Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Man of Steel (2013)

The talents of Christopher Nolan and Zack Snyder combine to a deliver a promising but misfiring blockbuster

This was supposed to be a dream team of sorts, a second chance for a Superman reboot. Action director Zack Snyder would bring his visual sensibility to the table while Christopher Nolan and David S Goyer would deliver a classy, epic, introspective script. As it turns out, Man of Steel is more a showcase of the key weaknesses of both teams. For Snyder, it’s his tone deaf approach to direction and dialogue. For Nolan and Goyer, it’s their over-reliance on exposition, ponderous pacing, and forced and artificial writing that systematically, yet arbitrarily, strips a protagonist of choices while telegraphing the writers’ preferred solution too early in the film.

Let’s begin with pacing and editing. I’m not sure if it was necessary or interesting to tell Superman’s origin story in random order. We begin with the last days of Krypton, switch to Superman’s first miracle, a brief encounter with Lois Lane in an Arctic Area 51 (which inspires her to search for Superman, leading to his unveiling), flit between episodes in his childhood (again in non-chronological order), intersperse all that with random accounts of Superman’s wanderings as a drifter. That’s all in Act 1.

Here’s how I would have done it: Act 1 begins with the Arctic episode, leading to Lois pulling her investigations and interviews to trek Kent’s footsteps from the Arctic to Canada to Kansas. That will show us almost all flashbacks of the Ministry of Clark Kent in reverse order. It’s narratively neater and provide a more convincing foundation for her attraction to the costumed hero. More importantly, it brings Lois Lane to the centre of the Superman narrative, as the average Everyman the audience should identify with, and for whom the origin story is told – by Superman’s childhood friends, surviving family, beneficiaries in Act 1, and Jor-El and General Zod in Act 2.

There is a good story in these two acts; it’s just that Nolan, Goyer, and Snyder can’t tell it straight.

More fatal to the Man of Steel project though is a monumental error initiated by Snyder that was approved by both Goyer and Nolan. No, it’s not the very long Act 3 consisting of an over-done series of fight scenes that might suggest Apocalypse Porn. Here’s what I wrote a month ago before I took a vacation.

Everything wrong with Man of Steel in just 4 lines of dialogue from 2 scenes.

General Zod: We will build a New Krypton without the bloodlines that have failed us!
Jor-El: And who will judge the bloodlines? You, Zod?

INT. GENESIS CHAMBER/SHIP [containing artificial wombs for unborn babies]
General Zod: Stop! Don't destroy the ship! You're destroying Krypton!
Kal-El: Krypton had its chance!

In the universe of Man of Steel, Kal-El is a moral monster who, only for arbitrary reasons, is identified as the good guy instead of say, Zod. On Krypton, Jor-El was aghast that Zod would claim the right to judge entire bloodlines. On Earth, Kal-El decides that Krypton had its chance, the entire species can suck it. On Krypton, Jor-El bests Zod, disarms him, and decides not to kill him. On Earth, Kal-El kills Zod.

It seems all wrong that in a film about Superman, it’s Superman’s dad who embodies hope, forgiveness, and wisdom – and Superman who fails to live up to it. The script shoehorns Superman into making a series of morally horrific acts on the basis of “necessary evil”. That goes right in the face of Jor-El’s hope that having a naturally-conceived child will allow the child to “make choices that no other Kryptonian can”, and should sit very uncomfortably with anyone who paid attention to Zod’s line about how he was bred to perform all necessary evils.

Superman, like Spiderman, is an easy enough superhero to write. That the troika goofed this up, this badly, is indicative of the weaknesses that still plague their approach to film.

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