June 16, 2013

Man of Steel

After about twenty minutes of listening to several children squirming in their seats near me (as well as talking intermittently and running up and down the aisles of the theater), it occurred to me that it was possible that children were not getting more disruptive in public. This may have been normal, accepted behavior from them, only I hadn't been to a movie that kids would see in years, with a few exceptions. (I did go with my students--for a field trip--to see The Hunger Games and Oz.) The movie was Man of Steel, and the children were apparently bored out of their minds during all the parts when I was riveted by what was happening on screen. (In other words, all the "non-action" parts.)

Of course, one would expect director Zach Snyder's take on Superman to have a lot of inane action sequences. And it does. These scenes, for me, hampered my enjoyment of the film. The human story of Man of Steel remains as enchanting as it was in the 1978 version: Kal-El (played by Henry Cavill, who seems perfectly cast) leaves the doomed planet of Krypton (sent by his parents, played by Russell Crowe and Ayelet Zurer) and finds a new home on earth, with new parents (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane). And what's more, David S. Goyer, who wrote the script, manages to rehash this story in a fresh way. Much of it is scene in flashback at important points during the present, and the story of how Kal-El/Clark Kent travels North to his fortress of solitude feels more vibrant here: he basically works his way North, taking whatever jobs he can find, and of course finds it difficult to avoid stepping in to save the day when catastrophes strike (such as a burning oil rig that traps its crew).

But the action scenes are intense and it's hard to get your bearings during them. This is a continuing problem in these kinds of movies. I often just check out during those moments. It's hard to be emotionally invested when you can't even tell what's going on. The glimpses I do get reveal to me that the computer effects, while useful for creating impressive vistas and many other designs that would be astronomically expensive to do for real, aren't all that hot. I kept getting the feeling I was watching someone play Halo. (This may be just a reverential nod to the 1978 Superman, which did have pretty crummy effects.) The plot thickens when General Zod (Michael Shannon), a Krypton rebel who managed to survive when Krypton imploded and now wants revenge against Jor-El's son, threatens to destroy the earth if Kal-El is not handed over to him. (This way, Man of Steel jumbles together the plots of Superman I and II.) 

One of the movie's biggest assets is Amy Adams, who plays a different kind of Lois Lane than Margot Kidder did. Kidder's Lane always had a quip to dish out. She was also written at a time when the world seemed to idolize the single career woman. Lois Lane, hot-shot reporter for the Daily Planet, had it all. Except Superman stole her heart and she was reduced to a gushy, sentimental girl at times (performing a corny mind poem in that scene when Superman takes her out flying one evening). In the latest Superman film, Lois isn't bearing the feminist cross. So she can be vulnerable without losing her humanity. And she's also more involved in the action of the plot, which may not be totally believable, but certainly succeeds in making her character more vital. (To be fair, I always enjoyed Margot Kidder's performance as LL.) Amy Adams is a fine actress, and she's thoroughly enjoyable in Man of Steel.

Goyer has really laid on the Jesus-imagery thick, right down to having Clark Kent be 33 years old. (Comic book fans: was that how it was originally?) It may be that the studio executives have noticed what a large market there is for "Christian" entertainment, so now they're pandering to yet another demographic. Perhaps they're hoping ministers will show clips from Man of Steel during sermons. I sincerely hope nobody confuses Jesus of Nazareth with a super-hero. 

With Laurence Fishburne as Perry White, the editor of the Daily Planet; Christopher Meloni, Antje Traue, Harry Lennix, Richard Schiff, and Dylan Sprayberry (as teenage Clark Kent). 143 min.

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