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At the Movies: Man of Steel, Iron Man 3, Star Trek Into Darkness and Pacific Rim

Henry Cavill as Superman in Warner Bros.’ Man of Steel.

I pretty much only get to see movies I am writing about these days, so it’s a good thing a lot of those are movies of interest. Here are some notes on my summer blockbuster viewings so far, including Man of Steel, Iron Man 3, Star Trek Into Darkness and Pacific Rim.

I saw Man of Steel a few days before it was publicly released, as I wrote an article on the VFX in the movie for Animation Magazine. (It’ll be in the issue out at Comic-Con, as well as online, but more about CCI in a moment).

There was a lot I liked about the movie. And, honestly, I’m surprised it’s generated as much debate as it has. My first reaction was that the movie was really good. I very much liked the new take on Superman that Christopher Nolan, David Goyer and Zack Snyder had come up with. I liked Henry Cavill as Superman and Amy Adams was a terrific Lois Lane. Those are all very hard things to do. If I had one complaint, it was that the fights could have been trimmed back as the destruction becomes a bit overwhelming even though it’s done incredibly well. I particularly liked one shot in the final fight between Zod and Superman where Zod punches him through four or five buildings, with the interior workings of each building exposed in incredible detail.

A lot of Superman fans really dislike the movie, and its more modern portrayal of Superman. I, however, was very glad to see a different take on the character even though I understand that his movie doesn’t give him the heart or idealism that, say, Christopher Reeve brought to the role. But we’ve already had that movie, and a decent sequel and two not-so-decent ones and a disappointing attempt to revive that style. I also am glad someone can strip away a lot of the barnacles that have attached themselves to the Superman mythos over the year. It helped tremendously to ground the movie in today’s world. Superman is still a somewhat distant character, but the world’s reaction to him in this movie and his actions all make sense for a story set in the 21st century instead of the 1930s. Those who want a simpler, happier Superman shouldn’t look to today’s feature films, which operate under economics that require such broad global appeal to audiences of all ages that this kind of PG-13 take on the character is the only type a studio would even attempt.

In the weeks since I’ve seen the movie, I have to admit my enthusiasm for the movie has cooled. I will look forward to seeing it again when it hits Blu-ray, a process that softened my takes on movies like The Dark Knight Rises and Prometheus.

Moving on: I loathed Star Trek Into Darkness. You can take a look back at my comments on J.J. Abrams’ first Star Trek feature for my overall take on the reboot, as most of the same comments apply to the sequel. I will add that there’s some incredibly sillyness in this movie, most of it coming from the ill-advised elements borrowed from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. I think it shows a staggering lack of imagination for the filmmakers to spend all this time and money rebooting the franchise for the future and then so emptily going back to ape the great moments of the past in the vain hope that the original’s emotional resonance would somehow carry over and be amplified through their eyes. Ugh.

Iron Man 3 was not a great movie, but it was a lot of fun and it was a big improvement over Iron Man 2. It’s interesting to see the movie franchise take on a life of its own and essentially outgrow anything and everything done with the comic book version in nearly 50 years of publishing. In this movie, the big bold personality Robert Downey Jr. brings to Tony Stark has outgrown the character’s alter-ego, and he spends much of the latter part of the film outside of his armor, calling it to him only when needed. Downey is an ideal match for this role and I think he can take it to even more interesting places in future films.

I liked the pace and humor in the film, which I think comes in large part from director and co-writer Shane Black and his rapport with Downey. There were, however, a few moments where Stark and Rhodey were huddling under fire that I expected Don Cheadle to say “I’m getting too old for this shit!” I think that would have been awesome. Also, the twist with Ben Kingsley’s The Mandarin is inspired and funny; and Guy Pearce makes a great villain and I don’t know why he’s not in more movies. I have no idea where Iron Man 4 could go, but I’m sure we’ll all find out in a couple of years.

Read what I wrote for Animation Magazine about the VFX on Iron Man 3 and Star Trek Into Darkness here.

I can’t say too much about Pacific Rim — another film for which I’m writing about the visual effects — because it’s not due out until July 12. But so far, this is my favorite film of the summer. Not only is it an original story, it’s got a lot of style, is insanely fun when it comes to the extensive action sequences, and tells a complete tale! It’s like Guillermo del Toro is reminding Hollywood of the sort of movies it used to make and that were once its bread and butter. I hope it’s a hit.

First Look at Henry Cavill as Superman in ‘Man of Steel’

Warner Bros. released today the first image from Zack Snyder’s upcoming Man of Steel movie, featuring the first image of actor Henry Cavill as Superman.

Here’s the pic:

I admit to quite liking this. As great as Christopher Reeve was, I think it’s a good idea to steer clear of trying to imitate what he did and find a new version of Superman for the big screen.

This image shows a powerful, muscular Superman that’s a bit more in line with the original concept of the character, as created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. I like the long, heavy cape, but think we could try and do away with every superhero having some kind of 3D plastic emblem glued to their chest.

Snyder stumbled with fans on Sucker Punch. While not a great movie by any means, I didn’t think it was as horrible as everyone else did, at least in part because it delivered exactly what the trailers promised.

I do think Snyder is a good director. He may not have the kind of grand cinematic vision that changes the artform, but he does have a surprisingly good grip on the details and can pull off complicated movies pretty much on time and on budget.

The casting also is really good on this. Amy Adams, Laurence Fishburne, Kevin Coster, Diane Lane, Michael Shannon, Julia Ormond and Russell Crowe all should be much more interesting than the cast of Superman Returns.

I’m also glad they’re not making Lex Luthor the villain this time out, but we have already seen Zod so I don’t know why we need to revisit him when there are so many other Superman villains out there to choose from.

After the jump, you can read the press release that came along with the photo. What do you think, Superman fans? Does this look good to you, or is it cinematic Kryptonite?

“MAN OF STEEL” REVEALED
Much-anticipated First Look at Star Henry Cavill as Superman
BURBANK, CA, August 4, 2011 — Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures have provided the first look at the new “Man of Steel,” revealing star Henry Cavill as Superman in the film from director Zack Snyder.

The film also stars three-time Oscar® nominee Amy Adams (“The Fighter”) as Daily Planet journalist Lois Lane, and Oscar® nominee Laurence Fishburne (“What’s Love Got to Do with It”) as her editor-in-chief, Perry White. Starring as Clark Kent’s adoptive parents, Martha and Jonathan Kent, are Oscar® nominee Diane Lane (“Unfaithful”) and Academy Award® winner Kevin Costner (“Dances with Wolves”).

Squaring off against the superhero are two other surviving Kryptonians, the villainous General Zod, played by Oscar® nominee Michael Shannon (“Revolutionary Road”), and Faora, Zod’s evil partner, played by Antje Traue. Also from Superman’s native Krypton are Lara Lor-Van, Superman’s mother, played by Julia Ormond, and Superman’s father, Jor-El, portrayed by Academy Award® winner Russell Crowe (“Gladiator”).

Rounding out the cast are Harry Lennix as U.S. military man General Swanwick, as well as Christopher Meloni as Colonel Hardy.

“Man of Steel” is being produced by Charles Roven, Emma Thomas, Christopher Nolan and Deborah Snyder. The screenplay was written by David S. Goyer, from a story by Goyer and Nolan, based upon Superman characters created by Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster and published by DC Comics. Thomas Tull and Lloyd Phillips are serving as executive producers.

Currently in production, “Man of Steel” is slated for release on June 14, 2013 and will be distributed worldwide by Warner Bros. Pictures, a Warner Bros. Entertainment Company.

Countdown to Watchmen: Pre-screening thoughts

I am seeing Watchmen tonight and find myself quite looking forward to it.

I’ve largely avoided what seems like a thousand clips, interviews, reviews and rants on the film, mostly because it just seems like noise generated by the Warner Bros. marketing and hype machine. The proof always is in the final film, and I’d prefer not to have my expectations raised, lowered or otherwise messed with by that sort of thing.

What I have done is reread the graphic novel, just finishing the final chapter earlier today. This is the first time I’ve read the book all the way through in at least 10 years and possibly as long as 15. I first read the book in 1988, when I bought the trade at All About Books and Comics on a hot summer day. The clerk commented on my choice as he rung up my purchase, saying something along the lines of wishing he could read it again himself for the first time.

Rereading the graphic novel drives home the truth that no film will be able to replicate the experience of the book. I don’t care if it’s a 12-part HBO series, or if Orson Welles or Stanley Kubrick rose from the grave to direct it, or if Alan Moore himself pronounced it perfection. No film can truly capture this experience because it’s designed to be a comic book through and through.

So that leaves me hoping for the next best thing — a good adaptation that does as much justice as you can possibly do to a book like that. I’m hopeful that this will be the case, even as critics veer wildly between pans and praise. That they’re producing the separate animated DVD with the Tales of the Black Freighter segment is, to me, a good sign that Zack Snyder and co. took this film very seriously and have tried their best to be true to both its stories and its underlying themes.

But I don’t expect this to be hailed as a great film that will take a place in the movie canon similar to the one the graphic novel has in its medium. That it’s different doesn’t bother me. And having just reread the book, it bothers me even less because Watchmen is a book that has retained its power — perhaps even increased it — in the 20-plus years since it was first published and will remain a powerful and unique experience no matter what I think after the lights come up at the Grove sometime around 11 p.m. this evening.

More tomorrow.

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