Man of Steel: not quite a Nolan, but juicier than ever

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Co-produced by Christopher Nolan and directed by the somewhat audacious blockbuster engineer Zack Snyder, Man of Steel takes Superman (Henry Cavill) back to square one and recalibrates him as a pure-of-heart hero for a new age. It’s a risky move, the implications of which are fully realized in the movie’s tense climax, in which Superman is compelled to act in a way that none of the other prior screen incarnations of the hero would ever have considered.

Nolan co-concocted the story line with expert screenwriter David Goyer, and Goyer battles the origin-stories-are-boring problem with a two-pronged approach. The birth of Kal-El and the end of the planet Krypton narrative gets a juicy backstory involving genetic archiving, internecine struggles between warlike factions, and a more pronounced series of confrontations between wise and saintly Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and the once-noble but increasingly power-mad General Zod (Michael Shannon) These scenes are substantially aided by the fact that Krypton is rendered beautifully as the ultimate sci-fi planet.

Goyer also keeps things moving via a multiple flashback structure that toggles between the young Clark Kent and the present-day action. Young Kent finds that his enhanced senses can drive him crazy and that his superstrength renders him a freak. Given Nolan’s work on the Dark Knight movies, the notion of a tormented Superman shouldn’t surprise us. But the whole idea of Superman, as conceived by two comic book artists almost a century ago, was rooted in optimism, and to their credit, the creators of the movie don’t forget that; they just make optimism a more difficult place for Kal-El to get to.

Surprisingly, in this iteration of the origin story, intrepid reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams) gets to know a drifting, bearded, do-gooding stranger before she meets the Clark Kent who also works at the Daily Planet. One big digression the movie takes is making Lois privy to Clark’s “secret” right from the get-go.  The move not only make sense, but it spares us a lot of silliness down the line.

Even though some of the attempts at gravitas don’t work, the movie does make you believe that a flying man in tights is a thing of scary awe and with a superb all-around supporting cast, Man of Steel blasts the archetypal superhero into our uncertain new century in high style, neither selling him out nor making a sap out of him.

I, for one, am looking forward to the next installment already.

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The Cold Light of Day: missing more than family

The doldrums of September are finally upon us. It’s that time of year when Hollywood gives full expression to its disdain for movie goers by dumping its crappiest tax write-offs into empty theaters. Enter The Cold Light of Day, a movie so bland and forgettable that, despite having seen it less than twelve hours ago, I actually had to look it up on IMDB.com just to recall the title.

The Cold Light of Day is a product-placement travelogue in search of a coherent thriller. A poor imitation of the best Bourne films, it’s confusing and illogical, with plot lapses and continuity blunders.

Bruce Willis and Sigourney Weaver star alongside Henry Cavill in this story of a young man who finds his family abducted by terrorists during a vacation to Madrid. Why is his family kidnapped? Because his dad, Bruce Willis, is secretly leading the double life of a CIA agent.

Never before have I seen a movie where the characters themselves seemed so bored to be in their own movie. The entire supporting cast provides dead-eyed, monotone line readings throughout the film’s torturous 93 minutes.

But the lethargy doesn’t begin and end with the cast; everything about The Cold Light of Day feels sluggish. In one chase sequence, Sigourney Weaver plows a Range Rover into a motorcycle carrying Cavill. The bike skids off the street, but before Weaver can put a bullet in his head, he gets back on the bike and speeds away at a whopping 15 miles per hour. Weaver just stands there as if she’s too sedated to even be bothered to continue chasing him.

In another sequence, Cavill, after being framed for murder, finds himself being chased through a park by one police officer on horseback and another two or three officers on foot. He bolts down a gravel pathway and into a tunnel. Everyone in the scene can clearly see Cavill running for the tunnel. The officer on horseback is thrown from his mount before he can enter the tunnel, and the scene immediately cuts to Cavill washing his hands and face in a public bathroom. What the hell happened to the other half dozen police officers who were chasing after him? Did they just turn around go home after their buddy faceplanted on a sidewalk?

Every aspect of The Cold Light of Day, from the writing to the performances to the direction to the unimaginative title, absolutely reeks of laziness. Avoid at all costs.

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