Film Review: Man of Steel

This review was originally published on The Orange Post on Wednesday 3rd July 2013.

Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel is a mixed blessing. At times it soars, just like the breathtaking depiction of Superman’s first flight. However, at times, and particularly in the final hour, it drags and is reminiscent of the director’s poorly received Sucker Punch.

Snyder retells Kal-El’s origin story, giving Krypton a much grittier and organic feel when compared to Richard Donner’s glowing crystalline depiction in Superman The Movie from 1978. Through a series of flashbacks, he recalls important moments in Clark’s early years on Earth and then thrusts us into what is essentially an alien invasion, as Kryptonian criminals General Zod and company arrive in search of Kal-El and some alien maguffin thingy.

The problem with man of Steel is that it takes Superman’s perspective rather than ours. It’s very easy to imagine that Clark / Kal-El is apprehensive about revealing himself to the world. Unfortunately, he waits until Zod demands that he be turned over to don his tights and cape. Snyder never shows us how the non-US military world reacts to his existence. Instead, we cut straight to brain numbing Transformers-lite fighting. You and I dealing with a superman amongst us is far more interesting than an alien’s angst about dealing with us mortals.

And that brings us to stakes. In Man of Steel, there are none. From the outset, it is established that Superman and General Zod are practically invincible on our planet, so when the film heads down the slippery slope that is two guys fighting in the air and crashing through buildings ad nauseum, it is pretty hard to care. We’ve already seen the battle sequences in Man of Steel before, in the Transformers franchise and again last year in The Avengers.

It’s not all bad though. The actor most maligned on the internet for his casting, Kevin Costner, is really solid and brings a gravitas to Jonathan Kent, Kal-El’s human father figure. Also charismatic is Russell Crowe who has clearly stayed off the pies to fit into his Kryptonian super suit as Jor-El, Superman’s real father. The talented Amy Adams is a determined and ambitious Lois Lane who has great chemistry with her boss at the Daily Planet, Perry White, played by Laurence Fishburne. It’s a bit of a shame that this chemistry is not present with the guy in the tights.

Henry Cavill certainly looks right for the part of Superman, but as the storyline takes place before he dons his glasses and becomes a mild mannered reporter, there is not really any duality. Without the Clark Kent persona, Cavill has little to do but look concerned. He might be the perfect Superman, but I think that may well be a matter for any subsequent instalments.

I was most looking forward to seeing how Michael Shannon, one of my favourite actors, would fare in his first major blockbuster role as General Zod. For his first couple of scenes, I had a great time with Shannon’s intense, bug eyed performance, however, it soon became clear that this was a one note performance and I grew tired of it. I hope that this isn’t his only foray into mainstream film.

The final act of the film consists of two very long and tiresome CGI laden fights that will leave you walking out of the cinema exhausted. Only when the dust had settled and we got just a few moments of Clark joining Lois on the staff of the Daily Planet before the end credits rolled did I catch a glimpse of the Superman movie I really wanted to see.

Published in: on July 4, 2013 at 00:05  Leave a Comment  
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Undies on the Outside: Thoughts on Superman

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 25th June 2013.

As long as I can recall, the Man of Steel has been a part of my life. For most of my childhood, I had a cardboard Superman stuck on my bedroom wall with pins in his arms and legs so his joints would articulate. Each night I’d doze off with a smiling and waving Kal-El looking over me.

My parents were early adopters of the VHS format in the early eighties and one of my perennial favourites was Superman II, taped off the television. Every couple of week I’d pop the tape in the top of the machine (yep, the VHS player was old school) and enjoy Supes battling Terrence Stamp’s evil General Zod.

Mum had also recorded the original Superman movie but I was less keen on it. I found the scene at the beginning of the film depicting the destruction of Krypton too traumatic for my sensitive little mind and would often fast forward through it and start with Kal-El landing in the cornfield in Smallville.

It was only recently that I discovered that both Superman and Superman II were filmed simultaneously. Original director Richard Donner clashed with the producers and was sacked after finishing the first film and three quarters of the sequel. Richard Lester was brought in to finish Superman 2 and drastically changed the storyline. In 2006, after much lobbying from fans, Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut was released and it is magnificent.

Although a little patchy now, the flying effects in the first two films were groundbreaking at the time. I often could be found as a kid trying to replicate the effects by lying on top of a kitchen stool in a flying pose and making whooshing sounds. Maybe I invented planking?

I went to see Superman III with my mother at the now defunct Roxy Cinema at Parramatta. Even at the tender age of eight, I could tell that the film was terrible. A vehicle for coked up comedian Richard Pryor, this turkey saw Christopher Reeve split into two personas when exposed to synthesised kryptonite that was infused with cigarette tar, and then fight a supercomputer, as you do.

In 1987, I received the Lucky Book Club tie-in adaption of Superman IV: The Quest for Peace and wisely steered away from seeing this movie bomb until recently. By this stage, Reeve was not keen to repeat the campy trash of the third instalment and was only swayed by the lure of story input. What resulted was a truly atrocious low budget film which involves Supes disarming the world of its nuclear arsenal and then fighting Nuclear Man, who is created when said bombs are thrown into the sun for disposal by the Man of Steel.

During the late eighties, Superboy started screening on TV in the late afternoon timeslot. Also a low budget affair, I remember it being rather low key, with a young Superman fighting drug dealers and crime lords, rather than super villains (or supercomputers). The romantic adventure series Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman followed in prime time in the early nineties. I didn’t watch this one because it was more drama than heroics, plus I was too enamoured with The X-Files at the time. And I still have to catch up on the final eight seasons of Smallville which was a little choppy in terms of quality and certainly very slow moving (just put on the suit and fly already).

In 2006, Bryan Singer’s underrated Superman Returns hit the big screen. I must admit that as soon as John Williams’ iconic score began, the cinema got just a little dusty. Unfairly labelled as a failure, there is plenty to enjoy about this movie, which was largely filmed in Sydney.

On Thursday, Man of Steel will arrive and I cannot wait. Despite hit and miss director, Zack Snyder, being at the helm, I will buy my ticket and hopefully love it. After all of these years together, Superman surely won’t let me down.

Published in: on June 30, 2013 at 16:19  Leave a Comment  
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Superhero going stale? Reboot!

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This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 10th May 2011.

Next year will see the cinematic release of The Dark Knight Rises, the third film in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Trilogy. With stars Christian Bale and Gary Oldman returning, along with new cast members Anne Hathaway as Catwoman, Tom Harding as Bane and Joseph Gordon-Levy as an unnamed character, the film is sure to be a major box office hit for Warner Bros and DC Entertainment. However, with Nolan and Bale confirming that they will not be back for a fourth film in the franchise, rumours are rife that Batman will be rebooted with a new director and star.

In cinema, a reboot is where all previous continuity in a series is discarded and begins anew. In the Caped Crusader’s case, Tim Burton’s original series, which began in 1989 with the box office smash starring Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson, had petered out to a kiddie friendly mess by 1997 with Batman and Robin, directed by Joel Schumacher (The Lost Boys), when the big red reboot button was thankfully pressed.

Batman isn’t the only comic superhero to undergo a reboot. The Man of Steel has been revised once, and is soon to be revamped again. Following four films starring Christopher Reeve, each one sillier than the next, reaching rock bottom with the anti-nuclear rubbish that was Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, X-Men director Bryan Singer was given the reins to reboot the franchise. Starring Brandon Routh and Kevin Spacey, Superman Returns essentially eliminates the original third and fourth films and picks up from where the second film ended.

Superman Returns, which was shot in Sydney, was not the mega success anticipated by Warner Bros, and now the rebooted Superman: The Man of Steel, which will premiere in 2012 and star Henry Cavill in the blue tights, will begin production soon.

Marvel comic characters are also not immune to a reboot or four. Mr Fantastic, the Invisible Woman, the Human Torch and The Thing make up the Fantastic Four, who were successfully translated into cinematic gold in two films produced between 2005 and 2007.  Starring Jessica Alba and Julian McMahon, both movies were profitable for Fox. A much more superficial take on the superhero genre compared to Christopher Nolan’s Batman franchise, the Fantastic Four are due to be rebooted soon.

Sam Raimi’s very successful Spiderman trilogy has made a fortune for Sony Pictures. Following the critically panned Spiderman 3, which starred Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst, Sony has announced a reboot, The Amazing Spider-man, to be directed by Marc Webb (no pun intended) and starring Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker and Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy.

The dilemma with reboots is where to take a renewed franchise. After the serious Gothic style of Michael Keaton’s Batman to the silliness of Val Kilmer’s Caped Crusader to the craptacular Bat-nipples on George Clooney’s Bat-suit to the super dramatic gravelly tones of Christian Bale, where to next for the Dark Knight? You can’t really go any darker than Health Ledger as the Joker and you can’t get any campier than Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr Freeze (unless Adam West is looking for work). The choice in my opinion is simple, a musical spectacular on ice in 3D. Holy reboot Batman!

My column has jumped the shark

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 9th March 2010.

Have you ever been watching your favourite television show and thought that it didn’t seem to be as good as usual? There’s a good chance that it has jumped the shark.

“Jumping the shark” is a popular term used to describe a TV series that has peaked and has begun to decline. This is often when the creative forces behind a show have run out of ideas and are starting to use desperate measures to regain their once loyal viewers.

The phrase refers to an episode from the fifth season of Happy Days which was filmed in 1977. In this episode, to prove his manhood, Fonzi (Henry Winkler) jumps over a deadly man-eating shark, complete with stock footage, on water-skis. Looking ridiculous in his budgie smugglers and trademark leather jacket, Fonzi’s stunt is widely regarded as a sure sign that the popular TV show was beginning to decline creatively. Of course, Happy Days continued for many years following that infamous episode but it never quite had the same magic.

There are several indicators that a show has jumped the shark. Here are a few.

One of the lead actors departing from a series is a significant clue. Actress Valerie Harper left her eponymous 80’s sitcom in a dispute with the producers, who promptly renamed it “Valerie’s Family”. After threats of litigation from Harper, it was then re-renamed “The Hogan Family”. By this time, the audience had lost interest and the show was cancelled soon after. John Ritter’s tragic premature death in 2003 also brought an early end to his sitcom 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter. It stumbled on for another 2 years as “8 Simple Rules” and his character was deemed to have died also from a heart attack between seasons.

Shows built around the sexual tension between characters also tend to lose their appeal and audiences once the writers make the mistake of having those characters marry or sleep together. This is another sign that a shark has been jumped. A great example of this is Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, which was axed soon after its lead characters were married. Other examples include Moonlighting, Who’s The Boss? and The Nanny.

Bringing in a cute child character is another red flag that a shark is circling. Remember the little fat kid from Hey Dad? Annoying Arthur MacArthur, played by Sorbent ad child actor Matthew Krok, was added to the cast to ensure that the cute factor remained as Mr Kelly’s youngest daughter Jenny grew up. By the time the show ended a few years later, only Betty the Receptionist (Julie McGregor) remained as an original cast member. In fact, even the dad in Hey Dad abandoned the show before its eventual demise.

Complicated storylines which confuse viewers also tend to result in a drop in ratings, particularly when it becomes clear that a resolution may not be on the cards immediately. Whilst there may not be an actual jump the shark moment, TV shows with convoluted plots which move at a snail’s pace such as Flashforward, Heroes, The X-Files and Lost were certainly shining up their skis pretty early on for the majority of viewers.

Keep an eye out for these signs and you’ll be sure to know that your favourite show has jumped the shark and it’s time to change the channel.

Published in: on March 9, 2010 at 20:15  Comments (4)  
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