Saturday, December 7, 2013

My Take: Man Of Steel

I don't go to movies when they're on the big screen.  I don't want to risk that much money on what might be a stinker.

Man of Steel (Warner Bros 2013) starts well and builds beautifully...and then plummets to earth like a Kryptonian baby rocket.

The first hour or so follows a full-grown but still searching Clark Kent, old enough to be out of college, out on his own, and yet still not fully informed of what he really is.  Through a series of flashbacks we're introduced to Clark's discovery of his origin, to his small scale but highly tangible heroics, to the source of his angst.

Some superhero films take the hero through an "awakening" process.  Spider-Man (Columbia 2002) depicts Peter Parker's exploration of his powers culminating in one crazy, sticky night of web-shooting followed by a kind of post-"first time" buoyancy and general bon vivance.  In case you aren't sure, it's really equating Peter Parker's becoming Spider-Man with puberty.  You might think I'm making a gross comparison but it is in fact the literal metaphor intended by the director.  The Incredible Hulk (Universal 2003), on the other hand, acts and reacts like an adult would to situations, except all actions are colored by blinding rage and affected by superhuman strength.  There is no awakening, it is just the id unleashed, given full and unfettered rein.  Fortunately the lust-oriented parts of the id don't get much play in this paradigm.  Compare that to the nearly lifelong training and honing of skills and talents that make Batman (Warner Bros 1989 (origin depicted much better in Batman Begins Legendary/Syncopy 2005)) into what he is, a darker and more driven individual.

And to contrast against those, we have Kal El of Krypton, AKA Clark Kent of Earth.  Literally a man of two worlds, Clark is the truer identity of these two.  He may be Kryptonian in his genes, but his upbringing is 100% American farmboy.  He's not entirely satisfied with life on the farm.  His father's careful, measured approach to how Clark should reveal himself to the world frustrates his young instincts.  And in one heartbreaking moment, when Jonathan Kent sacrifices his own life so Clark need not reveal himself in the wrong way, Clark discovers just how important a life can be.  Not just that having one, but the quality of that life, is of such high value that its protection is worth such a price.

This is the kind of thing we see in the first half of Man of Steel.  Clark's search for meaning both within and without himself is fascinating to watch, and seeing him slowly putting the building blocks together is pleasant viewing.  After a little while we're introduced to Lois Lane, who is also pleasant to watch.  I'm not saying this as a sexist pig (although Amy Adams, the actress, is very attractive), Lane's clever, methodical running down of the trail of rumor, of legend brings her all the way back to Clark's Smallville roots.  Without any help, she figures out who Superman really is.

Of course, they aren't calling him "Superman" at this point.  At this point of the movie, they haven't been calling him anything.

And at about this point, everything just goes to hell.  The movie runs wildly off its psychological exploration rails, the only path that digs deeply into the one place where Superman really has any vulnerability, and the rest of the writing is done by 12-year-olds.  From this point on the action is nonstop, the explosions are huge, and the quality is abysmal.  It's Transformers: Dark of the Moon except with no cool organo-mechanical sound effects.  Metropolis gets halfway destroyed, Superm - sorry, Clark - gets the stuffing beat out of him and his Kryptonian baby rocket gets turned into a black hole bomb.  Countless thousands of people get pounded into wet hamburger but that's glossed over.  Several skyscrapers get toppled over.  An Air Force Colonel converts American and Kryptonian flying machines into a gravitational singularity.  And finally, at the center of the smoking Ground Zero of a battered Metropolis, Lois and Clark share a kiss and a super-cheesy joke.  The only thing missing is the laugh track.

Watch the first hour.  Then take the DVD out and throw it away.

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