Friday, June 21, 2013

Man of Steel: The Best Superman Movie

I have just returned from Man of Steel and find myself pleased with the results. Henry Cavill is now the definitive Superman, and MOS is presently THE definitive Super Hero film. Unlike the dozens of grousing professional film critics who likely had no idea of how they wanted Kal-El to be portrayed, I was impressed with the way director Zack Snyder and writer David Goyer and co-writer/executive producer Christopher Nolan re-imagined the iconic character in a way that helped us understand better how he came about his unwavering diligence to do good and his unflinching resolve to overcome adversity. There was something rather clever and subtly effective in establishing that Kal/Kent/Superman was not just different from earthlings, but also different, quite different from his fellow Kryptonians. The dual fathering of Jor-El and Jonathon Kent made for a credible, believable result in the form of the adult Clark. The action sequences were especially brilliant, with a splendid, inspired use of CGI to convey the scope and magnitude of having a world beset upon by super-powered adversaries; Snyder has a comic sensibility that is a perfect match for the ambitions of this movie. His movies are not everyone's idea of a good time, but for the set that likes fantastic battles and Big Action sequences that concern the eternal issues of Good vs. Evil, with Elizabethan cadences or not, Snyder reveals his customary mastery of the special effects at his fingertips. 

It has the magnificence of the best Futurist manifesto, which claimed that the staid present must be destroyed and that we need to speed the progress of humanity with the speed, efficiency of machines. Ironic, yes, as this was the philosophy of  20th fascists who desired to bully mankind into servitude. Superman, of course, is the free thinker, the free man, the defender of the weak against well-intentioned conquistadors. Michael Shannon as General Zod was a classic villain, sufficiently complex, with a moral compass no less compelling than Superman's, although at odds, fatal odds with those of the Man of Steel

The final battle sequence, a long one, is among the most exciting action sequence I've ever seen in a superhero film. Metropolis is gloriously, grandly, royally laid to ruin by the unleashed fury of Kryptonian v Kryptonian, and it is, of course, a near perfect simulation of the reader's imaginative interpretation of a battle scene in the traditional comic book format. Although possessing some gloom and desaturated seriousness from Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy, where the watchword has been" realism" from the start, Man of Steel is fantasy all the same; for all the emphasis on Superman's emotional confusion and the junior -college existentialism of his twofold "otherness"--his difference from both his native planet's traditions and the distinctions between him and his adopted planet--this is in a long line of science fiction and fantasy films where grand cities are destroyed, leveled and  turned into rubble in a grand way. 

From the post WW2 nuclear nightmares of the Godzilla movies to the skyscraper decimation in the Transformer franchise, Man of Steel  adds to a  tradition of architectural destruction that I admit is one of my inexplicable guilty pleasures, originating, I think, from my love of the art of Jack Kirby, a comic book artist whose work for DC Comics rival Marvel featured battle scenes among superheroes and super villains that smashed through brick and mortar regularly. The shards, bricks, glass, and wood that scattered through the frames of the panels he drew were captured as if by a high-speed camera; Kirby created the sensation of a great force plowing irresistibly through strong, dense barriers.  Director Snyder comprehends the improbable physics behind what Superman and his foes high-powered hi jinks and proceeds any way to execute them. 

This is the Superman we've been waiting for, muscular, committed, a guardian of the week against the bullies of the universe who will be as strong as he needs to be to make that all of those things we take for granted or pay lip service to truth, justice, an American Way based on fairness and consensus --survive and flourish. For the controversial end of the battle where Superman does something old schoolers insist Superman would never do, I say this: it's about time.  Although he remains the Blue Boy Scout with his big heart and unerring sense of fair play, he is not a doormat, he is not, as we said back in my drinking days, a pussy. He is a hero who is as strong as he needs to be and who will use his moral compass to guide to him action that will truly serve the greater good, the goal of an honestly Good Fight. 

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