Sunday, 16 June 2013

Review: Man of Steel

Here are my opinions on the movie Man of Steel. There may be spoilers ahead, but I really think Zack Snyder already spoiled it for everyone. I did not like it.

My initial reaction to finding out Snyder was making a Superman film were not positive. Watchmen remains the movie that has made me the most angry I have ever been at fiction. Sucker Punch (even if you accept the misogyny as ironic) is a messed up collection of music videos with the plot of an early nineties video game. My hopes weren't high. But I felt it would be my duty as a Superman fan to go see it even if no-one else did. I remembered going to see Batman and Robin on my own in a mostly-empty theatre in 1997 and thought that might happen again.

Then the second trailer came out. And it was ace. It perked me up and actually made me excited to see it. This is going to be good! Like the first trailer (all arty shots of butterflies and washing lines) it still seemed almost embarrassed about showing Superman but that's just to preserve some mystery right? Right?

No. The truth is this is not a Superman movie at all. In the same way that Superman III is not a Superman film but a Richard Pryor comedy that happens to have Superman in it, Man of Steel is an alien invasion film that happens to have Superman in it.

Seriously, all I want from a Superman film is to see Superman doing Superman stuff. If I want to watch the American military fighting spaceships I'd watch Independence day or Battleships. And be massively disappointed with them.

It's not until nearly the end of the movie before someone calls him Superman. And he's made to feel ridiculous for it. Lois (Amy Adams - I'll admit to something of a crush on her) nearly calls him Superman but is interrupted. He doesn't get his costume for over an hour and even then it doesn't really look like his costume. If you didn't want to make a Superman film you could have done something else.

The interesting stuff about Clark Kent's journey is probably the best part of the film. We see what life is like for him as he travels from town to town under new identities, hiding his secret power until being forced to show it by, for example, getting angry and heading on the road to the next town, all the while being pursued by an intrepid reporter who believes he killed Bruce Banner.

No. Wait. Got confused there.

Eventually Clark comes forward and offers his help to the military who don't know whether they can trust him. At this point he has become Klaatu from The Day the Earth Stood Still. I don't mind this. (incidentally Klaatu was a Christ allegory which is something Superman often is - indeed the script explicitly states that Clark is 33 years old)  I think ditching the whole secret identity thing was a bold and interesting choice which makes a lot more sense in a movie than in serial fiction. Which is why I was surprised that he gets his secret identity at the end of the film.

A real problem I have with most superhero movies is the need to tell the origin story. For most of the running time. The Amazing Spider-man from last year spent far too long telling an origin the audience has barely had time to forget. The Fantastic Four was almost all origin and I'm sure put people off seeing the sequel, which is a shame because that's one of the most fun superhero movies ever.

Is there anyone who doesn't know Superman's origin? It's one of those cultural touchstones of twentieth century western storytelling. And it's been told on screen at least six times. Smallville took nine years telling it for Klaatu's sake.

This is how Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely told the origin story in the excellent All Star Superman:
Eight. Words.

I don't want to get bogged down with complaining about plot holes because they were no worse than those in, say, The Dark Knight Rises or Skyfall. Although both those films entertained me so much I didn't notice them until long after. Man of Steel has so many boring extended action sequences that I was able to think about the internal logic problems in the script. I will however highlight a piece of dialogue which might as well have been this:

"We also demand you hand over the one called Lois Lane!"
"Why?"
"No reason. We wanted to give her a chance to save Superman and spoil our plans. We're evil but we're sporting."

As for the representation of other Superman family stuff. That was a mixed bag too.

Krypton was a planet of over-designed machinery. Smallville was too big (a bit more like that bafflingly popular TV show's Smallville). But Metropolis... Superman's most famous home was barely seen. In fact I didn't even notice that's where we were meant to be during the big Avengers-y fight at the film's climax (hey, did you like them big metal flying snake things from The Avengers? Then you'll like seeing then again!). It could have been anywhere except for it having The Daily Planet offices there. Which looked like every other building.

I liked Laurence Fishburne as Perry White and I'm not aware of any racist whingeing about casting him like there was with Idris Elba in Thor. I'm sure if did a search I'd find a thousand tweets saying "They should call him Perry BLACK! lol!" so to preserve my faith in humanity I won't.

I was more concerned with the fact that Lois and Lana both had wrong coloured hair! Which is equally ridiculous, really. But Pete Ross is a fat bully? That's right out of order.

Also nice to see Professor Hamilton and Kelex make appearances (for those you who weren't reading Superman comics in the 90s, don't worry about it). Also what may be the first onscreen appearance of sports reporter Steve Lombard. Even though he neither looked nor acted like the character I'm still putting that under "positives".

But then there's the big negative. A huge hole in Superman's world. No, not Lex Luthor (there was at least a tiny reference to LexCorp). I mean the faithful friend. Cub reporter. Mr Adventure. Y'know, Superman's Pal.

Jimmy Olsen.

I love Jimmy Olsen because I love silver age comics. If you don't understand how I can love him look at this:
Who could resist? Apart from Lucy Lane.

There is an intern by the name of Jenny, who I'm sure was intended to be Jimmy in an earlier draft. Maybe the producers were concerned that there weren't enough female characters (not something producers usually care about kudos if that is so). So why they didn't use Cat Grant or any other woman in Superman's life is odd.

Still. If this gets a sequel I DEMAND SOME JIMMY OLSEN ACTION!

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