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Monday, June 17, 2013 12:18 PM
(Last updated on Thursday, June 20, 2013 10:59 AM)
On the Viewer - Man of Steel
 by Fëanor

My brother and I celebrated Father's Day yesterday by ditching our families and going to see a movie! Because there's nothing a father wants more on his special day than to have his children leave him the hell alone for a couple of hours for God's sake. But I kid!

As it turns out, we picked a very appropriate movie to go watch on Father's Day: the latest reboot of the Superman story, Man of Steel. One of its major themes is the bond between fathers and sons.

At this point Superman movies fulfill the same role that a play in Ancient Greece did. Everybody in the audience knows the story and how it plays out. There are no real surprises. We just want to see that same story acted out again with skill and power, providing the right amount of comedy, tragedy, and catharsis. To that end, Man of Steel starts as every Superman story does: on the planet Krypton, with a frustrated Jor-El (Russell Crowe) trying in vain to convince the rulers of his people that the planet is doomed, while he and his wife Lara (Ayelet Zurer) secretly prepare to launch their son, Kal-El, toward a distant planet where they know he will be not only safe, but as powerful as a God. Man of Steel spends a little more time on the Krypton portion of the story than usual (and a little more time than I was really comfortable with), revealing that the planet's children have been genetically engineered for centuries, and that Kal-El was, in an act of rebellion, born naturally, outside of this system. (Perhaps this religious adherence to eugenics explains why everybody on Krypton is whiter than white bread.) There's also a lot of nonsense with robots and lasers and flying lizards and a beaten up old skull which will end up making a little more sense later on in the movie - but not a lot more sense. Frankly, I could have done without a lot of this, and I kind of prefer the super-fast, super-short origin we saw in the Christopher Reeves movie (thanks, Marlon Brando, you weirdo, for refusing to be on screen for more than a few minutes!), and in Grant Morrison's All-Star Superman (see here). I found the Krypton sequence boring, melodramatic, and overdone (although admittedly the moment where the desperate parents have to say good-bye to the son they barely know to save him is pretty moving). But it does perform the important function of introducing us to the McGuffin that will drive the story (that beaten up old skull, which is called the Codex) and the villain of the piece, who will again be familiar to Superman fans: General Zod (Michael Shannon). Zod has a trusty lieutenant named Faora-Ul (Antje Traue) and a holy mission to protect the people of Krypton. He and Jor-El agree that the leaders of Krypton are fools, but disagree a bit on what to do about it; Zod decides to crash in with guns blazing, which ultimately gets him thrown in a prison called the Phantom Zone, a punishment that, ironically, ends up protecting him and his fellow rebels from the fate that awaits nearly every other Kryptonian: death by apocalyptic planetary explosion. The movie does a rather poor job of explaining why no other Kryptonians make even a half-hearted attempt to escape the destruction of their world. I mean, I get that a lot of them were blind to the calamity that was coming, but surely Jor-El and Lara weren't the only ones aware that the planet was about to blow up, and clearly the Kryptonians have the technical ability to fly through space. Maybe they should have left Zod and his buddies on the planet and all gotten into the Phantom Zone themselves? Just an idea.

Anyway, at this point the movie mercifully leaves Krypton behind and jumps across time and space to Earth some 33 years in the future (does that number sound familiar? More on that later). We meet a now fully grown (and fully bearded!) Kal-El (Henry Cavill) and learn that although he is aware of his incredible powers, he has kept them hidden, only using them in emergencies, and quickly vanishing afterwards, so that his true nature and identity are hidden. He is a wanderer, helping where he can (and occasionally taking extravagant vengeance on jerks who mess with him), but never staying anywhere long. We learn in a series of (incredibly moving and well done) flashbacks that this is in accordance with the wishes of his now dead adoptive father, Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner), who believed that humanity was not ready to know that a super-powered alien was living among them. But he also believed his son was capable of great things, and when the time came, he would change the world.

Clark Kent's wandering eventually causes him to cross paths with intrepid reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams), who's investigating a mysterious discovery at the North Pole. This discovery holds the key to Clark's origin, and will trigger the arrival of Zod, who will force Clark to reveal himself to the world, and to choose between the planet of his birth, and the planet he grew up on.

Like its namesake, Man of Steel has strengths and weaknesses. It's at its strongest when it focuses on the character of Clark Kent/Kal-El. The scenes dealing with his troubled past, with him growing up as an outsider and a freak, learning to control his powers and to be a good man with the help of his mother (Diane Lane) and his father - these are fantastic, incredibly moving, and absolutely pitch perfect. Lane, Costner, and Cavill are tremendous in these roles, not to mention the kids they got to play the young Clark (Cooper Timberline and Dylan Sprayberry), who look so much like tiny Cavills it's incredible. Adams' is as brave, tenacious, and stubborn a Lois as we could hope for, and although Crowe is occasionally ponderous and stuffy, he still manages to show us a bit of Jor-El's "humanity" (such as it is) and his fatherly wisdom. Laurence Fishburne, Christopher Meloni, and Richard Schiff acquit themselves well in ancillary roles (although I kept waiting to hear the bum-bum Law & Order sound effect whenever Meloni came on screen), but this is rightly Cavill's movie. Director Zak Snyder and crackerjack writing team David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan make the very interesting, non-standard choice to wait until the very end of the story for Kal-El to embrace his identity as Clark Kent, reporter. And I can't even tell you how much I love that scene, and Lois' line, "Welcome to The Planet." It reminds me a bit of the way Iron Man ends, with Tony only then coming into his own and embracing his new identity. In a way, Kal becomes Superman first and Clark Kent second, which rather neatly underlines which of those identities is the true one, and which the mask he wears.

The movie is not at all subtle about making the now de rigueur comparison between Superman and Christ. If the imagery, a simple plot summary, and that 33 years thing weren't enough, Snyder even goes so far as to have Clark talk about sacrificing himself for all humanity... with a priest... in a church... while there is literally, in the same shot, a stained-glass window depicting Christ over his shoulder. I'm not going to complain too much, as I rather like the allusion - it gives more strength and power to Superman's legend - but being hit on the head with a hammer can be a bit painful.

The action scenes, though sometimes a bit overwhelming, are extremely impressive. Technology has improved a bit since the last time we saw Kal-El and Zod clash on the big screen, and it shows. Their battle takes place on a global scale, and the amount of devastation that Metropolis experiences is breathtaking. (The people of Metropolis give the people of Krypton a run for their money in terms of poor judgement, however, hanging around in their hundreds on the streets and in the buildings well after it should have been obvious it was time to get the hell out.) I also really enjoyed the Kryptonian technology Jor-El's "ghost" uses to tell his son the story of his people; it's not only a neat effect, it's a beautiful piece of design.

Where the movie is weakest is in pretty much any scene on Krypton or any scene involving Zod. I like Shannon in the role, but the character makes little sense. He is not written as if he were a person, but rather as if he were a Villain and a Plot Device. He is there to make Superman become Superman, to test him and his limits, and that's it. An attempt is made, rather late in the movie, to give him an understandable motivation - his overwhelming desire to protect the people of Krypton, no matter what the cost - but it doesn't really explain a lot of his actions. If he really wanted Kal-El to trust and help him, why immediately treat him like a criminal and an enemy? Why insert into his head a vision of himself being drowned by the skulls of everyone he's ever known and loved? He could have, I don't know, lied to him just a little about what he was planning to do? I'm not sure anybody's ever gone about trying to convince somebody to help them in a more wrong-headed fashion. And then at the end, (spoiler alert) he practically forces Superman to kill him, and it feels more like a test for Kal-El as a character than something Zod would actually do if he were really trying to achieve his ends.

[UPDATE: I should also mention that I was bothered by the fact that there were very few scenes of Superman saving people. Sure, one of Superman's main missions is punching bad guys, and he does plenty of that, but really his primary mission is saving innocent people, and although there are a couple of pivotal scenes where he does that (including the very pivotal climactic moment in his battle with Zod), they're mostly in flashbacks, in scenes where he's not even wearing the Superman suit yet. In the main action of the film, there's a lot of long sequences of him and Zod and Zod's buddies blowing stuff up and breaking things with only a very rare pause for Superman to look over and notice that there are innocent people around and maybe he should shove one out of the way before he knocks that building over or blows up that gas station. It's hard to believe there isn't a lot of collateral damage here, and it's hard to understand why the Superman we know and love would allow that to happen.]

I like the idea of Kal having to choose between his birth home and his adopted home, but the way the movie's written, this doesn't end up being a hard choice for him at all. Everyone he's ever known or loved is on Earth. He knows almost nothing about Krypton, and every Kryptonian he meets tries to kill him. It's kind of a no-brainer.

I enjoyed spotting a couple of neat references to the DC Universe in the background of the movie. A satellite that gets wrecked during an action sequence belongs to Wayne Enterprises, and a number of vehicles have the Lex Corp logo on them. Actually, as my brother was pointing out after we'd finished watching Man of Steel, it seemed odd that Lex himself didn't make an appearance in this movie. One of its major themes, and the main argument Clark has with his father, is the question of whether humanity is ready for Superman or not - if they will accept him or reject him. And Lex Luthor is pretty much the embodiment of humanity rejecting Superman. Ah, well. Maybe he'll show up in Man of Steel 2.

Speaking of which, I'm looking forward to the sequel. Despite its missteps, I really enjoyed Man of Steel. I laughed, I cried, I believed a man could fly. I'm ready for another story about this Superman. Especially now that Krypton's good and blown up and we don't have to worry about it anymore.
Tagged (?): Comic books (Not), Movies (Not), On the Viewer (Not), Superman (Not)
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Friday, January 18, 2013 02:07 PM
(Last updated on Friday, January 18, 2013 02:41 PM)
Superman
 by Fëanor

I feel like I might need to start a new tag or recurring feature about watching stuff with my kid, but I dunno. Anyway, the other day Griff asked me to put one of his shows on, and when I turned on the TV, the Superman cartoon from the '90s happened to be on. I watched it for a minute because... well, y'know, Superman cartoon! Then I was going to put on one of Griff's regular shows, but he stopped me. He wanted to watch that Superman guy. So he sat through the rest of that cartoon, and then watched a Batman cartoon.

Win!

Years ago poppy got me a DVD of the Max Fleischer Superman cartoons from the '40s (which would have originally played as shorts in movie theaters, maybe between two films in a double feature). They're amazing pieces of work, if seriously politically incorrect. The art is detailed and beautiful and done up right in lush Technicolor. Superman fights gorillas, volcanoes, dinosaurs, thieves with bullet cars, thieves with robot armies, thieves dressed up as Superman, giant reanimated mummy guards, birdmen from the Inner Earth, Japanese saboteurs (who are portrayed in regrettably stereotyped fashion), Nazis using African natives as their slaves (oy), and a Native American mad scientist who demands that the island of Manhattan be returned to his people (oh man). It is crazy, crazy stuff. But only so crazy - this was before the madness of the Silver Age when Superman gained a bunch of new powers. This is the Superman who is very strong, has X-ray vision, and can literally just leap tall buildings - he does not fly.

And Lois is always there with him, getting herself into trouble and needing to be saved. It's a bit of a troublesome dynamic, but it's a consolation at least that this Lois, while a bit of a jerk to Kent, is also brave as all hell, a bad-ass, and deep down a decent human being. She runs in to take pictures of the madness when a giant gorilla gets loose at the circus, but when she sees a child in danger, she drops the camera immediately and dashes in to help the child to safety with no thought for herself. And when she's caught on a runaway train and being shot at by criminals from a nearby car, she doesn't just cower in the corner; she picks up a discarded Tommy gun and shoots right back at them.

Needless to say, when Griff asked to see more Superman, I put on this DVD, and he loves it. He's been watching it over and over recently. Probably soon we should upgrade him to the more politically correct '90s cartoon. But this'll do for now.
Tagged (?): Cartoons (Not), Childhood (Not), Griffin (Not), Parenthood (Not), Parenting (Not), Superman (Not), TV (Not)
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Monday, November 26, 2012 01:37 PM
(Last updated on Monday, November 26, 2012 02:53 PM)
Recyclotron
 by Fëanor

Fëanor pours the entire internet into the Recyclotron, and only the best links come out the other end for you to enjoy.

Tagged (?): Advertising (Not), Animals (Not), Animated GIFs (Not), Art (Not), Buffy (Not), Cartoons (Not), Comedy (Not), Comic books (Not), Commercials (Not), Craft (Not), Dogs (Not), Gadgets (Not), Holiday (Not), Links (Not), Movies (Not), News (Not), Painting (Not), Photography (Not), Recyclotron (Not), Science (Not), Space (Not), Star Wars (Not), Superman (Not), Technology (Not), TV (Not), Video (Not), Weather (Not)
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Wednesday, May 16, 2012 03:05 PM
Recyclotron
 by Fëanor

Fëanor pours the entire internet into the Recyclotron, and only the best links come out the other end for you to enjoy.

Tagged (?): Animals (Not), Animated GIFs (Not), Art (Not), Cartoons (Not), Celebrities (Not), Comedy (Not), Comic books (Not), Diablo (Not), Doctor Who (Not), Hulk (Not), Links (Not), Lists (Not), Movies (Not), Music (Not), News (Not), Photography (Not), Pixar (Not), Recyclotron (Not), Superman (Not), Toy Story (Not), TV (Not), Video (Not), Video games (Not)
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Friday, August 5, 2011 11:16 AM
(Last updated on Friday, August 5, 2011 12:22 PM)
Recyclotron
 by Fëanor

Fëanor pours the entire internet into the Recyclotron, and only the best links come out the other end for you to enjoy.


UPDATE:
Tagged (?): Animals (Not), Art (Not), Batman (Not), Celebrities (Not), Comedy (Not), Comic books (Not), Cosplay (Not), Costumes (Not), Craft (Not), Fantastic Four (Not), Fringe (Not), Game of Thrones (Not), Harry Potter (Not), LEGO (Not), Links (Not), Lovecraft (Not), Metroid (Not), Movies (Not), Music (Not), Photoshop (Not), Recyclotron (Not), Science (Not), Sherlock Holmes (Not), Space (Not), Spider-Man (Not), Star Trek (Not), Steampunk (Not), Superman (Not), The Hobbit (Not), Tolkien (Not), Toys (Not), Tron (Not), TV (Not), Video (Not), Video games (Not), Web comics (Not)
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Monday, June 27, 2011 12:43 PM
Recyclotron
 by Fëanor

Fëanor pours the entire internet into the Recyclotron, and only the best links come out the other end for you to enjoy.

Tagged (?): Animals (Not), Art (Not), Books (Not), Celebrities (Not), Comedy (Not), Comic books (Not), Cosplay (Not), Costumes (Not), Craft (Not), Food (Not), Game of Thrones (Not), Law (Not), Links (Not), Monsters (Not), MST3K (Not), Music (Not), News (Not), Photography (Not), Products (Not), Recyclotron (Not), Religion (Not), Star Trek (Not), Star Wars (Not), Superman (Not), Toys (Not), TV (Not), Video (Not), Video games (Not), Web comics (Not)
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Wednesday, May 4, 2011 12:44 PM
Recyclotron
 by Fëanor

Fëanor pours the entire internet into the Recyclotron, and only the best links come out the other end for you to enjoy.

Tagged (?): Aliens (Not), Art (Not), Books (Not), Business (Not), Comedy (Not), Comic books (Not), Dinosaurs (Not), Green Lantern (Not), James Bond (Not), Kaiju (Not), Links (Not), Mashups (Not), Movies (Not), News (Not), Nintendo (Not), Photography (Not), Recyclotron (Not), Star Trek (Not), Star Wars (Not), Superman (Not), Tattoos (Not), The Hobbit (Not), Tolkien (Not), TV (Not), Twitter (Not), Video (Not), Video games (Not), Wii (Not), X-Files (Not)
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Friday, April 22, 2011 12:08 PM
Recyclotron
 by Fëanor

Fëanor pours the entire internet into the Recyclotron, and only the best links come out the other end for you to enjoy.

Tagged (?): 3D (Not), Advertising (Not), Art (Not), Business (Not), Cartoons (Not), Celebrities (Not), Clothing (Not), Comedy (Not), Comic books (Not), Commercials (Not), Links (Not), Lists (Not), Mashups (Not), Movies (Not), Photography (Not), Pixar (Not), Recyclotron (Not), Shirts (Not), Star Wars (Not), Superman (Not), Thor (Not), TV (Not), Video (Not), Web comics (Not)
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Monday, April 11, 2011 11:02 AM
Recyclotron
 by Fëanor

Fëanor pours the entire internet into the Recyclotron, and only the best links come out the other end for you to enjoy.

Tagged (?): Aliens (Not), Art (Not), Books (Not), Celebrities (Not), Comedy (Not), Comic books (Not), Craft (Not), Food (Not), Game of Thrones (Not), George R.R. Martin (Not), Links (Not), Mortal Kombat (Not), Movies (Not), News (Not), Predator (Not), Recyclotron (Not), Song of Ice and Fire (Not), Star Trek (Not), Star Wars (Not), Superman (Not), Thor (Not), Video (Not), Web comics (Not), Wolverine (Not)
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Friday, March 18, 2011 10:05 AM
Recyclotron
 by Fëanor

Fëanor pours the entire internet into the Recyclotron, and only the best links come out the other end for you to enjoy.

  • I was fascinated by Lazy Cakes when I first heard about them on NPR, so it was fun reading about The Onion A.V. Club's taste test of said relaxing snacks. The intrepid Club members also tried Jacked Up Java Brownies, which are basically the polar opposite of Lazy Cakes. I take it they didn't do this on the same day. They probably would have exploded.

  • Remember how Super Punch is doing an X-Men: First Class poster contest? Here's the first batch of entries. Some really great stuff. Note that even the lamest one is better than the actual posters.

  • More Aquaman redesigns! Some of these are quite cool. (Via)

  • A very cool illustration roundup.

  • A blog called Planet Pulp is currently doing a Pixar art jam. Nice! Their last subject was princesses, and also features lots of great stuff. I think I have to subscribe to this blog! (Via)

  • I greeted the news that Darren Aronofsky is off The Wolverine with a hearty "NNNNOOOOO!!!" I was really looking forward to seeing what he'd do with the character. Ah, well.

  • Superman Returns, though billed as a reboot of the franchise, was really a sort of follow-up to the previous films. But apparently Zack Snyder's Superman will ignore all other movies entirely. Which is probably just as well, really. Also, it looks like Kevin Costner is going to play Pa Kent. I can't decide how I feel about that. I'm not really much of a fan of Costner's anymore, and he doesn't seem quite old/venerable enough for the part. But we'll see. Costner's probably older than I realize...
Tagged (?): Art (Not), Batman (Not), Cartoons (Not), Celebrities (Not), Comic books (Not), Food (Not), Game of Thrones (Not), Links (Not), Movies (Not), News (Not), Pixar (Not), Recyclotron (Not), Song of Ice and Fire (Not), Superman (Not), Wolverine (Not), X-Men (Not)
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Welcome to the blog of Jim Genzano, writer, web developer, husband, father, and enjoyer of things like the internet, movies, music, games, and books. For a more detailed run-down of who I am and what goes on here, read this.

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