By G. Michael Dobbs
Oftentimes I find myself scratching my head at the box office success of a film, which indicates success at some level, and wonder just why people loved a certain picture.
I tend to have these internal debates more about the big blockbuster movies than I do with "smaller" films.
I went into "Man of Steel" with few expectations. Generally, I have found the work of director Zack Snyder to be absolutely dreadful, but amazingly popular. "300" was a story straight out of one of those men's adventure magazines from the 1950s: loud, exploitive and pretty soulless. "Sucker Punch" was borderline incomprehensible. "Watchmen," the adaptation of what many people believe is one of the best graphic novels ever written I don't was a self-indulgent film without pacing that seemingly went on for days.
No, I'm not a fan.
I admit I was intrigued by the casting and the trailers for "Man of Steel" and went hoping that I wasn't wasting 2 1/2 hours of my life. While it was by no means the debacle that his previous films were, it is a movie that illustrates Snyder's worst characteristics as a storyteller.
I was mystified as to why this reboot of the movie franchise needed another origin story. I think that Superman as a pop culture icon has a pre-sold quality that would allow a filmmaker to quickly recap the origin and then move onto an original story. Despite its flaws, at least the last Superman film, "Superman Returns" did just that.
But a new origin story is what we have and while Snyder presents an enjoyably alien Krypton, the sequence goes on way too long a hallmark of the film.
Once on Earth, Snyder chooses to tell Clark Kent's story in a series of well-written flashbacks anchored in reality by the performances of Kevin Costner and Diane Lane as his adoptive parents.
The idea that Clark struggles with his identity and purpose is the part of the film that was the most refreshing. It gave Henry Cavill some good moments to round out the Clark/Superman character.
Where the filmmaker fails his cast and audience, though, is the plotline involving General Zod and his Kryptonian rebels. I found it very odd for a film that stylistically was so far removed from the first two Christopher Reeve movies to re-introduce the villains from those movies. What about the dozens of the other bad guys from the comic books? What about Lex Luthor?
Once the bad guys come to Earth, the film's progress grinds to a halt. We quickly learn that all of the Krpytonians are now super and that they cannot kill one another. That doesn't stop Snyder from presenting minutes and minutes and minutes of fight scenes in which various buildings and vehicles are trashed.
If anything helps kill the movie it's the focus on the violent spectacle that dominates the last third of the film. Snyder fails to understand that what made his film work was the more personal examination of the character. A full half-hour could be cut from this film to speed up the pace and audiences wouldn't have noticed anything missing.
At least Snyder cast the film well, especially with Amy Adams as a great Lois Lane.
So, "Man of Steel" is not a complete wash, which considering its director is a mighty achievement.
If you're in mood for Superman, though, I think the fist two Christopher Reeve films hold up very well, although to a certain extent they are definitely products of their time. Although there is an odd campiness at times Marlon Brando's performance as Superman's dad is still very strange the films still have a sweetness and heart to them I find very appealing.
The other two Reeve films are far less successful with the fourth film "The Quest for Peace" having an ambitious story, but less than satisfactory special effects.
For my money, the Superman films that have the greatest appeal are the first season of the George Reeves television show, which have a more gritty adventure feel to them and the Fleischer Brothers cartoons from the early 1940s that present the character pretty much as his creators intended.
Both are available on DVD and the Fleischer are available on YouTube.