Man Of Steel

Some people just don’t know when to stop. Zack Snyder, director of this new Superman movie, is one of those. With films like 300 and Watchmen in his past we can’t say we don’t know what to expect. A slightly surreal comic book aesthetic, stylised destruction and violence, a lack of humour and a very loud soundtrack with Wagnerian pretensions. I’ll be honest: I haven’t enjoyed his previous films. Hopes were higher here, though – not least because Christopher Nolan is the producer and co-writer. If anyone could reign Snyder’s excesses in, its the man who can handle huge budgets, gargantuan expectations and big stars and still produce something exciting, commercially successful and that’s still artistically and intellectually satisfying.

The result is Snyder’s best film. To put that in context, it’s possibly the worst film that Nolan has put his name to in any form. Granted, in this age of dark superhero reinventions, Superman was always going to present a challenge. He’s too easy to poke fun at – red underpants outside the trousers, flying and an enemy called Zod. Seriously.

Snyder deals with this by constantly cutting back to Superman’s back story. Whether it’s his origins on Krypton born to Russel Crowe or his Earth-bound childhood of self-discovery with his father Kevin Costner these scenes are handled well. Lois Lane is the reporter trying to unearth if the elusive rescuer of people in danger is an urban myth, a figment of her imagination or an alien. All of this works well – it’s exciting, occasionally moving, and well handled. Crowe and Costner are especially well cast.

Where the film strays is with a distinct lack of wit and the climactic, seemingly endless battle with Zod. The missing wit and humour is notable because of the two scenes where it actually exists: one brilliant visual gag after a narrowly avoided bar-fight when Superman is still trying to remain anonymous; the other when he teaches himself to fly   – a scene which pops with exhilaration, grins and joy. In the aftermath of those you realise you haven’t smiled at all otherwise, and probably won’t. Snyder, crashing orchestral soundtrack and buildings together, wants to ram the portentous events down our throats, to see profound parallels, to take it all Seriously. We can’t. Because it’s too much and too long. The supposedly serious parallels (puberty, religion, identity) are so po-faced they wash over us; the wit so minimal we never have the chance to have fun. Christopher Nolan showed in his Batman trilogy that you can do serious superhero movies and still have fun; if he tried to teach Snyder this, then he didn’t get his point across.

British unknown Henry Cavill does a decent job in the lead role; he certainly looks the part and manages to invest the character with a modicum of depth. It’s a shame, that for all the bombast and spectacle, that’s lacking in the rest of the movie. When an actor of Richard Schiff’s skill is reduced to a few scenes where he stands and gawps, you’ve missed an opportunity. It’s not a bad film; there is much to enjoy. It just would have been so much the better 45 minutes shorter and with a sense of control. Here’s hoping the inevitable sequel learns the a little less could leave us much more satisfied.

I rated this movie 3/5 on rottentomatoes.com and 6/10 on imdb.com

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Captain America: The First Avenger

Most of us know by now that, broadly, there are 2 approaches to take with a comic book adaptation. There’s the straight-faced, dark as you like approach that reaches a pinnacle in Christopher Nolan’s recently concluded Batman trilogy. Or you embrace the inherent absurdity of it all and play it with a metaphorical knowing wink to the camera.

Captain America does the latter, in spades, slotting neatly into Marvel’s expanding movie universe. The violence is comic-book rather than graphic, but still packs a punch for all that; Toby Jones, a henchman to the main villain, predictably steals every scene he’s in. For all it’s bright colours and old-school feel, the film isn’t beyond a sly dig at the vanity of a nascent celebrity culture.

It fits nicely into its hole in the Marvel universe; whilst not shining as bright as Avengers Assemble or Iron Man, it does enough be a good supporting act to its more dominant sister franchises.

I rated this movie 3.5/5 on rottentomatoes.com & 6/10 on imdb.com

Kick-Ass: Laugh or Cry?

Moving half-way across the world can do strange things to many different parts of your personality. Not least your movie going. Three and a bit months after making the move to Cape Town, we’re starting to settle in our house, and able to turn our attention to important stuff, like films. So the first film we pay to see on the African continent is Kick-Ass. Of all the questions and thoughts about movies I’ve been concerned I may be missing while unpacking and hoping for a phone-line to be installed, I can’t say I ever found myself wondering what a super-hero film made by Tarantino would look-like. I can, though, rest assured that I now know.

I’m sure many of us will find the controversies that have dogged this film’s release well documented elsewhere. They broadly revolve around just what it’s right to expect a 12-year old child performer to do and say in the name of her chosen profession. As one part of an ultra-violent crime-fighting duo, Chloe Moretz is certainly called upon to say and do some shocking things. The first thing to say is that she acts her on-screen father, Nic Cage, off the screen. Not difficult, you might argue – he’s been on autopilot since Leaving Las Vegas – but she has frightening assurance that makes her perfect for the part. Also brilliant: Aaron Johnson, star of Superbad and the like, in brilliant form and playing his reputation cleverly as a want-to-be super-hero whose only power is ‘being invisible to girls’. That’s a joke that comes in the opening section of the film – for my money, the best part. At the very least, though, you can say that this is a film which has the courage of it’s blood-soaked convictions. Throughout, the combination of Tarantino-style dialogue & action, high-school romance and super-hero story is pulled off with a confidence and aplomb that sweeps you up almost irresistibly.

So to the violence. It’s been argued that this shows the true consequences of violence – well yes, that’s true. Up to a point. There is real pain here – but really only for those on the receiving end from the bad-guys. The goodies wreak havoc on the evil with bloody alacrity, but there’s no pain – just righteous laughter. Good people hurt, bad don’t. So what the violence becomes is a slightly ham-fisted form of moral capitalization – THESE ARE THE ONES YOU’RE NOT MEANT TO CHEER FOR…..YOU CAN TELL BECAUSE THEY  DON’T ACTUALLY FEEL STUFF.

Really, that’s just a bit lazy. The moral panic the film has triggered has as usual missed the point. The cartoon nature of much of it doesn’t glorify or make light of the clearly outlandish subject matter. It’s clearly an alternative reality. What’s more disturbing is the way we’re encouraged to revel in ‘deserved suffering’…..which isn’t really sore, just spectacular. It’s bread and circuses for a tabloid morality. Which just makes the amount I enjoyed it worry me all the more. I laughed, I covered my eyes once or twice, and wanted justice exercised. I’d love to think director Matthew Vaughn‘s intention was to pose me those questions. I’m not sure though; I think he was enjoying himself too much to know. We’ll have a better idea in five films’ time, when we’ve learnt his voice and style. For now, though, I can’t remember the last time I was this worried by how much I enjoyed one film.