In advance of #ZackSnydersJusticeLeague dropping next week, I decided it was time to revisit the Snyderverse. Today, starting at the beginning. Just fired up #ManOfSteel...
I'm 30 minutes in. So far, I like it more than I remembered. Storytelling is all about choices and Snyder and his team have made some very interesting, smart ones. Jor and Lara El having to defend the launch explains why they didn't go with their baby.
The invention of the Kryptonian codex is just a McGuffin for Zod to chase, but it serves its purpose—even if it's a little daffy. I LOVE the scene of young Clark being overwhelmed by all the information his enhanced senses are feeding him. A really touching new wrinkle.
Too much of the opening 25 minutes on Krypton, however, feels influenced by other, better iterations on the same ideas. The Avatar flying dragon (why does Jor El have one when everyone else has spaceships?). The Matrix birthing pools.
The 30 minute mark is where I encounter my first real issue: The characterization of Jonathan Kent as a man who drills into his son not to help people. The very antithesis of "with great power comes great responsibility." "Letting people die is okay, son."
Not that every superheroic motivation should be the same, but in ways great and small, we are the products of the people who raised us. We can strive against that primal set of instructions, but it takes years and a set of competing moral guidelines.
I'm just not convinced that THIS Clark Kent ever grows up to save lives, let alone become Superman.
More to come...
(I like the mini-Battlestar Galactica reunion at the Hoth base. Alessandro Juliani and @TahmohPenikett, together again...sorta!)
Amy Adams' Lois Lane is pretty strong. In fact, all the casting is great. This is, I suppose, when you can spare no expense when relaunching Superman. My biggest bump of the whole spaceship interlude is the insane forward compatibility of a millennia-old Kryptonian craft.
Clark stumbles onto this old scout ship, pops in a key that was cut 30 years ago, and it starts an engine that was buried in the ice 15k years before. That's not how technology works, I don't care how advanced a race you are. The key to my Mustang won't start a Model T.
The first flight sequence, at about 48 minutes in, is rather terrific. A little bit Greatest American Hero, a little bit Top Gun, a little bit Miyazaki. There should be joy in a movie like this and it's nice to see it part the clouds.
I'm trying to understand Clark's motivations when it comes to Lois Lane. Clearly, he knows she's a reporter when he first meets her on Hoth. He carries her camera equipment, fer crissake. And he knows she's there to poke into the icebound anomaly.
He's very protective of his identity, as established by his wandering dogooder bit. Every time he could be exposed, he moves on. So why, when he decides to save Lois' life in the scout craft, doesn't he conceal his face? He knows exactly who she is and what she does.
An argument could be made that he wasn't to be exposed. That he was courting this particular kind of event that would reveal him to the world. The text of the film, however, doesn't support that. As a result, Clark just looks stupid.
The twister. This is a really murky scene because I can see two trajectories out of it. When Pa Kent stares down his son and tells him to stay put, that sacrifice could be igniting the idea that sacrifice is noble. And that could be what Clark takes from it.
But, conversely, it could also be read as a warning to never be a hero, not even when it could save the people you love. Because the world will never be ready to accept the ubermench. (And it's not like centuries have passed since Pa's death and Superman's rise.)
With some clarity, that could've been a really powerful scene. Pa Kent finally encouraging Clark to act. And Clark saves everyone—but in the frenzy, doesn't track his father running out to save the dog. And Clark learns the true tragedy of Superman:
You can't save everyone.
And that could also, just as easily paralyze someone to inaction. "If I can't save everyone, why bother trying to save anyone?" It's the kind of warped lesson that could take root in a manchild mired in intense grief and deep self-loathing.
But that's just me, I guess.
Now. Why, if sentencing war criminals to a dimensional prison, would you send along with them a terraforming platform also capable of destroying worlds? Seems ill-advised and, honestly, pointless—unless you were also planning for a lot of third-act destruction.
So, yeah. Zod's here. For the codex, not revenge. With his giant space tripod.
There's a line from...I wanna say it's the Authority that goes something like, "Do you have any idea the damage that a majestic-class superbeing can do to a world?"
I never need swirling shit in the sky to establish a threat or stakes or whatever. Show me, Akira-style, what it truly might feel like when gods walk the earth. But I'm skipping ahead.
As a former journalist, I do appreciate the pressure we're applying to Lois: Aliens are here and are threatening to destroy the planet unless you give up your source—so we can ship him off to the bad guys. It's a nice momentary pickle.
There's a couplet of scenes, the bullies threatening young Clark outside the mechanic and older Clark going to church to look for guidance. I like them both, but I found myself wondering if the priest was one of the bullies, all grown up.
The movie doesn't make that clear, but I like to think it is. Because it says something about that bully and about Clark. Bullies can grow up and change their ways and seek to atone for their past. And we can forgive those who trespassed against us, if we choose to.
"It's not an 's.' On my world, it means hope."
"Yeah, but on this world, it's an 's.'"
Always dug that exchange.
There's something quite interesting about the way Henry Cavill is playing Superman. His voice is always measured, calm. His bearing is very non-threatening. It's as if he's trying to defuse every situation before it escalates because he knows everyone sees him as a threat.
In other words, whether the actor or the writers or the director knew specifically what they were doing or not, Cavill is playing Superman the way every Black man has to conduct themselves in a white world.
(For those of you waiting for me to make it about race, feel free to check your bingo cards.)
If people think you're dangerous—rightly or wrongly—the only way to navigate through the world is to convince them you're not.
This only just occurred to me know, as I recognize that tone, the bearing, the mannerisms, the smile, as tools I've employed more than once to allay fears rooted in nothing but that, fear.
Anyway, on with the show.
Mea culpa: I jumped the gun on my assumption that Zod and the Gang were sent into the PhanZone with a "world engine." They found it while strip-mining old colonial outposts. I guess that's what happens when the design ethos is "the claw" from Toy Story.
I don't understand how Zod and Clark are having this conversation, in which Zod explains what they've been up to, how they found Earth, and their grand plan to terraform Earth as New Krypton. Is it a shared hallucination? In Zod in the unconscious Kal's mind? What's happening?
Ultimately, I guess it doesn't matter. This story pipe needed to be laid and evocative imagery is a better background than the gray walls of a spaceship.
I like the philosophical duality the story sets up between what Kal's birth father believes and what Clark's adoptive father believes. The former says things like, "You can save her, Kal. You can save all of them." The latter's all, "Let 'em die."
The screen time for Russell Crowe and Kevin Costner is roughly equal, so it feels like they have the same weight. But in story time, Kal spends MAYBE a day and a half with Jor, compared to decades with Jonathan.
Okay, so the first Zod fight. Now, why isn't Zod just dead-dead when Superman powers him through concrete and trains and 7-11s? Zod hasn't breathed Earth's atmosphere at this point, or soaked up the sun's radiation. He's just a guy who can bleed.
Even in armor, he should've been a bug on like a dozen windshields, according to the film's internal logic. HMMM.
(Sorry, had to take a call.)
So. I appreciate how they tried to power-balance Superman and the Kryptonians—that Zod and the Gang are military. They've had combat training. But Clark has lived and breathed on this planet for all of his life. He SHOULD be stronger, but he's never trained for battle.
They know how to use the tools better, but Clark's got bigger tools. I kinda wanted them to accentuate that difference even more, because every fight scene needs to tell a story. Smashy-smashy is fun to a point, but without narrative, it's just smashy.
Man, Smallville got FUCKED UP.
I do like that Superman doesn't win either of these first encounters with the bad guys. They leave of their own accord. Because he's still got some learning to do.
We're in the endgame, now. The twin world engines are doing their wub-wub thing. Zod's firing up genesis chambers. Clark's dropping his bassinet on the bad guys. There's not a ton of story from here on out. Just a lot of sound and CG fury.
Much has been said about how this film wields violence in its final act and how untethered it is to the emotional drive of its hero. The fact that the film has Superman on the other side of the world when millions of Metropolis citizens are killed.
And that when he does return, the film doesn't have him overly concerned about the safety of the populace. It is, for lack of a better term, destruction porn. So I'm not gonna say much more, other than that I'm bored by the grim-darkness of it all.
On Superman killing Zod. I understand why THIS Superman does it. Because, I suppose, he is a product of this particular upbringing. I don't like it, because I don't like the idea of a Superman who kills, even if this is the reason why he'll never kill again.
That's not how having a moral code works. I've never killed a person, but I know it's wrong. You don't have to have committed murder to know not to commit murder.
But then what do you do with Zod? You can't just let him go, right? He's killed millions of people and will kill millions more. How can the filmmakers square that circle?
If it's me... well, Zod has a big speech about how his entire purpose, the whole reason he exists, was to bring Krypton back from the dead. But without his world engine or his genesis chamber, it's impossible.
The filmmakers then chose to send Zod in a murderous rage against Clark, even though it goes against his stated purpose. Clark is the last son of Krypton. Zod's "programming" should make him want to preserve that. But all Zod wants to do is kill. It's an impasse.
If it's me... Zod takes his own life. He knows he can't live like this, but he also can't kill Clark. It's a logic problem with only one solution. And, you know, Superman already won. He saved the earth. We've seen enough destruction. More punching doesn't matter.
But a philosophical speech from your bad guy before he does the unthinkable? It feels appropriate for a science fiction story.
(And I would rather have to explain to my kids why the bad guy took his own life instead of why Superman snapped a dude's neck.)
All in all, upon a rewatch, I liked #ManOfSteel more than I did before. I think there's some real craft at work and Snyder and his team made some bravura storytelling choices. I still think it's flawed, but not "bad."
It did, however, fall short of the Marc.
(Sorry, I can never resist a good pun.)
Maybe I'll do this again for #BatmanVSuperman next week...
So...picking up the thread. Time for #BatmanVSuperman: The Ultimate Edition. I've never seen this cut of the film. I saw the theatrical version just once and that was enough. So let's see what I'm in for...
It seems as if the retelling of Batman's origin exists solely to establish that Bruce Wayne's moms is named Martha. Which, you know, is important.
(Personally, I never need to see Bruce Wayne or Clark Kent's origin story again. Same with Peter Parker's. It's now pop knowledge. Consider it a given and move on. Maybe 50 years from now, you might need to reset it, but even then. We get it. Don't waste the screen time.)
And young Bruce is flying out of the cave, being held aloft by bats? Um, okay.
Ah. Dream. Fair enough.
The reframing of the Man of Steel climax from Bruce Wayne's point of view was really smart. I love the "Marvels" version of superheroic events. The man on the ground's perspective.
And only here does Snyder really offer any perspective on his own wanton destruction from Man of Steel, which treats the deaths of millions as an afterthought. Through Bruce's eyes, it's catastrophic. And, yeah, you get why he'd hate Superman.
Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen in Nairomi. Talking to an African warlord/terrorist... I forgot that Jimmy was a spy. Sorry, James.
How did the bad guys know Superman was going to show up? I guess they have to assume that Supes will always come for Lois, which makes him a relatively inconsistent hero.
I wonder about the choice to let the audience in on the fact that Superman isn't guilty of the crimes he's accused of by Holly Hunter. Leaving that an open question for the audience might've been an interesting way to provide tension.
The audience knows he didn't burn bodies...but what if they didn't? And if you're looking to add to the suspicion of Superman by everyone, wouldn't that help?
The first Batman scene. A bit of the ol' Frank Miller cool. But the branding...? Wha-huh?
Clark walks into the apartment he shares with Lois, and even she comes at him about what happened to the baddies in Nairomi. After thanking him for saving her life. (But, again, if we hadn't seen the villains shoot and burn the bodies, this all might've carried a real charge.)
(And why does it look like their bathtub is RIGHT ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE FRONT DOOR?)
"Even you got too old to die young." Oh, we writers do love our wee turns of phrase.
"And that's how it starts, sir. The fever. The rage. The feeling of powerlessness that turns good men cruel." Feels like Alfred is a repository for screenwriter homeruns.
Lemme follow this logic. The kryptonite Lex finds is a remnant of the world engine ship...that Zod and Co spent untold years on. And not a fragment of Krypton itself, infused with the radiation that comes from being blowed up from the inside.
Not to try and add logic where logic doesn't belong, but when you start adding science to the bullshit, that science needs to make sense. Because, by that same logic, Kal's space bassinet also is made of "kryptonite," and is lethal to the kid living above it.
None of this distracts from the oddness of Jess Eisenberg's Lex Luthor. I understand the 1:1 translation of Lex to Mark Zuckerberg on the tech-genius scale, but it's so on the nose as to be uninspired.
(I call him Jess.)
Scoot closer, Scoot.
When I saw him climb out of his wheelchair and climb the massive Randian statue of Superman and start tagging it, my mind went to Turk 182, a movie so old it's able to collect Social Security.
I like that Clark's beat is whatever bullshit Perry White assigns him. "Go cover this sports shit in Gotham." "I've never played a sport in my life because I could kill everyone with a fast ball." "Boy, get your butt on a ferry before I break my foot off in your ass."
Also, how is it that in this narrative, Batman's been doing his shit in Gotham for DECADES and no one at the Daily Planet—which is a ferry ride away—knows anything about him? Are these the worst journalists?
Meanwhile, as Lois gets authorization to go to DC to follow her bullet in the desert lead, Clark gets assigned to a charity benefit, after ignoring his sports story to chase the CRIME STORY OF THE CENTURY THAT NO ONE IN THE NEWSROOM KNOWS ABOUT.
The motivations of this story are crystal clear without a Lex Luthor in it. Batman hates Superman. Batman is also rich and could've done the research on Kryptonite all by himself. If you need to have the two of them on a collision course, you don't need Lex to make that happen.
It seems, 45 minutes it, that Lex is here to fill screen time and invent a big dumb monster.
And if you needed more motivation for Bruce, make it so that debris from the Kal-Zod fight destroyed the Wayne Crypt. Not only did they recklessly crush his future in Wayne Enterprises, they obliterated his past, too...
Bruce Wayne thinks that Lex Luthor is the "White Portuguese." Or...he could just Google white portuguese and then find that it's a ship trying to get into Gotham Harbor. I mean, isn't googling step one in detecting?
So Bruce shows up to this charity thing, where Clark is just standing around like 250lbs of "reporter," and Clark has no idea who Bruce Wayne is. That would be like not knowing who Richard Branson is. Which is fine if you're my mom. But a journalist?
Lex's speech. I mean, sure. Let him be eccentric. I get it. But he also could've been interesting.
"Maybe it's the Gotham City in me. We just have a bad history with freaks dressed like clowns."
So, clearly Lex wanted Clark to be at this gala. He couldn't have known that Bruce would accept the invite, given that he rarely shows up to things like this because he works nights, so blind luck there. This is a plan...how?
Also, if Lex wanted Clark to be there, that means Lex knows Clark's superheroic identity. And, likely, Bruce's. What advantage does Lex have in keeping those giant secrets? So one can punch the other a lot? Seems inefficient.
I find myself scratching my head at so much at about the one hour mark. Why does Sen. Hunter let Scoot into the courtroom? He's just a guy with a sob story? Why are Lex's goons arranging for a branded inmate to get killed in the yard?
(And shouldn't the brand prove that you survived an encounter with Batman and make you a prison-yard hero?)
(Sorry, had to take a call.)
I was shocked, SHOCKED to see Jon Stewart on the Daily Show set talking about Superman. Usually, these real-world talking heads don't faze me, but that one was a blow. It made me feel young again, as when the world was new.
As much as I like knowing shit about a movie, how amazing would it have been to go into BvS not knowing that Wonder Woman was going to be in it? Or that Gal Gadot was playing her? The film does a great job of playing her card-down so she's just another potential Bruce conquest.
The perils of living in a nerd blogosphere—and in a world where studio marketing is hell-bent on giving everything away before the audience gets to see anything.
This whole nightmare Batman fever parademon dream is so weird. It comes out of nowhere, with no context. And the parademons don't mean anything if you don't know what the omega in the sand means. It's relying on so much previous knowledge to mean anything.
And it doesn't explain anything. Why are the parademons working for Superman? Shrug--lookit the cool visuals.
(Sorry, got another call.)
Fever prophetic dream gets interrupted by the Flash, which then gives way to Bruce having spent hours decrypting files which told him what—as previously established—a web search would've showed. That the white portuguese is a ship.
And, yeah, the following scene is really strong because it speaks to Bruce's drive. If there's even a one percent chance that he's our enemy, then destroying him his is an absolute necessity. (Why Bruce, again, didn't get his hands on the kryptonite first...?)
WILHELM SCREAM!
Seems Alfred forgot to load the rubber bullets into the Batmobile. Honest.
Bats is just straight up murking fools. Which is both incredibly logical for an urban crimefighter in the "real world" and the most un-Batman thing ever.
(If Lex wanted Bruce to kill Superman, why wouldn't he just give him the kryptonite? Why have his goons defend it so ardently? Let him steal it.)
"Tell me: Do you bleed?" "No, but I have x-ray vision and I see through your cowl, BRUCE."
It's interesting to watch Man of Steel and BvS with the knowledge that Harry Lennix's Swanwick is actually the Martian Manhunter...nice to hide him in plain sight, but you also wonder what he's been doing. Other than gently guiding events.
Why would "brilliant" Lex Luthor give his mercenaries unique, traceable bullets to fire at a scene where they're trying to frame Superman? To make him angry? To draw him in? Seems like eight steps when two would do.
It's always a thought experiment you have to do when thinking about villain plots: What's the simplest version of this that gets the job done? Why over-complicate things to the point where so many things need to go right that it's improbable that they would?
"Do you know the oldest lie in America, senator? It's that power can be innocent." No, Lex. No one's ever said that. If I had to guess, "These blankets are totally free of disease" is older and was actually said. A lot.
Pee on the podium!
OH, SCOOT! NO!
Now, Lex is in the goop pool on the kryptonian ship, playing with shit he can't understand, while Bruce is in full science-crossfit mode. Banging tires, pulling ropes, splitting atoms...
...and been poking through Lex's metahuman files to get the truth of Diana. (Which is maybe the worst way to convey plot information that would've been much better communicated through drama.)
And now Lex is doing the "desecration without name," fusing his lame-o human blood with dead Zod.
I like to imagine Michael Shannon just laying there, counting the thousands he's getting paid to play dead.
And why do people think Superman had anything to do with what was clearly a bombing, complete with evidence? Why would anyone things that Superman would be a co-conspirator...in a bombing? I mean people are stupid, so maybe I'm giving them too much credit...
When do we learn in these movies that Supes can't see through lead? And how would Lex know that?
And now, performing the role of dead Han Solo is Pa Kent, here from beyond the grave to give the hero a pep talk. (I know, it's the other way, chronologically. But I liked the joke.)
This is a flick that seems to be about two men who see visions of people and things that don't exist and then changing their course of action as a result.
Aight. Tankman just threw the switch on the Bat-signal, also signifying that we're entering the third act of the movie. And there's still about 70 minutes of flick left. I'm gonna have to pick this up later, as work must be done.
Not feeling up to finishing BvS tonight. Tomorrow. Tonight, hug someone you love.

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