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Man of Steel – Movie Review

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Despite its pedigree, Man of Steel has little in common with the Dark Knight movies. It’s really a Marvel movie wrapped in the pretentious seriousness of its Dark Knight cousin.

Man of Steel isn’t really Superman. The first hint of that comes from the title which carefully avoids the S Word. But it isn’t a Dark Knight realistic reworking either. Superman as we know him barely appears here. But in his place is a character who could just as easily be Marvel’s Superman. Swap out Superman for Thor and with a few minor modifications you could have exactly the same movie. And, Man of Steel even bears a suspicious resemblance to Marvel’s first Thor movie.

There’s hardly any Clark Kent here. Just the story of an itinerant superhero, a classier version of Will Smith’s Hancock, who occasionally saves people while fleeing his past and searching for his purpose. That’s a story alright. But it isn’t Superman.

And it’s barely a story.

Man of Steel avoids origin story drag by telling everything through a set of flashbacks. That only adds to the feeling that the entire movie is a set of montages. You could watch Man of Steel with the sound off and miss absolutely nothing because there is no plot development.

Clark Kent tours the world and punches aliens. Then he punches them some more. That’s the movie.

Man of Steel isn’t bad. It just lacks content. There’s nothing here you remember after walking out of the theater. And that makes it no different than most of the other 200 and 300 million dollar summer blockbusters. There are gorgeous scenes. Superman’s first flight is absolutely spectacular and the rendering of Krypton’s history in animated art deco chrome is amazingly beautiful and moving.

But that’s it.

From the first minutes of the extended opening sequence where Russell Crowe as Jor El does all the usual action hero stuff, somehow beating General Zod and his men in hand to hand combat despite being a scientist, you know exactly the kind of movie that Man of Steel will be. And it doesn’t disappoint by not disappointing.

Even the closest thing to a dramatic arc, Clark Kent learning to trust human beings, is barely there. His pivotal struggle consists of walking into a church and then answering his own question. Even Marvel movies have more plot content than that.

Zack Snyder can shoot beautiful scenes, but he has never learned to connect them into a movie. That worked in 300, but brought him down when he tried to tackle the complex interwoven narrative of Watchmen. And he doesn’t even try in Man of Steel. It’s Superman 300 without the Superman or the 300.

Henry Cavill makes a passable Superman because he doesn’t ever have to do anything except look determined. The movie brings in Russell Crowe and Kevin Costner to play Clark’s parents and both men turn in great performances. Meanwhile the pivotal role of General Zod is left to an actor with all the subtlety of a hammer.

If General Zod had been played by a better actor, Men of Steel might have been more watchable. Instead Michael Shannon’s Zod is demented, but lacks presence. He gets beaten up by Jor El in the beginning and then gets captured and he never seems like he has anything going for him except advanced technology.

The actual fights are the same generic things you see in every movie these days complete with useless military attacks and product placement brand names being smacked around. There are moments of potential, such as when Superman smashes into a fast food joint managed by a former classmate, but then it’s just as quickly brushed away reminding you that while Man of Steel may owe something to Superman II, it’s a much worse version of even that butchered movie.

Snyder and the Dark Knight gang try to inject gravitas into a video game movie. And all it does is make for some pretty and well acted cut scenes that amount to nothing. There is no conflict that matters. Pa Kent’s warnings are nothing but another flashback that is quickly disregarded. There is no evolution here, only forcible points in the script that follow a dramatic formula without ever caring about it.

Man of Steel might have been a great movie, but its only aspiration was to do a DC version of a Marvel action movie. And it barely succeeded at that.

The Avengers movie review

The Avengers is big. Like the Transformers movies and Avatar it’s there to impress you with its size so you don’t think too much about its quality. When it comes to quality, The Avengers’ secret weapon is its writer and director, Joss Whedon. But Whedon does nothing for the plot of The Avengers which isn’t just cliches, but cliched cliches.

avengers poster small

If you’ve never seen a movie before then you might have no idea that when Loki lets himself get captured it’s all a setup for a rescue attack that will free him and seriously damage SHIELD’s carrier. And if you’ve never seen a movie before then you might not be able to guess that the Hulk will show up at the moment when he’s needed most.

Joss Whedon’s real contribution are the punchlines and snide remarks that everyone makes to each other in between the punches and explosions. The remarks, some of them clever, make The Avengers seem a little smarter than it is, but the movie isn’t smart, it’s just knowing which makes it Transformers with better dialogue. Chuckle at some of Tony Stark’s lines, delivered with perfect timing by Robert Downey Jr and you can almost overlook the horrifyingly long drawn out plot that feels even longer because you know what’s going to happen 5 minutes from now… and you still have to wait for the movie to get there on its own.

The Avengers is still fun and while Joss Whedon as director brings absolutely no visual style to the table, the movie could just as easily have been directed by anyone, he keeps an enormously long movie moving along pretty swiftly because there’s always something happening to hold your attention, either explosions, fights or smart remarks, and even if you don’t care about it two minutes later and can’t even remember what it was, you’re having fun or at least not being too bored at almost any given moment in the movie.

There may never be a Buffy movie, but The Avengers is the next best thing. Its cast talks and squabbles like the grown up Scooby Gang shooting lines at each other, getting into pointless fights, going off to pout and then teaming up to fight against a villain who talks just like them, but happens to be evil.

Joss Whedon had been doing these stories for almost ten years and it’s no wonder that he can do it smoothly enough in The Avengers where the Scooby Gang of Marvel superheroes is a good fit because getting into pointless fights with each and going off to sulk before becoming friends again is the Marvel dynamic and the teenage dynamic too.

But what made Buffy and Angel stand out is that they were more than just smart remarks, they were also full of smart plots and surprise twists. The shows tried to make what happened next into a surprise by going where you didn’t think they were going to go. Firefly didn’t last long, but it seemed to have that same quality too. And it’s a quality that The Avengers could have used, because no amount of witty lines can make a movie this predictable not be as stupid as it is.

The Avengers is fun in its own way. If you want to kill more hours than any other movie in theaters and don’t want anything except an amusement park ride of special effects, it’s the movie for you. Like so many blockbusters now, The Avengers is a giant live-action cartoon with human beings poking their heads out among the CG. But even though it brings together the cast from Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and the Hulk, it doesn’t have any of the weight and depth of those movies.

The brief scenes between Tony Stark and Pepper Potts are one of the few moments in The Avengers that remind you that these characters can be more than just action figures in a really big cartoon.

Captain America movie review

Captain America movie posterThese are the things that Captain America doesn’t have. A plot, compelling characters or any reason to care about what’s happening on screen. But what it does have is charm. Director Joe Johnston brings the same retro sensibility to Captain America that he did to the Rocketeer, but he can’t being a semblance of order to a script that lacks momentum and a movie that exists just to promote The Avengers.

Johnston tries and when skinny Steve walks up to the desk and stares fiercely at the doctor, defying him to reject him, it almost seems as if he succeeded. But Steve Rogers’ drive to be a little man who contributes to the war is the only thing the movie has going for it. And once Steve gets his wish, Chris Evans reverts to his usual blandness and the movie dies even as it’s just supposed to be taking off.

It’s not really Evans’ fault, by then he’s been upstaged by a rush of action scenes that look like they cost a lot of money but have no impact, by a hastily introduced band of commandos that we didn’t really need to see, by raids that don’t matter and a relationship with the abrasive and irritating Agent Carter who has no chemistry with him.

Movies are often defined by their villains and Captain America has a generic villain with a generically pointless plan to blow up the world. The Red Skull is only briefly interesting once he belatedly pulls off his face and not even then. Johnston does a good enough job of grounding Captain America in a nostalgic period haze that the portrayal of a ridiculous Hydra Nazi splinter group just looks silly and spoils the balancing act between the real war and the comic book version.

Until its second half, it still almost seems as if Captain America might recover, but that’s when the script drops Captain America as a character and rushes into a hyperactive storm of attacks and action scenes that kill it as anything but a bunch of video game cutscenes. There’s barely any order to them and no real reason to watch.

Captain America works best when it sticks to the atmosphere of a 1940’s New York (the one that can only be found in England), the World’s Fair, the bond drives and the movie theaters. It’s where Joe Johnston is strongest, joyfully coaxing period life out of the streets and scenery. But it’s weakest once Captain America is running around in costume punching a long line of men in motorcycle helmets.

It’s hard to say who gets the blame for this mess. Bringing in the Narnia writing team was probably a bad idea. This is not a very good script, though it has a few good ideas. But the overall scrambled feeling can probably be blamed on Marvel’s insistence on wrecking Iron Man 2 and Captain America to set up Joss Whedon’s Avengers. But Johnston has to take some of the blame. The second half of the movie is just a mess and Hayley Atwell needed better direction. He wasn’t in a strong enough position to walk away from the franchise, like Jon Favreau did, but it’s hard to believe that he couldn’t have done anything to make it a bit more watchable.

Terminator the Burning Earth by Alex Ross review

The War against Skynet has been running for decades now. For more time than anyone can remember and people have long ago stopped counting the years and begun counting the minutes, the minutes they have to sleep, the minutes they have until one of Skynet’s tanks or minions is upon them, the time they have left to live measured in minutes.

Now on the brink of humanity’s annihilation comes one last gleam of hope as the adult John Connor, legendary savior of humanity yet to come, leads the remnants of the resistance into one last ditch battle for humanity’s survival against the deathless forces of Skynet, the cybernetic overlord of Earth.

So begins and ends the story of Terminator: The Burning Earth. As the first Terminator comic, tying in with the first Terminator movie and predating Terminator 2, Terminator The Burning Earth is a gritty raw journey of a wounded humanity striking back and making one last desperate bid for survival.

Terminator the Burning Earth is famous and notorious for a variety of things. Terminator the Burning Earth began the career of Alex Ross, long before his feverishly vivid and layered portraits of The Justice League and Marvel superheroes in The Marvels, Alex Ross began by drawing gritty scenes in the post-apocalyptic world ruled by Skynet that seem to have been lifted from an 80’s movie. And it is Alex Ross’ artwork that is the true star of Terminator The Burning Earth. Little wonder that reissued copies of Terminator: The Burning Earth prominently display Alex Ross’ name on the cover minimizing Ron Fortier to the bottom of the cover alongside Jim Kreuger’s introduction.

That might be considered somewhat unfair to Ron Fortier who is after all a professional writer, if not a particularly inspired one. But the reality is that Terminator The Burning Earth would have worked nearly as well without a single word of dialogue or narration. Ron Fortier’s written dialogue in Terminator The Burning Earth often varies from the mediocre to the cliched. Indeed the dialogue is mostly non-essential and where it does not serve as exposition to explain to us what the point of this action is, it consists of weak attempts to create allies for John Connor to fight with but these characters are bland and two dimensional and never take form. The remaining bulk of the script consists of John Connor’s own ruminations on mortality and the need to win, which generally appear in a somewhat better category.

Yet overall it is Alex Ross whose grimly drawn landscapes and rough hewn faces set the tone for a visual narrative of a grim world, a world of unsettled earth, rock and steel, dusty skin, rumpled clothes, weary faces and worn metal. Based on only a few glimpses of the future from Terminator 1, Alex Ross nevertheless produced a vision of the future not too distant from what the sequels would bring.

The plot in Terminator the Burning Earth, such as it is, has John Connor leading the remnants of the human resistance to Skynet further back as the machine forces press in on them. The dogged human fighters are ultimately little match for the killing machines and while the humans can fight on, Skynet can also throw more killing machines into the battle. Facing a revitalized Skynet determined to correct its error of leaving any humans alive with a fresh barrage of nuclear weapons, John Connor forms a desperate plan to defeat Skynet by striking at its home base inside a mountain before the bombs fall.

The result is a race against time as Connor’s men and women split into two teams, one led by Connor will tackle Skynet’s “CPU”, its brain embedded deep inside the mountain and another will target the power generators that keep Skynet going. A lot of the plotting of Terminator The Burning Earth makes fairly little sense. Relatively speaking, the Terminators in Terminator the Burning Earth are pushovers. Inside Skynet John Connor’s team face down dozens of Terminators and survive where a single terminator managed to destroy entire police departments in the past. It is certainly safe to assume that the Terminators would not be easy to destroy.

One of the bigger letdowns of the story is the female terminator, an old gimmick that Terminator 3 weakly revived, who we are shown in a build up killing a number of men for practice, including with a belt of spikes around her waist and whose image adorns two covers of the five issues of Terminator The Burning Earth who proves to be an even bigger pushover than the rest, catching a hand grenade and studying it as it goes off. Presumabely this was the visual dumb blonde terminator joke that we were being treated to in this sexist relic.

All told while Alex Ross’ art creates the pressure of a dark world, the characters’ dialogue and joshing creates the distinct impression that Skynet’s forces are not worth taking seriously. The Terminators are routinely dismissed as brainless tin soldiers, stupid and mindless. It is suggested that they become completely non-functional without Skynet, at least up until the last page where the ominous image of a Terminator’s naked skull glares warningly suggesting that the battle is not yet over.

Terminator the Burning Earth still remains the best Terminator comic book adaptation around. It is far from perfect but it is worth a look if at least for Alex Ross’ fantastic rendering of the post-apocalyptic world under Skynet.75846_f520

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