Friday, July 19, 2013

Man of Steel...and a Bunch of Other Stuff

Saturday I saw the new Superman movie, Man of Steel, directed by Michael Bay.  Oops...I mean Zack Snyder...

I can only think of one word that adequately captures the essence of this film.  Vulgar.

What?!  Vulgar: Lacking sophistication or good taste; unrefined.

I actually rather enjoyed the first half of the film. This was where we got to see Kal-El/Clark Kent wandering anonymously around the world, taking odd jobs, saving people, and then disappearing. We also saw snippets of his childhood and his interactions with his parents. These were by far my favorite parts of the movie.  We actually got a look at the true nature of Superman, and this was very satisfying. Unfortunately, once he puts on the suit and cape, it's all downhill. It quickly degenerates into a slug-fest where destruction is carefree and abundant.

This trend in summer action movies is really troubling me. There seems to be no question among critics and audiences alike that the Transformer movies are terrible in every way. People who like these movies admit that they are terrible, but they enjoy the action.  So why is it that when we see the same level of gratuitous destruction in a Superman or Star Trek movie, the change in franchise somehow validates the sloppy action? Again, I remind you of that word I used...vulgar.

Destruction on this scale is absolutely ludicrous. In one sequence, we have Superman confidently walking down the street, telling people to stay inside because it isn't safe.  W then we see him throwing the bad guys through those same buildings, the bad guys throwing him through those same buildings, trains and cars and trucks, and airplanes crashing through those builds...all presumably full of people. Explosions are everywhere, and yet there never seems to be another thought directed towards the innocent people that are surely becoming casualties.

How many skyscrapers were destroyed in this film? 20? 30? It was a lot. Basically an entire city center was leveled.  Are audiences really so brain-dead that they never once wonder about all of the people that are in these buildings?  If you think about it, Superman actually did a pretty terrible job of saving...really anyone at all. The only person he seemed to be concerned about was Lois Lane. They even paused amidst the chaos to have a little make-out session. Doesn't anyone else see how ridiculous this is?

In the other superman movies, one of the major sources of conflict comes when Superman is faced with the choice of saving lots of people, or protecting Lois Lane. In those movies, he always makes the right choice to save lots of people.  Not so in Man of Steel.

I am honestly amazed that in our post 9/11 society people are willing to accept displays of careless destruction as a legitimate means of entertainment.  Would anyone go back and watch footage of the twin towers collapsing just for the fun of it? Does anyone think that this was just a spectacle for our entertainment? Is it even possible for us to see those images without thinking of the thousand of lives that were lost? This was a BIG deal.
So why is it that when we see catastrophic destruction exponentially greater that September 11th in a summer action movie, we accept it, love it, and give no thought to the potential loss of life? What was the body count in Man of Steel or Star Trek: Into Darkness? I submit that it was AT LEAST in the tens of thousands.  In a major city, how many people would die in the destruction of 10 or 20 skyscrapers?

What amazes me more though, is that J.J. Abrams had the crassness to show this kind of destruction, and then dedicated his film to the people affected by September 11th. Does anyone else see the irony? he is taking potentially horrific events, magnitudes greater than what we saw in real life, using them as a spectacle for entertainment, and then tries to pass it off as a way of honoring real life people who lost their lives! In the film, he never even mentions the loss of life, or the affects of that terrible day, except in a brief ceremony where the main event was the rechristening of the repaired USS Enterprise. It seemed like mentioning the loss of life was just an afterthought; a cheap attempt to validate the cataclysmic set piece he engineered. Why are people not crying out over this?!

Again, the word vulgar springs to mind.
This would be akin to an action movie depicting a theater shooting where hundreds of people are murdered, and then dedicating it to the people of Aurora Colorado.
Absolutely ludicrous.

If you don't mind some swears, and you want to hear a really compelling argument for why massive destruction is not appropriate in a superhero movie, check this out.
I agree with everything he has said. The society shaking destruction seen in recent blockbusters like Man of Steel, Star Trek In To Darkness, The Avengers, and all of the Transformers movies, is probably the most troubling trend I am seeing in recent years, aside from the rise in popularity of so called "torture-porn" films.

I actually have a theory about why mega-destruction doesn't bother people. Are you familiar with the concept of the Uncanny Valley? I discussed this in my Tron: Legacy review.
The basic idea is that when we see a representation of a person, our ability to become emotionally attached to that representation depends on the level of realism. However, there is a point where the level of realism is incredibly high, yet the emotional attachment is incredibly low. This happens because people can tell that something is slightly off about it...something just isn't quite right. It is very close to the real deal, yet still noticeably artificial.  This creates a "valley" on the graph of emotional attachment.
I think that this same thing is happening in these blockbuster movies that are so CGI heavy. The CGI cityscapes look incredibly good...but there is no question among audiences that the buildings are not real, simply because the scale of destruction is so large, that no film could ever possibly afford to do it for real. Thus, because it looks real, but obviously isn't, there is no emotional attachment to the city, the buildings, or the people inside of them.
compare this to the scene in Terminator 2 when they blew up an office building, or the scene in The Dark Knight where they blew up a hospital. In those two movies, THEY ACTUALLY BLEW UP REAL BUILDINGS! Both of those scenes were significantly more spectacular and emotionally impacting than anything seen in Man of Steel or Star Trek. What I am trying to say is that there is nothing wrong with action heavy movies, but there does seem to be a level of quality that has been missing from these new movies. More CGI is not the answer.

All-in-all, this was a pretty terrible Superman movie...yet audiences seem to love it. Why is this? The critics are pretty much all agreeing on how sub-par this film really is.

For example, on Rotten Tomatoes, Man of Steel currently has a critics rating of 56%. It's Metascore is 55. Yet audiences have given it an 8.2 on IMDB, and an 82% on Rotten Tomatoes. That's a pretty large disparity.

For comparision, here are the ratings of the three previous Superman movies: (ignoring Superman III and IV, because it is pretty universally accepted that those were embarrassingly terrible films.)

Superman (1978) 93% RT Critics, 77% RT Audience, 7.3 IMDB, 86 Metascore
Superman II (1980) 89% RT Critics, 66% RT Audience, 6.7 IMDB, 87 Metascore
Superman Returns (2006) 75% RT Critics, 67% RT Audience, 6.2 IMDB, 72 Metascore

The LOWEST rated Superman movie is still 20% HIGHER than Man of Steel, yet when you look at the audiences rating, the HIGHEST rated Superman movie is 5% BELOW Man of Steel.
Something is wrong here.
It seems to be the trend these days for people to ignore the opinions of film critics, exclaiming that critics don't know what they are talking about, or critics only like artsy movies. If you are one of these people, I would suggest that your tastes probably need some refining. You probably have a pretty immature understanding of what the criteria for good films actually are. Film critics spend their lives studying films. For the most part, they understand what makes a movie good or not.  I don't always agree with critics, but I can usually read their analysis, and get a pretty good idea of what I will think of the movie. It helps to find who your preferred critics are, and read their reviews first.

So what is my purpose with all of this criticism? I guess what I am saying is that I am sick and tired of these destruction-filled summer blockbusters. The people who make these films are classless and have extremely poor taste, and the audiences who actually enjoy these films, and describe them as "awesome!" or "best Superman movie ever!", have even less class, and even worse taste. I seriously question the presence of any level of intelligence in these people. The fact that movies like this are so quickly embraced, causes me to lose just a little more faith in humanity. Grow up people!

I'm going to stop my rant right there.
Let's say some positive stuff now.
I had no problems with the plot of the film, it was fine. Except for a few head scratching moments, it was fine. Like how did Lois Lane manage to always turn up where Superman was, especially when the epic fist-fight had them zooming and crashing all over Metropolis? She must run really fast. Furthermore, if the battle between Zod and Superman had them flying all the way up into space...why did they keep returning to Metropolis? Shouldn't their battle have been all over the planet?
Anyway, besides stuff like that, it was fine.
I REALLY liked the cast. I loved Cavill as Superman, and Amy Adams as Lois Lane was very good.
Michael Shannon as Zod was a bit of a miss. He's not a very convincing actor. His "I will find him!" line got pretty comical after he repeated it four times in a row.
Russell Crow's Jor-El kind of stole the show for me. He was very good.
Again, I really liked the first half of the movie, before all the action stuff started happening.

I'm going to give Man of Steel 2.5 stars out of 5.
Did you notice the movie poster I chose to include in this post? That's Superman hanging his head in shame after being part of such a dumb movie.

I kind of included a lot of Star Trek thoughts in this review as well.  On further reflection, and a second viewing, I'm dropping my rating of Star Trek: Into Darkness down to 2 stars out of 5. It was significantly less entertaining the second time around, and even more plot holes and evidences of its poor writing came into light.  For example, don't the filmmakers know how far away the moon is from earth? It is REALLY far! So when they are having their battle, and drop out of warp RIGHT NEXT TO THE MOON, how did they then CRASH INTO EARTH?! Ridiculous. A simple Google search could have told them the distance from the earth to the moon.  It's 384,400 km.  One of Sulu's few lines actually states their distance from earth as 237,000 km.  Remember how they had to align their ship so some people could shoot over to the other ship? If you were paying attention, that whole sequence was taking place in orbit around THE MOON, or at least very close to the moon. The moon was the backdrop for that whole sequence, and they appear to be stationary in relation to the moon.  Then somehow with no power to their engines, and no dialog to explain it, they manage to drift all the way to earth, and plummet dramatically through the atmosphere.  How dumb do these people think audiences are? It's actually kind of insulting.  It really is just a case of filmmakers building their films around action-packed set pieces rather than any actual plot. Sometimes things just don't fit together well.
I am convinced that filmmakers these days are hoping that by keeping the pace fast enough, and the action chaotic enough, that it will be impossible for audiences to keep up enough to actually think about what is going on, or realize that things don't really make any sense; thus preventing the discovery of all their sloppy workmanship.  It's actually kind of a clever slight of hand trick...but still very bad filmmaking.

Wow this was a long one! I included all sorts of crazy crap in this review! Sorry about that.
Keep in mind that these are my candid OPINIONS about these films. If you disagree with me, don't worry about it. My opinion isn't really worth anything anyway.

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