Saturday, June 29, 2013

“Man of Steel”: DC's Less Than Worthy Attempt To "Avenge" Marvel [By Herbie J Pilato]

In their mutation from the printed/digital comic book world into the live-action feature film universe, Marvel’s superheroes are overwhelmingly the victors while to DC’s camp go the spoils, the clunkers and the position of a distant second best.

Marvel not only continues to throw all the right the heroic punches, as much as it consistently enters the ring with sheer, unadulterated courage and innovative product. 
To put it simply, Marvel has guts – they deliver their superior human flicks in the right manner.  They stick to the mythology of their selected comic book origins and hold back on the edgy innovation.  It’s still there – but they don’t make such a big deal out of the alterations – as does DC.

For what seems like eons, DC, and its Warner Bros. studio partner, have been dragging their collective butt in spotty attempts to, for one, get their Justice League (as a group or individually) up on the big-screen.  Although their Christopher Nolan-directed Batman/Dark Knight trilogy was a massive hit, and the new Nolan-produced Man of Steel, directed by Zach Snyder, has granted a potent shot in the arm to the Superman franchise, the success of Marvel’s multi-guided Captain America/Thor/Iron Man/Avengers movies (not to mention their Spider-Man flicks, Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield editions) have far superseded (sorry) DC’s less-than stellar entries into the genre (hello and goodbye Green Lantern). 
To put it simply again, Marvel’s wonder mutants are just a lot more fun to watch; they have more pep, the casting is spot-on – and their “joy factor” is tremendous.

On the other hand, DC’s super frenzy of motion picture heroes lack the vibrant spirit and color (in tone, cinematography and costume) of their comic book page origins.
Man of Steel (MOS), for one, is utterly vacant of joy – not to mention downright depressing (which itself goes against the very core of the original Superman comic-book mythology).  What it then lacks in figurative character it additionally lacks in characters, period, namely, The Daily Planet junior photographer Jimmy Olsen.

Most likely, Jimmy may show up in a sequel (probably in some dark form; which see later dark references).  But that’s not good enough.  He should have been in this initial reboot, if anything, in place of that ridiculous Steve Lombard reporter character (annoyingly played by Michael Kelly).
And are they kidding with the hand-cam cinematography?  Millions of dollars were allocated for this movie – and portions of it are filmed like a low-funded Billy Jack remake – minus the cinescope?!

Equally disturbing is the over-whelming volume of sound, the overt-destruction of Smallville and Metropolis (thousands had to die?!), and the excessive alien-space/sci-fi-ness to it all. 
It was all so distracting and disappointing, as were some of the casting choices, the actors and their acting; the writing, the dialogue and the directing.

Helmer Snyder might know what he's doing with large-scale, action-adventure landscaping, but when it comes to intimate scene-editing , and guiding actors and getting legitimately human emotions and interactions from and between them – well, Tom Whedon (The Avengers), he ain’t. 
I found myself actually shaking my head through a good portion of the film, in awe of how sophomoric was its execution in general; and while assessing specific aspects of it such as the miscasting of villain General Zod (played by Michael Shannon with a seemingly-Mary Poppins voice), and those Russell Crowe-Jor-El/mirror/on-the-Krypton-vessel moments (Seriously?!).

As to Henry Cavill, who embodied Clark Kent/Superman, the dude's great looking – but his presence just isn’t big enough, vertically and dynamically.  He's too short - and that cape was too long (it’s clearly dragging the ground, tattered and dirty in certain moments – and that no one would catch that – or that anyone would allow that to make it on screen – is head-shake worthy).  Cavill clearly worked hard to get that body - but Superman is BUILT...not developed.  There's a difference.
Christopher Reeve, who is considered by scores as the one and only true cinematic-Superman, was born with his form (God bless him), while Cavill had to develop (and sometimes pump it up before shooting (which was painfully obvious in a few scenes with the actor’s awkward physical movements).  Reeve was 6', 6," larger than life and had personality.  Cavill is just "life," minus the personality.

And although casting an African-American actor (Laurence Fishburne) as Perry White was a progressive move on the studio's part, having Amy Adams portray Lois Lane was a mistake.  She just didn’t do it for me.  (And since when does Lois Lane have red hair?  Apparently, since she developed absolutely no on-screen chemistry with Clark Kent.)
Overall, the MOS presentation was again, just too dang dark, dingy and sad and, consequently, I was sad upon leaving the theatre.

Unlike, the essence of DC’s Batman, Superman is not dark by nature.  Therefore, it’s totally acceptable that the Dark Knight trilogy would be dark in tone, in character, in story, and in execution.
But as explained in the earliest DC comic books (and to some extent, in the later editions) what transpires in the life and development of Superman, from an organic standpoint, is ultimately quite upbeat.  Firstly, in attempt to save his life (which they ultimately do), his parents jettison him from their dying home planet of Krypton to Earth.  He falls into the farm fields and loving arms of the childless Martha and Jonathan Kent (in MOS played by a ridiculous Diane Lane and an okay Kevin Costner).  They raise him to be a fine upstanding young man, who retains an assortment of additional extraordinary powers, including astounding strength, heat vision – and the ability to fly.

How cool is that?!
Super cool!

So, why in tarnation would the DC/WB crew decide to darken that world and destroy that optimistic and hopeful view with the heavy-laden Man of Steel?  As Cavill’s Clark tells Adams’ Lois in one scene, the S on Superman’s skin-tight garb is his home-world monogram for hope. 
Thank goodness he explained that because otherwise one wouldn’t have surmised as much upon viewing the rest of the MOS.

With its implementation of the movie, the DC/WB camp may have figured that since director/producer Nolan did such a great job with his dark take on Batman that he could pull a similar stunt with the Superman films. 
But such has not transpired.  In fact, with Man of Steel, the dark issues were merely intensified with Nolan’s decision not to direct the project, and to instead hire Snyder – who, as mentioned, guided the equally joyless (and very bloody) 300.  In effect, a Kick-Ass film director does not a kick-ass Superman film, make (or something like that).

Certainly, DC/WB made a noble attempt to hire Nolan and subsequently Snyder.
The objective was to think out of the box and make something really different.

That’s all fine and good.
But in doing so, one cannot - nor one should not - go too far outside the box, or one may not find any audience outside at the box-office.

Clearly, this did not happen with MOS.  The movie is doing extremely well.  But I’m not so sure that is a testament to its quality as more to its brilliant, massive and somewhat desperate-looking marketing campaign.
And please note: this cinematic opinion isn’t about a baby-boomer’s misunderstanding of a contemporary take.

Good is good; well-done is well-done – in any era and in any genre.
The music of Frank Sinatra and Beethoven will always be great music whenever it’s heard.  Casablanca and Citizen Cane will ever be considered genius filmmaking in any decade in which they are screened.

In like (or dislike) manner, sub-par movie-making is sub-par movie-making, whether the budget is a college-bound five thousand clams or a multi-million dollar studio-endorsed epic like Man of Steel.
With that said, in only in the last few minutes of MOS do we catch a mere glimpse of the fun the entire production might have  embraced and showcased from the get-go had Snyder, Nolan, DC or Warner Bros. saw the forest through their superhero tee’s and camera angles.

For my money, whoever is in charge of the sequel (or the Justice League, in general, for that matter), should hire a happy director (who will at the very least start things off by bringing back that original bright red and blue costume!).
Because this time, we have nothing but a loud, noisy, spiritless film in which Superman (spoiler alert) actually kills someone – which once more - goes against the very grain of everything the character has stood for from day one (in DC Action Comics Number 1). 

And if DC ever hopes to catch up with Marvel’s supersonic hero-based films and their perfectly-balanced mix of success, quality and sincere critical acclaim, then first off, Nolan and Snyder have to exit the arena.  From there, DC, WB, and whoever replaces Nolan and Snyder, will then need to step into the ring with their gloves off and they’re thinking caps on, and leave any clouded-egos at the door.
If not, the consequences will be dire, with less than worthy product like Man of Steel – the very core of which in the big-screen, superhero scheme of things, seemed like an empty and hallow re-telling of the Tin Man - without the heart or a personality.


Anonymous said...

Have to disagree, the darker take on the superman mythology is the only thing that can keep it alive. Every superman movie prior to this has been ridiculously bright and silly, sorry even the Reeves films were just plain laughable. You might recall the popularity of superman goes up whenever he is somehow humanized and taken off his cheery pedestal (the death of superman comic series, smallville). We don't want a perfect hero, because we cannot relate to him, we want a hero who is even more flawed and conflicted than we are. And hope itself is personified by the premise that an imperfect and confused individual in a dark and unforgiving world can muster the will to fight back. I would never want to see another light hearted perfect hero film, unless it was a comedy. As far as marvel goes, the fact is that they just have more interesting heros. DC has always seemed to lack creativity and depth. In order to generate any interest in their heroes, they really do need constant"reboots" to bring them out of their quirky and unimaginative roots.

Matt said...

Mr. Pilato,

It is obvious that you have absolutely no clue about the history of Superman or DC Comics in general. Your article is ripe with inaccuracies that it would take several pages of comments to explain them all. I will note just a few of the more glaring ones so you won't sound so foolish the next time you write about Superman or DC for that matter.

1. "Cavill clearly worked hard to get that body - but Superman is BUILT...not developed. There's a difference."

Seriously? I urge you to immediately Google image "Superman" and look at how he has been illustrated in the comics for the last 40 years. Superman is "developed" and "built" at the same time. You can see every single muscle in his entire body with clear definition. I would call this extremely "developed". An unbelievable misstep on your part.

2. "Reeve was 6', 6," "

Actually Christopher Reeve's true height was 6'4". Superman's "real" height is 6'3". Henry Cavill is 6'1". So I would say an absolutely accurate height of Superman is in between Reeve and Cavill. Also I loved Christoper Reeve as Superman. His face resembles the Man of Steel more than anyone I have ever seen. However, his body did not. He was not nearly muscular enough to mimic Superman as how he is drawn in the comics. For that matter, Cavill wasn't as muscular as Superman is in the comics, but he came a lot closer than anyone else who has played Superman.

3. "What it then lacks in figurative character it additionally lacks in characters, period, namely, The Daily Planet junior photographer Jimmy Olsen."

Actually the character of Jimmy Olsen was still portrayed but by a woman named Jenny Olsen. I guess the idea to make Jimmy a female in this era of more women in the workplace is DC again not thinking outside the box like Marvel does. But somehow making Perry White African-American was a progressive change? I for one thought both decisions were refreshing.

4. "Because this time, we have nothing but a loud, noisy, spiritless film in which Superman (spoiler alert) actually kills someone – which once more - goes against the very grain of everything the character has stood for from day one (in DC Action Comics Number 1)."

Again your lack of knowledge of the Superman comics (and movies) for that matter is glaringly obvious. Superman has actually killed in the comics several times. Also in Superman II, Christoper Reeve's Superman kills General Zod after he has been rendered as powerless as a mere mortal. So not only did he kill, but he killed a Zod who was no longer ANY threat to Superman or anyone else for that matter. At least in Man of Steel Superman kills General Zod to save the lives of an innocent family, AND Zod was anything but powerless in that situation.

I could go on and on about how you completely misunderstood or misinterpreted this movie. A Richard Donner Superman film this was not, and I think that is OK. I loved the Donner movies and they have their place. This re-telling was more about how we as humans would perceive an alien with God-like abilities and how that would create inner turmoil for Kal-El.

I have read many reviews that were not in favor of the movie. However, this review by far was the most inaccurate and off-base I have seen. Do research on the source material first the next time you attempt to write about Superman or DC.


Herbie J Pilato said...

Hey Matt -

Thanks so much for taking the time to state all those interesting clarifications.

But the deal is matters more what Superman has "become" or evolved into within and throughout the American pop-culture psyche.

What's more, those involved with Man of Steel from an purely creative and Hollywood standpoint should be ashamed of themselves with specific regard to the points I made about the dialogue, the acting, and the directing.

It was all horrendous...especially when there are so many talented writers and directors in Hollywood who could have done such a more superior job.

But unfortunately, those writers, whoever they may be, did not have access to Chris Nolan on his Lear jet (where apparently the deal was initially brokered with Zack Snyder), and the like.

What I just don't completely understand at all is why Warner Bros. just doesn't hire for the Superman feature films all those genius writers and directors who bring to life those astounding animated editions of Batman, Superman and the Justice League (on the Cartoon Network, etc.).

Those guys are the ones who should write the next Superman movie (which hopefully will not have cast Henry Cavill).

And I I

Herbie J Pilato said...

Hello Anonymous -

I appreciate your note and respect your very cordial disagreement.

All the best,


Matt said...

Mr. Pilato,

Thank you for your prompt and respectful response.

Even though I also disagree with your opinion about most of the casting, we do agree on the miscasting of Amy Adams. I think Ms. Adams is a great actress but wasn't right for Lois Lane. I also agree that Lois should NOT have red hair! That is something that bothered me. In the least they could have dyed her hair black for the role.

However, "those writers whoever they may be" were Christopher Nolan and David Goyer. Both of whom were responsible for writing Nolan's Batman series. Nolan and Goyer came up with the story and Goyer wrote the screenplay. So I would have to say they have substantial credit to their names.

Thanks again,

Herbie J Pilato said...

Hi Matt...Actually, I was referring to those who were (are) responsible for the ANIMATED Batman/Superman/Justice League cartoons. THOSE are the writers/directors who IM(somewhat)HO that I believe Warner Bros. should hire to write the next live-action Superman and Justice League feature films. They're animated shows are far superior to anything I've seen on the live big-screen with regard to Superman, including Man of Steel and Superman Returns.