Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Finally, MAN OF STEEL

Henry Cavill as the MAN OF STEEL.
I didn't care for the way it looked from afar, so I'd put off seeing Zack Snyder's MAN OF STEEL till this evening. Then it hit me: this thing's a reality, it is going to add to or detract from a history you care about; like it or not, I needed my knowledge of it.

As sometimes happens when expectations are low, I liked it more than I expected I would. An infinite improvement on the dire SUPERMAN RETURNS, appreciably more involving than the last two Reeve pictures and, in my books anyway, a cocktail-strength antidote to those things I've never liked about the first two. In some ways, MAN OF STEEL is not entirely a Superman movie because it does away with everything that has always rooted this character and his adventures in fantasy: Smallville, Metropolis, the bright costume, his automatic acceptance on planet Earth, the meaning of the S on his costume, the very makeup of his DNA, his traditional wink-wink relationship with Lois Lane - even, for a large part of the film, any utterance of his name. But all of those changes, to me, represent improvements in carpentry that's been shoddy and sentimentally forgiven for much too long. What makes a character classic is its ability to continually reflect some truth about real life, and this is the first evidence I've seen that there is something about the character of Superman that isn't hopelessly stuck in a more naïve sense of ourselves and our world. It builds upon Richard Lester's SUPERMAN II in that it's not an escapist adventure. This is also, to a degree, what's still wrong with it.

Its reach for realism extends to shakycam shots and camera flares. There is far too much "incidental damage" - I'm sickened by the way we've continued to stroke our 9/11 scars with fetishized images of toppling buildings and other urban terrors (it's what CGI is best at doing, along with accelerating actions to preposterous speeds) - but I appreciated the emotional conflicts the well-considered story by David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan heaped upon Clark, Zod, and the people of Earth as well. It may be the most agonizingly heroic of all the Superman films, by which I mean he earns his victory (no spoiler there) at great personal cost. What impressed me is that the film had the courage to say that he could only win earthly victory by committing what could be termed an Original Sin. I wouldn't feel this way unless Henry Cavill had filled his cape with flying colors.

It will be interesting to see what direction might be taken by the sequel, which is perfectly set up to bring Superman face-to-face with an equally pressing global threat: the death of print. 



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