I must preface this strange review with “I’m not sure where this review/analysis is headed, just bear with me”.
I watched Man of Steel last night starring Henry Cavill and directed by Zack Snyder and for the most part, was blown away. I think the first thing that struck me as awesome was the soundtrack by Hans Zimmer and although the “new” Superman theme did get a little repetitive (plugging it in at absolutely every single pivotal moment) I did enjoy it. The acting was all very solid and real, the characters didn’t have that Hollywood shimmer that most are used to seeing, not to say they weren’t pretty, but I think Zack was going for the whole package. People who we could believe and know weren’t just faces, but people with real stories that go on beyond the movie. I don’t know if this is the right word to use, but they looked “well-traveled”. Then there’s Michael Shannon as Superman’s foe in the film, General Zod, I don’t know what I was expecting from his performance, but I couldn’t help thinking, while I was watching him, that I needed more and when he gave me more I still wasn’t convinced. Almost, as if the role was too big for him or his dialogue just didn’t have the punch it needed. The highlights for me were Kevin Costner‘s performance as Clark’s father. Very natural and not forced, it aided the film in a level of credibility that would’ve been lost otherwise. Without young Clark’s confused and emotional relationship with his father, MOS would have gone the way of Green Lantern, just like that. It was the meat and potatoes of this film hands down.
Now the effects…
I watched it in 3D with my friend Richard Bodily. I think he felt in his heart we deserved a treat after a shitty day at work so he got 3D tickets, we then clocked da-fuck-out and headed off to the theater. As always I didn’t even notice the 3D after a few minutes. Man of Steel cinematographer Amir Mokri (Transformers), utilized the 3D as best as he could by exploring distances. There were a lot of hand held focus-pulls, giving some of the epic vessel shots that documentary look. It was a neat effect for a while then it got a little trite. Then there was the one shot were it appears as if fuel from one of the space ships is actually falling on the lens of the camera. An effect I’ve seen before and have always wondered “what does the director hope to achieve with this effect”?, then I realized that it kept in line with the docu-style of the film, tricking the viewer into believing they are seeing something that is really happening.
Quick note: I expect to see the use of this technique a whole lot in World War Z, which opens next week.
The world or worlds, Zack presented in this film is dark. From the ships, the costumes (that is except Superman’s, which strangely enough is the only Kryptonian garb with blues and golds in them…he’s special I guess). It’s not the 80’s or the Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster novel of 1933. Liberties were taken with the estate that quite frankly, I’m amazed that they allowed, but it was done respectfully.
Back to the effects, it’s heavy…very very heavy and I down right hated a lot of the fighting sequences. Just G-d awful CGI and this is about the time you ask me “Hey Jeff, you said something earlier about this film and The Wachowski’s?” Indeed I did….voice in my head…indeed I did.
I guess it started and those of you who have seen the film will have to agree with me, when Jor-El (Russell Crowe) swam to these Kryptonian incubation chambers (one of the liberties). It cuts to a sea of kelp-like plants with pink embryo’s with babies in them, hanging off the plant like leaves and then being harvested by these crab/spider-like creatures. Not unlike the scene in The Matrix when Neo sees his “real” world for the first time. It even went as far as giving us the moment, frame for frame, when Neo’s unplugged and looking down on the host of cocoons containing bodies. I can’t remember the scene right now in MOS, but the pods all looked the same and were extending from a large trunk base, again, just like in The Matrix. I sure wish I had some photos to show you, but Google has nothing. My apologies.
Next, they casts Lawrence Fishburne as Perry White (Lois Lane‘s boss at The Daily Planet) and Henry Lennix as General Sanwick. These two actors were also in The Matrix…coincidence? Let’s look at their roles in The Matrix. In The Matrix Henry Lennix played Commander Lock, a man who was all military and didn’t play in to Morpheus’s ideas of Neo being Earth’s savior. In MOS he’s still the hard nose military guy who isn’t sure he can trust Superman/Neo.
Then you have Lawrence who for all intents and purposes, kinda reprises his role as Morpheus in The Matrix by being Lois Lane’s mentor/boss. He knows she’s a good reporter, but also knows she’s hiding something, but he trust her enough to know that whatever it is she’s hiding was for the good of the planet…planet Earth that is, not The Daily Planet. With me so far? It’s a stretch…I know, but I’m not going to be able to sleep til I say this shit, so keep reading.
Let’s talk about Superman’s launch sequences. If you watched MOS and didn’t see how they ripped his take-off’s from The Matrix, your hopeless. I get that it would’ve been cheesy to have him do the 80’s running starts and lands, but come on. Every time “Supe” flew, he started by taking a knee and placing his right fist to the ground, the Earth shook and boom! Straight up. I kept waiting to see if he was going to ripple land. Thank G-d that didn’t happen.
Now, the fighting sequences. All of the fighting sequences looked like those in The Matrix minus the Kung Fu. All of them had so much high speed randomness and poor cgi bodies it really distracted me. Everyone started looking like Crispin Glover’s character in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland…very rubbery. My mind kept going back to the epic fight scene in The Matrix Reloaded when Neo is up against thousands of Agent Smith’s in the park. It didn’t look real then, it doesn’t look real now. Especially when you consider Zod and his armies bodies, were cgi for the most part. This analysis came to an amazing climax when I finally saw Zod’s terra-forming weapons the “World Machines” and their defense mechanisms. These weapons looked like “Sentinals”, complete with Doc. Oc tentacles. Another Matrix reference I couldn’t pull my eyes from. Mind you, non of this bothered me, I just couldn’t help but to see the irony in it all.
Last, but not least, the final battle between Zod and Superman was as close to the final battle between Neo and Agent Smith as you could possibly get. Metropolis is reduced to rubble in the wake of the World Machines and Zod and Superman’s rumble in the concrete jungle. You can’t have two super beings flying around a city slugging it out without referencing The Matrix:Revolutions. The scope was just too damn big for us or at least me, to not notice.
I don’t know if whether Zack had the Wachowski’s over for hummus and pita one night and asked them for ideas on MOS and as a joke they spit out everything they did in The Matrix Trilogy hoping that Zack would catch on, but he never did and he wound up putting everything they said in the film, but it sure seems like he did.
This sentence is to let you know that that’s all I have right now regarding the Wachoski/Snyder contingency.
There were of course other things about the film that bothered me like how the government could detect Zods ship orbiting our atmosphere, but wasn’t able to spot Clark’s baby pod when it arrived. Did they care? Or why this Kryptonian Codex looked like prehistoric human remains or how Zod’s rebellion was the shortest and apparently, not so thought out, rebellion I’ve ever seen or why the Krytonian’s didn’t bother shooting down Clark’s baby pod along with Zod’s missile that tried to take it down. Did they know what was inside? They couldn’t cause Jor El was just about to let them in on his whole baby thing, just before Zod slaughtered the council…how could they have known?
What about Clark’s mysterious existence? I mean for a man who never wore a mask and was always in public, Clark seemed to be such an anomaly to Lois and how about the U.S.’s seemingly lack of concern for the residents of Smallville when they leveled that whole town or how Clark’s mom is on mega doses of Zanax and completely numb to all the shit that’s has happened and is happening all around her and how did Clark become so adjusted to being the savior of the universe so quick? My man changed his whole tone on his shitty life as soon as he put on the suit. Okay, so maybe I did have a couple of issues with the film, but it wasn’t anything that I harped on while watching, but it did make me laugh a little.
Let’s be honest, how do you tackle Superman without it being prone to misinterpretations or gratuitous spectacle? Well you stay true to the story…right? That may have been where Zack and Chris could’ve gone wrong. Although clever, does Superman need to be so re-imagined as to create plots that never existed? Is not the simple story of a man from Krypton not enough? I can’t answer that question, we live in blown out times. Times filled with over stimulus. Even if Chris and Zack wanted to present a less stylized Superman they wouldn’t have gotten a cent from Warner Brothers to produce it. Perhaps that was what Steven Spielberg meant when he was recently quoted in an interview saying “an implosion in Hollywood is imminent”. Simple story telling in big budget Hollywood is a thing of the past. But here we have a case of big budget with all the frills and good director, actor and writers and I’m still left with an enormous hole. Maybe Steven just meant summer films. He’s probably jaded cause his name isn’t attached to anything this summer, cause I think most of the world waits until the fall/winter for the good stuff anyway. Don’t we?
Man of Steel is still an achievement, but I unfortunately can’t say a must see. I can’t keep saying that it’s “fun” anymore, so I’ll just say you’ll have to take what you want from it and leave the rest.