Man of Steel is a self-consciously epic re-imagining of the Superman story, first told in print in the 1930s and most recently rebooted on screen by Bryan Singer as Superman Returns just prior to the commencement of my reviewing career in 2006. It’s remarkable both for the scale of the production, the stakes for producers DC and Warner Bros, and for the degree to which I disliked it. Usually, I don’t get too riled up about blockbuster comic book fantasy pictures – they are either more entertaining or less – but this one got under my skin so much I was actually quite angry by the time the closing credits finally rolled.
I don’t have room here (because there are actual good films I’d rather talk about) to tear the Man of Steel apart but I will float a few thoughts that have been bothering me recently about blockbuster movies generally: It seems to me that the huge amounts of computing horsepower that directors have at their fingertips nowadays is being used, for the most part, to destroy.
[pullquote]Man of Steel delights in destruction, reeling off 9/11 trauma-triggering moments with reckless abandon.[/pullquote]I’m getting very tired of watching buildings, streets and even entire cities razed digitally to the ground without a second thought for the (admittedly still digital) people inhabiting them. This is an arms race and somehow directors (like MoS’s Zack Snyder) have decided that every new tentpole needs to use even more imagination to destroy even more stuff and kill even more people who will go unmourned by the heroes supposedly there to protect them.
As usual, the vagaries of holiday deadlines mean that, just as you are arriving back at work to gleefully greet the New Year, here I am to tell you all about 2012. The best way to use this page is to clip it out, fold it up and put it in your pocket ready for your next visit to the video shop – that way you won’t go wrong with your renting. Trust me – I’m a professional.
But this year I have a problem. Usually I manage to restrict myannualpicks to films that were commercially released to cinemas. I’ve always felt that it wasn’t fair to mention films that only screened in festivals – it’s frustrating to be told about films that aren’t easy to see and it makes it difficult for you to join in and share the love. This year, though, if I take out the festival-only films the greatness is hard to spot among the only “good”.
As usual, I have eschewed a top ten in favour of my patented categories: Keepers, Watch Again, Mentioned in Dispatches and Shun At All Costs. In 2012, only two of my nine Keepers (films I wish to have close to me forever) made it into commercial cinemas and one of them isn’t even really a film.
Ben Lewin’s The Sessions is a very rare beast – an American film that portrays human sexuality with honesty, sensitivity and no hint of prurience. (Actually, writer-director Lewin is a Polish emigré who grew up in Australia and – after a brief career as a barrister – went to England in 1971 to make television, so maybe it isn’t all that American.)
Poet Mark O’Brien was crippled with polio as a child and forced to spend more than 20 hours a day in an iron lung, practising his craft with a pencil held between his teeth, relying on caregivers for – almost – every important bodily function. Although he spent his life horizontal he wasn’t paralysed and he could still feel everything that was done to his body – a fact that a pretty nurse giving him his daily wash could probably testify to… As a red-blooded American male in his 30s, his head could get turned by a shapely figure even though his inexperience and disability meant he was totally lacking in romantic confidence.
Of all the remakes, sequels, franchises and comic book adaptations we are being offered this winter Captain America: The First Avenger is the one least likely to send a shiver of excitement down a Kiwi filmgoer’s spine. And yet, from relatively modest beginnings a half decent adventure film grows – it isn’t going to change the way you think and feel about anything but Captain America at least won’t make you want to run screaming for the exits in embarrassment and shame.
Steve Rogers (Chris Evans from Fantastic Four) is a weedy, sickly kid from Brooklyn – digitally de-hanced if that’s the opposite of enhanced – who desperately wants to fight the Nazis for Uncle Sam. After several humiliating rejections kindly scientist Stanley Tucci enlists him in an experimental super-soldier programme, fills him full of what looks like blue Powerade and turns him into a muscle-bound, fast-healing, über-grunt.
There are two mainstream comic book publishing houses, DC and Marvel, and choosing between them as a kid was a bit like choosing between The Beatles and the Stones. They had different styles and sensibilities (and philosophies) and after a little bit of experimentation you could find a fit with one or the other.
DC had Superman and Batman – big, bold and (dare I say it) one-dimensional characters with limited or opaque inner lives. When Stan Lee created Spider-Man, a teenage photographer with powers he neither asked for nor appreciated, he created a soap opera – a soap opera with aspirations to high art. As you might be able to tell, I was a Marvel kid.