Michael E. Uslan is, among many other things, an executive producer of the Batman films. This post is reprinted with his permission.
I’ve always believed that the star of a Batman movie is… Batman. For me, it is not about hiring a big box office draw like making Tom Cruise The Batman for a generation. It is all rather about making Bruce Wayne come to life. Because of that conceptually, the most important aspect of casting is not necessarily the actor, but rather the filmmaker. Does the filmmaker have a love for and understanding of the character? Does he or she have a passion for the character? Does the filmmaker have a vision for the character and do you believe he or she can execute that vision? Ultimately, more than track record, it comes down to trust.
So when the lights came on, I turned in my seat and said to the man behind me “Not bad, Chris. Not the worst flick I’ve seen this month. Except for – and this’ll come as no surprise to you – the ending. Sucks pizzle through a potato. Real stink city. Alfred runs into Bruce in Paris? Come on! The flick ends when the helicopter goes blooey and we gotta think Bats dies. Sacrifices himself to save others. Real redemption stuff. That’s your ending and that last scene…Chris, you gotta know that it ruins everything else. What, did some suit twist your arm? Listen, maybe it’s not to late. Movie doesn’t open till…when? Friday? Might be time enough to get some scissions and cut the last couple minutes off the prints. Yeah, I know that there are maybe a thousand copies of the flick and it won’t be easy, what I’m suggesting, but we’re talking art, Chrissy, and sacrifices must be made. Dig?”
Okay, okay, that really didn’t happen. It’s true that a some of us comic book guys got invited to a premier screening of The Dark Knight Rises at a Manhattan theater (and yes, indeedy, it was one big honkin’ deal.) And, as it happened, Marifran and I were seated in front of the movie’s director, Christopher Nolan, but I didn’t know that until much later, after we were home and Mari told me.
If I had known? Probably, not much would have changed. I’m not a fellow to approach strangers, especially not celebrities because I think they must get bellies full of uninvited attention and are properly sick of it.
But that ending.
I did think it was a mistake, though not a drastic one, and if that’s so, how did it happen? Then, a few weeks ago, I saw an online news item that reported a comment by someone connected to the film. This person observed that the brief scene I’m objecting to is foreshadowed earlier in the narrative when Alfred tells of a dream he had in which he meets his boss, Bruce Wayne, in Paris – exactly what happens after Bruce apparently dies in an explosion. So was that last scene another dream? A way for Alfred’s subconscious to cope with the loss of his friend? If not, what’s the dream Alfred describes doing in the script? It doesn’t seem to add anything to plot or character unless… it allows the writers to have an upbeat ending and still tell the story they want to tell. You want to think Bruce is in a cafe munching croissants? Be my guest. Or do you want to join me in believing that the screenplay is better than I was giving it credit for?
Me? I’ll just mutter bravo, but I’ll mutter it here where it can’t possibly bother Mr. Nolan.
Interstellar is a movie that in the hands of most directors would be a failure. It’s a movie about space and time that assumes an awful lot of knowledge on both subjects from the audience. It’s a movie with a moral compass that swings so wildly that at the end I can only point to three characters and say I absolutely know how the film wants us to feel about them. There’s a healthy dose of paradox and deus ex machina flowing through the third act of the movie. Even good directors would mess this up; this script could have been Neill Blomkamp’s Waterloo. Christopher Nolan turned it in to one of the best science fiction movies in years. I was delighted to watch this movie and hope that every bit of Nolan’s post-Batman career can be this enjoyable.
It must be quite hard to make a movie about space travel. No one in the audience has ever been in space and I have no reason to believe that any of the depictions we’ve seen in movies over the years have been particularly accurate. Instead of trying to one-up Gravity or anything Nolan seems content to draw upon the history of the depictions of space in film. Scenes in Interstellar felt like they could have been in Alien, or 2001: A Space Odyssey. Nolan decides to use our shared visual vocabulary to tell quick, expressive stories out of fleeting shots. I don’t mean to suggest that he sits back and only uses images from other directors, far from it; the wormhole and black hole sequences are mind-bendingly wonderful images. Nolan puts more on the table than any director in the genre since Kubrick. It’s the most I’ve been impressed with just sheer directorial force of will in recent memory. Nolan elevates this move more than any acting performance could ever hope to.
It’s a good think Nolan is here because the acting is not the strength I thought it would be. We may be waist deep in the ongoing flood of latter-day Matthew McConaughey’s talent but he feels like he does little except not mess up this movie. He’s not bad or anything but he doesn’t bring anything to this part that any equivalent leading man couldn’t have brought unless Nolan thinks that halfway drawl was essential to portraying this engineer/rocket pilot. Unfortunately this kind of stretches across the cast; I only thought Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, and John Lithgow did work that was above replacement level in their roles. The cast is an embarrassment of riches and has the kind of cast that defies belief. I have a strong feeling this cast will one day be looked at like The Godfather or Murder on the Orient Express as one of those films where it’s just unbelievable the top to bottom talent they got. I wish I could come away raving about more of the performances unfortunately they’re all just really good and not spectacular.
It’s hard to walk out of a movie that’s almost three hours and not think it’s a little bloated and Interstellar is no exception. There’s a subplot that slowly worms its way in to the main plot that is just not as clever as either of the Nolan brothers think it is. It leaves us with a very long scene where the characters figure something out that was pretty obvious two hours ago. The script is just a bit shy of being as clever as it thinks it does and those moments become a little more obvious when you’ve been sitting for over two hours.
These are little, meaningless, complaints. Performances that are very good but not great, 15 minutes that could be easily trimmed from a 169 minute movie, trifling little nothings. This is a masterpiece of filmmaking and the bar that I will be measuring science fiction against for years to come. It’s a spellbinding, emotionally gripping, visually arresting piece of filmmaking that is, as of now, the best film Christopher Nolan has ever produced.
Journey back into history far enough, and look in the right place, and maybe you’ll come across the common ancestor of drama and spectacle. Something religious, maybe. And as recently as 2,000 years ago, give or take, if you were taking a break from whatever ancient Romans took breaks from and filling a seat at the Circus Maximus, you’d see the chariot races and athletics and you’d also see staged battles.
And, ancient Roman that you are, if you could slip into a time warp and fast forward to what we could jokingly refer to as modern civilization, you might enjoy the movies of Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton and the Olympic gymnastics and boxing matches and their surly offspring, mixed martial arts and…
Maybe you’d see the three movies I’ve seen recently and two of these might remind you of the good old days, sitting in the sweltering Italian sun and being entertained by mock combat. You might also enjoy the third movie I’ve seen of late, but not in quite the same way.
Chinese Zodiac stars the beloved and amazing Jackie Chan and, judging by a voiceover he delivers as the end credits roll, it might be his valedictory – not to cinema as a whole, for he will surely act in future movies, but to the kind of comedic action flick he’s been delighting us with for decades, featuring just enough plot to carry Jackie’s awesome stunts/acrobatics/clowning, usually with his face in the shot so you know that it’s really him up there and not a stunt double.
If Jackie needs an heir apparent, I nominate the Thai performer, Tony Jaa, who was inspired by watching the movies of Jackie, Bruce Lee and Jet Li as a youngster. I caught Jaa’s most recent American release, The Protector 2, and am glad I did. Jaa does not display Jackie’s comedic gifts, but his fight scenes, which, like Jackie’s, combine acrobatics and martial arts, are terrific. Doubt me? Maybe you can catch TheProtector 2 at your television’s movies-on-demand option, as I did, and decide for yourself.
Which brings us to Batman Begins. We didn’t intend to watch it, but we were channel surfing and there it was and we had time to kill, and what the hey – why not? Of course, we’d seen it five years ago, but surely merited a revisit. Now, let me say it again: Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy is excellent. But the fight scenes are among the few problems I had with it. A lot of them are rendered in blurs, closeups and quick cuts, highly kinetic but, for me, of limited entertainment value. Not like Chan and Jaa and Keaton and, no, not even like those sword-slingers in the old – really old – days.
The stuff those guys did has been proving its worth for centuries.
In the final third of the trilogy, Mr. Nolan proved that he can deliver a well-choreographed fracas. I just wish he’d chosen to do so earlier. Imagine what Jackie Chan could have done with that cape!
I’m always rooting for good dystopian science fiction so it’s hard for me to report that Transcendence does such a bad job, not so much at building a world or introducing key concepts, rather, it fails at telling a story. Characters swing factional and ideological allegiances rapidly with seemingly no regard to the events going on, there seems to be no memory for specific events after the story gets going, most importantly the movie has no sense of morality at all making a rooting interest nearly impossible.
Christopher Nolan’s eagerly anticipated Interstellar released its teaser trailer this morning. The movie is 11 months away so this realyl doesn’t give much away but we do know that it is about a team of astronauts travelling through a wormhole. The film began as a script by his frequent collaborator, brother Jonathan Nolan, but Christopher had his own ideas and the 2007 script became enmeshed with his own take on the story. The movie stars familiar performers from his previous works including Anne Hathaway and Michael Caine but it also stars Matthew McConaughey, Jessica Chastain, Bill Irwin, Matt Damon, Topher Grace, and Ellen Burstyn.
There’s not much new here, but as teasers go, it certainly has our attention.
A day after Christian Bale confirmed he would not don the cape and cowl for a Justice League movie comes the official announcement of his three Dark Knight films being collected in time for the holidays. Christopher Nolan’s vision of Gotham City and its defender resuscitated Batman after a fallow stretch and showed us a darker view of heroism and its costs. Here’s the official press release:
Burbank, Calif. July 1, 2013 – Christopher Nolan’s reimagining of the Batman franchise beginning with 2005’s Batman Begins enjoyed phenomenal critical and box-office success.
Now on September 24, Nolan’s three Batman films – Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and The Dark Knight Rises – will be released by Warner Bros. Home Entertainment as The Dark Knight Trilogy: Ultimate Collector’s Edition. The six-disc set will feature all three films with their existing extra content, two new featurettes and exclusive new collectible memorabilia. This must-own collection for fans of DC Comics’ Caped Crusader is available in premium packaging and will sell for $99.97 SRP.
About the Ultimate Collector’s Edition (UCE):
*Disc 1 – Batman Begins Feature and Special Features
*Disc 2 – The Dark Knight Feature
*Disc 3 – The Dark Knight Special Features
*Disc 4 – The Dark Knight Rises Feature
*Disc 5 – The Dark Knight Rises Special Features
*Disc 6 – Bonus Disc of New Special Features (details follow)
NEW Special Features:
The Fire Rises: The Creation and Impact of The Dark Knight Trilogy–The inside perspective on the fascinating story behind the creation of one of the most celebrated franchises and how it changed the scope of movie making….forever. Full of never-before-seen footage, rare moments, and exclusive interviews with Guillermo Del Toro, Damon Lindelof, Michael Mann, Richard Roeper, Zack Snyder and others.
Christopher Nolan & Richard Donner: A Conversation – For the first time, Directors Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight Trilogy) and Richard Donner (Superman) sit down to discuss the trials and triumphs involved in bringing the two most iconic superheroes of all time to the big screen, and how Superman influenced Nolan when developing Batman Begins.
Premium Mattel Hot Wheels Vehicles: Batmobile, Batpod and Tumbler
Newly commissioned collectible art cards by Mondo featuring Scarecrow, Joker, Bane, Harvey Dent, and Ra’s al Ghul
48-page hardcover book featuring production stills and behind the scenes images from all three movies
About The Films
Batman Begins (2005)
Batman Begins explores the origins of the Batman legend and the Dark Knight’s emergence as a force for good in Gotham. In the wake of his parents’ murder, disillusioned industrial heir Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) travels the world seeking the means to fight injustice and turn fear against those who prey on the fearful. He returns to Gotham and unveils his alter-ego: Batman, a masked crusader who uses his strength, intellect and an array of high tech deceptions to fight the sinister forces that threaten the city.
The Dark Knight (2008)
The follow-up to Batman Begins, The Dark Knight reunites director Christopher Nolan and star Christian Bale, who reprises the role of Batman/Bruce Wayne in his continuing war on crime. With the help of Lt. Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) and District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), Batman sets out to destroy organized crime in Gotham for good. The triumvirate proves effective, but soon find themselves prey to a rising criminal mastermind known as The Joker (Heath Ledger), who thrusts Gotham into anarchy and forces Batman closer to crossing the fine line between hero and vigilante. Maggie Gyllenhaal joins the cast as Rachel Dawes. Returning from Batman Begins are Oldman, Michael Caine as Alfred and Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox.
Dark Knight Rises (2012)
It has been eight years since Batman vanished into the night, turning, in that instant, from hero to fugitive. Assuming the blame for the death of D.A. Harvey Dent, the Dark Knight sacrificed everything for what he and Commissioner Gordon both hoped was the greater good. For a time the lie worked, as criminal activity in Gotham City was crushed under the weight of the anti-crime Dent Act.
But everything will change with the arrival of a cunning cat burglar with a mysterious agenda. Far more dangerous, however, is the emergence of Bane, a masked terrorist whose ruthless plans for Gotham drive Bruce out of his self-imposed exile. But even if he dons the cape and cowl again, Batman may be no match for Bane. Christian Bale stars, along with Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Anne Hathaway, Tom Hardy, Marion Cotillard, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Morgan Freeman.
THE DARK KNIGHT TRILOGY: ULTIMATE COLLECTOR’S EDITION (BD)
Street Date: September 24, 2013
Order Due Date: August 20, 2013
Catalog/UPC #: 1000372133 / 883929308002
Pricing: $99.97 SRP
Note: All enhanced content listed above is subject to change.
Blu-ray Disc™ and Blu-ray™ and the logos are the trademarks of Blu-ray Disc Association.
Warner Home Video Blu-ray Discs™ offer resolution six times higher than standard definition DVDs, as well as extraordinarily vibrant contrast and color and beautifully crisp sound. The format also provides a higher level of interactivity, with instant access to extra features via a seamless menu bar where viewers can enjoy features without leaving or interrupting the film.
I’ve little to no doubt by the time I write this article everyone on this site, and every other comic-ish site will have weighed in on Man of Steel. For what it’s worth? I liked it a whole bunch. Disaster porn? Sure. The controversial ending? Made complete sense to me. And I’m not even a pessimist. I found the flick to be a popcorn chomping, scenery eating behemoth on par with Marvel’s Cap or Thor. Feel free to disagree with me. This li’l op-ed though isn’t about Man of Steel as much as it’s about what it means for DC in the near and not-so-near future.
The fact is the movie is making money. Good money. The most money to come in for the month of June in fact. And with no “big” weekend coming to theaters presumably until TheLone Ranger bombs, DC should be on the road now to adding some serious shekels to their calamitous coffers. Many nerds (myself included) all figured that all this time Marvel was running away with all the sick-movie profits. But let’s look at the tale of the tape:
According to Box Office Mojo: Iron Man 1 and 2, Captain America, Thor, The Incredible Hulk, and The Avengers totaled roughly 1.75 billion dollars domestically. In the same amount of time Nolan’s Batman franchise, Watchmen, The Losers, Jonah Hex, and Green Lantern earned 1.45 billion. All things considered? It’s not necessarily a run away gravy train for Mickey now is it?
We all know the old adage: war is won with a single battle. Man of Steel rights a train derailed with Green Lantern. The fact of the matter is in the last five years of blockbusters, Mickey was laying foundation while DC merely rented a timeshare. It’s no secret (especially if you read comic book movie news on the Internet) that the Brothers Warner wanted Man of Steel to be the initial volley towards a larger franchise universe of their own. It’s fair enough to consider the movie to be a success. So, what’s next?
We know there’s talks to get Supes back in the multiplex as soon as late next year. Unless they actually know how to reverse time by flying around the Earth though? Color me doubtful. And the rumor mill has also turned out gems like a possible Batman / Superman team up. Or a Justice League movie that will spin-out into single character franchises. I envision the execs over at the Warner lot looking at a pile of New 52 books, with a sweaty Dan DiDio and Geoff Johns (no doubt wearing a dunce cap over his Green Lantern: The Movie cap) doing their best to help them plan. And somewhere behind two-way glass, Christopher Nolan sits in his private Inception pod (yeah it’s a pod now) smugly scoffing.
Enough pussy-footing around. If the reigns were in my hands, I’d bank on what made Warner money. While every comic-classicist sharpens their knives I boldly say the unthinkable. If you made money going real and dark? Go real and dark. There was optimism, hope, and smiles to be had in Man of Steel. Seriously. If DC uses that at it’s base, and builds a Justice League that stands with Big Blue in their front court? Those are big shoulders to do it with. Add in Jospeh Gordon-Leavitt’s Batman (heresy!) and introduce the movie-going public to Flash, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and Cyborg? Well, it’ll sure give Whedon and his Bro-Vengers a little competition. Put the movie in the hands of a capable comic-inspired director. Say… Brad Bird. And if Nolan can assist in crafting a picture that isn’t just filler, quips, and a fifty minute fight sequence… you’ve got yourself the making of a real counter blow to the powerhouse mouse.
At the end of the day, Man of Steel was a solid start to a new beginning. While many our brethren ball their fists and curse at the wind, many others are finding a new take on a familiar face. I hope sincerely that DC and WB figure out what worked (Optimism. Confidence.) and what didn’t (Wanton destruction.) and use it to find solid footing on a new course. The world needs a Justice League movie. We need a great Wonder Woman franchise. They need a movie DCU. It’s time to look up, up, and away from the past and soar towards a more profitable future. And I for one will be looking forward to the movies.
Because you know, their comics sure ain’t doing it for me right now.*
*My apologies to Scott Snyder and Gail Simone who totally get a pass
As I’ve mentioned here before, I’ve been a Superman fan pretty much forever. Superman was my first encounter with superheroes, beginning with watching the first Christopher Reeve Superman movie when I was very small. Through the years, Superman has remained one of my favorite superheroes. Sure, I love Deadpool (obviously!), and I’ve always been a big X-Men fan… and Batman… and Spider-Man… and I could go on and on from there – but Superman, the most unequivocal and steadfast symbol of hope and ethical humanity in the whole collection, has always been there in the background, informing my appreciation of the rest of the bunch.
Some people say that Superman is a boring character. He’s too perfect. He’s incredibly powerful and can do almost anything, way beyond what most of us can fathom, and he’s constantly doing the “right” or noble thing. How interesting can someone like that be?
Very interesting, I think. It’s Superman’s decision about how to use his power; his nobility; and his steadfast idealism in the way he decides to live his life for humanity and constantly be striving to do that right thing that have made him a multi-generational symbol and inspiration. At the same time, it is also his choice to live for humanity that drives him to live amongst humanity, and thus empathize with their plights, and, eventually, fall in love with one of them – Lois Lane.
Lois is the other half of what makes Superman so interesting. She’s a strong character in her own right, as she has to be to match up to someone as powerful as Superman. But she’s also only human, with human difficulties. Lois humanizes Superman, she pulls him back to Earth from the skies in which he might otherwise constantly float above us all. Sure, as a child, Superman is in touch with humanity, anchored by his parents and their desire to raise him with a strict moral code that respects and teaches responsibility for humanity. But once Clark seriously takes on the Superman persona and is living far from his parents as an adult in a strange city, someone else’s influence is needed. Enter Lois.
In most iterations of Superman, Lois does not, for at least a significant period of time, know that Superman and Clark Kent are the same man. Various reasons for this remaining the status quo of their relationship exist, from the potential danger to Lois if she knows Superman’s secret identity to Clark’s insecurity about her feelings for him asClark, or his desire for her to, essentially, “like him for him,” and not for being some kind of alien demigod. This dynamic not only serves to anchor Clark, but also to drive the story – as a lot of the drama, humor, and interest of the Superman story stems from Clark’s attempts to live a double life and somehow still win over the woman he loves and attain a very human kind of happiness.
Superman’s power and nobility, combined with Clark’s very human relationship with Lois Lane, are what make him such an interesting character, and what make me throw up my hands in disbelief when someone says that Superman is boring. Because how could an interaction of our human struggles with our human desire to be heroic be boring? How could it be just another story? Well, if people make it that way, I suppose. If people stray from what makes Clark-and-Superman great, and try to instead fit him into the box of every other superhero out there.
Now, let’s talk about Man of Steel.
WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD.
On a strictly is-it-an-enjoyably-watchable -movie level, I liked Man of Steel. Except for the overly long fight scenes (of which there were several), the pacing is pretty good. The cinematography is good. The story is fairly cohesive and easy to follow (despite some odd plot holes/questions, like how Superman’s costume was just hanging around on a ship that had been buried in Earth’s icy caverns thousands of years before the destruction of Krypton). Henry Cavill is delicious, and also shirtless in pretty much his very first scene. Shirtless and on fire. And it’s hot (all puns intended). Amy Adams is also adorable. Overall the acting is pretty top-notch. And there are many recognizable genre, TV, and mainstream actors to clap about (including at least twoBattlestar: Galactica dudes, Tahmoh Penikett and Alessandro Juliani). There is also some blatant product placement…that works (Clark’s childhood friend Pete Ross works at an IHOP. After watching the movie, my friend and fellow journalist Alicia and I were forced, forced I tell you, to go to IHOP because we suddenly had IHOP cravings. But it was delicious, so that’s okay).
On a Superman mythos level, things get a lot shakier. One thing I did enjoy was the minor Superman character name-drops. Pete Ross, as mentioned, shows up in both Clark’s flashbacks and present day. Dr. Emil Hamilton is there as a military scientist or consultant. Steve Lombard is working at The Daily Planet. And there’s a wee Lana Lang on the flashback bus when it goes into the river. I also actually really enjoyed the first part of the movie, from Krypton through about the first two or so flashbacks. This is one film I’ve seen that actually world-built Krypton to a realistic extent and then spent some time there. Sure, there are echoes of what’s been developed before, and the combination of technology and organic, mythical-looking creatures was a bit weird at first, but I loved details like the floating silver orbs that are a combination of personal assistants and bodyguards, and also allow for a sort of 3-D video communication (or for a 3-D ultrasound!). And I liked the extent to which they managed to make the look of Kryptonian attire realistically tie in with Superman’s costumed appearance.
After Krypton, the first few scenes establish a Clark who’s wandering the world, interspersed with some growing-up time. These scenes are very enjoyable. The current scenes show a Clark that, like a well-developed Krypton, we don’t usually get to see much on screen. Clark’s soul-searching and wanderings as a young man are referenced in several versions of the Superman story, but we don’t often actually see them. And each of the early flashbacks shows a young Clark who is learning about his powers, and about his responsibilities, in a way that is organic and not heavy-handed.
Once the movie has spent some time on this, however, it moves more firmly into the present day origin story, with just a few more flashbacks here and there. These are of an older Clark and, while I get that teens are difficult and superteens perhaps even more difficult, these scenes are devoid of the familial love and warmth that marks the earlier scenes. They also include a scene in which Clark literally stands fifty feet away from his dad and watches him get swept away by a tornado. While the movie tries to make this into a character development point, it’s such a wrong note for Superman that I just couldn’t get behind it. Keeping his powers a secret or not, no Superman I’m interested in would be that selfish, even if his dad was telling him not to save him. It’s around this point that the movie also moves firmly into being, essentially, an alien disaster movie that happens to feature Superman.
Given the trailers we’d been seeing, and the fact that both Zack Snyder and Christopher Nolan were signed on, I feared that we were going to get a very grimdark Superman in Man of Steel. And although the first several scenes were all fairly serious, since they cut back and forth it relieved the grimness somewhat, and I thought maybe my fears were going to be unfounded. Well, not so much. After the first few cuts back and forth, things turn continuously grim and grimmer in Man of Steel. Death and destruction (on a global scale) begin to appear everywhere and only increase for the rest of the story; and boy, is it exhausting to watch. It’s also not what I wanted to see in a Superman movie.
During Man of Steel, we are told by Jor-El that the S on Superman’s chest means “hope” to Kryptonians. And that’s exactly what Superman is supposed to be for us – a symbol of hope. He is our hope that there are people like him out there, and that it’s okay to believe they exist – which is important, because if they do exist, and succeed at existing, then maybe it’s not so unrealistic for us to try to be a little bit like them. Maybe we can be heroes too, at least now and again. In a way, Superman is the first part of that iconic last line of The Great Gatsby: “So we beat on, boats against the current…” Superman reflects the best of human idealism, and the struggle to move forward, despite obstacles, and to continue moving forward. Superman is a symbol of hope…but this is not a hopeful movie.
There are a lot of dark superhero movies out there. The recent movies of Superman’s sometimes-partner Batman, for instance, are dark; and that works for him. I loved The Dark Knight, but I don’t need a hundred Dark Knights. The world is depressing enough right now, and I don’t need to constantly see destruction and death on the big screen; because we see it every day. What I need right now, what I crave, is a movie that shows me a hero who strives and succeeds at being better than that. At being better than all of the “reality” we are facing both in reality and in our current media. At actually “saving the world,” and not being beaten down by it in the end. At being a steadfast constant who won’t break under the pressure. And what I really want to know, after seeing Man of Steel, which could have been the perfect vehicle for this, is: why couldn’t this movie’s producers have been “the brave and the bold” movie team who dared to actually celebrate an ideal and a hopeful future in which disaster is not an inevitable and acceptable norm? In which there is somebody who can actually stop the world from being destroyed before half of it is gone?
Instead, they opted for a Superman whose introductory film features a final body count that at least equals if not exceeds that of the villain, General Zod (and that includes General Zod, since Superman, albeit reluctantly, straight-up snaps Zod’s neck in the end). As someone on Twitter said, “There is no Man of Steel criticism more stark than the fact that Earth would have been better off had Kal-El died on Krypton.” And as writer Brian Reed snarks, a conversation between Zod and Superman that would easily fit in this movie could be: “I’ll kill all of these humans you love.” “I punched you through 30 buildings. I’ve probably killed more of them than you at this point.” That…is a sad state of affairs.
Along with all of the death, the film also features a metric ton of property (and Earth) destruction, and Superman and the Kryptonians constantly whaling on each other to the point where my soul was craving even a smidge of character development, and welcomed Perry White and Steve Lombard’s struggle to free some random Daily Planet intern from rubble. You know your Superman movie is in trouble when a watcher is more interested in that than in Superman. Maybe because your Superman movie tries but fails to show the complexity or nuances of being both Superman and Clark Kent? Because it’s too busy showing things blowing up and the whole world falling apart? Yeah, maybe that.
One way in which the movie does try to humanize the adult Clark is via the introduction of Lois, and his interactions with her. But in my view, this is another great failure of the movie. Lois, as a character in Man of Steel, is great. She’s smart and upbeat and determined and fearless and loyal and successful and kind and has a strong sense of what’s right. She goes after the story, and gets the story, and has earned the respect of her editor and fellow reporters, and she is all around the sort of Lois I want to see. Lois and Superman, in their interactions, are also very strong.
But do you notice what’s missing about the previous sentence? Any mention of Clark. The meeting of Lois and Superman in this movie is just that – a meeting in which Lois knows him as Superman from the get-go. Yes, his name might be Clark, and she knows that too, but that’s incidental to all of their interactions. And while that may not greatly affect the dynamic of this particular movie as a movie, what does it do to the Superman mythos and to any potential sequels? Well, it strips out the human factor, the fun, the heart, and the drama that all come from the original Lois and Clark dynamic. It strips out a large part of what makes that story great.
As mentioned, when Superman is forced to be Clark around the woman he loves, and to wonder if she’ll ever love him for himself, rather than just for his powers as Superman, it brings him down to Earth, and to humanity, and gives him a reason to strive to be a better human, as well as a better superhero. It also makes the story a lot more fun; even if eventually, Lois does discover the truth. The story leading up to the reveal makes the reveal that much better, and also makes the relationship that much deeper. But here, it’s like they decided to skip right to the third season of Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman – when those first two seasons were what makes anything after them work at all.
To catastrophically misunderstand this dynamic to such an extent was so unbelievable to me that, even though it’s a weak storytelling element and has been done before, in Man of Steel I kept waiting and hoping for amnesia. I seriously thought that when Superman saved Lois from the burning Kryptonian escape pod and she said, “I’m sorry…” the sentence was going to end with, “…but I don’t remember how I got here.” I couldn’t believe that they’d seriously set up the entire relationship to be Lois and Superman-who-also-happens-to-masquerade-as-Clark-to-other-people. And yet, they did. What a disappointment. Sure, maybe they can make it work if they do another movie, or a Justice League movie, or whatever; but it won’t be the Superman I know anymore, or the Superman I love.
In our post-mortem discussion of this movie, my friend Alicia said that Henry Cavill, while very good, would never be her Superman. And while I love Henry Cavill, and think he acquitted himself as well as the script would allow, I agree with her with a bit of a rephrase (because really, Henry Cavill isn’t the problem). Man of Steel will never be my Superman. And while I realize that heroes can be re-made for modern times, and sometimes should be to keep things fresh, Superman is one of those rare few where messing with his core story too much just flat out ruins who he is.
Superman is known as the Big Blue Boy Scout for a reason. Sure, the nickname is affectionately snarky; but it’s also a great compliment – a nickname for a hero who always does the right thing and acts to help others, and who is always prepared to solve the world’s problems and deal with its disasters. The goal of making a movie about Superman should be to maintain the bright ideal he has always been when at his best, without making him unrelatable or cheesy. I don’t know what Man of Steel set out to do, but in the end, it certainly didn’t feel like that. If I don’t leave a movie about Superman feeling like there’s some hope in the world, then that movie is not about the Superman I love. And Man of Steel didn’t leave me with much hope.
Well, that’s about all the movie analysis I can manage for one day, but until next time, Servo Lectio!
While we await confirmation that Christopher Nolan will be the new DC Film Universe guru and what that will actually mean, he is hard at work on his next film. Today, Paramount Pictures and Warner Bros. issued the following joint press release:
HOLLYWOOD, CA (March 8, 2013) – Paramount Pictures and Warner Bros. Pictures jointly announced today that writer/director Christopher Nolan’s INTERSTELLAR will be co-produced and distributed by the two studios, with Paramount Pictures handling Domestic distribution and Warner Bros. Pictures distributing the film Internationally. INTERSTELLAR will be released beginning November 7, 2014, in theaters and IMAX®.
Directed and written by Academy Award-nominee Nolan (INCEPTION, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES), INTERSTELLAR is based on a script by Jonathan Nolan. The film will be produced by Emma Thomas and Christopher Nolan of Syncopy Films and Obst of Lynda Obst Productions. Kip Thorne will executive produce. The film will depict a heroic interstellar voyage to the furthest reaches of our scientific understanding.
Brad Grey, Chairman and CEO of Paramount Pictures said, “As a filmmaker and storyteller, Chris has continuously entertained the world with his extraordinary and unparalleled talents. I am pleased beyond measure to welcome him to the Paramount Pictures family. Partnering with Chris, Emma, Lynda and Warner Bros. to release this original idea next November is the perfect way to start the Thanksgiving and holiday movie season for audiences around the world.”
Jeff Robinov, President, Warner Bros. Pictures Group, said, “Christopher Nolan is truly one of the great auteurs working in film today, and we’re extremely proud of our successful and ongoing collaboration with him and Emma Thomas. We are excited to be teaming with Paramount, and look forward to working with the Nolans, and producer Lynda Obst, on this extraordinary new project.”