's Eleventh Doctor? Will you be sad to see him go, or are you ready for a fresh face? Sound off in the comments below!