Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Why Man of Steel failed

Last night I watched the movie Man of Steel for the first time. I'll start by saying that I really wanted to love this movie, I really did. It had talented people behind its creation (Zack Snyder - 300, Christopher Nolan - The Dark Knight) and had a story based around Superman and alien invasions. What was there not to like?

Unfortunately, quite a bit. The main issue I had with the movie was the disconnect between the characters and their interactions not only with each other but with the story itself. I just didn't care about them at all, even Henry Cavill's superman, who despite looking the part never really had any dialogue of significance and seemed to be detatched and depressed for the majority of the film. 

I blame Christopher Nolan for that last bit. Dark, gritty, realistic, and brooding might work for Batman, but it sure as hell doesn't fit into a story about Superman. This is a guy who should basically be a god on earth, somebody who isn't directly affected by earthly problems but still cares due to his upbringing. The somber Cavill Superman never really seems "heroic," in fact I think what I'm getting at is that Nolan tried to make somebody who is inherently not human too human. As a result, the story suffered and became, at least to me, vapid and not engrossing at all. 

The use of flashbacks throughout the movie was jarring as well. Rapidly switching from the present to the past to provide exposition is a decent technique when done properly (like in LOST), but in this movie it was way too sloppy to be appreciated. Indeed, after a near thirty minute prologue showing the destruction of Krypton, we are taken to the present day with Clark Kent working on a fishing boat. That transition was far too jarring for my taste and created an immediate disconnect between me and Superman. Where did he come from?  How did he get there? What was his childhood like? What is his personality? All of these questions remained unanswered as we watched Kent crab fish as if he were on the discovery channel.

This is where those flashbacks come in. Instead of feeling like fluid and organic elements of the storyline meant to provide backstory, their brooding, dark, and depressing nature only served to widen the gap between the audience and the characters on the screen. By the end of the movie, I still didn't care about Lois Lane, Clark Kent, his mom, or any of the other characters really. The flashbacks, depressing themes, poor dialogue, and bad pacing ruined any sense of connection I might have felt towards anybody portrayed in Man of Steel.

Another point I'd like to make is that this movie didn't know when to stop. It's almost like the directors and producers forgot to edit the film. What do I mean? I'm talking about how everything, every single scene, seemed to have one to thirty seconds of extra footage that should have been chopped off and left on the editing floor. The prologue took way too much time; do we really need to see that much Russell Crowe in a movie where he's not the main attraction? If you were going to spend so much time on flashbacks, why not remove them entirely, group them together in sequential order, and present the movie chronologically? That way you'll at least care about Kent when we see him working on a fishing boat.

Lastly on the editing front, WHY WERE THE FIGHTS SO LONG?! It would have been better if Superman let Zod terraform the planet with all the buildings they knocked down or blew up during their Dragon Ball/ Matrix Revolutions esque bout at the end. Then there's the twenty minute fist fight between Superman and Zod's henchmen, which while I thought was choreographed well took far too long to reach a conclusion.

It would have made sense to have such long fights if these people Superman were fighting were that strong. But in the end, he defeats Zod by snapping his neck. I'm sure the people of Metropolis thank you for all that collateral damage you did before you figured out how to kill your nemesis, Superman...

To close, ironically enough I re-watched The Avengers on netflix before going to see Man of Steel. Suffice it to say, the 2012 ensemble was a far superior movie, with characters I cared about, fight scenes that went on just long enough, and pacing that made the two and a half hour long film feel incredibly quick and condensed. Not only that, but it was a feel-good experience as well, leaving you with a sense of joy and happiness. Very much unlike the dark Nolanized Man of Steel. Additionally, in The Avengers, the heroes actually felt like, well, heroes. They obviously had human traits, but these didn't get in the way of their ability to kick some alien ass. This was something sorely lacking from Man of Steel, a movie whose fights seemed to draw on endlessly because the writers were afraid to portray Superman to be as powerful as he actually is.

At the end of the day, it looks like DC superhero movies have a lot of improving to do if they want to even come close to the success of films produced by Marvel Entertainment.

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About The Author

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Nicholas Garcia (M.A.) is a PhD Candidate at the University of California, Davis. He is also a Co-Founder of the Bulosan Center for Filipino Studies. Previously, he contributed to and the Davis Humanities Institute.