Director Zack Snyder teamed up with Christopher Nolan to reboot another comic book property. As you’ll read, I’ve never been a big fan of the son of Krypton but I loved what Nolan did with Batman (the first two anyways), so I was hopeful. For this quibble, I brought in the biggest comic book nerd I know, Adam Rosko, to discuss Superman’s latest cinematic treatment. Rosko is also the Artistic Director of Atomic Arts where they’re preparing their final run of Trek in the Park. I have no scruples plugging the show because it’s worth driving to Portland to see. I know because I did. Please do check it out. Now back to Supes (SPOILERS):
BRYAN: So Man of Steel…what did you think?
ROSKO: At first I thought I dug it, but then quickly realized it was only adrenaline from the 3rd act, loud and pounding but it was like the feeling you would get from a theme park ride. Fun, but empty.
BRYAN: Interesting. I didn’t really have fun with that 3rd act. Fun is not really this movie’s MO.
ROSKO: No no, but it was crazy loud and all over the place. I was going crazy at the property damage though. Really excessive and dumb. Like they got a note asking them to double the damage done at the end of The Avengers.
BRYAN: I don’t have an inherent problem with all the destruction, and I’m not a big Superman guy to know if it’s a betrayal of the character or anything. What I do know is all of that stuff was boring and repetitive. Maybe having him save people and trying to limit the damage would make it less dull. I don’t know. But I had little interest in watching super beings trade blows with no real purpose.
ROSKO: Yeah, it got really old. The main street fight in Smallville went on so long I got really bored. And you’re right on to wonder if they betrayed the character. They sort of did. He would take the fight elsewhere and limit lives lost and destruction, but I guess that’s not as cinematically exciting as fighting in a Sears and an IHOP. I wouldn’t have had such a problem with the destruction if they set it up better that this is not OUR Earth, this is comic book Earth. It’s a little more cartoony than ours. But they kept striving to make a “realistic” one, forgetting that Superman is best served as a fairy tale.
BRYAN: I see your point but I must say all of that doesn’t matter to me. I mean all of the betrayal and what Superman is supposed to be discussion. I’ve never been a big Supes fan, so it doesn’t faze me much. As far as I’m concerned, he wears a cape, he’s from Krypton, he flies…it’s a Superman movie. But you are right that the tone is off because it keeps fluctuating. The film begins as goofy Sci-fi, but then flips to wandering flashback mode, and it’s a mess. And if property and lives are sacrificed for more exciting fighting so be it, but the fighting wasn’t exciting at all. The stakes aren’t clear, there’s no progression to it, no rise or fall, and JESUS CHRIST WOULD YOU STOP FUCKING ZOOMING AND FRAME A SHOT!!!
ROSKO: I’m so glad I only saw it in 2D. I can’t imagine the pain 3D would be on this movie. And I hate that talk too about “What Superman is supposed to be” because everyone is different and has a different outlook on the thing. This is no less a Superman movie than Bryan Singer’s one a few years ago. This one however, seemed too worried about being action-oriented enough and trying to strike the chord in people that made them like the last Batman movies. They may as well have called this “Superman Begins”. It’s trying to be the same movie.
BRYAN: That’s true, but it doesn’t work in Man of Steel. I’m already ambivalent about an indestructible being so they need to give me something more than him struggling with his slight issues to get me excited.
ROSKO: Not a lot of thinking outside the box. Saving a school bus, being bullied by kids and drunk guys, there were a lot of possibilities to shake up a story we all pretty much know. Felt like watching The Amazing Spider-Man, a “darker”, but still paint-by-numbers version of the original.
ROSKO: And I’m sick of the origin story in general. We all know the basics of Superman, just get on with it! I’m very tired of people always saying, “well, in the next one, it’s gonna get REALLY good because they’re done setting everything up”. NO EXCUSE. Make it really good right out of the gate.
BRYAN: At least Batman Begins explored fear and what that meant and grounded it in character. Here it’s what kind of man he’s going to be as if there was ever a doubt Superman wasn’t going to be a good guy? I just didn’t get it.
ROSKO: Yeah, I felt like his whole arc was just waiting for the right time to bust out his Superman-ness. The character didn’t go anywhere. He just flipped a switch into hero-mode. If that is what is gonna happen anyway, do it in the opening credits like The Incredible Hulk.
BRYAN: He shouldn’t be the main character. He’s boring.
ROSKO: They were trying sooooo hard to MAKE us feel with him, but it was very flat. Cavill was pretty wooden, but it’s just an awful script.
BRYAN: I didn’t really have any problems with the acting. They all did their best.
ROSKO: Yeah everyone was fine. I’m really, really glad they didn’t wink at the old movies. No “Kneel before Zod” or some shit. Cavill wasn’t trying to be Reeve, etc.
BRYAN: That’s a good point because I didn’t really like this movie, but I didn’t hate it either because it didn’t piss me off with shit like that, shit that some other big blockbuster did a lot of <cough>StarTrek<cough>
ROSKO: Yeah, it’s the biggest credit I’ll give it is that they steered clear of banking on nostalgia as movie making. What worries me is just how “meh” it was. Last year, we broke down the “comic book” decade and our focus was everything culminating in The Avengers. With The Dark Knight Rises, Iron Man Three, and now Man of Steel all very lazy messes of movies, the genre and industry can only take so many stinkers before we stop showing up. With this genre it’s very important to experiment and dazzle, but leave them craving the next one, like the last page of a good comic.
BRYAN: But for some, the scale will be enough, never mind how poorly shot and edited it is. A lot of the first half reminded me of Wolverine stuff that’s way played out and the second half some of the worst parts of The Matrix sequels and the Star Wars prequels. Punching bad guys into space isn’t exciting unless you make it exciting.
ROSKO: It’ll take a toll. Even Twilight lost some audience after overstaying it’s welcome.
BRYAN: Maybe. Also, did you even understand Zod’s plan? It took me 2 hours to even understand the codec stuff, but there was zero logic to it all.
ROSKO: Dude, I still don’t get it. The opening could have been in actual Kryptonian language and I’d probably still understand the same amount of what was going on. The skull was ridiculous.
BRYAN: It was goofy for sure, but some of that grandiose over-the-top stuff worked for me with the score and what have you, but it didn’t last.
ROSKO: Yes, I really dug that Krypton wasn’t a good place, and was the failed imperialistic society. Kinda cool.
BRYAN: But none of it necessary to the rest of the story.
ROSKO: NONE. Also glad they didn’t go full-Marvel with a stinger at the end. No Robin cameo or anything.
BRYAN: Sad that that is a) something we long for and see as a positive and b) is one of the best things about the movie.
ROSKO: Yeah. I can only imagine they’ll try to expand out with this one. However, one thing I think would benefit them the most is ironically going into the Batman playbook. Make the next one have a totally different feel and not reference anything from the prior movie (Begins/TDK style).
BRYAN: They need to do something. I admit I struggle with Supes and another nit-picky thing is no one knowing he’s Clark. But this film really stretches the suspension of disbelief considering how Lois finds him and half the battle taking place at his farm and Smallville being all but leveled. How does he just put on some glasses at the end? It doesn’t work with this universe.
ROSKO: I liked the change in that Lois knows now, but I really feel they could have done more and have Laurence Fishburne know too and maybe others that were in the big fight scene at the end. The logic would be that they know and they will use their power in the media to protect him and the identity. But yeah, Smallville, you gotta be an idiot not to put it together.
BRYAN: Well exactly. It’s like here’s this new, different approach to the character, but hey look, it’s just like before now. Just another thing that doesn’t work.
ROSKO: I feel ya. They (the filmmakers) worry a little too much now about the “fans” revolting by changing too much. That’s a major Snyder problem. Very evident in Watchmen. He can be too slavish to the material for his own good. But when he steps out and plays a bit, both movies SING!
BRYAN: Well, as someone who’s actually read a Superman comic, how did you feel about the MURDER?!? I hear some gripes about it but again I didn’t care.
ROSKO: You know, that’s the biggest complaint I’ve heard. I think that identifies who is taking it all too seriously. “Superman Doesn’t Kill” is apparently a rock solid rule I haven’t heard of, at least as a “rule”. He killed Zod in Superman 2. He’s killed fools in the comics (calculated or not). What everyone doesn’t understand is this is “Superman Begins”. For him to have a “rule” or a moral code that he won’t willingly kill someone it has to be for a reason. In the movie, his reason is killing the one other person left of his race. His emotion after it was good enough BUT it does not forgive how quickly they move on from it and that he has already gotten millions of people killed by leveling buildings and throwing Zod around Metropolis. Seriously, the movie ends 5 mins after he kills Zod.
BRYAN: Okay. Glad to hear I didn’t miss some comic “rule”. I mean within the confines of this movie it seemed appropriate, so I don’t get the complaints. I do agree that they don’t let any of the final act sink in. It’s not a moral problem so much as a dramatic one. My bigger concern with the scene is how can he suddenly snap a neck that is just as indestructible as his own? The internal logic of the movie is as flawed as everything else.
ROSKO: Which is why I don’t like they went with a more “realistic” and darker approach. It makes suspension of disbelief remarkably tricky. This is another example of moviemaking done by committee. No risk, very safe and therefore no reward. There was nothing I found really outstanding in it.
BRYAN: Nothing? Because my next question was going to be what did you like? Trying to see if there’s something salvageable here.
ROSKO: I thought Michael Shannon and Henry Cavill were decent. And some of the Krypton design. And they still made the female Kryptonian villain look like Pat Benatar.
BRYAN: Dude! This would make a sweet Love is a Battlefield video!
ROSKO: I want a remix of the Main Street fight set to it!
BRYAN: But yeah, the whole thing is a jumble. I keep coming back to this idea of blockbuster movies and what I value from them or what the simplest takeaway can be. What I find is that I want to at least have one sequence or one moment that really sticks with me. For example, Die Hard has the tower blowing and Willis jumping off the roof (among many other things), and even Superman Returns has something like the bullet to the eye scene or the saving the plane sequence. Man of Steel is just white noise…something to put on to help you sleep. It has no such moment, no singular image, and that’s the barest I’m looking for.
ROSKO: Yeah, it’s getting pretty bad. I was hoping Man of Steel would turn the summer around but it’s just as dull. 10 years ago we were bitching about The Matrix Reloaded and I can think of tons of things to take away from it. If we jumped in a time machine and told ourselves 10 years ago the best movie of the summer blockbusters so far at the end of June is the SIXTH Fast and Furious movie? They wouldn’t believe us.
BRYAN: And I haven’t even seen it!
ROSKO: Ha! Each one is better than the last. But back to Superman, I just feel they focused too much on making it like Batman and completely unlike Superman Returns and they didn’t work on making it it’s own movie.
BRYAN: That’s certainly part of it. But if they could even construct a simple action sequence I’d be a little more satisfied. As for Furious 6 I believe you but my hatred of the original prevents me from giving money to the sequels. It’s dumb, I’m weird, but those are my reasons. Taking into consideration where this film ends, is there some story from the comics you’d like to seem them tackle next? Some way to course correct?
ROSKO: Well, it’s weird to double-back on my thoughts about how this was “too Batman”, but I’d love to see a TDK approach and make a totally different movie. They’re probably going to do Luthor in the next one. And Lex has been portrayed differently over the years. He’s always shown as “the worst asshole of the time”, like a mad scientist (reflecting the Bomb) or a tycoon (‘80s greed). They’ll probably do some sort of evil Steve Jobs Luthor for the next one and I’m not that interested in that. My tastes wouldn’t fly for Supes movies. I like my Superman stories really weird and absurd, like the stuff in the ‘50s and ‘60s.
BRYAN: Well that’s another problem with comic book movies. They refuse to dig deeper into their own history. Why does it have to be Lex? Or Zod? or Joker (not that that wasn’t great)? Go obscure. Find a story that fits the theme. I’m getting tired of shit blowing up just for the hell of it or shitty 9/11 commentary. Films flourish with personal and unique touches, so stop being so generic and boring.
ROSKO: The reason they don’t do that is they have to appeal to everyone. They feel this weird need to show people only what they know. The biggest offense of this was Star Trek Into Darkness. They rebuilt the “anything can happen” universe only to do fucking Khan again. Who was pretty much Space Joker.
BRYAN: Well I’ve complained about that bullshit plenty already.
ROSKO: They’re starting over completely with Superman, and I don’t know if you noticed but there was an empty, opened pod in the fortress of solitude when Clark went there and found the dead bodies in them…Lex? Kryptonian Lex? The one JJ Abrams wrote when he worked on a Superman movie?
BRYAN: I heard some Super Girl talk but it doesn’t interest me much. Unless of course they write some actual characters and learn to compose images better. Final thoughts?
ROSKO: A big loud mess. A superhero Transformers.
BRYAN: Simple. I like that.