Thursday, June 27, 2013

Man of Steel

I can't believe how many people died in this movie.

Tens of thousands at least. Probably hundreds of thousands. Entire skyscrapers are brought to the ground over and over. And over. And over.

Is this 9/11 symbolism? I don't know. That was a long time ago now -- hard as that is to believe -- and nothing in Man of Steel resonates with that terrorist attack.

So we're just left with all those casualties.

Man of Steel, of course, is the Superman reboot. But in this incarnation of the character, unlike any I've ever seen, Superman does not save people. In fact, I'm hard-pressed to think of a single innocent saved in the film's two hour and twenty-four minute running time, except for a family of four Superman rescues at the climax by snapping the neck of his antagonist, General Zod.

I gotta tell ya, I don't really recognize this character. And I certainly don't like him.

Here's the plot:

Wait a second, you already know the plot. It's essentially the same as 1980's Superman II. That's the one where three Kryptonians who had been imprisoned years earlier by Superman's father show up looking for a little payback.

Superman II is notable for the first truly great super-hero smackdown, where all of Superman's powers are required just to hold his enemies to a draw. The fight ends, insightfully, when General Zod realizes Superman is going out of his way to protect the local citizenry from the fight's fallout. He shrewdly starts menacing said populace, which causes Superman to flee out of regard for their lives.

Zod yells "coward!" at the departing Superman. Doesn't change anything.

Because Superman, as he has always been conceived, isn't consumed with ego. He's not insecure, he's not petty, and he's not angry. He's above such things, because he's Superman.

All he does is look out for people.

Enter Man of Steel, where the three malevolent Kryptonians -- a perfect number; enough to make Superman an underdog, but not so many we can't separate their personalities -- are replaced by a whole shipful of malevolent Kryptonians. They are led by Michael Shannon's sneering Zod, who plays the villain like a rabid canine, possibly the least interesting acting choice he could make.

Zod has come to retrieve a genetic codex from Superman's DNA in order to recreate Kryptonian civilization right here on Earth. This is illogical, since Zod has an interstellar spaceship and could recreate Krypton on any number of other worlds, none of which would involve having to duke it out with Superman, but like I said, this Zod is a dumb animal, so he picks a fight.

And what a fight it is.

It rages all over Manhattan, toppling dozens of buildings, killing countless innocents, and not once do we ever get a shot of Superman wincing at the carnage. Instead he just hurls himself at Zod once again, pointlessly, toppling another building in the process.

The scene where he snaps Zod's neck is meant to be a powerful moment illustrating Superman's concession to necessity, but why the heck do we care about Superman's conscience at that point? The poor guy had to kill one rampaging madman. Big deal. A tenth of the city of New York just got crushed under ferrocrete.

In keeping with the bloody nature of this story, there's hardly any humor to be found. I only counted two jokes, one of which had a female soldier acting unprofessionally because Superman is so attractive, and another which constituted the last line of the movie, where Lois Lane puns, "Welcome to the Planet."

Two jokes. That gets you to the thirty second mark in The Avengers or Iron Man.

Even Nolan's dark, haunted Batman Begins was full of wit and humor -- everything Michael Caine's Alfred said was funny; almost everything Morgan Freeman said was funny -- and its sequel, The Dark Knight, had a mesmerizingly goofy performance from Heath Ledger. The third movie veered into glum heaviness, and that's what we see in Man of Steel.

And if that's what we can expect from Man of Steel sequels and an eventual Justice League, then I'm not interested.

A good superhero story has to be half-comedy. That's the alchemy that makes the genre work.

Oh, and you might want to throw in a conscience for your "hero."


How Accomplished: 28/100

How Much I Enjoyed: 25/100

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Fast & Furious 6

You've got to give the franchise credit.

It knows exactly what it is.

It does now, anyway. It's easy to forget, the first movie had pretensions of actual quality, however ridiculous those pretensions were. And it's easy to forget the second and third movies didn't even feature series cornerstone Dominic Toretto, played by the inimitable Vin Diesel.

It was the fourth movie which jettisoned the word "and" in favor of the ampersand and, more importantly, returned Vin to his permanent place at the center of the Furious-verse.

And now the franchise is a printing press.

I don't remember which character is jumping off a tank onto a car in that picture, but lots of people do lots of jumping between vehicles. At one point Vin crashes his car into a guard rail, KNOWING the impact will eject him through the windshield so he can catch a falling Michelle Rodriguez and soft-land with her on the hood of another car.

I don't have a picture of it, but I know it happened.

And oh yeah! Michelle Rodriguez is back as Vin's tough-as-nails love interest, Letty. The fact that she was killed off a couple movies ago doesn't matter. She's back with amnesia and working for the bad guy.

So now we're homing in on the formula of this profitable franchise. It's a soap opera -- not even a melodrama, a full-blown soap opera; I fully expect the next installment to introduce Vin's evil twin brother -- played out with car chases, fist fights and gun battles.

And testosterone. Lots and lots of testosterone.

Since everyone knows the tone and style of a Fast & Furious movie, everyone's okay with plot absurdities and a general suspension of the laws of physics.

But beyond the reliably entertaining and often unintentionally comedic action sequences, there are two scenes in the movie that milk genuine dramatic tension out of fun situations. Both occur near the middle of the movie.

The first occurs after a drag race between Vin and his now-evil love, Michelle Rodriguez. Vin wins the race, which earns him a roadside chat with the woman he's been mourning the last few years. Vin applies the ol' Vin charm, Rodriguez applies her standard tough talk, and the scene somehow does the impossible: it introduces subtext into the dialogue. That never happens in Fast & Furious movies. Good job, guys.

The next scene occurs directly thereafter, when the bad guy -- an evil Brit named Shaw -- shows up and offers Vin the chance to back away from their coming confrontation, no questions asked.

It's a fun macho showdown that veers into the realm of the philosophical, as they discuss their differing worldviews in semi-polite terms. That also never happens in a Fast & Furious movie.

There's also The Rock, an addition to the franchise from last movie, and mixed martial arts star Gina Carano, a new and welcome member of the club. She dies at the end of this one -- whoops, spoiler alert -- after it is revealed that she is actually working for Shaw -- whoops, another spoiler alert -- but it's no biggie.

If the producers want her back in the next one, I'm sure they'll think of something.