Man of Steel (2013): Great Villain, Bland Leads and a World Worth Exploring

Man of Steel poster

   “Man of Steel” is a controversial film, and after seeing it I get why. This is a film that isn’t a favorite, but I didn’t hate it either. I found the main leads boring but I found the world they inhabited fascinating, and I did enjoy the villain a lot. I found the writing clunky but the cinematography and score helped counter that in some ways…this is film that I’m torn over a little bit and at the end of the day, I did enjoy…even if I’m not likely to see it again anytime soon. What lead me to checking out this film is I plan on reviewing “Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice” soon and since that is a direct sequel to this film, I figured I should do my research and finally watch it.

      The film was directed by Zack Snyder and written by David Goyer and Christopher Nolan with the producers being Charles Roven and Deborah Snyer, Christopher Nolan and Emma Thomas.

     The story involves the origin of Superman (Henry Cavill) in regards to his childhood and the fall of Krypton leading to General Zod (Michael Shannon) returning to Earth in order to shape the planet into a new Krypton.

  The Pros: The Cinematography – Amir Mokri does a fantastic job on the cinematography and shows us a dark world full of life and color. We see it in the adventures in the wilderness with Superman and at the beginning especially when alien Krypton and it’s destruction is shown to us.

The Soundtrack – Hans Zimmer creates a masterful soaring score that really captures the promise of Superman and also the danger of the villains he faces. These are aliens who are as powerful as the best of humanity’s tech and the score captures the alienness of Krypton and those who come from it, even Superman.

The Universe – I like this Universe. I found Krypton very cool, from the High Council, the Military, the fact that people are raised to be in certain roles (creating a caste system) and how Jor-El’s heresy leads to Superman’s creation and also the destruction of Krypton’s people, culture and world as a whole. I also like how humanity fears Superman…it feels believable and from that Superman’s vulnerability and inability to really save people as he doesn’t understand his power fully.

Krypton – This is my third timing mention Krypton, but it is worth doing so. I loved Krpyton’s design and the technology on the planet as well as the mixture of biology and tech. This was a world that I wanted to spend more time in and would have watched and loved the movie if it just took place here and wasn’t about Superman at all until the very end.

Jor-El – Russell Crowe was great as Superman’s dad. He was easily the best actor in this and the writing for him felt the most natural. His personal relationship and rivalry with Zod was fantastic too and I like how they had a grudging respect for one another, even up until the end. They were equals and in the end both were destroyed because of it.

General Zod – Michael Shannon is awesome! I really want to see this guy in more films after this. This is a guy who could ham it up and have an aura of fear and crazy about it. He reminded me of Jeffrey Dean Morgan who played The Comedian in “Watchmen.” I wanted to know this character more and he truly felt like a threat the entire time. I got why Superman couldn’t save people and had to kill him, as long as this guy lived Earth would be under threat of total annihilation and he’d do it and could do it, even without his technology.

General Calvin Swanwick – Harry Lennix is great in everything I’ve seen him in. He gives character and depth to a role that would usually be stock in any other film (and was for all the Daily Planet folks and the Kents). I hope he’s in “Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice.”

Okay: Superman – Cavill is okay but he isn’t given the chance to show all that much depth. He’s sad and angry and we see him smile…once. I get being thoughtful but Cavill isn’t that great of an actor, thoughtful just ends up looking angry. He was one of the weakest but I at least got his motivation and his desire to look after those around him.

The Cons: Lois Lane – Lois Lane is a plot device in this. She is a living McGuffin that moves around plot points to advance the story. Poor Amy Adams…the one time she has a chance to do something (relationship with Superman) there isn’t any chemistry. She really wasn’t needed in this story and her role could be filled by anybody.

Perry White – Fishburne is a good actor but in here he is just a stock character type. The Daily Planet doesn’t really do anything and he like Lois Lane is there mostly to be saved by Superman….

Jonathan and Martha Kent – These two are the final stock types….there is paranoid Jonathan who wants Clark to keep his powers secret until he’s ready even if people die…and his Mom who is just kind of there and isn’t given anything to do. These folks felt like American^tm

Blatant Product Placement – Superman fights in the IHOP, used to work at the IHOP and over the course of the film there. This was super annoying and thankfully the action distracted from this because every time something came I couldn’t help but be annoyed…I get films need endorsements and money to be made, but this doesn’t have to “Transformers” level obvious.

      This is a deeply flawed but enjoyable movie. It makes me want to go back and check out other versions of the character from Bruce Timm’s version of the character, the original Superman of the films and even the very hated “Superman Returns.” I’ll admit he isn’t the guy I’m drawn to DC comics for. It is hard to tell a compelling Superman story as so much of what creates drama is the facing of adversity and if you are someone with only one weakness, it’s hard to create tension. In that way Superman is only as interesting as the world around him and I found the world around him in this fascinating, even if the character paled in comparison to the villain.

Final Score: 7.6 / 10

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Only Lovers Left Alive (2013): A Reflective Film on the Nature of Humanity and Meaning

Only Lovers Left Alive poster

     “Only Lovers Left Alive” is a fascinating and introspective film that explores life, the meaning of humanity, art and relationships. At times it is slow but it is meant to be. The whole film is a giant reflection on all these things told from the perspective of two vampires…and it’s handled really well.

    The film was directed and written by Jim Jarmusch and produced by Jeremy Thomas and Reinberg Brundig.

      The story begins with each seeking to feed their addiction to blood in different ways. As Adam (Tom Hiddleson) makes a deal with a doctor for blood from a blood bank and Eve depends on an old friend. When they reconnect Eve (Tilda Swinton) sees how out of it he is and comes to visit as the drama unfolds from there.

The Pros: The Cinematography – The cinematography is absolutely stunning. Whether it is the streets of Tangier, a rock club or Adam’s Victorian home the distinct character of each place is captured, and with each a level of detachment from the immortals. Yorick Le Saux did a fantastic job.

The Music – There are quite a few people who were part of the music on this. Whether it was Yasmine Hamdan, SQURL or Jozef van Wissem…the music was great throughout the entire film and gave a feel of romantic disconnect to all the scenes that unfolded in the life of Adam and Eve.

The Characters – The characters needed more exploration. We get to know a lot of their motivations and the people they knew, and the acting is amazing…but I did want more. I’ll explain more later on. For now, the characters are a pro and the ones who really drive the story.

Marlowe – John Hurt plays Marlowe and was the man responsible for most of Shakespeare’s play and able to live under the radar since he’d faked his own death. Sadly mortality catches up to him and he dies from poisoned blood. He is a great mentor figure and it is on his prompting that leads Eve to go take care of Adam.

Eva – Mia plays the high life vampire from L.A. who only cares about pleasure. We see this when she breaks into their stash, her breaking Adam’s stuff and how she stakes her sister and Adam for granted. This eventually leads to her getting kicked out and through her time there we see what happens when there is a vampire who only lives for themselves and fails to see the wide world as a whole at all.

Ian – Anton Yelchin plays the fan who may or may not be putting Adam’s work out in the world when he was asked not to. He’s a character who you never can fully trust but he’s also curious and gives an openness that Adam and Eve appreciate and that Eva exploits. In the end she drinks him and we never find out if he’d been the one putting the word out about Adam’s location. His character really worked though as he was Adam’s only human connection.

Adam – Tom Hiddleson is the primary protagonist of the film in many ways because he is the torn artist debating whether life is worth it anymore. Hiddleson is great at giving us this tortured soul who at one point has a friend build a bullet that can kill him. Eve brings him back to reality and we see that he does care in the end and that he values the secret world he has built where he can make music and collect instruments. All that is torn away though when Eva kills the rock kid who was providing him with instruments and a place away from the public eye and he leaves with her back home.

Eve – Eve is the wisest of the vampires as she has been around the longest. She has seen the worst of humanity in all the barbarian invasions of Europe and finds peace in her books, her friend Marlowe and solitude. Eventually she does go to Detroit to be with her husband Adam and it is there we see how unstable life is and is even her in all her wisdom can’t find an alternative in the end for them going feral vampire or avoiding death. She understands this initiates the hunt with Adam.

Mortality and Meaning – Mortality and meaning are some of the biggest questions the story asks as our characters have been through so much they have trouble finding that meaning so they attach it to things. Whether it is literature for Eve or music for Adam these are things they hold onto and it is in realizing that they can’t appreciate these things if they die that they become hunters again finding that it is better to live like the “Zombies” (what they call humanity) and still have those things that give meaning than to die.

The Cons: Character Development – We get a glimpse of a deeper world behind all are vampire characters but that world is never fully explored. I don’t mean flashbacks…but there is no meaning for Eva to be the way she is. We never get why she is is so unstable and it hurts the overall narrative.

This is a film I’d highly recommend. It is easily one of Hiddleson’s and Switon’s best performances and the ideas and themes it explores lend power to a really amazing love story. This is a story that takes it’s audience seriously and has a subtle passion behind everything that lends power to all the events that occur as the story is told. It is a story that reminds us of our mortality and the better and worse parts of human nature.

Final Score: 9.4 / 10