Intimations of Agony

Towards the end of this Jay Leno-Russell Crowe segment there’s a cutaway to a Mattel action figure based on Crowe’s Jor-El character (i.e., Superman’s dad) from Zack Snyder‘s Man of Steel (Warner Bros., 6.14). The studly, armour-plated outfit (Hero Complex called it “alien meets steam punk”) is the same get-up that other manly fellows have worn in God knows how many other cheesy sci-fi fantasy flicks.

Crowe’s Jor-El, in short, hasn’t been re-imagined as much as rendered according to a standard factory concept, and that tells us where Man of Steel is coming from. Crowe is playing Jor-El for the money and the career-fortification, of course, while pinching his nose as hard as he can stand it. All the designer had in mind was “stay as far away as possible from those flowing white robes that Marlon Brando wore in the 1978 Superman.” Which had to happen, of course, as today’s comic-book machismo factor could and should never allow for anyone wearing Liberace-style white robes and a Seigfried and Roy white wig. Poor Brando — he was well paid by the Salkinds but playing Jor-El surely made him fantasize about dying sooner rather than later.

I’ll most likely loathe and suffer through Man of Steel. Reason #1: the dog-eared Superman franchise closed up shop after Bryan Singer‘s reboot so cranking out another is a ludicrous move on Warner Bros. and Chris Nolan‘s part. Reason #2: Sucker Punch convinced me that Zack Snyder is 90% about high-idiot style and bullshit comic-book cliches and 10%, if that, about delivering the hard, solid, human-scale, heavy-lifting stuff that makes for a truly good film. I’ll admit that Snyder is as stylistically innovative as Brian DePalma was in his ’70s and early ’80s prime, but just as problematic as DePalma turned out to be — he’s a “me!, me!, me!” type of guy. Yes, I loved the proscenium-arch beginning of Sucker Punch but it was all downhill after that.

From my 3.24.11 Sucker Punch review: “Snyder is a kind of visual dynamo of the first order who has created in Sucker Punch a trite-but-fascinating, symphonic, half-psychedelic, undeniably ‘inspired’ alternate-reality world — gothic, color-desaturated, Wachowski-esque — that is nonetheless ruled by so much concrete-brain idiocy and coarsely “mythic” cliches (i.e., an evil father figure so ridiculously vile and gross beyond measure that he makes the cackling, moustache-twirling villains of the Snidely Whiplash variety seem austere if not inert) and ludicrous, charmless, bottom-of-the-pit dialogue and cheaply pandering female-revenge fantasies that you literally CAN’T STAND IT and WANT TO HOWL and THROW YOUR 24 OZ. COKE AT THE SCREEN.

“Snyder is a masterful visual maestro (loved the proscenium arch ‘theatrical’ touches at the very beginning) but also — this is crucial to the Sucker Punch experience — an Igor-like, chained-in-the-basement, genius-level moron at dumbing things down. The movie is a digital torture device for those seeking at least a hint of compelling narrative, a tendril-ish remnant of logic, a tiny smidgen of story intelligence, and dialogue with a hint of flair or some kind of tethered-to-the-world normality.”

16 thoughts on “Intimations of Agony

  1. Eloi Wrath on said:

    This is probably the first time that Wells and MovieBob will be in complete agreement.

  2. It’s a Superman movie, not the Brothers Karamazov. If is sells enough toys, Warner’s will consider it a success.

    By the way, I would have liked to have been at the meeting at Warners the day the Avengers grosses started coming out. They’d already decided on a Nolan-esque “serious” take on Superman and gone well down that road when the goofy light comedy comic book movie shot past $200 million on opening weekend. I’ve always imagined it was like the emergency space policy meetings in The Right Stuff. Jeff Goldblum bursts in: “the audience tracking on the Hulk character is through the roof!” “We know! Sit down!”

  3. Spielberg and Tarantino had a baby and named him DePalma? Where did this relentless dissing of our Brian come from all of a sudden?

  4. I have to agree with you about “Sucker Punch” being awful. I could only hope Snyder makes Superman more “Watchman.” But, I too am wary.

  5. I agree that Sucker Punch suffered from “too much too much-ness” but I don’t think you’re giving Snyder enough credit. Movies are, and should be, an overly visual medium, and Snyder, along with guys like Nolan and Bay and Scott and Fincher, knows how to push the envelope with his visual techniques and style every single time he makes a film. And I’d argue that his narratives have always been solid (if not great, like in the case of Watchmen), and much, much better than someone like Bay when it comes to story and character and dialogue.

    Dawn of the Dead is as good as a modern horror remake is likely to get. The opening 15 minutes are perfect cinema, and the film holds up on repeated viewings. His dynamic visual style could start to be seen here, and his penchant for a nasty-finale takes root with the final moments of DOTD.

    Then, with 300, he exploded as a visual stylist, showing people something that they had NEVER SEEN BEFORE on a big screen. Sure, sword and sandals movies had been done, but not like they had with 300. The box office results explain this much. No major stars, a sort of tired genre by that point (Alexander had flopped and Troy had “underperformed”), and a hard-R rating. Personally, when I saw 300 five months early at a private screening, I knew it was gonna be a massive hit. I marched right up to Snyder after the screening and told him as much. I remember him telling me to “get home to your computer and tell everyone on the internet how awesome it was!” 300 has a simple story but it’s very well told and very engrossing, with zero fat from a screenplay perspective, and pacing like a freight train.

    Then, he hit masterpiece levels with Watchmen, which I feel is still the best comic book movie/super hero movie ever made, and for one big reason — the dense, literate, darkly poetic, multilayered screenplay that didn’t cheapen the already excellent source material while still doing what great movies should always do — show you something NEW and EXCITING and BOLD. From the marvelous opening credits giving you the Minutemen backstory to all of Dr. Manhattan’s Mars-based soul searching, there isn’t anything about that movie I’d change (well, I would take out the CGI dogs that were with Matthew Goode towards the end, those didn’t look finished). Gonna pop in the blu tonight to fully remind myself of its brilliance.

    So yeah, I’m a big Snyder fan, feel he’s been unfairly criticized by many, and I absolutely cannot fucking wait to see what he, Goyer, and Nolan have come up with on Man of Steel. It all feels like a match made in creative heaven, to be honest. The comic book knowledge of Goyer, the overall smarts and class of Nolan, and the visual grandiosity of Snyder — what’s not to be excited about? And to say nothing of the amazing cast and an uber-stylish cinematographer — I have a feeling that people may actually finally BELIEVE that a man can fly this summer…

  6. Yeah, I’m optimistic about Man of Steel for the reasons actionman outlines above. Snyder’s broad canvass with Nolan’s outline keeping him from going too far off the deep end. A friend of a friend works at Legendary and says they’re genuinely delighted with it.

    JLC: The funny thing about this whole DC/Marvel race is that Nolan’s Batman trilogy would have been by far the highest grossing superhero saga ever if it wasn’t for the Avengers showing up. You’d think WB/DC would have the sense to realize how lucky they are to have this trilogy that made billions at the box office and will continue to rake in endless DVD/cable revenue, yet because nothing is good enough for Hollywood execs, they’re all pissed they haven’t got a Justice League movie together yet.

    The whole rush to assemble a Justice League movie is daft. They should just let Marvel be Marvel and concentrate on making Man of Steel as big of a franchise as TDK trilogy.

    Then if they ever wanted to go down the team-up route, surely just introducing Batman into the MoS world would make more sense than shoehorning in all those other shitty characters. It’s been proven Green Lantern is a dud. Wonder Woman couldn’t even get past pilot stage on NBC, and Aquaman is a meme thanks to Entourage. Nobody knows or cares who the Flash is.

    Batman and Superman are the two biggest superheroes out there, so simply having the two of them together would be as big of an event as The Avengers was. Combine their villains and supporting characters and you’ve got all the secondary cast you need. Have superstars play Lex Luthor and the Joker or whatever.

  7. The big difference between Marvel and DC is that DC’s two precious assets, Batman and Superman, are far more valuable to them than any of Marvel’s on an individual basis. If Thor had flopped it wouldn’t really have mattered – they could have inserted him into the Avengers anyway and just abandoned any standalone adventures, like they did with the Hulk. But DC can’t afford to tarnish the Batman/Superman brands, so why risk it by putting them in a film with a guy in orange spandex who talks to fish?

    Just insert a post-credit Batman teaser in Man of Steel 2 or something like that, have him appear in Man of Steel 3/Batman v Superman, and use this “soft reboot” approach as a way to relaunch Batman.

  8. @Eloi, I’m always making cracks about toys, but that really is where the rubber meets the road. “Moichandizing” as Yogurt might say.

    The Marvel Universe as currently set up at Disney has so many more opportunities to merchandise that it’s got to be killing Warners. Yes, Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy was critically lauded and wildly successful. But it was also essentially a dead-end, especially if you want to introduce the more fantastical aspects of Batman’s world.

    The funny thing is, Warner’s should have been light-years ahead of Disney when it comes to this stuff. Aside from a couple of exceptions like the Adam West Batman series, Warners has always kept their stable together. They never farmed out the characters piecemeal, like Marvel did before Disney. And their animated division even provided a Justice League blueprint. But now they’re flailing around trying to catch up to Disney and put a JL movie together. Man of Steel looks like it might be pretty good. It’s almost inconceivable that the Justice League movie will be.

  9. Wells, you don’t have to suffer through it! Do what I’m going to do and stay home!

    Working for yourself means not having to do shit busywork.

  10. JLC: yeah, Warners must be kidding themselves. Who knows how many millions in toys they could have gotten had Nolan not gone with a more realistic approach to batman.

  11. There’s no way Snyder is as stylistically innovative as Brian DePalma. Snyder is a videogame geek and all his visual images comes from there.. And all his techniques are rip-offs. Withouth Sin City there is no 300.

    That said Crowe I think is more and more like the Jackie Gleason of the modern age. Fat blowhard with a huge ego cause he knows he’s good and continue to have stroke so it indulge his own ego even more.

  12. I’m actually curious — I realize I’m in the absolute minority on this, but why is everyone convinced that Superman, as originally conceived, doesn’t “work” in the 21st century?

    Look, I know he’s supposed to be too pure, too “good,” and in the wrong story, that can mean death. But why am I the only one who thinks his earnestness is charming? Now, it’s studio execs thinking “We have to make him edgy!” And then you get Singer’s Superman, where he returns after giving up on Earth years before… fathering a kid who he had (unknowingly, if I recall) abandoned… yeah. And because that didn’t work, they have to go HARDER toward “edgy” — he has to be conflicted about his power! He wants to hide! All the Kryptonians walk around in “battle armor”!

    I don’t deny that the 78 SUPERMAN veered too far into camp. But even if you go the other way and make the storyline more serious, and yes, “realistic”… why CAN’T a light-hearted, earnest, do-gooder Superman work as a character? I mean… isn’t that fundamentally who he is? Why is that a bad thing?

  13. Fingers crossed for this, largely because it’d be great to see the thing actually WORK even when basically everything except the cast and the director are working against it.

    NOBODY at Warner Bros. outside of the animation department knows what to do with the DC characters – there’s at least 15 to 20 ready-made blockbusters sitting there untouched (and countless other wild-cards that could be epic in the right hands); and they just keep pumping out “Batman.” The film itself was rushed into production owing to WB having to constantly keep “Superman” movies at the ready to avoid losing the rights to Siegle & Schuster’s estate. They’ve put The Nolan Bros. – who could not be more WRONG for “Superman” if their last name was Luthor – in charge of the story and presumably other aspects of production. They went into this planning for it to jump-start a shared-universe for “Justice League” but now seem to be walking it back; which also happened on “Green Lantern” and look how THAT turned out.

    But… on the other hand… I’m still feeling like Zack Snyder MIGHT be a genuine-article (if nascent) “journeyman genius” in the Ridley Scott mold; the cast is REALLY interesting and the self-consciously Mallick-esque trailer is pretty awesome. Weird as it sounds, it all comes down to whether or not the director of “Sucker Punch” can protect Superman from the director of “Inception.”

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