Monday, June 17, 2013

Extravagant Evil: Man of Steel ... Heart of Gold, Movie of Diamond Encrusted, Platinum Genius

The Following will have a Spoiler section, and a non-spoilered section.

To start with: I have made a personal vow to see this movie again, just because I am very consumed by many moments in the film that made me really think about it, and surmised it to be an interesting examination on the character.

Man of steel does a lot of interesting things artistically to really try to complete this image of Superman as a concept as much as a character and is very heavy in terms of symbolism. One thing I loved about it is that it stayed very true to the existential roots that really did make Superman in his inception, that of the Ubermensch and all that jazz. They really played those elements well, and had him as an interesting character that played off of Zod in that same existential framework. Zod as a villain really did make sense as a villain for this film, and you need to see it to really see why. I will discuss more in the section I designate for a Spoilerific examination as to WHY it works so well, but for now, know simply that it does.

Further, like a lot of things done with Superman, largely in the comics, they do a lot of interesting messianic imagery with Superman, and it actually feels very aware that the symbolism like that is required for a god-like character like Superman. To the point where I feel they have a lot of fun with the symbolism to both strengthen the character and use it as a means for a viewer to have fun taking in the symbolism if they did really notice it.

This leads to another thing that Nolan did in this that I liked, he really did have fun with this, while being very serious and interesting all the while. His Humor was Subtle. From what I've heard of some reviews, they pinged it for lacking humor, a la the Avengers, but the humor here is more subtle so as not to lead to Tonal dissonance in a very artsy, but main stream accessible film. In fact, as I will highlight in my un-spoilered section of my observations, the worst joke was in fact a more obvious joke out of tonal dissonance.

Now, this movie was not perfect. Far from perfect. However, not too far away to where you can't see the possibilities in your peripheral vision; which is, ironically enough, a very Nietzsche-esque way of describing the movie. Able to see what it could be, perfect, if it had more will power and restraint at times.

The Action scenes are few and far between in this 2.5 hour long epic, which lead to an issue in that the way they reacted was to really over-extend the fight scenes to a point of gratuity at times, to where one grew almost as exhausted as Superman from the fighting in and of itself. While this does deliver on the epic scope required for combat with a god forged in armor of will-power, it does also become a strain because they go and go and go and go, with fire and bullets and speed and dervish, without time for the audience to breathe at times. It builds tension to the point where it just becomes pain through the chaos now and again.

If they gave more slow points in the fights, it could have kept the scale with a natural lull in the action to
marvel at the chaos, which I will touch on in the more open section I'll compose.

The acting was very good, and while I was very hesitant of their choices I really actually appreciated the performance of Henry Cavill, he carried a very compassionate sense of distance and understanding, and really Really fit the restraint needed to define Superman very nicely. Not to mention his face and body type fit Superman's frame nicely and really made us believe that Henry Cavill could fly.

Due to my concerns with the fight scenes the movie develops some pacing issues, but each section in turn, even if the pacing is odd at times create a very interesting and thought provoking experience that actually is fun to watch by really mixing together really well Nolan's and Goyer's writing, interesting casting, and Zack Snyder's familiarity with high paced action and the over the top nature of combat that superman requires.
While it has it's quirks and issues, as such an odd combination is wont to do, it plays it straight enough to not shatter Suspension of Disbelief

I will be examining more closely my praises and issues with the film below.

For those who don't want to See Spoilers,

This is Extravagant Evil, going Medieval on Bad Movies.

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Okay, in the beginning we focus on Krypton, which I found really interesting as a concept, and tells his origin as it has been told before. It is a very interesting setting, with very interesting technology. It is very grim and distinctive, with this full plate armor, and very fluid natural technology in the forms of things like self assembling nano technology type ball-bearing building blocks, and a very distinctive landscape composed of a landscape that looks like someone took a comb across the entire landscape like combing the beach in Space Balls, Cranked to 11. It had so many weird elements to it, that it was hard to process all the portions together quite right.
Why is their this giant, overly decorated, archaic council of persons that make Xerxes look subtle, and all this armor and all this technology here and taking this particular shape? Not to mention the wild life being shown and being very odd and just not feeling like it gelled together. This lead to me wanting to see more of Krypton explained and explored, but we know the rules, Krypton is destroyed and all hope is lost, therefore we don't get to see any more justifications for the sheer grimness and austerity that embodies the decaying Kryptonian Empire.

That is another interesting thing that they did, I feel like they made the entire society very grimdark, where Kal-El was the first natural birth in all of history and it all devolved into a caste system of giant genesis tanks due to population limits, on an expanding society that covered thousands of worlds over 100,000 years. Which is still very odd, because why would the empire suddenly decide to contract?

So it does take a lot of liberties with the Kryptonians, and made them more "Noland-y", and I liked it, I just wanted more time to really get these elements all set into each other and really get a feel for it, so that it doesn't feel like they just took a bunch of cool elements and aesthetics and smashed them together and shucked it into a blender.

The aesthetic issue kind of came to a head for me with this odd 4 winged, bird dragon that Jor-El rode at the beginning, for soon after the visceral birth of Superman, we see that the entire society is falling apart as Zod is leading a coup. So, Jor-El rides his 4 winged insect bird dragon over to a "genesis pool", none of this is given context for the first... 45 minutes I'd like to say by the way, and swims down, as he is surrounded by fetuses attached to kelp, and grabs a magical rune covered skull called "The Codex", again, no context until the 45 minute mark. All of these interesting concepts, no explaination, no context, other than "People are dying and it's grim and dark and sad". However, it is very interesting and still manages to give an emotional overtone for what the Kryptonians are like and really gives Zod a lot of initial characterization, based on the emotion of the society, even if the overall chunks have this weird issue gelling as this pseudo-sci-fantasy construct, that feels like a more technologically advanced version of the Imperium of Man at times.

Also: Jor-El is played by Russel Crow, and it really really works. He is the same as he always is. Bored looking, tired, and disinterested. Jor-El is a broken man, no one listened to him, and his people are dying.
It actually makes SENSE that he is played by Russel Crowe with that in mind, and also, he soon after gets stabbed and becomes nothing more than a consciousness uploaded onto a magical flash-drive, so he is a broken down, tired, hologram for the remainder of the film. Once again, this actually makes sense to use Russel Crowe.

After all that, and Superman is sent through the "Phantom Zone" (read: the Warp) to appear at Earth, and Zod is safe from the planet's destructon due to being trapped in said Phantom Zone.

Then, the movie does something really clever. It does not tell Superman's remaining backstory linearly.
It skips to Superman in his 30's. On a crab boat. All of Superman's backstory is explicitly told through select scenes of flashbacks, and they let the fame of Superman's backstory, after having redefined Krypton for a new audience, and clarifying the relatively more obscure facts of Superman's name (Kal-el, all that) they just let the eternal story tell itself at the back of our minds, because we know it, and only show us when things change which I have to Applaud the movie for taking such an interesting direction by not directly discussing Superman, because it knows we know him backwards and forwards.

Through these, they actually do some interesting examinations on Superman's childhood, and half deconstruct his idyllic Kansas existence as he comes to really heavy terms with his powers, and we can see the mental strain that it puts him under, and how as a small child he reacted to the world with fear due to the lack of will-power. Which he eventually tempered of course. They are all done very nicely and really help define the character really Reall well.

He is essentially a drifter who keeps having to leave town after he helps people with his Herculean strength, out of an ingrained fear from his father about causing a panic with his existence, which strengthens the levels of Nietzsche sneaking into this movie, due to the constraints of the lessers and all that. Eventually, he's on an arctic trip with the military uncovering a giant object in the ice, where he meets Russel Crowe and we get a lot of context on the magical rune skull, the diamond motiff, and so on. The ship almost has a very Alien aesthetic with the hallways, and we find out that the S on Superman's costume, which is actually a symbol of the house of his father, is a symbol for hope. Of course, the only point of issue I take is "Why is Superman's Suit and cape on board in holding for 18,000 years?". This is one of the problems with the movie, some stuff you just have to buy and run with, and it does lead into the pacing issues I gave earlier.

This movie likes to expedite scenes that can be hard to write around given their set-up and skip to the next point.

We can talk more on that later as, before the ship is discovered, we get to meet our Lois Lane. She is ginger. She is hot. She is Spunky and curious and everything we want our Lois to be. She is great in this, and I would not have her any other way. Even if she is too stupid to realize the floating sentinel thing on the ship that she followed Superman on to, wasn't there to kill intruders and got whipped in the stomach . Superman heals this of course with his heat vision and dumps her in the snow and runs away. this all happens post exposition of course.

Now, as my immediate mastery over my memory of the plot starts to slip, I'll really start going into a more thematic and 'key scene" break down of the film with plot elements more interspersed.

Soon after Lois manages, through tenacity alone, to track down Superman, we get more reflections on his backstory and the death of his adoptive father, which really does give us a lot of insight into the Superman character again, but very much with a Spider-man element of dedication to it, here we get to see Zod hijack the world communications array and demand Superman, and eventually, Supes surrenders himself,ore t and is for a time, of his own choice detained by the military which leads to another example of the subtlety of the comedy of the movie being based on the sheer power and concept of Superman, like how he tears through handcuffs the military gave him like paper.

Now, before the decision was made, we see a really heavy amount of the messianic imagery, when Superman is discussing with a Priest what he should do, which is serious, but has a level of reaction humor that was well done on the part of the priest, and there's interesting lines like "Should we really trust in Zod", which to me sounded reminescent in "In god we trust", that made me smile personally. This scene highlighted a filming technique that dominated the film. Heavy emphasis on the foreground, blurring the background, and making it less about the setting, than the characters.

This is done a lot with the dialogue with the priest, when the background is just slightly blurred, and shows a stained glass of Jesus. Next to Superman's head, and he talks about sacrificing himself for Man, someone who must bear man's burden. Get the picture?

Eventually, we see that Superman is taken aboard the ship of Zod, and we find out a major diversion from continuity, it is not Kryptonite that is superman's weakness, it is simply the atmosphere OF Krypton and the environment, due to it being a difficult place to live. Therefore, due to him being empowered by Earth's easier environment, what happens is that he is forced into the capacities of their environment, to where it is essentially poisonous and debilitating without it actually being a source of sheer weakness, just relative weakness, which due to the more grim elements of this film, is more than enough and fits the tone.

Lois also gets dragged aboard for some reason, and she has the magical flash-drive that contains Russel Crowe, and he teaches her how to save Superman by screwing with the atmosphere and life support to match Earth rather than Krypton and save Superman.

Then he heads down to Earth, and here is where I start to get a major beef with the movie.

Due to the environment of Earth, a lot of the preserved Kryptons from the war have Super Powers, albeit to less a degree than superman because they haven't the time to concentrate on refining it, which is an interesting weakness also, because when they lose their personal biomes, they develop the Sensory issue that Clark conquered when he was 10, leading to it being a point of dishonor to Zod when his "Breather" falls apart and he's disarmed by this major distraction of X-Ray vision.

Now: Due to this, Superman has to use his powers to kick the shit out of the Semi-Super Super villains.
However,  know that Superman is aware of the scale his powers impact society and is eternally compassionate. He therefore, instead of doing the thing he always does when super-foes appear and lead them out of town to lessen the carnage, he acts Reckless, and insane, crashing into Diners, throwing the villains into trains, nearly destroying his hometown, and Metropolis, in a holocaust of fire and collapsing buildings and gas stations. This is Stupid. Very stupid. He tears apart the city and acts very much in heavy disregard of people he can't see directly, despite his highly refined super vision. I found it very distracting just how long this would commence of the sheer carnage and carelessness, and Superman would simply take it, rather than draw their fire to a less inhabited portion of KANSAS. Kansas. The land of corn fields and dust, and there was nowhere he thought to run to? All the while, indirectly causing mountains of death. Nice one Supes. Nice one.
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Now, as I write this, this reminds me of a major point of editing that they did in this movie that I liked, and at the same time, didn't.

They did a good job with the special effects, and really got us to feel what it was like to look at Superman flying around at high speed and punching through walls, and really the feel of speed in combat is there, and it is palpable, and interesting. When Superman learns to fly, this speed is also presence, and we have fun also just switching between Superman moving and his reactions to his new found, will-forged abilities and it really does give us a lens into what it's like

However, a problem occurs. It is hard to process at times. With the initial flying scenes it works very well, but in the scuffle of combat, in a flurry of more realistic/gritty darker colors, it can fall to Micheal Bay syndrome and be hard to process, and it falls into being a flaw I feel in the movie.
We focus a lot on Superman's perspective, and really get a vibe for seeing the world through the eyes of superman, except Speed. And this was directed b Zack Snyder. Slow-Mo Snyder. And he did not think that there was any moment that could not have had fun with Slow motion than Superman fighting Pseudo-Super men? Where everything is incredibly fast combat maneuvers, amid hails of bullet fire, giving a moment to process the punches, and experience the speed of Superman, and his villainous opponents, in comparison to bullets, would be an interesting way to give us a cool moment to breathe and be able to refocus on what's going on.

Another interesting thing, when Superman first felt the Kryptonian environment, he slips into unconsciousness, and through Kryptonian science, they probe his brain and send him into a very interesting confrontation between Superman and Zod, where they learn that Zod wants to rip apart Earth's surface with advanced terraforming to make it Krypton mk. 2. This was done with some interesting and trippy and dark imagery that really sold the issue that Zod and Superman have, and solidifies a major issue that Superman has in this, sacrificing the source to his largest existential question in the name of the people he feels close to is a very palpable issue, and I am truly a fan that they included it, and shows Zod's strength as a villain.

Back to the small-town-fight, there is a female that serves as Zod's right hand girl, and she is DULL when she speaks, she goes on this pseudo-evolutionary-social-darwinist-"morality is for the weak" rant while fighting in a diner and it is another thing I didn't like, was because it both sacrificed her as an interesting mini-boss, but also was just a bland and generic villain speech, which also falls into a problem of bull shit science that the movie suffers which I'll expand on.

Remember the magic rune skull?
It contains the genetic code for every Kryptonian genetic combo that is useful to their society. By the BILLIONS. We were lead to believe it was the magic flash drive. Rather, after Kal-El was born, they tossed it into a collection of Laser beams and stored all their genetic code into superman.
post-natal genetic add ons. By the billions of combos. Each one nesting on his blood cells.

It actually is very interesting for the plot as it makes Zod even more hellbent on killing Superman, especially after, surprise, Supes wins, but makes the plot for them a lot more inter connected which is really Really interesting. It's Still BULL SHIT but I can understand why it was done for the sake of the conflict.

Anywho, Superman saves the day, the Earth is protected, evil  terraforming is stopped, and due to dropping an interdimensional nuclear collision, which suffers from more bullshit science and expedited pacing to really keep the movie moving, they killed all the evil Kryptonians by tossing them back in the Phantom Zone.
Zod SOMEHOW survives.

One last note: They actually do something very interesting during all this, with the giant terraform machine being in Metropolis, they make it feel a lot like 9/11 footage, and get a perfect reaction, and show that humanity does have a good core, which justifies Superman's goal a lot more, and really gives the setting flavor, and has a major emotional weight to it, and was really clever and well done.

Anyway, Zod has lost everything he fought to protect and is consumed by an existential crisis, and lashes out at Superman, vowing to slowly kill everything Superman ever loved, and him, slowly, and quickly advances in mastery of his powers, due to the Will of the Warrior, and he sheds his armor near the end, and flies, more themes of Nietzsche flying around, and the fight is well shot, though is very long, and drawn out, and so on.
Just tears the city apart and costs thousands of lives. Meh.

They land in a trainstation, and Clark gets Zod in a head lock, and a family is cornered in a section of the train station because Zod wants to make Superman mourn the people of Earth just like Zod mourns Krypton.
Shoots eye beams, slowly moving towards them, and Superman, trying to keep Zod's head away from them, divert his aim, Snaps his neck.


Superman kills Zod, by snapping his neck. And Superman just breaks down and cries as a result of this. That moment of existential break down lasts all of 30 seconds, and then it moves on to the end.

This is the scene that made me want to watch this movie a second time.
This is a major moment in Superman's character, and is really fitting with the  Noland way of doing this sort of thing, and I feel like I must examine this entire movie over again because of it, and I believe it was intended to be an accidental neck snapping, but I don't quite know.

This scene really did just solidify the movie for me, and made me realize that there is a lot more to this film than the surface, and is a major tone defining moment. It shows that Superman's ideals must now and again be sacrificed, and when it does, Superman dies inside. It is really my favorite scene because it gives the climax a moment to breathe and settle itself as a question of morales, which is what Superman will always be.

then it ends, it moves on, Superman is left alone after chatting with a US General, and gets a job at the daily planet, after a joke about Superman being hot.

All in all, a fantastic movie that really shows what superman is, despite changing Continuity a lot.
If you HATE Superman, watch this movie, it might just change your opinion on the character, as it shows what Superman is at his core, and fleshes it out really well. It is a beautiful, well made, and despite my criticisms, a fantastic movie that functions more as a perfect experience with interesting questions, rather than a collection of perfect scenes.
This Movie is a fantastic exploration of an interesting character, and while it suffers at times, and falls for occasional issues, it really has a lot of subtle, nuanced and well handled characters that deals with ideas of Human destiny, and the potential of man with willpower, and what we really should define ourselves as, and choose to be, with the importance of these choices being fantastically demonstrated.
This is, a fantastic, multi-layered movie, and one of  THE MOST engrossing films I've ever seen.

this is ExtravagantEvil, going Medieval on Bad Movies.


  1. Christopher Nolan was not the writer, he was the Producer, and as such, probably had fuck-all to do with the actual content in the movie.

    David S. Goyer was the writer, might want to edit to reflect that.

    1. Guyer is already at work writing the screenplay for Justice League and the second Man of Steel, whatever that's going to be called.