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Your Friendly Neighborhood Reviewer has been watching and discussing movies for 25+ years. He already misses Roger Ebert.
Immortals is not a good movie, despite a game effort by Henry Cavill and Luke Evans. This is partly because Mickey Rourke made no effort and was terribly cast.
Avoid this movie, no matter how intriguing it may seem.
Here’s a trailer (with apologies for the incoherence of the trailer; the film isn’t much different):
Released November 11, 2011
Written by Charley Parlapanides and Vlas Parlapanides
Directed by Tarsem Singh
Starring Freida Pinto, Anne Day-Jones, Isabel Lucas, Henry Cavill, Mickey Rourke, Luke Evans, Steven Dorff, John Hurt, and Kellan Lutz
* * * * *
Gonna give this a go, but the film is so poorly thought-out that putting the plot into a coherent summary will be difficult.
Eons ago, there was a war. The victors proclaimed themselves gods over the people of Earth and the losers were called titans and were trapped in a cage in a mountain with rebar in their mouths. This is Greek stuff, so the gods are Zeus (Evans), Athena (Lucas) etc.
Today, there is a mad, powerful king called Hyperion (Rourke) who is laying waste to all of the civilized world in a bid to gain power over a mighty bow that he can use to free the titans and then kill the gods. Ostensibly so he can rule the world he is destroying.
A peasant named Theseus (Cavill) lives in a strange village carved into a rock shelf in a cliff near the ocean. He lives with his mother (Day-Jones) and has been guided and trained by an old man (Hurt), who may or may not be Zeus in human form. How Zeus selected Theseus as a protege- we don’t know.
Theseus is an impressive fighter and has no fear; his only loyalty is to his mother. And then Hyperion kills Theseus’ mother and now Theseus, who previously had no desire to fight, is out for blood.
So Theseus goes on a roundabout quest to catch up to Hyperion and/or the Greek armies. This quest carries him into brief slavery, where he luckily finds a beautiful virgin (for not much longer) oracle (Pinto), who tries to guide Theseus toward his destiny. Theseus also inspires a mercenary-type group of slaves to join him, chief among them being Stavros (Dorff).
Then, for some reason, Theseus is in a maze-like place and is set upon by a huge man dressed as a minotaur. A battle ensues and Theseus wins, of course, and finds the powerful bow that Hyperion wants.
In the background of all this, a Greek traitor is for some reason helping Hyperion and they come into possession of the bow after some tribulation.
Then we’re with the Greek armies as they try to keep Hyperion from making his way into the mountain where the titans are captive. Theseus is somehow leading the Greek armies and he has to stop Hyperion. But the titans are freed and the gods descend to fight the titans and then there’s a lot of dying.
Blood splatters throughout, at great length.
Let’s start with the incoherent plot. For much of the film, we are unsure of what Theseus is trying to do. We’re also confused by gods who are clearly capricious and are likely the worst beings in the universe. Seriously, why didn’t the victors, who made themselves gods, just kill all the titans long ago, since they’re clearly willing to do so now? What was the point of trapping them? These gods certainly have no compunction about slaying them when the mythology hits the fan later in the in movie.
Hyperion is also a complete waste of character. He’s stupidly cruel and is leaving a world that isn’t worth ruling in his wake. There is no apparent reason for much of the awful stuff that he does. What’s more, Rourke clearly has no clue what is going on and essentially dozes throughout the movie.
Then there’s the oracle. She goes from mystical conduit of universal wisdom who must remain pure to exhibitionist lover pretty darn fast. And then she’s forgotten.
Don’t forget that the rulers of the Greek people are conveniently stupid and don’t act like any actual person with sense– so that Theseus can assume the reins of power and lead the army to victory.
Now add the splattering blood, graphic cruelty, at times too-slow-motion action, and all of this done with no style.
What we have here is a bunch of plot contrivances pasted onto Henry Cavill’s extraordinary torso and jaw and a wing and a prayer. Henry Cavill does his best, but nobody could save this flick.
And the movie was ‘successful.’
Don’t watch this movie.
Content warnings: Some sexuality and nudity along with a lot of splattery violence
Writing: 1 Acting: 2.5 Overall: 1.5
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This review has been edited after some deep introspection and discussion. Something is missed by this film– and because of that lack, there’s a bit of an emptiness to the conflict in this movie.
Is Man of Steel the Superman movie that fans have been waiting decades for? The Superman movie that doesn’t rely on kryptonite to get one over on our caped hero? The Superman film that captures the heroism, the ‘other’-ness, the moral dilemma in being an indestructible force, the vulnerability inherent in a person with such endless power who is also a good person, the potential in his powers? Does it pay the right homage to the established mythology of this hero that so many love?
Not exactly. The truth is that Man of Steel is very close to NOT a Superman movie. It’s more science fiction, centering on the fact that he’s an alien and other aliens are after him. Much of the idealism and heroism that we want from Superman is not there in anything close to the way it ought to be.
That said, Man of Steel is good, benefiting from a great cast and a generally interesting story.
Here is the trailer that a large portion of the human population has seen already:
Released on June 15, 2013
Written by David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan, based on the character created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster
Directed by Zack Snyder
Starring Amy Adams, Diane Lane, Antje Traue, Ayelet Zurer, Henry Cavill, Kevin Costner, Russell Crowe, Michael Shannon, Harry Lennix, Richard Schiff, Christopher Meloni, Michael Kelly, and Laurence Fishburne
* * * * *
There is a man who can do amazing things. He saves people through incredible displays of strength and power. Who is this man? He is Kal-El (Cavill), the last hope of a dying world called Krypton, sent to Earth in the hopes of being a bridge between the people of Krypton and the people of Earth. And on Earth, Kal-El nearly has the power of a god.
Man of Steel envisions the Superman mythos as the story of a being who has to decide how he will live on a world that will always see him as different and too powerful. This is an excellent approach to the story, because that is at the very heart of the Superman character becoming a hero.
Also, in Man of Steel, we have a movie that is the story of an alien invasion that must be repelled by one of the aliens– one who has lived among humans and learned to love them.
So we learn about Kal-El, also known as Clark Kent, by following a non-linear approach to the story of his childhood as he struggled to fit in and his parents (Costner and Lane) fought to keep his abilities under wraps. We also learn that he has been trying to find where he came from and what he is supposed to do on this planet. So he is bearded and trying to find clues as to who he is and is trying to just live life on his own terms.
But a bad guy from Krypton shows up and wants to use Kal-El, because Kal-El holds the only way to bring back the people of Krypton. General Zod (Shannon) threatens the entire planet in order to encourage his quarry to surrender himself to Zod and his crew.
At the same time, Lois Lane (Adams), a reporter for the Daily Planet, comes upon the story of this being who has incredible power, and she digs and digs until she discovers the truth of this man, at nearly the same time that he finds this same truth.
There is a connection between these two. Lois is, as expected, a hard-nosed reporter who loves to insert herself into dangerous situations, and when she is faced with something otherworldly, she finds in herself a heaping portion of awe. As for Clark, having someone else to share his secret with makes all the difference for him.
Zod, of course, has nefarious plans for Earth, given that his home planet is destroyed. Superman has to decide if he can trust humanity, while at the same time finding a way to stop Zod, who shares his abilities.
It all comes down to the final 35 minutes or so of massive, city-scale destruction.
Let’s talk about what Man of Steel does right. First off, the casting is as near to perfection as possible. Henry Cavill makes an excellent young Superman, adding a vulnerability to his ridiculous good looks and making it easier to believe in him. Much is asked of him and Cavill steps up. Michael Shannon is bombastic and believable as Zod, his motivations having been honed over decades to a believable zeal. Russell Crowe and Ayelet Zurer turn in excellent performances as Kal’s father and mother, Jor-El and Lara. Crowe is particularly good in that he has to try to infuse the beginning of the film with a heroic purpose.
Amy Adams is all that we could have ever wanted in Lois Lane. Smart, determined, forceful, beautiful, and in appropriate awe of Superman. She gets some of the better lines in the film. Watch for the next-to-last line of the film. And watch how she becomes Superman’s soul companion immediately after the battle with Zod. She knows how what Superman has just had to do has affected him and she is there for him. What can’t this actress do?
Diane Lane is also tremendous as Clark’s adoptive mother.
Consider: Martha Kent has had to be the mother of the answer to that universal question regarding whether we’re alone. She has led Clark through the years of him having to hide his abilities. And now she has to cope with him being the center of the world’s attention. Lane convincingly does all of this and the moments between her and Cavill significantly add to the importance of Kal-El’s adoptive parents in the mythology here.
Then there’s Kevin Costner. The man can act, when inspired properly. He turns in a powerful and important performance here. It’s clear he understands what Jonathan Kent’s role is in molding and guiding Clark as a young man. I wanted those two moments– and you’ll know them when you see them– to last just a bit longer. Let the power of that upheld hand and Costner’s expression have its intended effect on you. His sacrifice there makes all the difference in Superman’s later life and the decisions he has to make regarding humanity. Think what you will about that sacrifice (and I might even agree), it’s still a turning point for Clark. And there, at the mechanic shop. Listen to what is said.
Rounding out the cast is Laurence Fishburne as Perry White, in a role that was somewhat overlooked and a little convenient to the needs of the plot.
Be glad that Jimmy Olsen was not seen as necessary here. Be glad that Lex Luthor, despite one blink-and-you’ll-miss-it scene, is not an issue.
The characters and their needs, their priorities and goals, their hopes and dreams, all of this is the impetus that drives the story. And that is why the movie works as well as it does for as long as it does.
The non-linear format, where we have flashbacks to Clark’s childhood, does not lessen the power of the characters- it actually helps link the past to these characters’ present and helps us get a better look at who they really are.
More about the writing: This is, overall, a well-crafted film that allows characters to develop and events to unfold in a generally natural way. Some things are cut short, which was unnecessary, given the overlong final battle scenes.
I think it would be very nice if the movie makers could have finally answered the question about how Superman shaves.
I think it would have also been nice to see the decision that Superman makes between learning about his origins and donning the suit. This was not shown adequately.
The pacing is mostly deft, as we see each character in each scene moving toward either a decision or the results of a decision.
The visuals are stunning and mighty. But, combined with an over-loud soundtrack, the visuals at times became somewhat overbearing. Buildings falling, thousands of people dying.
Which leads us to the main weakness of this and other Superman films. But mostly this film.
Superman has endless power and many abilities. X-ray vision. Lasers from his eyes. Near-invincibility. Not needing to breathe for long periods of time. Unbelievable super strength. The ability to fly. Even in space. Super hearing. Super vision. Super speed.
The source of this power is the yellow sun, and this was better explained in Man of Steel than in any other Superman film.
But what powers, out of all of these, does Superman use all the time? Flying and incredible strength. Indeed, in the showdown between Superman and Zod and Zod’s cronies, because Superman can fly, is invincible and is incredibly strong, a city is laid to waste.
Thousands of people had to have died. Billions of dollars in damage. Buildings destroyed, roads demolished, the crust of the earth shredded.
Shouldn’t Superman, even one who has only just begun his life as a hero, have been cognizant of the massive destruction his battle is causing? Shouldn’t this concern him? Why wouldn’t he take the fight to space, where nobody can hear you scream and a building can’t be knocked down because he punches Zod through it?
Wouldn’t Superman know to use his X-ray vision, super speed, super hearing, in a way that helps him plan for where Zod or another enemy is coming from? Surely he can smell or hear or see things better, and his reactions are super fast.
Couldn’t he have found a way to use his laser vision to wreak remote havoc on his enemy?
Also, there is an issue of heroism, true heroism, requiring sacrifice. An important note is that it would have been better for Clark/Superman’s arc if he did not honor his father’s wishes and thus made his own sacrifice in order to save a life. There is very little in the way of personal sacrifice required of Clark/Superman; instead he becomes a defender of humanity after not trusting humanity and then he has a BMD (Battle of Mass Destruction).
These concerns are why Man of Steel, as a movie, falters. The writer/director team did not explore nearly enough the implications and possibilities with Superman’s powers and the hero was far too passive and able to be led by the nose. (Brief semi-spoiler up ahead!) Also, as usual, they found a way to reduce or eliminate his powers, adding some transparent artifice to his conflict.
This Superman was more thoughtful, although nearly as charming and square-jawed, and more genuinely vulnerable than previous ones, with the exception of the rather inept Superman we saw in Superman Returns. Sure, that one was about Superman’s heart and soul, but he was kind of weaker and unbelievably stupid for a guy who has been using his powers for so long.
It was nice to have a thoughtful Superman. But his brain turned off when the battle began, and that’s not okay. His job is to save people, not just have an epic, god-like battle with a well-matched enemy. He should have found a way to take his one-on-one brawl outside of the city. This thoughtful Superman should have done better.
But he didn’t. Because Zack Snyder wanted to knock buildings down.
And as the buildings fell, so did the emotional journey that the audience was on. Luckily, some of it came back in the final scene in the battle (although many fans will absolutely NOT like what Superman has to do to win this battle), but a lot of emotional momentum had been spent by that time. The fight needed to be more personal, more gut-wrenching, and more requiring of personal sacrifice and determination. With a name like Man of Steel, and with writers like Nolan and Goyer this should have been possible; having him be required to have a will of steel would have been more satisfying.
As a final note, how wonderful would it be if a Superman film could explore the moral dilemma that Superman faces daily. He is an extraordinarily powerful being. His dilemma is about choosing when and when not to use his powers. How to use his powers in moderation. The choice to not simply impose his will on nations and people.
In any case, all in all, Man of Steel delivers a good movie, if not entirely a Superman movie. There is a deep and moving emotional core in this film, centered mostly on Clark as he seeks his purpose and also including Lois as she finds awe for a world she’d become cynical about. That deep core is not fleshed out enough, in my opinion, to the film’s overall detriment.
There is very fine acting and production value. The mythology, particularly the origin, of Superman is nicely illuminated. There could have been more fun and whimsy, but the humor that was there was quite deft. There absolutely should have been more personal sacrifice. Where is the heroism if all the hero has to do is flex his muscles just a little harder?
Finally, Cavill’s Superman is one that audience will want to see again in another installment.
Content warnings: Some salty language, plenty of comic/action flick violence (it’s not gory, but very ‘boomy’.)
Writing: 3.5 Acting: 5 Overall: 3.5
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