Posts Tagged ‘Man of Steel’

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After the aggressively awful Batman v Superman and the frustratingly mediocre Man of Steel, it is no exaggeration to say that the DC cinematic universe is in *desperate* need of a hit.

The traditional marque superheroes have failed, and so the executives at Warner Brothers, like the D.C. bureaucrats in Suicide Squad, have placed their remaining hope for salvation in a ragtag group of quirky villains.

It’s a novel plan, full of cinematic possibilities. But while Deadshot (Will Smith), Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) and their criminal pals are able to save the day in fiction, in real life their efforts fall with a resounding thud.

Suicide Squad starts with a pseudo spoiler for those of you who didn’t see but still might care about the plot of BvS. Superman is Dead (don’t worry, he won’t be for long), but the potential threat of otherworldly and/or superhuman threats against mankind remains. So the U.S. Government, at the behest of Viola Davis’ Amanda Waller, greenlights a project called Task Force X, a team of beyond-maximum-security convicted criminals compelled to fight for good in exchange for 1) having time cut from their sentences and 2) not having their heads blown off by small explosives injected into their spine.

That team is introduced in a clunky and overly-long sequence of flashbacks that comprises Squad’s first act. We see the capture of sniper-for-hire Deadshot and psychiatrist-turned-cuckoo-bird Harley Quinn by Batman, the creation of The Enchantress (Cara Delevingne) courtesy of a spelunking trip gone awry and a cameo Flash (Ezra Miller, borrowed from the upcoming Justice League film) who zips in to apprehend Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney) a baddie who likes boomerangs.

Oh and there’s a crocodile man, an unrecognizable Jay Hernandez shooting fire from his hands and Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) who is the lone “good” guy on the team and mostly gives googly eyes at Delevingne between scowling sessions.

If you’ve seen the trailers, which are far better than the full film, then you know and have seen all this. But once those machinations are out of the way, Suicide Squad finds itself all dressed up with nowhere to go. Luckily writer-director David Ayer (End of Watch, Fury) isn’t beyond dumping a metric ton of plot contrivances to move things along. No sooner has the squad been formed before the Enchantress goes rogue, resurrecting her discount-Sauron brother, launching some sort of doomsday machine and creating an army of generic, blob-soldiers to provide bloodless, PG-13 approved fodder for Deadshot’s bullets, Quinn’s baseball bat and Boomerang’s boomerangs.

Many superhero films struggle in the villain department — think Malekith from Thor 2 or Doomsday from the aforementioned garbage pit that was BvS — but the Enchantress is given particularly little to work with. Beyond the blob army, which have all the menace of a walking pile of mud, her villainy is largely confined to waving her arms in front of a wall of green screen phantasmagoria that is wreaking havoc around the world, largely offscreen.

But this movie is still 2+ hours long, which means that once assembled, our plucky antiheroes have a good 90 minutes to wander around a decimated city, occasionally punching things and making futile attempts at edgy humor while the incoherent plot barrels through superfluous beats and a veritable slew of flashbacks that do little more than set the stage for movies still to come. Like Ebenezer Scrooge, Suicide Squad is more occupied with the ghosts of other stories than the immediate tasks at hand.

But isn’t the Joker in this? Not really. Jared Leto, as promised, delivers an original take on the clown prince of Gotham but his sub-plot is entirely peripheral. The clown has, maybe, 30 seconds of screen time not shown in the promotional materials, which is spent trying to reconnect with his lady-love Quinn.

For her part, Robbie is the only main character who got the memo to have a little fun. She’s a rare spot of energy in the dour proceedings, but is still cobbled by wooden dialogue and an absence of anything resembling character development.

In each minute, you can feel Ayer straining to break free and lean into the madness of Suicide Squad, only to be crushed by the market demands for a “safe” superhero film. Give the movie a better villain, 30 fewer minutes of screen time and a the go-ahead for R Rated content that would actually jive with how wicked these characters are supposed to be and you might have something worth seeing.

Instead, we have yet another DC hodgepodge of competing interests, and a director tasked with handling too many irons in a fire. It entertains in a shallow, innocuous way that avoids the discomfort of the Zach Snyder flagship films, but the worst offense is who completely it squanders what could have been, and was promised to be, something fresh and original.

Grade: C

*Suicide Squad opens nationwide on Friday, August 5.

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When an atomic weapon falls into the wrong hands, two elite intelligence agents from the United States and Russia are forced to set aside their Cold War differences and work together to bring down a Nazi-influenced criminal organization.

That’s the set-up for ‘The Man From U.N.C.L.E.,” the latest from ‘Sherlock Holmes’ and ‘Snatch’ director Guy Ritchie. It stars current Superman Henry Cavill as Napoleon Solo – a gentleman thief turned CIA master spy – and erstwhile Lone Ranger Armie Hammer as Illya Kuryakin, an emotionally disturbed and volatile KGB operative.

One part Scotch-swilling period piece and one part buddy cop comedy, U.N.C.L.E. is a globe-trotting romp that keeps one eye firmly winked, evoking the memory of the classic James Bond films with all the befits of modern cinematic technology

The presence of Henry Cavill is a particular coup by Ritchie, who creates a world in U.N.C.L.E. that is the functional antithesis of Zach Snyder’s dour, monochromatic Man Of Steel. Ritchie’s spy-vs-spy tale is practically drowning in bright colors, jazzy soundtracks, double entendres and the gleaming white smiles of its leading men, who it turns out are quite winning when their actually allowed to enjoy themselves.

Hammer, lately adrift in the forgettable streak of Lone Ranger, J. Edgar and Mirror Mirror, takes a slight backseat to his costars, including Ex Machina’s Alicia Vikander. But he’s also given plenty of screen time to chew on his faux-accent as a Russian volcano perpetually on the verge of eruption.

It’s easy to imagine studio heads pushing for a “gritty modern” remake of the Cold War-set property, but luckily the screenwriters resisted that urge. As intriguing as a forced U.S.-Russia team up in the modern era could be from a thematic standpoint, there’s no trading the bouncy charm of U.N.C.L.E.’s period details unencumbered by realism.

The bubble of style over substance threatens to pop in the film’s third act, when the action shifts to a frenetic car chase that – one signature stunt notwithstanding – plays jarringly generic after two hours of sizzle. And the ultimate resolution is as tidy one of Napolean Solo’s tailored suits.

But that breezy finish is also earned, and a late entrance by Hugh Grant provides an energy jolt for a sequel that Hollywood could – and has done – significantly worse than greenlight. At worst, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is guilty of being too enamored with its own sense of fun, which is hard to hold against it.

Grade: B

*The Man From U.N.C.L.E. opens nationwide on Friday, August 11.

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Despite his status as the most iconic of comic book superheroes, Superman has always been (in my opinion) a rather boring character. He is effectively indestructible and quasi-omnipotent – possessing super strength, super speed, x-ray vision, heat-ray vision and the power of flight to boot – and has been historically prone to feats that stretch the suspension of disbelief, such as reversing time by flying backwards around the earth or relocating the moon to combat a photo-sensitive foe.

He’s also a Boy Scout (in the non-political sense of the term) standing for truth, justice and the American way. That sort of metaphorical Manifest Destiny nostalgia worked in 1938 in the wake of the great depression and on through the years of the creeping Red Threat but in today’s cynical, hyper-connected, “there are no front lines” society, the Last Son of Krypton comes across as a little, well, quaint.

Enter Man of Steel, the latest attempt by director Zach Snyder to insert Superman into modern relevance. It’s a respectable offering, considerably more so than 2006’s milquetoast Superman Returns, making Clark Kent a stranger in a strange land (in this case, Earth) rather than a spotless idol. But at 143 minutes long, Snyder’s creation is both overly-long and unsatisfyingly-empty, jumping from one dramatic moment to the next without giving the viewer a reason to care before culminating in a dull, roaring bout of skyscraper-crashing fisticuffs between two seemingly immortal beings.

The plot begins on the planet Krypton during an elaborate and visually-enchanting prologue that sees a military coup led by General Zod (a fuming Michael Shannon) in response to wasteful leadership that has brought the planet to the brink of destruction. Jor-El, Krypton’s chief scientist, retrieves an item called the Kodex and ships it and his son Kal-El off to Earth to safe his race from utter extinction.

From there we meet a grown Kal-El, now the Kansas-raised Clark Kent, drifting hunter-gatherer style before finally ending up at a NORAD dig in arctic Canada where the U.S. government and Pullitzer-prize winning journalist Lois Lane are investigating a mysterious craft buried beneath the ice. Clark and Lois share a meet cute and a dose of Kryptonian exposition follows, followed by a time-consuming sequence of Lois tracking down the mystery man with the bulging biceps.

At this point you’re halfway through the movie before Superman dons the iconic red and blue suit and the villainous Zod returns, threatening Earth’s existence if Kal-El is not surrendered to him. His plan, we learn, is to rebuild Krypton from the ashes of Earth and he needs Kal-El and the Kodex to do so.

The latter third of the movie is consumed by a series of escalating skirmishes between the alien visitors, who relentlessly attack each other despite the rather apparent knowledge that no damage can be done to them.

But damage can, and is, done to the puny human ants that attempt to intervene and the structures they’ve erected. A very New York City-esque Metropolis is all but decimated in a sequence reminiscent of The Avengers, only without that film’s sense of fun or emotional tension. When the music stops and all is finally quiet, you feel more viewer relief than celebration.

Amy Adams, at 38, is an odd choice opposite the 30-year-old Cavil. Independently, each actor brings a fresh take to their respective roles but together the chemistry falls flat. Of the supporting cast, Russel Crowe’s stoic Jor-El stands out while the remaining characters have little time to do anything beside gape in wonder.

Man of Steel is burdened by the task of rebooting a familiar origin story. Snyder makes attempts at elevating the story, including a few interesting allusions to Plato’s The Republic and the just city, but much like 2005’s Batman Begins (which was directed by MOS producer and cinema-extraordinaire Christopher Nolan) the film is burdened in back-story but shows promise of future growth now that the requisite set-up is out of the way. It could very well end up being the weaker first entry in an otherwise strong franchise but for now, fans and newcomers alike will have to settle for a modern Superman that flies, but fails to soar.

Grade: B

*Man of Steel opens nationwide on Friday, June 14.

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