I thought Zack Snyder blew the doors off Watchmen. The movie does total justice to a classic graphic novel that I would have thought impossible to put on film. It turned out to be a work that doesn’t just honor the source material, it elevates it. I liked his version of 300 okay, and I thought Sucker Punch interesting (although it’s a rather strange movie).
Plus, I have a high regard for Christopher Nolan. I very much enjoyed Memento, Insomnia, The Prestige, Inception and the first two Batman movies (as I’ve written before, I thought much less of the third one).
Snyder at the helm, Nolan as a producer and writer,… I was really looking forward to Man of Steel.
I haven’t been so disappointed in a movie since… well, since the last Batman movie.
It started in 1978. The first real superhero movie, Superman with Christopher Reeve and a great supporting cast: Gene Hackman, Marlon Brando, Valerie Perrine, Ned Betty, Margot Kidder; even Terrence Stamp and Glenn Ford.
Richard Donner (of Lethal Weapon fame) directed a film that broke new special effects ground and garnered three Academy Awards nominations. It was a financial success, too; the opening box office returns were nearly six times what it cost to make!
That film, widely regarded as one of the top films of 1978, is still loved and cherished. The story is not without flaws (the ending: the time reversal and the ‘Kiss of Forgetting’ were pretty silly), but it was still engaging and thematic. That first series of Superman films went a little bit downhill from there, but still remain oddly watchable (if a little goofy at times).
Then, in 2006, came Superman Returns, a flat, lifeless, colorless, utterly forgettable movie. I love Kevin Spacey, but I thought he made an awful Lex Luther (worst Lex, ever). I think there may be a lesson here: Superman is actually a bit preposterous, so the films need to not take themselves too seriously. One thing that distinguishes the first films is how light-hearted they are.
Now there’s a third version of the Superman film canon, and for my money, it’s the worst of the lot. It’s a cliché-ridden, hackneyed story that panders to the modern desire for mindless action, CGI eye-candy and very little else. It appears to want to recycle bits of previous films (General Zod, Jor-El’s message to his son), but the movie to me is without charm or intelligence or depth or texture.
And to be honest, in my book, any movie with Russell Crowe automatically takes itself a little too seriously.
To me, the film reflects the childishness, thuggishness, ugliness and general mindlessness of the modern era. I became thoroughly disenchanted 10 minutes into the film (I found the entire Krypton sequence pointless and not a little absurd). Watching the whole damn movie was a chore I’ll not repeat. (I’m so sorry I actually bought the DVD, but I really did think it would be a much better film.)
Think about some of our first impressions of adult Clark: he steals clothes (never compensates for them), and he’s a vandal (trashing that obnoxious guy’s truck at the cafe). He lets his dad just die in a tornado. (In any proper Superman adventure, Clark would have found a way.) At the end of the film he destroys a 12-million dollar drone just to make a point. Is that the Superman you grew up with? It sure as hell ain’t the one I grew up with.
[Had I shot that final scene, I would have had Supes floating upright holding the disabled drone (or maybe have it lying across the road) waiting for that military dude. Maybe even a little heat vision to explode a trench across the road as they drove up.]
Outside the mindless action scenes, the story is absurd and clichéd. It’s the usual visceral, emotional approach to life that permeates modern entertainment; this absurd idea that the “gut” is more important than the mind. (That your emotions serve more than your intelligence. To me, that’s animals, not humans.)
Consider the clichés. Clark the picked on kid with the secret powers (but apparently no wit to use them in any productive fashion; canonically, I recall Clark did okay in high school). The scene with the three bullies picking on poor little Clark, who clutches to his chest a book, titled “Plato.” But do we ever see any sign that Clark has any sense of philosophy? Do we ever see any sign of a real education? Do we ever see how his parents might have nurtured his growth (other than vague clichéd scenes)?
Nope. Just an endless series of empty clichés. And endless brutality. Sign of the times, I guess. No intelligence, no smarts, but plenty of fisticuffs, plenty of smashed buildings and cars, tons of explosions.
That’s one of the things that bugged me about the last Batman movie. Batman, the advanced martial arts fighter with a belt-full of gadgets, but when it comes to Bane, it’s just a stupid, moronic, pointless, empty, dumbass fist fight.
Among all the violence of Superman’s battles, do we ever see him use any of his other powers? A bit of heat vision on Zod’s ship seemed about it. Part of the fun of Superman stories is seeing how he uses his powers to solve problems (his super speed, his super breath, his x-ray vision). The real Superman is clever.
And what’s the deal with Jor-El’s ghost… who appears quite familiar with “Miss Lane.” Krypton technology may be awesome, but they clearly play it as if Jor-El were somehow actually there (listen to his dialog and think about the context implied by his words, he’s clearly processing current information, and emotional to boot).
And what’s he doing implanted in a spaceship that’s been embedded in the ice for 20,000 years? How did he get there? Did that whole sequence (alien spaceship) really have any value in the film? Wouldn’t Jor-El have been in the craft that brought Clark here, not in a ship buried for 20,000 years?
That flashback showing young Clark running around in a red cape. (Just one of many WTF moments in the film.) Why do kids run around wearing a red cape? Think it might be because Superman has been part of the public consciousness since 19-friggin’-33? Think it might be because Superman is one of the most recognized icons in the world?
So what was little Clark Kent doing running around playing Superman?
Why would Lois Lane be in so much trouble with her editor for giving a story her paper didn’t want to print to a blogger? Plus: as much as I adore Amy Adams, when did Lois become a ginger? Everyone knows Lois Lane has black hair (Lana Lang, different story). Yes, it’s a very trivial point (perhaps more important to me, since I prefer black or brown hair), but the canon should be respected, I feel. Would we make Supes’ suit green?
As near as I can figure it, most movies and TV shows these days consist of 12-year-old kids running around in the bodies of adults. It’s all about gut feelings and brute force and unchecked desire and conflict and anger topped off with mass destruction CGI. And explosions. Always explosions.
I. Am. So. Fucking. Sick. Of. That. Childish. Bull. Shit.
Basically, what I found was a movie filled with way too many things to dislike and nothing at all to really like. I lost interest in city-destroying CGI and massive explosions ages ago. All I see is billions of dollars in property damage and considerable loss of life… all for my “entertainment”? Really boring, and yet also revolting.
Maybe it’s that lately I’ve been exploring various TV shows I’ve heard of but never watched. And all I seem to find is the same brutality, childish behavior and stunning mindlessness that seems to be what passes for exciting entertainment these days.
I just can’t believe people watch this stuff and call it good.
February 8th, 2014 at 2:36 pm
Hey Smitty – well written! Would you believe that I have watched no Superman movie to the end – ever? I seem to like all those chick-flick type of movies like The Bridges of Maddison County, Dirty Dancing, Under the Tuscan Sun, The Ya Ya Sisterhood, etc. OMG I can feel you rolling your eyes! LOL
February 9th, 2014 at 10:12 am
Well, hi m’Lady, thank you! Haven’t seen you in these parts in a little while. You might be surprised by my movie tastes; I can enjoy chick-flicks… when I have a chick to enjoy them with. 😀
As with any genre, some are very well done (and I always enjoy those) and some are not (and there you might find some eye-rolling). They have a great deal more humanity and (in the good ones) more authenticity (and far fewer gun battles and car crashes).
Truth is, most modern action films are little more than pointless noise and movement, which apparently is all some folks require. Can’t say you’re missing much!
February 9th, 2014 at 10:13 am
I definitely like it when movies have a story line…
February 9th, 2014 at 10:15 am
Even better when it has one that makes sense!
February 9th, 2014 at 11:14 am
Meh, sounds like you have saved me a couple of hours to do something else. Not that I was itching to see this, but the peeves you list would be my peeves as well. I like continuity and consistency.
I can totally suspend my disbelief for outlandish fantasy phenomena so long as it is written consistently. When things don’t mesh, the whole fantasy world falls apart and the entertainment value is lost.
What you have described here is basically special-effects porn. Only the thinnest plot, no real storyline, just an excuse to put up some special effects.
And alas, it is a sad day when Clark Kent is a douchebag. Life imitates art imitates life… it IS a commentary on recent social trends.
February 9th, 2014 at 1:49 pm
Yes, I believe we are both long-time SF fans and well acquainted with suspending our disbelief (sometimes with steel cables and gravity suppressors). For me it’s those elements that “take you out of” the story, what I call the “yeah, but” moments. SF, by its very nature, requires believing in something non-factual (at least currently), so there’s always a “gimme” or two (FTL travel, exotic power sources, etc.), but at some point one crosses a threshold and the house of cards collapses. I wrote about this in the early days of this blog; it boils down to a simple rule: “Don’t piss me off (with too much bullshit)!”
As I mentioned, I was “yeah, butted” out of Man of Steel in the opening Krypton sequences, and the problems just multiplied from there. Ultimately truly a movie with no redeeming qualities for me. As you say, SFX porn over a very thin (and often silly) plot.
And I am very disturbed by the dark anti-heroes of modern storytelling. Superman, especially, was the opposite of that, the shining character of the highest values. But, as with the original Vulcans of Star Trek, we find a sick need to dirty these iconic examples of high character in a desperate bid to somehow excuse our own moral poverty.
It’s instructive (and disheartening) to keep a log for a week of television viewing and record the killings, fights, gore and other violence put forth for our entertainment. (And yet we remain so very prudish about sex. People are so weird.)
February 9th, 2014 at 3:46 pm
Yep – I don’t see the need to “dirty up” the classic heroes either, nor to do the opposite: explain how the bad guy got to be bad. One reason I have hated the Star Wars prequels since they appeared… not only were they truly bad movies, but there is no need to explain why Darth Vader got the way he is. He’s just BAD, like the Big Bad Wolf or Dr. Doom or Cinderella’s stepsisters – leave it at that!
I wonder if this is mucking up of simple comic-book or fairy-tale stories with shades of gray and moral relativism is some lame attempt to be “deeper” but no… I suspect it’s more about getting deeper into people’s wallets.
February 9th, 2014 at 4:47 pm
Lila, that is an excellent point! It’s true that “the downfall of a person” can make a fascinating tale; that’s yer basic classic tragedy — the fatal flaw that undoes all. But if good exists, then so does evil, and sometimes evil just is (as your examples illustrate).
It’s particularly loathsome to me when it’s used to excuse real world criminal behavior. Actions are choices. Neither the labels society applies, nor the circumstances of your existence, define you or rule your behavior. Our choices define us.
I do think some storytellers deconstruct our mythologies, and I enjoy it when it’s literate and sincere. A favorite is a Larry Niven short story originally penned for Playboy. It’s called, Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex, and it explores the genuine consequences of a super-powered being, especially of an emotional, horny super-powered teenager. It’s hysterically funny and yet right on the money!