Saturday, June 29, 2013

"Man of Steel": A Christian Message Amidst All the CGI Razzle Dazzle

See the Trailer Linked Here

Christopher Nolan tries to do the same thing with the Superman franchise that he already did with the Batman franchise three times over.  The result is certainly the grittiest of the Superman films, but unlike the Christian Bale Batman trilogy, it didn’t add a lot of realism at the same time.  Give me the good old days when Terrence Stamp played General Zod with such villainous, comic book charm.  In this update, Michael Shannon brings the intensity, but like the rest of this film, there’s very little charm.  Why, they even managed to almost de-charm Amy Adams as Lois Lane, an almost impossible feat!  But not for Christopher Nolan!  This is kind of like a melding of the first two Superman movies from the late 70’s and early 80’s, but without any of the somewhat goofy appeal.
     Even if those first two Superman movies were full of comic book silliness, they were still entertaining.  This new Superman attempts to outdo every aspect of those first two movies.  Instead of Marlon Brando saying a few words over his baby boy in a now dated crystalline movie set, here we get Russell Crowe flying around on an alien insect, embroiled in the middle of a civil war with General Zod and the useless Council of Krypton as the planet begins tearing itself apart.  The Phantom Zone that General Zod and his minions are placed in is no longer a floating, two dimensional rectangle, but some complicated structure they are able to change into a mammoth, menacing spaceship.  Some of the story changes actually work, such as Lois Lane finding out right from the start that this alien Superman is, in fact, farm boy Clark Kent (the well-cast Henry Cavill); no more completely fooling a hard-boiled investigative journalist with a pair of glasses!  There are also a few interesting, quieter moments, particularly between Clark and his parents (Diane Lane and Kevin Costner), though Nolan’s attempt at gritty realism even affects these scenes, and I found myself wishing they’d give the shaky cam and camera glare a rest!

     I did like how they included some Christian themes, despite just how blatant those themes were!  If they include Jesus, who am I to complain about how they choose to do it, as long as they do it correctly (like they did in the last movie, Superman Returns starring Brandon Routh)?  However, they did make it quite obvious!  On several occasions, Clark/Superman talks about being mankind’s savior; as Superman, he then spreads his arms out in flight in a pose similar to Jesus on the cross, appearing as a Christ-figure before descending to make a sacrifice that could possibly kill him, all for the sole purpose of saving the world; as Clark, he talks with a priest about making the choice to surrender to General Zod to save the world, and the camera fills the screen with Clark’s head on the right, and a mural of Jesus featured prominently on the left.  The allusion is unmistakable.  It almost seems like a marketing ploy to appeal to a certain film-going demographic.  Instead of feeling played, though, perhaps we should appreciate the fact that they actually want to appeal to us, and maybe we should feel elated that Christian themes of Christ’s sacrifice and redemption for us can be featured so unashamedly in a Summer Superhero Hollywood Blockbuster!
     “I never thought this thing would go the distance,” Gene Hackman comments as Lex Luther in the second movie from 1981, as Superman battles the three Kryptonian villains over the streets of Metropolis, causing mayhem and destruction.  And back in the early 80’s, this super-battle was really something to see.  Not anymore!  It’s been over 30 years since Christopher Reeves’ Superman battled Terrence Stamp’s Zod on the streets of a movie studio Metropolis, and since then, we’ve had any number of Roland Emmerich and Jerry Bruckheimer action flicks to expand the medium, and a whole revolution in new special effects CGI technology, so much so that even G-Force, the kids’ film about superspy rodents, had more impressive effects and action sequences than any of the old Superman movies.  So now, when they have a battle, they pull out all the stops in their attempt to make it something we haven’t seen before.  After Smallville is just about decimated, and they’ve dragged the action and effects on and on and on and on and on and on and then some, with trucks pummeling structures and fights in midair, bodies slamming through buildings, huge pieces of concrete and steel falling and being thrown all over the place, and huge gravity machines attempting to change the makeup of the planet, it does tend to overwhelm the viewer.  I was overwhelmed, and much of time, it was so fast and furious, it was hard to keep up and tell what was going on.  I wanted to stand up in my seat and shout, “Could you calm it down a few hundred notches, huh?”
     Or to put it another way, after about the 256th time someone or something is slung into a building, crashing against it or paving a path through it, or the 79th time someone throws a vehicle – car, plane, 16-wheeler – at each other, it becomes obvious the tremendous amount of hype and excess this film was saddled with.  That, coupled with the joyless action, has brought it crashing gloomily down to the ground instead of soaring into the clouds as it should.

     Like many sci fi/action movies these days, Man of Steel is an exercise in extremes.  Just how much is too much?  Although the answer to that question may not have clear cut parameters, I know it when I see it.  And this was way too much!

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