The Man of Tomorrow

Curt-Swan

Last year I did a post appraising my love for Bond prior to seeing Skyfall. Now another blockbuster has just come based on another hero of mine so thought I might indulge in the same thing. I have tickets for an IMAX showing on Thursday so have not seen it yet and would like it to remain unspoiled so please don’t comment/tweet anything about the plot to me. Thanks!

First thing’s first, Background: I’ve always been a DC man more than Marvel. DC are not doing very well at the moment however and Marvel are steam rolling over the whole of the comic book industry at the moment so this is a poor place to sit really. I am also a big Nolan fan and loved the Dark Knight trilogy. I also grew up (and I mean ‘grew-up’ I watched them as a toddler) on the Richard Donner/Richard Lester movies. Superman 1 & 2 are immovable favourites that I love dearly, and I even have a soft spot for 3 due to the Clark vs Superman-in-a-tip duel. Superman’s comics I run hot and cold with, Curt Swan’s depiction is my touchstone for his image and I prefer the early comics but there are several of the slightly more esoteric and more recent stories I do rather like. Brian Azzarello and Jim Lee’s ‘For Tomorrow’ is a favourite and the Super Star tag team of Loeb and Sale’s ‘A Superman for All Seasons’ is an absolute classic of any comic book. I never read any of the Grant Morrison thread which leaves me at a disadvantage as this is apparently Goyer and Nolan’s source material. I have nothing but undisguised contempt for Superman Returns however, which was the last attempted cinematic ‘reboot’. I got incredibly excited about that film and was utterly crushed by it in a similar way to when I saw that pile of … whatever it was they had the audacity to call Indiana Jones 4. Returns ‘should’ work – Routh, Beckinsale and Spacey are great casting, it had John Williams’ theme, that title sequence, etc but it was its god-awful script that ruined it for me. The screenplay golden rule should forever and ever be “DO NOT INTRODUCE A CHILD”.

As such my relationship to this current film is already pretty complex.

Make no mistake I love Superman – I went to school dressed as him as a 6 year old – but due to the tidal wave of confusion that has greeted Man of Steel on opening day I am initially reticent. I am keeping an open mind and being very careful about whose opinion I look too. Many, many, many people are out for this film’s blood. There are those people (like my brother and a few nameless friends) who are classicists who will not have a modern retelling of their tried and trusted favourites, who fear change and attack rabidly all that comes to ‘reboot’ – see Star Wars, Batman, Indiana Jones, etc. By and large I can understand. I love Burton’s Batman, but equally love Nolan’s, Star Wars is a knottier one but I tackled that elsewhere, Indy 4 was just a plain badly made film. As such I can understand people’s pre-judging of this film. Other people are of the ‘Fanboy’ nature, something I describe as the Vacuum of Reasoned Debate where they hate it because ITS SUPERMAN, HOW STUPID?! or MARVEL IS WAY BETTERZ! etc. Be careful this bias will come very well disguised by mountains of convincing looking ‘evidence’ and technical stats and data. It does just boil down to prejudice ultimately. My prejudice is, I want to like this film. Snyder isn’t a favourite director but Nolan and Goyer’s Batman is and I want to be excited by a man flying around in a cape and pounding superhero bad guys again. So what’s my problem?

Superman is a God. The word continually being dropped around this film is ‘Jesus’. A lot of preliminary criticisms that seem worth a damn and aren’t from those prejudiced parties mentioned are bemoaning something of a christian rhetoric within the film (some have voiced Scientology could be in the mix as well but I’m very sceptical about that POV) so it seems like this maybe a genuine concern. In the trailer Clark is dragged into a pile of skulls, I have no context for that shot but it seems heavily laden in imagery (perhaps deliberately), someone also commented he holds a christ-on-the-cross pose at one point, not to mention the fairly overwhelming parallells of the Superman’s story anyway: son of a carpenter, coming to terms with his gifts, saviour of mankind, blah blah blah.

There is also the criticism of a lack of humour. Apparently laughs are few on the ground and the, ironically rather pompous, criticism that it takes itself to seriously. Both sighted as problems with recent Batman and Bond films. So the evidence against it begins to mount.

I have a problem with all these criticisms and the people who make them however and this is without having seen the film, might I add. Change and experimentation does not seem to be valued by any of them. This does not dismiss  christian imagery or a dour tone which are decidedly negative points against a film if true but it does dismiss people criticising on past merits. I find it amusing that no one criticised Iron Man 3 for its INCREDIBLY heavy handed political themes yet ripped the Dark Knight films to shreds for its own deliberately disparate ones. Whether you loved or loathed them Nolan’s Batman films were Art House films with a blockbuster budget. Many would say a man in tights and a cape has no place in that genre. You might be right. Doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be tried and I think it takes a very backwards mind to say they weren’t at least technically successful films (they’re structurally cohesive – just -, entertaining and made a lot of money). Same with the Star Wars prequels. Agreed they weren’t as good as the originals, they were certainly different. My problems with Indy 4 and Superman Returns is fundamentally that they were too reverential of their source material. The Marvel Universe on screen as it has become, is very adherent to its canon (obviously) and the comics (particularly Hawkeye) are making a great investment in a sort of retro chic in their design and execution. Man of Steel, from what I hear and the clips I have caught seems very much an experiment. It seems a long and elegiac tale of a hero trying to find a place in a world suddenly swamped by alien technology and where, in an age of social media and the internetz, identity is mandatory yet he is unable to acquire one. Seems like a pertinent little parable to me. An alien appraising our bizarre little race is always a fun thing to consider whether its done with a tongue in its cheek or not, so to my mind Man of Steel holds all the promise of the comics and the original films I loved so much. They are set in the moment with themes that carry across more than one nation. Superman will always be divisive, particularly to foreign audiences due to the near jingoism of his iconography, but the prospect of something actually challenging from such an innocuous and belittled genre is why I like comics in the first place. Computer games and comic books have been making bold and strong commentary on our modern world easily comparable to much lauded (and over hyped) output from cinema and literature.

In this way you are damned if you do, damned if you don’t. You make a slavishly reverential remake and people will hate it, make a massive departure in tone and appearance people will hate it. Superman comes burdened with three quarters of a century of baggage that it cannot escape. Throwing that history at it to weaken it is a sad and unnecessary gesture. What this should say is that maybe now is the time to put a bolt gun through the heads of the sacred cows and move on. Wipe out all the current superheros and comics and start new ones, give up on computer game and movie franchises, endless sequels, rip offs and wank and actually stretch ourselves into new and innovative areas where creators are not weighed down by our Bibliographic society of trial by comparison and maybe, just maybe the audience will rise to the challenge and accept and adore and mature with such interesting and original developments in culture and the arts.

And while I’m dreaming I’d like 10 million pounds and a girlfriend that works for Cadburys please…

Whatever. I for one shall hold my breath. I am incredibly intrigued by the prospect of an honestly challenging film utilising modern myth – modern myth that can easily be pressed together with classical myth incedentally to all the “ITS CHRISTIAN!” naysayers. I am also prepared for it to suck out loud, naturally, but there’s always the possibility it could be good which for some people seems REALLY hard to consider. In our post modern world in which we live where EVERYTHING has twenty meanings and is only ever judged on its comparison to a previous incarnation, it delights me that something so high profile and mainstream seems to have really quite confused people. I am trying to maintain an open mind for now and look forward to my seat in the cinema in a week’s time. But what do I know, I’m a DC/Nolan fanboy with his head in the sand, right?

Give me strength.

Incidentally, Man of Steel can never be as good as Donner’s epoch-making, superhero franchise progenitor because it doesn’t have this:

#metalols

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Inception’s Reception

Okay. Having spat out the last of my bile and the week from Hell being finally OVER, the moment you’ve all (not) been waiting for…

Upon leaving the cinema last night my overriding feeling (other than – “holy-shit-that-was-the-most-awesome-thing-I’ve-ever-seen!”) was that movies suck these days. I don’t mean Inception sucks I mean pretty much every other movie, blockbuster or otherwise, out this summer has been utterly tepid if not down right shite. Inception proves incontrovertibly what can and should be done with cinema and story telling in general. All the greatest artist we know and love today were innovators (by and large). Many say they ‘re-wrote the rules’ I never got this. Shakespeare doggedly adhered to Iambic Pentameter, Picasso was a very fine portrait painter to begin with and the Beatles were a Rock ‘n’ Roll covers band for years, it is the fact they used these rules and expanded on them exponentially that made them innovators. Taking what was old and easily understood and then updating them in the most incredible ways so the audience/public would follow them into these bold new realms. Cinema is still way behind. We took a massive leap forward 11 years ago with the one-two combo of Episode I (yes that Star Wars was innovative assholes!) and The Matrix in the same summer. They were both cerebral – a fact that worked against one and for the other – and both practically re-invented digital effects and what was possible with special effects. All anyone has done since is tread water. We’ve been given the keys to the ocean and the best most directors can do is splash around in the shallow end.

Inception is neither a remake, reboot, re-imagining, sequel, prequel or adaptation so already it is streaks ahead of almost aaaaaaaalllll the films out in the last 10 years without even having seen a frame but it takes that intent of deliberate unfamiliarity and runs with it. This is an Honest-to-God original movie. As I said above, you can see the influences, a lot of it has been done before but never like this and I have a horrible feeling this will be the last time it happens in a few years. Again. The reason for this is the reason a lot of (stupid) critics have maligned the film. “I don’t get it.” Has been the immediate response. Yes, fine. If you liked and understood Sex and the City 2 and Transformers 2 then no, you won’t like this film. Sorry. Bye bye. But as far as I can tell this is the kind of film that audiences and fans of all western cinema in general have been crying out for. A film that doesn’t patronise you, that treats you like an adult and doesn’t give you a predictable plot through line you can sum up on a napkin. Independent Cinema and European or ‘Foreign’ Cinema is always seen as ‘too-thinky’ or cerebral by the big guns of Hollywood but the fact they ran Four Lions, Persepolis and Dog-tooth in the city centre cinemas of Manchester means people like these films. Trouble is, people do want a bit of eye candy too. For that you go and see your Transformers blow shit up. What movie-makers should be doing is what Christopher Nolan does best. Makes grown up films. They’re not designed by committee, not butchered by studios, not meant to appeal to the widest demographic they’re his movies. And they’re fuckin’ AWESOME!

As such Inception is brain-fryingly complicated story – this does not mean, however it is confusing, it is not deliberately saying it is cleverer than you and if you can’t keep up then you shouldn’t be watching, it just knows you are film literate and should be able to follow, which you do – which I am not going to explain because A) It is too complex and B) It will ruin it when you see it and YOU ARE GOING TO SEE IT. Needless to say a lot of the exposition and explanation is kept at the front of the movie and about a 3rd of the way through it kicks into overdrive and utterly screws with your head. Without trying to give too much away, the last half of the film is technically set within 3 minutes while, for one character at least, it’s 50 years. If that sentence screws with your head imagine the poor bastard who wrote it and directed it and then had to edit it. That poor bastard is Christopher Nolan, a man who I can safely say has usurped Spielberg and Kubrick as my two favourites with this film. The editing alone should win every award for making a mind-bending idea feasible, understandable and amazingly viewable. The idea of a ticking-clock and a race against time has never been this palpable. The script, plot and narrative are so solid with so few holes you couldn’t fit a fag paper in. There probably are problems with it but only one person knows what it is and he’s gone mad. But it is Nolan’s Direction that should get the Prestige (pardon the pun). In Memento the twist(s) at the end are so reliant on the audience having paid attention to the most subtle little details and tiny shots you can be forgiven for not getting it at all but Nolan grips you with an intriguing and intense plot with interesting characters so much so that you miss nothing and, if possible, pay closer attention. Nolan uses brilliantly subtle motifs throughout to thoroughly ground the viewer so as they don’t get lost. Like a great composer these should all gel neatly at the end for a good climax. The best way to describe the way Nolan Directs this film is it is like throwing a thousand piece jigsaw in the air and marvelling as it lands on your table, complete. It’s like a magic trick.

The cast is superb. Tom Hardy and Joseph Gordon-Levitt being the scene stealers with the most fun moments and lines but I think Cillian Murphy is my favourite. Caine’s cameo is brief but essential, Marion Cotilliard is gorgeous and, frankly, terrifying while Ellen Page does a wonderful job of making a purely functional character believable and human. Page barely speaks a line that isn’t for the audiences benefit or for the Plot’s which is a shit role for most people but it is so well written and performed you warm to her immediately. The camerawork is so amazing I literally smacked-my-Gob at one point, that scene being the high point of the whole film for me. A gravity defying punch up in a corridor that makes Neo and Agent Smith in the subway look like a game of happy slaps. And not a single frame in CG. This was greatly enhanced by the IMAX screen but is incredible anyway you look at it. Honourable mention to the sound design team who never over do a gunshot and single-handedly made the most wince-inducing and realistic sound for someone getting hit by a car. In short, this is pretty much a perfect film for me with almost nothing wrong with it. Almost…

Okay, Cons; DiCaprio

WHY DOES THIS MAN STILL GET WORK?!?!? I HATE THIS GUY!! He doesn’t bloody change his expression! I feel like Will Ferrell at the end of Zoolander; “Has everyone taken stupid pills?! It’s the SAME look!!” Okay, prejudice aside, DiCaprio is at least functional but for fuckssake anyone could have delivered that performance. He is, next to Sean Penn, THE most overrated, under talented, overpayed, boring actor in Hollywood to my mind. I heard a great quote about Sean Penn which I apply to them both; “A man who confuses not smiling for acting”. I couldn’t put it better myself. Leonardo offers nothing to this movie whatsoever except a pretty face and a guaranteed £2 million gross. Whenever I mention the brow-furrowed dope I get the same-fucking-response every time; “Well he was good in The Departed and Gilbert Grape”. The Departed and Gilbert-fucking-Grape. Both roles were frickin’ Oscar bait at best and everyman-banal at worst. Okay, look at it this way. What makes a good actor? His/Her performance, right? This comes down to how you are cast (Meryl Streep, though brilliant would have made a lousy Harry Potter) and how believable you make that character to the Audience. The only reason DiCaprio portrays a floppy-haired, brooding, pretty boy with a permanently furrowed brow as if he’s constantly being asked questions on ancient egyptian algebra so well is because THAT’S JUST WHAT HE BLOODY LOOKS LIKE! His performances are about as nuanced as panel beating. There is a laughably poor moment when he is telling Ellen Page how dreams work where, to add emphasis, he raises his eyebrows. 1) This is the only time he moves his bloody face in the whole film 2) It’s so stupidly inappropriate it pulled me out of an excellent bit of exposition. I can only wonder what this film would have been like with a proper character actor in the lead. As it is, DiCappucino is merely functional. A boring locomotive behind which the emotional story is driven. People bang on about this being a career best for him, they’re probably right but it isn’t saying much. He certainly doesn’t ‘hold the movie together’ as another review stated. Those laurels go to Ellen Page.

Other than that twit, it rumbles in at a cosy 2 hours 20 minutes which is bold for such a complex feature and whilst I didn’t feel it, you need some balls to push the audience past the 2 hour mark and not have begun your climax/resolution ramp. This is largely down to the fact Nolan sets up an ending that amounts to little more than just a quick stroll but means so much and is so perfect but at the same time is a complete and fulfilling ending all in the space of about a minute and a half. As such the story rattles along at a cracking pace right up to the wire and crashes to a close with your brain being mopped up by the cinema attendants. This has stayed with me for the last 24 hours and really makes you ponder its main themes long after the credits roll. An admirable achievement. So much so in fact it had prompted me to want to write about my feelings on dreams in general on this blog which I will do in time.

There will be backlash too. There always will be. It’s going to be big and successful and it’s good and everyone will be talking about it so naturally anyone trying to look cool or different or just being plain antagonistic (I’m looking at my brother mainly here) will say it’s rubbish for a number of fairly minor or redundant reasons. I don’t care. Nolan has set the bar now and audiences will want to be challenged again and directors and studios are going to want to rip him off (if the Dark Knight hadn’t already made that an inevitability) so Cinema’s future has been made a little more bright and if nothing else, I got to see my own ‘2001’ or ‘The Birds’.

In short, grumbling  pretty-boy fizzog aside, this has slam-dunked in at number 3 for my all time favourite films and if it had lightsabers in it, it would have made number one. As a fan of Kubrick and Hithcock myself, Nolan is the best we’ve got in a mainstream innovator alive today and if he keeps doing his thing I will keep watching. And believe me I will be watching this one again at IMAX and then again and again when I get it on DVD. The most Mary Poppins film ever for me. Practically Perfect in Every Way.

GO AND SEE IT.

NOW!