Tuesday, June 18, 2013

"The Junkie that Outdid Superman!" Sounds like a Silver Age title, huh?

(Some minor spoilers ahead for Man of Steel, Star Trek Into Darkness, Iron Man 3...and another movie I don't want to mention yet.)

So I went and saw Man of Steel on Father's Day. I was in a pretty good mood, which may have affected the results, since I pretty much enjoyed it. Oh, there are a couple of moments of Superman=Christ imagery I thought were beyond heavy-handed, and I do remember thinking this was a pretty big body count for a Superman movie, but I still came out feeling positive. Popular opinion, however, seems somewhat split. To put it mildly; and you could just as easily argue what opinion isn't split in America these days, but that's another story. Both Mark Waid and Chris Sims were somewhat less than thrilled with it. There may be something to the idea that this was a Superman movie for people who don't read comics or have a more than passing familiarity with the character; and that the more concrete your idea of Superman, the less you would enjoy this version.

NPR's review of Man of Steel mentions a scene I hadn't thought about at the time: "You can save [them]," Jor-El (Russell Crowe) assures Superman (Henry Cavill) at a key juncture; "you can save them all." Um...Jor-El may have been speaking metaphorically there, since Superman emphatically doesn't save everyone. (And that scene isn't really with Jor-El, but sort of a program/ghost of him, but we won't split any more hairs on that point!)

But a rising body count, much as I feel it's a little out of place in a Superman movie, is almost to be expected in a summer blockbuster today. So far this year I've seen Iron Man 3, Star Trek Into Darkness, and now Man of Steel; all of which feature the bad guys killing hundreds, if not thousands, before the heroes finally stop them. We don't see all or even most of those deaths onscreen or know most of these faceless victims--it's tough for even a Red Shirt to get a death scene anymore--but the scale and spectacle of the destruction implies a huge death toll (and dramatically raised stakes.) Of course, this isn't a recent development: there were probably four-figure casualties or more in the previous Star Trek, Avengers, or the DC movies Green Lantern or the Dark Knight Rises. It used to be, the hero had to stop the villain, before people died. Now that's the part that doesn't seem realistic enough for a superhero or sci-fi movie anymore; civilian deaths are accepted as a matter of course. Sure, the heroes manage to stop whatever the armageddon du jour is from destroying everything, but not without immense losses.

Which brings up another film I saw recently: the recent remake of The Evil Dead. Like a lot of movies I watch, I had to file it under "Enjoyable, not very good." Fun as all get out while you watch it, if critically you could poke so many holes in it. And that was rather an odd duck of a movie to start with. It's not a straight remake of the Sam Raimi/Bruce Campbell classic, and there isn't an Ash character; but there are ever so many callbacks, references, and homages to the earlier films. There's also more horror cliches in the new version: a character dumb enough to read the big evil Necronomicon, characters left alone or unattended for seemingly ever so bad things can happen to them, the characters possessed by the Deadites don't talk as much smack as they used to and more just lurch and jerk about like common infected zombies, and somewhat unnecessary Chekhov's gun weapon placement: it's an Evil Dead film, we know there's gonna be a chainsaw sometime...

There's also a gem of an idea, that's in the wrong place: the five friends are out at the secluded cabin in the woods, so one of them, Mia, can go through heroin withdrawal. At first, it's set up like maybe she's not really seeing the Deadites; they're just a junkie's hallucinations, and maybe Mia is really the killer. That's a great hook...that doesn't belong in this movie at all. We know the title, we know the Necronomicon, we know the story, we know she's not crazy. But here's the thing: after a couple fake-outs, Mia ends up the final girl, up against a final Deadite. And this one's for all the marbles: if she loses, not only will she die and her soul be eaten, but it would probably open a gateway for the Deadites to swarm and destroy earth. Mia digs deep, doing things most people would not be capable of, and saves herself...and humanity, while also in passing seeming to kick the junk quite handily. The Evil Dead is a different genre of movie than Man of Steel, with different rules and values--it's low(er)-budget and filled with buckets of blood--but only five characters die, four of whom we know the names of. Hundreds, if not thousands, that we never see or meet, are killed in the disasters of Man of Steel or Star Trek Into Darkness, among other films. And a junkie, not a superhero or starship captain, managed to stop the bad guys before they killed more.

Of course, that's not a fair comparison, especially since the writers and producers of Evil Dead might have had the Deadites slaughter the entire population of, say, Michigan, if the budget had allowed for it; but it's what occurred to me after seeing both films the same week...



1 comment:

Dale Bagwell said...

Yeah you got a point about the high body count in sci-fi/hero movies nowadays. Since society's "changed", expect this sort of thing to be the norm, as if it isn't already. I don't have a problem with Superman killing, especially if the situation is that dire. And since I still haven't seen the movie, but read reviews about it, I'll just assume that situation is just that; dire.

Plus I'm sure a lot of the hate is due to this not being he Christopher Reeves Superman. I get it, but that era's done and safely filled away in DVD/Blu-Ray land.