Category Archives: zack snyder

Man of Steel – My Take

Man of Steel ~ We’ve been on this ride before, a new Superman movie. I remember the thrill and awe of the first two movies with Christopher Reeve, and the disappointment of the following two as well. And then two decades later we got Superman Returns, and while I had huge issues with the ‘super stalker’ and ‘deadbeat dad’ subplots, Brandon Routh wasn’t bad as the man of steel, Kevin Spacey was brilliant as Lex Luthor, and the plane rescue had to have been the single greatest superhero special effects scene filmed up until that point. I enjoyed quite a bit of it. And if I enjoyed it… you know what Hollywood has to do, change it.

I have talked before about how I feel about origin stories, no need to chew on that again. But the fact is they (writer David Goyer and director Zack Snyder) have changed Superman’s origin. If not for the fact that everyone knows Superman’s origin I wouldn’t have a problem with it. It’s the Moses story, the Jesus story, the immigrant story, the perfect origin for a perfect hero, and they had to tamper with it.

In this new version, there is no requisite scene of Jor-El and Lara holding each other as krypton explodes and their son rockets away to safety and his destiny. It reminded me of the latest movie version of Spider-Man where Uncle Ben never says, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Why? If it’s not broke, don’t fix it. Some traditions should stand.

Instead of a tender tragic moment, Man of Steel delivers the Kryptonian Civil War, General Zod murdering Jor-El, and Lara on the stuffy Science Council (although unnamed as such in this flick). At the last minute, almost as an afterthought, they go, oh by the way, Krypton is doomed, and about to go boom. We spend a good twenty minutes or so on Krypton, not a frozen crystalline weirdness that it’s been on film for decades, but almost something resembling the comics Krypton. I loved the wing machine, Kelex, and the jungles and cities. I would have squeeed if we’d gotten the actual Scarlet Jungle or a thought beast.

Zod here is a military leader who attempts a coup on the council, and with his underlings (the also unnamed Black Zero terrorists, a name only learned from movie affiliated toys), is sentenced to do time in a space singularity. Again, we don’t hear the words ‘Phantom Zone’ until much much later. What is Goyer’s resistance to using correct terms for people and things?

We did get a few little tidbits in the flick. No after credits scene or cameos or even mentions of other DC characters really. We did see a LexCorp truck at one point. I was thrilled seeing the names of real Phantom Zone character names in the credits – had I heard them out loud in the film, I would have loved this movie a lot more. Jax-Ur! Dev-Em! Nadira! We’re talking fanboy heaven here. Comics fans like Easter eggs, why not give us a few?

The cast was surprising, both good and bad. Amy Adams as Lois Lane is the plucky reporter from the 1940s Fleischer cartoons, wonderfully updated not to a 2013 standard but to a respectful current version. She won’t seem dated to audiences a few decades from now as Margot Kidder does in her then highly acclaimed tour as Lane. Watching her performances now just scream 1970s so loud. Adams is amazing for the most part, only briefly falling into annoying mode once or twice.

Henry Cavill, in my opinion, and I know many friends who disagree, is only just adequate. He is suitable alien, and distant, and anti-social. Superman is an alien, yes, but he’s not any of those other things. He is sensitive, and caring. Remember in Superman II when the three Phantom Zone villains discover his true weakness? He cares. Cavill’s Superman never gives me that impression ever. In Man of Steel, when Zod demands that Kal-El be delivered to him, if it was Christopher Reeve, or even Brandon Routh, the Superman/Zod confrontation would have happened in the next few seconds, or however long it would take super speed to get our hero to the villain’s lair. Goyer’s Cavill takes his damned time.

Henry Cavill as Superman lacks heart, he lacks love. Superman loves the human race, he believes in the human race, and he wants to make them better, to inspire them to greatness. I never believed Cavill in the role except for one or two brief moments. Let’s face it, and I’m not saying this to be old school – put Christopher Reeve in this exact film, in this same role, with the same dialogue and direction, and I would believe him, Cavill I would not, and do not.

Kevin Costner will hopefully be remembered come Oscar time because he deserves it for his performance as Jonathan Kent. That said, I hated the character of Pa Kent in this movie. Just the concept that he would tell his son maybe he should have let people die rather than reveal his powers just aggravates the hell out of me, and is so against his character. And his death, his sacrifice that forces young Clark not to save him when he easily could have… I wanted to scream at the screen. Who is this man? Because it sure as hell isn’t Jonathan Kent.

Speaking of fathers, Russell Crowe’s Jor-El leaves the movie early, as I mentioned, a victim of General Zod. He returns later in a method similar to the earlier Superman films, as a hologram, or more accurately an interactive artificial intelligence. What boggled my mind is the fact that Crowe as Jor-El had more chemistry with Adams as Lois than Cavill’s Superman did.

I was a bit iffy about Michael Shannon’s Zod at first. He can be brilliant but sometimes he’s a one note actor. If we’re judging Shannon as if he was playing Terrence Stamp’s general Zod, he fails miserably, but the thing is he’s not. This is a different Zod. He is almost a heroic figure. He is commissioned with the responsibility of continuing the Kryptonian race, and Kal-El actually stands in his way, a war criminal of sorts, the one keeping krypton from flourishing again. Really, how can we root against a man with that new MO and motivation? Despite his methods, this is one of the good guys, right? Shannon’s portrayal is good, only falling into cartoon mode once or twice.

As long as we’re talking about Zod, we come to two of my biggest problems with Man of Steel. Here be spoilers, be warned. Superman has to murder Zod to stop him. At the climax of the film, Zod gets desperate and starts to heat vision a family so Superman breaks his neck. The powers that be behind this flick, Goyer and Snyder, among others, have defended this move, saying that Superman has to learn not to kill by having experienced it.

Hello? Bullshit. I call shenanigans, as they say on “South Park.” I don’t have to kill someone to know it’s wrong. You don’t have to kill someone to know it’s wrong. Why does Superman, the pinnacle of all that is good and right in the world, not already know this like you and me? Superman, the real Superman, would have found a way to stop Zod without killing him. That’s what makes him freaking Superman!

Yes, something similar happened in the comics. John Byrne had Superman execute Zod and two other Phantom Zone villains in the post-Crisis continuity, and I hated it then as I hate it now. With over seventy-five years of source material it hurts me deeply that the hero’s darkest hour is what some people think should be brought to the screen. There are much better stories, people, probably hundreds, if not more.

One thing that superhero movies have brought to the screen recently, especially the billion dollar blockbuster, Marvel’s The Avengers, is the level of destruction. Well, super powers, the wrath of gods, can bring wholesale destruction down on us all, and now with the special effects available and the popularity of superheroes, we can now show combat on a scale similar to what is sometimes shown in comics.

Listen to me carefully. It does not translate to the big screen. I want to see these big smash-ups and slugfests as much as the next guy, but when it happens in ‘real life’ in a movie, it just does not work. We live in a post-9/11 world, and even over a decade later, those images have a blood curdling effect. To borrow the words of comics writer Mark Waid, it’s disaster porn, plain and simple, and I don’t wait to see it. I want to leave a Superman film inspired, uplifted, wanting to make the world a better place – not mourning the dead.

In conclusion, Man of Steel was a good movie, but it wasn’t a good Superman movie. I look more forward to Batman Vs. Superman, or maybe the much anticipated Justice League film, than I do ever seeing this one again.

For other perspectives, including my own, below is the Biff Bam Popcast featuring Andy Burns, JP Fallavollita, Jason Shayer, and special guest, Michael Moreci of the Hoax Hunters comic series, done at the time of the film’s theatrical release:

And then there’s also JP Fallavollita’s review of the film at Biff Bam Pop! here for a very different view.

Sucker Punch

Sucker Punch ~ At first glance, and from previews, this appears to be an explosion of imagination. Writer/director Zack Snyder makes it seem as if he has constructed a film around the concept that with motion capture, green screen and CGI nothing is impossible. I mean, come on, you can’t get any more genre chill than hot chick samurais and steampunk Nazi zombies. And at first glance, you might be right.

The problem is that only about twenty minutes of the film’s one hundred and ten minutes takes place in the hyper-reality of the story’s fantasy world. The rest happens in a dreary, depressing and relentlessly violent mental hospital reality that makes the end of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest seem like a house party. Nothing good happens in the hospital. It is painful to sit through, even worse if you watch. In the theater, I hated this majority of the flick, and at home, fast forward was my friend.

The fantasy scenes are amazing, truly stunning – I could watch them over and over again – and alone well worth the price of admission/rental. The sexy actresses and killer soundtrack are also formidable as well. I fully recommend the movie just for those reasons, but there’s a lot more going on.

On further viewings and discussions with other film fans I have discovered a whole different level to this flick. Pay close attention to the dialogue and the visuals as well, as everything is a metaphor. If you don’t want to get that deep, there is also the Pink Floyd factor. Much like The Wizard of Oz, if you play Dark Side of the Moon parallel to watching Sucker Punch, it lines up much the same way.

So no matter how you watch Sucker Punch, I recommend you give it a second chance, finger on the fast forward button or not.

I Watched the Watchmen

In most genre circles, Watchmen‘s reputation precedes it. Watchmen is the comic book that changed everything back in 1986. This ‘graphic novel’ (we’ll get to that in a moment), originally comprised of twelve monthly issues by writer Alan Moore and artist Dave Gibbons, along with Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns and Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, is a watermark for comic books – it’s the point where comics grew up. It’s where they became mainstream. The above-mentioned books are what officially put comics in bookstores and libraries, it’s what made comics cool for adults, and most importantly – possibly Hollywood.

My problem with the term ‘graphic novel’ is that it seems to be shorthand for Hollywood to fool those out-of-the-know who might not see a movie based on a comic book. Apparently ‘graphic novel’ is more palatable for intellectuals than just a ‘funny book.’

So let’s get this straight right now, and pay attention all you idiots on Wikipedia and in the marketing departments of DC and Marvel, Watchmen is a comic book series that was later reprinted in a trade paperback format. A graphic novel is a comic that was originally created specifically for the trade paperback format. Got it? Art Spiegelman’s Pulitzer Prize winning Maus is a graphic novel. The latest collection of Secret Invasion, as well as Watchmen, is just a comic book in a slick reprint format.

Back on point, it’s taken twenty-three years, and several directors who all claimed it was ‘unfilmable,’ Watchmen has finally made it to theatres. The first photos that drifted onto the internet showed only sets, but sets that were vitally important to the story and virtually identical to the comic. As more images surfaced it was apparent that director Zack Snyder had not only found a way to film the comics, but to do it serious justice. The industry was suitably pleased and fired up.

What is it all about? Watchmen, as much as it seems like a superhero movie, is really a political thriller, and a murder mystery, but really at its core, it is the deconstruction of the superhero concept. What if there were superheroes? How would it affect society, culture, and history? This is it.

In a 1985 world on the brink of nuclear destruction, superheroes have been outlawed and someone is now killing them. This multi-generational story spans over four decades and reveals the conspiracy piece by piece as the creepy vigilante Rorshach tries to find the murderer. It is a dizzyingly complex story, that in the comics introduced parallel and multiple storytelling devices to the genre, may even be too hard for most brain dead movie audiences to understand. Which is a damn shame, because Watchmen, even in its abbreviated film form, is brilliant – but hopefully there are enough explosions to keep even the intellectually impaired interested.

The film deviates from the comic once or twice, adding details and dialogue, and of course we have a different (not new, but different, same effect so it does not affect the story) ending – but for the most part, it is the comic. Scenes and shots are as if realized directly from the pages. And a weird phenomenon occurs for folks who have read the comics, like a movie seen multiple times, the first screening audience I saw this with was saying the lines with the characters. Yeah, it’s that damn close, and it’s terrific. Brilliant score by Tyler Bates, among others. And the cinematography is amazing as many of the covers of the comics are brought to vivid life as well.

The cast is equally phenomenal. I really don’t know if it’s possible to have found a more perfect Rorshach than Jackie Earle Haley. He looks like him, talks like him and is even the right height – something the folks doing the X-Men flicks never gave a second thought to when casting Hugh Jackman as Wolverine. Unlike many critics I had no problem with Billy Crudup’s voice (or performance) as Doctor Manhattan, and I promise not to make any blue weiner jokes, we are after all, all adults here. Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Patrick Wilson are excellent as the Comedian and the second Nite Owl (spelled correctly, another note for those who refuse to research).

The real breakout star of Watchmen is Malin Ackerman who plays the second Silk Spectre. She is the star here, both in performance and beauty, and is definitely -pun unintended- someone to watch. Matt Frewer was a problem for me as being recognizable. I saw him and said, “Hey, there’s Matt Frewer,” and it took me out of the movie. Also another small nit was the unidentifiable accent of Matthew Goode as Adrian Veidt. Is it British? Is it German? Does even he know? I must say however, Goode is more convincing on the screen than he is in any of the pre-release images. He is Ozymandias.

My only real problem with the film is not anything wrong with it, per say, but wrong with the jump from comics to film. The best part of the comics for me were the supporting cast on the street, in front of the Gunga Diner. The newsdealer, the lady cab driver, the kid reading the Tales of the Black Freighter comic book. They appear on screen briefly, but it’s just not enough for me. In the comics they were the characters I grew to care about, not the superheroes. The loss is one for the readers, not the viewers, and it doesn’t make the film any less great, but it is a major lost opportunity.

All in all, it is an amazing film and a phenomenal film experience. Be warned though, this may be a superhero flick, but it’s not for the kids. Violence, sex, language, mature themes and all that stuff. It’s also no Iron Man, this film, nor the comic it is based on, is a gateway drug to comics. This isn’t going to recruit anyone, but hopefully it will garner respect for the genre, and make some people think. Now, let’s get some Sandman or Starman comics into Zack Snyder’s hands and have some real fun…

Before Watchmen, the Minutemen

And just for good measure, check out the politically charged Japanese trailer for Watchmen here. Man, I can’t wait for this to come out…