Thursday, June 20, 2013

Man of Steel Attempts a Batman-Like Reboot with Christopher Nolan as a Producer but Fails to Provide Joy to the Franchise

Man of Steel (2 out of 5 Stars)
Directed by Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen)
Written by David Goyer (Blade, Batman Begins)
Starring: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Diane Lane, Kevin Costner, Laurence Fishburne, and Russell Crowe.

It's a bird, it' a plane, no it's reinvention man.  I swear, Superman has been reinvented more than Madonna, and the two have one thing in common most of their new material just can't hold up.  Back in 1938 with the first appearance of Superman in Action Comics; he was just man a who could leap tall buildings, and had super strength.  Eventually Superman could fly, and his origin story from Krypton was explored.  In 1978 Superman hit the the big screen for the first time (in live action form) with newcomer Christopher Reeve.  In the 1990s and 2000s Superman came back to television, with one incarnation being teenage Clark Kent battling his development as Superman along with his teenage years.

In 2006 director Bryan Singer attempted the first reboot/continuation of the old comic book film starring Brandon Routh.  Singer's interpretation was much more in line with classic Superman blending humor, and action to tell the tale.  While Kevin Spacey was great, and the direction nothing which reinvented the wheel, critics were mildly approving, but fans felt that this version no longer fit within this era of comic book films.  Enter producer Christopher Nolan, screen writer David Goyer, and director Zack Snyder.

Man of Steel is a clear reboot, starting with the birth or Kal-El.  As the planet Krypton faces destruction Jor-El (Crowe) goes before the elders of the planet begging them to try and change the way things are run.  Soon after Zod storms in, and the beginning of the end for Krypton ensues.  Before the planet is destroyed by internal planetary forces Jor-El and his wife Laura send their baby boy to planet Earth where he must navigate the uncertainty of his own existence, does he reveal himself, save humans, fight back, protect loved ones, and embrace both his human, and alien nature?

Without giving the plot away there is not much plot to this film, other than the beginning, which is the destruction of Krypton, and the continuing flashbacks, which help Superman (Cavill) or Clark explore the evolution of him finding himself within this hero.  The other thing missing from this film is character development, this falls flat on that level never letting you feel a part of the world of anyone.  I want to know more about these people, Lois, Zod, Martha.  Goyer's script wanted everyone to know these people, but in a reboot (even Superman) shouldn't audiences get the opportunity to know these characters once again, and if they are going to change thing around, in new context?  Goyer's misses the mark, he does let some heart and emotion out, but misses the added whimsy.  There is one joke where Lois and Clark are sitting talking about the "S" on his chest, but this is one of the few light moments of this film.  This is a Nolan produced DC film after all.

Christopher helped write the story (different from the screenplay), and produced Man of Steel, and it's honestly pretty obvious.  One of the few successful aspects of the film, was the flash backs, which showed Clark as a young boy harnassing his powers, saving children on a bus, and working through what it meant to be a super hero.  Powerful stuff, considering the past films and television series rarely explored this character on such a deep level.  The other problem with this film, and the Superman character today is that he is not Batman, and giving him a Bourne like bad ass make over does not work in the same context it did for Nolan's Batman franchise.  Enter the constant action sequences.

Put screenwriter Goyer with famed 300 and Watchmen director Zack Snyder together, and what do you get a film so action packed you often wonder where is the dialogue?  Snyder's direction style is interesting, one which values style over substance.  Look at 300 and Watchmen, they are shiny objects meant to distract and entertain, and never delve deeper into their subject matter.  This was a shame for Watchmen, especially since the graphic novel is one of the best books I have ever read.  I will applaud Snyder for growing within his direction, this is better directed than both 300 and Watchmen; he does delve somewhat deeper into the context of the back story, and made me care about Superman, a super hero I have never followed, or enjoyed.  I think that's where this film succeeds, it tugs on emotional heart strings, making you mourn the challenge this outsider, or well alien faces.

I would say that's where the successes begin, but also diminish.  I re-watched Singer's 2006 Superman Returns in preparation for this film, and while I think that film has flaws, it still captures the essence of Superman much better.  The flaws within that film resonate in Man of Steel as well, namely some of the casting.  Brandon Routh was probably the most miscast Superman, cast mainly for a resemblance to the former Man of Steel Christopher Reeves.  Cavill has no opportunity to convince me he is Superman because there is little or no joyless dialogue does not allow him to convince movie goers.  I think Cavill has the magnetism, and if given a better script could pull this off.

In the 2006 version Kate Bosworth attempts to be tough, but boy does that fall flat, even Teri Hatcher was a better Lois Lane.  In this version Lois has evolved into much more than a "Girl Friday" she is a hard hitting tough as nail journalist who is along for some of the action herself.  Progress.  Yet with progress always comes some regression.  Adams looks uncomfortable in the role, never giving off enough charisma, or chemistry with her leading man.  Adams is a great actress, but this is a case of too much action, and not enough for her to sink her teeth into.

The rest of of the cast feels as though they are along for the ride.  I love Michael Shannon, but Snyder's villains always feel too close to moustache twirling caricatures rather than well developed characters.  Lane is wasted, Costner does the best with what he is given, and Crowe looks bored; he needs to amp up his energy.  Everyone looks and feels so serious, and while I like the darker emotional exploration, there needed to be some joy and levity, to make this film series ring true.  The only joy I got was seeing the tanker which said LexCorps explode proving that Luthor will be next villain.

Oh and if you were wondering, what other companies were sponsors of this film than look no further than Sears, 7-11, Nikon, I-Hop, and many more.  This film's fight scenes were blatant ads for these companies, hosting more product placement that I have noticed in a long time.

I can get past the product placement, but when I walked out of this film, I just did not know how to feel.  There were moments where I was moved, the visual effects were cool, the flashbacks were neat, but there was something missing from this film experience which did not leave me wanting more.  Sure the ending was cute, and made sense, anyone could have seen that happening.    There are things to respect about the films ambitions, but the film does do enough to help re-energize the franchise.  Superman has not returned (again), this film feels like its just trying to fit within a canon of darker comic book films, rather than be true to roots of the hero himself, and adapt accordingly.

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