Man of Steel (USA/UK, 2013)

man_of_steel_theatrical_movie_poster_2_by_youngphoenix3191-05Directed by: Zack Snyder. This was Zack Snyder? Hmm. Well the only thing I know about him is that he did that Watchmen movie that I didn’t really like, so I’m kind of glad that I missed his name on the credits when I was watching this, because it would have coloured my whole viewing experience. The only preconceptions I had about this one were about its marketing, how it was aiming to produce a Superman with tons of real life grit and cynicism and stoical gravity like Christopher Nolan’s Batman films (I think the ads even put Nolan’s name as producer in big type on the posters). And I knew that the trailer made me want to see it—it looked like a Batman knockoff but they had me at Kevin Costner. And I’d skipped the goofy Bryan Singer Superman Returns at the time, so really I should have seen it before this one, but who cares. All of that being said, I think I liked this movie overall. As far as a modern Superman goes, this one is pretty good. Amy Adams is a great Lois Lane, Laurence Fishburne is a great Perry White (and the shitty guy from House of Cards is an okay Jimmy Olsen stand-in). But really, the only way this thing would work is if Superman/Clark Kent is cast right, and I think Henry Cavill is a great fit. He’s unknown, but he instantly has that kind of likeable gravity that encourages you to suspend all of your disbelief and follow him as a superhero, unquestioningly. This is the thing that Superman always had that Batman didn’t—Superman doesn’t need a tortured psycho-drama backstory. Superman is a fucking superhero because he’s an alien from another planet and he’s inherently good, move on. That’s me, anyway. But the movie did do a good job of providing a giant backstory, etc, and Michael Shannon as Zod is great. He definitely runs the risk of painting himself into a one-note corner with these crazy bad guy roles (and frankly, he’s hit that high water mark with Boardwalk Empire already), but I could watch him and listen to him all day. The movie itself is kind of so-so, getting super duper bogged down in the stock superhero destruction of a city, punching, destroying, punching, destroying, etc, etc, etc, etc, etc, etc, on and on and on and on and on and on, basically to the point of self parody. This thing starts to make Avengers look subdued. And the whole outsider angle that the film was relying on to supply it with a humanistic, non-meathead substance, the whole thing about how no one will understand him, and do humans accept people who are different, and the basic faith in humanity, and blah blah blah, that was already done at length (and better, in my opinion) in the X-Men movies. But it was overall a pretty fun movie to watch, and the performances were all pretty good. In addition to Cavill and Michael Shannon, Russell Crowe (again, as in Noah, with the mix of likeable/unlikeable) and Kevin Costner, it was great to see a lot of great character actors in little roles popping up everywhere, notably Christopher Meloni—the duplicitous Keller in Oz—as a stern army colonel. And actually, come to think of it, this film has an impressive ratio of great women acting in pretty respectably substantial roles. As noted, Amy Adams is great here, and really, she’s batting below her league in this thing, but the film sure could use her gravity, that super-intelligent wink in her eye even when she’s not winking. For Superman’s parents,  they went all out with the super-dads Crowe and Costner, but his moms are amazing too—Diane Lane for one, and for the other Ayelet Zurer, who isn’t a household name, but she’s forever in my brain as the great female anchor in Spielberg’s Munich, playing the soft, sane, good-humoured wife to Eric Bana’s tortured, fucked up assassin husband. Again, she’s criminally underused here, but they did a good job recruiting her for that role. Really, the worst thing about this film is that I know now that it won’t get a chance to flourish into its own franchise—they’re already cannibalizing it for a shark-jumping Batman/Superman crossover novelty movie with fucking Ben Affleck of all people, as DC tries vainly to catch up to Marvel’s status as Hollywood’s preeminent purveyor of bloated, overly ambitious yet mundanely identical superhero schlock products. Oh well, it’s just a bunch of dumb superhero movies anyway.

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