I've upgraded my home movie-watching apparatus recently, with a Blu-Ray player and home theatre system which I'm really enjoying (as, in fact, are the EL and the ELG, who have just finished Firefly and embarked on The Middleman, indoctrination clearly proceeding as planned). It's lovely to have good sound, and the Blu-Ray resolution is clearly better, especially for the large-scale visual spectacle movies (superheroes, sf, fantasy) to which I am unrepentantly addicted. It'll be even better when I upgrade the TV to a larger model, a project rife with difficulty as the TV cabinet is a specific size and I can't go any larger until the EL has modified the hell out of it. Which is OK, as I can't currently afford a bigger TV anyway.
So, one of the films I recently acquired on Blu-Ray was Man of Steel, the recent Superman remake. Re-remake, if you count the Christopher Reeve versions, which one does, because they're the Christopher Reeve versions. I actually liked the Bryan Singer one with Brandon Routh and Bald!KevinSpacey, it's a relatively thoughtful film, as is characteristic of Singer, and is quite faithful in tone and partially in plot to the first Reeve one. I wish I could say the same of Man of Steel, but I can't: I emerged at the end of it with an unambiguous conviction that Zach Snyder is a two-bit hack. Which I rather fear is the result of the ineluctable fact that Zach Snyder is a two-bit hack. A two-bit drunken hack, in that he gets drunk on his own CGI. (On the upside, I also re-watched Star Trek: Into Darkness last night, and was forced to the realisation that JJ Abrahams is rather less of a two-bit hack by comparison - that script, while not strictly Star Trek, could certainly have been worse. Also, Benedict Cumberbatch has a good voice for villainy, Smaug should be fun.)
So, Things I Liked About Man of Steel:
- The cast. Henry Cavill is likeable, he has a certain gravitas and manages to be both clean-cut and a bit broody - a good sense of suppressed power. Amy Adams is always lovely. Even Russell Crowe only slightly gnaws the scenery. And if Michael Shannon's Zod is a cardboard cut-out villain, I think that's because Zod is a cardboard cut-out villain and the script is very definitely a cardboard cut-out script.
- The visuals. The Krypton sequences are full-on space opera: the visual feel is striking and effective, all bulbous spaceships and strange multi-winged riding beasts. It has my vote. As, in fact, does Superman's new outfit, which is darker and more textured in tone, and feels rather less spandexy.
- Clark discovering flight, which he does joyously, by speeding madly around the earth. Pure wish fulfilment, very happy-making.
Things I Didn't Like About Man of Steel:
- The fact that they gave it to Zach Snyder, see above. The Superman mythos is dear to my heart as a result of indelible teen imprinting, and should be cherished rather than ravished.
- The script. They do this unbelievable thing in the Krypton introduction where there is what appears to be an entirely random confluence of (a) Zod's eugenics-inspired attempted coup against the Council with (b) Jor-El and Lara's defiance of Krypton's pod-baby status quo to engender the first natural birth in thousands of years, and (c) the planet exploding, and I found myself sitting there thinking, good grief, that's a plethora of completely disconnected plots, can't you pick one? But apparently not. The same gratuitous proliferation of motives characterises the rest of the script, which is also prone to emotional beats which are no more than half-arsed and more than somewhat tone-deaf. Christopher Bloody Nolan has script credit, he should damned well know better. Although I suppose I never liked his Batman very much, either.
- Profoundly and centrally, the film's gratuitous neglect of proper Superman morality in favour of completely unexamined swathes of excessive and gleeful destruction. Central to the Superman mythos is the exploration of superhuman power: what it means, how to use it, the responsibility it implies to protect the weak and innocent. Superman vs. Kryoptonian bad guys are really OTT action sequences, in which they can't simply punch each other, they have to punch each other through half a dozen skyscrapers or into random trains, factories, helicopters or articulated trucks, see subject line. By the end of it the city is almost skeletonised - I have never seen so many toppling skyscrapers in my life, and I have a serious disaster movie fetish. You cannot have Superman kill thousands and inflict billions in property damage as a backdrop to his fights, without apparently noticing. Nor can you pay token attention to it by putting a random group of hammy extras in front of Zod's eye-beams for five seconds while Supes looks anguished. Sheer tokenism. Destruction of the city by Old Kryptonians duking it out should be a profound moral dilemma right there, not an item of scenery. It is a profoundly disturbing aspect of contemporary blockbuster film and its reliance on CGI that it's become easy to destroy things wholesale - you no longer have to work for your violence or justify it in terms of the plot, you can just slosh it in there as though it means nothing. Zach Snyder's always had a torrid and obsessive affair with his CGI, but he can't do it to Superman. Not cricket. This film made me snort in disgust a whole lot, and apostrophise Zach Snyder as a drunken two-bit hack rather more than I care to. Which is a pity, because Krypton's pretty.
Subject line from Douglas Adams, Restaurant at the End of the Universe, describing the classic Disaster Area song lyrics, boy-being meets girl-being beneath silvery moon etc. This is a favourite catch-phrase of mine, although I tend to misremember it as "which then, for no adequately defined reason, explodes", which I honestly think has a better cadence, anyway.