Thursday, June 27, 2013

“Man of Steel” – Zach Snyder does it again (that’s not a compliment).

There are two directors on my list of “who keeps hiring these guys to direct movies?” The first is M. Night Shyamalan, who should be at the top of that list for everyone. The second (for me, at least) is Zach Snyder. I know a lot of people really like his films, but those people are almost exclusively teenage boys. Which is fine – that’s who he makes movies for. But don’t try to pretend that his movies are deep, because they aren’t. His films (as director) consist of Dawn of the Dead, 300, Watchmen, Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole, Sucker Punch, and now Man of Steel. In other words, Zombie movie, comic book, comic book, fantasy book series, boy’s wet dream, and comic book. He also wrote 300 and Sucker Punch, the two movies in that list with the least amount of plot possible. As I’ve written in the past, Snyder is only concerned with visuals and not at all concerned with telling a story – which is the whole point of any movie. While he didn’t have a hand in the screenplay for Man of Steel, it also suffers from a plot that is superficial at best and wildly derivative at worst, making it fit nicely into Snyder’s body of work. Maybe I’m being a little harsh when I say he should never direct again, but he definitely should not have been handed Man of Steel.

(In case you are wondering, there are spoilers coming up, so stop reading now if that is a problem for you.)

As much blame as Snyder deserves for delivering an extremely average (read: meh) superhero/action flick, David S. Goyer (screenwriter) deserves almost as much blame for penning a hollow story with atrocious dialogue. Christopher Nolan is credited for the story, along with Goyer, but I just can’t make myself believe that Nolan’s name is there for anything besides marketing purposes. If he was, then he must have been playing a prank on Goyer and Snyder because Man of Steel’s writing is orders of magnitude worse than anything else Nolan has done.

In short, Man of Steel comes off as a cross between The Matrix and Transformers 3, but without feeling original at all. I suppose that comes with the territory of making another Superman movie – ground that has been well trodden for decades – but they could have tried a little bit. The film starts off on Krypton with the birth of Kal-El, a.k.a. Superman (Henry Cavill), who is the first naturally born Kryptonian in centuries. As we quickly discover, the Kryptonians are the actual creators of the Matrix, as evidenced by their reproduction method of growing babies in pods on vines, which are plucked by automated machines when they are ready for harvesting (I did not make that up). Kal-El’s parents Jor-El and Lara Lor-Van (Russell Crowe and Ayelet Zurer) have decided to send him to Earth to save him from the destruction of planet Krypton. Meanwhile, General Zod (Michael Shannon) is leading a revolt in an attempt to overthrow Krypton’s leaders, blaming them for the inevitable destruction of the planet. During the battle, Jor-El steals the codex – a collection of all Kryptonian genetic lines – and stashes them with Kal-El before sending him to Earth. As the planet is crumbling around them, Zod and his officers are captured and imprisoned in the Phantom Zone, but inadvertently freed when the planet explodes.

Now – I know I’ve given a lot of detail there, but it’s because it’s the most interesting part of the entire film. I talked to my brother about this and we both agreed that the movie would have been a lot better if it consisted entirely of the events leading up to the destruction of Krypton and ended with Kal-El’s escape. Instead, it occupies the first act of the movie and only serves to show us what we already know from past iterations of Superman and his origins and establishing the Codex as the film’s MacGuffin. After years of searching for Kal-El’s destination, Zod and his crew finally locate him when Kal-El activates an old Kryptonian scout ship buried in the ice. He comes to Earth and issues the dumbest ultimatum in the history of dumb ultimatums. He tells the people of Earth that they have twenty-four hours to turn over Kal-El, but follows that up by including that he looks like them and they don’t know who he is. Wouldn’t it have made more sense for him to issue the ultimatum to Kal-El instead of the humans? Of course it would have, but this movie has no intention of making sense. And, it gets worse.

Prior to Zod’s arrival, we are treated to a series of anecdotes from Kal-El’s – now called Clark Kent – past and present. We see him as an adult working on a fishing boat, followed by his younger self rescuing a bus full of children, followed by another adult job, followed by being bullied by kids, etc, etc. You would think these scenes would be there to develop Clark as a character, but they do nothing of the sort. All they do is show us that his foster father, Jonathan (Kevin Costner), is fond of contradictions and that his foster mother, Martha (Diane Lane), is also….there. The adult scenes do nothing other than to be excuses for Cavill to be shirtless and flex his muscles.

However, getting back to Jonathan Kent for a moment, he is arguably the worst part of the movie and there is no shortage of examples. In one breath, he is telling Clark that Clark will change the world, then in the next breath getting mad at Clark for not wanting to be a farmer. After Clark rescues the bus full of children, he gets mad at Clark for exposing his powers. When Clark says “Was I supposed to just let them die?” Jonathan responds with “maybe.” I’m sorry – did he really just say that maybe Clark should have let dozens of children die? Eff that guy. Then, to top it all off, rather than have Jonathan die from a heart attack, which is the one thing Clark is powerless to stop and the way he historically dies, they kill him with a tornado. As horribly cliché as that is, considering they live in Kansas, it’s not the worst thing about the scene. They spot the tornado while driving and after stopping and rushing other people underneath an overpass, Martha screams that the dog is still in the car. Clark says he’ll get the dog, but Jonathan stops him and goes for the dog himself because that is totally logical. As cars are flying around, Jonathan’s leg gets smashed and he can’t run back to the overpass. Clark makes a move to save him, but Jonathan puts his hand out and shakes his head. Seriously, this happens and of course the dog lives because this is one of the worst scenes ever put to film.

The film continues to do stupid things like this and the best thing you can say about them is that they make no sense. Here are a few more questions you can ask yourself while you’re watching this movie…

• Why does the atmosphere of Krypton negate Superman’s powers when the sun’s radiation (not Earth’s atmosphere) is responsible for them?
• How does Lois Lane (Amy Adams) magically appear in places she shouldn’t be at or couldn’t be at? For example, she will show up at Grand Central Station moments after being in a completely different part of the city. She will also be on the cargo plane near the end of the film (even wearing different clothes) for no reason other than to be in danger.
• At one point Jor-El will tell us that Krypton spent 100,000 years as a far-flung galactic empire, yet none of its colonies managed to become self-sustaining in that time frame even though they have terraforming machines (world engines) to alter those worlds.
• If Superman can breathe under water and in space, why is he coughing when the world engine is churning?

Getting back to the third act of the film, Megatron wants to terraform Earth using a world engine and Optimus Prime has to stop him. Neo and Agent Smith have a battle royale and destroy half of a major American city, presumably killing hundreds or thousands of people, as they throw each other through buildings and crash into each other while flying through the air. What’s that? Wrong movies? I don’t think so. Superman and Optimus Prime both wear red and blue, while Zod and Megatron are wearing metallic, spiky armor. Both of them can fly and slam into each other just like Neo and Smith do at the end of The Matrix Revolutions. Zod and Megatron are both trying to resurrect their home planets by using the Earth as a giant resource bucket. Tell me how these are different movies.

Aside from all of that, most of the characters in the film are pointless, wasting a very good cast. Lois Lane is basically fluff and Amy Adams is forced to utter one of the worst lines at the end of the film about relationships built on traumatic events (not to mention the line is stolen from Speed), to which Superman responds by saying it doesn’t apply to them because he’s not human (at this point, I was so numb you could have set my shoes on fire and I wouldn’t have noticed). The Daily Planet and its editor, Perry (Lawrence Fishburne) are given barely more than a cameo. The rest of the cast is given such terrible dialogue and no development that most of them are lucky their scenes are so few and far between.

Essentially, the movie boils down to a giant shiny ball so transparently hollow it’s a wonder the movie didn’t collapse on itself. As usual, Snyder spends far too much time trying perfect his visuals – this time with a shaky-cam and trying to make the Kryptonians move really fast – that I’m not sure he realized that such a high-caliber cast was dropped in his lap. And, as I said earlier, Goyer is as much to blame as Snyder for this mess, as he was the sole screenwriter. Between the bad dialogue and story, the movie felt like a bad comic book and I wouldn’t have been surprised to see thought bubbles above the characters. Though, with Snyder at the helm, those thought bubbles would have looked awesome.

Rating: Ask for half of your money back. It’s a very standard action flick and we can only hope that the already-green-lit sequel is actually written by Nolan and not directed by a thirteen year old man.

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