Sunday, June 23, 2013

Man of Steal's Stupid Conservatism

How could a movie with so much creative potential err so catastrophically into the realm of cliché?  This is just one of many questions left unanswered by the new Superman reboot, Man of Steel, a generic, comic book origin story so idiotic, pretentious, and trite that its failure surpasses even that of The Phantom Menace, making it the biggest disappointment in film history, at least for me.  Perhaps I should fault myself for expecting great, cinematic wonders from the director of that widely forgotten, laughable, Star Wars clone about talking owls; maybe I ought to indict the movie’s marketing team for creating such deceptively epic trailers that lured me and millions more into the theater with promises that we’d be seeing a Superman equivalent of the Dark Knight films.  My gosh, we were played.  Had I not watched this with a friend and enjoyed mocking it throughout, I would be positively incensed at Man of Steel, a mess of monumental measure about an element that, like krypton and midichlorians, isn't even on the periodic table.

Spoilers abound, but the movie’s crap, so you shouldn’t see it anyway.

By the 15-minute mark I realized that Man of Steel was not the same movie promoted in the commercials. It opens on the war-torn, alien world of Krypton, where the evil General Zod has rebelled against his people’s authority in a relentless search for some thingamabob called a codex, by which he resolves to save his planet somehow, but not without killing a lot of fellow citizens in the process.  Key to his efforts is an infant boy named Kal-El, the only son of Krypton’s chief scientific officer who stands apart from all the planet’s other denizens in that he was born to his real parents out of the natural process, rather than grown in a tank and engineered to fulfill a preordained role in his community.  Yeah, the whole backstory essentially plagiarizes The Giver and Brave New World, not that the average, low-information moviegoer cares.  Unfortunately for Zod, Jor-El sends his son away in an escape pod bound for earth, whose inhabitants should be intelligent enough to foster him.  Zod murders Jor-El, Krypton’s Council leaders lock him up in space, and Kal’s home planet blows up for some incoherent reason in a CGI explosion that was better portrayed in Star Wars.  Meanwhile, Kal’s pod finds its way to Smallville, Kansas, where he’s adopted by the amiable Kents and struggles to fit in with human society without exposing his true nature, which his father Jonathan (who's apparently a dog-lover, even to the death) believes man is not yet ready to see.

When he attains the age of 33, Kal or Clark sets out for the Arctic to investigate the crash site of a Kryptonian vessel, where he meets Lois Lane from The Daily Planet, learns his origins through the spirit of his father, and acquires the iconic Supersuit that wards off bullets, metal beams, and tons of concrete, but apparently not the sharp edge of a dagger, as proven in the opening sequence.  In snooping about, though, Clark inadvertently triggers a signal that summons Zod and his vengeful retinue of alien insurgents to earth. Megatron – I mean Zod – hopes to use a powerful cube – eh, codex – to rebuild CyberKrypton on the ruins of earth’s fallen cities, because as every villain knows, it’s not enough to simply terraform the planet to suit his needs – he has to DESTROY everything first, which is exactly what the Decepticons – Zodcons, sorry – do for the final hour and a half of this ridiculously bloated picture.  Eventually the General retrieves the codex he so desperately desires, which thereupon kills him until he can be resurrected at the bottom of the sea in the next Superman movie.  In my mind, it’s outrageous that so many movie ‘critics’ would lambaste Oblivion for drawing on general, science-fiction themes but altogether ignore that almost the entirety of this flick's plot is stolen right out of better movies that preceded it.

There aren’t many things to compliment about Man of Steel besides the costume work, which renounces the cheesy, comic book look for a more gritty, mature design in line with recent superhero films, and Hans Zimmer’s heroic score, which is nevertheless poorly mixed with the film and gets rather repetitive.  The acting is also OK given the stark simplicity of the script.  Henry Cavill and Michael Shannon are perfectly one-dimensional in their white and black parts, Amy Adams is appropriately obnoxious as the Pulitzer-prize winning elitist Lois Lame, who has no purpose other than to be eye-candy and an incentive for Kal’s hero work, and Russell Crowse turns in a good, Gladiator-recycled performance as the illusively wise Jor-El (“He could save others from death, but not himself…”).  Laurence Fishburne, a.k.a. Morpheus, is also thrown in here for basically no reason other than to slap his name on the poster.

Due to the staggering number of flaws behind this movie’s production, it’s hard to find a starting point from which to articulate its filth.  I’ll begin with the editing: Man of Steel’s narrative is structured sloppily from start to finish, jumping from Superman’s life as a scraggy-bearded 20-something to his present state to his trauma in 3rd grade to his present state to his teenage years to his present state to his middle school hardship to his present state and back again.  Not only did the constant flashbacks and flashforwards drive me and my friend nuts, but they detracted from the characterization of Kal and his parents while diverting time from background exposition that would have better clarified the motives of the antagonistic Zod, who seems to act out of blind fury and not much else.  The movie suffers from a kind of instinctive compulsion to fit an action sequence into every ten minutes of film: even when Supes isn’t “saving the world” from flying alien marauders, he’s so occupied with rescuing oil rig workers, rescuing school bus passengers, and rescuing overly inquistive, attractive reporters that he has virtually no time to shape out a real, Aristotelian identity.  His essential characteristic is simply to be super, to thwart one evil foe after another in some of the most lengthy and chaotic fight scenes ever captured; as for his accidental characteristics, Kal-El is never really distinguished from any other generic, superpowered good guy.

Next, I must address the movie’s story.  Although Christopher Nolan was credited for co-writing the general story and producing the film, David S. Goyer was primarily responsible for the final screenplay, and man, does it stink.  Man of Steel has traces of Nolanian drama but handles its socio-political themes so poorly that it just comes across as Stupid Conservatism.  The film takes aim at population control, social engineering, racism, moral relativism, Darwinists, and collectivist Utopians, but never does so that thoughtfully or persuasively, lending itself more to the denomination of Rah Rah than Intellectual Conservatism.  Most often its patriotism is just corny and nonsensical: “General, I grew up in Kansas.  I’m about as American as you can get.”  I grew up in California – I should be as un-American as you can get. The characters are all stereotypes, with Supes representing the flawless, heroic, American ideal and Zod embodying a kind of eugenicist, Democrat fascist who “takes every action for the greater good of his people” and drags around a genocidal twit named Faora who boasts about her evolutionary advantage over Kal, specifically her lack of a moral compass.

Then there’s the obvious Jesus ‘allegory’ that’s shoved in the audience’s face for the whole movie, a connection with too many holes to note.  Kal was conceived by a miracle and sent to earth as a child so that he would be “a bridge between two peoples” and “a god to us”, someone who would “give us an ideal to strive towards” and “in time, help us accomplish wonders”.  Most of the Gospel's components are here, but none of them make sense in the larger scope of the plot.  Kal’s arrival on earth was designed not so that he could point men towards God, but so that he could prevent them from repeating the mistakes of God.  In her last minutes, Kal’s biological mother urges him to make earth a better world than Krypton, to stop humanity from building heaven anew.  Later in the film, Jonathan Kent advises his son against pursuing his destiny as the world’s savior, lamenting that men will reject him out of fear.  “What was I supposed to do, let them die?”  “Maybe.”  Mr. Kent’s stance was apparently unfounded, because his son never really endures any persecution beyond his youthful days, when bullying is common for all, alien or not.  On the contrary, Kal is neither beaten nor crucified, but exhalted as a hero by almost everyone he encounters.  Nor has he come to save men from their own sin and fallenness, but from some crazy alien bent on wreaking havoc and destruction across the globe.  The religious symbolism is stupid at best and preachy at worst. Contrary to the mainstream media narrative on this film, Man of Steel's inherent fault is not that it's a self-serious, gloomy comic movie; after all, Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight films rank among the best comic movies ever made not in spite of their dark, provocative themes, but because of them.  Man of Steel's true failure is that it's a vapid, childish cartoon that takes itself seriously even though there's nothing serious about its story.

Another element of Nolan’s movies that’s absent here is his witty dialogue.  I’d best let this film’s screenplay speak for itself:

* “Now that we’re done measuring (male body parts you can “use as a pencil” – name that movie.), let’s…” ~ Loser Lane.  I can only remember the first part of the line, for obvious reasons.
* “You're a monster, Zod, and I'm gonna stop you.” ~ Clark Can't
* “I was bred for this!  I was trained all my life to be a warrior!  Where did you train?  A FARM?!” ~ General Sod
* “Mom, I found my parents. I know now where I come from.”  “Honey, that’s wonderful.  I’m so happy for you.” Something like that. ~ Clark and Marth Kent
* “What are you looking at?”  “Nothing, sir.  I just think he’s hot.” ~ Some military guy and some military gal.

In spite of his project’s inane dialogue and undisguised, pathetic attempt at moralizing, Zack Snyder could still have redeemed Man of Steel through his approxmiately $200M budget, but those funds appear to have been wasted.  The movie is filled to the brim with shaky and swoopy camera, the like of which one would attribute to a cheap horror film instead of a blockbuster action picture that can actually afford to shock and awe its audience with cinematic wonders.  When the clumsy, Hunger Games-esque cinematography complements the frenetic, Kryptonian battles that emphasize armored boxers zipping and flying around faster than the eye can track, the result is an action-heavy movie in which one can barely see the action. In those rare instances when the camera’s standing reasonably still and the special effects are actually discernible, the use of CGI is so over-the-top as to rid the given scene of all credibility.  For instance, the movie culminates in a predictable attack on New York City by Zod and his alien armada; whole skyscrapers are leveled, roads are torn up, and chaos reigns for at least half an hour, but none of the destruction looks remotely realistic because it was all made in a computer program.  Although the devastation in Man of Steel has ten times the scale of anything in The Dark Knight, the hospital explosion in the latter film is far more authentic and memorable because it actually happened.  The former is sub-par even among largely digital movies, as last year’s The Avengers featured a similar climax with CGI galore and still trumps this current-day tripe for realism.  Furthermore, Man of Steel’s special effects are completely unoriginal and derivative of better sci-fi works.  Not only does it steal the squid-like sentinels and human embryos encased in red chambers from The Matrix, but it also takes the space drill from 2009's Star Trek and the multi-headed Scylla machine from Transformers: Dark of the Moon.  “Ripoff, dude, not cool.”

In fact, just about the whole movie feels like a ripoff, dude, a mimicry of superior movies that offer more entertainment value and more engaging stories for less money at home.  Man of Steel has measured its d___ against the greatest and been found wanting.  In what world could this have ever been an ideal to strive towards?

Grade rating: C-

Trailer Reviews
Grown-Ups 2 - Adam Sandler still isn't grown up.
Despicable Me 2 - "Who are you texting?"  "My friend Avery."  "Avery... is that a girl's name or a boy's name?"  "Does it matter?"  "No, no, it doesn't matter unless IT'S A BOY!"  I chuckled at that line.  The rest of the movie looked dumb.
Paranoia - Gratuitous, shirtless shots of Miley Cyrus' boyfriend, Gary Oldman and Harrison Ford, incoherent subject matter, and lots of fighting - for just whom is this being marketed?
Turbo - Lo and behold, another talking animal movie with overpaid celebrity voice actors about believing in yourself, following your heart, and making all your dreams come true.
World War Z - CGI zombies will never be as scary as makeup ones.  Empirical proof: I Am Legend.  Then again, this is a PG-13 zombie movie, so it's not supposed to be scary anyway.
The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug - Granted, Legolas is cool, but he's not from the book, just like approximately 90% of this trailer's contents.  Damn you, Harry Potter, for starting this stupid, show-splitting trend.
300: Rise of an Empire - Also has nothing to do with the book and probably very little to do with history. Looks visually stylish like its predecessor but will probably flop without the involvement of Frank Miller or direction of Zack Snyder.

1 comment:

  1. You definitely made my family and I chuckle quite a bit! Well written and completely true.


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