Saturday, 29 June 2013

I've never really been a fan of Superman. He’s too perfect. Invulnerability, super strength, flight, all packaged up in an oh-so-American primary coloured super-suit of apple pie and charisma. No, I’m a Batman fan; damaged by a crime-ridden society, he’s a much darker, more questionable hero and easier to root in real societal issues. Superman is just too distanced from reality, even before he turns back time by flying around the world so fast it spins in reverse.

Man of Steel may well have been conceived to deal with this kind of criticism. Though directed by Zack Snyder, who really hasn’t impressed me in the past, this new take was produced by Christopher Nolan and written by David S. Goyer – the creative team behind the masterful Dark Knight trilogy.

As can be expected with these names on board, the film isn’t a colourful, one-liner-packed Marvel-esque romp but a character driven attempt to look at old Supes in a new and interesting way. The first two-thirds of the film follow Henry Cavill’s grown-up Clark Kent as he learns about his past and reflects on his upbringing. Brought up on a Kansas farm, complete with Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, and dog, Clark dreams of heroism; in a magnificent piece of imagery, he chases the dog around using a red sheet as a cape (it reminded me of that Phantom Menace teaser poster which was so much better than the film), but he also struggles with his father’s demands to repress the fact that he’s different. Though this flashback structure is unnecessarily muddled, these sequences are the real heart of the film. It’s a coming-of-age story about finding your identity, with moral questions abound – should Clark use his super strength to save others, or let them die so that he can keep his secret from the world? Costner puts in a brilliant performance as the caring father figure who advocates the latter, but at some point, trouble has to come along to turn Clark fully into the Superman we all know.

And that trouble comes in the form of the great Michael Shannon, adding class as well as ham as the militaristic General Zod. This confrontation begins suspensefully, with Zod’s grand arrival and  demand for Superman to hand himself in leaving me eager to find out what would happen next. Unfortunately, what happens next is that the film goes dramatically downhill. The final act drops the interesting character stuff and is composed entirely of punch-up after explosion after punch-up after explosion after utterly unnecessary sub-plot in which Laurence Fishburne saves a damsel in distress from an explosion. With the destruction ramping up and my interest ramping down, this final act is an unwelcome return to the hyperactive child Snyder responsible for Sucker Punch and could easily lose half an hour. 

But hey, at least the majority of the script does have character to it. It’s just a shame that Henry Cavill doesn't do this character justice. The actor was previously considered for the Superman role for 2006’s Superman Returns before it went to Brandon Routh, and for the James Bond role before it went to Daniel Craig. Frankly, I can see why he didn’t get them. He doesn’t have the biggest range of facial expressions and his voice never strays too far from the realms of the stoic gurn. Amy Adams, on the other hand, excellently lends a much-needed strength to the character of Lois Lane, making her a charismatic and active journalist for the twenty-first century.

There was one more thing which particularly annoyed me. This was when Zod is broadcasting a message via all the world’s TV and computer screens, and someone says "he's on the RSS feeds!" I mean, really, did Goyer have any idea what an RSS feed is? You can't just put in internet words arbitrarily to make the film modern. "Zod's taking over the re-tweets!" 'He's in all the sub-reddits!" "Stop him before he gets to Wiki administrator status!"

On the plus side, that annoying line came shortly after the best part of the film, which was a visual gag about a printer.

Overall, has it changed my opinion on Superman? It’s definitely a more interesting exploration of the Superman mythos than Returns, and it’s my favourite Zack Snyder film to date. If anything, the printer gag is definitely worth paying for. On the other hand, its final act lets it down severely, and the film never gets as good as Nolan’s morally complex The Dark Knight (I probably bring that up a lot, but it’s the standard by which all superhero films have to be judged). I’m still not a fan of Superman.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

On 20.6.13 by KieronMoore in , , ,    No comments
Duncan Jones' Moon is one of my favourite sci-fi films of recent years. It's intelligent, interesting, and well enshrined in the genre. And the poster art captures this brilliantly - here's my analysis of it for The Big Picture.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

On 12.6.13 by KieronMoore in , , ,    No comments
I rewatched Forrest Gump the other day, for the first time in a shameful number of years. Robert Zemeckis’ tale of a slow-witted Alabama fella' making his way through the major events of the late twentieth century really is a very good film. Tom Hanks embodies the titular role brilliantly; Gump is an engaging and likable character. And yet, I reflected afterwards – why is he?

The way screenwriting is conventionally taught dictates that a protagonist must have one main goal which informs everything he or she does as the plot progresses. Forrest Gump, well, really doesn’t. He doesn’t have much of a direction in life at all. Things just tend to happen to him and he often doesn’t even understand his own reasons for what he does, most notably when he spends three years running across America because he “felt like running”.

It’s also questionable how much Forrest develops as a character. He begins the film witless but well-meaning and ends the film witless but well-meaning. Sure, he may become more comfortable with himself to the point of being able to sleep with love interest Jenny, but is that interesting character development or just an aspect of growing up? He retains his childlike worldview, with his reliance on his mother’s advice, throughout, even long after her death.

Perhaps it’s the simplicity of this optimistic, open-minded worldview that makes him endearing. In a cynical world full of war and politics, what matters to Forrest are are things like fulfilling his promise to Bubba and ensuring Jenny’s happiness. And he's absolutely faithful to these goals – when things go wrong, he doesn't complain, but looks on the bright side and keeps on trying. In the process, he becomes a millionaire, yes, but not through ambition, and perhaps that’s a very relatable fable about what we should value in life.

Yet it’s not the moments when he becomes rich that elicit cheers. These are played more for comedy and the real achievements are when Forrest re-unites with Jenny and when he gets to bring his child up. This is because of the big dramatic question informing everything Forrest does, even when not related to the main “goal” of that sequence – “will Forrest and Jenny get together?”. Forrest is drafted into the Vietnam War to fight for his country, but he writes letters home to Jenny. Forrest becomes a shrimp boat captain to fulfill his promise to Bubba, but he names the boat Jenny. Forrest runs across America for three years, but his love of running began through Jenny’s encouragement – “run, Forrest, run”. Forrest’s devotion to Jenny is a thematic link through everything, drawing together the messy here-and-there of his life, and is a relationship we grow to care about.

And while Forrest may not develop clearly, other characters around him do change for the better – because of him. Every supporting character is memorable, full of individuality, and has some form of arc. A lesser writer wouldn’t have taken such risks as having Forrest’s friend in ‘Nam speak constantly about shrimp throughout his introductory scenes, but it’s hilarious and endearing. Look also at Lieutenant Dan’s introduction – we know exactly what kind of character he is from his brash treatment of other soldiers. The voiceover which gives him some history – “a member of his family had fought and died in every war” – is a brilliant look at the gruff soldier archetype that seems to be setting up for Dan to be the next in line to die. But what we don’t expect is the way that Forrest saves him from his believed ‘destiny’, inadvertently changes his life, and turns him from this hard stereotype into someone much more compassionate. Dan is a much different person by the end of the film, as is Jenny before her death. Forrest changes people for the better, and the film ends with him bringing up his son, and we can only believe he’ll do an excellent job.

At Jenny’s grave, Forrest says “I don't know if we each have a destiny, or if we're all just floating around accidental-like on a breeze, but I, I think maybe it's both. Maybe both is happening at the same time.” Like the feather at the beginning and end of the film, Forrest’s journey is a meandering and directionless yet light and fun ride. Nonetheless, it’s very revealing about the world its set in, with a likable central character with a big dramatic question that gets an ultimate result. Forrest may not be the sharpest crayon in the pond, but his kind heart more than makes up for that.

Saturday, 1 June 2013

On 1.6.13 by KieronMoore in , ,    No comments

I just want to say you’re a brilliant, wonderful, talented, and quite sexy man.

Your first series remains one of my favourite Who memories. You were so different, so alien, so playful yet with that very carefully judged dark and manipulative edge. You were so… The Doctor.

And even though your next series was a mess, the one after that has had its ups and downs, and your hair wasn't as good after 2010, you’ve continued to give stunning, funny and touching performances throughout. The Eleventh Doctor has been great. Except for the awkward misogyny and that bit where you killed David Bradley. But that’s just about cancelled out by the way you said “look at the detail on that cheese plant!” in The God Complex.

I’ll be very sad to see the Fall of the Eleventh. But change is what keeps the show going and change is something for us both to be excited about.

Honestly, I’d prefer to see you and Steven Moffat leave the show together, so that we could bring in an entirely fresh new take on Doctor Who, a new take on the character rather than another Moffat Doctor – a whole new era, just like in 2010, in 2005, and, well, in 1963 (some of the show’s best years, in my humble opinion).

But Steve’s sticking around. Despite my issues with his recent showrunning, I promise that, in the spirit of the Doctor, I’ll remain open-minded and optimistic about what the future may bring. And, of course, I’ll look forward to your two final adventures.

Come along, Geronimo, bow ties have been cool, etc.

Kieron xxx