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Man Of Steel Review

man_of_steel_dc_comics_superhero-wideWith the Dark Knight trilogy over, the disasters that were Green Lantern and Superman Returns, and the desire for Warner Bros. to get a Justice League movie off the ground, to say that there is a lot of pressure on Man of Steel is a bit of an understatement. Fortunately for the WB, Man of Steel rights all of the wrongs of the last Superman movie, and creates a world worth building around for future installments.

The first thing I noticed while watching the movie is how good it looks. From Krypton to Metropolis it is a very beautiful film. Colors are vibrant and is it just shot well. In some parts I was reminded of Thor’s design, but it adds a depth that is all its own. I would not recommend the 3D version though, as it seemed to have very little impact or immersion.

More than any Superman movie before it, Man of Steel is a true origin story of not only Superman, but Clark Kent as well. Using flashbacks throughout the first half of the film, we see how Clark made his way to the Kent house in Kansas, the scrutiny and hardships he went through while discovering and learning to control his powers, and deciding the type of man he wants to become.

That last part is especially key, as Superman is constantly faced with moral choices from his Earth dad, his Kryptonian dad, his enemies and the world around him. The way he comes to these decisions gives us a clear vision into not just what makes Superman so good and pure, but how he got this mind state in the first place. In this way, Man of Steel is more about Clark than it is about Superman.

Russell Crowe is very good as Superman’s biological father from Krypton, Jor-El. He urges Superman to be something great, and is believable in everything that he says,which isn’t easy considering some of the plot points he has to deliver, and makes you care for people you know are doomed. The opening of the movie could have been a movie on it’s own (hello prequel!) as we see what makes Superman (Cal-El) so special in a Krypton that we get to see (albeit briefly) as a vibrant world that is on the way to self destruction. There are a couple of scenes where Jor-El overstays his welcome, being extremely important to the plot even after his death, but he does push things along. He is critical in grounding this movie in any sort of believability. Meanwhile, Kevin Costner is practically typecast as the farmer Jonathan Kent, who wants to protect Clark from the world by having him hide his powers. The way both Jonathan and Jor-El affect who Clark is with similar yet totally different ideals is very interesting, despite Costner’s presence being much less felt than Crowe’s.

At the heart of the conflict is General Zod. Zod leads an army of banished Kryptonians to earth in order to find Superman and used him (dead or alive) to help save the Kryptonian species by destroying and recreating Earth as the new Krypton. Zod is well represented by Michael Shannon, who gives us a Zod that can be related to in some aspects. He’s not just out to kill Superman. Instead he is looking to save his people’s existence in the only way he knows how. This makes his dialogue with Superman even more compelling as Supes is forced to choose between the planet he’s from and the planet he’s lives on (it reminds me of the Transformers episode “The Ultimate Doom” where Optimus Prime has to choose between Earth and Cybertron). The confrontations between Superman and Zod bring all of the movie’s themes to the forefront.

Speaking of confrontations, remember how Superman Returns has no real enemy for Superman to face? Well forget that. Man of Steel knew it had to make a big impact and it did, taking perhaps the most famous formidable enemies that can physically challenge Superman and created some fantastic fight scenes and other action sequences. A fight against a couple of Zod’s top soldiers was specifically entertaining, while the final fight between Superman and Zod ended things with a flourish, ending in a way I definitely did not expect, showing once and for all how far Superman is willing to go in order to save lives.

With most of the supporting cast out of the way, I’ll bring up now the fact that Henry Cavill is a pretty damn convincing Superman. He certainly looks the part physically, and while he’s is all action for the fight scenes, he also shows a gentle nature that is just as big of a part of Superman’s character as flying is. His emotional vulnerability is on display as he travels the country tying to help people the best way he feels he can, hiding in obscurity whenever his deeds are noticed by too many. He is truly a Superman in training.

On the other end of the spectrum is Lois Lane, which I feel Amy Adam’s just wasn’t right for. She plays Lois tough, but somehow she comes off as too sweet to me. She is just missing a certain edge. I did however appreciate the liberties taken with Lois trying to find this mystery hero, instead of Clark just starting at the Daily Planet for no reason. No complaints from the rest of the cast, as Lawrence Fishburn (Perry White) and Rebecca Buller (Jenny, yes JENNY Olsen) are mostly just window dressing but do provide a human element that is needed when watching alien gods duke it out.

I do have a few issues with the story. Lois and Superman’s eventual relationship got going a little too quickly for my taste. The plan to save the world seems a little corny and it was pretty heavy for a Superman movie. A little more levity could have gone a long way. I’m also curious how Clark was able to keep faking his resume to get jobs under false names. Also, this movie was so big that I worry about leaving little room for sequels. Metropolis has already been torn apart once so doing it again wouldn’t be as menacing. If it is indeed Lex Luthor in the opposing corner, it could be a more psychological move that this one (just spitballing). This is nitpicking though in what is easily the best Superman movie in over 30 years. It had action, drama, character development, and just enough easter eggs to satisfy nerds and give us an essence of what could be on the way if they continue with this series (which I fully expect).

By the way, I’ll save you the trouble and let you know now that there is no post credits scene.

The Dark Knight Returns, Pt 2 Panel Highlights (NYCC)

I attended the panel for Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 2 at the New York Comic Con with executive producer Bruce Timm and dialogue director Andrea Romano. Together they have basically built the entire animated universe and have done an outstanding job in doing so.

The panel led off with the trailer for the movie. A sequel to the Dark Knight Rises, Part 1 (obviously) it picks up right where the first left off. Batman is back, the Joker wants a piece of him, as does the Gotham Police Department. The government is against Batman as well, which is why they put Superman (who is basically the President’s lackey) into action to stop him. Check it out for yourself:

When talking about the decision to make this story into two separate movies, Bruce Timm said that there was no way this could ever be done right as one film. Furthermore, both movies had to be green-lit at the same time. He didn’t want to make the first part and see how it did before working on the second. It was all or nothing and thankfully the studio agreed to produce both movies at the same time.

Three addition scenes were shown during the panel. The first showed Batman attacking the Gotham Police on the rooftop. The music was top-notch, although to me the action seemed slightly off. Up close all the hits had impact and looked great, when they broadened the shot however the movements and speed just didn’t click for me. Next was Batman rallying his troops to not use guns, fighting with their fists and minds instead. It was referred to as the “Braveheart” speech. When you see it you’ll know why. The final clip was of the talk show scene where Joker is interviewed by David Endocrine. Endocrine is played pretty well by Conan O’Brien of all people. Romano said that he nailed getting affected by the Joker’s laugh gas in one take. What we were shown was a very tense scene that got creepier and creepier until the Joker finally went into action.

Timm noted that while he could have cast Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill to reprise their famous roles as Batman and Joker, he knew that this was a much different type of film and that he needed to reflect that tone in the voices. Peter Weller (Robocop) was an absolutely perfect fit for Batman. He was also fond of Michael Emerson’s (Lost) work as Joker. He said he doesn’t sound anything like Hamill, or Jack Nicholson, or even John Di Maggio. Romano was also impressed with his ability to do his performance through Skype, as conflicting schedules made it impossible for him to record in studio.

A couple of other notes from the panel:

-Bruce Timm revealed that Jim Gordon chews nicotine gum instead of smoking cigars because smoking in cartoons equals an automatic R rating (film is PG-13). Interestingly, swastika’s on naked women do not have the same impact (you know where I’m going if you read the comic).

-Timm also hinted at working on some films based on Grant Morrison’s work. Could this mean Arkham Asylum? R.I.P? Final Crisis?

-The first thing actually seen in the panel was the trailer for LEGO Batman: The Movie – DC Super Heroes United. It’s essentially Joker and Lex Luthor getting all the villains together while Batman and Superman do the same with the Justice League. The trailer was legitimately funny and will appeal to both adult comic book fans and their children. The Justice League they assemble is the New 52 version and it will be released sometime in the spring of 2013.

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 2 is set to be released in the winter of 2013.

Warner Bros Animation Does the DC Universe Right

While misguided attempts at putting the Justice League in theaters and a Superman reboot cautiously on the way, Warner Bros. Animation has been producing classing stories from DC Comics time and time again. If the trailer is any indication, The Dark Knight Returns – Part 1 won’t be any different. If nothing else it has Peter “Robocop” Weller as Batman! Your move creep! Check it out:

Looks amazing right? This is nothing new for Warner Bros. Animation as they have been doing this for decades now (if you count Batman: The Animated Series). They have succeeded in all of the areas they have failed with their big budget action movies (except Batman of course because anything Batman is good). They take chances and stretch their wings. Different animation styles, different voices to fit those styles, and most importantly they tell the stories we want to see.

How many origin stories can there be? Instead of taking up and entire film introducing every single DC character, they are getting straight into the good stuff with the comics that we love. Doomsday, Red Hood, Tower of Babel, they’ve all been done and done mostly well in these movies. WB tapped into a market of real comic book fans and knows that they are the main audience of these animated features. It’s not like the major films that have to pander to everyone. Marvel took a gamble on giving everyone an origin story and if they didn’t luck out with Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark I’m not sure any of the last few years of success actually happen. Green Lantern tried to do the same thing, but Ryan Reynolds can only take you so far and unfortunately their were so many plot holes and other story issues that the most realistic looking live action take on the Green Lantern and Oa that I could have asked for got completely wasted.

Green Lantern done right

I have seen the Green Lantern movie that works though. Check out Green Lantern: First Flight, the animated feature that came to Blu-ray and DVD two years before the failure in theaters. It’s very similar in theme and hits a lot of the same notes. Hal Jordan gets the ring from a fallen Lantern and has to learn how to be a better man while the universe is in jeopardy and so on. Yet it does it so much better. First of all thanks to it being animated, most of it takes place in space, which is where he belongs. Second, Hal gets his training on the job throughout the entire movie instead of a five minute sequence followed by a bunch of crap. Third, instead of pacing it so poorly because they want to save Sinestro for a sequel, they throw the kitchen sink out there at once. The lack of limitations and big names make it so that there are just some things you can do with animation that you can’t attempt with a blockbuster movie. Want to see how a Wonder Woman movie should be made?  Go to WB Animation again. Don’t even get me started on Jonah Hex. The characters we know less about get their due, while the ones we already know (Superman/Batman) get spared of introductions and instead we get their best stories shown as we know and love them.

As far as films go this is the one area that DC clearly trumps Marvel. Marvel Animation does what they can, but it just isn’t on the same level as DC. They do a fair job, specifically with Hulk vs, but the overall quality and quantity just isn’t there. Eight films in six years, along with some poorly received anime just aren’t going to cut it. Not when DC has almost doubled their production and done so with such high quality. All this while making Justice League and Young Justice TV series that have critical acclaim as well.

DC has plenty of very good movies aside from the Dark Knight trilogy. They are just being shown on the wrong screen. Hell they even nailed it with The Flaming C!

“The Dark Knight Rises” Review

Christopher Nolan’s epic Batman trilogy comes to a close with The Dark Knight Rises, and while it may not surpass the masterpiece that was The Dark Knight, it is still a pretty fantastic movie and a fitting end to a memorable saga.

Set eight years after the events of The Dark Knight, Gotham is enjoying a state of peace due to the Dent Act as we find Bruce Wayne staying out of the public eye, retired as Batman and watching Wayne Industries endure money struggles. All of this begins to change of course as Bane comes in to restore his brand of order to Gotham, as well as break the Batman in both body and soul.

It’s that last part that sets the movie apart. Where Joker and Scarecrow and Two Face either wanted to kill Batman or drive him crazy, Bane is out to break his spirit. He is Batman’s physical superior and can not be taken down with any of the old tricks we’ve seen. At the same time he is cold and ruthless and most importantly smart, making Batman seem as weak as he has ever looked before. We get a very desperate Batman. Tom Hardy does a fantastic job making Bane every bit the badass he is supposed to be (once they fixed the voice issue) and makes it believable and emotional watching him strip Bruce Wayne of everything he knows and loves, which is where the “Rise” part of the movie kicks in. It is the theme of the movie and is taken both literally and figuratively, as each character has their own demons and challenges the must rise above. They lay this theme on very thick. Almost too much so.

Better than Batman and Robin

In this age of cinema you can’t increase the stakes and the scope (and the budget) without  increasing the number of characters too, and Nolan obliges with a number of additional characters. At the forefront is Anne Hathaway’s Selina Kyle, who is never referred to as Catwoman (good move), and does well in playing the anti-hero. She has good chemistry with Bale and is played very close to the Year One version of the character. Her acrobatics are sometimes a little too flashy and once you start getting her, Batman and Bane on screen at the same time it’s starts to get very comic book-ey. Not to ruin the final act for you, but it’s kind of like this. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does counter what Nolan had been working toward this whole time by grounding Batman into reality. This also applies to the heavily promoted “Bat” flying vehicle which, while it is awesome to see in action, takes reality to the limits.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Marion Cotillard also do well as John Blake and Miranda Tate respectively, but the talk about their roles was never about how they would perform, but who they’re characters were supposed to be. ***SPOILER ALERT: To put it mildly all of the rumors we heard about them and the how the movie ends turn out to be true and if you know they are coming you see it from a mile away. However they wait as long as possible to actually confirm everything and do it in such a way that it doesn’t really matter that you know in the first place. A great job in dealing with such a difficult task.***

Make no mistake about it, this is definitely the end of the Bale/Nolan Batman saga and they tie a nice and neat bow on everything to make sure there is nowhere else to take it. Everything that is promised through the trailers and throughout the movie is delivered and done so in spectacular fashion. The movie takes the trilogy full circle, taking you through very similar progressions and set pieces as Batman Begins. The difference is that it does all of these much bigger, and in some cases better. No, this isn’t as good as The Dark Knight, but it is an intense movie with huge set pieces that keeps you on your toes from beginning to end and puts a fine cap on the mother of all blockbuster comic book trilogies.

Kevin Conroy puts Christian Bale with Past Batmen (NYCC)

Kevin Conroy has not seemed to be the biggest fan of Christian Bale’s Batman interpretation. Specifically his voice. During Friday’s Arkham City panel, Conroy had the chance to further detail his option of Bale’s Batman. Check it out:

More highlights from the 2011 New York Comic Con all week