dir: Zack Snyder
Zack Snyder was given an incredible reward when they chose to make him the director of a Superman film. This is very strange, to me, a very strange turn of events.
Snyder’s last film was called Sucker Punch. What was Sucker Punch , I hear you ask, since you blocked it out of your memory or didn’t see it and it doesn’t seem like a real film that was released in this, the apparently real world?
Sucker Punch was an incredibly bad movie, a movie so bad it assaulted the very nature of the word ‘movie’. 'Movie' almost became a derogatory word for a degenerate and pointless form of entertainment previously adored by the masses and now shunned for the horrid waste of time and money that it became post-Sucker Punch for all eternity.
The actual shitty movie itself seemed like it was the fevered dream of an idiot on acid and meth simultaneously, furiously and pointlessly masturbating as he watched a whole bunch of fetish material (Aerosmith’s Janie’s Got a Gun film clip, nubile females in Japanese schoolgirl uniforms fighting Nazi robots and samurais and dragons and lobotomies), who then somehow translated this dirty weekend of cable watching and jerking off of his into a movie, an actual movie, that people paid for and such. Not just to make, but to watch!
And like an idiot, I was one of those people!
Such a film, such a crime shouldn’t have been rewarded, with the executives at Warner Brothers saying “well, sure, Sucker Punch was an abomination, and not only should you not be allowed to make films again, but you should be blinded and put in public stocks so that children can throw rocks at you for ever more, but instead we’re going to give you $200 millions dollars and the rights to make the new Superman film. Boys will be boys.”
What a world. It’s as if after the Nuremburg Trials, they’d said to people like Hitler's close friend and the Third Reich's architect Albert Speer, “Now, we know you guys did some pretty awful stuff, and your names will live in infamy for centuries to come, but there's a really exciting opportunity for a new Opera House in Sydney, and, aw shucks, we'd be real honoured if you could get back to work just for us, okay?"
Too far, I know, but if you think invoking Godwin's Law this early into a review is tasteless and trivialising of the Holocaust, clearly you have no fucking idea how terrible Sucker Punch is.
Never again. Anyway, wow, that's a long preamble, even for me. So, I go into a flick like this predisposed towards hating it, knowing that there is a hack at the helm, so it would have to do a lot to win me over.
It didn't win me over entirely, because it's still Zack fucking Snyder at the helm, but I really wanted this to be a good Superman film, and I mostly got what I needed from it. Mostly.
I'm one of the few that didn't hate Superman Returns from seven or so years ago. I thought Brandon Routh was a nice Christopher Reeve stand-in, especially with his golly-shucks nice guy persona fitting in with the two first Reeve Superman films.
They've gone a very different direction with this one, trying to retell the story completely, to make it less of a Superman - superhero story, and more of a generic science fiction action story. Capital A Action! that is. It's very much an over-the-top action flick, but you could argue it's applicable, even necessary, even sensible to make it so with the Big Blue Boy Scout as the main character.
It’s a very different kind of story, or at least it should be a very different kind of story to a Batman flick, at least the Dark Knight – Nolan ones. Seeing Christopher Nolan’s name attached as a producer doesn’t really instil confidence, nor does it feel like it really informed the decisions made along the way by the director, the despicable Snyder. It feels like all the relevant choices, from the look of Krypton to the way they intended to depict the character of Superman, or Kal-El, or Clark Kent, and his relationship with his adoptive home, were Snyder’s to make.
I can’t fault him for that. A lot of criticism on the net about the flick has been about exactly those changes, and they feel the tone is dour, gloomy, in alignment with the tone set by the Dark Knight trilogy. I don’t really see it. The scale is different, the intention is different, and the scope of what they want to cover with Supes is significantly different such that they needed him to be something different, someone different from before.
Calling this a reboot seems... inaccurate and pointless. It's a new Superman story, where at least most of the origin is the same as the canon version, with all new actors in 'iconic' roles, telling the story yet again of the world's most famous illegal immigrant. What happens after that is significantly different, and the motivations for the villains is more than just wanting to rule humanity like the cattle that we are, but it's all very recognisable.
The first part on Krypton is recognisable, mostly because it looks like everything Snyder ever does: a mishmash of other stuff seen before. Bit of Flash Gordon here, bit of HR Geiger's work from the Alien movies, bit of Dune (!) and Matrix thrown in, but what matters is that Australia's Own (New Zealander) Russell Crowe plays Jor-El, reprising Marlon Brando's role from the first couple of films. And he's actually okay, you know, for Russell Crowe. He is a Scientist, and he comes into conflict with the stupid Government that doesn't realise the planet is blowing up even as it is blowing up, and a ruthless Military guy who wants to... I don't know, take over in the last seconds of the planet's existence.
The point is, Jor-El knows what's coming, and wants his son to have a chance at surviving even as the rest of their people are doomed. He has a plan, though, a very complicated and circuitous plan to make his son not only survive, but be a god to the people of the earth. Some parents want their kids to be sports stars, some thrust them onto the stage: this guy wants his kid to be a god.
Much of Superman's time prior to when 'aliens' appear and start messing up the place is told in flashbacks, of a young Clark resisting the urge to use his god-like powers because his wise and cowardly human father (Kevin Costner, in full on stodge mode) keeps telling him not to reveal himself to the world, because the repercussions for the world could be devastating. Not for Clark: for all the other muggles.
Do you get that? Clark will save a schoolbus full of children from drowning, and Pa Kent will admonish young Clark, warning him that he could have given the game away, and then the masses would start rioting and whacking each other's skulls open and feasting on the scooped-out goo just because someone has superhero-like powers. A lot of writers have said that's one of the strengths of the flick, but personally it seems nuts to me. The 'defining' scene, for Clark, where Pa Kent urges him not to use his powers in order to save him from a goddamn tornado, because it's better this way, is meant to be affecting and touching. It struck me as being pretty dumb, but I guess it now figures into his determination to never allow it to happen again if he can help it.
I like these pre-suit scenes. Clark saves a bunch of guys on an oil rig. Clark saves a kitten from a tree. Clark saves others while rocking an awesome beard and stripping naked whenever he can. There's a scene of pure beefcake where it's pretty obvious that his absurdly overdeveloped physique is CGI, which let me breath a sigh of relief. Less competition, you see.
I'm nattering on, and jumping from point to point, but the absolute best thing about the flick is Henry Cavill as Supes/Clark/Kal-El. He's ridiculously handsome, but he seems to really get the conflicted nature of the character (well, conflicted in the ways they want for this iteration of the character, since he's probably, traditionally, the most basic of all the superhero templates), which comes through in the limited scenes where he gets to really act. My favourite scenes of his involve him pretty much on his own, figuring out how to fly, or feeling the sunlight on his fingertips, closing his eyes with the euphoria of the sensation, or wondering how it is that he can look after an entire world.
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The conflicts to come, with General Zod (Michael Shannon), don't really matter that much to me emotionally or intellectually. What's to think about, or feel there? One guy wants to destroy the world, one guy wants to save it, and the obvious one is invariably going to win, so it's perhaps the stuff to do with the character away from the action that mattered most to me.
It's there, I swear. The little moments where he's building a relationship with humans he doesn't know as a precursor to deciding whether or not he's going to be humanity's champion. Once the revelation comes to humanity that they are not alone in the universe, the script goes to great pains to show that people, being the US military, considers Supes to be as deserving of destruction as the bad guys are, and they send many a pointless missile and weapon Supes' way as well. Watching Supes deal with either human attackers or Kryptonians is often done well, mostly done well, but grows tiresome after a while (as it admittedly did at the end of the Avengers as well).
There's only so many times you can watch a soldier standing stock still and shooting at someone they've seen get shot at repeatedly to no effect without thinking, "if you're going to be that dumb about it, I guess you deserve to die."
And die they do, quiet often at the hands of Zod's second-in-command Faora (Antje Traue) a Kryptonian woman who loves killing. And she's ace at it! She was a better villain than Zod, because she at least seemed to be enjoying herself. Shannon's Zod is played in a pretty uninspiring way throughout most of the flick. Michael Shannon has played a lot of lunatics in his day, and probably wanted to play this one more subdued, but he ends up coming across, for 80% of the flick, as a more boring version of Stannis Baratheon from Game of Thrones - stolid, miserly, evil but in a dull, bureaucratic way.
He's evil in the way a corporation is evil: they think they can bore you into complying with their wishes.
He is the man with the plan, though, and he has a bunch of stupid plans for reformatting our Earth in order to make it more conducive to Kryptonian life. Of course, if he does that, all of humanity with die, and he and his would lose their god-like powers, and cowering masses to rule, but once he starts with a stupid plan, by the gods above and below he'll stubbornly stick with it to the bitter, stupid end.
All of their plans are pretty dumb, but then if they weren't, Supes wouldn't be able to punch his way to his solutions. He is, after all, a punch-happy Saviour, what with all the Jesus imagery and such.
All this portentous import, all this nobility and messiah-like stuff is heaped on the character, seeing as he's the original superhero, that he has to be better than all the other ones, he has to be more noble, he has to love humanity even if humanity doesn't particularly care for him. He has to be the shining example, the better way, the one who helps everybody, the eternal boy scout.
Well, really, is that any different from all the other ones? Spider-Man saves virtually everyone all the time, Batman saves almost everyone in the end, they all virtually save everyone all the time. It's boring. It's predictable.
Isn't it more realistic to have a Superman who saves who he can, and doesn't worry too much about the hundreds of thousands he can't save?
Yes, I'm taking the piss a bit. The last third of this flick has hundreds of thousands of people dying, unsaved by Supes because he just can't be bothered to, and they also go unlamented and unmourned. But is it any different to the end of the Avengers flick, which had giant flying things fly through buildings and crash into streets doubtless killing thousands of unseen people? Is it more callous now to not mention the deaths of unseen people than it was a couple of years ago?
No-one watches these flicks that generally depict a stand-in for New York getting reduced to rubble without mentioning certain terrorist attacks, but this shit used to happen before that dark day of September 11, and doubtless will continue into the distant future. A thousand years from now, when humanity is living on worlds and places in distant parts of the galaxy, people are still going to be watching entertainments that show various baddies destroying New York. Why? Because Why Not? It's perfect for it. Americans who don't live in New York get a vicarious thrill from watching a place they associate with big city elitism, naked capitalism and everything that's bad about America. The rest of the world associates New York as the summary and the pinnacle of America, so why would you destroy anywhere else?
I don't think it really matters any more now than it ever did before. If it bugs you to watch cities being destroyed, then maybe that's a good thing. It should bug us, even in our hollow entertainments.
I think I cared about this Superman, whenever he was on screen, but especially when he wasn't fighting stuff. The fighting stuff was probably well done, who's to say? Snyder is the kind of director who thinks up how to stage action scenes without caring about the bits leading up to or coming after that scene, so he probably put a thousand per cent more work into storyboarding those action scenes than in working with the screenwriter to come up with a sensible, compelling script. But the key is that I liked this version of Big Blue, and I really want to see what he does next.
7 times how did that suit get on the Fortress of Solitude Express from 18,000 years ago exactly out of 10?
“We've had a child, Zod. A boy child. Krypton's first natural birth in centuries, and he will be free, free to forge his own destiny.”
- “Heresy! Destroy it!” – they said this at my own child’s birth, and I didn’t listen to them either – Man of Steel