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Superman is back, and he’s doing… okay-ish?

[Pre-review note: I’m going to make it sound like people shouldn’t see this film.  I want people to see this film, like all films.  I want to hear/read what different people say about it, and see if there’s anything I missed, anything that needs to be expanded upon, and anything that can be agreed upon.  Besides, I’m just one guy with an opinion, right?]

This is definitely a curious film, curious in that it does certain things right and certain things poorly.  There are things I liked a lot in the film, and there are things that I found problematic and rather disturbing, and, being a Superman film, left me wondering why they did those things (and also left them unanswered).  There will be some spoiler discussion below, but I’ll also make sure to point out the big spoiler moment when I get to it.

So what does this film do right?  Let’s start with the origin, which was a very good decision to do, since the character hasn’t been updated for the big screen in years (Superman Returns connected itself to the Donner/Reeves universe), and, just as important, the push by Warner Bros to do a connected universe of films, ala Marvel and the Avengers.  It established the destruction of Krypton, Kal-el as the natural born savior of the Kryptonian race, and General Zod as the bad guy.  There were a couple cool elements established as well and in pre-release: Kryptonians, as a matter of population control, began artificially creating children for specific roles (military, scientist, etc), and, NO KRYPTON CRYSTALS.  Getting rid of that got rid of Superman’s Achilles heel, especially when the only people he fights in this film are superpowered beings like himself.

The visuals in this film were amazing.  Synder has always been a great visual director, between 300 and Watchmen (haven’t seen Legends of the Guardians or Sucker Punch, but both, again, looked really good), and he continues that here.  This is probably the best looking film to come out this year so far.  Actually, if you want a taste of what the film looks like, here’s the last trailer for the film, sponsered by Nokia:

The score was unbelievably awesome.  Hans Zimmer went all out, and it clicked with everything that was happening in the film.  It is just huge and sweeping and I want to own it.  It’s that good (actually, the Nokia trailer has a great bit of the soundtrack attached to it).

Of the performances, Russell Crowe as Jor-el was good.  Michael Shannon as General Zod was amazing (he just steals everything he’s in, doesn’t he?).  He has this simmering boil sitting just beneath the surface that’s ready to explode without warning.  Amy Adams was good with what she had as Lois Lane (note: she’s completely wasted in the second half of the film), and Henry Cavill, as the new Clark Kent/Kal-el/Superman was good, showing a decent amount of charisma and actually showing a strong bit of emotion with the character (something that Brandon Routh’s lacked).  Though there were problems that I doubt he could have rectified.

Which is what makes this film curious: what went wrong?  Let’s start with the big guy himself.  Superman’s arc is… rather flat.  It exhibits all the traits of the “rising to the call” hero trope, but there’s no drama or conflict to it.  He doesn’t refuse the call at all: instead, he realizes that it’s what he was born to do and just does it[1].  It’s honestly a weird thing to do, and because of the lack of conflict, it makes the character surprisingly flat.  To be honest, Superman has always been a kind of flat character, since he’s rather over powered at times and can take on anything while having a straight moral compass (always do good, don’t hurt anyone, etc).  It just doesn’t resonate like it should[2].

The film itself coasts along a lot.  This feels very Nolan-esque in a way, where we’re constantly given information while everything is continually happening, but without an internal conflict from Superman, there’s nothing that really propels the film forward.  It just does: Superman finds a ship with a suit, Zod shows up, fighty fight fight.  The end.

Speaking of fighty fight fight, the last hour was extremely boring at times.  Zod shows up, and then the action starts, first in Smallville, and then in Metropolis.  The best part of it was probably the split action sequence, when Superman was taking on the World Engine while humanity was trying to destroy Zod’s ship in Metropolis.  It is a well executed sequence.  Everything else though?  I can’t speak for anyone else, but I got rather bored with people punching each other repeatedly, throwing each other into buildings, into cars, into trains, throwing trains on people, etc.  The movie was long (150 minutes about?), and it felt long.

And then there was the violence and destruction, which bordered on, and probably surpassed gratuitous[3].  I can understand the World Engine bit, especially with it destroying downtown Metropolis (thought it was still over the top).  What I don’t get was everything else: how casual it was for the super people to get thrown around into buildings and cars without repercussion (though, who would stop them?), including Superman?  Even in his last fight with Zod?  He’s actively participating in destroying Metropolis, even the parts that weren’t destroyed!

*MASSIVE SPOILERS COMING*

What bothered me the most though was the end to the Zod fight and its lack of resolution.  Superman killed Zod.  He had to.  Understood.  And then he screams his frustration.  Again, understood.  And then… that’s it?  Next time we see him, he’s chastising the general for spying on him (and destroys a drone like it’s no big deal)?  He’s talking to his mom about finding a job?  Shouldn’t he take a moment to resolve never to kill again unless necessary?  Shouldn’t humanity realize that they have a huge problem on their hands with a guy whole could blow up a building with a sneeze? The last ten minutes fails on so many levels simply because it doesn’t resolve anything surrounding both Superman killing Zod and humanity’s reaction to so much death and destruction.  It’s honestly confounding.

Furthermore, is this the Superman that they want to do for the 21st century? A super being that doesn’t deal with the repercussions of having tens of thousands of people killed? Of having people hide, then having a superpeople fight in your hometown instead of forcing the fight into the surrounding farmland? It’s the weirdest thing to see, having Superman’s morality clicked off while he’s fighting people and allowing everything to be destroyed around him. If there were something else done, like Zod and his super friends tossing random civilians up in the sky and having Superman go and catch them (exposing a key weakness and using it against him), then there wouldn’t be this discussion. The only time he cares, apparently, is when Lois Lane falls from the sky (twice), and when Zod’s about to vaporize a family at a train station. It’s hardly enough.

*MASSIVE SPOILERS ENDING*

This whole thing is confounding.  Again, there were good things.  There were not so good things.  I wanted this film to be great, and with the promo material they had, they sold it as great.  In the end though, it’s okay-ish to good-ish, and not the great film I think Warner Bros wanted or believed they had.  There is a sequel coming, so we’ll see if there’s any improvement coming down the line (and hopefully explore some of the problems discussed in the preceeding spoiler section).  As it stands, it’s an okay-ish film with some good parts and some rather problematic parts.

[1] Having said that, it’s better than Green Lantern, where Hal just spends most of the movie moping and whining before actually saying that he should go and save the day.  Ugh, why did this film have to ruin Ryan Reynolds for me?

[2] Maybe the conflict was “you can’t save everyone” from his father?  I dunno.  It’s honestly really weird how this call to action was set up, and I doubt I can explain it properly without breaking my brain.  If someone can explain to me what the call to action was, I’ll be thankful to them.

[3] I’m curious if Snyder went “well, I didn’t have enough death and destruction in Watchmen, so let’s multiply that by a lot!” because it definitely feels like he did.

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Quickie: solid “sequel” to the original Predator, in which a bunch of humans are plucked off Earth, dumped onto an alien planet, and hunted by the alien predators. There are some real nice touches to this movie, between the connection to the original, the attempt at establishing different characterizations for everyone (although some do still stay within the stereotype, like the big, lovable Russian and the silent Japanese Yakuza), and the general, lingering sense of danger at every turn. Still, you know where this is going and where it’ll end, who’ll die and who’ll live, and just about everything else with regards to the survival action genre. It’s good and solid for what it is, and there’s nothing wrong with that, really. Popcorn flick.

B-