Into Darkness and Man of Steel

25 Comments

Being a father of a five month old, it is tough watching in theaters as many movies as I used to. However, this being summer and the time for “franchise” releases, I had to (than you wife) just had to see “Star Trek: Into the Darkness” and “Man Of Steel.” (I have always found Iron Man to be very meh)

“Star Trek: Into Darkness” has big explosions, big intergalactic set-pieces, Cumberbatch’s accent and lens flare. It has little else. Now I am a big fan of Star Trek’s original series, which I consider to be some of the best science fiction ever to have been produced. I  have see every episode many times, read Star Trek themes books and these to the left are 1) on one of my walls and 2) one of my cushions [Read this older post for a more full treatment of my love for Star Trek] The original series was very minimalist in special effects (this was the 60s), almost like a stage play, and hence all of its impact came from dialog, characters and story. JJ Abrams turned the whole thing inside out in his 2009 reboot, sacrificing depth of story for the slam-bang. It still worked for me perhaps because of those lump-in-throat moments when characters you grew up with come back on screen, albeit in a different avatar (Kirk and Spock are almost dead ringers of the original) and because, the character development has already taken place for me before I had entered the theater. For Star Trek: Into The Darkness I had expected depth, since the first one could claim was just the set-up. In that I was disappointed. But the disappointment was made up for by  homages to the old show, littered as Into the Darkness is with “in-jokes”, including a play on the “Wrath of Khan” story with a possibly tongue-in-cheek re-doing of possibly one of the hammiest scenes ever in a mainstream Hollywood. Though for someone not steeped in Star Trek lore, I would think that “Into the Darkness” would be another by-the-numbers summer pop-corn blockbuster.

Which brings me to Man of Steel. It’s perhaps the curse of the Dark Knight that every superhero flick is now expected to be deep, dark, somber and provide profound insights into the universe. Bryan Singer sought to provide respectability to Superman with a 2006 reboot, trying to wipe out the memory of the campy  but immensely enjoyable Superman series of the 80s, by making Superman into a moping suburban dad. It was as exciting as a root canal. While reviewing Superman Returns in 2006, I had said: [Link]

The movie also did nothing to throw light on two of Superman’s biggest mysteries: why no one can recognize Superman as Clark Kent (remember Superman does not wear a mask and has only to wear geeky glasses in order to become totally unrecognisable) and why he wears his underwear over his trousers.

In “Man of Steel”  they solved the problem of the Chaddi pahenke phool khila hai” whether by dispensing with it altogether, Yana Gupta style, or by putting it inside, I do not know. However it most certainly triggered a round of superhero costume discussion not seen since George Clooney’s nipple suit in Batman and Robin, which, truth be told, would have suited Peter Andre more than him. But the message had been sent to the fans—this Superman was going to be different and darker, and so out with the primary colors of the suit, out with the underwear over trousers. As if Nolan’s association with the project was not “This one is gonna be different” enough.

So I went in with high expectations. They start off with a planet about to undergo implosion because they cultivated the core (dependence on oil?) rather than look towards the sun (solar energy?). Okay so maybe they are going to go environment with this one. Within some minutes, the concept of humanoids being bred in pods with pre-determined roles is introduced with Superman being the first un-pod-born for hundreds of years, free as he is to choose his destiny. Ah, so this is going to be a more arty version of “Three Idiots”. But wait. Now there is yet another element. Something about “Is the world ready for a messiah?” And there is Superman on a fishing boat—is that a Biblical allusion (Matthew 4:19 Come after me, and I will make you into fishers for men?).

What happens then, and I have no evidence to back me up, is that with so many thematic balls in the air, director Synder and supervisor Nolan took their eyes off and  started watching Zee Cinema. Because Man of Steel then becomes pure old-world Bollywood. Always-ready-to-cry-supremely-sacrificing-father-figure. Check. Adopted son who snaps at golden-hearted foster-father before he dies. Check. (That’s actually a bit of Sukhen Das). Villain traversing light-years to harass the hero’s mother followed by “Abh sailaab ayega Madan Chopraaaa” moment. Check. Villain bringing mashooqa to lair. Check. (If only they had “Zod ne kiya hai isharaa” in belly-dance costume). Now I love Bollywood and I love Nolan profoundness, but individually, not together, and definitely not when the intent is to be Tarkovsky but the execution becomes Manmohan Desai.

But all this could be forgiven if “Man of Steel” was a feast of visual imagination. It is not. Superman’s first flight, which is given a lot of screen-time, with his fist on ground, then ground shaking and then finally a dramatic swoop up, is almost identical  to Neo’s  flying sequence in Matrix Reloaded. Alien ships descending through portals, threatening the rulers of the earth and then breaking skyscrapers has been done to death—Transformers and Avengers come to mind in the last few years. Epic hand-to-hand battle between alien gladiators and superhero in the setting of a small deserted Mid-west town. I think I saw that in Thor just two years back. Alien insect-like mega-machines shooting death rays through their asses. Please. From Independence Day to Mass Effect. Bang head on desk. Again and again.

Epicly disappointing. (And yes that’s one of my other walls)

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25 thoughts on “Into Darkness and Man of Steel

  1. Awesome wall !!! Are those all original? Must have cost a small fortune then! Someday I hope to have one of these.

  2. A little rant…

    I am all for reinvention, but not at the cost of the original character. This is what bugs me about Hollywood “reboots” – they change the very DNA of the character we have loved so much so long. I provide some examples that rile me no end:

    1. Superman is NOBLE person, and he smiles and saves the world. He does NOT brood. Leave the angsty brooding to the Batman. This is why Christopher Reeve will remain the definitive Superman. Noble, happy, even jocular. Perfect hero.

    2. James Bond is aware of the absurdity of his existence – the gadgets, the babes, and suavity are all OTT and that’s what makes him click with audiences. James Bond’s basic character is that of smoothness and unruffled, winking, tongue-in-cheek existence. Which is why Sean Connery and Pierce Brosnan were so good for the role. Daniel Craig plays him like Jason Bourne. James Bond is NOT Jason Bourne.

    3. Sherlock Holmes is all attitude and OCD-ish perfection. Eccentric, but always presentable. Genius with a narcotic habit, but never unruffled or trashy in any way. A gentleman at all times. I want to smack Robert Downey Jr. whenever I see any clip of him playing Holmes like a third rate, jhoppadpatti ka detective who hangs around with disreputable people in tattered, scruffy clothes. He’s (with Guy Ritchie- curses be upon him!) destroyed the very basis of Sherlock Holmes. Which is why I have resolved not to spend a paisa watching the Downey Holmes movies. To see a brilliant modern adaptation – watch Cumberbatch in BBC’s Sherlock. Adds all the modernity required without losing the basic character traits that make Holmes, Holmes.

    • Agree absolutely with Shantanu! Very nicely summarized all the points which irk me no end about modern adaptations. And I am a huge fan of BBC Sherlock and Cumberbatch – the Guy Ritchie movie could be about anybody, why call it Sherlock Holmes – that’s just sacrilege!

    • Here is the thing: IT IS A REBOOT, NOT EXTENSION. Reboots involve re-imagination. Long before Guy Ritchie or writer of BBC series, a long line of writers parodied Sherlock Holmes, some of those writings are even very enjoyable.

      What? You do not like the imagination! Do not watch. Stop paying them so that they do less re-imagination.

  3. I agree there’s too much “special effects” and much less dialog and drama these days. I liked the original Sherlock Holmes TV series. Quiet and chilling. Plots about wife/child beaters are more interesting and sinister than super villains who want to dominate the world.

  4. So, that’s it. You did the hard work for us; I won’t bother watching these movies anymore :D.
    But, how about a post on secular man?

  5. generally I am away from Hollywood…I see more Hindi serials (mostly on Sab) and Bollywood movies.
    I have seen some of the Hollywood movies like Prey, Iron Man -1, Predators, Aliens and Predators and i really liked the stunts and action in Hollywood movies. After that, I judged that Bollywood ones are not even worth comparting to hollywood.

    Hollywoods are best..
    After reading this post, once again, you have awaken my love for Holly wood, inspite of the fact that you are not happy with this one :)

    Let me see and then can judge more :P

  6. It was a plain boring experience. All those fist fights and crashing into the buildings and coming out unscathed was pointless, why not try different weapons if throwing punches yields nothing? And what’s with everyone telling ‘Son one day you are going to save the world’, they could have worked more on the story and dialogues rather than trying to create a hyperbole which is rather ineffective. The characters narrating the story for the audience rather than having a conversation themselves is annoying as well, even more so since the puzzle they are trying to piece together is lame and unconvincing. And like you mentioned in the review, who wants to get convinced if the movie entertains enough visually? But that doesn’t happen either. Man of Steel is a hapless and superficial and failed to move any part in me. The blame is on me to expect something from a superhero movie!

  7. Anyone else think the END of Man Of Steel was similar to the 2009 Star Trek. Zod and Nero? Although Nero was more revenge driven and Zod was saving his race just seemed like a similar set up with the drilling into the core of the planet…Trying to destroy Earth and how many movies do we have to see a military plane sacrificing himself to destroy the mothership?

  8. I liked the movie, It could have something to do with the fact that I have never been motivated to see any of earlier supermen movies. But anything to do Nolan must be watched.

    I do not know what expectation you had from superman man movie, I mean you can’t go to watch a animated Disney movie and say it was not murder mystery. For being a superman,it did its job well, decent effects, not bad portrayal of characters. All in all I foudn movie more entertaining perhaps more than TDKR. Because I was expecting a lot out of TDKR.

    • Agree with @Jai. I enjoyed the movie. Am not a fan of Superman and wasn’t impressed with the earlier superman movies. But this one was good. Even with its flaws its was pretty good. And thank god , that they have done away with that red under(over)wear . It was dramatic at times but I dont mind a little drama when it comes to such movies. Maybe its because of the bollywood in me :)

  9. Narendra Modi is most talking point in india right now, I wonder why you have not posted single blog on it. I know in 2007 in your blog you had convicted him after media reports .. just want to know your opinion now after SIT clean chit and so much popularity he had gain across the country.. also cant see your thoughts on sudo-secularisam of all political parties except BJP….no thoughts on Caged-parrot CBI ….. Be strong and post some blogs for your readers.. hope you will call spade a spade…..

  10. Slightly off topic and I’m not even a reader of your blog but still posting for a very important message.

    Yesterday I was going through a blog of Robert Lindsey_”Bangladesh,a country polluted by Hinduism” and I found A Marwari who came with the name Arnab Roy and was talking trash…How did I guess that he was a Marwari(because he was talking about Laxmi Mittal and how he can buy all British and then using words like Bangladeshi/pakistani Muslim scum etc…

    Actually I have seen a Marwari guy named Sunny(original name Sunny Mittal) who talk lots of trash about Bengal or Bengali people(even in New York times with name SM) and my instinct says that it was that same guy who was posting there using your name just to make some trash about you in front of foreigners.So read that blog and be aware from these low Iq predatory jealous filthy non Bengali community(I prefer to call them scum bag).

  11. Off topic : I notice that the comment wars have vanished. came back after a long hiatus. Those days would have me going through all of those 100+ comments, after the blog of course.

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