Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Kevin is Right About Movies: Man of Steel

Generally, I prefer to write my reviews without spoilers.  This will not be one of those reviews.  However, before I put down my all caps indication to you that you should read no further should you wish to experience the plot in a manner that the filmmakers intended (if such a generous interpretation of intent can be made), please accept a humble explanation in two parts.

The first, the plot of this movie was so convoluted, poorly thought out and terrible that revealing the plot to you, in my opinion, can in no way diminish your enjoyment of the movie any more than having the plot revealed to you through the normal cinematic process.  Simply, the plot is so worthless that having it spoiled is simply not offensive to the conscience.

Secondly, the terribleness of this movie is so profound that it demands specific examples to convey the depths of idiocy to which it stoops.  In order to truly bring how badly written this movie is to light, I must pull back the curtain.  Further, I feel it is my duty to do so.  So now, if you still give a shit: SPOILERS!

The Good

I wish to get the praise that this movie deserves out of the way immediately, so as to not muddy the message.  Visually, this movie was jaw dropping.  I had the pleasure of seeing it in Digital Real3D.  It was bright and crisp throughout.  Even complicated action sequences were delivered with a clarity that, perhaps for the first time ever in the 3D format, allowed me to easily and viscerally follow the action.  It appeared that Snyder used a technique of brief still frames or pauses in key moments of the action such that poses, facial expressions and punches are clearly burned into my memory, even now that my brain has been severely damaged by the stupidity of the plot.

Further, the choreography and cinematographical choices for the fight scenes were inventive, clever and novel.   As I bemoaned in our last podcast, the use of bullet time in fight scenes and choreography needs to be curtailed and new ways of portraying action in media need to be utilized.  Snyder delivered.  The amount of punching in this movie was staggering (harf, harf).  Positively Rockyian levels of punching.  Yet, each punch felt like it had a new bit of storytelling (albeit about punching) to deliver.  I know this seems like an extraordinary claim, but consider this shot:  Camera over Superman's Shoulder.  Superman punches Zod, midflight, so hard that Zod's body is thrown, also midflight, into a new section of Metropolis, seemingly miles away.  We ride along with Superman, who follows Zod at supersonic speed, in order to deliver the next punch, which we experience the impact of, fully, mere moments later, despite the profound spatial displacement of several miles.  I have never understood more clearly what it means to be a superhero.

Finally, it should be mentioned that Kevin Costner's performance as Johnathan Kent was exceptional.  He took a character that was befuddling as written, (perhaps, Clark, you should let those children on the drowning bus die, I'm not entirely sure I'm willing to give up our comfortable facade of paternity and allow you to do genuine good in the world) and managed to bestow it with a certain gravitas and thoughtfulness that very likely transcended the page.  Kudos to him.

Superman is not Jesus, he is Moses

Let's get some facts straight:  Superman was created by two Jewish dudes in 1933 who did not give a shit about Jesus.  Their names were Jerry Seigel and Joe Shuster.  His name, Kal El, is Hebrew based, and his story mirrors that of Moses.  The Orphan child found in the reeds, who would deliver a foreign (but exceptional) people from the evils besetting them.

This, of course, is a very simplistic and cursory interpretation of the character.  ( More thorough analysis can be found in our upcoming podcast on the subject.)  However, it represents a depth of understanding that is the Marianas trench in comparison to the ridiculous, shoe horned, overt, and generic Christian ideology which comprised the most cogent (if that word can be so loosely applied) thematic thrust of this film.  Please allow me to give you a small sampling of the visual hammerblows meant to convey this association to us:

Because He's Hung Like This!
Why do all the girls love Superman?
A wildly impractical way to leave a spaceship

Jesus fucking Christ, we get it, already.  Sweet beard.

However, this imagery is artful compared to the bizarre pop Christianity shoved into the film like so much lettuce on a Subway Sandwich.  At one point in the film Clark Kent is faced with a moral dilemma:  Zod is threatening the entire world, should Kal El not reveal himself and turn himself over to Zod, stating succinctly "I don't think Zod can be trusted, but I'm not sure the humans can be either."  So, of course, apropos of nothing, he wanders into a Church, which (despite extensive backstory exposition) we have no indication that he had any connection to, and proceeds to have a conversation with that tireless cinematic trope:  The priest who would surely have gone into the field of psychology or social work were it not for all the prolific kid touching opportunities found in the Church, and thus, is ready to flex his advisory muscles, to the benefit of our Godlike alien.  And so, our sagelike spiritual advisor launches into a brief monologue on the virtues of making arbitrary decisions absent of facts (with the ostensible subtext of the implicit and unassailable assumption of American Exceptionalism being your guide) under the guise of "faith."  He states, in summation, with a bold obtuseness usually only reserved for the insane or the greatest of charlatans, "Sometimes you have to take a leap of faith, trust will follow."  Outside of any other context, the ticket paying viewer of this travesty is made keenly aware of how flawed this advice may be.

My favorite piece of pseudo-Christian nonsense involves a shoe horned metaphor regarding the theory of evolution.  In the midst of a visually compelling punchfest with Superman in downtown Smallville, Zod's chief lieutenant, a semi-androgynous, goth styled female stakes her sole ideological claim of the film:  "We are evolution, and evolution always wins," she states with her best "villain" voice.  This, of course, is the plot signifier for Superman to then punch her so hard, so many times, that she may be declared defeated, and Jeebus Superman has thus defeated the forces of evolution.  The obvious thematic ridiculousness of this aside, the true absurd shoehorning of this particular theme becomes more apparent with a small exposition of the plot.  In brief:  One of the key things we learn about Kryptonian society is that it is fundamentally based upon the concept of genetic pre-programming within a caste system.  Individuals are pre-planned and programmed genetically to meet certain roles which are needed by Kryptonian society.  The key element of Kal El's character is that he is, in fact, the first naturally born (thus, using the basic evolutionary concepts of genetic mutation and combination) child of Krypton in centuries.  He is, quite literally the first step in evolution Krypton has taken.  Zod's chief goal is to restore (with some Space Hitler modifications) the Kryptonian status quo, and to erase Kal El as a clearly wrong-headed mistake.  Additionally, so as to compound the fuzzy headed metaphorical dumbery, much ado is made of Clark's ability to adapt to Earth's environment, and become stronger.  In fact, his fight with the proclaimed champion of evolution was deemed over when he was able to compromise her breathing aparatus, and the atmosphere of Earth, which makes Superman strong, weakened her and she executed the famous and ubiquitous "villain flee."  (As Superman dumbly watched her fly away because the plot demanded it.)

Generic Military Man Wears Many Caps, Only Deserves Dunce

Christopher Meloni's Character, Colonel Who-Gives-A-Shit, is apparently the most multi-disciplined, overqualified Colonel in the entire United States Military.  That or perhaps the most insultingly ridiculous character in recent memory.  My vote is for the latter.

When we first meet the good Colonel he is the commander of a very secret military arctic research facility investigating what is either a Cold War Era Soviet Sub or a 22,000 year old Kryptonian Colony ship.  (I won't spoil which one it is!)  The next we see him, he is apparently commanding an entire FBI Task Force in Metropolis, bent on apprehending Lois Lane due to her specialized knowledge about the identity of Superman.  Intra-agency rivalries are apparently not a problem in Metropolis/America.  However, even at this juncture, the silliness can be forgiven because the Colonel was present when Lane met Superman, so perhaps he has specialized knowledge.

However, the absurdity ramps up to the point where I guffawed in the theatre.  Next, the Colonel is commanding a joint-arms task force from a Helicopter, bent on raining conventional ordinance down on Smallville, Kansas in an attempt to murder all foreign invaders, including Superman with little regard to collateral or civilian casualties.  (Truth, Justice and the American Way!)

Finally, the Colonel, now impressed with Superman, volunteers to pilot a C-130 Cargo Plane in the climax of the movie, in order to deliver a Phantom Drive Bomb to Zod's space ship, which is fucking up New York something fierce.  However, to prove this is not absurd enough, The Colonel, to the great great pleasure of all the blind people who have paid money to see this film in 3D, after an extended bomb release sequence, announces to the audience "We have released the bomb!"  We then cut to the bomb exploding, destroying the alien ship, which collapses in on itself and disappears.  Thankfully, due to the ambiguity of this sequence, we cut to Colonel asshat to help us, "The Target has been destroyed!"  So much for show, don't tell.

Gritty Realism=Hand Wavy Pseudo Science

I am willing to accept magic in a film, particularly about superheroes.  That's a given for the genre.  But, please, don't give an insultingly brief hat tip to providing a "scientific" explanation for Superman's powers, and then just go whole hog with making shit up whenever it is convenient.  When Kal El finds this film's version of the Fortress of Solitude, a fully conscious, morally reasoning facsimile of his father, Jor El (unapologetically indicated to be his consciousness, without any of that messy existential or philosophical eye blinking that might accompany such a revelation) explains to Kal El that he has grown strong because of Earth's young sun.  You see, his muscles have grown strong.  Sweet, that explains super strength, cool.  His skin has grown strong.  Oh yeah, invulnerability explained, nice.  And then, Kal El walks outside and fucking FLIES.  Magically.  What the fuck?

People with even a basic grasp of how physics work will also be wildly amazed by this film.  Like Lincoln suspending Habeus Corpus, basic concepts of physics are suspended when necessity demands it.  For example, Lois Lane manages to fall backwards out of the cargo bay of the C-130 right before it crashes into a giant explosion.  The only issue with this is that the C-130, in the very next shot, is clearly pointed nose down at a steep angle.

My favorite moment of ridiculous "Science" involved the plan to destroy Zod's planet smashing ship.  Apparently, the aforementioned consciousness of Jor El has bestowed upon Lois the secret to destroying the ship, which we all knew was powered by a "Phantom Drive."  You see the secret is, Kal El's space pod is also powered by a Phantom Drive, and when you put one Phantom Drive near another....

"A singularity."  Says Toby Zeigler, matter of factly, thus revealing his role in the movie, which up until that point had seemingly been to get Richard Schiff back to work (which, you know, I'm all for), but was instead to be an expert in  theoretical physics and the inner workings of enigmatically named alien technology that no one on earth had ever heard of before about 5 minutes ago and is well beyond our current understanding of physics.  Most pleasingly, to top this off, apparently, singularities work something like this:  

Step 1:  Turn into a blue ball of flame
Step 2:  Suck in the bad guys
Step 3:  We're done here, I'll stop being a problematic force of unimaginable natural power hovering 100 feet over a major metropolitan area and just disappear now.  Pop!

The "S" Stands for "Sure as shit doesn't give a fuck about human life or collateral damage."

My final complaint comes from the absolutely shocking callousness with which the film treats the incredible amounts of collateral damage caused by the remarkable amounts of punchasizing Superman does with civilians and bystanders in harm's way.   This IGN Article estimates the human cost as 129,000 confirmed dead, 1,000,000 injured, and an additional 1,000,000 missing.  Superman intentionally punches Zod through IHOPs, and the film asks us to pretend there was no one in the booths on the wall into which Zod entered.  Superman takes Zod on flights THROUGH buildings, atomizing their internal structures, and causing them to collapse.  Although we never see the horrible crushing deaths the humans left in these buildings endure, or perhaps, if they are lucky, their week under rubble deprived of food, water or movement before they die from exposure, dehydration or their injuries, we do have an indication that metropolis is far from evacuated, and lights are even visible in the windows of the office buildings which are used as an anvil for Superman's Hammer of Justice.

As this carnage is all about, (which, in a post 9/11 America, I'm not sure how you can't think about the human cost,) we are presented with a scene where an intern from the daily planet whom we have barely met, is damsel in distressed, and thus trapped in a remarkably convenient pile of rebar from which she can look out and look helpless and we are asked to give a shit.  Meanwhile, we cut to Superman "accidentally" and thoughtlessly murdering hundreds of thousands of people because punching Zod into space is apparently not an option.

To really put an exclamation point on this, and really underscore the indifference of "Superman," we are treated to a post climax (but pre second climax) scene where Superman and Lois are united in the ashes of an utterly destroyed Metropolis, no doubt filled with the stench of corpses and squashed human beings and collapsed burning buildings, and this seems an appropriate time to make out in front of strangers.  I thought of that Scene in Mallrats where Brodie talks about Superman blowing a load like a shotgun through Lois Lane's back.  At that moment, I was genuinely hoping his boyish innocence would finally get the best of him, and Lois's corpse would be lying there, nothing but a pair of ridiculous stiletto high heels, and Superman would have to deal with that for the rest of his life.

Merciful Conclusion

Despite the length of this post, this is far from exhaustive list of the flaws of this movie.  Transitions were abrupt and awkward.  Dialogue, at times, was borderline ridiculous.  (Zod screams out "One of us will live!  One of us will die!"  Thanks for laying out the stakes there, dawg.)  Amy Adams' Lois Lane could never quite decide whether she wanted to be an actualized empowered human woman or a stand in for Humanity as a fragile, weak, helpless damsel in need of saving.  Every time the movie seemed to make a statement on the matter, it kicked her out of an airlock and Jor El's consciousness had to tell his son "Go save your girlfriend."    

The writing, by David S. Goyer, was simply atrocious and completely and utterly overshadowed all of the wonderful and inventive action the movie provided.  The heavy handed Christian co-opting of the mythos was simply too much to bear as well.  Under no circumstances would I recommend paying money to see this movie, save to study the visual effects, as an object lesson.  As nerds, we should demand more from movies based upon our treasured and beloved characters, and yet, we are constantly treated to disappointment when it comes to our most beloved franchises.  

Dear Hollywood, stop marketing to the nerd crowd until you can figure out that not only do we like these characters, but we're smart, too.  It's a defining characteristic.  So, stop insulting our intelligence.  This S didn't stand for hope, it stood for Stupid. 

1 comment:

  1. Hehehe... this is one of the most entertaining movie reviews ever. Thanks for posting! I was looking for an excuse not to spend the money anyway.