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19 June 2013

Some random thoughts on that Man of Steel movie. It needed more trumpet.

I only go to about one movie a year so I may as well ramble about it a bit.  I saw the most recent movie version of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster's Superman, Man of Steel.  I saw it on Saturday June 15 and wrote the notes below the next day but I am just now making the time to sit down and edit it.

SPOILERS.  This is not a review.  This is just me rambling about some of the things this movie made me think about.  If you still plan to see the movie, don't read this.

  • I liked it a lot.  I thought it was a very good science fiction movie. It had a lot of elements and scenes that I enjoyed very much the first time I saw them in other science fiction movies.  I think director Zack Snyder and writer David S. Goyer must be as big fans of David Lynch's Dune movie and the Star Wars films as I am.
  • I have a theory that this whole movie was an evil experiment.  What happens when you feed a 15 year old 12 ounces of Robitussin and make him watch Dune, Heavy Metal and the Star Wars movies then give him $225 million to make a movie?  Of course, feeding a 15 year old that much Robitussin would be unethical so they brought in Zack Snyder.
  • And, with that joke, I'm not just poking fun at Snyder's movies for being immature.  I'm just saying that his movies, Watchmen etc. look the way the world looks to a 15 year old.  Or the way a 15 year old wants to see the world.  They look, sound and are paced like video games.  
  • Which makes total sense to me.  The only part of our culture not currently aimed at 15 year olds are the parts aimed at three year olds.
  • The movie is loud and fast paced.  Lots of SWOOOSH and BADOOOOOOOOMMMM!  I think they got that right.  I think it had to be SWOOSH and BADOOOOOOMMM after Superman Returns turned Superman into weird emo stalker who fathered a kid with a teenage girl.  Gawd Superman Returns was bad.  But yeah, this movie had to be a video game.  That's what these things are now.  And it's a good video game.  It's not totally for me.  I like for things to make visual sense.  I like to actually see the movie ya know.  I like for shots to be in focus and for the camera to not jerk around like the operator is having a seizure.  But his is just how action movies are now and I can't complain it away.  I grew up with big Panavision Technicolor movies.  Better than reality!  Now they look like video games.  As fake as fake can be.  It is what it is. 
  • And despite being super loud, fast and violent- this movie has what, four on screen deaths?  Jor-El, Supermom, Zod and Kevin Costner?  Was that it?  We see a small town and a major city devastated but we don’t see many on screen deaths.  These are video game deaths where the numbers ring up in the top left corner of the screen but you don’t stick around to see the bodies.  Or maybe some guys died in that one helicopter?  There are assumed deaths when some aircraft gets BADANNNNGGGGED out of the sky.  But for the most part, this film is as bloodless as an 80s G.I.Joe cartoon.  But still PG-13 for some potty mouth?
  • And Superman kind of sucks at protecting the city. He could have like flown away or something.  But, it’s so fake I don’t even care.  It just video game dudes throwing each other through video game buildings.  It doesn’t mean anything.
  • But wait, there is one fantastic magnificent wonderful thing about this movie being a video game; there was very little slow motion.  Maybe no slow motion?  No “bullet time”?  Could it be, could it be!  Could this be a post The Matrix superhero movie without a “bullet time” shot?  Thank you Jesus! Please God let us never see a “bullet time” scene ever again!
  • Another reason these things have so much simulated hand held shaky camera, lense flares and out of focus backgrounds is because of the now 20 or so year old notion that making these things look like a documentary makes them more real. It doesn’t.  Stop it.  This is a movie where the main character wears a rubber suit.  This is not a documentary.  Stop it.

  • Strange that a super advanced race from outer space all wear underwear bodysuits made out of the same basketball rubber Spider-Man uses to make his costumes.
  • Seriously, Spider-Man came out in 2002.  Can we get a new idea for superhero costumes please?  Here is a thought, not basketball rubber.
  • So yeah, I basically hate Superman’s costume.  The colors are ugly.  He looks stiff and uncomfortable.  Probably because his junk is hanging out.  This is why the trunks were great.  This is why you need the trunks.  Without the trunks, it’s just a man in a rubber unitard and a man in a rubber unitard is like a male dog standing on its hind legs.  All you see is penis.
  • I liked Krypton.  That weird metal tech on all their communication devices was weird though.  If everything is grey on your Kryptonian floating TV things then I bet their cartoons sucked.  Good thing Kal got sent to Earth where we have color TVs.
  • Krypton looked like the Star Wars prequels.  Jor-El’s dragonfly pony thing was straight out of the prequels.  Superman 1978 was very much what you get when you make a Superman movie after Star Wars.  This is what you get when you make a Superman movie after the prequels.
  • Lots of Jack Kirby in this movie.  Asgard and Fourth World all over that Kryptonian armor.
  • When Zod and the other baddies are sent to the Phantom Zone they are sent there in penis pods.
  • Pete Ross says dick splash.
  • Lois Lane says dicks.
  • Amy Adams says dicks.
  • Amy Adams is very pretty.
  • I was surprised they put that head condom thing on Adams.
  • Jesus.  Jesus is all over this thing.  And I'm okay with that.  I'm a big fan of JC.  It would be nice just once to get through one of these super hero movies without a Jesus Christ pose shot though.  Jor-El- “Son, you can chose to save mankind, you know, like that Jesus guy did.”  Superman- “Okay God, I mean Space Dad.  I’m not going to say out loud what my choice is, I’ll just float away like I’m on the cross and then you and the audience will know what my choice is.  Bye Space Dad!”  So much Jesus stuff.  Jesus is the result of the Immaculate Conception.  Superman is the result of an illegal non-genetically predetermined conception.  The movie is really focused on making sure we know that Superman is 33 which would be the age Jesus was when crucified.  There are "act of God" and "gift from God" lines about young Clark.  Every word Kevin Costner says.  A scene in a church with a preacher.  Leap of faith.  Superman allowing the Romans humans to arrest him before being sacrificed to the Kryptonians.  It is heavy handed but it kind of works.  It works because of the twist.  The set up is that Superman is going to sacrifice himself.  Jesus loves us so much he dies for us.  The twist is that Superman loves us so much he lets his whole race and whole planet die for us.  It's God choosing man over all the angels.  Zod is Satan saying, no thanks, I'd much rather you chose the angels.
  • But it also falls a bit flat because there is never a second where you think Superman might actually choose Krypton.  The entire movie hammers free will over and over.  Both Jonathan Kent and Jor-El repeat time and time again that the whole point of Kal-El/Superman is choice.  That he is not bound by Krypton’s laws of genetic predetermination.  That he could chose the man he wanted to be.  And despite all that hammering, there is never a second when you think he might chose Krypton.  And maybe that's just the weight of 75 years of Superman.  Superman just does not allow Earth to be wiped out.  It's a noble effort on Snyder and company's part.  They get that about Superman.  That he's a hero because of his choice.  His choice not to, ya know, fry us all with his heat vision and rule the planet.  His choice to serve.  They get that, and they give it the hard sell but there is never a second where we think he won't chose us.  He's Superman.  It reminds me of Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ.  That movie gives Jesus’ choice the hard sale.  Over and over Jesus fights against the path God has given him.  But we still know he's going to get up on that cross. He's Jesus.
  • Speaking of Jesus Christ Pose.  Soundgarden.  I wondered going into this thing if Snyder was going to pack it from end to end with pop songs the way he did Watchmen.  He didn't.  Thank God.  But we did get some Soundgarden.  The Avengers had some Soundgarden too.  Is Soundgarden like anti-flop mojo or something?  And I guess I could be an apologist and say that yeah, if Superman is thinking about his past, yeah, 20 year ago Kansas teen Clark Kent would have totally been listening to Soundgarden.
  • This movie is almost void of humor.  And ya know what.  I’m totally fine with that.  I’m over the summer blockbusters having to have X amount of dumb pop culture reference jokes.  Leave that junk for the talking animal movies.  I only heard two chuckles out of the audience.  One was the female solider saying Superpants is hot (which you’ve already seen in the TV spots).  The other was a shot where Supes has trashed a truck driver’s truck rather than fight him.  I bet the truck driver would have rather been punched than to have his livelihood destroyed.  It seemed a bit out of this Clark Kent’s character but it is totally the kind of dick move Silver Age Superman would have pulled.  Silver Age Superman being in the Dick Hall of Fame.
  • This movie is void of romance.  There is one kiss but it more of Lois just kissing Superman because he just saved her and he is standing there in clothing where you can see his genitals than it is romance.  And I’m totally cool with this thing not having Hollywood formula romance shoved into it.  I don’t need to see actors chew on each other’s faces.  Two things I only enjoy existing if it is my mouth doing them; kissing and eating.  And I do both with my eyes closed.

  • But it does have plenty of sexual subtext.  Macho sexual subtext.  A standard sci-fi trope is to explore what happens when culture rejects sexuality.  The answer is always that society needs super macho sexuality.  Most often it means that society needs super macho sexuality in the form of hairy chested heroes from the super macho sexy planet Earth.  See Buck Rogers.  In this movie, Krypton has replaced natural sexual reproduction with some sort of gene manipulated pod babies.  But Jor-El, is Russell Crowe and Russell Crow is going to make his babies the old fashioned way.  The sexy way.  Law be damned.  So this Superman is a representation of sexy time.  Only sexy time can same us.  The movie is very much about macho sexuality versus order and conformity.  Will Clark Kent live in secrecy and pretend to be normal or will he reveal his fabulous self to mankind and fly around in his rubber suit with his package showing?  The battle between Jor-El and Zod is not good versus evil.  It is law and order versus macho sexy time.  Zod is law and order.  Zod is doing exactly what Kryptonian genetic law created him to do.  But Jor-El, he just can’t keep himself from bringing sexy back.  Zod is all, “I’m right and I’m more macho because I’m a warrior and I will destroy anything for the good of Krypton!”  But Jor-El is all, “I’m more macho because, well for one thing, I’m Russell Crowe and I have an Australian accent.  Two, just look at my hair.  Three, I broke the rules and had real sexy time sex with my wife for the first time in generations.  And then, just to top it all off, I delivered that baby myself!  And did you even see me fly on that dragonfly horse in my rubber underwear?”
  • And then Superman gets to knock off both of those guys in the Sexy Hunger Games by having his chest hair reject the confines of his rubber underwear.  Is it weird that we see Superman’s chest hair while he’s in costume?  It’s weird isn’t it?

  • Speaking of sex.  Superman is not just Jesus he is also Dune’s Paul Atreides.  In Dune, Paul is the product of a forbidden conception.  His mother was supposed to only bare her Duke husband a daughter because the bloodlines are manipulated and controlled.  This results in a more than human child.  It also results in the death of the father.  Dune is all over Man of Steel.  Jor-El is Leto.  Zod is both Barron Harkonnen and sexy Feyd by way of Sting.  “I WILL kill him!”  Paul sides with the Fremen.  SuperPaul sides with the humans.   The baddies even look like they are wearing the stillsuits from the David Lynch Dune.  Those head condom things are their respirators.
  • This movie loves the United States Military.  And that’s okay.  Our annual alien invasion movies usually glorify the military so it is to be expected.  But it causes a bit of a thematic cock block.  This movie is desperate to play up the idea that mankind will turn on and reject the alien Superman or that they will slice him up.  Parts of this movie want to be The X-Files.  Part of it wants to be E.T.  But in that story, the military has to be the bad guys.  Not here.  About as bad as get is just kind of curious and formal.  Yeah, I know they shoot some bullets at Supes at one point but it does not carry much weight.  Mankind never really has a bad reaction to Superman.  Another attempted twist that fails.
  • I liked the “you are not alone” bit.   For about two minutes, the movie got to stick with one theme and just be a sci-fi movie.
  • In some parts, the scale of this movie seems very small.  Look at the military stuff again.  This movie would have you believe that the entirety of the US armed forces from grunt to scientist to pilot to general is made up of about a dozen people.  Kansas, Metropolis, the arctic, the control room, the desert base, the helicopters, the big plane… it’s the same handful of dudes in every scene.  Again it’s like an episode of G.I. Joe.
  • And why did the military let Lois on that plane?  Or the scientist dude for that matter?  Couldn’t anyone push in that Kryptonian flash drive?
  • And speaking of the Kryptonian flash drive- Is Jor-El gone?  That thing got exploderated right.  If he was in the flash drive is he gone for good?  He was in Zod’s ships because he designed them but those ships are gone right?  He was not in the scout ship because it predated him.  Supes puts him in the scout ship by inserting the Kryptonian flash drive.  But with the drive exploderated, is he gone for good?  Or would he still be in that scout ship?   I’m thinking that scout ship is the fortress of solitude in sequels but will Russell Crowe be prancing around it?
  • One thing I like about this movie is that it did not mention Lois Lane’s father or any military background for her character.  If there is one thing in all of Superman lore that I do not give a since solitary crap about it is Lois Lane’s Thunderbolt Ross knock off father.
  • I thought the main cast was very good.  Cavill, Adams, Shannon, Crowe, Costner and Lane were all very good.  I don’t care how old they try to make Diane Lane look she is still hot.  There is no off switch on Lane’s hotness. Costner was perfect casting.  I thought Crowe and Shannon both did a good job of not going too far over the top.  Cavill did not have a lot to work with.  Most all of the character’s growth happens in flashbacks where he either does not speak or is played by a different actor.  There are only a few scenes where he gets to have any kind of human interaction.  Mainly with Lois.  I thought he was just right in those.  In what few lines Cavill has where he speaks in costume to humans he uses that same calming tone and cadence that Christoper Reeve used as Superman.  No point in trying to improve upon perfection.  
  • Where is Jimmy Olsen?  Why couldn’t any of the throw away Daily Planet staff have been Jimmy Olsen?  Why couldn’t that blogger guy be Jimmy Olsen?  If you want your summer movies to have humor, Jimmy Olsen could have been that. 
  • I don’t mind Lex Luthor being out of this.  If they had used Lex it would have been boring evil corporate billionaire Lex.  I’m sick to death of that Lex.  Funny Gene Hackman Lex could have added a lot to this, or really any movie, but they don’t write that character anymore.  Hollywood is incapable of pulling if off now.  A lost art.
  • Perry White and the entire supporting cast were flat.  No dimensional.  They could have just been called military humans and civilian humans.  Which is a shame.  You never really get to see Superman through the humans' eyes in this thing.  You never get to see the wonder.
  • The movie really could have used more interaction between Superman and citizens.  It’s really just Lois and the military.  He could have saved a kid or something.  Let us see this thing through a child’s eyes for a second.  Again, where is Jimmy Olsen?
  • I thought the score was good.  Much better than most of these movies.  Our heroes don’t get theme songs anymore.  I blame Danny Elfman and his boring Batman music everyone has been imitating for over 20 years now.  Why don’t our heroes have memorable themes you can hum anymore?  Why don’t they get trumpets?  Are all the trumpet players dead?  I miss the trumpets.  But that main theme they play when Superman does important things in Man of Steel is pretty good though.  I had it in my head for the rest of the day.  But now, a day later, I can’t remember it at all.  It needed more trumpet. 
  • I saw people talking about Superman going through the Earth’s core.  Did that happen?  He just flew from the bottom of that beam to the top of it.  He didn't fly through the core. If he flew through the core he would have came out at the other death laser thing and not have been shown flying to it from a mile away.

  • Jonathan Kent’s death was pretty dumb.  Not that he died.  The Kent’s die by like, what, page two of Superman’s original origin?  I get that he was going to die.  Sacrifice etc. etc.  But the death was dumb.  Jonathan being the leader and saving others was great.  But Clark just watching him die was dumb.  I can think of about 50 ways Clark could have saved him without anyone noticing and that's without even looking at my copy of DC Showcase Presents Superman Volume 1.
  • I get that Superman killing Zod was a major no no for some people.  Because Superman would never kill!  Except for that time the totally murdered Zod and the other Kryptonians in Superman II back in 1980.  I don’t have an issue with the idea of it.  They were building to it for two hours.  Zod killing Jor-El.  Zod swearing to kill Jor-El’s son.  All the talk about good deaths or whatever.  I was surprised in the way it happened though.  Not surprised at Supes killing Zod to save humans.  Just surprised at the execution because, I’m sure Supes could have just turned them both away from the humans without snapping his neck.  But that’s silly nitpicking on a movie about a guy wearing a rubber suit.  Yeah, sure, Superman should not kill.  But this is not Superman.  This is video game Superman and video game Superman killed that dude dead.  1980 Superman killed, 2013 Superman killed... sometimes F'd up stuff happens y'alls.
  • This is a comic blog.  Am I supposed to talk about how this movie relates to the comics?  Well, it doesn’t.  And I don’t care.  It’s a movie about a dude in a rubber suit.  It’s not comics.  The only way in which I care about the relationship between these movies and comics is that I want the creators to be respected and get paid.  Superman has been beyond comics for more than 60 years now.  Yes Superman is a comic book character.  Yes he is best as a comic book character.  But we don’t get to own him anymore.  He had already been assimilated by radio, movies and TV before my father was born.  Siegel and Shuster themselves had already re-invented Superman a few times before my father was born.  Kind of futile for me to bitch about how it doesn’t match up with “my Superman”.  There are lots of Supermans.  Plenty for everyone.  This was just a movie about one of them.   I liked it.

*Images stolen from Action Comics No. 1 and Superman No. 1.  By Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.
Your best pal ever,

Shannon Smith

p.s. Say you want a leader but you can't seem to make up your mind. I think you'd better close it and let me guide you to my twitter feed.
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