Tag Archive: explosions


REVIEW: MAN OF STEEL

MAN OF STEEL (2013)
Starring Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne & Russell Crowe
Directed by Zack Snyder
Written by David S. Goyer
Produced by Christopher Nolan, Charles Roven, Emma Thomas & Deborah Snyder
Cinematography by Amir Mokri
Music by Hans Zimmer
Edited by David Brenner

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Able to change broken light bulbs in a single bound!

   Hello, hello dear readers (if I have any left at this point), I am happy to report that I AM BACK! I know my absence might have been distressing to all of you who stood so steadfastly by my movie reviews (of course, this notion is completely hypothetical on my part), but you can now finally ease that void in your troubled minds. And while it certainly plagues the guilt glands of my brain-parts for not writing a review in so damn long, I’m gonna go ahead and argue that my little break was justified. For one thing, I had all sorts of things happening with my other, more pressing aspect of existence (being a fledgling full-time musician) and for another thing, there just simply weren’t any movies I was overly interested in seeing so far this year. Oh sure, there were minor interests here or there. Iron Man 3, for example – though I thoroughly disliked its predecessor – looked like it would be an enjoyable return to form for the franchise; I still haven’t seen it.  Star Trek Into Darkness looked mildly interesting, especially since I liked the first one a lot, but it still wasn’t enough to entice me out of my comfy home to plunk down $10 (or more!!!) for a movie ticket – plus, I heard pretty lackluster things about it. Frankly, nothing this year has really excited me as a movie-goer so far – if anything, this year’s releases have just added to my increasingly cynical view of the movie industry and the state of modern cinema. Now I admit, one movie I did go see in mainstream theaters this year was The Great Gatsby – but despite Baz Luhrmann’s, Leo’s and Jay-Z’s hyperbolic attempts to utterly enthrall my senses, it wasn’t nearly worthy of penning a lengthy rant to throw onto the internet. And so, the quest went on ever more to locate the prime time to start my 2013 moviegoing experience proper.

   Unfortunately, I decided to start my 2013 here. I wasn’t excited to see Man of Steel, the latest superhero reboot in the long, uncomfortably ever-growing line of superhero reboots, and I’ll tell you the exact reason why: I am fucking SICK of these goddamn superhero movies already. Yeah, I know – they’re “exciting” and whatnot. They’re based on comic books. And everyone knows that comic books are COOOOL! But the growing market trend that X-Men popularized in the year 2000 has (ironically) mutated into American cinema’s hideously gaudy and over-reliant crutch just 13 long, uninspired years later. Seriously, these fuckin’ superhero movies have gotten SO out of hand. Reboots of reboots, endless sequels, one offs that didn’t deserve to be made in the first place (The Green Hornet) keep plaguing the American cinemascape, and the hapless masses keep going to see ‘em cuz….well, they keep makin’ em! And yes, I know Iron Man and The Avengers are pretty cool movies, and there have admittedly been some pretty killer entries along the way…but what I’m saying is, there’s an obvious lack of true cinematic progression happening in this current era of popular filmmaking, and it’s being traded in for name brand value and simple marketability – names like Spider-Man, Iron Man, Batman, Superman, and the like. Yes, we love our heroes – all the characters I just mentioned are inarguable landmarks in pop culture history. But you people have to be able to see the pandering, bottom-of-the-barrel money grubbing going on here! Movies are about escapism for sure, but they’re also about pushing the boundaries of social norms, expressing the truths of what it is to be a human, and other deep shit like that. Escapism is certifiably fine for a certain time and place, but the excessive amount of boneheaded CGI escapism currently running rampant on countless screens across America while REAL problems keep happening all around us has just become grossly extravagant and gratuitous. After an exciting, engaging and genuinely surprising year for cinema in 2012, 2013 seems to have instantly reared back to the horrid 2011 mindset of Sequels and Superheroes…and this is precisely why I had no desire to participate in any part of the bloated big-budget lineup for movies to be released in the first half of this year.

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General Zod, accurately demonstrating my own “look, another comic book movie” face.

   Of course, all that being said, my first movie review of 2013 is of a superhero movie. Why? Well, because I get masochistic when I get guilty, my friends. No literally, I decided to see Man of Steel as a punishment to myself for not writing a single movie review so far this year – I didn’t want to see it, but some part of my being was telling me I had to. After reading and hearing many unimpressed and/or scathing reviews from numerous, personally reliable sources, I generally pieced together that Man of Steel is a blundering, emotionally inept and misguided reimagining of the Superman mythos, designed to be “darker” and “more serious” in tone, à la producer Christopher Nolan’s own Batman films. Now, the only thing left to do was watch it and see if I was right.

   And boy, was I ever!!! Man of Steel, I’m sorry to report, is a narratively underwhelming and tonally vacuous exercise in “epic storytelling”…meaning, it tries to be “dark” like certain other superhero movies while incorporating one of the most obscene and inexcusably over-the-top climaxes in recent memory. Goddamn, did I utterly dislike this oblivious film. Never before have my already dirt-low expectations of a film been so utterly lived up to and – if it’s possible – maybe even surpassed. Man of Steel is a plodding, annoyingly shot, mediocrely acted, laughably simplistic, product placement-laden chore of a film to watch, a supreme butt-number if I’ve ever experienced one. Zack Snyder, the director of such comic book-inspired films as 300 and Watchmen, completely misses the mark in trying to combine those comic book film aesthetics with “real movie” ones. The result is a confusingly serious-toned yet ludicrously unrealistic comic book-styled action flick which inevitably leaves a contradictory and confusing imprint on the minds of the audience watching it.

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Curiously missing: the scene where they strip Superman naked and make him walk on all fours while wearing a leash. (Too soon?)

   So we might as well start at the start, with Superman’s homeworld of Krypton blowing up and his parents sending him off into the universe to eventually land upon our planet and be heralded as a savior of mankind. We all know the story, because it’s been pounded into our collective heads over and over again since Superman made his debut in 1938. The first 20 minutes of the film take place on Krypton, where some asshole named General Zod (played by Michael Shannon) stages a coup against the leadership of the planet for putting it in its current apocalyptic situation. Krypton’s head scientist/Supe’s daddy, Jor-El (played by Russell Crowe) takes this chaotic opportunity to steal Krypton’s genetic codex, which holds the genetic material for the future children of Krypton, due to Zod’s (assumed) plan to control which bloodlines are continued on into the future. (All Kryptonian children are “grown” in little pods instead of being naturally born, à la The Matrix.) This pisses Zod off, and he chases Jor-El throughout the deteriorating planet as he makes his way to the place where he plans to blast his newly born son and the rest of the genetic material off into the stratosphere. (Wow, that almost sounds dirty.) Jor-El succeeds, of course, but not before being killed by Zod, who is in turn captured by the remainder of Krypton’s elites and sent away to the “Phantom Zone”…which makes a lot of sense, because sending a dangerous criminal AWAY from his planet which is currently being destroyed when he could just be kept there and killed along with everybody else is clearly the best course of action for everybody. Also, if they have the technology to send horrible criminals off into Phantom Zones, why don’t they just all evacuate the planet instead of staying there and dying like dumbasses? Anyway, little Supie’s pod jettisons to and lands on our planet, where all the limp magic desperately conjured by this movie’s opening scenes can die a horrible death.

   Now, I should point out that at this point of the film, I was actually enjoying it for the most part. And since I’m using this point of the review to point out something I liked, I’ll point out other points I liked, simply because there will never be another point to point out these enjoyable points beyond this point. Get the point? One thing I noticed was the musical score, which I was actually enjoying at first – it was pretty cool and atmospheric, a bit of a departure from Hans Zimmer’s usual assault on the senses. (The US military is currently doing tests to see if they can effectively weaponize the Inception score.) Of course, the score devolved into usual Zimmeresque grandiosity later, but I was genuinely impressed with the music at first. Then there was another scene later that showed little Superman in class freaking out because all of his extra-sensory powers are overwhelming him at the same time – his X-Ray vision, his super-hearing and etc. are all assaulting his mind like a Hans Zimmer score. It was a pretty nice touch, and I give ‘em some credit there. Also, Russell Crowe did a pretty nice job as Supe’s dad – I’d say it was the strongest performance in the film, actually. I credit this entirely to Crowe though, and his pure acting talent alone, not Snyder’s direction. But that’s about it – this intro is the only part of the film’s actual narrative I truly enjoyed. And sure, Michael Shannon’s performance as Zod was stiff and hammy, and the opening lingered on Krypton for far too long, but as far as spectacle goes, the intro to this movie was pretty neat. Zack Snyder is able to create really engaging and cool-looking scenes when he’s working in his element – that element being computer-generated effects, explosion fueled action scenes and fantastic looking worlds. But once we get down to Earth’s soil and you give him some actors and dialogue in a real-world environment, it starts to become a plodding nightmare. Now, to be fair, Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake dealt with real people in real locations and that was a pretty successful movie, but I’m willing to argue that he’s sort of lost his touch with realism after directing 5 films almost entirely filled with CGI backgrounds and effects (one of these being a fully computer-animated film about talking owls or some shit). Now he’s supposed to tell this “nuanced, reality-based” tale and it’s clear he no longer has any business doing such a thing. His lackluster Watchmen adaptation can serve to demonstrate his problems with nuance and subtlety, as well as getting realistic and emotional performances from his actors. Anyway, on with the schlock…

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This movie’s called Man of Steel, not Man HOLDING Steel! I want my fucking money back.

   So we make it down to Earth, and the film begins its pointlessly nonlinear narrative structure, as we jump around to various points of Superman’s life which show that he’s a good dude but just so different and apart from everyone else. He saves a bunch of guys on a burning oil rig, saves his bullying classmates from drowning in a school bus after it careens off a bridge, and is told by his father (portrayed by Kevin Costner, although I use the term “portrayed” loosely) on several occasions how his powers are good and that he’s going to “change the world” someday, even though he encourages his son not to reveal his powers to anyone, ever. Five points for parental consistency there, Johnny. So basically the film takes every opportunity to point out to us just how different and strange Superman is, all the while further hopelessly alienating him from the audience. Let me tell ya something: usually, in a big sci-fi action movie like this, it’s a good idea to try and make your audience relate to your protagonist, not constantly distance us from him. And yes, I know, Superman IS different from all of us, and he IS an alien. But that’s basically the point of Superman, isn’t it? We all KNOW that already! It’s a predetermined trait of his character! Spelling it out for the entirety of the movie does nothing but create an emotional rift between us and the character, and because of this, we cannot get emotionally invested in his script-mandated tortured brooding.

   Speaking of brooding, let me just touch on this point really quick: superheroes DO NOT always have to be tortured, internally suffering assholes in movies – ESPECIALLY if their previously established character does not call for it. Let’s compare this simple-minded trait tacked on to Man of Steel with Chris Nolan’s actual emotionally nuanced Dark Knight trilogy. It makes sense for Bruce Wayne to be a dark, brooding guy filled with inner angst and turmoil, because that’s his character. He’s fuckin’ Batman, for chrissakes! Batman’s parents were murdered in front of him, he uses shadows to his advantage, he dresses up in a black, spooky-looking jumpsuit; the darkness is inherent in his character. Superman is supposed to be a brightly-colored, sunny-dispositional do-gooder who fights for “truth, justice, and the American way.” He’s supposed to inspire hope and strength in people around him, not fear and uncertainty. That’s Batman’s job, because he’s a dark scary dude! Does anybody understand what I’m talking about? What I’m saying here is, the dark, brooding tone of Nolan’s Batman films works there because that is Batman’s character. Simply tacking on that trope to Superman not only alienates us from his character, but is completely contradictory to everything Superman is supposed to represent! Think about all the Superman imagery you’ve ever seen throughout your life, and compare it to all the Batman imagery you’ve seen. Doesn’t really correlate, does it? The movie makes it a point to make everything dark, grey, and dreary-looking. It’s almost always cloudy outside, the cinematography is drab, and worst of all, Superman just looks like a depressed person throughout the entire thing. You can make Superman have real problems, and you can make him have uncertainty, but you DON’T have to make him some boring asshole the whole time to get those points across!

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“I’m going to beat you mercilessly with my glaring insecurities.”

   The biggest problem I can point out with Man of Steel are its characters. Beginning with the writing and ending with the performances, the characters in this film are almost entirely flawed. Worst in show definitely goes to Kevin Costner as Superman’s daddy. The scenes with him are so horribly stilted it’s almost implausible. There’s a scene near the beginning where Johnny Kent shows his adopted son the space-pod in which he arrived on our planet, and to me it stood out as the worst acted scene in the entire film. Not only was the kid playing young Superman pretty bad, but Costner just seems to phone in his entire performance. The moment when they embrace and Costner flatly states “You are my son” is such a groaner that it sort of boggles my mind. Was that the best take they had? Also, his character is basically there to constantly remind Superman how he’s meant for great things…seriously, almost every scene he’s in, he tells Supie the same exact thing, pretty much. Even when his character DIES and they’re looking at his grave Superman’s mother says shit like “he always knew you were meant for great things”. We get it, Superman’s destined for great things, STOP SAYING IT EVERY 10 MINUTES. I know this has more to do with the shoddy script and less to do with Costner, but I’m just pissed about the character’s execution in general.

   Also, let’s focus on Amy Adams and her character of Lois Lane for a few moments. Amy Adams is a generally talented actress, but she kind of just goes with the horrid flow in this movie, not really adding any of that spunky charm I’ve seen imbued in the character in previous incarnations. And seriously, what is with her being SO GODDAMN CRUCIAL in this fucking movie? She’s flying around dangerous combat zones with the military when I’m pretty damn sure they wouldn’t let any civilians on board, regardless of how involved they were, Zod requires her presence on his ship with Superman later in the film for NO REASON other than to serve the plot, and she nearly always manages to be around to have expository dialogue delivered to her in any situation. WTF is up with that?! Lois Lane has always just been the nosy yet intrepid reporter who manages to sneak her way into situations and end up being the damsel for Superman to save. And don’t get me wrong, I’m all for making her character a little more involved than that, but not to the point where she’s unnecessarily shoved into scenes to give the audience someone normal to relate to because we’re so alienated from our protagonist. That’s just straying too far into shitty storytelling mode.

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I dunno about you, but I think this scene was way more effective when they did it the first time with The Joker in The Dark Knight….

   Ah yes, our protagonist. I’ve already talked about how poorly his character was written, but I want to focus on the new (and British) dude playing Superman, Henry Cavill. Actually, despite my misgivings about the way his character was handled, I didn’t have much of a problem with his performance as Superman. I feel like if he had some better, more fitting material to work with, he could have shined brightly as the iconic American hero. Instead, he has to use his obvious charisma and charm to try and play a tortured, angst-ridden emo guy. I honestly didn’t have any big qualms about his performance, other than the fact it was wasted on such poorly thought-out schlock.  There’s some genuine empathy in his eyes, and you get the feeling he could knock a more proper Superman role out of the park. Poor guy…he’s probably going to catch most of the flack for why this flick is such an exhausting, emotionally cold clunker, but it’s not really his fault…god-awful writing and direction are the primary killers of this piece.

   Not to mention jerky, needlessly handheld camera work. The cinematography in this movie borders on incomprehensible in its execution. I will say that despite the numerous problems with this movie, the general look of the way it was shot is probably the only real thing going for it. There are a lot of pretty-looking shots in this film, but sadly, they only exist for a more deceptive purpose. By focusing on things like socks on a clothesline blowing in the wind, or close-ups of random objects or young Superman’s dog, we’re supposed to get the impression that this movie has deeper or more personal implications than it really does. By utilizing desaturated, art-house styled establishing shots of random things, Zack Snyder thinks he can trick us into emotionally connecting with the characters and story being told, basically on the simple notion that “the imagery is so pretty. This movie must be good!” These duplicitous shots are especially used in scenes like the one of young Superman at home on his farm, playing with his dog. This type of emotional trickery is about the only place where subtlety is exercised in the film, and it’s not for the audience’s benefit, let me tell you. It’s to try and subversively convince the audience that the film they’re watching actually has some artistic value or integrity, to ingrain in us some notion of poetic cinematic composition that isn’t really there. Luckily for all of you, I can see past such cheap tomfoolery, and I can tell you firsthand that there is NO integrity to be had here. To make matters worse, when we’re not being fed sappy, faux-sentimental shots of peaceful households, the camera is almost ALWAYS moving around in a jerky, found-footage-emulating style. Snyder seems to think that the countless shaky-cam shots in his film somehow enhance moments, or give his film a dramatic, first-person sense of immediacy…yet most of the time it’s both highly unnecessary and nausea-inducing. Seriously, WHY DOESN’T THE CAMERA JUST STAY STILL?! There are moments where it’s just close-ups of characters talking and the camera is jerking around like it’s the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan or something. STOP. MOVING. THE CAMERA. We need to be able to comprehend what is going on, not trying to hold in motion-sickness induced vomit.

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Wow, look at those amazing special effects.

   I can’t express enough how boneheaded and turgid this movie was. It’s almost insulting how they thought they could force this inept, deceptively heartstring-pulling tripe upon us. I mentioned the overblown, insufferable climax earlier so I guess I’ll talk about that shit now. So basically, Zod has come to Earth in the very ship he was banished in (because once Krypton blew up, Zod and his accomplices’ electronically-controlled shackles were lifted. Glad the Kryptonians thought that shit through so well) and he’s taken Superman into custody under the pretense of sparing the Earth in return. Little does Supes or the Earth know, Zod plans to make Earth the new Krypton with a giant planet-altering machine, and the entire human race is not invited. WHOOPS! So Zod sets up his monstrous device – one part in Metropolis, one part in the Indian Ocean – to start thwomping Earth into New Krypton with gravity or some shit. This causes MASSIVE damage and loss of life in Metropolis, with entire buildings being decimated and humans being visibly crushed and thrown up and down violently by this horrible machine. Snyder makes it a direct point to excessively show the destruction being caused by this device, and it’s pretty gruesome to watch because the entire tone of the film has been this realistic, moody and depressing one. And since we’ve been alienated from our protagonist for so long, we’re projecting ourselves into the position of the people and not Superman. Yeah, so this climax is going pretty well so far. To make matters worse, Superman decides to take out the Indian Ocean half of the death device first, and not the Metropolis half for…..some….reason. I feel like the area of the planet where people are dying by the thousands would sort of be the primary choice, don’t you? Anyways, Superman ends up destroying the device with some kind of convoluted black hole that somehow sucks up only the machine and the evil Kryptonians but not anything else around it. I guess the filmmakers liked the new Star Trek a lot and wanted to incorporate (read: rip-off) their ending into theirs, no matter how out of place it would be.

   Oh, and speaking of incorporate, just really quick I want to point out the obvious product placement and brand-pimping going on in this movie. At one point in the film we see lil’ Supie getting bullied by a kid, and then he saves the bully’s ass (along with the rest of his classmates in the bus incident I mentioned earlier). This kid inevitably winds up as an overweight loser who manages an IHOP later in life (nice touch) and we’re reminded of this numerous times, as Lois Lane finds him at IHOP while trying to track down who Superman is. Then later when Superman is having a destructive battle in his hometown of Smallville (before the climax), he’s thrown through the same IHOP, with the restaurant’s logo clearly displayed. Then they keep cutting back to this irrelevant character in IHOP and we get an impression of how deep Zack Snyder’s pocket must go. There’s also a scene in the climax where they do battle in front of a Sears with its giant logo clearly displayed, then shortly after Superman is tossed through that building as well. A 7-11 is also blown up in this film, and we see its logo, but it’s not featured as prominently as my other two examples. I understand product placement in films – it happens, and it’s no biggie if you find a clever way to incorporate it into the movie. Man of Steel wouldn’t know clever if it actually had a sentient mind capable of comprehending thoughts. The only positive thing I can say about this blatant and shameless commercialism is that the businesses depicted in the film are all implicitly destroyed, so that kind of makes things a little bit better. And maybe that was Zack Snyder’s clever little stipulation for being forced to include product placement in the film or something…although I just may be giving him more credit than he deserves. Whatever the case, it’s still just extraneous and distracting on the overall film, to say the least. Anyways, on with the carnage!

   So after the death machine gets sucked up and a sizeable portion of the city lays in ruin, General Zod is still somehow alive. I honestly can’t remember if he was in the death machine or not when it got sucked up (because it was never made clear), but part of me feels like he was, and that just irritates the fuck out of me. So Zod and Superman exchange some stupid dialogue and Zod attacks, and they continue to fight and continue to destroy MORE of the city as they battle! Seriously, at this point of the movie, I could not have been more bored or uninterested. What, did they want us to care about this drawn out, overly destructive battle? At least when The Avengers had the entire city being destroyed we cared about the characters enough to be distracted from all the carnage and human suffering happening all around. But in this shit, we’re reminded of it every moment with two assholes we don’t care about fighting and causing over-the-top destruction that looks like a horrible nightmare turned real. Also puzzling is the fact we spend pointless time following around some random fucking co-workers of Lois Lane’s (one of them being a tragically miscast and out of place-looking Laurence Fishburne) whom we’ve met only once or twice before, and then watch as they try to escape the horrible things happening all around them. I DO NOT CARE ABOUT THESE PEOPLE. WHO ARE THEY. WHY ARE WE FOLLOWING THEM. WHY DOES MY BRAIN FEEL LIKE A CAT STUCK IN A MICROWAVE. These are thoughts I couldn’t help having during this long, drawn-out battle scene. Also worth mentioning are the HILARIOUS crowd reaction cutaways strewn throughout this fight scene. Everybody looks waaay too calm for what’s happening around them. There are shots with people not even expressing the mildest amount of concern, and there are buildings exploding all around them! I guess when you stage an entire city being destroyed inside a computer and tell some extras to look at nothing but thin air and react to it, you can get some pretty embarrassing shots like that.

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Superman feels a little uneasy about letting Lois get anywhere near this weird, kinky S&M alien chick…

   So FINALLY, this monstrosity ends in a train station, whereupon Supes has Zod in a headlock and Zod threatens a helpless family in the corner with his laser eyes. After ignoring Superman’s pleas to desist, Superman cries out and straight up breaks Zod’s fucking neck in order to stop him. No, really. Superman straight up kills this dude. And you can argue that the ends justify the means, but Superman doesn’t just straight murder motherfuckers. EVER. Dude, even fucking Batman doesn’t kill people, no matter how goddamn evil they are! THIS IS A SUPERHERO MOVIE ABOUT SUUUPERMAN!!! Did we really need to see Superman snapping a guy’s neck? Regardless of how much genocide this crazed alien wanted to commit, wouldn’t it have been more in line with traditional Superman morals if he somehow found a way to stop him and preserve his life? Oh but no, we’re not making a “traditional” Superman movie, we’re making a darker, edgier, “updated” version of Superman. So I guess murdering someone when it’s convenient for you is the new “truth, justice and American way.” Great, sounds great. I guess sacrificing character for “intensity” is an acceptable thing to do in movies now.

   Gone are the days when Superman flew around in sunny skies, doing charming things like connecting broken railroad tracks or saving people from burning buildings, or humorously implausible things like flying around the world so fast he reverses the earth’s rotation, and therefore, time itself. Gone are the days of lighthearted adventures and genuine spectacle, filling us with a sense of wonder and awe. Now we have a depressed, angst-ridden, gloomy alien who fails incredibly hard at saving thousands upon thousands of people from being gruesomely (and ridiculously) killed by a murderous genocidal psychopath. Now we have a guy who snaps bad guys’ necks at will, like he’s fucking Rambo or something. Hey do you guys remember what FUN is? Anyone? Can we put some JOY back into our movies? How bout some CHARM, or HUMOR, or any kind of LEVITY in there? Yeah, there were a couple moments in the film where they tried to throw in a little joke (like the American general’s female soldier exclaiming how she thinks Superman is hot), but they were either terrible or completely ineffective at brightening up this overly depressing fiasco of an action flick.

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“COME, SON OF JOR-EL! KNEEL BEFORE ZOD!!!……….Snoochie Bootchies! hehehehehehehe”

   Man of Steel, in courting the same gravitas the Dark Knight trilogy evoked with its tortured hero, inexorably misses out the one simple thing which should be the driving force behind a film of like this – a true heart. Its emphasis on “grittiness”, or “reality”, or any of those other now commonplace modern superhero movie tropes does nothing but create a film of contradictory and grating tonality, and any real humanity of any kind. Superman is a boring, straight-faced, impossible-to-relate-with simpleton in this film, and it’s just not fun to watch at all.  There’s no joy here, or any kind of charming humor at all. I haven’t seen all of the Superman movies, but I am familiar with Superman lore (who isn’t, really?) and from what I’ve always known about Superman, he’s a positive-minded guy who has the glorious power to rescue people from horrors, and does. The original Superman movie (which I have seen) portrayed him as a kind-hearted defender of the people, and he did cool shit that made him look heroic. Superman does heroic things in this film, but it’s all dragged down by the bloated sense of conflict imbued throughout the film’s entire running time. It’s murky, confused, bloated, overlong, and worst of all, absolutely 0% fun to watch. Hollywood may be trying to reboot a reboot of Superman, but I haven’t even seen Superman Returns and I already prefer it WAY more over this trashy commercial schlock trying to pass itself off as respectable art with its “poetic” cinematography. Give me a fuckin’ break. I advise all people on planet Earth to avoid Man of Steel, and to avoid it at all costs. It genuinely left me with a depressed, uncomfortable feeling as I left the theater, and my friend Noah, who attended the screening with me and is a genuine comics lover in his own right, felt the same way. I paid the matinee price of $7.25 and I still feel like I was overcharged! Man, I’m just glad they didn’t get more. So in closing, and to sum up my opinion of this cultural shitbomb appropriately, I’m going to end with a quote from my good friend Moss Worthington: “Guess it’s more like Man of Steal All of My Money.”

Aaaaaaand I’d say my 2013 is off to a great start!

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REVIEW: THE AVENGERS

THE AVENGERS (2012)
Starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner & Samuel L. Jackson
Written & Directed by Joss Whedon
Produced by Kevin Feige
Cinematography by Seamus McGarvey
Music by Alan Silvestri
Edited by Jeffrey Ford & Lisa Lassek

No one takes city-wide demolition and chaos quite as seriously as The Avengers.

   You know, it’s funny – I didn’t really have a huge desire to see this movie. I’m not really a big comics guy – I certainly admire them, but I’ve definitely never gone out and collected superhero comic books the way so many out there do. My only real association with the world of comics is through the movies based on them – in case you haven’t noticed, I’m definitely more of a movie guy. And, given the slew of mediocre to terrible superhero comics-to-film adaptations out there (amidst the genuinely awesome ones, of course), I wasn’t getting my hopes up too much for this release. Honestly, a mega-million dollar movie with gigantic stars playing strong people in fancy suits doesn’t really throw my Indulgence Necessity Meter (INM) for a loop. I can appreciate the fact that these are all super-legendary characters with huge, devoted followings, and the fact it’s pretty cool that a movie like this has never really been done before – an epic unification of several large media franchises into one grand story. This is definitely what could be labelled as an “event film”. And yet, for that very reason, I felt this strange obligation to see it. I’ve definitely grown distrustful of the recent fascination with loud, high-budget, computer-enhanced, scenery-destruction-obsessed movies centering on spectacle rather than story – having my brain barraged with images of cartoon robots blowing shit up for no reason ain’t exactly my  idea of a fun time at the movies. But, the good news is, there’s still a possibility to have a wild spectacle-heavy action flick that actually manages to tell a decent story. I guess it was with that hope in mind that I actually decided to check this particular cash-in flick out. It’s shamelessly over-the-top, extravagant entertainment, but the best thing about The Avengers is…it knows that.

   Now, with that all out of the way, I can tell you that The Avengers is a really fun movie. I can definitely say I was entertained while I was watching it, and there enough new ideas and interesting turns in there to keep a seasoned film buff (read: cynical snob) like myself satisfied. I especially enjoyed seeing the personalities of these superpowerful titans bouncing off each other – even more than the incredible action sequences where they were physically doing the exact same thing. The movie really focuses on the forming of this group of extraordinary individuals into a cohesive team – which is cool when you start seeing Iron Man and Thor fucking throw down in the middle of the forest. I gotta say, it’s the most appealing thing about the movie, and exactly why it’s already going to gross near-Avatar­ levels – it’s just fun to see all of these movies meld into one. Although I am highly critical of the slew of superhero movies being shoved down our throats lately, I do have to admit their tactic was pretty genius – and it’s obviously working. I mean, it’s good for them – they get money. Meanwhile, we have to put up with mediocre films. I guess it’s a fair enough tradeoff, because eventually we get The Avengers – the big one that a bunch of those superhero movies were leading up to. They’ve taken the comic book mentality and thrust it onto the big screen – for better or for worse.

The Avengers are not amused by the smartass onlooking citizen yelling “Free Bird!”

   So The Avengers is fun. But is it really necessary? The answer is no, of course not. I’m not trying to say it’s not worth your time, or that it’s a terrible film – I’ve definitely seen plenty big-budget, star-studded action flicks WAY worse than this one. It’s just…..don’t let it get to your head. This is pure film fluff at its highest form – a purely mind-numbing exercise in awe-inducing spectacle with just enough plot and character development to be acceptable. And it is! This is a very quality made film. But once you get down to it, it’s just another superhero movie…or rather, several of them. It is interesting to see all of these stories intersect with one another, and there are plenty of individual character moments where – if you were to take the particular scene out of the movie and watch it separately – it would definitely seem like it was a solo movie for that character. That’s probably the movie’s greatest feat: effectively welding all of these crazy-ass epic stories together. I think the credit clearly goes to uber-writer/first time film director Joss Whedon here. I’m pretty sure Whedon’s entire life has been leading to his involvement with this film, meaning that he actually had a DEEP interest in doing a big-screen version of this comic book right. The dude’s actually written comics before, and he’s written movies (including the last one I reviewed) – he knows how both work and how to integrate them effectively, so it works! By this end, the movie was in VERY good hands. And it shows.

   So what the hell is this movie about anyway? Why, it’s about superheroes trying to save the fuckin’ world, ya dope!!! What else would it be about? I mean, you could also say it’s about how teamwork and putting aside differences – no matter how super you are – is the most effective way to get the job at hand done, but no, it’s about SAVIN’ THE WORLD!!! Therefore, the plot is quite simple: Loki, the evil and “adopted” brother of Thor (his words, not mine) portal-warps onto our planet and starts killing everyone he sees (except for the important characters) because he wants to rule the puny humans. He got here by using the Tesseract, an energy cube of unlimited and unknown power that us humans found at the bottom of the ocean. After some good guys get mind-bent over to Loki’s side, including the absolutely savage archer Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Nick Fury (the right-at-home Samuel L. Jackson) takes one in the bulletproof vest, said victim of pesky bullet-tickling waits for the bad guys to leave without killing him and orders the re-engagement of The Avengers Initiative – a super elite team of Earth’s mightiest heroes to take the son of a bitch down before he subjugates all of mankind. From that point on the entire movie is pretty much just down to meeting the Avengers, and seeing them overcome personal differences to have a drawn-out yet highly kickass battle at the end of the movie.

Serious stares are only that much more serious when there’s an eyepatch involved.

   Normally, I would say that such a lack of plot would be a detriment to a film this huge, but in a strange way, the miniscule narrative is actually part of the fun of the movie. Since everything is laid out for us to understand, we can pretty much just focus on the characters, which is a GOOD thing. If there’s one thing Joss Whedon can do, it’s write snappy, witty dialogue that fits characters appropriately, and it’s really fun to watch. Another big thing working for the movie are the performances: there are a lot of kickass actors in this film, and while their talents might be better off being in some Oscar-baiting type of material, they work wonders here. I may be biased, since I think she’s one of the most beautiful women on the entire planet, but Scarlett Johansson really knocks it out of the park as Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow. I also think she’s a really gifted actress, so that helps as well. I will admit, I’ve always thought of Scarlett as having a bit more class than this kind of movie…seeing her in this makes me think of the scene in Lost In Translation where her character sees a dumb blonde actress doing press for a stupid action flick she did. But I can definitely say that Scarlett brings a lot of class to the role, and she totally looks badass beating the shit out of countless thugs, so maybe it’s not that big of a deal.  Anyway, her character was introduced to the movie-going populace in Iron Man 2, and quite frankly, apart from her scene where she kicks a bunch of dudes’ asses in a hallway, she was pretty much wasted in that movie. (I actually think that entire movie was a waste, but that’s another review.) It’s really refreshing to see her strut her stuff more here, and her character manages to fit in quite well amongst the hodgepodge of superhuman testosterone.

Even with 6 other dudes, having a chick like that on the team pretty much evens out the hormonal scorecard.

   Also bringing something surprising to the table was Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner, aka The Hulk. Now, The Hulk hasn’t really had the greatest luck when it comes to super big-budget film adaptations. Hulk, the Ang Lee-directed first outing from 2003, was a boring, self-indulgent mess. The Incredible Hulk, the 2008 reboot starring Edward Norton, was….pretty cool, I guess, but nothing great. This time around, The Hulk is one of the most enjoyable things about the movie, and I really think it’s because of Mark Ruffalo. At first I wasn’t really sure how he would measure up compared to the other actors (especially Robert Downey Jr., who still is my favorite out of all these people) but Ruffalo definitely holds his own and kind of makes me wish they had gone with him from the get-go. He brings a charming awkwardness to Bruce Banner, making him a strange, nerdy type of fellow who just happens to be harboring one of the most unpredictable and destructive forces in the galaxy inside his person. Next to Downey Jr., who was pretty much born to play the role of Tony Stark, I’d say he gives one of the film’s strongest performances.

   I really don’t have a lot else to say about The Avengers…it’s really quite a simple film, at least in terms of what it’s there to do. It’s certainly a fun, exciting, very well-executed piece of commercial filmmaking, and it actually has a brain thanks to a competent writer/director. The action sequences are exhilarating, although a little lacking in suspense (c’mon, you already know they’re going to win. It’s, uh….it’s obvious), and it has great dialogue and performances from everyone involved. But I will say again…this is purely a piece of commercial filmmaking. I’m hesitant to even really call it “art”…this movie was definitely made because the people making it want to make a yacht-full of money. And they are succeeding. The movie’s already broken the world record for the highest grossing opening weekend of all time, and it’s only going to keep getting bigger from there – I wouldn’t be surprised if it dethroned Avatar as the highest grossing film of all time.  But what I’m trying to say is, there are definitely more artfully executed, genuinely thoughtful movies out there that are probably more deserving of the the jillions of dollars and heaps of accolades this movie will accrue. The Avengers is a pop culture-infused juggernaut, the result of a carefully laid-out plan to infiltrate the wallets of as many average citizens as possible. I’m probably sounding more grumpy and lame than I mean to, but in all honesty, I just don’t think this movie is that big of a deal. It accomplishes telling a coherent story with a multitude of epic characters, and for that it’s impressive. I definitely recommend it to anyone looking to have a fun time watching a movie, because at the end of the day, that’s what movies are for! But like I said…just don’t let it get to your head.

Review: SUPER MARIO BROS.

SUPER MARIO BROS. (1993)
Starring Bob Hoskins, John Leguizamo, Dennis Hopper & Samantha Mathis
Directed by Rocky Morton & Annabel Jankel
Written by Parker Bennett, Terry Runté & Ed Solomon
Produced by Jake Eberts & Roland Joffé
Cinematography by Dean Semler
Music by Alan Silvestri
Edited by Mark Goldblatt

If this awesome poster doesn't make you want to see this, then brother, I don't know what will.

   It was bound to happen eventually – a big-budget, full-length feature film based on a video game. After decades of adapting from other mediums, it was only a matter of time before somebody in Hollywood decided to make a movie inspired by the interactive worlds that games offered. And in the early 90s, the video game market was still relatively new – still evolving and growing to the level of sophistication (depending on who you ask) that we know and understand today. And at the forefront of the video game revolution was Super Mario Bros. – undoubtedly the most successful video game of all; the game that singlehandedly made Nintendo a household name and saved the video game industry from becoming a forgotten, irrelevant fad during the mid-80s. Mario was the Mickey Mouse for the gaming generation, a veritable icon for the ages and beloved mascot for a titan entertainment company. So it’s really no wonder that Super Mario Bros. became the first ever movie based on a video game – and unwittingly set the unfortunate precedent for almost every video game-to-film adaptation to come.

   Upon its release in 1993, Super Mario Bros. was universally despised by pretty much everyone who saw it. It was loud, strange, tonally inaccurate with the games that inspired it, and generally boneheaded in its execution. The film cost $48,000,000 to make and only recouped $21,000,000 from the box office. Siskel and Ebert gave it two thumbs down – an unavoidable kiss of death for movies during the 1990s. Bob Hoskins, who had the distinction of portraying Mario in the film, would go on to say that it was the worst thing he ever did and that he wished he could delete the film from his life – and this is coming from the dude who was in Heart Condition. If there were a picture in the dictionary to go alongside the word “failure”, the poster for Super Mario Bros. would surely do the most justice.

Or maybe this one, actually.

   But, my friends, I have a sort of deep, dark secret I would like to confess to all of you right here and now: I actually kind of enjoy Super Mario Bros. I know, I know, what the hell could possibly be wrong with me?! How can any of you trust my word on films when I actually enjoy a travesty such as this film?! Well to that I can assure you that Super Mario Bros. exists for me purely in the realm of guilty pleasures – something that is so horrendously, appallingly terrible that I just have no choice but to love it for being so bad. I first took a shine to the movie as a young lad, when I rented it from Zip’s Video without any knowledge of its abysmal performance at the box office or any care what critics thought of it – I was just a little kid who loved the Mario video games, so a live action movie was pretty much the coolest idea ever! I really liked the movie as a little kid, so maybe that effects my judgement of it as an older, semi-wiser adult. But, to reiterate, I definitely do understand that the movie is bad. And to be fair, Super Mario Bros. isn’t bad in the way that a movie like, say, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is bad. Super Mario Bros. actually has several redeeming qualities about it that save it from the realm of evil, offensive, mind-destroying crappiness that so many other movies fall into. What could those qualities possibly be? Read on, my friends, read on!

   For one thing, Super Mario Bros. actually tries to take itself seriously – which can either be construed as a bad thing or a noble thing, depending on your view. There is a sort of devotion to the reality the film is trying to present, even if it is a silly and over-the-top one. You get the feeling that the characters in the movie actually believe they’re participating in the ridiculousness being put upon them, and because of this, it’s actually possible to be drawn into the world of the movie, rather than being alienated from it and detached while things are going on. I guess what I’m trying to say is, while the tone of the film is COMPLETELY different than the tone of the games, it establishes itself for what it is and remains consistent throughout its running time. This is something which cannot be said for a LOT of movies considered to be in the same vein as Super Mario Bros., so I give the movie some credit for actually staying faithful to its own grand design…unfortunately, it’s just a very misguided one.

   Anybody who’s ever played a Mario game knows what the deal is: Princess Toadstool (later renamed Peach) gets kidnapped by Bowser, a big, menacing, fire-breathing, evil & spiky-shelled turtle, and it’s up to Mario (and sometimes his brother Luigi) to go on a magnificent quest through bright, colorful worlds to rescue her – all while defeating troublesome enemies along the way. There’s not really much else to the early Mario games – they’re lighthearted platform adventure games with catchy music with a VERY thin plot to give you an excuse to bop digital bad guys on the head. I’m sure when people went to go see the movie back in 1993, they were expecting something similar to this, since – you know, it was based on the game n’ shit. But instead of seeing this bright, colorful world filled with smiley happy characters, they got a grungy, dilapitated hellhole populated by unfriendly and ugly dinosaur people and controlled by Dennis Hopper. The plot is, Mario and Luigi are plumbers from Brooklyn, and get sucked into an alternate dimension where dinosaurs have evolved into intelligent beings (who happen to look exactly like humans), and are now actively being pursued by King Koopa (NOT Bowser) for harboring a piece of meteorite which belonged to Princess Daisy (NOT Toadstool) that can be used to merge the dino-dimension and the human dimension into one. If you’re saying “What the fuck?” to yourself after reading that sentence, trust me….you are NOT alone. The makers of the film, in a vain attempt to modernize and ground the film in some kind of reality, completely morphed the concept of Mario into some kind of sci-fi/action/comedy spectacle flick….and the effect is, needless to say, quite confusing.

Seriously, how do you go from THIS........

..........to THIS?!

   Gone were the bright green pipes which housed chomping Pirahna Plants. Gone were the mushrooms which made Mario grow larger and stomp enemies. Gone were the green-shelled turtles and mushroom-shaped Goombas which populated Mario’s world. Gone was anything that even remotely tied in to the Super Mario Bros. franchise visually, save for the appearance of Mario & Luigi themselves and one sole Bob-Omb. It was all replaced by lavish, S&M-inspired hysteria and dystopian grunge with only mild references to the actual games themselves (a nightclub called “Thwomp” and another called “Bullet Bill’s”, for example) in a sort of send-up of 90’s New York culture. I think this is primarily why so many people rejected Super Mario Bros. upon its release: it was just way, WAY too different from what they knew and loved from the video games. Not only that, but it was a lot more violent and harsh than the games, which exemplified kid-friendly cuteness in almost every way. I’m positive there were MANY parents out there who stormed out of the theater with their children once they laid eyes on the dark, dystopian society the loveable Mario & Luigi found themselves trapped in and the surreal, violent antics which occurred there. You go from such simple themes as adventuring and saving a princess to fascist rule by an oppressive dictator, childhood abandonment, the concept of evolution AND de-evolution, and inter-dimensional domination, to name a few.

   So what hell happened here? Well, I think that when time came to develop the Mario license into a live-action movie, there were several problems that instantly came into play:

1. There’s no plot.
2. Nothing in Mario’s world tangibly exists in reality.
3. Faithfully recreating the exact style of the games would cost a shit-ton of money.
4. The only people who played video games were little kids….and maybe weird adults.
5. Nobody had ever made a video game into a movie before.

   I think this last one was the most troubling for the creators of this film, since they had absolutely nothing to go off of – they were essentially creating a brand new genre of films. Now personally, I think that notion would be incredibly exciting and open up a nearly endless well of creativity, and maybe it did for the movie’s producers – but they didn’t necessarily use that creativity in a very productive way. I still believe it is VERY possible to make a good, solid Mario movie using the actual style and characters from the universe of the games, but apparently at the time the filmmakers thought they needed something a bit more substantial to make a live action movie with. The result, unfortunately, was something wholly unworthy of being considered anywhere near the quality of the games which inspired it.

   But, if you recall, I did say that I actually enjoy Super Mario Bros., and I really, truly do. I completely understand that it is is a terrible movie, with a hopelessly inept script and somewhat hammy acting from all parties involved, but for some reason, I can’t bring myself to completely write it off as another failure from the bowels of Hollywood. There’s a sort of quirky charm to the movie, a kind of lightheartedness that endears itself to me. The movie begins with what could possibly be the worst animation ever committed to celluloid – I don’t know if they were trying to emulate the 8-bit look of NES games, but the poorly-drawn, barely lip-synced dinosaurs in the intro look laughably terrible. Then a cheesy-sounding narrator with a bad New York accent begins to awkwardly expose the plot before the opening credits even begin, effectively showing that these filmmakers have absolutely no idea how to begin their own movie. Seriously, they could have done away with this entire opening segment and the movie probably would have made at least 10,000 more dollars…but this is just speculation. Anyway, the movie really begins with a mother leaving her baby (a giant, unhatched egg) on the front stoop of a nunnery in the middle of the rain, along with a mysterious piece of blue rock. Then, when she goes back underground to go into her dimension, Dennis Hopper comes out of the shadows and grabs her by the shoulders….which makes the whole cave shake for some reason, and the mother screams while the rocks presumably bury her alive. We don’t know for sure because it cuts away instantly to present-day Brooklyn, where we meet Mario and Luigi, two plumbers who are dangerously low on funds. We follow them around and get to know their personalities, and they eventually run into Daisy, whom Luigi falls for and which gets out plot going. I’ll stop summarizing here because I think you get the idea – this movie is pretty damn ridiculous.

Koopa wants to hit it too.

   Despite the shortcomings of the heavily flawed script,  it does actually make sense in its own way – I know what motivates each character, I know what the stakes are and what happens if Mario and company fail, and because of that, I can actually squeeze a small amount of dramatic tension from the story. The characters have a sort of goofy charm about them, and the actors try their best to breathe a little life into them. It’s not Shakespeare, but c’mon, it’s a stupid movie based on a video game! And hey, the production value on the film is GREAT! It really is a fun film to look at, even though what’s transpiring onscreen is enough to make you question what the hell the directors were thinking. The set designs are creative and elaborate, the makeup effects are pretty damn dazzling, and the creature effects are very impressive. It’s very clear that a lot of money went into this production, and they actually used it to create a believably hostile environment filled with strange and perplexing characters. This is all part of what makes movies fun to watch – complete immersion into a make believe world.

   Although, for this feat, I should really give credit to production designer David L. Snyder – the same man who designed the sets for Blade Runner. He’s pretty much the reason why the movie looks cool, because the film’s directors – the husband and wife team of Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel – probably didn’t have much to do with that. Stories of the duo’s inability to control what was happening on their set are now infamous, but needless to say just from watching the movie, these two people were in way over their heads. It’s really mind-boggling to me that the movie’s producers (including Roland Joffé, the director behind the critically lauded filmed The Killing Fields….WTF?!) didn’t try to find someone with a bit of a track record for big-budget adventure flicks….the only movie these two yahoos had directed was a little noir film called D.O.A. (1988) which was critically accepted but bombed at the box office. Their biggest success was creating the popular 80s commercial character Max Headroom. Other than that, Rocky and Anna were pretty much hacks whose “arrogance had been mistaken for talent”, according to Bob Hoskins. Inexplicably these two people were put in charge of a big-budget video game adaptation and this was the result. Not to mention the screenplay had been rewritten several times by several different writers and wasn’t even completely finished by the time production began…in essence, making Super Mario Bros. was almost more unbearable than the movie itself. It’s really a shame, because the potential for something great was squandered by people who thought they knew what they were doing.

When we said we wanted to "gross millions" this isn't exactly what we meant.

   Super Mario Bros. exists as one of those rare movies where everything goes completely wrong but is, for some reason, still somewhat entertaining. Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo actually have pretty good chemistry and are pretty believable as Mario and Luigi, and Samantha Mathis, who plays Princess Daisy, tries her damned hardest to be a convincing emotional center for this movie and somehow manages to succeed at doing so. Dennis Hopper gets to have the most fun by being a completely over-the-top asshole, and I’m pretty sure he just agreed to appear in the film to score drug money – but his performance is memorable nonetheless and one of the saving graces of the film. And for all the silly antics and ridiculous occurrences that happen, the movie is actually smart enough to give Mario and Luigi character arcs – Mario is portrayed as a sort of average Joe everyman, someone who doesn’t believe in supernatural phenomenae or wild stories until he finds himself in the middle of one, while Luigi is portrayed as a goofy younger guy who has trouble talking to girls, until he falls for Daisy and eventually gains confidence…ok, I might be reaching with that one, but it’s still a small semblance of an arc nonetheless. My point is, things actually happen in this movie, and the characters have things to do and are developed semi-well. It’s not complete garbage, as most people who see this movie would have you believe. It’s harmless popcorn entertainment, just smart enough to provide some inspired moments but ultimately an unfocused, flawed production. I’d only recommend it to those who like to sit around with friends and watch subpar movies for fun, but other than that, I can’t really recommend it in any serious fashion – even though I personally like the film for what it is. What could have been at least marginally great is now instead one of the biggest blunders in recent cinematic history, and it set the stage for even more atrocious video-game-to-film adaptations that are still being made to this day. I guess there’s something about the interactive experience games provide that gets lost in translation to movies – or maybe the people who make video game movies think that the movies themselves have to be like actual video games, instead of actual movies. Whatever the reason is, it’s definitely been one of the worst genres to exist in film history – and it all stems back to Super Mario Bros.

   Oh, I almost forgot to mention the best part: the movie ends with Daisy running back to our dimension to fetch the Mario Bros. for another adventure, ostensibly setting up a sequel which would never, EVER come. Such high hopes, yet nothing to show for it…in a tragic way, it pretty much sums up the entire movie.