Man of Steel

man-of-steel-poster-600x886Warner Bros. really wants Superman to turn into the next Dark Knight franchise and Zack Snyder’s mega opus Man of Steel makes a serious run for your money.  It’s a gargantuan exercise in Transformer-sized destruction masquerading as a modernized take on the most popular superhero of all time.  Can the caped do-gooder savior survive a dead-on serious interpretation courtesy of the 300, Watchmen-helmer with the guiding hand of producer Christopher Nolan?

As a matter of fact—he can, but not without a few scars and lacerations.  Man of Steel is admittedly somewhat of a choppy mess missing much of the beating heart a Superman film desperately needs more than an alien super-punch.  Snyder attempts to restructure Kal-El and his battle against the alienation of being, well, an alien.  The film lifts off immediately in a big way—Superman’s father, Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and his mother are introduced on planet Krypton (very Avatar-esque) in the middle of a planetary Armageddon.  Krptonians haven’t been able to deliver a natural born child for many years until Jor-El’s wife delivers a baby that is immediately shuttled off to Earth in the hopes of giving him a chance to survive before military leader/lunatic Zod (Michael Shannon) can find the child and turn him to mush.

Fast forward.  Kal-El (renamed Clark Kent on Earth) is a 33-year-old man-alien in hiding as a savior-to-be.  Through flashbacks, Snyder introduces Clark’s restrained hostility and his heroic efforts to save others in need despite his father’s disapproval.  Kevin Costner, superb yet limited in the film as Pa Kent, instructs Clark that the world isn’t ready for the unveiling of Clark’s identity and incredible abilities.  The film bounces around important highlights from Clark’s life before plunging into the efforts of Lois Lane (Amy Adams), the willful reporter who stumbles upon Kent in the Fortress of Solitude.  Kent discovers his past.  Lane discovers the story of her career.  Bring out the cape and the romance.

Kent dons the infamous suit just in time to do battle with Zod who manages to find Earth with his evil cohorts in an attempt to reclaim that last artifact of Krypton following its destruction: Clark/Kal-El.  In the process, Zod wants to also level all of Earth and rebuild Krypton.  With no earthly measures able to stop Zod and his troops, Superman locks fists with beings just as powerful as he in the hopes of saving the third rock from the sun before it is wiped out.

I have to give Snyder credit for taking a full bludgeoning swing at the infamous DC universe character and despite a few strikes, he manages a base hit—one that nearly shatters the ball.  You couldn’t pack any more action and mayhem into the final hour of this movie.  If there is anyone left alive in the massive destruction of Metropolis by the time the film is over, consider Superman back for another go-around as the world’s alien savior.  Fans looking for action will feast on this film.  Fans looking for a little more character development will find a lot to be desired with Snyder’s film.

Granted, another origin story for Superman in 2013 wasn’t going to be an easy task.  Most viewers know the story, the beats, and what must be included.  To retread so much information already committed to film over the course of five previous feature Superman films *not to mention ten seasons of Smallville and however many seasons of Lois and Clark), would have the blind taste of Novocaine.  After a while the filmmakers wouldn’t have realized they were chewing off their own tongues.

ManofSteel-ZodWith flashback sequences utilized for Man of Steel, the required information regarding Kent’s past makes it to audiences, albeit in disjointed fashion that hinders the narrative from ever finding the proper fluidity.  The romance spark between Lois and Clark never fully develops, and everything that must occur feels like a falling gavel.  The filmmakers have sentenced the film ‘that this must take place!’  However, Snyder still captures the parallels of Christ and Kent’s battle against vengeful (sinful) temptation when ultimately he must be the burdened savior of the world that his father sent him to be.

The battle of give-and-take for audience expectation hits the film hard in the gut without bringing it to its knees.  When the film isn’t showcasing the highlight reel, some great moments and performances sneak through.  Most notably of course is Henry Cavill as the latest actor to adorn the costume.  He fits it well.  The actor comes across as charming, powerful, and certainly human.  For my money he is a great Superman in a not-so-great movie.  Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, and Russell Crowe are also especially good here.  Even when they all have less to do, they provide the necessary supporting talent the film really needs.

The film’s greatest disappointment arrives in the form of Michael Shannon whose one-note expression gives the villain Zod little to do.  Perhaps the script shortchanged him, but for whatever reason I found Shannon lacking in terms of a death-blow adversary.  Was he too serious that the performance came off campy?  I don’t know.  A second viewing might sort that out for me.

Another critical factor in lessening the film’s impact has to be enormous action that meanders more in silliness than importance.  The fighting feels ongoing, but never immediate.  Honestly.  The destruction in the film morphs into the Octomom-love-children of Roland Emmerich, Michael Bay, and well, Zack Snyder.  Visually, yes, this is a mammoth spectacle to behold and I have to say that the special effects will likely drown out any other film this year.  Or next year.  But Snyder’s movie endeavor, at 2 1/2 hours, had no limits in the action department.

Yet Man of Steel still manages to fly.  I walked away satisfied, but without the butterflies.  The film is flawed for sure, but this team can take flight with a clear-cut adventure  for the sequel now that the dust has settled on the choppy origin story.  I’m guessing the film will take place ten years in the future when the rebuilding of Metropolis has a chance to finish.

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WaterworldLet’s get this out of the way right from the start: Waterworld is not a terrible movie.  Despite its infamous reputation, it’s not nearly as bad as legend would have us believe.  It is a deeply flawed film, but it’s no more or no less horrible than 80% of the other films in its easily-identifiable genre of post apocalyptic action movies.  That being said, any film that opens with the hero peeing into a cup, recycling it through a rusty Rube Goldberg coffee maker, and drinking it again is probably not destined for greatness.  But to understand this movie it’s helpful to step back in time a couple of decades…

The 1990’s were kind of a strange time.  Grunge rock was saturating the airwaves, people were trying to figure out new technologies like cell phones and the internet, and and school kids passed their time by trading cardboard circles on the playground. Along with these strange activities came a healthy dose of fear about the earth either burning up from mysterious holes in the ozone layer or collapsing under the weight of gabillions of tons of cans that schoolkids refused to recycle.  Even PBS got on the bandwagon with an almost-unfathomably cheesy cartoon about purple aliens who battle capitalists, or something like that.  But despite repeated efforts to help people understand the catastrophic consequences of refusing to reduce and reuse, the message just wasn’t getting through.  And as we recently learned from the Gulf Oil Spill, who better to turn to in dire situations than Kevin Costner?


Enola, Helen, and The Mariner, searching for any hint of logic in the screenplay.

Yup, that’s right.  Dances With Wolves himself was going to singlehandedly drive home the message that we all need to stop drinking out of juice boxes and once and for all by making a movie where the entire planet was covered with water because…(wait for it)…the ice caps have melted thanks to humanity’s environmental shortsightedness!  But what’s that, you say? The ice caps melting would only cause the oceans to rise a couple hundred feet?  Bah!  Facts matter not to Hollywood when a buck can be made, and so in 1996 Waterworld was unleashed in theaters across America.  It tells the tale of a nameless man known only as The Mariner (Kevin Costner) who…um…sails a boat a lot.  Sometimes he meets people, but since this fish-eat-fish world is pretty low on resources people aren’t all that friendly anymore.  And the least friendly of all are a scrappy group of metalheads known as Smokers who go around beating people up and shooting things because…well, we’re actually never given any sort of reason why the Smokers do this.  It was probably just to fill in a box on the casting sheet:  “Bad guys?  Check.”

Pretty soon the Mariner comes across an atoll where a couple dozen people are holed up and eking out a living by eating dirt and counting plastic bottle caps.  There’s also a girl named Enola who has a mysterious tattoo on her back that could very well lead to dry land, a crazy scientist, and a community leader who looks just like Al Borland whose sole purpose in the movie is to deliver painfully dull bits of exposition.  The inhabitants sentence the Mariner to die because he’s different from them (because what’s a postapocalyptic thriller without some modern social commentary thrown in for good measure?), but before you know it those darn Smokers show up and start blasting the atoll to bits and running into it with jet-skis.  At this point one might wonder why, in a world where even scraps of paper are regarded as priceless treasures, a group of individuals would be more interested in destroying a floating fortress rather than simply capturing it and taking its resources, thus giving them a strategic advantage and a home base for staging operations.  Because explosions are cool, that’s why!  And what about the fact that blowing the atoll to smithereens might very well kill the tattooed girl they are so interested in finding?  Because explosions are cool!  *sigh*

The late great Dennis Hopper, demonstrating why he was always the best choice for a movie villain.

The Mariner, Enola (“alone” spelled backwards…get it?), and her adoptive mother Helen (Jeanne Tripplehorn) spend the rest of the movie sailing around on the Mariner’s boat while having domestic disputes about Crayola crayons and taking swimming lessons.  The Smokers show up from time to time to cause headaches and complain about how that darn Mariner keeps getting away from them.  But we all know where this is going and how it’s going to end, and to be honest it doesn’t even matter that much.  And yet, after all this, I maintain that Waterworld is actually not that terrible.

Despite the hokey premise, the silly cast of characters, and the wandering plot, Waterworld is a pretty stunning action flick with ridiculously gigantic setpieces and one of the coolest villains in recent memory.  The sets are real, and when the enormous atoll is getting ripped to shreds the feeling of danger is pretty darn visceral.  The entire movie strives to belong to that elite pantheon of films who deserve the adjective epic, and even though it doesn’t work it gets some points for trying.  The ending climax aboard a derelict floating tanker is an amazing sight to behold, and Costner displays the type of old-school heroics we don’t often get in wimpy modern protagonists nowadays.  But even more than the go-big-or-go-home scale of the presentation, the real reason to see Waterworld is Dennis Hopper. As the leader of the Smokers, he basically is given free reign to be as mean and despicable as any PG-13 villain in movie history.  And boy, does he go for broke here.  He gleefully romps around tossing insults and sly quips like candy at a parade, offing his enemies with joyful aplomb, and is clearly two shades shy of all-out crazy.  Slinging lines like “You know, he’s like a turd that won’t flush” with what appears to be actual, genuine sincerity is something only Hopper could have pulled off, and his performance is so brazenly ostentatious it’s a sight to behold.

Waterworld is often remembered as one of the biggest bombs in movie history, but it actually turned a healthy profit in total worldwide numbers.  This environmentalist fable-turned-action epic does not reach greatness, but not for lack of trying.  It is no Mad Max, Children of Men, or 12 Monkeys, but it’s no Battlefield Earth either.  It’s definitely worth a look, as long as you know what you’re getting yourself into.


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