Man of Steel (2013) Revisit

December 6, 2013 § Leave a comment

I am a naturally verbose person, so it’s with some newfound self-awareness that I admit I scrapped a three paragraph intro about the history of comics, their place in society and humanity, etc. leading up to my critique of what is essentially an acceptable but not very good filmic incarnation of Superman. The bottom line that most people know in regards to the problem with Superman is that he is a rather ridiculous, beyond-perfect and decidedly bland character. However, he is one of our oldest and most beloved superheroes. Perhaps its the simplicity that allows him to claim the throne amongst comic book incarnations while simultaneously rendering him so stoic he faintly registers on the personality barometer.

No matter the reason, Superman is the most difficult character to present as interesting, relatable and multi-dimensional while still being the indestructible force of good that we expect him to be, the reason he is our champion. Superman is better than us. It’s stated regularly in the comics and the movies. Aside from his physical abilities, the man is pure class. He’s charming, polite, selfless and yet commanding without a hint of arrogance, disrespect or falseness. He’s everything we would want in the one humanoid on the planet with all that power at their fingertips. This is also probably why he is so boring. To say he’s predictable would be giving him too much credit. There’s nothing to predict. Superman is a cop without a power trip. He goes by the book, the golden rule, etc.

So then, why go see him in the theater? We all know how the movie will play out. Whether it’s kryptonite or something else, Superman will be introduced as the perfect guy he is, then he’ll go through his little heart of darkness around the halfway mark, where the true villain will appear slowly, forcing him to accept his role as humanity’s protector, then he’ll lay down the law, look beat about two-thirds of the way through the movie before roaring back to smash the villain(s) to hell and back before restoring order one way or another. Also he’ll tongue-bang Lois Lane’s mouth and we won’t question the physics of the world’s strongest tongue playing tonsil hockey with a regular old human girl, a porcelain doll being prodded with a jack hammer. So her jaw isn’t ripped off. Maybe Superman can turn his strength ‘off’ when he’s aroused? I won’t go into the implications of climaxes.

I digress: Henry Cavill’s Superman has been changed from ‘perfect’ to ‘naive’ so as to give his character the shallowest of depths, and shallow though his depths may be, his personality is not the washboard that it was presented as in Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns (2006). The subtle character shift for the modern age of emotional honesty and character-building angst in comic book movies works about as well as the movie on the whole.

Superman simply is not a dark character in an era of ‘gritty’ reboots. At this point, gritty is the stale cliche that needs to be reinvented and the folks over at Disney/Marvel recognized this, giving us candy coated bubblegum popcorn incarnations of their Avengers superheroes, while WB and DC have gone the dark route what with Nolan’s “ultra realistic” (i.e. no magic or space tech) universe but are now trying to integrate the fantastical by way of Superman and Krypton. Even by ‘comic realism’ standards, this is a reasonable evolution in the newfangled Bat-verse, as real humans continue trying to answer the question “Are we alone?” it would thrill us to be openly visited by sentient, communicative alien life forms. Whether they’d be a threat or bring us only goodness or neutrality, we find the possibility conceivable. In some sense, Superman’s world is far more realistic than Batman’s could ever hope to be, as he relies upon the limits of human physical strength and modern technology. The ‘gritty realism’ is maintained even with Zack Snyder (of Watchmen and 300 slo-mo action infamy) at the helm for ‘Man of Steel’ while Nolan simply grandfathered the production in an EP capacity, helping round out the story with his brother, screenwriter Jonathan Nolan.

I prefer Snyder’s world to Nolan’s, by a hair’s width. There’s a fluidity to Snyder’s style that is markedly absent in Nolan’s films, which feel more like two-and-a-half hour montages than an actual story with structure, scenes and so on. The overwhelming score, the stilted and stylized line readings- where most films are able to give each scene its own mini 3-act structure, Nolan relies upon a series of one to two act vignettes to string the collective point together across the run time. Nolan makes points moreso than he tells a story. Snyder is more traditional. He lets the characters breath with scenes not interrupted by a score that is arguably louder than the dialogue. He allows his actors to embody characters to the point of nearly making them three-dimensional human beings. Of course, this being a comic book movie, they still each serve a purpose and thus must be relegated to one obvious trait and one subtle trait to give them a whiff of humanity without overcomplicating the well-worn formula.

Ben Affleck is also a far more casual presence on screen than Christian Bale. Bale’s Batman was inaccessible; a device more-so than a character and never truly the star of any of his three film incarnations. I believe Affleck will bring more relatable qualities and humanity to the character, bridging the gap between the nudge-and-wink fun-factor of the Marvel universe with the stoic self-seriousness of the Nolanified DC universe. This will, in turn, make Batman feel like more of a character in the Snyder version. I feel hopeful that Snyder’s fluidity coupled with Nolan’s commitment to some emotional depth and overall darkness will coalesce into the most satisfying DC screen incarnation we’ve yet known.

Call me crazy for not being a complete hater, I just want to believe…

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