Man of Steel? He’s Kinda Hot

Maybe a few notes on Man of Steel. It doesn’t warrant an extended or clear discussion.

The cinematography and editing were atrocious. I felt compelled to yell “Hold the fucking camera still!” on a number of occasions, especially during scenes that were meant to be emotional exchanges between Father and Son, or the Man and the Woman. Amir Mokri, who also worked on the third Transformers, develops this cheap trick in Man of Steel, resembling for me a TV commercial; his shaky longshots follow some important object, like a spaceship, then quickly zooms in to draw our focus. Oh my goodness! we should say, A spaceship! This fast-paced camerawork and the short shot lengths make the spectacle all the less impressive. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to allow the viewer to appreciate the images before cutting to the next. The quick cuts during the fight scenes, the final between Man and Zod most importantly, rendered much of the sequence indecipherable. One shot did stand out in that final fight: we get a longer, static shot of the two Kryptonians crushing through building after building, and get a sense of the scale and intensity of the fight, how these two pint sized figures can burst through glass and concrete. The rest of the scene, I suppose, was meant for 3D, as all the shattering glass and concrete were meant to impress – but again, even if this were in 3D the average shot length was much too short to appreciate even the immersion of that effect.

The characters are all terribly bland and one dimensional. Mr. Kent is the sensible one who has no interest or life outside of keeping his adoptive son’s powers in check; Mrs. Kent has no apparent purpose; Lois is there to be saved (her first scene, scaling an icy cliff, made me whisper: Uh oh, stupid girl is going to need rescuing); and Clark himself couldn’t muster any personality except his desire to make-out with Lois and be a weapon for the State.

I’m with Matt Zoller Seitz on this one: “females exist, for the most part, to be saved, or to have things explained to them” (http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/man-of-steel-2013).

Stephanie Zacharek has an exchange discussing the proximity the Man has to Jesus, and there are a number of painful scenes trying to make this link explicit, but for the most part, the analogy is meaningless. Superman is not humankind’s savior, or if he is, he does it at the cost of thousands of lives as the damage to Metropolis is by any standard nothing short of genocide (129,000 approximately, http://www.avclub.com/articles/science-estimates-that-the-damage-done-by-man-of-s,99165/). There is no self-sacrifice in this film, nor does Kal-El bring humanity any word of how to be better, avoid the fate of Krypton, etc. Superman is there to pick up the pieces of capitalism’s failings, noted most poignantly by the first hero sequence in which the Man rescues workers from a burning oil rig. Perhaps Superman could help develop a better system for distributing energy and fuel, rather than just saving individuals who unfortunately get in the way of capitalism and progress. This is a failure of the Superman character in general, something we’ll see in future films I assume; once the State coopts his power, he does nothing to resist and acts on the behalf of American interests (cf. The Dark Knight Returns, where Batman and and Superman face off, the former standing up for justice and the latter State power).

So Superman destroys a city, or two cities if we count the other side of the terraforming machine. It was in the “South Indian Ocean”, a foreign land whose occupants don’t get an identity or say in the battle for Earth. Stephanie Zacharek: “Thousands of citizens must have died, and yet the manufactured horror we’ve just witnessed is suddenly rendered weightless. That’s because comic-book movies aren’t real, silly—except when they’re totally serious” (http://www.villagevoice.com/2013-06-05/film/man-of-steel-superman-movie-review/). And this is the film’s greatest flaw: it’s spectacle overshadows the story, its consequences, and any meaning that can be generated from it. It’s too much, but we shouldn’t have expected much more from Snyder and Nolan.

After Metropolis has been devastated by Zod’s gravity machine, and prior to the final battle, a few of the important characters stand in the center of the demolished city. Where are all the other people? Shouldn’t they be running scared and/or trying to rescue individuals trapped under brick and concrete? This scene was in desperate need of some extras. Furthermore, how the hell does Lois keep encountering Superman in those last few minutes? In the murder of Zod by Superman, Lois appears to witness the event. Did she take the subway to get there? I would assume the subway is no longer operational at that point.

Hire a new screenwriter. Few films have had such terrible dialogue. Stilted, forced, unbelievable (really didn’t buy the Superman/Lois attraction).

There is far too much of this:

general zod man of steel-1Quit shouting so much.

I hate these sequences in superhero movies where the lead character discovers their powers. It’s off the wall, wacky, and as in this film, Superman takes a tumble into a mountainside when he learns how to fly. We’re supposed to laugh. The recent Spiderman has the same faults in the discovering powers scene. An otherwise serious story adds these moments of comic relief but are out of place.

Trying to decode the meaning of teenage Clark and his reading of Plato’s Republic. The book was so well framed that some message must be embedded within it. So first, this is a stupid tactic on the part of the writers. Either make it clear why you want to make an analogy, or drop it altogether. Richard Brody tries to link it to the Ring of Gyges myth (http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/movies/2013/06/man-of-steel-superman-and-the-superego.html) and Dan Porsa tries to link it to the allegory of the Cave (http://thisisinfamous.com/man-of-steel-and-the-philosophy-of-plato/). I think both can be correct if taken out of the context of the sequence in which the book appears. Brody and Porsa give Nolan/Snyder too much credit. The scene in question has Clark bullied and Clark in turn wanting to dispense with his aggressors with his immeasurable strength. The Father then tells the Son, simply, might does not make right. The Republic starts with Socrates refuting the sophist and the claim that justice is in the interest of the stronger. This is the moral and morality Superman must develop in himself: justice is not in the interest of the stronger, and in a Christian turn, is with the weak. Superman must protect the weak and ensure the continuation of American democracy by keeping the weak in their place. So, Snyder should have made the parallel clear; the reference to the book is stupid symbolism otherwise.

And my favorite of the worst: The alien ships start terraforming Earth and we get a cut to the American (World?) control room. The American military personnel stare, frightened and confused, at the alien ship plowing through the Earth’s core. A young, plain, but attractive woman appears from nowhere in military garb, and asks something like “What’s happening?”, then the scientist asserts the aliens are terraforming. I wasn’t sure why she was needed to deliver this line; one of the other military figures, who we had already been introduced to, would have sufficed. The end of the film then shows the American General and this young Captain driving in a desert; there is an exchange with Superman, he flies off, and the General turns to the Captain who has a big grin on her face. “He’s kinda hot,” she says. In case we haven’t been aroused enough by Superman’s good looks, Snyder provides us with this woman who we can identify with; she reminds us that in addition to being a hero, we must also be attracted to his body, which he showed off very early in the film. Rarely have I seen such a cipher as this woman.

superman-henry-cavill-muscles-man-of-steel

I can’t say what, if anything, I liked about the film. I won’t be watching the sequels and will wait patiently for Justice League.

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