Wednesday, December 12, 2012
Man of Steel: Hope for Superhero Films?
I haven't exactly kept my disdain for Zack Snyder and most of his filmography a secret. 300 and Watchmen were mediocre at best, if I'm being generous, and Sucker Punch appears to encompass every single problem I have with Snyder in terms of style of content. I get that you can dismiss my lack of enthusiasm for the slow-motion, the all CGI worlds, and the horrendous use music/covers at inappropriate times...but you'd be wrong. You can disagree that those traits are even problems to begin with, but insisting they are traits unworthy of criticism is simply mistaken.
So naturally as a HUGE Superman fan whose watched and loved the Richard Donner Superman films, the Superman prequel television series Smallville, the Superman animated series, and countless other related media...I was not elated to hear Snyder would helm Warner Bros. latest attempt to revive the film franchise of the worlds most famous superhero.
Surprisingly, I was also wary of Christopher Nolan being the films guide and story writer. While his grim, gritty, and realistic style is PERFECT for Batman, Superman is a character designed to inspire hope, bring brightness, and clearly exhibit abilities beyond the realm of reality. So this didn't feel like a right fit for either Snyder or Nolan, much less the combination of both artists. However in recent months, since the success of The Avengers to be exact, I've come to appreciate this teaming up of Snyder and Nolan.
I have to get say out of the gate: I really love The Avengers. It's a fun, exciting, and humorous popcorn ride filled with visual awe and a great cast. It's entertaining without being stupid and delivers on the imagination we all shared when dreaming of a big superhero team-up. Having said that...it is far from a perfect film. Some of the dialogue is pretty awful (The exchange between Loki and Fury about ants having quarrels with boots is laughably bad), the story is predictable and offers little sense of true suspense, dread, or surprise, and the first hour is oddly paced and rushed in terms of character relationships and individual development.
Yet somehow films like Brave, The Amazing Spider-Man, and The Dark Knight Rises can share these exact same traits and be lambasted while The Avengers is praised as a groundbreaking new gold standard for superhero films. Sorry...but no. In terms of costume design...okay, I guess it is the only film with the balls to make them look exactly like the comic books designs......if you ignore films like Sam Raimi's Spider-Man trilogy or The Fantastic Four films. It certainly isn't the only superhero film to be "light-hearted" and "fun" and I cannot fathom how anyone could consider it to have a better script than The Dark Knight, Spider-Man 2, Iron Man, or Batman: Mask of the Phantasm. Not good enough? Well maybe there is a superhero film that combined a great script with the courage to be all out silly and comic-booky...like the very first big one- Superman: The Movie. The Avengers fine and fun film....but hardly the revolutionary, does things no superhero film has ever done before, gauntlet smashing film that some are making it out to be.
Now in recent days the new Star Trek Into Darkness teaser and every other genre film that has the audacity to apparently take itself seriously has been criticized by some (idiots) for pursuing a 'Dark Knight' style in a post-Avengers world....because now apparently no matter what film you are, screw characters and story...being goofy and fun is all that matters!
Suddenly this teaming up of a director with the skills to create engaging stories and characters with another director with an admittedly passionate flare for visual action is beginning to really excite me. Man of Steel needs to really hit the ground running for Superman fans and while the latest trailer doesn't entirely excite me, it does indicate that there is enough there to ensure the future of superhero films will continue on the path of a PRE-Avengers world.
So what stand out about this trailer?
1) The negatives first: I smiled a little when Kevin Costner's Jonathan Kent appeared in clothing similar to the Smallville Jonathan as played by John Schneider. However that joy quickly faded when Jonathan suggested that perhaps Clark should have let a bus full of children die in order to protect his secret powers. That really bugged me. In my experience Jonathan Kent has always warned Clark about the dangers of exposing himself, however it was never at the expense of the lives of others. This line just felt very un-Pa-Kent-Like and I very much hope that conversation take a different turn in the final film.
2) Overall the trailer didn't exactly excite me. As I shall explain there are aspects of it worthy of enthusiasm, however for the most part there wasn't much of a "Wow that was cool!" or "I need to see how this turns out!" moment.
3) Now for some positives...the mythic vibe of it all really impresses me. I'm not a fan of the music, but the overall feel of the trailer does emphasize that Superman is a character of epic and godlike stature in appearance and in terms of what the character represents. The shots of Superman in the arctic preparing for and eventually taking off into the sky truly felt like the stuff of legend.
4) I love that we will appear to experience a story that is deeply personal for Clark Kent/Superman. Moments such as his mother and father comforting and teaching him in times of weakness or uncertainty really capture the important fact that Superman is who is because of the Kent's and how they raised Clark. These scene looks like they will provide some of the most emotional moments of the film.
5) Superman questioning his purpose in the world and whether or nor humanity is ready to accept him provides huge relief that the film will actually have an inner character journey that isn't simplified or easily dismissible. It gives Superman not only an arc for audiences to engage in, but possibly even a reason to rejoice beyond the typical 'hero saves the day' joy as Superman will now have something to prove to himself and the world. These are the types of stories that superhero films can and should aspire to.
Overall the trailer is fine. The aren't many awe inspiring moments but there are signs that the film will succeed in providing solid character and story depth, which frankly is the best sign the film could have given me. For some characters/franchises bright colors, gags every few moments, and fan service is not only fine, but required for a faithful adaptation. However in other cases, treating superhero films, their stories, and their characters like any other great film would, in other words taking them seriously, is more in line with what I hope to see in the future for the genre.