Saturday, June 15, 2013

Marketing Krypton Christ: 10 things I liked about Zack Snyder's Man of Steel

I was inclined to dislike Man of Steel in advance. With all of its product placements (Sears, Ihop, Nikon), its 100+ promotional tie-ins, its air of corporate cooptation of our collective summer attention span, Superman's earnest, square pedigree, the silly red robe, the red booties, and the thought of film executives at Warner Brothers perspiring over their 225 million dollar investment in a crowded blockbuster season, Man of Steel makes for an obvious target of ridicule.

1) But, then again, I like many of the actors involved. As Lois Lane, Amy Adams vanquished any hint of middle-aged spread she affected in last year's The Master. Here she returns with a hint of her old Enchanted (2007) self, only now with an ace reporter of the Daily Planet tough babe veneer. About halfway into the movie, one begins to notice various filmmaking ploys to keep her merely human self involved amidst all of the super-powered crashing-through-buildings uber-fisticuff shenanigans of General Zod, Superman, etc., but nevermind.

2) As Superman/Clark Kent/Kal-El, English actor Henry Cavill has the advantage of a fresh face, an unassuming manner, and much muscle tone. Cavill looks good in a beard, construction boots, and long-sleeved henleys. In the midst of saving some men from an exploding oil rig, Cavill shreds his pants Hulk-style as he shows off his ripped beefcake physique. Late in the movie, a brunette Army captain blurts out that she thinks he's "kinda hot" (just to make sure that we get that).

3) I also happen to like Michael Shannon's work in movies like Revolutionary Road (2008) and Take Shelter (2011). He resented not being invited to Late Show with David Letterman, so it's a pleasure to see him snarl and glower as General Zod in such a big deal tent pole production.

4) As Daily Planet editor Perry White, Laurence Fishburne gets to show off some authoritative post-Matrix irritation with Amy Adams, although later he has to endure the obligatory running-away-from-various-skyscrapers-falling-on-top-of-you mega-death 9/11 reference scene.

5) As Clark Kent's adopted human parents, Diane Lane (Martha) and Kevin Costner (Jonathan) both provide pleasant associations with better movies, although they must also bear much of the trappings of the movie's Armageddon-esque cornpone working-class Americana--the star and stripes, farms, water towers, Costner (with his predistressed baseball cap) getting greasy under the hood of a Chevy Truck, Lane looking sentimentally through scrapbooks, laundry drying on the clothes line, a dear dog romping in the weeds, a cornfield, a sunlit barn. Costner has one scene where he tells his young super-stepson that he should have, in effect, let a bunch of kids die on a bus that veers off a bridge into a river. When boy Clark asks what should he have done, Jonathan replies that he should "keep this side of yourself a secret." Jonathan and Clark also memorably discuss his origins:

"You're the answer, son. You're the answer to are we alone in the universe."

"Can't I just keep pretending I'm your son?"

"You are my son," says Jonathan, his voice breaking, as he looks off into the distance of the barn.

6) Costner also gets to (spoiler alert) die in the single-most ludicrous scene in the movie. When a tornado blows up during a family outing, Jonathan tells his family to run under an overpass as he strives heroically to save the dog trapped in the truck. When the young adult Clark considers saving his father from the storm (as he could easily do), Jonathan holds him back with one arm outstretched (after saving the dog), looks nobly at his family, and then honorably floats off as Clark screams in horror.

7) Man of Steel did everything possible to run away from the cheesier aspects of its lucrative brand (a form of restraint missing from the iconographic promotional tie-ins). Clark Kent goes incognito like Caine in Kung Fu for much of the movie, drifting from job to job. The word "superman" is scarcely spoken. When Lois Lane threatens to mention it when discussing the giant S on Superman's front, he bleeps out her word so that others can't hear it. When Clark finally does don the red cape and blue uniform, director Zack Snyder treats this new look tentatively, the movie's plot momentum faltering for a moment in a fit of self-consciousness. Perhaps chastened by the critical ridicule of Sucker Punch (2011), or perhaps out of a sense of loyalty to the Superman iconography, Snyder doesn't take many risks. He does find a way to include a drone, however.

8) Snyder makes Superman Christlike by having Clark stand before a stained glass image of Jesus when he visits a priest (a metaphysical form of product placement).

9) I was intrigued by the Alien-esque reptilian/insect design of the Krypton space ships. One ship resembles a giant black beetle. Another one zips around like a tsetse fly. Another menacing ship brandishes 3 crab claws over Metropolis.

10) Lastly, I enjoyed the retro-treatment of the Daily Planet, as if newspapers still retained the relevance they had when the original DC action comics were created back in 1938. Clark Kent not only gets an opening level reporter job at the Daily Planet, the film even makes such a career move look like a good idea. Nowadays, only Superman could do that.

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