Monday, July 1, 2013

Man Of Steel

The human being cannot resist giving himself an edge. This leads to what I like to call "institutionalized unethicalness". For example, although there are alternate explanations as for why, I can't help but believe that the reason a 2x4 isn't 2x4, is because somebody started skimming off the edges, and soon everyone did, and finally a standard was created to stop the shenanigans.

And if it's not true for 2x4s it's most certainly true for hard disk sizes. One kilobyte is 1024 bytes. A megabyte should be 1024x1024, but various hard-drive manufacturers used 1000x1024, since it made the drives look more capacious in advertising. And so, today, if you by a terabyte drive you end up with more like 900 gigabytes (because OSes report the actual size).

It's not just true for trades and crafts, though. It's also true for art. In music, the standard A-over-middle-C pitch is 440 cycles, which was a standard adopted in the 20th century. In the 19th century, it was closer to 420 cycles. Why? Because being a little bit sharp allows you stand out from everyone else.

The ultimate classic interpretation of this is Nigel Tuffnel's amplifier that goes to eleven. (One louder than ten!)

I provide this historical diversion because Zach Snyder/Chris Nolan's Man of Steel goes to eleven, and this seems to be what most people take from it, like or not.

If it's not global, it's cosmic in importance. It's not enough to punch a guy through a building, you gotta punch him through twelve buildings and the streets and, you know, through a tanker of gas or something.

The Boy did not care for it. He didn't hate it, exactly. It was not In Time, but he made the observation (rephrased slightly here to eliminate cuss words) that they just fought and fought and fought and no one actually got hurt. These are literally pointless battle scenes.

And they do go on. (And on. And on.) Like most modern superhero movies, the battle scenes seem to go on with no grounding or point, just the billionaire's equivalent of playing with dolls.

I also did not hate it, and I'm sort of inured to the length, pointless battle scenes, especially if the rest of the movie is good (I also watch porn for the plot!) but I did have some serious issues with their artistic choices, a good many of which can probably be laid at producer Nolan's feet.

First, Batman is not Superman. Actually, even before that, we should note that Batman isn't even Batman, as he's been portrayed popularly in recent years. Batman has a dark side. He isn't completely dark all the time, at least not traditionally. There's an element of hope in Batman, as there must be in all heroes.

But Superman? He's invulnerable, omnipotent and possibly immortal. He's the ultimate power fantasy, and the ultimate hopeful retort to the notion that "power corrupts" that every young boy believes in. ("If I were all-powerful, I'd use that power to fight bad guys!")

I am the first to admit, this makes traditional dramatic structure challenging. But there are plenty of good movies that don't have character arcs. (Sorry, Syd Fields.) And, look, you took this job, so give us Superman, already, and not Batman-in-blue.

There were some very good choices made: Having Lois Lane (Amy Adams, looking lovely even when filmed in washed-out-make-me-look-tired-lighting) be in on the whole Clark Kent/Superman thing from the ground floor was good.

Having Clark's powers grow over time, due to atmospheric differences, and making the development of his powers sort of autism-like was kind of interesting, and provided a good story hook later on.

Some of the choices were neutral: There is no kryptonite in this movie. "Kryptonian atmosphere" serves the exact same purpose, though. There's a mess of back story on Krypton which goes on way too long but has a purpose, at least.

The real problem (for me) was that the bad choices were catastrophically bad. I mentioned earlier that Superman is dramatically problematic because he's basically perfect. So the usual gambit for creating a story with him is to rob him of his powers in some fashion. (Sam Raimi used this gag twice or maybe three times, come to think of it, in the Spider-Man movies.)

Typically this is done with kryptonite. This movie does it, at first, by saying Supes' powers are acquired, possibly slowly. Then, that he doesn't know their limits, he has to be instructed. All good, so far.

But the real limit on his powers? Pa Kent. Pa says "Hey, don't use those or people will find out you're an alien. And, doesn't matter if people are gonna die, maybe don't save them."


This is lame. The movie keeps Supes hobbled by saying "Hey, maybe you can't trust humans."

This is kind of a pet peeve of mine. The net effect of people being made aware of alien life would be about zero. In reality, 80% of the population still wouldn't believe, and the 20% who did believe it already believed in aliens.

Early on, too, Superman abuses his power by destroying a working man's truck. Very un-Superman. Even if the guy deserved a little payback.

The movie's climax is the least Superman thing of all.


This was probably done for shock value, except that people really can't be shocked without first being immersed in the pro-America, good-guy power fantasy to begin with.

Of course, it's competently directed by Snyder, and the cast includes Larry Fishburne as Perry White, Kevin Costener as Pa Kent and Russell Crow as Jor El. Diane Lane stands out as Ma Kent, as does Chris Meloni, who plays a military guy. Michael Shannon was an interesting choice to play General Zod but I liked him.

Superman is played by Henry Cavill, who was in the lamentably forgettable (forgettably lamentable?) Immortals and he does a good job, even in the few moments where he is actually Superman and not a Kryptonian Batman. (One thing Chris Reeve nailed in the '70s movies was the Superman persona, which was probably only allowed for potential camp value.)

The Flower thought it was okay, though she expressed the (correct) belief that if she knew anything at all about Superman, it would've pissed her off. (My kids are not comic book geeks.)

Even so, I can't really recommend it, unless you're a fan of the whole "going to eleven" thing.

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