By ROBERT CAPEHERT
ROSS DOUTHAT’S review of Star Trek: Into Darkness, in the June 17 issue of National Review, comes to mind when reflecting upon Warner Bros. Superman reboot, Man of Steel — released to mixed reviews, but mojo box office this Friday.
I myself was looking for the Man of Steel glimpsed in the beautifully edited trailers, a viral campaign Warner. Bros. studios — showcasing the cinematic competence of Christopher Nolan and screenwriter David Goyer at the helm — must have cost a fortune.
Sadly, Man of Steel was collision of disengaged action set pieces too numerous to create a verisimilitude necessary to acquire the depth of human feeling and aesthetic weight great storytelling requires. When scenes played, culled from the trailers, Man of Steel worked at its best—but these were too few in number.
Part of me thinks Man of Steel was a compromise; a reaction against Bryan Singer’s 2006 attempted reboot of Superman, Superman Returns. In one sense, 2013’s Man of Steel succeeds where Superman Returns failed, but in another and opposite way, it miscarries as its predecessor did.
Bryan Singer’s 2006 Superman Returns was visually stunning, with special effects shots that built even more believability into the myth of Superman existing in our modern world. But the movie was about as boring as a film can be — to the chagrin of filmgoers everywhere — and Warner. Bros. studios, who shelled out more than 250 million dollars on the rebirth gamble.
In Superman Returns, Singer ruined Superman’s primal goodness by presuming modern audiences needed Superman to have contemporary social weaknesses and vulnerabilities in order create interest in his character arc. But Superman does not need human weaknesses to create character arc empathy; he simply needs weaknesses and struggles which are true to him –– elemental to the story and obstacles to his needs as a character.
As such, we got a Superman who knocked up Lois Lane and abandoned her… flew the coop for self-interested reasons (not Superman!). And we also got creepy scenes of Superman stalking Ms. Lane, scenes that felt unlike any incarnation of the mythic character who inspired millions of fans worldwide.
Man of Steel avoids such insanity and character inconsistency. But to no real advantage. Instead, writer’s Goyer and Nolan seemed to have over-steered, making sure Man of Steel was packed with ubber-action, losing sight that non-stop action without character centricity is equally as boring as the prodding emu/deadbeat dad version of Superman Singer throttled audiences with.
Great movies have symphonic-like movements. From slow to fast, quiet to uproarious; syncopation and soft contemplating scenes, broken up by meaningful dramatic action. Essentially, Man of Steel was a loud crash, with little dramatic setup. Gone was the kind of dramatic pacing Goyer and Nolan accomplished in the wonderfully relevant and cinematically superior Dark Knight Trilogy.
Getting back to Mr Douthat’s Star Trek: Into Darkness review… In writing about J.J. Abrams and his cinematic cannibalising of Lucas and Spielberg, he says,
“The filmmakers he [Abrams] clearly idolizes — the George Lucas who made Star Wars, the Spielberg of E.T. and Indiana Jones — were shameless borrowers, repurposers, mimics, and pastiche artists themselves. But they borrowed and repurposed in order to show us something interesting and new. Indiana Jones was a Saturday-morning serial at heart, but it was better than its source material; Star Wars ripped off everything and everyone from Flash Gordon to Leni Riefenstahl, but if you were a kid in 1977 you’d never seen anything like it.”
Not all of this applies to Goyer, Nolan, or director Zach Snyder’s Man of Steel film, but it does get to heart of story, and overall, cinema’s basic requirement to have solid literary and cinematic antecedents.
When such pertinent storytelling rudiments go AWOL — what seems to be left is a lot of noise; too much pointless CGI destruction, and an absence of anything representing the human condition within a dramatic verisimilitude, which is why great movies are pleasurable to watch.
Suffice to say, we do not care about action and violence in a vacuum. We care about people — the story revolving around those people in the midst of such worldly realities.