Sunday, 16 June 2013

MAN OF STEEL

CONTAINS A FEW SPOILERS

It's sad that the new Superman movie (that's what it is, even though the name is only used a couple of times indirectly) is a massive, massive disappointment. Expectations weren't high to start with as it's a Zack Snyder film: Snyder has made one genuinely decent film (Dawn Of The Dead), one oddly fascinating curiosity (300), one overblown comicbook fantasy (Watchmen) and one morally questionable sleazefest (Sucker Punch). His films have been getting steadily worse and this CGI-overloaded superhero epic is unfortunately continuing the downward trend. But it's also sad that so many things about the film do nothing so efficiently as remind you how much better the 1978 version was. Whether it's Hans Zimmer's forgettable score that comprehensively fails to get anywhere near the power and majesty of John Williams, whether it's the complete absence of joy and humour, whether it's the obsession with CGI and green screen over actual physical effects; half the movie is just reminding you how all the technological advances haven't produced an end result that's noticeably better, more interesting or more emotionally satisfying than a film made 35 years ago. For all the gosh-wow visual whizzbang, it's hard to care very much in the first half and absolutely impossible to give a toss in the second half.

Essentially a remix of the first two Christopher Reeve films that excises Lex Luthor completely (though there is a truck towards the end carrying a LexCorp logo), Man Of Steel kicks off at full tilt with an opening action sequence featuring Jor-El (Russell Crowe) riding a dragon around Krypton during evil General Zod's (Michael Shannon) abortive coup. No sooner have the traitors been banished into the Phantom Zone (encased in giant concrete dildos for no good reason) than Krypton is destroyed - but not before Kal-El, the first natural child in centuries, is launched Earthwards to escape the cataclysm. Years later, Zod and his accomplices track Kal, now Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) to Earth....

Unfortunately, that's where the film loses its grip. From that point on the film is basically one giant effects sequence in which Superman and Zod repeatedly beat each other round the head with girders, throw one another through buildings and charge at each other at Mach 84, all to no real effect. Not just because they're both pretty much indestructible, but because it's rendered in CGI so vast and overblown that it might as well be a cartoon and it has absolutely no emotional resonance. They may be punching one another repeatedly in the dace, but you don't feel the pain because it's so obviously digitised to infinity, and since neither of them can inflict any damage on their opponent, you frankly wonder why they keep at it. And that's the problem: without any emotional engagement it starts to get boring.

This, by the way, is only one part of the CGI overload with which Man Of Steel seeks to bludgeon you into a pulp: the skyscrapers of Metropolis are literally toppling like dominoes, eventually leaving the city like a post-apocalyptic shell (but never mind, the three people from the Daily Planet survive, even if we never find out what happened to every other man, woman and child in the city) as Supes has to deal with General Zod's fiendish "World Engine" machine hovering above Metropolis Central blasting energy into the ground. This zap-kaboom-crash-bang-wallop goes on for maybe three quarters of an hour and not one second of it has any effect other than to leave you feeling faintly bewildered by the end. By comparison, Chicago's Gotterdammerung in the last hour of the idiotic Transformers 3 is an Alan Bennett monologue extolling the pleasures of a cup of tea and a biscuit. And that's before you factor in the 3D, which I avoided in favour of a 2D screening as it's a post-production conversion job and I'm all out of Nurofens.

In the midst of all the destruction and explosions and stuff filling the screen left and right, there's not a lot of human drama that makes it through. The relationship between Clark and Lois Lane (Amy Adams) is barely there, although it looks like it's being set up for the probable sequel. Cavill makes for a good physical Superman in the suit, Amy Adams is certainly better than Margot Kidder; Russell Crowe has far more to do than Marlon Brando ever did - not just the dragon riding at the start but he turns up several times later on, while frankly (and this surprises me) I'd have liked more from Kevin Costner as Pa Kent. But everything they do doesn't so much play second fiddle to the mayhem as play fifteenth bassoon to it. They've had their twenty seconds of talking, can we get back to throwing trucks through the air and knocking down office blocks now?

Because that's what Zack Snyder is interested in and I suspect that's what the modern multiplex audience is interested in, kaboom, kaboom, KABOOOOOM. I'd dearly love to be proved wrong but I don't doubt it's going to make a ton of money and Man Of Steel 2 will be with us in about three years. Never mind that it takes precisely the same amount of time to achieve far less than the Richard Donner film from 1978. Never mind that it isn't even as interesting as Bryan Singer's dull Superman Returns. Never mind that the endless spectacular action sequences exist solely on a hard drive or a USB stick. Never mind that there's no charm, no lightness, no soul to the film, no laughs, no fun and no subtlety. Without some semblance of humanity, some hint of character to latch on to, I was bored. And I'm now fervently hoping that the rest of the summer's huge blockbusters are much, much better.

**

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