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Man and Superman

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One of the most endearing qualities of Superman was his innocence, or naivete, if you must. Indeed, innocence was a quality that extended to his entire world or worlds—to Krypton, the doomed planet from which he is exiled by his father to serve as a kind of living ambassador, and to Earth, landing in the corn fields of Kansas where he apprentices as a human aw-shucks farm boy until his time (like Jesus Christ, at age 33) to reveal his superhuman qualities comes.

It is this innocence that the viewer—well, viewer of a certain age, old enough to have read the earlier versions of the comic book and watch the first Superman movies—will miss in “Man of Steel,” the latest cinematic incarnation of the original superhero.

True, there are fight scenes and feats of superhuman derring-do aplenty. And given advances in movie technology, especially on a giant 3-D Imax screen, the fight scenes are truly, to use that overused word, awesome.

But where the original “Superman” was painted in bright, primary colors, the conflict clear in its good-vs-evil demarcation, “Man of Steel” is darker, more brooding, less edifying. Why, even Superman’s suit is painted a darker blue, almost black, the bright red cape muted into maroon, as if a cheery scarlet ran counter to the overall somber color palette.

Why this darker turn for a superhero? Well, for one thing, it is produced by Christopher Nolan, whose latest turns directing the “Batman” franchise brought it out of the gee-whiz realm of the campy TV series and elevated it to the adult viewing, angst-filled level. Nolan’s movies were also largely filmed against a dark background. Then there’s director Zack Snyder, best remembered for “300,” the savage, violence-ridden filmic reworking of Spartan legend that relied heavily on CGI effects, without bothering to create memorable characters.

* * *

THE two bring these qualities to “Man of Steel,” and in the hands of writer David Goyer, create a heavy, burdensome back story to the otherwise cheery tale of a farm-boy-turned reporter-turned-superhero.

Film critic Justin Craig observed that the movie’s creative team “rounded up a fantastic cast…but unfortunately left them all out to dry with simplistic one-dimensional characters.” Indeed, there are enough acting heavyweights in the film to lend it more than the necessary gravitas.

Russell Crowe is Jor-El, the scientist who fathers Superman and decides to rescue him from certain death as their home planet implodes. He appears and reappears at crucial points of the story, but he serves as more of a narrator than a player in the plot. Michael Shannon lends the character of Zod, Superman’s nemesis, the necessary menace, but beyond grimacing, is left with little to do.

Amy Adams plays Lois Lane, but the tension inherent in her relationship with Superman/Clark Kent is dissipated by introducing them to each other much too early in the story arc. Also, she looks a lot older than Henry Cavill, the British actor who plays our hero. Kevin Costner and Diane Lane play Clark’s human parents, and do a creditable job that lifts the couple from the cardboard kindly characters of the past. But too little time—in episodic flashbacks—is given them to explore their characters further.

* * *

CAVILL has the requisite good looks and ripped bod to portray a superhero. But it is difficult to relate to his character, more so when he morphs, in his Kevlar-like costume, into Superman.

Actually, the word “Superman” isn’t even uttered in the film, at least as I remember it. The “S” emblazoned on his chest, the superhero tells Lois, stands for the Krypton symbol of “hope.” But there is little that is optimistic or sunny or even humorous in “Man of Steel.” And by the way, neither did I hear anybody use the term “man of steel” in the movie.

So why make a movie about Superman when your intention seems to be to pull him down from his heroic stature to something more human, more vulnerable, eternally hurting and rejected, forever in search for his identity?

Batman, with his tragic back story of losing his parents to a sinister gunman in a dark alley, seemed suited for an exploration of the darker side of human nature, particularly the motivations of a reclusive billionaire in search of vengeance. But Superman, at least as far as his loyal audience knew him, symbolized the fight between good and evil. He was always the noble hero battling villains far too powerful or strong for humans to wage a fight on equal footing. And as the bumbling reporter Clark Kent, he embodied the weakling with qualities little recognized or respected.

* * *

MAYBE times have indeed changed, and the innocents who read the Superman comics (my children tell me that his story arc, ever since he “died,” has grown more complex) in their day have been outnumbered by fans who expect a more human Superman.

But that to me is a contradiction. Why demand that even the sunny hero of our youth be yanked back to our common stature? Why call him “Super” then?

One would think, given all the problems that bedevil our everyday reality, that people would yearn even more for truly innocent, noble, big-hearted and superhuman heroes. One would think young people around the world would call out for escapism, instead of soaking ourselves in our dark, adult, cynical reality. Sometimes, all we seek in the movies is to be transported into another world. The brighter, the better.


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Short URL: http://opinion.inquirer.net/?p=54543

Tags: Christopher Nolan , Diane Lane , Henry Cavill , Kevin Costner , Krypton , Superman , “Batman” franchise , “Man of Steel”

  • jonski22

    ganun talaga ata..pag naging “critic” ka…hindi maiwasan mag nit pick..kaya nga siguro kritiko tawag sa kanila….and regarding the cast..this is common now in Hollywood..big names on supporting role..it’s just so happen..that Crow, Lane, Fishburn, Costner is the center of the film..Amy Adams role and scene will be more on the sequel..hindi namin pwede ibabada si Costner at Ms.Lane…kung hindi naman akma sa istorya…

    To much action…it’s just like one of those animation version..but now it’s live action…and thank to movie technology..akala ko sa U.S comic books at t.v cartoons ko lang makikita..at least kahit CGI…that it was look like on live action…

    if i have to nit pick..it’s just because Superman to me is Christopher Reeves…but the fact is Man Of Steel is the Superman of today, my daughter’s Superman…the whole movie is awesome..i cannot say any bad all through out the movie..it’s just plain EPIC and Awesome!!!!

    • pedronimo

      Strictly, a (good) critic does not only look at the hole of the donut but also likes its toppings- both the negative and positive in things.

  • just_and_equitable

    IBALIK ANG PUGAD BABOY!

    • Fulpol

      i like your advocacy…

    • eight_log

      IBALIK ANG TUNAY NA PUGAD BABOY!!!!! … Tanggalin ang pugad ng mga baboy … ang CONGRESSO AT SENADO!!!!!!!!

    • siJuanDalandan

      Wag matakot! Maki-baka, este, maki-baboy!

  • xxxholic_wing

    The problem with you and the other critics who gave negative reviews on this movie is that you’re too much hung up on nostalgia. Seriously, this is 2013 not 1980′s. Times are changing. Zack Snyder and Chris Nolan already mentioned tons of times that they’re going for the realistic and modern approach on Superman. They don’t need to show some kryptonite as Superman’s weakness. They need to show that Superman can mistakes and has limits too. What’s wrong with superheroes who are “human” and “flawed”? Do we really need superheroes who are “all-around perfect” and “flawless” who people today can’t even relate?

    • Simon Ward

      Nostalgia? Or simply a question of which generation we belong to? I’m going to hazard a guess and say you are under 30 years old, max 35.

      If you want to see the generational preferences most clearly at work, you only have to ask people (a) their age and (b) which James Bond they prefer. If my first guess was right, I’m also guessing you like Pierce Brosnan :)

    • cgf376

      Starting your comment with an opening line of “The problem with you…” implies that there is a right or wrong opinion here and anyone else who doesn’t share yours has a “problem”.

      There is nothing wrong with Rina J-David, nor the others who share her negative views about this movie. Obviously we have other standards for what defines a “good” movie for us before we start raving about it and the point is that this didn’t make the cut for us.

      Movies are subjective. Perhaps we should go back to praising or ripping the movie and not the critics.

    • pedronimo

      Panday, Kidlat, Juan de la Cruzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz?

  • magsasakasanayon

    go watch vice ganda movies, instead, ms. david. no one is forcing you to watch ma of steel.



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