Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Man of Steel; Film of Cotton Candy

OK, anymore I begin to think I should have a standard disclaimer before every movie review to the effect that comic-book-based films are not really my cup of tea. More than that, maybe; that horror films and zombie films and vampire films and anything that requires you to check your reality card at the door or requires an essential suspension of basic rationality are not my cup of tea.

What does that leave us with? Yeah, documentaries.

Look, I get it that films are about escape and fantasy (or they can be). Much of our TV programming--to include some outlets that purport to be about "news"--is similarly dedicated. Apparently we all need ongoing and continuous release from the toils of this life.

But "superhero" movies are now become standard fare. I listened to an article on NPR the other day that discussed the reading habits of high school students. And compared to 30 years ago, there is much less reading assigned and that reading is of a lower and lower caliber. Instead of reading Homer or Shakespeare or other established classics, high school kids are now being assigned books like The Hunger Games, presumably because this is what they will actually read. But The Hunger Games is written, the article said, to a fifth grade level. (I suppose I have little room for maneuver here, since I do all my reading now on the iPad and between the heady sophistication of Facebook and Twitter and solitaire and Candy Crush Saga, etc., etc., I've been reading the same book now for seven months. No matter how age-appropriate it may be, it counts for little if I don't, you know, actually *read* it.)

Still. Man of Steel. I can't get around the fact that the essential thematic material in this most popular genre of film--the comic book adaptation--is geared for boys in the single-digit age group. I don't mean to be irredeemably snotty (hey, even I listen to Journey on occasion), but shouldn't we aspire to a wee bit more sophistication?

So maybe I needn't have gone to see  Zack Snyder's film Man of Steel. But I did. It has Amy Adams in it, and she's on my List. OK, and I had free passes. (He says, dialing the sophistication up yet another notch.) And on paper (well, sorry, that's not really the right phrase) it looked, well, possibly not... overburdened with massive suction. Maybe. Henry Cavill and Kevin Costner and Diane Lane and Michael Shannon and Laurence Fishburne and Russell Crowe--it's certainly a worthy cast. And they're dealing with the single best-known fictional character, maybe, in modern times. That should be enough, right?

But no. Here's the thing: I just think they told the wrong story. They devoted a buzillion dollars to a project that somebody needs to have stopped in the first week and said "Dude, *focus.* It's frickin' Superman!" Instead of the expected story of where he came from / how is he special / how did he adapt / what is his life like, we get something that, while including elements of this expected narrative, immerses itself in a peripheral squabble that needn't have concerned us--at all. And that squabble takes up the whole story and colors everything to the extent that the narrative we all know is at best buried and obscured. This film, if it needed making at all, needs to be the third or fourth sequel. Film One needs to introduce us properly to the 1930s character we know with whatever updating of the concept is required by the intervening 70-some years.

But even if I unknot my undies on this basic matter, I'm not especially sold on what they *did* give us. I just didn't buy most of it. I know, I know, I paid (not really) to go see a film based on a comic book superhero! I know! But at the risk of sounding completely delusional, I'll say it again: if NOTHING on the screen keeps some kind of grip on some small part of reality, then nothing has much meaning. Yes, a film about a flying man from another planet whose physical aspect is not subject to the laws of physics is not to be confused with an historical drama. And most films I like--indeed, most stories--require a bending of reality. But almost nothing on screen here for two and a half hours had as much as a little fingernail dipped in the Palmolive Dish Soap of reality. And much of that serves no good purpose. (**Spoilers** ahead, if that term can really apply to a Superman movie.) Why is Amy Adams allowed on the military aircraft? Is it really to do this thing with the "key" that requires no skill whatsoever? How did she get a perfectly-fitting flight suit in the blink of a jump cut? Why is she wearing a flight suit at all? Why does the film spend time telling us how Earth's properties, over a span of time, are responsible for Clark Kent's superpowers, only to grant those same powers immediately to ANYONE from Krypton? So he's not really Superman; he's just Krypton-man? How are we supposed to like a guy who is responsible for the virtual leveling of an entire city? Why introduce him into a plotline where he can't possibly fix or prevent all--or most, or hardly any--of the evils that befall the city, evils that his presence on Earth is responsible for bringing down on our heads? What reason do we have to like him? Is it that people will "grasp" that he's really looking out for them, even if he pretty universally fails to beat back the tide of destruction he's responsible for bringing to Earth? How are we to believe that when half the present-day population cannot be made to see the most basic things laid before them?

And more mundane matters: how many times do we need to see a man thrown through a building before we *get* that he's kind of indestructible? 20 times? 50? 100? How many buildings need to be brought down before we grasp the level of destruction involved in this titanic battle? All of them? And if not all of them, then why bother to film all of them going down? The effects themselves were impressive and awesome, just as 30 minutes devoted to Princess Leia's favorite Angie's Pie Shop on Coruscant in Star Wars might have brought us stunningly-real detail.

I was impressed several times at Hans Zimmer's rather epic soundtrack, though I see now that it's been rather tepidly reviewed. A sampling on iTunes does indeed reveal an impressive use of the Horn of Doom, but maybe not much else.

Too bad. I want to say that I hoped to like the film, but maybe that's a lie. I mean, I wasn't gunning for it or anything. Well, maybe that's a lie too. But even my wife--who wanted to see it, and who generally goes for this kind of thing--said "meh."

Hell, maybe that could have saved me 5000 words.


Grade: C-


Dan O. said...

Good review William. Not as special as I expected, but still an okay superhero flick all the same.

William Stachour said...

Yeah, I think if I went in without expectations I might have liked it better. For what it was, they did a good job with it.

CyberKitten said...

WS said: But "superhero" movies are now become standard fare.

Haven't they just. OK, bored now!!!

WS said: It has Amy Adams in it, and she's on my List.

Ditto - but that didn't make me want to pay to see the movie.

As I've said before elsewhere I'm hardly going to the movies these days because of the poor film making we are expected to put up with. I'm old fashioned enough - or maybe just old enough - to expect things like plot, story, acting, emotion and thought. Just the little things that make the difference between an actual film and a 'blockbuster'. But as usual I appear to out-of-step with the majority in this (and much else besides).

William Stachour said...

Yeah, Amy Adams may lose her spot on my List (she's terrified of this, I'm sure!) based on this wretched role--it wasn't her fault, so I'll cut her some slack! ;-)

I go back and revisit my favorite Bogart films regularly, and I"m amazed at how great the stories are with nary a shot being fired. This Superman film was just a ridiculous amount of blowing shit up in place of an actual *story*.

Tony said...

Bil. A great review. This is one of those movies I decided to "save my money on", especially after reading your review. Sorry to hear about the score. I also read your review of "Argo". That was another great review. And that movie I did see!