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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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Sex, drugs, and rock and roll.  And alcohol, though that goes in line with the drugs.  Such is the life of a rocker, living large, yet reaching that dropping point sooner than one would think.

Such is the case of the Runaways, an all-girl rock band formed in 1975, where Bowie was one such possible escape for drug-addled youth.  Joan Jett, a rhythm guitarist, partnered with Sandy West, a drummer, on the advice of Kim Fowler, a manager who continually looks for the next big thing.  The idea of an all-girl rock band excites him immensely.  They eventually add a guitarist and bass player (Lita Ford and a fictional bass player, as none of the original from the band signed their life story over for the movie), and all they needed was one final piece: a blond to front the band.  Enter Cherie Currie: a fifteen-year-old who has the look of a rock goddess.  Her stare is deadly.  Fowley wants her and has her, and now all that needs to be done is to mold her into the perfect lead singer for this rock and roll band.

The movie comes off as more or less a standard biopic of a band that came and went rather quickly: they formed in 1975 and broke up in 1979, and toured relentlessly until then.  The movie covers the band itself until Cherie leaves, shortly after the 1977 Japan tour, which caused a large amount of tension between Cherie and the rest of the band.  A photo-op for a Japanese magazine uses only Cherie that Fowley set up only for her and not the rest of the band, to which the band finds out while in Japan.  Tensions are heightened as well because of Cherie’s increasing drug addiction: she’s the only one who really couldn’t handle it.  She’s the fresh face to the music scene, and after an overdose in Japan, she’s had enough, at least of the band and the life on the road.  She’s almost become like her father: a constant alcoholic who sleeps in his car and never comes home.  At least Cherie has her sister, who’ll keep her going, even when she’s trying to get herself back on her feet.

Her story is contrasted with Joan Jett, who rocks hard and knows how to.  She has no family, save for the one on the streets and a random house she lives in.  She’s out there to prove herself as an electric guitarist: an early music teacher tells her that girls don’t play electric guitar (she proves him wrong in her own way).  The Runaways becomes her jumping point onto the world.  She rocks harder and more ferociously than any man she knows, and she has the all-female band to back it up.  She drinks and smokes, but she stays on her feet.  After the Runaways, she goes solo and sells millions, and on her own no less.  She becomes the success in the rock and roll mess, while Cherie becomes the failure, washed up on drugs and alcohol in too short a time.

Like I said, this is standard biopic fair.  The story is straightforward, and somewhat predictable, but it’s what you would expect from biographical movies.  The highlight of this movie though comes from the performances of Kristen Stewart (Joan Jett), Dakota Fanning (Cherie Currie), and Michael Shannon (Kim Fowley).  Stewart can act, that’s a no brainer (see Into the Wild and Adventureland for proof), and performs excellently as Joan Jett.  She plays guitar and sings quite well (if she does do so: the bands performances might have been scripted for the film, but when she’s on her own, she shreds hardcore).  Fanning is practically unrecognizable and is terrific throughout.  I’m continually amazed at how she takes chances with roles like this (she had another huge risk taker several years back, called Hounddog, where she plays a young girl who is continually abused and is actually raped towards the end of the movie).  She is definitely brave for taking these adult oriented roles.  And Shannon, as Fowley, is quite good.  He’s covered in make up the entire time and acts either drug-laced or just insane.  He pushes the girls hard to become rock and roll legends.

There is one other highlight to mention, and that’s the music.  The soundtrack is excellent throughout, from the use of the Runaways back catalog to other punk rock hits (plus the occasional 70s soft rock ballad that welcomes or ends Cherie’s innocence and introduces her to life as a rock star).

Not bad altogether.  See it for the music and the performances.

B