Man of Steel : A Spoiler-Heavy Review

This is late. This is soooo late. And it’s far too long. Ugh. What is wrong with me? Why do I even exist? I shouldn’t. I’m sorry.

I love Superman. That’s why I wrote this piece almost one year ago (and this piece shortly after that. Just in case you wanted to give my site some traffic or whatever. It’s cool, though, it’s totally cool. Just…y’know, if you want to). And I want you guys to know, I was REALLY hoping that Man of Steel would, against all my expectations, be an amazing film. I know that sounds egocentric…because it very much IS. When a superhero movie comes out (especially a superhero as iconic as the Man of Steel) I can’t help it: I DO feel like it should be tailor-made to my sensibilities. I also nitpick it to death and pass judgment on it when it fails to live up to my ludicrous standards. And, as I feared, I was right about Man of Steel. It wasn’t the great movie I desperately wanted it to be. Now the viewing experience itself wasn’t terrible, but it reminded me of The Dark Knight Rises: a film that’s enjoyable on the surface, but immediately falls to pieces upon closer examination. I hope this list adequately explains how I can be a Superman fan and not be a huge fan of his latest cinematic “triumph.”

NATE’S HATES

1. The Cinematography

I am not the hugest fan of Zack Snyder. I was desperately hoping that Brad Bird or Darren Aronofsky or even Martin Campbell would snag the director’s spot for Man of Steel. But once Snyder was on board, I figured we would at least get some decent action scenes. Maybe slow-motion would actually be a great way to depict Kryptonians battling. But guess what? Zack Snyder decided to abandon his strengths and cling even tighter to his weaknesses.

First of all, everything is shot through a color filter. Krypton is a drab parade of different shades of brown. Earth is a bleak gray wasteland. An ultimately pointless scene in which Zod invades Kal-El’s mind was obviously written into the movie so that Snyder could show off his “visionary” style of film-making  and cram in some of the same kind of “subtle” and  “symbolic” imagery we’ve come to expect from the man behind Sucker Punch.

The action scenes are especially disappointing because Snyder uses no slow-motion, which (as I said) could have really worked in this instance. But no, everything is fast-paced, hyper-edited, and out-of-focus. Perhaps that works for, say, Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, or the Bourne series, or even the most recent James Bond movies, but not here; not when you’re showing alien demigods battling for the Earth’s future. That kind of conflict should feel epic, and it doesn’t (weirdly enough, the most “epic” battle scene is the one that’s the most similar to Superman Returns, in which Superman destroys an inanimate object that causes him pain).

2. Plot Problems

Let me lay out a few of these in roughly chronological order. And yes, this one’s going to be a long segment:

How is Jor-El, genetically engineered to be a scientist, able to easily defeat Zod and his troops, genetically engineered to be perfect soldiers? How does the Phantom Zone work? If it’s another dimension, Why does there have to be a giant ship, and freeze-y tubes?

How could Superman’s suit (complete with the symbol of the House of El, no less) be in a scout ship that arrived on Earth 20,000 years ago? Did Jor-El (or his AI) program the ship to build it? If so, why make it blue, red, and yellow, colors that we haven’t seen exist on Krypton? Why doesn’t the suit look more like the armor that Jor-El wears instead of the body stocking that Kryptonian soldiers apparently wear under their combat suits?

What exactly gives Superman his powers? Jor-El said that the Earth’s lighter gravity gave him his ability to fly, and the radiation from Earth’s young sun supercharged his cells, right? The whole thing about earth’s atmosphere was just a throwaway line at the time; something about it being more nutritious than Krypton’s. Well, that line apparently only existed to justify the moment when Superman is on Zod’s ship and he blacks out and loses his powers. Why? Not because of the sun. Not because of the gravity. Because Zod’s ship artificially duplicates Krypton’s atmosphere. Now I know that an atmosphere is determined by the gravitational pull of a planet and that it contains ultraviolet solar radiation, but did we really need to be SO scientifically accurate that it seemingly contradicts Superman canon? Was it just to be “realistic”, Nolan-style? Weirdly specific time to do it. Why not just say it was red sun radiation?

How did Krypton’s destruction free the prisoners from the Phantom Zone? Why was it so easy for a prison ship (that Jor-El designed, by the way) to be taken over and converted into a vessel of war? How has Zod aged appropriately over a span of 33 years, but Faora hasn’t? Why would Zod reveal his presence to earth, when it would have been so much easier to search the internet for references to alien activity, locate Lois Lane, discreetly abduct her, use the brain-raping technology we know they have, and take Kal-El by surprise? I’m assuming that would have been just as easy (if not easier) than creating a broadcast that automatically translates words into every known language on earth, so why did Zod take such a big risk and tip his hand? Because he has “a flair for the dramatic”? WHY? He shouldn’t be susceptible to that kind of vanity if he was really genetically engineered to be the perfect soldier, right?

And if  Zod’s ultimatum was some kind of psychological tactic intended to terrify and intimidate, it failed; Earth still tried everything in its power to resist his incursion, and all the broadcast did was give them time to mobilize. Plus, you don’t need to break the spirits of a population if they already aren’t a threat to you AND you intend to completely destroy them, not subjugate them, right? For that matter, why did Zod NEED to terraform the Earth into a Krypton-style planet? His explanation was “We don’t want to endure years of pain adjusting to these abilities like Kal-El did.” WHAT? What kind of soldier throws away a tactical advantage like that? They spent more than three decades living in a flying prison! How could that be worse than spending a little time getting used to your completely AWESOME GODLIKE POWERS?! Plus, his argument is completely moot, since only a few minutes later he’s completely adjusted to his powers and he’s fighting Superman to a standstill!

For that matter, why does Zod need Earth to be the new Krypton? If he has a world engine that can terraform ANY planet into a duplicate of Krypton, why inconvenience himself by choosing Earth? He says he has no interest in the powers a yellow sun gives him, so why Earth? The whole reason Superman resists him is because he plans to use the codex to repopulate Earth with Kryptonians. Easy solution: find another planet (there are plenty of them, as Zod would know), use the world engine there, tell Superman you have no interest in threatening his adoptive planet, and then he’ll gladly cooperate and help you find the codex and use it. Or, why not use the world engine BEFORE coming to earth, show up in a non-threatening vessel, and tell Superman you need his help to revitalize Kryptonian culture. Boom. Done. Remember, this version of Zod doesn’t have anything personal against the House of El (unlike Zod in Superman II). He was even friends with Jor-El. He should have no reason to punish the earth, and he shouldn’t have any animosity against humans or Kal-El. He just wants the codex, which is not an inherently dangerous item.

Of course, Jor-El DID imply that Zod wanted to eliminate the bloodlines of Krypton that he deemed impure or whatever. Now, let’s leave aside the fact that Zod (as he himself states) was genetically engineered for the sole purpose of protecting Krypton, and therefore shouldn’t be:

A) capable of starting a destructive civil war that divides his people during a planetary emergency.

B) jeopardizing Krypton’s future by eliminating any portion of a highly-structured gene pool perfected over generations of planning.

If Zod is willing to destroy the traditional version of Krypton to begin with, why not use his own people as templates for a new Kryptonian society? You know, his loyal followers, the highly skilled people all willing to die for him? Just have them start breeding, or have the creepy German guy whip up some clone-ish stuff. They have the technology, since they were going to use the codex anyways, and Zod already planned on rebuilding Kryptonian society in his own image.

Speaking of all this genetic engineering stuff, Faora has a line during her fight with Superman that is infuriating in its scientific…uh, notness. As they fight, she brags about how he will lose because he still has morality. She, on the other hand, does not. Why? Because she has evolved beyond it. Because she has…what the hell, guys?! Seriously?! First, Faora is one generation removed from Superman; she has not evolved anything that he, a YOUNGER Kryptonian, doesn’t have too. Also, if she has no morality, then why is she doing any of this stuff? You don’t orchestrate and participate in a planetary rebellion, travel across the galaxy for decades, and constantly put your own well-being at risk in order to rebuild your home if you don’t have a set of morals. Faora has to believe that what she’s doing is right. And guess what? Zod, also a genetically engineered soldier, HAS MORALS! He explicitly stated that he did what had to be done, no matter how unpleasant, in order to protect and preserve Krypton. MORALS! But hey, even if Faora was born without morals, it wasn’t because she evolved past them: she was genetically engineered. That’s not evolution. That’s LITERALLY INTELLIGENT DESIGN.

Okay, that was exhausting. Moving on to the other problems. Oh yes, there are more:

3. Jonathan Kent is a Prick

Putting aside the irritation I endured with Kevin Costner’s predictable monotonous drawling  (I think I’ve heard him refer to it as “acting”), Man of Steel‘s version of Jonathan Kent is an awful parent, an awful mentor, and an awful role model. He tells his son that he has to decide for himself whether he’s going to be a good or bad person. It’s not a good idea to use your powers to help people, he warns, because the world isn’t ready for you, and they’ll reject you. He wants Clark to stay with him in Kansas and be a farmer, yet at the same time he keeps telling him that he’s going to change the world and that he must find out for himself what his glorious destiny will be. And when he tries to rescue the family dog (yes, the DOG) from a twister, he refuses to let his son save him because he has to keep that side of himself a secret. Are you processing this? DO YOU UNDERSTAND WHY THIS IS TERRIBLE?! When your son is an all-powerful alien, you owe it to him and the world to at least TRY to teach him right and wrong and, raise him to have compassion for his fellow man. The Jonathan Kent of the comic books did. The Jonathan Kent of the first Superman movie did. But from this paranoid, morally ambiguous Jonathan Kent, we only get empty platitudes, grandiose speeches, and the worst parenting style since Robert Downey Sr. Bottom line: Superman should have become a hero BECAUSE of his parents, but in Man of Steel he becomes a hero DESPITE them.

4. Superman Can’t Be Bothered with Bystanders

Superman’s respect for all life is a common thread in all of his depictions. That respect is evident in virtually any battle he finds himself forced into. If he has to fight an enemy, his first priority is to either move the battle away from a populated area or find a way to clear out civilians and cut down on collateral damage. In Man of Steel, Superman couldn’t care less about bystanders. When Zod threatens his mother in rural Kansas, what does Clark do? Tackle him, and fly them both OUT OF an isolated cornfield and INTO a busy urban area. Oh sure, he tells the civilians to get inside because it isn’t safe, but then he proceeds to destroy the town around their ears. Gas stations blow up. Helicopters crash. Buildings are reduced to rubble. Of course there are casualties, and now Superman is just as responsible for their deaths as Zod is. And that final battle? Oh, my God. We can see horrified spectators watching. We can see these two titans of destruction leveling skyscrapers and construction sites and blasting their heat vision left and right. PEOPLE ARE DYING, SUPERMAN, AND YOU ARE KILLING THEM.

That climactic moment when Superman has no choice but to snap Zod’s neck in order to save some humans? Fine with it. In the comics, he executes Zod and Faora with Kryptonite when they leave him with no alternative. I don’t think it’s particularly controversial at all. But I also say this: given his blatant disregard for the THOUSANDS of people he and Zod endangered during their little scuffle, Superman killing Zod for the sake of a small family of tourists and then screaming in anguish has a hollow ring to it.

5. Clark’s Too Old For Pranks

It was a short scene: Clark is a cook at a truck stop diner in the middle of nowhere. A pretty waitress gets harassed by Thaddeus D. Redneckington III, and Clark steps in. He shows restraint when the trucker makes fun of him, pushes him, and pours beer on his head, because he is a mature adult. Two cops (who are apparently also sociopaths) find that funny instead of, like ASSAULT or something. Clark leaves, upset. Thaddeus leaves the diner hours later, only to discover that–Wha?! His truck is completely wrecked and the shipment of timber he was hauling is ruined! BA HA HA HA! Boy, Clark was a real cut-up when he was a teenager! Of course, that was before he became a mature adult and–Wait, he’s 33 years old?! How is destroying a man’s livelihood, a company’s profits, and hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of equipment any better than beating up the guy?! I thought the whole “33 years old” thing was a clumsy and unnecessary reference to the Superman/Jesus parallel, but I don’t even think teen Jesus would be that petulant.

6. Golanitis

I’m quite proud of this one, actually. “Golanitis” is a term I have invented (unless the internet did it eight years ago in which case I’m sorry). The “Golan” is a combination of Christopher Nolan (also his brother Jonathan when applicable) and David S. Goyer, the men behind the Dark Knight trilogy. “Golanitis” is a condition the characters in their movies suffer from. It renders them incapable of saying anything in a short, simple, or even remotely understandable way. Instead they have no choice but to deliver stilted, melodramatic, and pretentious yet endlessly quotable dialogue that:

A) Awkwardly telegraphs huge plot points.

B) Reminds the audience that the movie does indeed have a theme, and is indeed serious and important because Hans Zimmer’s score is getting louder.

C) Is initially intended to answer a question or make a point, but instead devolves into a long story or symbolism-heavy speech that ultimately does neither.

D) Makes a great Facebook status because it sounds deceptively profound; bonus points if it can be used out of context in support of a political, religious, or personal agenda.

E) All of the above.

See, it’s easy to use superheroes (especially Superman, given his Christ-like attributes) to stage a morality play. That’s not inherently bad. But when you focus on having a big, important, serious, thematic motion picture epic without focusing first and foremost on, say, character development (or simply having a good movie with a smart plot), well, you’ll feel obliged to fill your movie with trite, hackneyed sayings that don’t sound like real people talking to one another about important things; instead, they sound like somebody reading off the inventory at a motivational poster factory. If you want a perfect example of how a superhero film avoided this trap despite having an inherently silly premise and requiring a massive suspension of disbelief, watch The Avengers. Joss Whedon knows how people talk, how to let a story’s themes speak for themselves, and how to give a colorful and absurd popcorn flick something it MUST have in order to matter: subtlety and genuineness.

ON THE PLUS SIDE/IN CONCLUSION

Now for some positive things about the movie. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how much I appreciated the acting talents of Russell Crowe, Henry Cavill, Michael Shannon, and Christopher Meloni. Even though the idea of the Nolan boys and David S. Goyer controlling the DC Cinematic Universe makes me anxious, I’m happy that Man of Steel takes place in a shared universe. I enjoyed the church scene. I liked the overall idea of Superman and humanity earning one another’s trust. Lois Lane knowing who Clark Kent is almost from the beginning is a good change. All of these things make me hopeful for the future of DC movies. We’ll get there eventually.

Remake This: Jonah Hex (2010)

Oh, this hurts to look at.

Josh Brolin. John Malkovich. Michael Fassbender. Michael Shannon. Aiden Quinn. Upon reading those names, one could be justified in assuming that I just listed the cast of a well-acted, award-winning film. If you just made that assumption, I apologize for misleading you, because Jonah Hex is not that type of movie. It’s more of the joyless, grating, incredibly stupid, heartbreakingly disappointing type of movie. The tragedy? It totally didn’t have to be. Let’s talk about the sad, sad, tale of a great comic book antihero and the terrible movie he didn’t deserve.

SOME HISTORY ABOUT THE CHARACTER

I own this issue. It’s lovely.

Jonah Hex, created by John Albano and Tony DeZuniga, is a beloved and very unique DC Comics character from the 1970’s. At the same time that the Western genre of film was transitioning to its revisionist period (Jeremiah JohnsonLittle Big ManThe Outlaw Josey Wales, and McCabe & Mrs. Miller all came out during the 70’s), Western comic books were also following the trend and becoming more violent, cynical, and melancholy.

Introduced in the pages of All-Star Western before landing a starring role in Weird Western Tales and eventually his own eponymous title, Jonah Hex was a rough character. He was raised by Apaches, he fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War, and he unintentionally got his fellow soldiers killed when he tried to surrender to Union forces. Later, half of his face was hideously scarred in a duel to the death with an Apache warrior. These experiences hardened Hex into a cynical loner, and he became a ruthless bounty hunter. And yet he often tried to do right by good people when he came across them, which usually ended up causing more suffering for everybody. Hex was on the run from his past and he didn’t much care for his future; he was just trying to make an honest day’s living by killing people who deserved it. Like a lot of revisionist Western fiction, Jonah Hex defied the traditional American view of the Old West as a heroic place full of noble, hard-working men embodied simpler, purer times. If you’ve seen The Outlaw Josey Wales, this description might remind you a bit of that movie, but interestingly enough, Jonah Hex first debuted in 1972…four years before Clint Eastwood’s masterpiece! I’m not saying that Hex was the inspiration for it, but it IS an intriguing idea, yes?

Anyways, Hex has continued to be a favorite among comic readers. His original title was cancelled in 1985, but he starred in a very strange series (simply titled Hex) that had him time-travel to a post-apocalyptic future and fight zombies; in my opinion, it’s worth a read just for the weirdness. In the 90’s, he starred in several miniseries that followed the precedent set by Hex and combined Western and supernatural/horror themes (In one such miniseries, called “Riders of the Worm and Such,” the creators parodied two famous albino musicians, which led to a lawsuit and…oh, just look it up here if you want the details. This is getting too weird). In 2005, a new critically-acclaimed Jonah Hex series was started, and it introduced a lot of new fans to the character. When DC cancelled all of their titles for The New 52, they brought back the old All-Star Western series, which stars Hex. Even though he didn’t regularly interact with DC’s modern-day superheroes, Hex has appeared through flashbacks and time-travel in the original Batman cartoon, as well as Justice League UnlimitedBatman: The Brave and the Bold, and his own DC Showcase short film (I believe it was included with the DVD of Batman: Under the Red Hood). So there you have it. Comic fans love him. Western and action film buffs SHOULD love him. Sounds like a good idea for a movie, right?

WHAT HAPPENED?

In previous posts, I’ve mentioned that I’m not a stickler for accuracy when it comes to big-screen comic book adaptations, and I stand by that. The source material is a good jumping-off point, but if you can tell a good story and retain the essence of the characters without aping other people’s work, you totally should. That being said, if you miss the point of what makes your protagonist special, you are in trouble (and so is your audience).

When I heard there was going to be a Jonah Hex movie, I thought “Awesome!” They’ll probably use the original adventures from the 70’s and 80’s as a reference and get the Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti from the current series as creative consultants! Maybe they’ll even write the script! It’ll be a great throwback to Clint Eastwood’s Westerns and maybe it’ll even rescusitate the genre!” Then I heard that Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, the geniuses behind the Crank series and the abysmal sequel to Ghost Rider (not a very high standard to meet, guys), were going to writing the script, and I got nervous. If the Jonah Hex movie was going to be an introspective character study or a redemption story or have any legitimately dramatic scenes whatsoever, why on earth hire the guys behind this? And then the director was announced. James Mangold? Nope. Michael Mann? Huh-uh. William Friedkin? Of course not! Then who? Why, Jimmy Hayward, of course. You know, the guy who directed Horton Hears a Who? You know, because nothing goes together like this:

And this:

I tried to stay positive. Tried to trick myself into believing that Jonah Hex would be a decent film. I mean, the cast list looked great (with the exception of Megan Fox, but she was playing a prostitute, so maybe it would work!). But then the movie poster you see at the top of this page was released. What? Well…Josh Brolin and Michael Shannon wouldn’t do this to themselves unless it was a good career move, right? And then…the trailer. Oh, the trailer:

Yeah, it was hard to stay optimistic after that. Anachronistic rock music. Ridiculous gadgets. Wretched and unnecessary special effects. I don’t know why the studio listened to Hayward, Neveldine, and Taylor when they insisted on completely ignoring the source material and getting their inspiration from The Wild Wild West movie instead of The Outlaw Josey Wales, but we all suffered for it. As a loyal DC Comics fan, of course I saw it in theaters, and of course I was shattered. It was awful, a “comic book movie” in the worst way: light on plot, heavy on loud, dumb action scenes. In the next few sections, I’ll break Jonah Hex down and tell you what I did and didn’t like. Rest assured, that first section won’t be long.

THINGS I LIKED

1. Some of the actors do a good job. Josh Brolin really swings for the fences. He and Michael Fassbender are in a different movie than the rest of the cast. Jeffrey Dean Morgan turns in a nice, understated performance in a cameo as Hex’s now-deceased best friend. Will Arnett plays it straight as a military man who recruits Hex to save Washington D.C., and somehow he works as a buttoned-down authority figure. I can’t even comment on whether or not Michael Shannon did a good job, because he wasn’t in the movie long enough for me to tell.

2. Jonah Hex’s origin is updated nicely. In the comics, it takes a long time to find out how Hex came to be the man he is. It’s a good story, but it would take a lot of time to squeeze it into a movie. But I have to say that, for the most part, the version that Neveldine and Taylor went with isn’t too shabby. It’s just streamlined: Hex, tiring of constant fighting, realizes that his unit’s guerrilla tactics are getting out of control, so in order to save lives he switches sides and stops them. His best friend Jeb Turnbull is killed, and his commanding officer Quentin Turnbull (also Jeb’s father) goes nutty, escapes capture, and vows revenge. Years later, he find Hex, kills his family, and brands the initials “QT” on his face. Hex refuses to look at those letters every time he sees his reflection, so he uses a heated ax to burn them away, severely disfiguring the right side of his face in the process. It’s a good origin: it stays true to the spirit of the character, keeps the essentials, and discards the extraneous details. Unfortunately, things immediately go off the rails after that, but I’ll elaborate in the next section.

3. Megan Fox is pretty. She doesn’t really do a good job in this movie; her accent is quite annoying, to be honest. Her character contributes very little to the plot. But she is very pretty, that I will grant you.

Horrifyingly tight corset notwithstanding. Jeez….

WHAT NEEDS TO NOT BE IN THE NEXT (HYPOTHETICAL) JONAH HEX MOVIE

Rather than simply list things I didn’t like about Jonah Hex, I will also elaborate on why I didn’t like them and what I WOULD like to see. After this movie came out, I immediately added it to my “Movies to Make/Remake/Reboot in the Unlikely Event that I Come Into Money” list. So here’s my list of mistakes in Jonah Hex and how they can be avoided:

1. Use your cast better. As I mentioned, Josh Brolin, Will Arnett, Michael Fassbender, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan are good in this movie. But Aiden Quinn is totally wasted as a boring President Grant and John Malkovich is phoning in his performance from at least three states away at any given time. Megan Fox is about what you would expect. The biggest waste of all is Michael Shannon. Yes, Michael Shannon is in this movie. The academy award-nominated star of Revolutionary RoadBoardwalk EmpireTake Shelter, and the upcoming Man of Steel. One of the most intense and interesting actors currently working in Hollywood. It was first announced that he would play Doc Cross Williams, the voodoo-practicing owner of a sinister travelling circus in Jonah Hex, and that he would be a secondary antagonist (Cross Williams was originally introduced in the 90’s in a spooky Jonah Hex miniseries called “Two-Gun Mojo”).

When the movie came out, Hex did visit a travelling circus, but guess what? Michael Shannon gets MAYBE three seconds of screen time! WHAT?! Well, it turns out that Neveldine and Taylor wanted to use his character in sequels, so they got Hayward to cut out his scenes. Yes, that’s right: those two coked-out morons were so arrogant that they decided to save their best actor for sequels that weren’t even guaranteed. Hey guys, you know what MIGHT have been a good way to get the studio to commit to a sequel? A MEMORABLE PERFORMANCE BY AN ACADEMY-AWARD NOMINATED CHARACTER ACTOR! The lesson to be learned here is simple: make good casting choices and be certain you have a director who knows how to get good performances out of them. Oh, and USE FAMOUS ACTORS IF THEY’RE ALREADY CONTRACTUALLY OBLIGATED TO WORK FOR YOU!

2. Don’t complicate things with bizarre unexplained bad CGI  magic. There’s no magic in the original Jonah Hex stories. The 80’s and 90’s set a precedent for that sort of thing, so I don’t think it can be said that the filmmakers behind the movie ignored the source material, but they made a very odd choice in deciding to give Hex the power to communicate with the dead. Right after his origin is laid out in the first few minutes of the movie, it’s explained that Hex was rescued from certain death by Indians and nursed back to health, but apparently because he had been “on the other side” for too long, he gained the ability to touch dead people and bring them back to life, but only for a few minutes before they turn into ashes, and the longer they’ve been dead, the longer it takes for them to turn into ashes because they’ve been….never mind. But trust me, it’s confusing, it doesn’t fit the tone of the movie, especially since the villain is the non-mystical Quentin Turnbull and he’s using a big cannon that isn’t magic at all. Necromancer Hex feels unnecessary. Worse than that, it feels like a cheap excuse for Neveldine and Taylor to throw in some EXTREME special effects and sped-up footage. It distracts from the rest of the story. Maybe if Cross Williams were the real villain and Hex actually had to fight zombies or something, but that doesn’t happen.

3. Anachronisms are not your friend. A quick word to Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor: Guys, I know period pieces can be intimidating (especially if you are an idiot who doesn’t want to do any actual research). However, if you are committing to a movie that is set in a specific time and place in the past and there will be people in your audience who KNOW what did and didn’t exist back then, you owe it to them to not ruin things. Maybe you think you’ll be cool and have futuristic technology and deliberate anachronisms as a stylistic statement. Well, stop thinking that. We already have The Wild Wild West to remind us NOT to do that. And if you still REALLY want to throw in some goofy stuff, you should still learn what is physically possible and at least TRY to make the suspension of disbelief a little easier for the audience. And if you really wanted to do a fun, dumb summer blockbuster that doesn’t take itself seriously, you shouldn’t have used a revisionist Western comic about a scarred, cynical bounty hunter who wears a Confederate uniform! AND…even if you STILL wanted to ignore the source material, rip off The Wild Wild West of all movies, and not bother making a movie that takes itself too seriously, DON’T CAST JOSH BROLIN, AIDEN QUINN, MICHAEL FASSBENDER, MICHAEL SHANNON, AND TELL THEM ALL TO PLAY IT STRAIGHT!

I know Neveldine and Taylor have their defenders but…c’mon. Look at them.

Speaking of the source material, here’s the most important thing:

4. Understand your source material. I think that’s the biggest failure with this movie. The Jonah Hex comics are, for the most part, grounded in reality. If there was a gunfight, people would die. There were no futuristic, gimmicky weapons; when a character fired six shots from their revolver, they were out of ammo until they reloaded. No one had Gatling guns mounted on their horse or a crossbow that fired sticks of dynamite or a super-powerful magic artillery cannon that could destroy Washington all by itself (all things that are in the movie). The appeal of Jonah Hex wasn’t in the scrapes he got into: it was in how he confronted the moral dilemmas he found himself faced with, how he outwitted his opponents, and whether or not he chose to learn anything from these encounters.

Everything that happened in Hex’s original adventures, as well as his second series from the 00’s, happened in a historically accurate setting. There weren’t any super-stylized fight scenes or mammoth explosions or plots that threatened the entire nation. Hex’s most important battles were with himself. It usually bothers me when comic book movies take themselves too seriously, but in the case of Jonah Hex, I don’t think the filmmakers took their movie seriously enough. Hex ISN’T a superhero. He’s Josey Wales, Paden from Silverado, and Jeremiah Johnson all rolled into one. This was the one time, THE ONE TIME, when we really needed a comic book movie to be “realistic” and “grounded.” So if Jonah Hex ever rides onto the big screen again, I hope the folks in charge do their research and focus on the man and his demons (metaphorical demons, you guys! NOT ACTUAL DEMONS!). Everything else will grow from that.

IN CONCLUSION

This movie is only three years old. If it feels like it’s been longer, it’s just because it was a huge box office bomb, making back only about a fifth of its $47 million budget, and everyone immediately forgot about it. Which, now that I think of it, is a good thing. Normally, I’d say you have to wait about five years for a reboot, and at LEAST ten for a hard remake, but for me, a reinterpretation of Jonah Hex can’t come soon enough. I know Warner Brothers won’t want to risk another flop, and I know that other DC characters have priority, but hey: it could happen, right?

In the meantime, if you’d like to learn more about the character, I recommend any of the vintage Jonah Hex stories (many of them are collected in DC Showcase graphic novels), as well as Gray and Palmiotti’s series from 2005-2011. And of course, the latest volume of All-Star Western is only about 20 issues in right now. Check them out.

Why I Love Superman (Part 1: How I See Him)

I watched The Dark Knight Rises this past weekend. It was great (EDIT: Having seen TDKR multiple times since, “great” is not the word I’d use now. Impressive, perhaps. Maybe even entertaining. But “great” is giving it too much credit). One of the previews we got to see before the movie was a minute and a half teaser for The Man Of Steel, Zach Snyder’s Superman movie. Since the movie won’t be released until next summer, there obviously wasn’t much interesting footage. What little I did see disturbed me, though. Right from the beginning, the logos for DC comics and the production studios were displayed in the same black and gray as they were before The Dark Knight Rises. Then we see gray overcast skies and a depressed, bearded Clark Kent working as….a fisherman I guess. Then we hear Kevin Costner give a voiceover about how Clark has to decide what kind of man he will be. Then a reeeeallly short clip of Superman flying, and that’s it.

Like I said, they probably don’t have much footage to work with at this point, and certainly not enough for me to make a definitive statement about the quality of the movie. But, until I see evidence to the contrary, I now have no reason not to assume that this new Superman film will be grim and full of angst (similar to what Tim Burton was planning to with the character for his failed Superman Lives film). And that’s too bad. Because I love Superman, and I don’t want to see his character altered to reflect the success of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. Maybe that is what most moviegoers want to see. Maybe they want all of their heroes to be flawed and unstable and perpetually brooding. Because that’s the only way they can be “interesting”, right? Well, I don’t think so.

Apparently Superman killed Mystique and wears her skin as a trophy.

You see, I love Superman. I’ve always loved him, and I always will. Not so much for what he can do (which is admittedly awesome) but for what he represents: our potential. I don’t mean flying and invulnerability and heat vision. No, I mean our potential as a species to become better people. Someday maybe we can also be selfless, compassionate, and noble. Those are the characteristics of Superman I most admire. I’m less interested in the Man of Steel than I am in the Man of Tomorrow. To me, Superman symbolizes everything that is good about us. He is all of our best qualities externalized. Maybe that’s part of the problem.

We don’t like being reminded that most of the time we aren’t living up to our potential. We want heroes who are like us instead of heroes who are what we could be. We’d rather have a hero who is motivated by negative emotions and a tragic past, who copes with his issues instead of trying to overcome them. There are valuable lessons to be learned from those kinds of characters, it’s true. But I don’t believe we should be content merely with heroes that cope. We need heroes who learn from mistakes (whether their own or others’) and move past them, heroes who grow and change with time. We need heroes who do what they do to help people, not to make themselves feel better. Superman is a hero for all of the right reasons, and he is a hero in all the right ways. So how should movies depict Superman? How should comics be depicting Superman? Well, here’s my take:

When I think of the Man of Tomorrow, I think of him as being the synthesis of two of my favorite fictional characters (maybe these choices will seem a bit random to you, but I grew up watching both of these guys on a regular basis, so I can’t help jumping right to them). The first of these is James McKay, the main character of William Wyler’s 1958 western film, The Big Country. He is a retired sea captain who moves west with his fiancee, only to discover that everyone there, including said fiancee, expects him to constantly prove his manhood in public displays. But McKay has sworn off this foolish behavior. His father died years before in a pointless duel of honor and he doesn’t want anyone to go down that same path. He has a quiet determination, he’d rather talk than fight (but fight he does when he finds it necessary), he shows mercy when he has the chance to kill his enemies, and he tries to broker a peace between two warring families of ranchers.

Movie posters used to be WAY cooler.

I’d highly recommend you watch The Big Country if you want to know more about the movie. It really is a gem. The thing that stood out to me the most, even as a child, was how cool McKay was. He’s not a western hero in the traditional sense, but that’s the point. His conduct throughout the movie essentially shows the audience that traditional western heroes aren’t really that admirable. Far more admirable is a man who wants to solve problems with words rather than guns. He doesn’t show favoritism to either side, providing solutions to their problems and pointing out their foolishness when they need to hear it the most. By the end of the movie, McKay’s actions and his sincerity have convinced many of these antagonistic ranchers to hear the wisdom in his words. Some of them don’t, or at least, they don’t care. But that’s the way it always is, right? (Psst! That applies to Superman!)

The second fictional character I see in Superman is Jean-Luc Picard, my favorite captain of the Enterprise. While James T. Kirk is certainly an awesome dude, I have to say that Picard really lives out the creed of Starfleet and The Federation of Planets the best. It’s pointed out more in Star Trek: The Next Generation than any other Trek show that Starfleet is not a military organization. The crew of the Enterprise are primarily explorers, ambassadors, and relief workers. Occasionally they do have to fight battles, but it is always as a last resort, when there are no acceptable alternatives. Picard, more so than Kirk, really exemplifies those principles.  He has some flaws, of course, but that just reminds us that humanity can always improve, even in the enlightened era of the 24th century.

“Make it so.”

One thing I want to specifically mention is how Picard interacts with less advanced cultures. Starfleets’s number one rule is called the Prime Directive, which forbids interference with the development of alien cultures. While he sometimes interprets the Prime Directive a bit loosely as the situations dictate, Picard upholds the spirit of it at all times. He understands that some worlds are just not ready for the kind of knowledge and power he has at his disposal. Whatever choices they make, it must be them making the decision. If Picard used Starfleet’s technology to solve all of a more primitive society’s problems, they would eventually lose the motivation to solve problems for themselves. This leads to all kind of conflicts within the show, of course. When should the Prime Directive be broken, if ever? How much assistance given to a world that desperately needs it is too much? (Pssst! See how this also applies to Superman?)

I hope you could see how all this tied into Superman. But allow me to spell it out just in case I wasn’t clear enough: this is how I see Superman. Obviously there have been many writers over the years who have tried a number of different approaches to the character, and many of them have been successful. But this is the approach I feel is best suited to The Man of Steel: a fusion of James McKay’s wise outsider with quiet strength and Jean-Luc Picard’s philosophical ambassador of the future.

I don’t know if this makes sense to anyone but me, and if that’s the case I apologize for wasting your time. But do me a favor: if this has piqued your curiosity even the slightest bit (whether you agree or disagree), watch The Big Country, and a few episodes of Star Trek: TNG (“First Contact”, “Who Watches the Watchers”, “The Measure of a Man”, “The Offspring”, “Wounded”) just to get a feel for what I’m saying. If you like your Superman to be more of an action hero than a philosopher, I get that. I do. I know I used to feel the same way. If you like a darker hero, I also understand. Sometimes dark heroes do seem more interesting than “boy scouts.” This post was purely opinion. Anyways, stay tuned for part two, in which I discuss some of the criticisms of Superman and whether they stand up to scrutiny.