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Entries in man of steel (2)

Friday
Jun142013

Man of Steel

In the world of superhero cinema, there’s no question Marvel dominates. With the success of movies like the “Iron Man” trilogy, “Thor,” and of course “The Avengers,” Marvel has taken the cinema world by storm, igniting a superhero revolution and wowing millions of people in the process. All of this has been happening while competitor DC Comics has struggled in the background for success. Aside from the Batman movies, DC hasn’t reinvigorated one of their heroes at the movies in a long time, despite a solid and underrated effort by Bryan Singer with 2006’s “Superman Returns.” This week’s “Man of Steel” is exactly what DC needs. While it is by no means perfect, it reinvigorates Superman with some much needed style and defies the expectations of what most people expect from him.

The movie begins on Krypton, the alien home world of a baby named Kal-El, who will eventually become Superman. The planet is dying, so Kal-El’s father, Jor-El (Russell Crowe), sends him off to Earth to save his life, but not before stashing the planet’s codex with him. That codex has the information required to begin life anew for his people, so General Zod (Michael Shannon), a disgraced general that was banished from Krypton and ended up watching his world implode, decides to track it down, along with the now all grown up Kal-El. Now known as Clark Kent (Henry Cavill), he has been hiding his true identity to the world out of uncertainty about how the people would react.

Superman has its detractors for a number of reasons. Some of those people have valid criticisms while others miss the point of the character altogether. Superman exists as a Christ-like figure, one that is willing to put himself in danger to protect the people of the world, even the ones he doesn’t personally connect with. Just as the story of Jesus shows his selflessness, the personality of Superman is one that values others above anything else. To attack Superman is mostly frivolous given his lack of weaknesses (which is where the detractors’ issue of kryptonite being his only flaw comes into play), but it’s not attacking him that causes him pain. To really hurt him, you have to attack his humanity and put others in danger. This is why the character is so interesting. He’s not fighting back to try to bring lawfulness to a corrupt city like Batman and his motivation doesn’t stem from vengeance like Spider-man after he loses Uncle Ben. It comes from a simple desire to do good, to take his abilities and use them to help others, working as a savior to humanity.

Perhaps more than any other Superman movie, “Man of Steel” understands this. Although there is plenty of action, much of it occurs in the vicinity of the Metropolis population, all of them put in danger due to the actions of General Zod. When the army shows up to kill the aliens in one scene, their attempt quickly proves futile and Superman has to jump to action, despite the fact that the government doesn’t yet trust him and sees him as an enemy. Their perception of him doesn’t matter and although it would surely be easier to side with Zod, he instead fights for the greater good. Sometimes the Biblical allegory is a bit too on-the-nose, particularly when he floats outside of a crashing spaceship with his arms stretched out in the shape of a crucifix to save a falling Lois Lane (Amy Adams), but it makes it no less interesting.

“Man of Steel” clearly embraces the very idea of the character as this Christ-like figure, but the movie nevertheless goes in its own direction. Some may be surprised to hear that kryptonite is not featured in the movie at all. In fact, it’s not even mentioned and wouldn’t make sense to have given that General Zod is of the same origin as Superman. Although the movie creates a new narratively legitimate physical weakness for him, his real weakness in this movie is his doubt and uncertainty about a world of people he wants to save, but who fear him. In keeping with the Biblical allegory, he comes as a savior, but the people shun him. After saving a bus full of students from drowning in a lake as a child, it’s not gratitude he receives from the parents of the children, but rather suspicion. His parents, played by Diane Lane and Kevin Costner, teach him to control his powers, explaining to him that one day his powers will come in handy and he will need to make a decision regarding how to use them.

Of course, his ultimate decision is obvious, but director Zack Snyder, the man behind the visually wondrous “Watchmen” and “300,” makes it feel fresh. The fights, though largely CGI, are a thrill to watch and the camerawork behind them is absolutely fantastic, including one tracking shot moving at what seems like supersonic speed as Superman catches up with Zod as they fly through the air in battle. Similar to the way he took a much beloved movie and made it new with 2004’s remake of “Dawn of the Dead,” he makes Superman once again appealing for a new generation of moviegoers.

If any flaws can be directed at the movie, it’s that the end of the final battle is a bit anti-climactic and there is a ton of expositional dialogue, perhaps more than any other movie in recent memory, but that dialogue is written so well and delivered so strongly that it’s more palatable than one might be accustomed to. “Man of Steel” is more of a character study than an action movie, which may not appeal to some. Tack on a slow beginning (despite the most glorious and beautiful destruction of Krypton ever put to screen) and a nearly two and a half hour runtime and divisiveness is to be expected. But in my eyes, “Man of Steel” is a sight to behold and it isn’t until you think about it later that its true wonder shines through.

Man of Steel receives 4.5/5

Friday
Sep072012

The Cold Light of Day

The Cold Light of Day isn’t so much a terrible film as it is a terribly bland one. It’s a thriller that thinks it’s enough to have a few pretty people and locations in it to be good and doesn’t bother with things like plot or characterizations. It runs through its quick 93 minute runtime without ever doing much of anything, despite numerous chases, shootouts and fistfights. It’s one of those movies that somehow manages to gather up a decent cast, but doesn’t know what to do with them. By the time it ends, your mind will have done one of two things: wandered off into non-movie related thoughts or drifted to sleep.

The film takes place in Madrid, where Will (Henry Cavill) is meeting up with his family for a vacation. He’s picked up at the airport by his hardened dad, Martin (Bruce Willis), who he doesn’t get along with too well, while the rest of his family, including his mother, brother and his brother’s girlfriend are waiting for him on their boat. After a brief fight and inconsequential plot turns, like Will’s business going bankrupt back home, Will decides to jump off the boat, swim to shore and go into town to buy a few things. When he returns to the beach he emerged from, the boat is gone. When he finds it down shore some time later, he discovers it has been rummaged through and his family is missing. He eventually runs into his dad who admits to him that he’s actually a CIA agent and someone is after him for a briefcase with mysterious contents that he doesn’t have anymore. Unless he can get these people that briefcase, their family is going to die. Martin eventually meets up with his partner, Carrack (Sigourney Weaver), hoping she’ll have it, but he is suddenly murdered by someone off in the distance. All of a sudden, Will is on his own and on a mission to find that briefcase and save his family.

The Cold Light of Day, just to put it into perspective, is the worst thriller to come out since last year’s awful Abduction, which managed to make it to my Worst of the Year list. This isn’t quite that bad and its flaws don’t shine through so noticeably. Most aspects of the film don’t work, but they generally aren’t terrible; the problem is all of those flaws add up to make a mostly dismal film. Bruce Willis, for instance, isn’t necessarily a bad actor, but he’s usually called upon to do little more than smirk and shoot guns, which he does as competently as anyone working in the movies today, but even he looks bored here. He delivers his lines as dryly as he ever has, with so little enthusiasm that when his character is killed off, it’s somewhat of a small relief, in that we won’t have to witness his half-hearted approach to an already underdeveloped character. Henry Cavill, similarly, doesn’t do much to make us care, failing to prove he’s worthy of carrying an entire movie, which doesn’t bode well for next year’s highly anticipated Man of Steel. Cavill is the type of actor, at least as suggested by this movie and last year’s underwhelming Immortals, that thinks speaking louder equates to anger emoting, which isn’t always the case. Hopefully under the guide of visionary and unique director Zack Snyder, he’ll do more than he does here, which is close to nothing.

To be fair, not all of the blame can be placed on him. The direction by Mabrouk El Mechri, whose only other notable film is JCVD, is lost behind the camera, failing to bring forth any sense of excitement or momentum, and the script is a complete mess, putting our hero into so many outlandish situations, it becomes far too unbelievable to follow with any sense of interest. Will is little more than a mild mannered Wall Street trader, but he survives jumping off a building and slamming into the concrete, multiple car and motorcycle crashes, some severe beatings and even a bullet in the back. James Bond wouldn’t have survived this guy’s adventure. To make matters worse, the film builds a mystery around the contents of the briefcase that you want to solve, but then never provides a payoff. When Will asks at the end what was in it, a random government agent answers in a cryptic I’ll-have-to-kill-you-if-I-tell-you sort of way.

When thinking back upon it, it’s an amazing accomplishment to manage to keep the viewer interested in what’s in that briefcase despite their general disinterest in nearly everything that’s happening, yet they still blow it in the end. Here’s a film that shows its cards early on (and whatever it doesn’t show is extremely easy to figure out), but keeps one hidden only to never reveal it. With such a disappointing ending and nothing going on before it, one can’t help but wonder what the point of it all is. The Cold Light of Day is such a jumble of dull action platitudes and listless goings-ons that even its extras are unconvincing—who knew it was so hard to stand idly by a bar?

The Cold Light of Day receives 1/5