Man Of Steel Review

Warning: minor spoilers

First off, let me state I’ve never read a comic book, so I have no idea how Man of Steel fits into or compares to the wider Superman universe. That said, I love the superhero genre, and we’re currently living in a golden age of superhero films (with some, or should I say Four, notable exceptions). I’ll be comparing Man of Steel to Superman 1 & 2 which I consider to be the only films worth watching (yes, not even Kevin Spacey could salvage the mess that was Superman Returns).

Man of Steel is a very worthy addition to the recent canon of serious superhero films – it has the grittiness and brutal realism of the Dark Knight (Nolan’s influence is clear), the spectacular clashes of the Avengers, and the emotion of Iron Man, but yet still retains the core of what makes Superman Superman. It ‘s a great re-interpretation of the character, played to perfection by Henry Cavill – and his history. He captures Clark Kent’s inner turmoil and sense of not belonging, without turning him into a walking pile of angst like Batman; he also puts the steel in his incarnation as the Man of Steel.  I will say this, however: Cavill has a lot of work to do on Clark Kent’s ‘hiding in plain sight’ act at the Daily Planet, which Christopher Reeve nailed. It’s ridiculously obvious he’s Superman.

Amy Adams is a Lois Lane for the 21st century. Gone is the woman who throws herself off waterfalls to provoke Clark into proving she’s right about him being Superman; she figures out who he is very quickly and is considerably wiser in how she acts on this knowledge. She’s almost a sidekick as well as a love interest, proving to be far more of a help than a hindrance. Kevin Costner also revealed hitherto unsuspected acting skills as Pa Kent. Costner is an actor I have been singularly unimpressed by in every movie I’ve seen him in – notably Robin Hood Prince of Thieves, where the only thing he managed to outact was Sherwood Forest and that was by being more wooden – but here he brings the right emotional depth as Superman’s adoptive father, and you can see and believe the deep influence he’s had on Clark’s moral and emotional development.

Superman’s true father Jor-El (Russell Crowe) plays a far more active role here than he does in the previous films, while not altering the key means by which he communicates with his son. Crowe turns in a performance vastly superior to Marlon Brando’s phoned in effort. Of course, Brando making no effort is still better than many an actor giving it their all, but the Jor-El of Superman 1/2 still serves purely as an expositionary figure rather than a fleshed out figure connecting us (and Superman) emotionally to Krypton.  A far greater level of importance is attached to Superman’s origin story this time around: Jor-El’s status as a heretic and his reasoning behind sending young Kal-El to Earth are what set up the key conflict between Superman and General Zod.

Right, on to said villain of the piece. While Superman calls General Zod a monster. He does indeed do monstrous things, but just how much choice does he have in the matter? Zod is the literal creation of a society where your sole purpose in life is determined by geneticists, and you are basically stored in a test tube until Krypton needs you. Zod was made to be a soldier, so while what he does is heinous, you can see why he does it. To him, Jor-El and Superman are taking his raison d’etre away from him, therefore he must stop them by all means necessary. It makes him a serious villain with understandable motives, a far cry from the General Zod of Superman 2 who took over Earth for kicks and was soon bored to tears by how easy mankind was to subjugate.

With regards to the film as a whole: the fight scenes were great; my only complaint would be they went on a little too long, and I found myself thinking “when the hell is Superman going to defeat these guys?” They don’t go lightly on the destruction either – the joint really gets wrecked here. On a meta level it was hilarious watching a virtual parade of characters from my favourite TV shows appear one by one – why hello West Wing’s Toby Ziegler, Elliot Stabler of SVU, Boardwalk Empire’s Nelson van Alden, Hannibal’s Jack Crawford and Doug Stamper from US House of Cards!

All in all: Man of Steel is both a fantastic movie and a really great reboot which should do for Superman what Batman Begins did for Batman.

The Iron Lady

Finally went to see The Iron Lady yesterday. From a movie standpoint, I thought it was excellent; as a biopic, it was good, but distinctly lacking in vital areas.

It’s impossible to comment on this film without addressing the controversy surrounding it – namely, that should it have been made while Margaret Thatcher was still alive, and should it have portrayed her dementia? Having seen it, I must say the treatment of Thatcher’s senility has been tastefully done, and served to humanise her in a way that little else could have done. A woman known as the ‘Iron Lady’ and for being the most divisive political figure in modern British history is not likely to arouse much sympathy, but this film has managed to do just that. As to whether it should have been made while she’s alive…books that examine public figures far more intimately than any movie have been published during their subjects’ lifetimes for decades now, so it’s hard to find a convincing argument why The Iron Lady should not have been made.

Now, to the film itself. I must add another round of plaudits to the universal acclaim given to Meryl Streep for her portrayal of Margaret Thatcher. To call this mere impersonation is an insult to an extraordinarily talented actress and what she has achieved here. She doesn’t mimic Thatcher to a high standard, she is Thatcher. It is one of the most multi-dimensional performances I’ve ever seen on screen; as the film revolves around flashbacks, we see the contrast between the frail, lonely, dementia-stricken widow of recent years and the ferociously strong, sharply intelligent politician who blazed a trail to Downing Street for future British women to follow, and both Thatchers are brought vividly to life by Streep. I will confess, some of the scenes between the elderly Maggie and her husband Denis (another wonderful turn by the wonderful Jim Broadbent), who having been dead for several years exists only as a figment of her imagination, brought a tear to my eye. The supporting cast is also strong, if wasted; Richard E Grant as Michael Heseltine is barely more than a cameo.

A lot has been said about The Iron Lady’s refusal to go into detail about Thatcher’s actual policies or offer a critique of the woman and her government either way. While on the whole I think this a wise move, it does tend to make this more of a generic  ‘woman takes on the world’ story than a true biopic. When the film focuses on Thatcher’s growing and virulent unpopularity with the public, we’re shown scenes of protests, strikes and riots being crushed by the police, usually followed by Thatcher making a tough-as-nails, never-back-down speech. The effect of this, whether intentional or not, is to make Thatcher look like an exemplar of reasonableness and tough love; a mother telling the populace to eat their vegetables, if you will, because the policies causing the uprisings are never mentioned. But the structure of the movie itself offers a possible explanation for the apolitical to rose-coloured view of key moments in Maggie’s premiership – what we are seeing is clearly Thatcher’s own memories, triggered by events/ things in the present. It could be that scriptwriter Abi Morgan deliberately invoked the unreliable narrator device here.

On a related note, the Iron Lady’s main weakness is that, unless you are a politico or know a lot about Thatcher herself, certain scenes won’t make sense. As I’ve mentioned above, her policies are unexplained; the words ‘trade unions’ and ‘mines’ each get said about once during the protest montages and that’s it. Another example is the opening scene where an elderly Maggie evades her keepers to purchase a pint of milk at her local shop. It’s clearly a reference to her infamous decision to cut free school milk while Education Secretary, leading to the popular refrain of “Margaret Thatcher, milk snatcher”, but how many people outside Britain or only familiar with Prime Minister Thatcher will be aware of the reference? Not many, I’d wager. And there’s the habit the film has of including key political figures without bothering to explain who they are or what position they hold. Thatcher’s Chancellor and the man who would start the avalanche leading to her downfall, Geoffrey Howe, is mentioned by first name only for the entire film and while he’s generally heard to be talking of things concerning money, it’s never explained that he is the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Overall, it’s definitely worth seeing on its merits as a drama. Just don’t go in expecting the definitive life story of a controversial, complex leader.

 

 

 

Anti-Choice Movement Hits A New Creepy Low

For some reason, an anti-abortion Republican in New Jersey thinks that a movie showing pregnant women who intend to have abortions being kidnapped and forced to give birth will somehow convince people as to the righteousness of his cause:

Kenneth Del Vecchio, a Republican candidate for New Jersey state Senate and a producer of conservative-themed films, is premiering a psychological thriller this weekend with a pro-life twist: Three pregnant women, who intend to have abortions, are kidnapped and forced to carry their pregnancies to term.

The movie, called “The Life Zone,” was produced by Del Vecchio’s “Justice For All Productions,” and is premiering Saturday at the Hoboken Film Festival in Teaneck, N.J. A press release describes the festival as “one of the nation’s largest film festivals, which Del Vecchio founded and chairs.”

Here is the trailer for Saw VIII The Life Zone:

 

Maybe I’m missing something here, but portraying your side as Jigsawesque figures doesn’t seem to me to be a great way of promoting the ‘pro life’ movement. If the point was to convince people that ‘pro-lifers’ are actually mentally disturbed, controlling, misogynist freaks, however, they have a winner.

But thanks Kenneth Del Vecchio, for really laying bare the true ugliness of the anti-abortion movement. All life is sacred, except those of pregnant women. Freedom and liberty for all, except for pregnant women.