Monday, July 13, 2015

You Used to Be Sooooo Good: Superman Movies

Welcome back to another edition of You Used to Be Soooo Good, where Justin & I, Dan Moore, discuss things used to be awesome but now, eh, not so much. This week we discuss the FIRST superhero, the big blue boy scout, your favorite alien and mine, Superman, and how his cinematic exploits used to be great but now, not so much.

        Superman Movies:  You Used to Be Soooo Good


DAN: Ah, the wonder of Superman movies. The man in blue flying heroically through the sky. There used to not be a superhero movie coming out every week. There was nary a special effects spectacular starring a comic book hero in theaters. It used to be Superman…and that was it for a loooong time.
The original Superman movie with Christopher Reeve, Gene Hackman and the rest was really the only one we had to watch over and over again, though it is a far from perfect film. It’s got its share of flaws (Superman can reverse time? The lack of a physical threat to Supes himself). But in my estimation it is the best actual portrayal of Superman & Clark Kent. Reeve WAS Superman. He WAS Clark Kent. He essentially played two polar opposite characters in these films, and nailed them both. His nerdy, timid Clark Kent looked as if it was done by a completely different actor than the one playing the Superman with confidence & swagger. He was the magic in those first two films. He was what I loved about Superman movies because he encapsulated all it meant to be Superman.
JUSTIN: Richard Donner's Superman really captured the sense of wonder and excitement of the character - a paragon of virtue that all humanity could aspire to.  An alien being who selflessly protected his adopted Earth family against all threats, no matter the cost to himself.
This massive hit spawned three sequels, one that was almost as good as the original (and arguably even more fun), and two that were pretty awful.  Then there was the "requel" (that's half reboot/half sequel) Superman Returns, that was extremely flawed but still presented a lot of things to like, including a fine performance by Brandon Routh, channeling Reeve.  But the spirit of the Superman character was always there.

Fast-forward 35 years and we see a very different take on the character in Zack Snyder's Man of Steel - a version that misses pretty much everything that makes Superman a great, likable hero, in favor of a depressingly cynical worldview and lots and lots of smashing and death. 

Oh no the aliens are attacking a major city with a spaceship and blue laser…again

DAN: I was so disappointed in Superman Returns . It was overly long, the plot was too similar to the original, and I didn’t find any of the new characters that interesting. Which SUCKS, because I thought Routh was quite good in the film and I was really hoping they would continue the franchise with him as Supes, because he came quite close to Reeve in embodying all the good qualities Kal-El possesses. But the movie just felt like a place holder until the next BIG Superman movie, which would not be a continuation of the light, airy Donner type films.
Instead, the powers that be wanted to re-re-boot the film. Which again, I understand, gotta keep that franchise cycling, there’s money under that cape. Like a punch in the face, Man of Steel assaulted you. Brutally, unrelentingly, and painfully. I thought Superman Returns was overly long? HOLY SHIT this movie never wanted to end. Now, Returns is actually the longer film, minutes-wise, but psychologically, Steel definitely was. It was a huge mish-mash of Superman mythology, Gladiator jump cuts, Transformers type robots fighting & uninspired acting. I found no reason at all to like this version of the Superman character. There was barely any separation in Cavill’s portrayal of Superman & Clark Kent. They were both brooding crybabies. He didn’t stand out as a hero. He didn’t embody truth, justice, and the American way. He was just another guy with strength, a nigh invulnerable hero who doesn’t care about the many innocents he’s slaughtering in pursuit of his also nigh invulnerable robotic super nemesis. There was nothing special about this Superman, nothing to set it apart. This could have been any movie about a guy with powers fighting another guy with powers.

Look, Superman's about to break Zod's neck.  Oh wait no, this Superman wasn't into brutally executing people.

JUSTIN: SR was definitely too close to the original storyline-wise.  Lex Luthor hatches a plan to create his own real estate that'll be worth squillions of dollars, but will result in the deaths of millions upon millions of people.  Why Bryan Singer chose to continue the existing Supes franchise after 20 years I don't know - a reboot probably would've been wiser, as no one could outplay Reeve and Hackman as that incarnation of Supes and Lex.  Don't get me wrong, I actually liked Kevin Spacey as Luthor but he should've been written as a completely new interpretation of the character, like the one in recent comics where he's either the head of a conglomerate or The President.  And Routh was quite good as Kal, but sadly he played the character so similarly to Reeve his performance didn't strike any new notes.
As for MoS, I totally agree.  Watching this movie is akin to being smashed in the face about three hundred times with a baseball bat engraved with Michael Bay's initials.  Snyder, Nolan and Goyer apparently don't understand the character or mythos of Superman whatsoever.  Kal-El as played by Henry Cavill (not knocking the guy, he did fine considering what he had to work with), is completely unlikable, mopey, oblivious, and selfish.  "I'll help you but it has to be on my terms."  Superman actually says this to the Army at the end of this film.  Is there a more out-of-character line of dialogue for Superman??
Michael Shannon as Zod was horribly miscast and I actually found him annoying.  I was excited about Amy Adams as Lois until they gave her nothing to do except magically appear whenever the script needed her to.  And I'm not sure why Lawrence Fishburne was even in the movie, since Perry White's character was utterly superfluous. I actually thought Diane Lane and Kevin Costner as Ma and Pa Kent were the only rays of hope in this otherwise dismal film, though they definitely took Pa's "don't save people because you'll be exposed as a freak" thing way too far.  As for Kal's birth father, Russel Crowe was predictably wooden (Seriously, I don't get why Crowe gets cast in anything - he's like a charisma vacuum.  He actually sucks the fun out of every scene he's' in.), and the idea that Jor-El is expert at hand-to-hand combat is simply laughable.  He's a scientist/diplomat who can beat up a genetically-engineered General?  Really?  REALLY?
Man of Steel should've just been about a generic superhero dude who's a total jerk until he realizes that his powers burden him with the responsibility of protecting people.  Oh wait, that was already done in 2008 and was called Hancock.
DAN: That’s EXACTLY the movie I thought of when I watched MoS. Hancock is the most thematically similar film to this new version of Krypton’s Last Son. Though I much prefer the drunk Superman in part three over the Fresh Prince’s flying alcoholic.
We are clearly now just bitching about this latest incarnation of Superman, which was successful at the box office and is most likely going to spawn a future ‘You Used to Be Soooo Good’ about Batman movies (this Batman vs Superman film idea seems like misfire of epic proportions). I guess our actual gripe is that Superman movies used to be full of fun & wonder. The current interpretation of the character as a grim, moody, sullen hero is against type of what the character actually has been. It doesn’t FEEL like Superman anymore. Just another generic battle man in the sky.

Jor-El's about to engage in a highly choreographed fistfight.  Cuz when I think of Jor-El I think hand-to-hand combat

JUSTIN: The original Superman film series, regardless of the quality of the films, had a sense of fun and excitement, likable characters that were true to their comic book counterparts, and action sequences that were exhilarating and easy to follow.  Yes the special effects look rather clunky by today's standards & the dialogue is a little silly at times, but at least these films are fun to sit through, and Superman is presented as a character we can all look up to and aspire to emulate.  Superman represents the best of us all. 

Superman Returns may have fallen short of expectations, but it still contained some of those elements and like the originals, made you want to root for Superman to save the day.
Man of Steel on the other hand seems to overcompensate for the perceived hokiness of the Superman mythos and tries to appeal to the Batman and Transformers audiences with a dark, brooding, flawed hero and an action climax involving citywide destruction on an overwhelming scale.  It's like the filmmakers didn't want to make a movie that would be described as "fun."  And while a comic book movie doesn't have to be silly and cartoonish (The Dark Knight Trilogy is a fantastic series of comic book films rooted in reality), a Superman film should at least be fun to watch.  If the audience is actually bored during an action-packed superhero film you've done something terribly wrong.

And there you have it. We griped about the original superhero, and gave limited input on how to fix him, because really, that’s not our job. If it was up to me, he’d join the Ninja Turtles and they’d all fight Darth Vader (that sounds AWESOME). Join us next week when we complain about another subject, Saturday morning cartoons.

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