Saturday, June 15, 2013

6/15/13 Man of Steel, and butterflies and border collies and garden tomatoes...

So, while I would much rather be hiking from my campsite today and putting my feet in the water, that didn't happen. Instead, I went to see Man of Steel this morning. So here's a synopsis review of one of the anticipated summer blockbusters from someone who doesn't typically get into summer blockbusters. If you're crazy about the film and think it's the best thing ever, please don't read any further. 

Man of Steel is, of course, the reboot to the Superman franchise that stands poised to begin another round of sequels as well as the inevitable crossover to Justice League, DC's counter to the Marvel's Avengers (Thor, Iron Man, Captain America, etc) that's making billions at the box office these days. 

It opens on the doomed Krypton and spends the bulk of the narrative (such that there is) retelling the origins of Kal-El in new and technologically advanced ways that were never dreamt of by the filmmakers of Christopher Reeves' day. 

This Krypton is the dystopian future that may well await the Earth in a not terribly distant future, over-populated and in such energy crisis that the core of the planet is mined to support their continued existence, which, naturally, hastens their demise. The film opens at the first natural birth in centuries, of Kal-El, as his father delivers him, albeit assisted by a very technologically advanced nurse robot standing by. This will be the primary theme of the whole film for me: organic good/inorganic bad. Granted, as a man of steel we're going to have some mixed messages going on. All the other births are controlled by machines that monitor the genetically modified pod babies. 

Jor-El is Krypton's chief scientist, so he knows from atoms. His argument before the Kryptonian council that the repository of all life, their genetic codex, must be launched from the doomed planet to preserve a chance at rebuilding the race elsewhere. General Zod, the chief protector of Krypton crashes the party and attempts to stage a coup because of the council's ineptitude. Escaping from the siege, amidst high-tech flying ships, Jor-El hops aboard his trusty, entirely organic, flying dragon stead. Again, say it with me: organic good. I was waiting for him to whip out a pony tail and connect with the beast ala Avatar at one point. 

He manages to grab the codex, which is startlingly unguarded, and is chased back to his citadel as the battle rages. His wife Lara has a momentary pang of regret as they ship their little natural born wonder into space, carrying with him the codex and the hope for a Kryptonian tomorrow. Zod kills Jor-El, after the monologue in which the scientist quite unwisely reveals the existence of his son on board the vessel that manages to escape. 

Zod and friends get rounded up and pooped out into a black hole because the surviving council doesn't kill people, and they, of course, need to come back into the plot as the villains. 

The world of Krypton is well realized for the twenty minutes it's on screen, before the whole planet implodes, leaving a shell of the planet eerily resembling the strange half black skull that was the codex. 

From here, the story begins its non-linear narrative, jumping ahead to Kal-El's stint on a merchant vessel and his subsequent saving of lives from a fiery oil rig, back to Kansas as a boy, then to the snowy regions of Canada where the ship that will function as the fortress is being discovered by a team of scientists (which Kal-El infiltrates and eventually flies off to polar bear territory), and back to Kansas as a boy, et cetera.

The Kansas sequences are sun-soaked treasures: lots of laundry naturally drying on the clothes line, border collies romping about, butterflies perched on fence posts, and dad (very well played by Kevin Costner) tinkering with the old truck, but mainly being a fifth generation farmer who feeds people presumably un-genetically modified corn. Clark is never shown being found by the Kents in this re-telling, but there are a few scenes of his being bullied by the other kids when he is a child, and the calm, natural focus of his mother helping him overcome the sensory problems that dawn on him as he can see through people and hear everything at once. 

Two scenes from his boyhood stand out. In the first, Clark (who seems to be a magnet for disasters everywhere he goes) is on a school bus being bullied when it goes hurtling off the side of a bridge and submerges in the water with children somehow still in their seats but drowning at the same time. He exits the rear of the bus and pushes it to the shore as well as going back in for the bully whom he rescues. The bully's mother visits the Kents to get some answers. Afterwards, Jonathon Kent councils his son that he must not do such things, at least at this age. There seems to be some belief that once Clark is grown he might reveal himself, but to do so earlier would invite only catastrophe and fear. Clark asks his father what he would have him do -- let them die? And, essentially, his father says, "Yes. Death is natural, too." Now, right here was the most interesting moment in the film -- that idea is something really fascinating to explore. But then it was gone. 

The second scene, the one that convinced me Sam would never agree to see this in the theater, is the death of Jonathon Kent. Now nearly eighteen, in an argument with his parents about his powers, Clark dismisses them with "you're not my parents" (and hence unable to understand him). Of course, in the next minute, the Kents are trapped in a parking lot of traffic with the largest tornado ever seen on screen bearing down on everyone. The dog gets forgotten in the truck and his father goes back for it. In the long, slow exchange of impending doom, his father holds his hand up and makes the sign that Clark must not reveal himself to save his father. And he obeys. Jonathon is swept away in a very natural disaster. (The dog survives. Yay, nature!)

There's a scene entirely scored by cicada song, and the moment the Kryptonians arrive on the Kent farm, Mom Kent is walking from the garden with the bowl full of freshly picked tomatoes, so the juxtaposition of the evil tech is made complete. It's very pretty, but pretty heavy handed throughout.

So once Clark has found the embedded ship/fortress in Canada, he is followed by intrepid reporter Lois Lane, who then tracks him back to Kansas intent on revealing him, until he tells his story, complete with Dad dying to keep his secret.  She decides he's worth protecting and keeps quiet, but her over eagerness to find him initially will be their undoing. Having leaked the first Canadian encounter to a blogger when Perry White refuses to run with it at the Daily Planet, as Zod reappears, full Kryptonian tech in tow, threatening to destroy the planet if Kal-El didn't turn himself in, blogger dude gives up Lois in a New York minute, FBI dudes get her, and Clark turns himself over with the caveat she be released. 

Just before his decision to reveal himself, there's an odd scene between him and a priest inside a small church, replete with stained glass Jesus windows. Clark talks about saving them all (Jesus window backlit directly over his shoulder), if humankind would only trust him instead of fear him. The Priest talks about having faith in humanity. Added to the number of shots with Clark, arms spread wide as on a cross, and I began to wonder what was up with this pairing. (As it turns out, the movie is being pitched in some strange ways to churches and pastors. Hmmm.)

Once he turns himself in, it's just a lot of fight scenes. A LOT of fight scenes. Like, at least an hour's worth. I'm not a fight scene girl. Zach Snyder, he of the epicly overwrought and stylized 300,  is definitely a fight scene director. Zod and crew have their own flashback of watching Krypton implode, which apparently zaps all of their technological advances and de-phantom-zones them, adrift in their exiled ship. Some of the rogue military dudes on board must have paid attention in high school science class though, since they manage to jerry-rig it to zap themselves over to Earth and get their codex back. The big plan is to open up the codex and get going on annihilating life on earth so they can build a new Krypton with all their genetic material. Sorry, humans, bad luck for you.

There's nothing really new here. The earth is always in peril, either from our own stupid technological hubris (War Games, anyone? Monsanto?), or nature in its more potent forms (giant asteroids come to mind), or some pesky aliens. 

The CGI is new enough to make the filmmakers want to show off how realistic their alien fight scenes are, but after we've leveled half of Smallville and then a good three-quarters of Metropolis, I've had enough. Add to that the horrible timing of the writers having Lois and Clark kiss and make a joke about it amidst the rubble of Metropolis, where doubtless hundreds of thousands have just died or are still dying in the collapsed buildings around them, and I'm rolling my eyes.

Then we have another fight scene! Zod is still around, even though all his minions have been pooped back into the black hole Phantom Zone (thanks to the guidance of the holographic interactive Jor-El, which makes him not quite so dead, only mostly-dead, after all. Sorry nature, score one for tech). 

And the crowning howler is, after another agonizingly long fight scene, destroying even more of the city, how does Clark finally end Zod's menace? 


Really? REALLY? That's all it took? You've been crashing into one another for the past hour, through giant buildings, oil tanks emblazoned with LexCorp, a freakin' satellite in space from Wayne Industries, and all you had to do was snap his neck?!/!? Whaaaaaat? I'd pretty much checked out at this point and was waiting for the credits. 

The end scene, in which Clark begins his internship at the Daily Planet wearing his super disguise-o glasses (but Lois has that knowing smile as she plays along introducing herself) was our last glimpse of the Man of Steel, for now. 

There's this quote that leapt to mind as I was waiting out the fight scenes that I feel I should end with. It's from A Fault in Our Stars, the film adaptation of which I am eagerly anticipating. I started re-reading the book when I finished the one I'd purchased for my trip to Michigan too soon last week and we landed at exactly this scene, which is probably why I thought of it again today:

(As they are on the plane on their way to Amsterdam...)

In the end we watched 300, a war movie about 300 Spartans who protect Sparta from an invading army of like a billion Persians. Augustus's movie started before mine again, and after a few minutes of hearing him go , "Dang!" or "Fatality!" every time someone was killed in some badass way, I leaned over the armrest and put my head on his shoulder so I could see his screen and we could actually watch the movie together.

300 featured a sizable collection of shirtless and well-oiled strapping young lads, so it was not particularly difficult on the eyes, but it was mostly a lot of sword wielding to no real effect. The bodies of the Persians and the Spartans piled up, and I couldn't quite figure out why the Persians were so evil or the Spartans so awesome. 'Contemporaneity' to quote AIA, 'specializes in the kind of battles wherein no one loses anything of any value, except arguable their lives." And so it was with these titans clashing. 

And so it was with Man of Steel


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