Friday, June 14, 2013

Man of Steel review

DC is a very interesting topic when it comes to films. Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight trilogy is one of the masterpieces of 21st Century film, and The Dark Knight will at some point join the ranks of the greatest films of all time. But, when you look beyond Nolan's trilogy, DC films is a really mixed bag. They were the first studio to put comic book movies into theaters, but they almost killed them as well (Batman and Robin). Superman (1978) is dated, Batman (1989) is a pretty good comic book film, but Superman Returns (2006) and Green Lantern (2011) are two of the worst comic book films ever made.

Let's take a look now at Zach Snyder's career. He's made five films and I've seen none of them in their entirety. He's had one flop (Sucker Punch), one legitimate success (300), and three middle of the road features (Watchmen, Dawn of the Dead, Legends of the Guardians). I've seen part of 300 and Watchmen and I'll say that they're slow, but have great special effects. DC and Snyder have now combined to make Man of Steel along with Dark Knight writer David Goyer and Christopher Nolan as a producer. Is it more like The Dark Knight or Superman Returns? 

The story is known to anyone who has ever picked up a comic book. Jor-El (Russell Crowe), a leading scientist on the planet Krypton discovers that his planet will fall apart and be destroyed. Jor-El has the Codex which contains the ability to regenerate Kryptonians after the death of the planet. General Zod (Michael Shannon) wants the Codex, but Jor-El wants it out of his hands. The planet falls apart, but Jor-El gets his son off the planet first. His son Kal-El (Henry Cavill) eventually reaches Earth and with the nurturing help of Ma and Pa Kent (Diane Lane and Kevin Costner) becomes Superman. 

Man of Steel has the best opening scene of the year. It's fast-paced, epic, intense, but also very personal and sucks you into the world immediately. When I saw the first twenty minutes of this movie, I was so happy. I was like, this is going to be the best superhero movie ever. Hans Zimmer's score is humming, the action is explosive but you are more invested in those action scenes than any in the rest of the film. I was seriously thinking that this movie was going to be an A after the first scene. How wrong I was.

The rest of the first hour is also pretty good. The way that the story is told is a bit messy, but it still is tragic and immerses you in the film. It's got some moments that are almost tear-worthy. Snyder did a fantastic job showing the pain and loneliness that Clark Kent feels and the way that his parents try to make him feel better.  The way that Man of Steel sets up its story is painstaking at times, but it works. It's the rest of the film that makes Man of Steel fall apart. 

There is a moment in Man of Steel where Zod comes back to get the Codex from Superman. He requires that he turn himself in and come with him. This is the precise moment where Man of Steel falls apart. The point where Clark decides to become Superman is quite jarring. It isn't a long transition into him becoming Superman and he fully becomes the character in a cut or two. 

Then you've got the last hour of the film, which is a complete and utter disaster. Let me explain how movie battle scenes work. Look at the biggest battles of all time in movies. I would say Avengers, Dark of the Moon, and Return of the King. All of those film are climatic installments in a series. Man of Steel joins the ranks of those films. Except Man of Steel is a first installment in a series. It's such a terrible stupid battle scene and the principle flaw in DC films. They think that all their films need to be huge (see: Green Lantern) and they have no sense of building to the climatic battle. 

There are many flaws in the climactic battle. One is that it's stupid. It's ridiculous, it's borderline incomprehensible and all that is features is destructive action. The reason that this film features so much action is that Superman Returns didn't have enough and the fans complained. Man of Steel is a major exercise in excess, and is practically Warner Bros. telling Snyder to just put as much action in the movie as possible. It's where the movie falls apart. I was so crushingly disappointed. 

The other major flaw in Man of Steel is how messy the narrative is. It jumps through so many different decades and doesn't exactly follow a clear narrative. It tries to follow the Batman Begins route of flashback storytelling, but it doesn't actually work. It just comes off as messy. I think that a straight origin story would have benefited the film and would have made me enjoy it a bit more. If they had built up all the characters through a straight narrative, I might have felt more prepared for the climatic battle. 

One more thing before I move on to the performances. Man of Steel is ultimately not a good movie because it is a messy, ridiculous, empty hodgepodge of different action films of the last ten years. Here are some examples:

-The flashback style of storytelling/character tries to hide in working class areas- Batman Begins
-"You're not my real father"- Spider-Man
-"Take a leap of faith"- Inception
-Battle in a small town- Thor
-Villain attempting to bring planet to Earth- Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Three cheers for creativity! It didn't exactly bug me, but it is noticeable. 

Last thing: the acting. The standout performance for me is Russell Crowe as Jor-El. He makes every single scene he's in memorable and delivers a standout performance. Antje Traue is also the best villainous performance in the film, as she dominates every scene that she is in. Diane Lane and Kevin Costner, along with Amy Adams don't have much to do and Perry White is extremely underdeveloped. Michael Shannon's Zod is overdone and Henry Cavill's Superman is just standard. He's a good actor and I just don't think that he was given much to work with. 

Man of Steel has some fun moments and some great emotional bits, but in the end it's nothing but a crushing disappointment. Hans Zimmer's score and Crowe's performance are worth a $5 ticket, but this is not something that you should pay full price for. This movie, in the end, truly proves that more isn't always more. Hopefully, the fantastic final five minutes of Man of Steel will set up a sequel that is really worth watching. 

THE FINAL GRADE:  C                                            (5.5/10)

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