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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.

Let me start off by saying this: I’m a fan of King Arthur.

I know, I know, this is Robin Hood.  But I do mean King Arthur.  The one I’m referring to, more specifically, is the 2004 version, directed by Antoine Fuqua with Clive Owen as the title character.  I only saw it once, but I remember enjoying it because of the realism it brought to the Arthurian legend.  It wasn’t the most historically accurate, but it grounded the legend with an attempt to place him into a realistic setting.  That I enjoyed.

That’s the same idea, I presume, brought to Robin Hood, wherein the legend is placed within as close to a historically accurate setting as possible.  Granted, liberties are taken, but it’s nothing overwhelming to make one complain.  The same could be said for Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven, where again some liberties were taken.

This is probably why we have the “historical fiction” genre of literature and film.

As for this film, Scott set it as a prequel to the outlaw Robin, when he robbed from the rich and gave to the poor.  This Robin Hood (using his given name Robin Longstride) fights in the English army for King Richard the Lionheart during the last of the crusades.  Robin is dismayed with the actions taken by King Richard (the film opens with them laying siege to a castle in France), and decides to leave the army with a few of his fellow commoners (Will Scarlet, Little John, and Allan A’Dayle).  King Richard is killed in battle, and his personal guard is ambushed by Godfrey, an English spy for the French.  Robin assumes the role of Robert Loxley (one of the king’s personal knights), heads off to Nottingham to return Robert’s sword to his father, and eventually courts Maid Marion, who was married to Robert.  Elsewhere, Richard’s brother John becomes king after his death and rules quite unjustly, Godfrey pillages England, in the name of the king, with the French assisting him, and other different plots ravel and spin around until the final battle on the southern coast of England.

Yes, there is a lot going on, but it all works.  I imagine that there will be the eventual director’s cut release (this movie clocked in at 150 minutes) that will expand on portions of the plot lines, making things a bit smoother (it definitely helped with Kingdom of Heaven).  The film is beautifully shot, both with the choreography and the battle sequences (of which there are several).  The acting was well done, though some of the characters were mere set pieces that didn’t get much; unfortunately, it was the early version of the Merry Men of Sherwood forest that didn’t get much characterizations, between the drunkards of Robin’s personal guard and the feral children that would eventually form part of the Merry Men.  The movie moves though with Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett as the leads.  They are both solid and very reliable.

Mark Strong, sadly, is now being typecast into every villain role imaginable.  Then again, he has the look of Evil Bastard That’s Up to No Good, so it does kind of work.  Four movies in six months as the villain though?  Someone cut this guy a break.

As for the realism, I actually did enjoy it.  I know the main portrayal of Robin Hood as always been of the “merry” sort, dressed in green, with the pointed feather cap and his band of men always up to no good (but, up for good, dependent on view point).  And, they have fun too.  The legend of Robin Hood is, I suppose, a happy one (just see Mel Brooks’ “Men in Tights”).  Scott’s Robin Hood isn’t, but I don’t think it’s supposed to be.  Given the setting (late 12th century England), it wasn’t necessarily a fun time – or a fun place for that matter – to live.  With the kings always asking for more money, people often live off of nothing: food, water, clothing, etc.  Frankly, it sucks.

And that’s what I probably liked most about this version of Robin Hood: it helps establish the legend by placing him in a very accurate setting (again, historical liberties aside) and actually showing just how difficult life was, and how one man with his (eventual) band of merry followers made all sorts of trouble for the king because of his unjust ways.

Kudos indeed.

B+

Note: Russell Crowe a few days ago spoke of an eventual sequel that goes into the legend of Robin Hood itself.  I’m not necessarily holding my breath on that: medieval movies don’t generally make a lot of money domestically, and with the budget being as high as it is (over $200 million), the movie needs to make a lot of money to break even, and probably even more to create a sequel.  I would gladly see one made, but the chances of that aren’t very good.  But, we shall see.

2007 was apparently supposed to be the year of the Western, or at least some form of it.  I remember reading an article back in the fall of that year, highlighting a possible resurgence of Western and Western-themed movies.  Looking at various box office charts that year, there were only two “true” Westerns released that year (the Western being synonymous with the gunslinger, the shanty towns, the wild west showdowns, etc.): 3:10 to Yuma (which I’ll get to shortly), and the Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (which, hopefully, I’ll get to in a month or so).  Of Western-themed movies (movies that have a Western setting but are not true Westerns), again, only two: No Country for Old Men (winner of best picture that year), and There Will Be Blood (a best picture nominee from that year).  Of those four, only 3:10 to Yuma originally opened wide.  No Country went into a small wide release in its third weekend before expanding into 2000 theaters by the end of its run, There Will Be Blood didn’t go wide until its fifth weekend, and Assassination never went wide at all (its biggest expansion was into 300 theaters).  In 2008, Appaloosa was the only wide release Western that year, and it did lukewarm business at that.  True Grit, a remake of the John Wayne classic, opens around Christmas time this year, the first true Western since Appaloosa.

As for 3:10 to Yuma, it did pretty decent business for a Western.  Released in September (the week after Labor Day), the movie opened at number one and ended up grossing $53 million by the end of its run.  One can imagine if it got released in a summer month what kind of business it would have done.

This I think is the third time I’ve watched this movie.  I saw it in theaters originally (dragging my poor sister to see it since she is not a Western fan at all) and liked it then.  I watched it again when I bought it on DVD, and I still liked it then.  For this movie retrospective, I watched it a third time.  Now, I truly love this film.

It’s not because of the fact that this movie is great.  It really is, but it’s when you sit down and start thinking about the movie, and the various themes occurring throughout that it really makes you appreciate the story that the filmmakers are trying to tell.  The overall plot is simple enough: Dan Evans (Christian Bale) is a rancher trying to make ends meet while preventing a railroad from being built through his land.  Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) is an outlaw that robs carriages that transports money.  Wade is captured while in the town of Bisbee, and it’s been decided that he will be taken to the town of Contention, to board the 3:10 to Yuma federal prison train.  Evans goes with the small group, hoping to make enough money to stay on his land and keep the railroad off of it.  They eventually make it to Contention, where a final showdown occurs between Evans (trying to get Wade to the train) and Wade’s group of outlaws.

That by and large is the plot.  Simple enough, but it’s everything else that occurs throughout that adds to the story and makes it something special.  The movie itself is a tale of redemption, more for Evans than anyone else (there was a possibility for Wade, but he remains the same in the end, simply because it’s his nature as an outlaw and overall bad person).  Evans was a Civil War vet who lost his foot during a battle early on in the war, though the reasons remain unknown until the end.  At the conclusion of the war, he takes his family and moves them to Arizona, mainly for his younger son (again, the reason is discovered at the end, though one can take a guess on why, it shouldn’t be too difficult).  He’s terrible as a rancher, and is often pushed around as well.  The movie opens to his barn burning by a group hired by another rancher hoping to push him off his land to make way for the railroad.  He’s a very diplomatic person, often in conflict with the views of his older son, who prefers that he would rather have his father shoot everyone instead of trying to be reasonable.  This leads to the older son trying to imitate Wade, only to find out by the end that Wade truly isn’t a good person.  Only his father is.

As for Evans himself, his decision to go all the way to Contention becomes his redemption: in one of the best scenes from the movie, he silently yet painfully explains to his wife that he can’t stand the looks his sons give him, or the way his wife doesn’t look at him (yes, Bale pulls it off quite well).  It’s there that we know why Evans would  be willing to risk his life for $200: to become a hero in his family’s eyes and to raise them out of the poverty that he had to place them in.

As for Wade, he gets told this when they’re scrambling to make it to the train, which causes him to decide to go all the way to the train for Evans and his son.  The final scene takes away his own personal redemption (especially with what he does in the scene preceding that one), but again, he’s the villain, and a very good one at that.  Wade is the kind of guy who would either retire when he gets old, or dies on his own terms.  Getting captured and facing execution just isn’t his style.

So yes, after the third time, I’ve come to love 3:10 to Yuma.  An excellent movie throughout.

Source: http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=310toyuma.htm