Friday, June 21, 2013

Man of Steel: The 2013 Motion-Picture

Having enjoyed the reboot of the Batman franchise through Warner Bros. and Christopher Nolan (although the last one was nowhere the enjoyable caliber of the first two), my expectations were high with the new Superman movie, titled Man of Steel. You would think that the movie would have been made because of the financial success of Batman Begins, The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises. In reality, it stemmed from a lawsuit.

In 2009, a court ruling resulted in Jerry Siegel's family recapturing the rights to Superman's origins and Siegel's copyright. The decision stated that Warner Bros. did not owe the families additional royalties from previous films, but if they did not begin production on a Superman film by 2011, then the Shuster and Siegel estates would be able to sue for lost revenue on an un-produced film. Christopher Nolan pitched David S. Goyer's idea after story discussion on The Dark Knight Rises, and Zack Snyder was hired as the film's director in October 2010. Principal photography started in August 2011 in West Chicago, Illinois, before moving to Vancouver and Plano, Illinois.

The intention was to create a modern context of the fictional character, dismissing some of the novel appeal George Reeves and Christopher Reeve brought to the screen in the 1950s and 1980s. I enjoy the radio program of the 1940s, often finding the fifteen-minute daily series best flavored when an entire four-hour or five-hour serial is heard consecutive during a lengthy car ride. Among my favorites (of the ones I have heard so far) is the 1948 serial "Dead Man's Secret" (14 chapters) in which Superman and Freddie sets out to solve the mysterious disappearance of Professor John Archer. Only when the solution is revealed does the worst come true: a criminal known as "The Boot" used Archer to create a device powered by the sun, hidden on a mountain top in Switzerland. At the conclusion, Superman saves the world by destroying the device -- but not before the entire mountain rains down on him from the explosion. And, naturally, only Superman is capable of surviving such an explosion.

Unlike The Amazing Spider-Man last year, the origin story is not half way boring. When you already know the origin, retelling the same gets to be boring. (Yes, I am aware that the mainstream public loves origin stories but remember comic book fans also come to watch the movies.) Here, we see the destruction of Krypton in a manner that provides General Zod and his followers an intelligent reason for why they do what they do. I found myself partially routing for the criminal in his zealous determination to reforge a new Krypton and save his race from extinction. Instead of spending half the movie with Clark Kent as a young boy on the Kent farm, his childhood is explored through the use of flashbacks -- revealing why Superman chooses a life of secrecy and at the same time, moral issues that require a heart of gold -- regardless of the outcome. In this case, society against the one man who will ultimately prove to be their salvation. Superman is feared by the public who cannot rationalize or comprehend what they do not understand. When General Zod starts making demands, it doesn't take long for the battle (and survival) of Krypton to begin. While the strength of the military proves futile against the aliens from outer space, Superman proves his worth and ultimately makes a sacrifice at the conclusion of the movie that makes you realize this is not the same Superman we grew up with.

And I liked it.

Casting was superb. This speaks a lot for the director, Zack Snyder, who gave us Watchmen (2009), whose style of filming I never cared much for except in that movie and this one. And if you never read Watchmen (one of the five best reads, in my opinion), I do not recommend that movie. To date, the only two directors who are capable of ensuring great performances from actors is M. Night Shyamalan and Steven Spielberg. Snyder might just prove to be the third on that list if his future movies stay on this course. No flawless performances here.

The special effects are great, as expected. Superman's abilities are revealed to be above all other creatures on Earth because of the atmosphere -- he truly is able to move faster than a speeding bullet and jump over buildings -- compared to an American astronaut on the Moon because the atmosphere is different there.

To be honest, I never cared much for Superman -- the character that is. Keep in mind that many people don't like The Green Lantern and others do not care much for Thor. But my reasons for never really getting into the Superman fever is a practical one. Let's be honest. He still has that lock of curl in his hair. His height cannot change. Just because he wears glasses employees at The Daily Planet cannot recognize Clark Kent as the Man of Steel? Really? Thankfully, they wrote that inconceivable device out completely. No plot spoiler here -- you'll understand what I mean towards the end of the movie and I for one was was cheering. Thank you!!!!

One of the few things I find disappointing in motion-pictures adapted from comic books are the producers who fail to comprehend the value of comics. Half of the movies fail to remind us that the doomsday device can only be resolved by the masked (or costumed) hero. Remember Doctor Octopus created such a device in Spider-Man 2 and then changed his mind and it was he who saved the world. (Spider-Man only saved the girl.) In this instance, Superman is the only person capable of saving the world and we root for a hero who actually completes the task. Half of the films do not include a moral dilemma which the hero is forced to face against... children do need a role model... what kind of a world would it be if children rooted for the villain? Man of Steel includes everything you come to expect in a Superhero movie.

In case you are asking why I didn't make mention of that last Superman movie (the one with Brandon Routh hovering in the sky instead of flying and comparing himself to God in front of Lois Lane), I never liked that one. Lex Luthor's scheme was the only thing I found clever. Small trivia: This was one of three live-action theatrical Superman films to not feature Superman's nemesis Lex Luthor. The other two were Superman III (1983) and Superman and the Mole-Men (1951).

Henry Cavill is great in the role of Superman. There's no need to try and compare him to George Reeves or Christopher Reeve. Seriously. That would be like trying to compare Sean Connery to Daniel Craig. It's a new rendition. In the comics world, various artists and story tellers have presented their own takes on the characters. This movie is not a continuation of prior Superman movies. And if you are debating whether to watch the 2-D version or 3-D version, do not spend the extra money to see it in 3-D. Not much is thrown at the screen worthy of the extra bucks. Instead, buy a bag of popcorn.

I suspect this might be the largest money making movie of the summer. With the exception of The Hunger Games and Hobbit sequels, it may be the biggest money maker of the year. So it comes as no surprise that Warner Bros. has already announced a sequel. I, for one, will be looking forward to seeing how the story continues and where they choose to take it.

1 comment:

Kevin D said...

I too enjoyed Man of Steel a lot, certainly it was better than the Brandon Routh film of a few years ago, and as sci-fi films in 2013 go, this was a damn sight more intelligent and thoughtful than Star Trek Into Darkness, (aka Star Trek 90210) which was a cinematic train wreck.

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