Faith Can Move Mountains... But Dynamite Works Better

Monday, June 17, 2013

Revenge Of The Ghost Of Christopher Reeve

Before getting into today's mischief, some links for you. My partner in crime Norma wrote yesterday about Father's Day at her blog. She can also be found getting interviewed at Leanna Harrow's blog. As well, have a peek at our joint blog for a musical interlude involving the symphony...

Now then, to today, a film review, and I'd better keep my eyes out for any cranky ghosts who once wore a red and blue leotard and cape ensemble...

"What if a child dreamed of becoming something other than what society had intended? What if a child aspired to something greater?"

Man Of Steel brings Superman (aka The Boy Scout) back to the theatres in a new and different way, in a film directed by Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen), and fortunately influenced by producer Christopher Nolan and writer David S. Goyer (both from the Dark Knight trilogy). It's the latest comic book adaptation to hit the big screen, and a return to form for the big blue and red Boy Scout and his place in the DC universe.

Things start out on the dying sci-fi world of Krypton, where we meet Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and his wife Lara (Ayelet Zurer), who have secretly conceived a son, Kal-El. Jor-El is a scientist, and he and the soldier Zod (Michael Shannon) have been struggling in vain to protect the population of their world from the doom yet to come. When Jor-El and Lara send their infant son off the planet (along with a codex preserving the record and heritage of Krypton and their best wishes), Zod intervenes, murdering Jor-El and getting banished to the Phantom Zone, along with his followers.

We meet Kal-El on Earth, now going by by the name Clark Kent (Henry Cavill), as well as the rest of the cast. Jonathan and Martha Kent (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane), his adoptive parents, trying to shield him from a world that can't understand him. Lois Lane (Amy Adams), the ambitious reporter seeking out fragments of stories of a man who can do the impossible. Her editor Perry White (Laurence Fishburne), as gruff as we could expect out of the character. And in time comes the threat from the past, as Zod and his followers reach Earth, determined to recreate Krypton... despite the presence of the locals.

Snyder wouldn't have been my first choice for a director; the portions of Watchmen that I've seen left me rolling my eyes, and I despised 300. Still, he manages reasonably well with this film; I chalk that up to the influence of Christopher Nolan, who transcended the comic book genre when he directed his Batman trilogy. This film has a sombre, introspective feel to its lead character; if you're expecting a big dimpled smile out of the Boy Scout, you might have to go seeking out an earlier film. Nolan and Goyer's story works around with the mythology of the character, taking us in some different directions (and wisely-and finally- does away with the red underwear on the outside look once and for all). Rather than give us another Boy Scout story (how many times can one save a cat from a tree, after all?), this is a sci-fi kind of story, one that leans towards the majestic qualities of the character. All while giving us someone who's rooted in his humanity; the cornerstone relationship in his life is that he has with his adoptive parents, who shape him into the kind of man he becomes.

The costume looks right; instead of spandex, it has a look that lends itself well to the screen, and maintains just enough of the comic book version while looking respectable. This extends to Zod and his followers; their look has a military and martial quality to it, a uniform instead of a costume. And that extends to Krypton itself, in the production values brought through by special effects and set design: the planet looks familiar... and yet not, a contradictory world of both splendour and dark, sinister undertones. The special effects take hold again when we come to Earth, where Clark's abilities can lead him to accomplish feats of strength and speed, to fly; this gets conveyed rather well, actually. The abilities of Kryptonians that take up much of the second half of the movie (along with the accompanying destruction) are on display across the screen, in a way that worked at least for my eyes- though I do find the camera tricks, occasional shaky cams, and editing somewhat bothersome at times, but that's a larger problem in action films these days. And the epic score by Hans Zimmer fits the movie well, heading off in a different direction from the familiar John Williams themes.

Casting is key for the film. Michael Shannon is one of those actors who keeps getting good parts in film and television, and excelling at what he does. I first noticed him in World Trade Center, and recently he's been getting acclaim for his role as a hitman in a film called The Iceman. His take on Zod is interesting; this is the same character Terrence Stamp once played, but the two actors approach the character in different ways. Shannon plays Zod as a villain by circumstances; his zeal to protect his people drives him over the line. Shannon is one of those actors who reminds me of Gene Hackman, utterly compelling to watch no matter what the role. We get what drives him, even if it drives him to do the unthinkable.

Laurence Fishburne has a good take as the grouchy boss at the Daily Planet. The character must by nature be something of a curmudgeon, but a fiercely principled one. Fishburne, who's perhaps best known for leading a slightly dazed Keanu Reeves down a proverbial rabbit hole in three Matrix films, conveys both of these qualities in the character. The character and the Planet itself are somewhat sidelined this time out though; I might have liked to see Fishburne cast instead in Christopher Meloni's place, as that actor gets a lot to do.

Then there's the matter of the two sets of parents for the hero. Russell Crowe and Ayelet Zurer are sympathetic as the first set, trying to save their child from the destruction of a world that should have known better. Crowe conveys the nobility of the character, while Zurer (Angels and Demons) draws on the empathy of the audience as a mother knowing what is to come.

It's the Kents who spoke more to me as characters. In the comics, Jonathan and Martha do more than anyone to shape the kind of man their son becomes; it's because of them that he's an inherently decent man. Costner is a good father who worries about his son, cautioning him to conceal what he's capable of doing, warning him that people will fear him if they know what he is. Diane Lane is a bit less of a presence, but both characters have that central decency to them, the essential elements of integrity that shape their son. And they actually come across feeling like farmers... not like a Hollywoodized form of farmers.

Amy Adams gives us something of an extrovert as Lois Lane. The film slowly builds a connection between she and Clark, enough to give us a sense of where they might go, but not quite what we'd expect. She's tough, ambitious, and driven, but in an odd way, not as developed as she could be. We shall see in the inevitable sequel where that goes.

It's the lead that is a core to the film. Henry Cavill has come a long way from his first film appearance, playing Albert in The Count of Monte Cristo. He's done a good deal of film and television work since, most recently in Immortals (which I avoided due to an aversion to the brain damaged mumbling Mickey Rourke). He certainly looks the part of Superman (abs and all), and he plays the character as alienated, brooding, and with depth. This is a man who feels out of place in the world, who has spent years as a nomad, hiding in the shadows, doing a quick save here and there and then fading back into the woodwork. He is most certainly not the smiling Golly Miss Lane version we would have expected from the late Christopher Reeve, but he doesn't have to be. Instead of the Boy Scout, we get someone who's more interesting, and who carries himself with confidence.  

This is a very different take on Superman, a story that shifts around some of the core mythology, moves back and forth in time- this does have a way of arresting momentum, though, when a flashback shows itself. There are times in the second half- particularly in terms of hand held camera shots, something that I've never liked- that the audience might feel a sense of dizziness. That's what you get for essentially a long-running battle in a film. Man of Steel is bleak at times, lacking the lightness or fun of earlier adaptations, but centering itself in the majestic qualities of the character, and the basic humanity of a man who's not quite human. It succeeds, because it makes us want to see more.


  1. Now *that* sounds like a movie I want to see. The "Golly Miss Lane" movies are a treasured part of my childhood, clunky but sweet in an eyerolling kind of way, but what you describe sounds like something my adult tastes can sink their teeth into.

  2. I was on the fence on this movie, being more of a Marvel gal when it comes to superheroes, but this is a version of Superman I think I'd really like!

    I confess, I've always wanted to know more about Krypton.

  3. Nice review and it sounds like you've watched every Superman flick ever made. As a small kid I remember the black and white television show and loved it. Christopher Reeve was wonderful and quite dreamy. This sounds nice and we're fans of Amy Adams.

  4. I'll probably watch but I'll wait for it to be on TV.

  5. Well you certainly got me intrigued, terrific review! The movie wasn't on my list, but this post changed my mind. I don't think I've seen Henry Cavill since decade-old "I Capture the Castle," he's certainly come a long way. What a cast.

  6. I want to see this Superman movie it sounds very interesting but I will wait for the 3 dollar theater. Henry Cavill was in The Tudors also.

    I always liked Batman better because he wasn't born with magical or super powers he made his power.
    The movie I rally want to see is "The Lone Ranger" but why oh why did they have to use Johnny Depp as Tonto ? ? ?!??!! of course he is way over dressed as he is in real life. I cringe. I understand without him the movie would have never been made but still...
    I hope I am pleasantly surprised that he doesn't over act.
    Thanks for the review.

    cheers, parsnip

  7. Excellent review William, this isn't my genre but I can see Aimee and P enjoying it very much!

  8. Great review William! Once again you manage to make me want to go see a movie.
    Thanks for posting it. :-)

  9. Unless my husband wants to go see it, we'll probably wait for the DVD to come out. Neither one of us is familiar with comic characters, but I did enjoy the first Superman movie (the storyline).

    I'm so disappointed anymore because today's special effects "wow" seem to be the ultimate goal of most stories trying to out do the originals.

    With the exception of Iron Man III...


    Great review though! Thanks for sharing.

  10. Nice review, but I've never been a Superman/super hero fan.

    It'll come out for the little screens soon enough, and I'll watch it then.

  11. I've been waiting to see this for quite a while, and am really looking forward to it this weekend! Thanks for the awesome review!

  12. Nice review I'm so old I remember the black and white TV show.

  13. @Lisa: it worked for me! And no trace of Jimmy Olsen either... sort of, anyway.

    @Norma: you should see it.

    @Eve: I have watched the movies, yes. And as a comic reader, I end up getting a bit more of an edge up.

    @Kelly: these days theatres can be a bear.

    @LondonLulu: he was also in Stardust, but he was in a blond wig, so he's unrecognizable.

    @AngryParsnip: I'll wait for the reviews... somehow watching a film with an actor who has the name Armie Hammer and still hasn't changed it doesn't quite fill me with confidence.

  14. @Grace: I should think so!

    @Lucy: thank you!

    @Diane: thanks.

    @Cheryl: whatever works.

    @Meradeth: you're welcome.

    @Deb: I remember the Lois and Clark series, which presented Clark as a sex symbol, and the Smallville series didn't work for me...

  15. Awesome review! I'm on the fence about this movie. Superman is my least favorite superhero but the movie was done by the same people who did 300 and The Batman movies. I think I'll wait until it’s available to rent through iTunes.

  16. Ah, yes, getting rid of the underwear on the outside was a very good decision.

  17. I'm a huge Nolan fan, so this was on my must-see list. The Nolan / Goyer story paired with Snyder's direction was a little odd though. I enjoyed both, but I thought they didn't necessarily always balance each other out. For example, when Michael Shannon (who was amazing!) had the line about his purpose, the delivery fell flat and then was squashed by the action - though I really enjoyed the following action sequence of them flying around Kryton in the twilight glow.

  18. I am waiting with interest to see this Superman version. I rarely watch films (movies), but Superman always draws me in. DH loves it, so am sure we will watch.

  19. I'm trying to figure why AngryParnip had to turn this into a bash Johnny Depp thing. For anyone with some sense, Johnny, if anything, DOES NOT overact. Please....

  20. @Auden: I was wary of it because of 300!

    @Scarlett and James: it surely was...

    @Susan: I'd have preferred another director, but they had to work with what they had...

    @Glynis: I've seen all of them at least once... some are better than others.

    @Nerry: I like Johnny, but I think he's an acquired taste.

  21. Now you have really stirred my interest. I was not sure about watching it due to the really bad reviews of the movie. However, a few people have said it is worth watching. Personally, I could never relate to the character of Lois Lane and Margot Kidder really ruined it for me. But I shall definitely go watch this Man of Steel :)

  22. I apologize if this is a duplicate. I thought I commented on the email version I got, but then when I went here to check, I didn't see it.

    Somebody really should teach me how to use the internet.

    Thanks for posting this. I've debated seeing this film. It sounds good.

    Have you seen The Lone Ranger? I can't remember if you posted about it. It's getting bad reviews, but then you probably already knew that.


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