Movie Review: Man of Steel


The Likes

  • I tend to think that Hugh Jackman was born to play Wolverine. Similarly, Robert Downey Jr. is the perfect actor to play Tony Stark, not counting rubbish Iron Man scripts. Now, I can add Henry Cavill’s name to this list. This guy embodies every aspect of Superman perfectly to become one with the suit. He certainly looks the part with his endearing smile and chiseled muscularity, but he manages to expand on older iterations of the character as well. Cavill is emotive and expressive, which shows how human he is despite being Kryptonian. Critics have complained that the new Superman is too “dark” and “serious”. Well, they must not be well acquainted with Superman because he has plenty of “dark” moments within his history. It’s important to let go of any idealized 1950s version of the hero because this is a new hero for a new generation. Furthermore, this is a more, dare I say it, realistic take on Superman. Yes he is the Man of Steel, but he still struggles to come to terms with his identity and destiny. Thus, I think the strength of the character lies in the fact that Superman is much more relateable than before as we get to see him become the Man of Tomorrow.  You will smile as he shares a tender moment with this mother; you will be agonized as he watches his father die; and you will believe that a man can fly. A lot of this can be attribute to good writing, but Henry Cavill pulls all this off with aplomb and does the character justice.

  • Save for a few performances, every other actor was on point. Kevin Costner and Diane Lane are perfect as the Kents and bring heart and humility to Clark’s life. Michael Shannon’s General Zod goes beyond Terence Stamp and delivers a rousing, malevolent, and scary performance as Zod. I particularly liked that he went toe-to-toe against Superman. Their scenes together, especially the sea of skulls scene, are some of the best of the movie. The standout performance of the film belongs to Russel Crowe who was absolutely brilliant as Jor-El. His performance  carries heart as he is the only honest connection that Clark has left to his heritage.   Also, I don’t think I have seen Crowe kick so much butt since Gladiator as he fights to secure his son’s and Krypton’s future. The entire opening section on Krypton was done so spectacularly well that I thought I was watching a Russell Crowe science fiction epic and not Man of Steel. All I know is  I want to see him in every damn sequel.
  • Hans Zimmer proves yet again why he sits atop the mountain when it comes to composing film scores. The music is loud and boisterous, but it also knows when to yield and allow room for the softer harmonies to take center stage. Overall, it is an impactful score which significantly enhances the movie. It’s also a pleasure to listen to through a decent pair of headphones. One minute you’ll be lost in your thoughts and the next you’ll feel like flying or fighting in a battle. Unfortunately, I didn’t notice any single theme that sands out as “Superman’s Theme”. I suspect this might become more fleshed out over the course of later movies. My personal favorite is the track entitled “Flight” which plays when Clark first takes to the sky.
  • The visual spectacle of the film has to be seen to be believed. I would hate to be one of the visual effects artists working on this film. It makes Transformers look like a cartoon drawing. This is never more apparent than when you’re on Krypton. Getting to see that world and its culture, at least the end of it, come to life was mesmerizing. Additionally, the fight scenes with Superman feel like they popped out of the comic book and onto the screen. It’s very cool stuff to witness Zod and Kal-El battling it out over the city. Still, it’s not all great (more on that later).
  • Some people are taking issue with what Kal-EL does at the end of the movie. I thought it was handled splendidly and creates a mountain of conflict for the hero to deal with.
  • Special mention goes to Faora. Zod’s right hand woman is EVIL to the core and HOT as hell. Her fight scenes manage to even trump Superman’s. Hell, she kicks his butt all over the place and tosses him around like a rag doll. Also, there was a bit of blink and you miss it fan service: a LEXCORP logo on a truck and a WAYNE INDUSTRIES logo on a satellite. Also, I wonder what else escaped from the Phantom Zone.  I would have enjoyed something more substantial (e.g. post credits scene), but this is a good sign of things to come.

The Dislikes

  • Lois Lane. I have no issue with Amy Adams’ portrayal of the character, but it is a horribly written character that drags down the plot. One minute she is an intrepid and gutsy reporter (makes sense) and the next she’s a damsel in distress shouting “Clark! Clark!” all over the place. I felt the progression of the character was completely wrong. Within the first hour of the movie she figures out who Superman is and becomes his best friend/lover within the next hour. In fact, what could have been one of the best scenes in the movie (i.e. Clark meeting Jor-El and becoming Superman) is ruined because in between that Clark has to go save Lois from apparent death. Yes, we get that Lois and Clark are meant to be together, but it doesn’t have to happen in the first movie. I think it would have worked a lot better had their paths not crossed in this movie at all. In fact, Clark should have had Lana Lang as his confidant and friend (she’s in the movie) in Smallville and saved the Lois romance for the next movie.
  • The Clark and Lois dynamic also suffers because this film’s pacing is rush rush rush to get to the action. It is style over substance. After saving Lois from falling for the second/third time, the two of them share an amorous kiss. Wait! Why are they kissing? Why are they together now? There’s little to no development to justify them getting together. Their romance just seems shoehorned into the plot and only serves to damage it. The problem of pacing makes also means a lot of characters are left underdeveloped or only exist to move the story along. For example, the doctor from DARPA only exists to define terraforming and slot a key into a hole. Another example would be Laurence Fishburne and his gang of the Daily Planet Ineptitudes. They are only present to get into trouble and create pointless drama when one of them gets pinned under rubble. Seriously, if you decide to stand and watch a building in front of you collapsing , then you deserve to have it fall on you. The worst example is Lara-El who has a tiny role and she doesn’t really get a chance to lend emotion  to the role of a mother sending her child away.
  • The visual effects are great but it’s all so messy and starts to look ugly fast (e.g. Transformers). There’s just too much of it all over the place, especially once the World Engines come into play. I’m particularly tired of watching New York getting pummeled in every other movie. Are there not any other locations on Earth?  It also looks silly because Superman only seems to be adding to the destruction. I don’t have an issue with big explosions and set pieces, but it should be directed inventively and intelligently (e.g. The Dark Knight, Avengers). This is a personal annoyance but I also didn’t like the design philosophy of the Kryptonians. Everything just looks bulky and industrious as opposed to sleek and functional. I mean they are a spacefaring race lightyears beyond anything else. Also, the 3D in the movie adds NOTHING to the movie. It’s all post production 3D and the movie looks much better in the regular screen format.
  • I hated the stupid ending about Superman being American. What a load of crock. He is supposed to be a citizen of Earth and protector of all. This really hurt the image of the hero for me. Also, why does Clark go to a church to get guidance? He has Jor-El, his mother and Lois to talk to, but he goes to some random priest who gives him the most hollow and cliched advice about trust and faith.
  • Clark putting on his glasses and joining the Daily Planet just doesn’t work for me in this version. First, Lois and Clark just shared a long kiss in front of everyone who matters at the Daily Planet but somehow they don’t remember his face when they hire him? The army stood face to face with him and they can’t track him down at the paper or, as Clark tells them, Kansas? Hell, Lois found him out with nothing but old fashioned reporter skills and met his mother! Clark has saved countless lives around the world before becoming Superman, so I’m sure they know his identity. This is the inherent issue with making Lois such a focal point of this story because working at The Daily Planet just seems like fan service with no thought behind it. Imagine how cool it would have been to have Clark working under Lois without her figuring it out until later on. It would have meant amusing character interactions and development, but more importantly the romance would have made sense. Also, what’s the trend with superhero identities not being secret anymore in movies?

Is it perfect? Nope. Is it better than a lot of other superhero movies? Yes. The best? Hell no! If you’re a Superman fan, then this a great new version to be excited about and it is a lot of fun. It has its flaws, but all films do. The first half of the movie is really strong with superb performances. The second half is a slight let down (mainly as soon as New York is attacked) but it doesn’t deter too much from the overall epic scale of the story and brutal action.




Who Really Won The War?

As I surfed the web, flipped channels and sifted through topics,  I hoped to find the world’s latest fixation to be mildly tolerable. What is everyone discussing these days? Better yet, what are they thinking but not discussing?

Salvation appeared in the form of comedy (what else?). More accurately, the messenger of salvation was one called Jon Stewart and his satirically hilarious faux award ceremony. Two clear winners emerged from that episode:  Daniel Day Lewis (what hasn’t he won?) and China. No one can argue with Daniel Day Lewis’ talent to get to the heart of a character, but China? Well, it just so happens that China is not only winning the war in Iraq but it’s on its way to becoming a local hero.

Chinatown Iraq?

Let’s define winning within this context. From my perspective (and that of several journalists from Bloomberg to the NY Times), winning is defined in terms of economic benefit. Winning should not be confused with profitability because by that standard Western companies –Exxon and Shell – are still the most profitable companies in Iraq.   Based on economic benefit, China is whistling a victorious tune all the way to the bank. In fact, China is  highhandedly acquiring half of the entire oil production in Iraq. However, China’s role is not just confined to purchasing oil.

The Chinese state owned corporation CNPC has acquired development rights for the next 20 years with an investment upwards of $2 billion. Besides pouring cash into a cash strapped nation (and cash strapped oil industry), China is willing to play by the current government’s strict rules. Another game changer to the oil development industry brought about by China is the CNPC’s willingness to accept lower profits. Slowly, intricately and manipulatively China is suffocating Western companies by undercutting them. Essentially, China is changing the way business is being conducted in Iraq. Whether or not these new business practices are actually benefittingl the Iraqi people is yet to be determined. This is especially troubling when one considers that Iraq is a volatile mix of economic, social and religious issues that could implode if not handled assiduously.

From a macro perspective, the US and India are by far Iraq’s strongest trading partners. Together they account for a combined 45% of the country’s entire export market. China comes in at distant third place with only 13% of the total exports. China may be producing and consuming the Iraqi oil but the US still remains a key partner in the country (and the entire region). The question is for how long? It is indisputable that balance of power is shifting.  China is already on a course to overtake the US as the largest trading partner in the world. With China’s insatiable appetite for oil and growing demand for other commodities, it is likely that China will use its vast industrial power to tilt the region (and the world) to its personal benefit.  What will be the USA’s next move in this game of diplomatic and economic chess? More importantly, who are the pawns?

Does It Matter If China Wins?

 From a romantic and idealistic perspective it is acceptable that someone else emerges as the winner. Having said that, Iraq is now a free market and the country should be judicious about contract allocation. Hopefully this nascent democracy will set its own rules and focus on developing the country and responding to needs of the people as opposed to those of corporations. It’s a delicate situation on a tightrope, and I’m sure that the reality with which the Iraqi people live everyday is much more complex than the Utopian imaginings of this author.

Still, America (or at least some parts of America) feel cheated with this result, especially considering the FUBARs Iraq and Afghanistan turned out to be. This is a product of  typical colonialism mentality where individuals and nations are treated as bounty prizes that can be split among would be conquerors and liberators. In short, it seems like a modern day retelling of the Treaty of Tordesillas.

It’s Not All Bad

In actuality, this end result isn’t all  bad for the US. In fact, a Chinese victory benefits us all. I can think of at least three crucial benefits from China’s growing presence in Iraq. The largest benefit the US receives from China’s hold in Iraq comes at the expense of Iraq’s neighbors. By allowing China to become the key player in the region, long time US frenemies, such as Russia and Iran, are immediately weakened. The US has effectively stirred the power struggle between China and Russia. With the victory of China in Iraq, Russia is starting to lose relevance in the region. A second benefit from pawning Iraq to the Chinese is that China is allowed to satisfy its need for oil without denting global prices. Because China has the upper hand in the exploration and development of oil, it has literally picked up the slack created by the Iranian oil embargo (yes, there is an oil embargo on Iran since 2012). China, through the CNPC, has done a hell of job expanding the oil production in Iraq. Finally by allowing China to bear some of the costs of the war (and thus the oil production and infrastructure) the US has “saved face” with the American people. Officially it’s the CNPC enduring lower profit and larger investment requirements. The sore losers here are Exxon, Shell and BP, who are now forced to compete under new conditions that they cannot control. That’s certainly not a bad thing.

So, who really won in the end?


Open Source Guns: The Dark Side of 3D Printing

There is no doubt that 3D printing heralds a new technological frontier. The potential for this technology to redefine industry is unprecedented. We’re already pushing the boundaries of the current generation of 3D printing by producing bionic organs. There are also companies experimenting with food, textiles and human stem cells. Our imagination and ingenuity will progress with the technology and open up new avenues in manufacturing.

Then there’s Cody R Wilson.

Of course, every technology can be bastardized and has the potential to used with malicious intent. But this isn’t what Cody is trying to do. He wants to be “intentionally disruptive” as if he is trying to prove some point. He tries to appear erudite by spouting out verbiage about that makes next to no sense. The same goes for his disciple who comes across as some bullied kid that Cody took under his wing. In essence, they both sound like teenagers fascinated with rebellious ideas that have a lot of growing up to do.

The distressing part is that he is putting this information online for others to freely use and collaborate on. If you follow the news, then you know that gun control is a hot topic within the USA. Cody and his friend argue that the gun is merely a tool and should not be banned because of the intent of a few misdirected individuals. Well, how does posting the recipe for 3D guns help this cause then? 3D printers are quickly becoming affordable, and it won’t be long before someone who wants to intentionally cause harm will invest in it and build an arsenal at home.

Currently, there is no law in place to block the dissemination of such information. In fact, officials report that it might be impossible to regulate 3D printed weapons. I don’t believe in the restriction of information, but in a country already beset with gun violence is it a good idea to make weapons open source property? What happens when it reaches the shores of countries that have outright banned firearms?

I suspect that Cody Wilson’s crusade will prove to be the canary in the coalmine. No government in the world wants people making their own weapons in their garage. This is not a 2nd Amendment issue, nor is it an infringement of some God given right dictated by the founding fathers. Both points are used by the gun lobby to appeal to the emotions of their followers. Other countries around the world function just fine without guns in public hands. With the advent and mainstreaming of 3D printing, I hope that this is not a lesson that America learns too late.