Movie Reviews - 2013 postsWednesday June 26, 2013
Movie Review: The Bling Ring (2013)
After watching Sofia Coppola’s “The Bling Ring” at SIFF Uptown in lower Queen Anne in Seattle, my friend Vinny complained that the movie didn’t give us enough outside of the vacuous lives of its girl/gay protagonists, who are obsessed with celebrity and luxury items and combine the two fascinations by breaking into the homes of celebrities (Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan) and stealing shit (jewelry, shoes, panties, pills).
“That’s what’s brilliant about it,” I said. “It doesn’t give us anything else. Just that.”
Seriously, I can’t remember a recent movie where form and content matched so well. You could make the movie and the characters more interesting. You could use better actors. You could create better dialogue and give us a better soundtrack. But there’s a kind of brilliance in immersing us in the awful, dreamlike horror of these empty, empty lives. What is it these kids do? They steal, then they wear what they steal, then they dance and party, wearing what they’ve stolen, and take countless selfies and post them on Facebook and tell their friends where they’ve been. It’s the emptiest of lives but it’s the pinnacle of life for them. How sad is that? They are drawn to the celebrity light as if only that which is filmed is real. They want to be on the other side of the celebrity camera. They want to be the watched rather than the watcher.
They get their wish.
Can you afford me?
Marc (Israel Broussard) is the new kid in school in Calabasas, Calif., an affluent suburb of Los Angeles, and his arrival is greeted by the other kids with vague eyerolls, OMGs, and dismissive critiques of what he’s wearing. A girl in the hallway bumps into him and tells him to watch it. The sense of privilege here, particularly among the girls, is immediate and overwhelming. But Rebecca (Katie Chang) seems nice, if blank. She makes overtures. She invites him to the beach. Why is she so nice to him? Because she feels she can manipulate him? We never find out.
Soon they’re hanging regularly. They smoke pot. They go shopping. The actors aren’t particularly good and their dialogue isn’t particularly interesting because the characters have nothing really to say. “I was always self-conscious that I wasn’t as good-looking as other people,” Marc tells us in voiceover. That’s as deep as it gets. The whole thing feels inert and airless.
They begin to hang with a few others, including Nicki the princess (Emma Watson), her crazy half-sister Sam (Taissa Farmiga), and balls-out Chloe (Claire Julien, in one of the film’s better performances). They ride around town, listen to hip-hop, flash gang signs, and engage in girl talk:
Girl 1: Bitch, you’re just jealous.
Girl 2: Suck my dick.
They get into clubs even though they’re underage. Hey, there’s Kirsten Dunst. Hey, there’s Paris Hilton. Later, Marc reads that Paris is hosting a party in Vegas. That’s when Rebecca gets the idea. Where does Paris live? “I bet she’d leave her keys under the mat,” Rebecca says. CUT TO: Finding the keys under the mat. That was good. That made me laugh out loud.
Arguments can be made about which is worse: the kids’ celebrity obsession or the celebrity’s own celebrity obsession. Paris Hilton’s place, as portrayed here, is glitzy and filled with reminders of her own status: throw pillows with her picture on them; a wall of her magazine covers; a framed poster of herself wearing a T-shirt reading “CAN YOU AFFORD ME?” One secret room contains nothing but designer shoes. The kids, who return several times, try on clothes and jewelry as if they’re in a store. They fight over outfits. Rebecca tries to take Paris Hilton’s dog at one point. “You can’t take her dog,” Marc tells her.
Rebecca is the engine, Marc the brakes, but the brakes don’t work very well. The more often they get away with it, the more brazen they become. They go to Megan Fox’s home and Nicki practically undulates on the bed. They find a gun in Orlando Bloom’s home and Sam waves it around dangerously, enjoying the power. They find a stash of Rolexes under his bed and hock them with a bouncer at a club (Gavin Rossdale). I don’t know if Coppola intended this but the further they go, the more distant the celebrity names became to me. Eventually they steal from the home of someone named Audrina who was in something called “The Hills.”
As I sat in the theater, watching all this, I wondered whose home I would break into. Jackie Chan’s? E.L. Doctorow’s? And steal what? And why? I liked these people. Why would I take from them? That’s a few steps shy of Mark David Chapman territory, isn’t it? These kids rob whom they love. They want to be immersed in that. They want to be that.
Then they become that.
The lesson of the non-lesson
When the cops come—after the story finally hits the press—they come swiftly and smartly. They’re all rounded up. Of course the kids have been dumb. That’s part of the point.
For a time they get to experience life on the other side of the camera. A few (Marc) are uncomfortable there. A few (Nicki) have lawyers and managers and get interviewed by a reporter from Vanity Fair, who writes the article upon which the movie is based. We get Nicki and her awful mom (Leslie Mann), with her awful vaguely Eastern, me-first homilies, jockeying for position in the interview. “Mom, it’s my interview,” Nicki complains.
The harshest sentences go to the engine, Rebecca, and the brakes, Marc, who each get four years. We see Marc, wearing an orange jumpsuit, and chained to other hardened criminals, taking the bus to LA County Jail. That seems the lesson. You don’t want to be where Marc is at that moment. And the heavy steel door to the LA County Jail is clanged shut. It’s a classic ending.
But it’s not the ending because it’s not really the lesson. Nicki, with her lawyers and managers, gets only 30 days. She’s interviewed about her time in prison, about who she saw there (Lindsay Lohan), about what they were wearing (orange jumpsuits). She spins the whole adventure so it’s about her. “I’m a firm believer in Karma and I think this situation is a huge learning lesson for me,” she says, aping her mom’s me-first, Eastern homilies. “I want to run a non-profit. I want to lead a country one day for all I know.”
That’s the lesson. It’s the lesson of the non-lesson, of nothing learned. It’s all about how you get on the other side of the camera, where real life is.
CAN YOU AFFORD ME?
No, we can’t.
Movie Review: The Kings of Summer (2013)
In sixth grade I read “My Side of the Mountain,” a young adult novel about a kid who gets fed up with family life and carves out an existence in a huge tree in the woods and has all sorts of adventures. I loved it. I was never that brave, or that adept in the wilderness (Indian Guides rather than Boy Scouts), so the furthest I got was a deep shelf in the back of the family garage. I set up a little fortress there, which is where I fled during family squabbles.
Joe (Nick Robinson) is made of sturdier stuff, and, when his widowed father, Frank (Nick Offerman), lays down harsh laws at the beginning of another high school summer, Joe bolts for a clearing in the nearby woods, dragging along his best friend, Patrick (Gabriel Basso), and Biaggio (Moises Arias), the odd kid in school. Together, with tools they’ve stolen from their parents, and supplies they’ve stolen from around town—wood paneling, a slide, window panes and an outhouse door—they build a reasonable facsimile of a very leaky house. And that’s where they spend the summer, having adventures.
Usually these adventures are slow-mo montages backed by a song. They jump off a small cliff and into a river. They punch each other and we watch the muscles and skin ripple. At one point, with machetes, Joe and Biaggio go hunting. They climb a hill expecting to see animals on the other side; instead, it’s a freeway with a Boston Market. Wuh-wuhr. So they buy chicken and bring it back. For some reason, they pretend to Patrick that they caught it and cooked it. Wucka wucka.
For a time, I was thinking that writer Chris Galletta and director Jordan Vogt-Roberts had given us this wonderful gift: a summer movie without super-powered beings or high-tech gizmos. They’d given us a movie about kids who don’t want to watch TV. But TV is never far away because much of the movie has a sitcom feel. The parents are too loopy, the kids too mature—except with each other, when they revert to odd lies and behaviors. Joe, who starts out hapless (he brings a crappy birdhouse to the last day of school, a week late), quickly becomes a James Franco figure: full of empty blather and not much else. There’s a girl, Kelly (Erin Moriarity), a pretty blonde, who seems interested in him. But when he brings her to their hiding place, she goes for Patrick. We don’t blame her. It doesn’t help that at this point Joe is cultivating The Worst Teenage Moustache Ever.
Their adventures in the woods are never that interesting, and the music to back up these adventures is lousy. Honestly, it’s one of the worst indie soundtracks I’ve heard. It’s almost a relief to get out of the woods, which feel increasingly muggy and bug-ridden and claustrophobic, and back to the parents and their search for their kids. Nick Offerman (“Parks and Recreation”) gives us his usual droll line readings. (“It’s clearly a kidnapping,” he says to Patrick’s parents. “They took the kids, and the pasta and the canned goods.”) Patrick’s Mom, Megan Mullally (“Will & Grace”), delivers dingy non sequiturs. Is that the reason for the sitcomy feel? That most of the actors cut their teeth on sitcoms?
In the end, not halfway through the summer, the boys are home, lessons are learned, rifts are mended. “The Kings of Summer” was not filmed before a live studio audience but it might as well have been.
Movie Review: This is the End (2013)
Is the Hollywood-hating, “Left Behind”-loving, conservative Christian crowd checking out “This is the End”? I think they’d dig it the most.
If they did, they’d get to watch that horrible den of liberal iniquity, Hollywood, Calif., turn into a literal hell on earth, while its pampered godless denizens realize not only that they’re pampered and godless but that they have been left behind by God.
They’d get to hear lines like these:
Seth: That means there’s a God. Who saw that shit coming?
Jay: Like 95 percent of the planet?
It’s the Book of Revelation with dick jokes.
On the down side, some of the heathens wind up in heaven anyway. Yes, even the Jews.
Almost everyone in “This is the End” plays themselves, or “plays themselves” in the Jerry Seinfeld/Larry David manner. Jay Baruchel (“She’s Out of My League”) shows up in L.A. to hang out with his longtime friend Seth Rogen (“The Green Hornet”). Apparently he just wants to hang, but after a day of pot-smoking and 3D video-game-playing Seth drags him to the housewarming party of James Franco (“Spider-Man 3”), Rogen’s co-star in the stoner comedy “Pineapple Express.” Everyone’s happy to see Seth, everyone’s awkward around Jay. Jay’s awkward with them, too, and he searches for a place at the party where he might fit in. He doesn’t find it. It’s a good scene, actually. As a perennial not-fitting-in-at-parties dude, I identified. Hell, I do it when I’m not further burdened by the presence of Emma Watson and Rihanna, who, poor girls, probably double the awkward quotient whenever they walk into a room.
At a local convenience store a few blocks away, where Jay is buying smokes, Seth is wary of the tough-talking cashier who demands a man buy something before his daughter uses the restroom. The two stars are riffing on this when the earth cracks open. It’s like an earthquake but bigger, people are screaming, and Jay sees blue beams of light lift half the people in the convenience store into the sky. The father/daughter: yes. The cashier: no. At first I thought UFOs. I didn’t yet know where we were going.
Outside it’s worse, there’s fire everywhere, and, in a panic, Seth and Jay run and stumble back to James Franco’s place … where the party’s still in full swing. In fact, no one believes their story. Then the earth rumbles again and everyone runs outside, where a giant sinkhole opens up on Franco’s front yard, swallowing, among others, Rihanna, Michael Cera (“Scott Pilgrim”), Christopher Mintz-Plasse (“Kick Ass”), and Paul Rudd (“I Love You, Man”). By the time they regroup inside, we’re down to our principles: Jay, Seth, Franco, Jonah Hill (“Moneyball” ) and Craig Robinson (“The Office”). Danny McBride (“Eastbound & Down”), sleeping it off in the bathtub upstairs, joins them the next morning. Emma Watson returns for a mid-movie cameo.
Franco tries to buoy everyone up. “Just because a bunch of people fell into a giant hole doesn’t mean we can’t have fun,” he says. Jay remains unbuoyed: “I don’t want to die in James Franco’s house,” he tells Seth, whining. Seth panics: “We’re actors! We’re not hard! We pretend to be hard but we’re not!”
The longer they hole up the worse it gets outside. Heads roll. Literally. Demons prowl. By the time Jonah Hill gets raped and possessed by Satan (yes), everyone has finally agreed that Jay is right, that they’re dealing with the Apocalypse from the Book of Revelations. But Craig shows them a way out. Sacrificing himself for the others, he ascends to heaven just before being eaten (or something) by a giant demon. Franco tries the same method, is en route, but makes the mistake of flipping off Danny McBride, now the leader of a band of cannibals, and tumbles back to earth to get eaten alive.
Eventually we find out heaven is a bit like (alley oop) James Franco’s party, except with the Backstreet Boys. Heaven gets the Backstreet Boys, hell Rihanna. Something wrong in that equation.
“This is the End” has a few funny moments (“Something so not chill happened last night,” Jonah confesses after being Devil-raped), but a lot of clunkers. There’s an attempt to make a shoe-string “Pineapple Express 2,” for example. We also get the usual push-the-envelope stuff—arguments about jizz on porno mags—and too much Danny McBride, whom I’ve never found funny. The movie, like the Christopher Guest comedies, is 50 percent improv. Unlike the Guest comedies, it’s not that funny. I can’t recommend it.
But I am curious if a movie with this many dick jokes, and with Satan himself portrayed with a big swinging dick, can appeal to the “Left Behind” crowd. Because beyond the jizz jokes, the movie gives them everything they want. God rewards the good and punishes Hollywood. Leaving the theater wasn’t like leaving a typical stoner comedy. It was more like leaving “Saving Private Ryan.” You do a kind of spiritual patdown. You wonder: “Have I been a good person?”
Movie Review: Broken City (2013)
There’s a point in Allen Hughes’ “Broken City” when ex-cop, now private investigator, Billy Taggert (Mark Wahlberg), begins to investigate his own investigation.
Five days before a tight election, Billy is hired by New York City Mayor Hostetler (Russell Crowe), to follow his wife, Cathleen (Catherine Zeta Jones), whom he suspects of infidelity. Lo and behold, Billy finds her in a house on the far end of Long Island having a clandestine meeting with Paul Andrews (Kyle Chandler), the opposition candidate’s campaign manager. Then Andrews winds up dead. So Billy asks for, and receives, a clandestine meeting of his own meeting with Cathleen, on the far end of a deserted pier (really?), and she tells him he’s been played for a sap. She was never having an affair with Andrews. She was going to be his snitch, not his snatch. She hates her husband, he’s corrupt, etc., and she was going to bring him down. Now it’s too late. Because apparently she can’t reveal that information to anyone else.
What information? One of the big issues in the election is the Bolton Village housing project, which is where, seven years earlier, Billy, still a cop, shot and killed a young man, Mikey Tavarez, who had earlier been acquitted of the murder and rape of a young girl. The incident roiled the city—white cop, Hispanic kid—but Billy was found not guilty. He lost his job but he walked. Later we find out that Billy’s girlfriend, the budding actress and supreme hottie Natalie Barrow (Natalie Martinez), is actually Natalia Barea, the sister of the murdered girl. So was Billy her boyfriend then? Or did that happen later, as a kind of seven-year-long thank you? Either way: Ick.
Hostetler’s opponent, Jack Valiant (Barry Pepper), sporting a Prince-Valiantish haircut no serious contender for mayor would wear, claims Bolton Village won’t be saved by Hostetler but razed. He claims Hostetler is in the pockets of rich developers like Sam Lancaster (Griffin Dunne), whose company has a contract with the city to redevelop Bolton Village. Lancaster’s son, Todd (James Ransone of “The Wire” and “Generation Kill”), with whom the old man has very public fights, was actually going to meet Andrews before Andrews was killed. Which is why Billy stakes out the Lancaster development company.
It’s late at night but there’s tons of activity. Things are being tossed into overflowing garbage bins, and when Billy sneaks close, he uncovers a box and looks at three papers inside: the first two show the plans to raze Bolton Village; the last is a blueprint of the high-rise they plan to put in its place. Ah ha! These three pieces of paper Billy found could cost Hostetler the election!
Then Billy peeks inside the building, sees Sam and Todd fighting (again), and various men shredding documents.
My question: What the hell are these guys shredding if not the three pieces of paper Billy just found?
All of “Broken City” is like this. It’s a ridiculous, over-the-top movie where everyone has one degree of separation from everyone else, and where Mark Wahlberg, bless his heart, has two acting ranges: kinda blank and kinda angry. Is Billy supposed to be an alcoholic? Once he falls off the wagon, he seems to function fine. Can Wahlberg not do hangovers or regrets, or is that not part of his movie-star persona?
One keeps watching to see if the thing finally makes sense. It doesn’t. The Mayor isn’t just in the pockets of the developers, he is a developer. He has a 50 percent stake in Lancaster’s firm. So the $4 billion the city is paying Lancaster to redevelop (that is, raze) Bolton Village? He gets half. Where is the press in all this? And why doesn’t anyone who’s trying to reveal the information (Cathleen, Todd) reveal it to The New York Times? Why don’t they put it on WikiLeaks? Why don’t they post it on Facebook, or tweet it, or create a Tumblr site? I mean, c’mon. What year are we in?
But Hostetler gets his. When he tries to blackmail Billy with direct evidence that Billy shot and killed Mikey Tavarez in cold blood, which he did (that’s our hero, btw), Billy records the conversation with that shitty Voice Memo iPhone app, and turns it over to Police Chief Carl Fairbanks (Jeffrey Wright, wasted), even though it means he’ll go to jail, too. And as Fairbanks leads Hostetler away, the day before the election, he lets him know that his wife was having an affair after all. With him.
Watch “City of Hope.”
Movie Review: Man of Steel (2013)
How do you begin?
That’s what I wondered as I sat in my seat at the Cinerama in downtown Seattle and the lights dimmed. I already knew something of the story from the numerous trailers and TV spots that had been released, teased out, particularly in the last six months. I also obviously knew the story of Superman. We all do. So where do you begin? With Jor-El arguing before the Kryptonian Council, as it’s traditionally done? In Smallville, with the rocket ship approaching and about to change everything, as “Smallville” did it? With Clark on the road, bearded and alone, and the rest of the story coming via flashbacks and a holographic Jor-El explaining the Kryptonian past?
Then I heard a cry and saw a face, Lara (Ayelet Zurer), in the midst of childbirth, the first natural childbirth on Krypton in hundreds of years, and had my answer.
They began as he begins.
People would freak
I liked “Man of Steel.” I’ll say that up front. But a lot of what I liked I knew going in.
I knew, for example, that Superman (Henry Cavill) would be greeted, not with cheers (as he was in 1978 during the helicopter rescue), but with shock and horror. He’d be handcuffed by the U.S. Army and led into interrogation rooms. That’s smart. If such a superpowered being did appear, particularly in a post-9/11 world, people would freak and weapons would be trained on him. Thank God the interrogation rooms we sent him to weren’t enhanced. He might’ve changed his mind about us.
I knew Clark wouldn’t be a journalist with The Daily Planet. We see him hitchhiking on the road. We see him on a fishing boat. We see him doing good deeds, costumeless, bare-chested. That’s smart, too. A mild-mannered reporter for a major metropolitan newspaper? Do such things exist anymore? Might as well make him a photographer at the Chicago Sun-Times. Might as well get him a summer job at Borders Books.
I also figured Lois Lane (Amy Adams) would figure out his secret identity, since, in one trailer, we see her greeting Martha Kent (Diane Lane) at the family farm. And since Clark isn’t at the Planet … This is good, too. In a traditional Superman story, Lois is a bit of a sap. She ignores the man who loves her (Clark) to pursue the man she loves (Superman), without realizing they’re the same man. Hell, Superman was concocted in the first place by a Clark Kent (Jerry Siegel) to stick it to the Lois Lanes of the world. That’s part of its DNA. But here Lois knows his identity before most people know he exists. She’s a true reporter. She tracks down the stories of a superpowered good samaritan all the way to Smallville and the Kent family farm. She gets her story and then doesn’t print it.
I liked all of these elements in theory and in practice. I wanted more of them, to be honest. I wanted more of Clark on the road. I wanted more of Lois’ detective work.
What surprised me, in fact, was how many familiar Superman story elements are still in the movie:
- Kal-El is sent to Earth because Krypton explodes. (Yep, I was wrong about that.)
- Zod and his associates are sent to the Phantom Zone before Krypton explodes. (Although the order is reversed: Kal-El leaves before Zod is imprisoned.)
- Clark grows up on the Kent family farm, perplexed by why he is different, until his father, Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner), shows him the rocket in a silo in the family barn when he’s 12.
- While Jonathan cautions against using his powers (because people will freak), he says, in almost the exact same words Pa Kent (Glenn Ford) used in 1978, “I have to believe that you … were sent here for a reason.”
- After his father’s death, Clark heads north to search for that reason and to discover who he is.
- He finds out who he is via a holographic image of his Kryptonian father, Jor-El (Russell Crowe), who tells him the story.
Then aliens invade. Which is also the answer to how you get the mass of humanity to trust such a superpowered being. You present, at the same time, his opposite: those who wish to destroy humanity rather than save it.
The New Adventures of Jor-El
A few things about Krypton.
First, H.R. Giger should sue. Krypton may be alien, but that doesn’t give anyone the right to steal the look of “Alien” as much as this movie does.
Second, we spend way too much time there. The first half hour could be titled “The Adventures of Jor-El, Free-Thinking Scientist of Krypton.” Not only do we get Jor-El warning the Kryptonian Council about the planet’s core and going mano-a-mano with Gen. Zod (Michael Shannon), who stages a coup, but we also get him: 1) under arrest; 2) escaping arrest on the back of a giant dragonfly; 3) buzzing all over Krypton; 4) diving into the baby incubation chamber and stealing the “codex,” onto which the Kryptonian genetic code is imprinted. This last bit is way too dull and science-fictiony for me. It’s introduced, I suppose, as the reason Zod needs to pursue Kal-El across the galaxy. Zod is the keeper of the code and Jor-El hides that code aboard the spaceship sent to Earth and yadda yadda. But I’m not a fan.
I’m not a fan of the whole natural childbirth thing. Krypton is a programmed society, where everyone knows, at birth, what they are meant to do. Zod is programmed to be a warrior, Jor-El is programmed to be a scientist, etc. So why did this one couple, Jor-El and Lara, break free from these constraints to have a natural baby? I do like Zod’s reaction, though, when Jor-El explains all this to him. He screws up his face in moral disgust, as only Michael Shannon can, and shouts, “Heresy!”
Zod himself is a more interesting character here. He’s been programmed to protect Krypton at all costs. That’s why he stages the coup in the first place—because the Kryptonian Council is full of dithering idiots. That’s why he searches for a planet the remaining Kryptonians, warriors all, can inhabit, and lands on Earth. If anything, he reminds me of Michael Corleone. He’s just trying to save the family. But in doing so he destroys it.
Unfortunately, they gave Ayelet Zurer the most thankless task any actress can perform: urging us away from the story we’ve all come to see. “I can’t do it,” she says, about sending Kal-El to Earth to become Superman. “Lara, Krypton is doomed,” Jor-El tells her. “It’s his only chance.” She makes arguments. She keeps stalling. In the audience, I’m less-than-sympathetic. “Let go of the baby, lady,” I thought. “We’re due on Earth already.”
But the cutaway is smart. Kal-El’s rocket zips into our solar system, past the moon, over Smallville … and we cut to Clark in his bearded drifter stage. He’s on a fishing boat, the Debbie Sue, and the first person we see being saved is him. Nice touch. But then an oil rigger goes up and we get a bearded, shirtless Clark saving everybody. Like Hercules, the original Superman.
His childhood we get in flashback.
I know, Captain, a thousand questions…
In a October 2010 post, reacting to an Atlantic magazine article on “Five Ways to Revive the Superman franchise,” I wrote:
We're interested in him because he's all-powerful but being all-powerful is dramatically uninteresting. So we need to either push toward or pull away from his power: weaken him to create a feasible drama, or keep him as is and make his all-powerfulness the drama. I'm inclined toward the latter.
They did the latter. I knew this going in, too. One of the many good flashbacks involves Clark in school, suddenly hearing, and seeing through, everything. He looks around and sees skulls. He sees his teacher’s heart beating inside her body. He hears girls talking: “What a weirdo.” It’s up to his mom to get him to focus. “Think of my voice as an island,” she says. He does. It helps. But they don’t do enough with this. It becomes a plot point when he battles Zod, since Zod suffers the same thing—seeing and hearing everything—so it should’ve given Kal-El a tactical advantage. But he doesn’t take advantage. He just stands there and tells Zod (and us, I suppose) what’s going on.
Does Clark ever wonder why tragedy seems to follow him as Clark? A school bus he’s riding in at 12 goes off a bridge and into a deep river. A highway he’s riding on as a young man is the pathway for a tornado, which takes his father away. I’m 50 and nothing like this has ever happened to me. He gets both of these before he’s 20. Plus, since he grows up in Kansas, he becomes a fan of the Royals. We see him wearing their T-shirt. I nearly cheered. Then I did the math. If he’s 33 at the end, that means he landed in 1980 and probably became a fan around 1990, which means he’s been cheering for a sucky team his whole life. Is that why he’s champion of the oppressed? Imagine if he'd landed in New York and rooted for the Yankees. He might have chosen Zod’s side.
I like wondering about these things. That’s part of the fun. How did Clark land the gig with the U.S. Army in the Arctic outpost? With a falsified record? Way to background-check, guys. Why does the Army invite Lois Lane there? Isn’t that like inviting Seymour Hersch into Area 51? And did Clark know the thing they’d found in the ice, the 18,000-year-old alien spaceship, was related to him, or was it just a nice coincidence? You also wonder how Jor-El’s S-symbol zipdrive is still compatible with 18,000-year-old Kryptonian hardware. Microsoft doesn’t support 10-year old stuff but Krypton’s computers work through eons? And they’re the ones that died off?
Why the supersuit? Jor-El offering it makes more sense than Ma Kent sewing it together but … it still doesn’t make much sense.
Clark had never tried flying before? Man, Jonathan really held him back. That’s a poignant moment, by the way, when the tornado bears down on Jonathan and he shakes his head at Clark—no, don’t save me—and is swept away. At the same time, doesn’t it recall another poignant superhero moment? Just before this, the two are arguing in the car. “You’re not my dad,” Clark says, “you’re just some guy who found me in a field.” The superhero, in late adolescence, arguing with the father who’s not the father, just before the father dies. Where have we seen this?
Uncle Ben: I don’t mean to preach. And I know I’m not your father …
Peter Parker: Then stop pretending to be!
Why did Zod demand the presence of both Kal-El and Lois Lane? What did he hope to glean from the latter? Instead, she simply becomes the instrument of Superman’s escape.
I admit I sighed sadly when Zod first contacted everyone on Earth. I knew, for me, most of the fun stuff was over. I knew the rest would be roller-coaster ride. But I didn’t realize just how many buildings would be wrecked, either by the “world engine,” the Kryptonian device that would “terra-form” Earth into Krypton, or by Superman and Zod as they battled in Smallville and Metropolis. How many times did we need to see these two battling through CGI skyscrapers and parking garages? How much is enough for the dopey fanboys who get off on this stuff?
Even so, throughout all the battles, I was intrigued by one thing: How does one man, Superman, battle a dozen superpowered beings who are his equal? Who may be more powerful since they are trained warriors? What’s the secret to his ultimate success? How do screenwriter David S. Goyer and director Zack Snyder answer that?
Know what? I still don’t know the answer. The Kryptonian spaceship ultimately goes down because Dr. Emil Hamilton (Richard Schiff) turns the doohickey so the whatchamajig can absorb the idontknow … and boom. But why do the Kryptonians die? Aren’t they invulnerable? Or are they on the ship, which is like Krypton, where they can be killed? And how does Superman finally destroy the world engine and save the planet? He appears to just, you know, try really hard.
Is it that simple? Muscle over mind, Superman?
The ultimate question
I should add that everyone, from the Els to the Kents, are expertly cast. Among supporting roles, I particularly liked Schiff, who was always my favorite on “West Wing,” Christopher Meloni as Col. Nathan Hardy, who tackles head on what he doesn’t understand, and Larry Fishburne as Perry White, who, in a great moment, first forbids Lois to work on her “super alien” story because it’s absurd, and, on a dime, changes his mind because she gives up too quickly, and he knows that’s not Lois. I also liked the vulnerability in Dylan Sprayberry, 12-year-old Clark.
Both Shannon and Adams are good in everything, and, at the center of the story, Cavill exudes a lonely decency as Clark and a steely determination as Superman. My one caveat about casting? Lois is the love interest, which means we’re supposed to be attracted to her, and I’m not attracted to Adams. At all. Sorry. Maybe that’s just me.
Other caveats: “Man of Steel” raises interesting questions only to abandon them to spectacle. “You’re the answer, son,” Jonathan tells Clark when he’s 12. “You’re the answer to ‘Are we alone in the universe?’” This is similar to what Goyer has said: “If the world found out [Superman] existed, it would be the biggest thing that ever happened in human history.” As is, you know, the near destruction of human history.
But the movie cleans all this up quickly. Too quickly. Afterwards, everyone just goes about their business. They go back to work at the Planet, they try to take pretty girls to basketball games with ringside seats, and Perry White actually hires a new reporter, Clark Kent, who, I assume, doesn’t have a journalism degree. So why hire him? Because that’s what’s supposed to happen? And why does Clark want the job in the first place? I was hoping he wanted to be near Lois but it’s the same explanation he’s always given—so he can hear about emergencies as they happen—when, no, in the digital age there are other means. And the secret identity thing? With the glasses? Really? When half of Smallville already knows? It’s as if Goyer broke up elements of the Superman myth only to put them together neatly at the end.
But Goyer did this with “Batman Begins,” too, ending with the bat signal, etc., and then breaking it all up again, including the bat signal, in “The Dark Knight.” So maybe he’ll do the same in a Superman sequel. One can hope.
One can hope, in the next movie, it’s not business as usual in Metropolis, that there are people still freaked by what happened, and that, even as some view Superman as a god-like figure, others blame him for bringing near destruction to the planet, for bringing the Kryptonian warriors here in the first place, and search for ways to destroy him or control him. There should be a vocal element again him. The more decent he is, the more vocal they should become. He should be perplexed by this. He should always look at us and wonder whether we’re worth saving. Nothing, in the end, would make him more human.
Twitter: @ErikLundegaardTweets by @ErikLundegaard