Monday, 24 June 2013

Man of Steel

This newest installation of the Superman franchise marks a complete break from the past of Superman films.  2006's "Superman Returns" is actually designed to be a sequel to the Christopher Reeve movies of the '70s and '80s. "Man of Steel" also, not unlike "Iron Man 3" and "The Amazing Spider-Man", attempts to follow the trend set by Christopher Nolan's "Dark Knight" trilogy in creating an edgier and, yes, darker species of super hero movie. These facts are undoubtedly the motivation of the title which itself rebrands the eponymous hero and refuses to mention his most famous of names. Unfortunately, director Zack Snyder has failed to accomplish as successful and noteworthy a rebranding as Nolan did with Batman and his film cannot truly compare even with the new Spider-Man or Iron Man films. 

At two and a half hours, one would presume that Snyder would need to edit down his film to improve it but in reality it feels as though he should have added elements and perhaps used the material he had for two films rather than one. "Man of Steel" deals with simply too much material and none of it is really covered in a satisfactory manner.

It is, however, not without its charms or its achievements. I have always felt that Superman itself, the comic, the idea, is greatly flawed. An alien who is many, many times more powerful than any other being on Earth, who can fly and shoot laser beams from his eyes - surely Superman can have no real rival? His arch nemesis, Lex Luther, should have been easily defeated in their first encounter. That's not to mention, of course, perhaps the most infamous flaw in the Superman tale: the idea that if Superman merely dons a pair of glasses, he can disguise himself as the ordinary Clark Kent, whom no man or woman would identify as Superman.  
Luckily, Superman's alter ego is not an issue for the majority of "The Man of Steel", nor is the villain a mere Earthling, but a fellow Kryptonian of similar strength.  Furthermore, one aspect of the film which I, personally, will readily compliment is the choice of Amy Adams as Lois Lane. Traditionally one of the most boring and irksome super hero girlfriends, Adams presents a perfectly likable, if moderately redundant, heroine. 

BUT, and this is a relatively big "but", having lured the audience into a false sense of security, the last 5 minutes returns to the old ways of the comics and the previous films as Clark decides to integrate himself into human society. I cannot go into detail without including multiple spoilers, but I assure you, you will know what I mean when you watch the film. 

What "Man of Steel" can be complimented for, without any "ifs" or "buts", is its spectacular visuals and stunning final scenes as Superman battles Zod and attempts to thwart his plot to destroy mankind. Snyder, though he often fails to deliver on story, consistently delivers fantastic  fights and special effects and, although the plot-line is severely flawed, I would argue that "The Man of Steel" keeps you entertained throughout, merely by giving you something amazing to look at.  


Neil Jordan, director of 1994's "Interview with the Vampire" returns to the world of the undead with "Byzantium", a screen adaptation of Moira Buffini's play, "A Vampire Story". "Interview with the Vampire" was based on a novel by Anne Rice of the same name and it would appear from watching "Byzantium" that Jordan is drawn to  a very particular way of portraying this blood-sucking race. In many ways "Byzantium" is very similar to "Interview" and both provide a very different viewpoint and portrayal of a topic with which the movie world is now saturated.  

"Interview" follows the story of Louis, a self-loathing vampire, from his rebirth, and his twisted relationship of hate and dependence with his cruel and depraved sire, Lestat. Similarly, "Byzantium" follows the tale of Eleanor and her sire and mother, Clara, as they try to live with themselves and what they are.   Both films provide us with the monster's perspective. Unlike in many vampire tales, such as "Buffy the Vampire Slayer", these vampires retain their humanity and must attempt to find "humane" methods of acquiring human blood.
"Byzantium" is an incredibly imaginative story, full of original ideas surrounding how vampires live, where they come from, how they are made.  In order to make such beings sympathetic and more than 2D villains, Jordan has cast two fantastic actresses as Clara and Eleanor. Gemma Arterton effortlessly encapsulates Clara,  the beautiful mother who had her youth and innocence ripped away from her and must sacrifice her own morality and virtue to protect her daughter. Saoirse Ronan is undoubtedly one of the greatest actors of her generation and has taken on numerous challenging and daring roles. She is perfectly cast as the isolated and conflicted Eleanor and few actresses of her age could so well capture the character of a 200 year old women stuck in the body of a teenage girl.

Unfortunately, despite the brilliant story and the wonderful performances, "Byzantium" lacks the flawless directing of "Interview". There are too many moments in the film when the audience has to suspend their disbelief as characters make decisions and act in a way which has no reason or justification, seemingly so that Jordan can link one scene to the next. A young, still human Clara inexplicably agrees to wander off with an unknown soldier, who turns out to be her downfall and put her on the path to joining the undead. A villain who has been chasing Clara across the world finally catches up with her, only to let his guard down moronically and fatally. Such moments in the film make it at times clunky and it ruins the flow of the plot.
What we have is all the potential of a brilliant film: great story, great cast and beautiful cinematography and scenery, even a good script. But Jordan has failed somewhat in putting these pieces together.  That is not to say that this is not a film worth watching. With all the generic, unoriginal, downright poor vampire films and TV shows which have been released in the past few years, it has seemed as if the genre might have been good and truly tainted. However, "Byzantium" is an entertaining, at times truly exciting film with several great performances and many moving scenes. Although it is not the great film it could be, it is a good film and a must see for any vampire fan.