Sunday, 16 June 2013

Man of Steel

Krypton is falling. The planet's natural resources are exhausted and the end of days are nigh. After giving birth in the planet's first natural birth in centuries, Jor-El and Lara send away their son, Kal-El, to Earth to escape both the planet and General Zod, Krypton's military leader who attempts a coup before killing Jor-El and ultimately being banished to the Phantom Zone. On Earth, Kal-El, now Clark Kent after being found by Jonathan and Martha Kent, is struggling to hide who he is, accidently displaying his super-strength in times of need. As he grows older, he outcasts himself and constantly tries to hide from everyone. That is, until one day, when he crosses paths with reporter Lois Lane, who finds out about him and what he can do. However, when General Zod comes to Earth to find Kal-El, it seems everyone may soon find out who exactly he is...

Superman is not only a comic book icon, but is Warner Bros's biggest intellectual property, earning them billions upon billions of dollars over a number of years. The original Superman quadrilogy is well known, although films 2, 3 & 4 are perhaps not known for particularly good reasons. After the franchise's last reboot in 2006, which also flopped, it seemed Superman was to be the franchise which would get lost amongst the current resurgence in comic book films. However, Warner Bros had no choice but to try again or risk losing the rights. So who could they possibly give it to? They tried giving it to the person who did so well with X-Men and X-2, so this time it went to the person who had saved Warner Bros's second biggest intellectual property: Batman. Christopher Nolan was given the reigns as producer, hired Zack Snyder as director and the rest is history. So has Nolan Batmanned Superman? Or has Snyder Sucker Punched it? It's somewhere in the middle of the two, unfortunately.

Man of Steel is supposed to be a collaborative work between Nolan as producer and Snyder as director, and yet the film has ended up being an awkward and disjointed two halves of a whole. The first half of the film, with Kal-El's back story, is all Nolan with beautiful cinematography, slow story telling, subtlety and compelling dialogue. The second half of the film, with Kal-El's battle against Zod, is all Snyder, with things exploding, ham-fisted attempts at meaningful dialogue and all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. What the first half of the film promised went undelivered in the second half, and that's a real shame, because the first half I loved, even if at times the visual style made it seem like I was watching a Terence Malick film. The second half was all style and substance was an afterthought and I was greatly disappointed. I understand Superman was a big responsibility to shoulder and they wanted to convey a grand sense of scale, but it all got too much and by the end, the climax was actually a welcome relief.

Speaking of the climax, I found there were two major problems with the end of the film. Firstly, no spoilers, but there was a matter of finality in the battle between Superman and Zod which I didn't appreciate. Batman never killed The Joker, and The Joker never killed Batman. That's how it should work, especially if they want to establish a franchise. Secondly, there's a line near the end of the film... From an army official to Superman, it was something along the lines of "How do we know you won't turn against America?" Wait, what? America? Was the battle between Superman and Zod not global? Did Zod not hold the entire world to ransom, not just America? Superman just saved the world, not just America. Also, can you still not trust him?! I put it to you that that line of dialogue, in the biggest film of the year so far, may be amongst the stupidest lines of dialogue spoken this year, this decade, ever? It's a colossal fuck up and shows a complete lack of forethought and sense of audience appreciation beyond America. Well done, David Goyer.

Aside from that, it's a really good looking film and the actors performances are all spot on, especially Russell Crowe as Jor-El, a surprising casting decision that's paid off. Henry Cavill looks great as the next Superman, though I'd still argue Brandon Routh from Superman Returns looked as close to the comic book Superman as there possibly could be. I just have one more personal gripe with Man of Steel, and the comic book film genre and their audiences in general. There's a lot of CGI in this film, which is understandable given the protagonist was born on an alien planet, can fly, shoot lasers from his eyes and has super strength. It gets obvious and is used by the bucket load in Man of Steel, but it will be looked over because it's a Superman film. When Green Lantern did exactly the same thing, people hated it. See the disparity? Just because Superman is a pre-existing franchise should be no reason to love it for the same reason people hated on Green Lantern, just because no-one knew who he was. People complain there aren't any new ideas for films any more; there could be if you gave the same kind of chances a Superman film gets to other potential franchises.

Overall, I liked the first half of Man of Steel. I liked it a lot. I wasn't overly sure about the second half. I liked the scale of things, but I feel they tried to make what was already an epic film in the eyes of the fans overly epic. It just got too much, but then maybe that's a reflection of modern film audiences. Have we been spoiled so much that now film makers feel they have to go OTT to try and create the feeling of an "event film"? It's a real shame, but in reflection, perhaps Snyder was the wrong man to take the wheel. People had their doubts after Sucker Punch, but I was convinced Nolan's influence would outweigh Snyder's penchant for style over substance. Unfortunately, it was just too much, and the two just couldn't work together to create a cohesive, compelling film. There will almost inevitably be a Man of Steel 2, and maybe Snyder will turn the director's chair over to someone else... Someone with experience with large-scale superhero films... Someone with experience of the franchise... Someone with a proven track record... Someone called Christopher Nolan...

Rating: ***

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