Friday, 21 June 2013

Man of Steel Review

I’ll admit the superhero genre is getting out of control, and I share the same views of many film critics that it’s starting to ruin the medium. I loved The Avengers and The Dark Knight Trilogy, but when I see the upcoming likes of Thor 2, The Wolverine, The Amazing Spider Man 2, Captain America 2, The Avengers 2 and a multitude of others, it’s very distressing. A new Superman film was therefore always in the works after the failure of Superman Returns and with the recent profitable nature of Batman and the various Marvel’s assets. I had no problem with that up until Zack Snyder was attached to the project. His last film Sucker Punch didn’t provide justification for why Warner Brothers or DC would hand over such an influential and important comic-book franchise over to Snyder. So, does Snyder finally find his A-Game?

The film follows the origins of Superman, the ‘Man of Steel’. Krypton is in imminent, planetary danger as its core goes haywire. Meanwhile General Zod attempts a coup on Krypton’s Council, but his failure lead him to his imprisonment. The legacy of the Krytonian race rests on Jor-El and Lara sending their son to Earth. Kal-El, A.K.A Clark Kent crash lands in Smallville where he is adopted by Jonathan and Martha Kent. Now grown up, Clark attempts to discover who he is? Who are his real parents? And what his purpose is? Meanwhile General Zod returns to threaten the human race in order to protect his own. I’ve not read many of Superman’s comics, and therefore don’t fully understand the entire story around the hero. But the entire purpose of a reboot and origin story is to educate the audience on the narrative surrounding a particular hero/villain. To be honest, if it fails to do that in an engaging and entertaining level then it's failed. Here David S. Goyer and Snyder, with guidance from Nolan, have created a film that deals with the basic mythos surrounding the character, but in a well-structured and dignified manner.

This film portrays Superman as an outsider on a planet that would dissolve into fear and panic if he were to reveal himself. Goyer’s screenplay does well to demonstrate this conflicted nature of the character and his uncertainty over his existence. The traditional distinct personas of Clark Kent and Superman are swapped for a more subtle definition of the two. Here, Clark is still finding his purpose on Earth and beginning to understand his impact on humanity, thus has remained relatively secret. This torn nature between the character is further developed through his interactions with Zod. Both have the desire to bring Krypton back from the ashes but in different manners, to the point that Superman questions his personal motives and determination. 

Henry Cavill certainly looks the part and adds a modern twist on our preconceived notions of the character. He’s not the matured and “leader/savour” of humanity, instead Goyer and Snyder write him as the extraterrestrial he is. His longing for justification and to conform into society is one that Cavill’s “subtle” performance really highlights, even with the minimal dialogue.  Amy Adams offers a solid and charming performance that thankfully doesn’t deteriorate into a typical damsel in distress. There are the beginnings of a romance between the two, but it isn’t an instantaneous reaction that often feels too forced in many films. As a matter of fact, many critics and fans have actually criticised the lack of the traditional romantic chemistry between the two. But I would be inclined to argue that it wasn’t necessary to definitively engage with this integral element within the narrative of Superman’s origins. 

Michael Shannon is genuinely threatening as General Zod. While his hairstyle is questionable, Shannon brings his own slice of madness to the proceedings. It’s over-the-top at times, but its a performance that manages to still bring some empathy towards the character and his reasoning behind his actions. Russell Crowe gets a surprising amount of screen-time, and puts it to good use. It’s obvious that he enjoyed the role and the freedom with the character, which results in some great moments between father and son. Meanwhile the likes of Kevin Costner, Antje Traue and Diane Lane offer a strong supporting cast that are integrated into the narrative and Superman’s own character development relatively well. 

Looking back at all of his films, what Snyder constantly does well is presentation. 300, Watchmen and even Sucker Punch showcased his ability to create visually attractive cinema with engaging set-pieces. Man of Steel continues Snyder’s style of film-making and thankfully brings back the grandeur and gravitas we associate with Superman. From the off, the planet of Krypton is strikingly realised, definitely showing the “alien” nature of the superhero’s background. Simple touches like the “sonic boom” whenever Superman flies away or the dust on his cape, add a lot to the actual visualisation of the character. This certainly goes a long way in the film's many action sequences.

I had some major problems with The Avengers, and one of them was the final “Battle Scene”. It lacked scale and a sense of threat for the inhabitants of New York, making it feel rather subdued. Here there’s a strong sense of power and force to each confrontation as planes get destroyed, trains get thrown and buildings collapse. The population of Metropolis crumbles after ever blow, resulting in a surprisingly high body count for a superhero film. It’s fast, manic and there's something immensely satisfying in seeing Superman punch someone through a building or grinding their faces against endless roads, which this film hates. Hans Zimmer’s score continues his strong form, with some really emotional and intense tones and tempos that complement the ensuing drama and action. My one slight problem with the film becomes clear in the last 20 minutes as the CGI and quick editing start to turn into a sensory overload that increasingly becomes drawn out. In hindsight, the final act simply diverges into a chaos of fistfights, quick exposition and irrelevant “adventures” with Daily Planet journalists. But to be fair, I'm just nitpicking at this point. 

Man of Steel is everything I wanted from a Superman film; a solid and engrossing story, interesting characters and intense action. The press haven’t been too kind to the film, and I wonder whether that’s the stigma attached to Zack Snyder’s name. Sure it’s got its problems, but like my uncontrollable love of The Raid, Man of Steel proved that if a film entertains you to the point of wanting to watch it again, then it’s a pretty successful one. The impressive feat of any comic-book film is whether it consequently gets people interested in the character, and with myself wanting to see what they do for Man of Steel II, I think that about sums up my thoughts on this one. 


Saturday, 15 June 2013

Favourite Film and TV Characters: Dick Solomon

My interest in Television has steady decreased over the last few years. Whether this is due to a lack of time, or a lack of interest is somehow unclear . Many would actually argue that some of the all-time best TV series currently grace our screens e.g. Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad. However if I were to create a “Top 10 Favourite TV Shows” list then 3rd Rock From The Sun would undoubtably be on it. Growing up, my exposure to sitcoms or just comedy itself was still in the capable hands of The Simpsons, Black Adder and my feeble understanding of Frasier. 3rd Rock From The Sun was one of those shows that managed to build itself on simplicity and a creative angle that justified the over-the-top nature of its characters. Instead of your typical bunch of friends, a gay couple or a cuuuuu-razy family, the show centred on a team of alien researchers that land on Earth. Sure it took the same methodology and principles as many others sitcoms, but it’s the cast of extremely charismatic and memorable performances that perpetuates this over many of its rivals. Whether it's a young Joseph Gordon-Levitt or a clumsy, romantic Wayne Knight, there was a wealth of personalities that blurred the behavioural lines between the extraterrestrials and genuine humans. My personal favourite is Dick Solomon. 

Dick Solomon, played by John Lithgow, is the High Commander of the alien research team. Thrust into a new body and into a new world, he soon becomes Professor of Physics at Pendelton State University. Lithgow has never truly made it as a “big name” within the industry. True his involvement in Shrek and recently Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Dexter have seen him return to the limelight, but his role as Dick clearly showed his varied and charismatic charm, which particularly stand out. As a youngster my favourite comedians tended to centre on the physical dynamic of comedy i.e. Jim Carey or Rowan Atkinson, rather than the slick talking or witty banter of the likes of Frasier Crane or Jerry Seinfield. Lithgow’s character offered a step into a slightly more matured sense of the genre. He maintained the over-the-top movements, body language and reactions, but had the capacity to deliver the sophisticated and clever elements of the script. His comic timing was sublime, and his general delivery managed to portray the bizarre nature of his character. 

Being an alien, Dick’s perceptions of the world are based on the childlike sense of wonder and discovery that humanity experiences. He constantly wants more of the world’s “positive” notions and sensations, whether that be the feeling of “sharing” or the delights of baked goods. This great blend of infantile personality coupled with his older exterior, prove to form a highly likeable and accessible character. At the age of about 8/9 at the time, my understanding of certain episodes themes or subject matter never materialised further than Dick’s constant screaming, similar to my attachment to Homer Simpson. As I’ve grown up, his character has developed into a more understandable and even more humorous presence. Underneath his mugging and general over reaction lay a changing personality that was being exposed to different individuals and concepts, that I myself was similarly undergoing. In that respect and in a slightly weird way, I connected with Dick and the rest of the “family”’s various characters. That’s not to say I’m some sort of extraterrestrial.

Looking at it now as a “young adult”, Dick still remains engrossing and hilarious. None of that early charm has been lost, instead its been further enhanced by my now mature comprehension of the writing. What I admire Dick for is his confounded look at everything, and his weird mannerisms. He is  highly intelligent and eloquently spoken individual that even Einstein would be jealous of, yet he doesn't understand the concept of a tissue box. In the end, whether it’s him beating a printer with its own toner cartridge, or the sheer panic and fear at the sight of jelly, there’s something simple and funny in watching him do and react to everyday, mundane activities. His lovey-dubby, juvenile relationship with Mary Albright is an undoubtably cringeworthy affair, yet is one that remains charming throughout the predictable ups and downs. As a professor, his interactions with his class are absolutely hysterical. He frequently belittles them with his expansive knowledge of the Universe, and lectures them on his sexual experiences and his latest forays into human life. His entire “development” as a character throughout the show’s 6 season spread is thorough, but never detracts from our immediate and initial attachment to him. 

Whenever I talk about Dick Solomon, or 3rd Rock from the Sun for that matter, it saddens me to hear that many haven’t watched or heard of the series. Those that have, tend to criticise the over-the-top nature of the show. But how is that different to the likes of Friends or Frasier? Whatever the case, Dick Solomon is inarguably one of my favourite characters to grace the screen. From his joyous laugh, to the sheer look of amazement as he discovers the simplest of things, Dick is a loveable and charming individual. John Lithgow’s performance is simply hilarious and consequently landed him 6 Emmy Awards through the course of the 6 series. In the end, I love this show and I love him as a character. And “By-god...I’m gorgeous!” is a catchphrase that rarely gets old.

Friday, 14 June 2013

RespawningCouch Podcast: Review: Man of Steel (Spoiler-Free)

Does Zack Snyder find form in this reboot of the superhero of all superheroes? Absolutely, and in awesome style.

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Thursday, 13 June 2013

RespawningCouch Podcast: Our Thoughts on E3's Press Conferences

This time we discuss our thoughts on the Microsoft, Sony, EA and Ubisoft Press Conferences at the E3 Expo. As we struggle to say "Press Conference", we talk about the games, the consoles and the highlights on offer. And finally, we question what "next-gen" means, sort of.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

RespawningCouch Podcast: Our Thoughts on the Xbox One

We're back. And this time we're discussing Microsoft's "crappy" reveal. But was it truly that terrible?

By the way, this was before Microsoft's info dump.