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21 June 2013 @ 12:59 pm
Review time: Man of Steel  
Went to see Man of Steel last friday.

First: As usual Rob Bricken has a snarky, spoiler-laden bit of MST3K-ish prose pointing out all the flaws he saw in the film. If you loved the movie and don't have a sense of humor about people criticizing things you like, don't read it ;)

http://io9.com/the-most-important-scenes-from-man-of-steel-as-i-remem-516405346

Second: My short non-spoilery review

As someone who sees a very moderate amount of movies in the theatre (more than the average american, but not as much as real film buffs) it seems to me that Hollywood has been getting better at developing summer action movies that are fun while you're watching them and keep up the pace well enough to bounce over the plot holes, but leave you with a number of questions when you get out of the theatre and think about it later.

It's hard to say if the older movies really did have better plots, or if that's just nostalgia filters kicking in. But in any case this new (or not) style does produce very watchable movies as long as you remember the MST3K mantra. ("It's just a show; I should really just relax.")

The new Star Trek movies fall into this category, and so does Man of Steel.

My biggest non-spoilery complaints are:

1: Way too much shakey cam. They used shakey cam in scenes where people were sitting around talking to each other. I guess it was supposed to be DRAMATIC talking!

2: The early fight scenes are very "jumpy". The kind with lots of fast short cuts that made it really hard to tell what's going on.

Good non-spoilery things:

1: If you've heard the same rumor i did about a particular MAJOR change to Superman's backstory, it turns out not to be true. I suspect the rumor was based on fragmentary or garbled leaks about the actual plot. Certainly when i saw the first detailed trailer i thought it actually _confirmed_ the rumor, and i'm glad to find that i was wrong about that and it was just a misinterpretation.

2: There is a decent amount of character development for a Superman film. My biggest problem with Superman is always that he's just too much of a cardboard cutout. He's almost infinitely powerful and almost infinitely goody two shoes. Pretty much the only ways to show any kind of conflict is A: give Superman difficult choices about who to save and B: Kryptonite. Given those limitations they did a reasonable job of giving his character some growth.

Third: My spoilery thoughts

I'm going to presume you've seen the movie, because if not why are you reading the spoiler section? :)

So let's start with the positive. It certainly is a very "pretty" movie (at least when you can see what's going on between the shakey cam and quick cuts =)

I do like the idea of Lois Lane being in on the whole "secret." It was always just too unbelievable the way things were before. It's not clear yet if the rest of the Daily Planet is in on it as well. The boss and those other two did see him with Lois at the end, but it's not clear if they were close enough to get a really good look at him or not. Superman does have relatively generic looks for a superhero, so from twenty feet away it might be believable that they couldn't ID him later.

I did like the version of Kryptonite in this film. Given you've got to get from point A (normal on their planet) to point B (superpowers on ours) they handled it about as well as possible. However it does bring up the question of how they're going to work that into future movies. Will Lex Luthor figure out how to artificially produce Kryptonian atmosphere and use it for gas attacks?

The plot holes i saw:

I need to rewatch Superman 2, but didn't the original exile happen before they knew the planet was doomed? The new sequence seems to be:

Zod: The planet is doomed! I shall overthrow the government for letting this happen!
Government: Nice try, but now that the coup is over, we shall send you into off-planet exile.
Zod: ...I will pretend to be upset that you're sending me away from this doomed planet now!

And really, Superman was right, the Kryptonians did not deserve a second chance. One can make excuses for a government failing to handle an environmental crisis (ha, that's not supposed to be a subtle dig about anything) but what about after the home planet is destroyed? They had outposts in other stellar systems! Multiple outposts in fact! And at least one of the outposts had a working terraforming device!

Zod, with his relatively small number of followers (how many of them are there anyways? We see 8-12 at the sentencing, but there _must_ have been more already on the ship, right?) and a jury-rigged starship are able to colonize a new planet. (They're thwarted yes, but they were technically able) and yet all the outposts collapsed in fairly short order. Was it the lack of a starship? If so, how did the people get to the outpost in the first place? There must have been other ships around! And even if they couldn't go elsewhere, why not use the terraformer on the planet they were already on? Why did they even have it if they couldn't use it?

I know we're missing a lot of background, but it's possible to build a believable story about the collapse of a civilization, and Man of Steel just didn't give that. The only interpretation i'm coming up with is that the vast majority of the Kryptonians had lost all sense of initiative, even after a major crisis becomes apparent. I have no faith that the human race is going to be able to do anything about global warming before the effects become blatant and undeniable, but i'm fairly sure once that point is reached we'll be able to muster the will to do _something_ to mitigate things after the fact.

When it came time for Superman to start duking it out with the Kryptonians, particularly Zod, things started getting... unimpressive? I don't know why exactly. Partly of course that you know that Superman and the other kyrptonians are practically invulnerable. _Maybe_ the first time one of them gets thrown through a building it's impressive, maybe. Not so much the second time. Or the third. Or the thirteenth. I think the fact that they blasted through those buildings like they were cardboard ironically made it worse. It didn't make me think "wow they're strong!" It made me think "wow that was a pretty ineffective combat maneuver!"

Joss Whedon also pointed out something i hadn't quite put my finger on. Superman smashes Zod through building to no effect. Zod smashes Superman through building to no effect. Repeat for five to ten minutes. Then suddenly, Superman has the upperhand! He is then presented with a moral dilemma (as per the usual) and has to make a choice. That part was handled reasonably well, but how did he end up getting the upperhand?

We saw each of them smashing around the other, but it was clearly having no effect. We'd been given every reason to believe that by this point Zod was just as strong as Superman. If Zod had somehow gotten the upperhand in a similar manner he wouldn't have hesitated for a second to finish Superman off. We didn't see Superman do anything especially tricky to outsmart Zod. As Joss Whedon said, in real life fights often get resolved by pure chance, but when you're telling a story you really ought to present a _reason_ why the good guy won, and it doesn't really feel like we were presented one here.

In the fight against the terraformer we show him getting beaten down by the combination of the Kryptonian atmosphere and the defenses of the machine, and then rallying to fight back. (Was there a cheesy flashback? It sounds silly to say it, but there ought to have been one of those cheesy flashbacks that inspires the hero to fight on.) There wasn't anything like that with the fight with Zod. Right up until the end it didn't seem like either of them really had the upper hand at any point. Yeah they took turns getting face-planted through buildings, but so what?

One possible interpretation was that Superman actually was significantly stronger than Zod and the fight just hadn't been resolved earlier because he hadn't been sufficiently motivated to do so. However that has unfortunate implications.

In Superman 2 he intentionally draws Zod and co away form Metropolis to reduce the danger to civilians. Even though Superman is still undergoing character development in Man of Steel, he's had a history of trying to save people, as one would expect, and seems very concerned that the civilians right in front of him at the end of the fight might be hurt.

However both in that final battle and the earlier fight in Smallville he shows absolutely zero concern about trying to move the fight elsewhere. His only consolation towards concern is to warn people they ought to get inside. As if that's going to matter when people are getting tossed _though_ buildings. What the hell hero? That casual negligence is far more damning that what he did to Zod.

But as usual, this is Hollywood. When massive destruction happens to populated areas (at least partly) because of the hero's actions we're just supposed to ignore the massive casualties that must accompany it.