Tag Archive: sci-fi/action


REVIEW: PACIFIC RIM

PACIFIC RIM (2013)
Starring Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day, Rob Kazinsky & Ron Perlman
Directed by Guillermo del Toro
Written by Travis Beacham & Guillermo del Toro
Produced by Thomas Tull, John Jashni, Guillermo del Toro & Mary Parent
Cinematography by Guillermo Navarro
Music by Ramin Djawadi
Edited by Peter Amundson & John Gilroy

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The Blood-Bot rapidly approaches the unsuspecting Crip-Bot, and the age-old struggle continues to perpetuate itself.

   The big-budget summer blockbuster, as you’re probably well aware, has been a staple of American cinema for decades now. Designed to enthrall the senses of the casual moviegoer during the slow, hot & sticky months of the middle of the year, summer blockbusters as a rule typically feature extravagant amounts of style over any sort of substance. Obviously, the best summer blockbusters are the ones which manage to feature plenty of both – movies like The Matrix, or Jurassic Park, or The Dark Knight for example, offer enough action to wow the escapist thrill-seeker residing in all of us while simultaneously providing enough clever dramatic embellishments to stimulate the muscle up in our head-parts. Nowadays, the average summer blockbuster tips a liiiiittle bit too much in the “more thrills, less brains” side of the scale. Okay let’s be real here, a LOT too much. I mostly blame the Transformers movies for this disturbing trend, although to be completely fair, there’ve always been those summer films which err more to the dumb side – that’s just the way it goes. (Although I could definitely argue that it’s just gotten EXTREMELY out of hand in recent years.) But you gotta admit, older blockbuster films at least tried to tell a cinematically pleasing story, with semi-developed characters and rationally legible plots that focused on wit and charm instead of explosions and…explosions. They were movies which understood that it was important to not only excite the audience with super-cool movie wizardry, but to emotionally connect with us as well; to actually engage the casual movie-goer in the film, and be a part of its world.

   Pacific Rim, the new film from the truly talented and visionary director Guillermo del Toro, is a film which tries to reconnect the audience to the magic and spectacle only the best summer blockbusters can provide. And for the most part, it succeeds – particularly in the spectacle aspect of things. Del Toro specifically aims to recapture the kind of wonder a 10 year-old boy would experience when seeing a movie like Godzilla for the first time, essentially trying to turn everyone in the audience into a kid again. And dammit, I give him mad props for even attempting to create something which could be considered quaint in this modern age of cynical cash-grab cinema. With the love of old school creature features and classic action blockbusters in his heart, del Toro has crafted a film which truly demonstrates how epic summer blockbusters ought to be handled. HOWEVER – despite the truly wonderful and patented visual marvels del Toro cooks up in this flick, Pacific Rim unfortunately weighs a tad too heavy on the “style” side of the scale – leaving little substance to be had for anyone looking for something a bit deeper than the average action battle flick.

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Mako looks nervous to ask, but Raleigh, an experienced Jaeger pilot, already knows the answer: yes, you can in fact go in your suit.

   On one hand, Pacific Rim is a cinema lover’s dream come true. For one thing, it’s actually an original idea, not something adapted from a comic book or TV show or some other kind of pre-established intellectual property – HALLELUJAH!!!! It boasts some of the most incredible visuals you’ve EVER seen, truly stunning battle sequences which excite and dazzle, and much needed moments of levity and heart which modern movies like Man of Steel are sorely lacking. But, on the other hand, it begins to slip into standard boneheaded action movie territory. It features such wonderful tropes as underdeveloped characters, clichéd and stilted dialogue, average performances which border on being too grating to sit through – basically it falters with anything actually involving actual human beings delivering dialogue and trying to emote. This of course is a HUGE detriment to a film which is trying to conjure up some semblance of human community and connection while simultaneously trying to astound our senses. For this reason, I found Pacific Rim to be a little disappointing – especially coming from a director with a track record as estimable as del Toro’s.

   BUT, it’s not all bad! Truthfully, I had a lot of fun watching Pacific Rim. As a summer blockbuster, it is leaps and bounds more accomplished and repeat viewing-worthy than most of the dreck thrown up on theater screens these days. I was looking forward to this film quite a bit, and I’m just a little sad about the fact my expectations were slightly let down – but not so much that I wouldn’t recommend the film to anyone, or give it a terrible review. I guess I just expected more out of the man who gave us a film as nuanced and layered as Pan’s Labyrinth – a truly engaging cinematic dream. Pacific Rim features precisely 0 nuance and subtlety – it’s like being beaten over the head with a schmaltzy brick and being hazily entranced by the pretty stars you see. It’s pretty, but your brain doesn’t get much out of it. But of course, this brings up the argument (one I’m still having with myself, actually) about del Toro’s intentions with this flick – has he purposely created something short on brains and high on action to remind us how pointlessly fun action movies can be? Is this all part of his grand design? I’ll elaborate more on this intriguing notion in a little bit – but first, let’s talk about the story.

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Things got a lot more peaceful when they finally realized the kaiju just wanted someone to help with its really bad toothache.

   Pacific Rim is basically your standard otaku (basically the Japanese synonym for “geek”) film, a movie about giant monsters which utterly decimate large cityscapes, seemingly just for the fun of it. It’s also a mecha film, sporting the biggest and baddest robots this side of Voltron. Del Toro is himself an otaku for these genres of film, and decided to combine the two into the most ass-kickingest sci-fi smash ‘em up in cinema history. SWEET! In the not-so-distant future, an inter-dimensional portal has opened up at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, out of which gigantic horrible creatures are ejected that level cities whole and kill tens of thousands of people easily. After being thoroughly ravaged enough times by these beasts, mankind decides to cut the bullshit and put aside their differences to construct a new weapon to wage war with these creatures, very appropriately referred to as kaijus (Japanese for “big ass motherfucking monsters”). These new weapons are equally gigantic robots known as Jaegers (German for “hunter”) which require two human pilots to operate. Apparently, the strain of being mentally linked to a gigantic robot suit is too much for one human to handle, so a duo of mentally-connected humans must share the load to effectively beat monster ass together. This mental connection process is known as “Drifting”. One you’ve Drifted with someone, you essentially know everything there is to know about them – their hopes, dreams, fears, secrets, memories, etc. The Jaeger project begins to turn the tide against the kaiju, and for a while humanity can once again rest easy knowing that we can finally assert ourselves against these inter-dimensional assholes. Over time, however, the kaiju begin to adapt and grow stronger against our defenses, and Jaegers start getting defeated left and right. Cue the entrance of our main character, Raleigh Becket (played by Charlie Hunnam from TV’s Sons of Anarchy), a Jaeger operator alongside his brother Yancy. Together they pilot the Gipsy Danger, a pretty badass looking Jaeger that thwomps with the best of them. However, at the start of the film the Gipsy Danger is overpowered by a wily kaiju and Raleigh’s brother is killed in action. Raleigh manages to survive the encounter but is heavily traumatized by the ordeal (he was still mind-linked to his bro at the moment of his death…not pleasant), so he spends the next 5 years helping construct a “Wall of Hope” being built to keep the kaiju out. Since the Jaegers are no longer as effective at defending humanity as they once were, the powers that be decide to discontinue the program and send the last remaining Jaegers to defend the wall until its completion.

   In charge of the operation is Stacker Pentecost (played by Idris Elba), your standard tough-as-nails, no-nonsense type of commander dude. Pentecost coaxes Raleigh back into service, as one of the last remaining Jaegers is Raleigh’s old mecha Gipsy Danger, completely rebuilt and refurbished since his last time in the cockpit. Joining this ragtag defense group is Mako Mori (played by Japanese actress Rinko Kikuchi), Pentecost’s second in command, and a quirky and eccentric kaiju-studying scientist named Dr. Newton Geizler (hilariously portrayed by Charlie Day, of TV’s It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, oddly enough). Mako wants to co-pilot one of the Jaegers but Pentecost won’t let her, and Geizler wants to try and Drift with a still-active kaiju brain but Pentecost won’t let him. (Pentecost is kind of a dick.) Mako and Raleigh quickly form a bond, and Raleigh pressures Pentecost to let her be his co-pilot. Meanwhile, Raleigh gets bullied by some asshole from another Jaeger crew and Geizler Drifts with a kaiju brain against Pentecost’s wishes. Then, some badass fights happen and the plot continues on in a fairly straightforward manner.

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The kaiju, seeing the Sydney Opera House, finally locates a suitable looking mate while the horrified crowd looks on.

   The #1 problem with Pacific Rim is that the plot basically exists as an excuse to showcase kickass kaiju/Jaeger fights, and nothing else. It chugs along at a nice pace, but there’s this hollow feeling to all the intermediate scenes between battle sequences. You sort of get the feeling that way too much emphasis was put on the battles, and not enough on the rest of the movie. Plus, there are a few glaring logical problems in the flick. Throughout the entire thing, I kept watching robots punching the kaijus to no avail, and I kept thinking to myself Man, why don’t they just give these robots a giant sword or something? A big weapon would deeefinitely help, and then at one critical point in a battle towards the end, they actually activated a sword in the Gipsy Danger and killed the kaiju they were fighting in one blow! I was just like “for real? You couldn’t have just slashed him to pieces with that giant sword 10 minutes ago?” And then after they do that, they continue to use the sword until the end of the movie. What is up with that? Oh and hey, let’s not forget about completely convenient plot developments, either. The relationship between Mako and Raleigh seems almost forced out of necessity to the plot – they meet each other and just happen to be instantaneous Drift mates. Curiously, Raleigh happens to be completely fluent in Japanese seemingly out of nowhere and can understand Mako when she first speaks it to Pentecost. This is a little out of place when you consider earlier in the film, Raleigh stated that he and his brother weren’t really great in school, or anything else for that matter – they’re just really good at fighting, so they were a perfect match for Jaeger piloting. Then suddenly Raleigh just seems to know Japanese for some reason. I dunno about you, but that just seems extraordinarily convenient and out of character to me. And characters suddenly being able to do things they logically shouldn’t is something that really shouldn’t be present in a film of this supposed caliber.

   The #2 problem with Pacific Rim is that all the characters are extremely one-dimensional. Raleigh is a strong-willed hero-type with a troubled past. Pentecost is a stern, hard-nosed leader who is stubborn and authoritative. Mako is a determined and qualified yet underestimated fighter who just wants a shot. Geizler is a weird, eccentric comedy relief character who knows exactly what must be done to defeat the kaiju. I wish I could go into more detail regarding these characters but that’s literally it – there’s nowhere else to develop these characters, no deeper connection to be had. They’re all just cardboard cutouts being wielded around to further along the plot until the action scenes arrive. By far the worst character in the entire film is Raleigh’s half-assed rival – he basically exists because the script needs an asshole dude to create a sense of conflict. In the first scene they meet, this bully (his name is Chuck and he’s played by Robert Kazinsky) basically says to Raleigh “I don’t like you. I think you’re dead weight. Stay out of my way, buddy!” for…no real reason whatsoever. This kind of half-hearted antagonism is supposed to create a sense of tension for our main character, but it’s so obliviously one-dimensional and forced that it almost feels banal. Later in the film, these two characters inevitably gain respect for each other and proceed to work together in the final mission…much to no one’s surprise. I read that del Toro did this to illustrate how even though humans can be fighting, arguing assholes, at the end of the day you might just have to go into battle with the very same asshole you were fighting with, and at that point your petty beef doesn’t have a point anymore. This is a very admirable theme to have and I appreciate him trying to pull it off, but quite frankly it’s so blunt, simple and predictable that it ends up feeling contrived.

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Every now and then they like to let the Jaegers go out for a nice, relaxing dip…fully supervised, of course, those things are pretty damn expensive.

   I’m disappointed with Pacific Rim because even though its special effects are wonderful and genuinely engaging, the human aspect of the story is severely lacking – and what’s worse, it’s trying to pass itself off as a human story. The reason this is so troubling is because I just know del Toro is a stronger storyteller than this, and this sort of problem just feels like it shouldn’t be there. I mean, I get the feeling this movie is actively trying to be a stronger, more engaging film than most of its contemporaries, yet it experiences much of the very same problems that plague them. This is sort of why I’m almost willing to give del Toro the benefit of the doubt and say that this one-dimensionality and hokey storytelling is actually what he was going for – like he is trying to sort of capture that cheesy, gung-ho feeling of adventure that a lot of older B-movies tend to have. I mean, let’s face it – this is a movie about giant robots punching giant monsters in the face. It’s a movie for 13-year-old boys, and little kids in general. Del Toro has explicitly stated that he wanted to introduce the kaiju/mecha genres to a new generation of children, and based on THAT level alone, Pacific Rim succeeds with flying colors. Despite the lack of enriching, developed characters, the movie is still a hell of a lot of fun to watch. You won’t be able to believe your eyes when you watch the battles in this movie – they look incredible and pump the Action Receptors of your brain up to the maximum! Honestly, in the grand scheme of things, this movie isn’t really about deeper human connections – it’s about punching giant monsters in the face. It’s a silly and overblown premise, and the production values and performances are silly and overblown in return. So I guess under those stipulations, Pacific Rim is absolutely perfect – it hits the mindless action notes perfectly and with extreme style.

   Although, on the other hand, the movie goes out of its way to show these people making intimate connections and working together to overcome a horrifying obstacle. It’s trying to tell a human story. And when you start looking at the movie from the perspective of an adult moviegoer, not a little kid, it starts to fall apart at the seams a little bit. Sure, it’s a movie for little kids, but I mean…I was excited to see it, as I’m sure a lot of self-respecting adult moviegoers were. This movie is blunt, loud, and oversimplified – just like the vast majority of summer blockbusters coming out in 2013. In a way, Pacific Rim is falling right into the same pitfalls as the very blockbusters it’s trying to outdo – and that is a very real and contradictory problem for it. On a spectacle level, it’s unparalleled – but on a basic film level, it’s just not up to par with some of the more nuanced, detail-oriented action movies I’ve seen and loved in the past. This movie didn’t have to be underwritten or simplified – it could have been deep and resonant with rich characters and deeper themes that appeal to a mature audience. Instead, it’s got blunt, stiff dialogue that seems like it was written for people who aren’t able to understand what’s happening easily. It was just really hard for me to identify with the characters in this one – during the climax of the movie, I was honestly a little bit bored because I didn’t really care about any of the people, even though I knew what the stakes were. By that time I was so bogged down by the clichés and hokey writing that I didn’t even care if the humans would win (which I knew would happen, because duh). There’s a scene in this movie where Pentecost delivers a pre-battle speech, and it feels like it was ripped out of Independence Day so bad that after he delivers the highly quotable line “Today, we are cancelling the apocalypse!” I turned to my friend Frances in the theater and whispered, “Today, we celebrate our Independence Day!” It was just one of those moments that you’ve seen in countless movies before, and the movie is full of them. Clichés with a side of more clichés, if you will.

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Alright, did somebody set off a Jaeger bomb in here? (I’m sorry, I’m so, so sorry I just had to. Oh God please forgive me.)

   Before I close up I just want to state that I didn’t dislike Pacific Rim in any major or debilitating way. In fact, you could say I enjoyed this movie a hell of a lot more than I disliked it – I was just disappointed by several aspects of its overall execution and I wanted to adequately express them with this review. I also loved several aspects of this movie, which I’ll go into now. For one, it somehow manages to be HUGELY entertaining despite its many script flaws. There were a few boring parts, but even during things that didn’t make sense I was still going along for the ride and anticipating where it was going next. Also, despite what I said about the characters, the writing and some of the performances, a few people in this flick shine and are worth mentioning favorably. Idris Elba handles his one-dimensional role quite eloquently, and imbues it with a proper authoritative sheen that is highly believable. He was definitely the right man for the job. Also, I particularly enjoyed Charlie Day’s performance as the eccentric Dr. Geizler – he was actually my favorite character in the whole film. Charlie Day’s just a really funny guy, and seeing him be funny and wild in this serious action flick was a nice break from all the melodrama happening everywhere. I haven’t mentioned him yet, but there was another scientist character played by Burn Gorman who was sort of the serious-toned foil to Day’s character, and the two of them had excellent comedic chemistry together. Out of all the humans in the movie, they were definitely the highlights. Del Toro regular Ron Perlman also makes an appearance as Hannibal Chau, a black marketer who sells kaiju body parts for various practical purposes…like curing erectile dysfunction, for instance. No, really. Perlman stood out as one of the more memorable characters of the film, even though he was handled a little shakily. He was still a lot of fun, though!

  There are a lot of things to appreciate in Pacific Rim. The action sequences are astounding, the tone of the movie is solid and enjoyable, and it’s a lot of fun at times. But at other times it can be a hokey, overly simplified cliché factory that makes it a little difficult to adequately connect with the characters on a true emotional level. It’s not a perfect movie in the slightest, but I will say that it is incredibly imaginative and filmed with 100% honest devotion by its director, Guillermo del Toro. If they work out the kinks in the armor and add a little bit of depth to the story and characters, I’d be very interested in checking out a sequel to this flick in the future. I definitely recommend it to anyone who’s looking to have a fun time at the movies, and also don’t mind a little dumb mixed in with their action. With Pacific Rim, Guillermo del Toro at least attempts to valiantly remind us of the glory days of the Hollywood blockbuster, and just for that effort alone, I’m willing to give him and his entertaining yet flawed film some much deserved kudos. And shiiiit, at least it plays a hell of a lot better than Man of Steel. Yeeeesh!

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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!