Category Archives: Superman

Justice League- a review. Sort of.


Really, if you haven’t seen the movie, don’t even go one word further if you want to remain unspoiled.  My usual review style is to talk about plot points in details, and this will be no exception.

So– Justice League — I’d almost say you’d have to have been living under a rock for the last year to not know about this film, but it does occur to me that superhero films are just not on some people’s radar, so the quickest of recaps– Justice League is DC’s latest entry in their Extended Cinematic Universe, their attempt to catch up with the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  League is the fifth film in the series, recounting the origin of the team uniting Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Cyborg, the Flash and Aquaman.  Ok, ’nuff said.

In the run up to the film’s debut critical opinion began to be increasingly negative.  Just before it opened, Rotten Tomatoes came out with a rating of 40%, a dismal consensus.  Some reviewers said positive things about the movie, but many more were negative and deprecatory.  Suffice to say that I had very low expectations going into the theater yesterday.

On the whole, however, I am pleased to report that on the whole the movie is not quite the absolute disaster that 40% rating would lead you to believe.  It is not a great film; it is a film with issues; but it is not the muddled shit-pile of Suicide Squad or the even more muddled Batman v. Superman.  On some levels it was pretty good, while on others it leaves you scratching your head wondering why the hell did they do that?, and on yet others feeling like they should just get on with it.

First, the pros–

  1. Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman/Diana Prince.  I wish they had just come out with the next Wonder Woman movie.  Gadot commands the screen in any scene she’s in; at her first appearance in League, where she foils a bombing by right-wing fanatics (led, in a dangerous bit of typecasting, by Roose Bolton), my impulse was to stand up and cheer.  My admiration goes beyond the fact that she is stunningly beautiful; Gadot gets the character, and brings her to life.
  2. Ezra Miller as the Flash.  He brings a fresh approach to the character, as a nerdy youngster none to sure of his own capabilities, with fears to overcome and enough pain in his own history on which to lay the foundations of a hero.
  3. Jeremy Irons as Alfred.  He’s not on screen much, but when he is brings dry wit to some otherwise rather absurd goings-on.

Well, that was over quick.  Now, the cons–

  1. Jason Momoa is irritating as Aquaman/Arthur Curry.  His underwater biker routine gets tiresome real quick.
  2. Someone else has said that Ben Affleck (Batman) looks as if he would like to be somewhere other than in this film, and that seems a fair assessment.  He gives perhaps the flattest performance of the ensemble.
  3. Yeah, I know, the villain was named “Steppenwolf” in the comic, but for someone of my generation the name really conjures up a way different image.  Threw me out of the picture every time.
  4. Not only that, but Steppenwolf is just not that threatening a villain.  Not sure what it is, but we have had a glut lately of villains with horns (Thor: Ragnarok, Wonder Woman, etc.), so maybe the headgear was too cliche (?).  Whatever the reason, I didn’t get a sense of visceral danger from the guy, despite how many Amazons and Atlanteans he smashes.
  5. On top of that, I thought this was supposed to be a build-up to a confrontation between the League and Darkseid, paralleling the coming confrontation between the Avengers and Thanos in the MCU.  As best I can recall, however, Steppenwolf makes one passing reference to Darkseid, and then, nothing.  This is one area where I still had expectations to be disappointed.
  6. I miss Hal Jordan.  Maybe they just couldn’t squeeze him into the ensemble this time around.
  7. For the most part, the action sequences are kinda, well, meh.  Formulaic maybe too generous.  Once or twice, I had the sense that I was watching a Michael Bay film.  That’s so not a good thing.
  8. Superman’s resurrection sequence is, well, creepy, a quality that was even called out by the Flash in the film itself.
  9. Clark’s reunion with Lois Lane is half sweet and half schmaltz, and I’m not entirely which is which in the scene.  Plus, after he flies her to Smallville for private time, where did they get his clothes?  Ma Kent had moved out and everything….
  10. Oh, and while you’re resurrecting Clark, you leave the mother box that resurrected him, and which the villain has been frantically seeking, out in the open where he can grab it? That’s one for CinemaSins.

If I were to sum up the negative aspects of the film, I’d say that League is a film with far too many color-by-the-numbers elements, some uninspired or even repulsive performances, and which is dragged down even further by the fact that its basic premises were established for it by Batman v. Superman.  It has to try to reconcile some really dumb and incoherent plot points that BvS perpetrated, chief among which, in my opinion, was killing off Superman so early in the franchise.  To League’s credit, it almost pulls it off here and there, but then it commits its own acts of incoherence (e.g., see # 10 above).  It feels as if the people who created the overall story arc really, really didn’t think everything through beforehand and are now stuck in various thematic corners.  And, while I have a high tolerance for grim and gritty, the way the DC films have been going about it just drags your soul down and leaves you gasping for some Guardians of the Galaxy humor.

On the whole, I give League a middling, 2.5 out of 5 Mother Boxes rating.  Considering that I would give BvS one and Suicide Squad one and a half, that’s some improvement, but not much.  It would be nice if the guys running the DCECU could have an opportunity to really, really rethink their approach to their material, but by now, five films in, with more in the pipeline, it’s probably too late.

Well, in any case, here’s to the next Wonder Woman film.  We have to wait until November, 2019, though.  A reason to live.


Three upcoming movies that have my attention

Now that we’re past the hysteria and hoopla around Star Wars: The Force Awakens, I thought I would share some thoughts on three upcoming movies that have grabbed my attention.  In no particular order–

Suicide Squad

Okay, I am at least interested–

Harley Quinn and Deadshot and the Joker (in what may be an even more freakish interpretation, by Jared Leto, than Heath Ledger’s) all in one film– and with Batman (Ben Affleck), too.  It looks like a full house of crazies.

Of course, it is entirely possible that for me Bohemian Rhapsody and Freddie Mercury are affecting my emotional reaction to this trailer.  You could put Bohemian Rhapsody on a video of a dripping faucet and I’d watch it.

Interestingly, the Comic-con trailer for this same movie has a completely different feel, taking a much more serious and dramatic– maybe even tragic– tone.  The producers might want to figure out their marketing approach to this product.  Remember what happened to John Carter.  Just saying.

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice

If this film maintains the serious tone of Man of Steel, it will hit the ground– or the screen– with an excellent head-start, as far as I’m concerned.  That approach was one of the best things about Man of Steel, lifting me up and over some irritating flaws in the story logic.  I’ve never been a big fan of the Justice League, but the trio of Wonder Woman, Batman and Superman is intrinsically interesting.  I will be interested in seeing how the film handles the initial conflict between Superman and Batman (rather a traditional element in their respective origin stories) and how their friendship then grows to form the League’s foundation.  And, I have to admit, Wonder Woman’s reveal in this trailer is pretty fun.

Captain America: Civil War

Of these three movies, this is the one I am the most jazzed about.  I have become a serious fan of Captain America as portrayed by Chris Evans in Marvel’s Captain America and Avengers movies.  The whole series of interconnected films that comprise the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been a creative stroke of genius, in my biased opinion, the brainchild of fans in positions of power, such as Kevin Feige (and now DC is playing serious catch-up with Batman v. Superman and Suicide Squad).  It is a great storytelling gimmick and should pay dividends for Marvel and Disney for years to come, even if the quality of the individual films varies (Age of Ultron, for example).

I was never a great fan of Captain America in the comics (for years I was obsessed with the X-Men), but Chris Evans’ portrayal of Cap as a decent regular guy who acquires extraordinary powers and then must cope with being displaced in time is one of the best and most consistent character arcs in the whole MCU.  As long as Evans plays the role I will be watching with interest.

On the flip-side, there are upcoming movies that are not particularly on my must-see list–

X-Men: Apocalypse– Despite my deep and long-lasting affection for the X-Men, I’ve found the last several movies disappointing, despite the presence of great actors like Jennifer Lawrence.  After Days of Future Past apparently rebooted the series I have some hope, but I’m going to approach Apocalypse with caution.

Deadpool– hmm…no.  Not a fan, despite the presence of certain X-Men.  Sorry. (Oh, and the trailer’s kinda gory, fyi).

Warcraft– really uncertain about this one, and rather severely disappointed by the look of the trailer.  The live action and the CGI characters do not look as if they were matched up very well. I’ve been waiting for a World of Warcraft movie, and now that it’s here it looks…kinda lame, actually.  Dang.

Gods of Egypt– please.  Overwrought CGI and some sort of battle of the gods that looks like a cheap video-game. No, thank you.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows– oh, hell no.





The problem with Superman

I missed it when it came out in the theaters, so three days ago I rushed down to my local mom-and-pop corner video store when I found out they had Man of Steel on DVD.

What follows is not a review, which would be fairly pointless for a film that’s been out for months. It is more my thoughts, reactions and questions regarding the film, and how it applies to the super-hero genre in general and my own, still-embryonic, super-hero tale.


Okay, that’s taken care of. Onward.

The first and foremost aspect of Man of Steel I really appreciate is that it deals with the tale of Superman with the gravity it deserves. It has humor, but the humor is appropriate and integral to the story, based on the interactions of the characters and not on silly villains or jokes. And there’s not a speck of camp in evidence, which is a profound relief. In my opinion, most other film versions of Superman have abjectly failed in this regard, and I am almost giddy to see a version that takes the character and his world seriously.

The initial scenes on Krypton kept me utterly riveted, aided in no small part by Hans Zimmer’s terrific score. Snyder’s vision of Krypton and Kryptonians is of a dying world and a great race in its decadence. When General Zod commits a coup just as Jor-el is trying to convince the Kryptonian high council of their peril, and a brief civil war ensues, I was rapt. Zod kills Jor-el just as Kal-el’s starship/bassinet launches, which is a great dramatic moment.

Once Kal-el/Clark Kent is on Earth, the movie adheres to some aspects of the classic template, and alters others (in this version Lana Lang is a brunette, and Lois Lane is a redhead. Go figure). Chief among the changes is that Lois Lane figures out Superman’s identity early on, so that particular piece of story tension is off the table, for the better, in my opinion. Clark’s struggle to find his place and understand who he is is dealt with in both present time and flashback. Just about the moment he gets it down, Zod and his surviving flunkies show up. Seems Jor-el had slipped the Codex, the master genetic database for Kryptonians, into Kal-el before sending him off. Zod needs the Codex to recreate the Kryptonian race, whom he then plans to settle on an Earth terraformed to Kryptonian standards, which will mean the destruction of the human race. At this point, it is game on between Superman and Zod (one point– don’t ever threaten Ma Kent. Very bad idea).

A tremendous amount of punching, throwing, smashing and general mayhem ensue, first in Smallville, and then in Metropolis. Once on Earth, the Kryptonians share Superman’s basic super-strength and invulnerability, although finer skills like heat-vision, flying and super-hearing take time to develop. The Kryptonians have to wear breathing apparatus, otherwise exposure to Earth’s atmosphere causes pain and disorientation as these extra abilities awaken and cause sensory overload.

Superman’s initial encounter with Faora and Nam-ek, two of Zod’s flunkies, is basically a stalemate until Superman manages to damage Faora’s breathing apparatus. Superman’s climatic battle with Zod is even more of a stalemate, because Zod has now acclimated to Earth’s atmosphere. The climatic moment comes as Zod, head-locked by Superman, threatens to fry bystanders with his heat vision. Superman warns him not to; when it becomes apparent Zod will carry out his threat, Superman snaps his neck and kills him.


Rewind, look at that again. Superman breaks Zod’s neck. And at that moment, I was completely thrown out of the movie.

Why? Because up until that point, we had seen that Superman and the other Kryptonians were evenly matched. The fights have a frustrating aspect to them, precisely because nobody seems to really get the upper hand. More to the point, nobody gets physically hurt. In the fight in Smallville, neither Superman nor Faora and Nam-Ek suffer so much as a bloody nose. Faora is rendered unconscious, but that’s because of her breathing apparatus’ destruction. Her face doesn’t even get smudged. Superman takes a flaming locomotive engine in the kisser and emerges without a hair out of place. He throws Nam-Ek into the rail-yard in the first place and Nam-Ek apparently suffers no significant damage. Ditto through the titanic fight between Superman and Zod, up until the last moment.

Reviewing online arguments regarding this moment of the film, a lot of people seemed to justify what is, to me, a glaring logic failure by saying “Superman was on Earth longer, he was stronger”. Well, if so, foreshadow it. Have Superman break Nam-ek’s arm and give Faora a bloody lip, or something, so long as it indicates mutual vulnerability. This is a piece of narrative debt– not only must expectations set up in the first act be fulfilled in the third, the action of the third act must be adequately foreshadowed in the first.

For my money, this was not done adequately. Killing Zod in that manner seemed to violate the rules set up for this universe, which appeared to be that even super-powered Kryptonians cannot significantly hurt one another. Considering all the action that had gone before, where Zod and Superman were basically tossing each other through buildings (and doubtless causing massive collateral casualties in the process) without a scratch, Superman suddenly snuffing Zod in this manner was jarringly out of place for me. What had been, at times, a powerful movie suddenly seemed contrived and false.

(As an aside, a lot of other people were upset by Superman killing Zod because “Superman doesn’t kill people.” Well, in the first instance, wrong, Superman has killed before. In the second instance, as far as I am concerned, the idea that Superman was above killing has always been unrealistic and a relic of the old Comic Code days. I was okay with him putting Zod six feet under, or however they do it on Krypton. ‘Nuff said on that subject).

I am just guessing, but it seems possible to me that the writers of the movie basically wrote themselves into a corner. Having committed themselves to Kryptonian invulnerability on Earth, they got to the climatic battle, couldn’t figure out how to end it in a consistent manner, and just threw in the neck snap business sort of ad hoc. I could be completely off-base on that point– it’s possible they didn’t realize there is a major logical problem, but that would be worse. However that may be, it’s clear to me that killing Zod in that manner without adequate preparation represents a major breakdown of the movie’s internal logic. There are other logic flaws in the story line that I won’t spend time discussing, but they are minor compared to this final “What the f….?”

If I had been part of the writing team for this movie (I can dream, can’t I?) I would have lobbied hard to make Superman and the Kryptonians vulnerable in one way or another, and to show it well before the climatic battle. Personally, I have never liked Superman’s invulnerability as a concept. It has long been identified as problematic for story-telling. It means that, aside from kryptonite, magic and a very few special villains, there is basically no way to put Superman in jeopardy in any ordinary sense. Over the years there have been several major reboots/re-imaginings that sought to dial Superman’s powers back and make him more vulnerable, but the mythos always seems to return to the classic character template. As a consequence, there have been decades of Superman stories lacking any real sense of danger.

Contrast Superman with Batman, especially Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises, and you’ll understand what I’m talking about– Batman fails, is hurt, he definitely runs the risk of death, and he has to struggle to overcome adversity. As a result, a case could be made that Batman is the more compelling character of the two.

So this is the problem with Superman– one I want to definitely avoid in crafting my own story. It’s evident to me that when the time comes I will have to very carefully craft my tale, determine in advance the rules of the universe (as opposed to my usual, make-it-up-as-I-go process) and clearly outline the strengths and limits of my characters. Most particularly I want them to be vulnerable in some fashion that creates real danger and a real story.

As for Man of Steel itself, it has so many really strong elements, and fundamentally the right approach to the character, that it will eventually end up in my DVD collection. The minor logic flaws, almost inevitable in a fantasy about super-heroes (you’re starting with an impossible premise in the first place, so making it sound logical is really hard), I can generally forgive. As far as Zod’s death goes, I will just have to somehow compartmentalize my confusion and disappointment over it.

Perhaps the next film in this series will be able to avoid this sort of problem. More importantly, hopefully I can take this lesson to heart and make my story stronger.


Some additional thoughts, a few days later–

I’ve had the opportunity to watch the movie through again, paying closer attention to some of the details, and I feel impelled to clarify my view of the movie. Man of Steel, for my personal taste, is probably the best Superman movie ever made. It is not perfect and it is certainly not a masterpiece, but it does most the things I’ve always wanted to see in a Superman film, taking a much more realistic approach (e.g., yes, when two superbeings battle it out in an urban area, you’re going to get civilian casualties) to the mythos. There are still pieces of the narrative that don’t feel particularly well thought out, and Zod’s death still seems a massive failure/cop-out, but on the whole I appreciate the direction in which Snyder took this version.

Saying this is the best Superman movie ever is, frankly, also a statement of how I feel about most previous Superman films. Basically it’s been 35 years of general disappointment, with the first third of Superman (1978) being okay and Superman Returns (2006) being a worthy effort. Most everything else Superman-related in the movies has been worthless, in my opinion. Perhaps this puts my appreciation of Man of Steel in perspective. Hopefully the next film will build on the foundation Snyder has built.

Stephen King’s “Carrie”, power, and love.

I have started what I hope and pray is the final edit of Princess of Shadows. Initial progress is slow, but that was the pattern with Princess of Wonders and Princess of Secrets as well, so I expect the pace will pick up.

So far no major issues have turned up, but I am finding that certain bits of inattentive writing still linger after four drafts (or is it five? I’ve lost count…). Here’s a fairly representative example–

The guard and Swallow conducted Kathy down a corridor
and out a door. Steps led down to a wide courtyard. It was wide,
nearly a hundred feet or so, and perhaps half that across.

Sigh. Fortunately, as I mentioned before, the CreateSpace proof PDF is proving to be very useful at spotting this sort of thing.

Meanwhile, as part of my research for my unnamed superhero novel, I have been reading Stephen King’s Carrie. That may seem like a strange choice as a superhero story, because, of course, Carrie’s not a superhero, but I am not approaching the subject in the traditional manner. This goes back to my discussion of the movie Chronicle (see the May archive) and the theme of what ordinary people do when suddenly given incredible power.

Full disclosure– I am not a horror fan, nor am I a particular fan of Stephen King. I have never read any of his books, other than an abortive attempt at The Gunslinger some years ago. On the other hand, I can, at least from a distance, recognize a skilled writer.

I picked up Carrie because it has some superficial similarities to the nascent concept I have in my head. As with Chronicle, I wanted to see how other authors have handled this subject, mainly because my own thinking about my story remains pretty nebulous.

(Mild spoilers– mild for me, at least– herein follow)

Stephen King himself has said that Carrie was “a young book by a young writer“, and at times I can see that– there are places where the narrative is thin, and some of the characterizations are two-dimensional. One of the devices King employed was the insertion of passages from reports, investigation testimony, and books written by characters after Prom Night, as it’s called, which tends to telegraph the action, perhaps more than we want it to.

On the other hand, King’s writing in general is taut, and his depiction of Carrie, her mother, and their relationship is harrowing, and form the effective core of the book. Margaret, Carrie’s mother, is a fanatic with a twisted religious lens, through which she views the world and her daughter. Her abuse of Carrie lays the foundation for Carrie’s inability to handle the power she has (in this case, hereditary), as well as her victimization by the outside world. Carrie has no foundational love on which to fall back.

For a moment, when Sue Snell, a girl who thoughtlessly participated in the moment of public humiliation of Carrie that starts the novel, tries to make amends by inducing her boyfriend to ask Carrie to the prom, it looks as if maybe Carrie will defy her mother, come out of her shell, and start to find some joy in life. This is taken away from her in an instant by the vindictive petty vengeance of a spoiled rich girl, which tips Carrie over the edge into creating a holocaust.

Parts of this novel are hard to read, and not just the horrifying interactions between Carrie and her mother. Carrie’s humiliation at the prom is painful, because you want this kid to emerge from the hell of her previous life, and that chance is taken away by shallow cruelty. There is not a lot of redemption in this book, except possibly for Sue Snell, the one character who appears to grow as a consequence of what happens. I wish there was more redemption, more affirmation, and that is undoubtedly a critical difference (one of many, doubtless) between me and Stephen King. King isn’t afraid to look straight and unflinchingly into the heart of pain and failure. I find that difficult in my own writing. In some way or another, I need to learn how to do this.

As to power, though, Carrie seems to confirm an understanding that has been forming in my own mind. I go back, once again, to Superman. Superman has the foundational love of the Kents to anchor him and to teach him how to use his powers for good; Carrie has nothing but the abuse and psychosis of her mother, which leaves her unequipped to handle either her power or the petty cruelties of other children. When she lashes out, it is rather analogous to a teenager opening fire in a classroom with an AK-47– a school-shooting by other means.

Of course, that analogy is part of the point– Carrie’s superpowers are a metaphor for the power anyone has to cause pain and suffering, whether it’s with a gun or a cruel word. We learn to use our power for good rather than harm as we are taught to empathize– to understand and to love others as we love ourselves.

I can almost state the interaction of foundational love versus power as a formula–

love > power

At least, we hope it is. Myths like Superman (and it is a myth) tell us it is. Looking at the real world, though, a note of doubt interrupts our certainty. There are plenty of people who have betrayed their love for power, or wealth, or some other lie that at some moment appeared more important or of more weight than the fuel that actually makes us human. People fail to love for many different reasons, and often with catastrophically tragic results.

So there is an uncertainty in how this contest between love and power will play out in each human being. And in that uncertainty, perhaps, lies the key to my story.

Hmm– maybe I need to see Man of Steel, after all.