Wednesday, June 26, 2013

A Cinematic Delight That Almost Destroys Itself -- Reflections on "Man of Steel" (2013)

Iconic. Vintage Snyder.
Man of Steel is an exhilarating superhero epic that flies at a blistering pace. It’s perfect spectacle, and packed with iconic imagery care of Zack Snyder’s keen eye. There is so much the movie gets right, from the inspired casting to the remarkable special effects work to Hans Zimmer’s powerful score. This is an excellent Superman movie, but it is hard for me to imagine I will rewatch it again and again once it hits HBO in about 10 months.

The reason is the Christopher Nolan effect.

Now, I love the work of Christopher Nolan. Excepting The Dark Knight Rises (which only gets worse on repeat HBO viewings), his films have always resonated with me. He loves a good puzzle, and his works are entertaining in a remarkably cerebral way without sacrificing the overall impact of the drama, or the joys of spectacle. This is especially true in The Dark Knight and Inception, his most mainstream films.

The downside to Nolan, as evidenced by his Batman films, is the need to make everything so damn realistic, moody, and serious. This worked well with the first two Batmans in his trilogy, but by the third it worked against him as the tone was completely usurped by an absurd labyrinth of a plot that when finally pieced together resembled nothing even remotely real.

Now, with Man of Steel, he – and collaborator David S. Goyer – are up to it again, this time bringing Zack Snyder, a director with a knack for taking material too seriously (re: SUCKER PUNCH), into the fold. Snyder provides the visual punch of the film its saving grace, but Goyer provides a script that at times takes itself way too seriously. I wasn’t always sure why a Superman film had to be so grim and despairing, and while I rooted for our red, white, and blue superhero, I found myself wishing he’d lighten up just a little bit.

None of this is to put down the film, or imply that I didn’t like it. I did. I just see a pattern in Nolan’s superhero work that worries me. He seems intent on sucking all the fun out of superheroes. Fortunately, the general story here is strong, and Henry Cavill’s Superman along with Michael Shannon’s Zod are worth watching. Shannon, particularly, crackles when onscreen; Zod’s genetically engineered destructive force is almost worth the price of admission alone.

While Man of Steel may be a cause for alarm for the critic in me, reaffirming the ultra-serious aesthetic of modern comic book hero movies both creatively and at the box office, it is still great to behold on the big screen – a cinematic delight.

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