Friday, 28 June 2013

Man Of Steel

(M) ★★

Director: Zack Snyder.

Cast: Henry Cavill, Michael Shannon, Amy Adams, Russell Crowe, Diane Lane, Kevin Costner, Laurence Fishburne.

"What a beautiful day. Be a shame if someone were to destroy it in a blizzard of CGI."

FOR DC Comics, there is a lot on the line with this reboot of the Superman saga.

If Man Of Steel flies like a bird or a plane, it will open the door for DC's own shared universe, which they hope will rival Marvel's ongoing Avengers' adventures.

Bad luck, DC. Man Of Steel sinks like a massive chunk of kryptonite.

It's ambitious, yes, grandiose, yes, and sure to be a hit at the box office, but in almost all other aspects, it is a $225 million turkey.

This rebirth of Superman, which literally begins with the birth of Superman, retells the story many of us know and love - the alien child, sent to Earth just before the destruction of his homeworld Krypton, raised by the kindly Kents of Kansas, and growing into a near-invulnerable superhero.

The twist in this version, as compared to Richard Donner's 1978 groundbreaker, is an attempt to imbue with the story of Superman/Kal-El/Clark Kent with deeper themes and a more realistic look at the implications his arrival would have. It also ramps up the Christ allegory and picks at the relationship Superman has with humanity.

It's all part of the "Nolanisation" of Krypton's favourite son. Having turned DC's other heavy-hitter - Batman - into a real world concern with a dark edge, Christopher Nolan was attached to this project in the hopes he would help do the same with Superman.

It doesn't work. Man Of Steel comes off as utterly humourless, pompous, melodramatic, dumbed-down, repetitive, and even sporadically boring.

The film makes similar mistakes to that other DC bomb Green Lantern - it tells us everything we need to know in the first act, only to tell us everything again when the main character needs to find out. More editing is badly needed.

And while they were undertaking some more judicious editing of the first half, the filmmakers could have done away with the frustrating non-linear storytelling. Not only is it annoying to have the story jump back and forth between Clark's childhood, his teenage years and his nomadic adulthood, but it continually breaks the emotional flow of the film. Much of that heart comes from a nice turn by Costner as Clark's dad Jonathan, but the fractured storyline gets in the way of the audience connection with him.

Worse than this is the dialogue, which almost entirely falls into one of three categories - "Now I must explain my actions", "This is what just happened" or "This is what's about to happen". There is no subtlety, nobody talks like a real person, and the characters don't develop naturally, if at all.

This dumbing-down goes for the grandiose themes of the film as well, which are boiled down to infuriating obviousness, giving the audience no credit what-so-ever.

And I never thought I'd get sick of explosions and destruction in a movie, but I finally found my limit. It came with about 20 minutes left to go in the film - I actually sighed with relief when the final confrontation was over. And I've seen Roland Emmerich's 2012.

It's all a shame because the cast is great. Cavill makes for a great Superman/Kal-El/Clark, capturing that mix of nobility and humility that Christopher Reeve nailed. Shannon is menacing as Zod, Crowe brings gravitas as Jor-El, and Costner and Lane work well. Only Adams, as Lois Lane, feels out of place, but poor writing hampers her more than anyone.

Are there highlights aside from the cast? Some of the fight sequences are quite good before they become numbing, and the flashbacks, despite being jarringly scattered throughout the film, are nicely done. Snyder makes the film look good, particularly in the flashbacks.

These are slight redemptions. And maybe with really low expectations this will have a brainless charm to it. Maybe this is exactly the Superman movie some of the comic book fans have been waiting for.

But for all its ambition, this Man Of Steel fails to soar, instead crashlanding in a humourless, melodramatic mess of explosions.

Friday, 21 June 2013

Monsters University

(G) ★★★

Director: Dan Scanlon.

Cast: (voices of) Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Helen Mirren.

Mike was just minutes away from being used as a hackysack.

AMID the heavy hitters of Pixar's back catalogue, Monsters, Inc. is the under-rated gem.

Often unfairly overlooked compared to the Toy Story trilogy, Up, Wall-E, Finding Nemo, and The Incredibles, the tale of scare-mongering duo Sully and Mike Wazowski was a wildly original, creative, hilarious and surprisingly touching comedy caper.

This is why it pains me so much to say this prequel is a major disappointment. Don't get me wrong, it's not a terrible film - it's still mildly enjoyable - but it feels so stock standard and flat compared to its dazzling predecessor.

As the title suggest, Monsters University covers Mike and Sully's college years, where Mike is the dedicated student following his dream of becoming a scarer and Sully is the naturally talented slacker expecting to coast through his degree.

A rivalry develops between the two, leading to college head Dean Hardscrabble (Mirren) kicking them out of their scaring course.

The only way to get back into the course is through a foolhardy bet between Mike and Hardscrabble - if Mike, Sully and their geeky fraternity can win the inter-fratenity competition known as the Scary Games, they can return to the scaring course. If they lose, they're out of Monsters University for good.

If all this sounds familiar, it's because the plot plays like a lazy mash-up of "college romp" movies such as Animal House and Revenge Of The Nerds.

The typical college life provides plenty of opportunity for the monsterised sight gags of Monsters, Inc., but again, it feels all too easy. Even the Scary Games feels like a tired trope despite being transplanted into Mike and Sully's world.

The silly sight gags are what is likely to keep the kids entertained because the plot appears aimed at an older audience, ie. one that grew up watching Monsters, Inc. and is now at college. This might make it a cult hit at universities, which is strange for a G-rated movie and makes you wonder if Pixar have completely missed their target on this one.

On the upside, the charms of Mike and Sully, voiced by Crystal and Goodman, that make this mildly enjoyable. Pixar have always been smart enough to realise that making the players more than just pixels is the secret to success, and here we get some heart and soul between Mike and Sully and the rest of their fraternity of misfits.

They all get some good lines, especially Crystal, and there are a few really solid gags and an endless array of adult-aimed nudges.

Best of all is the final act, when the film finally stops being a college collage and heads into intriguing territory. That's where Monsters University finally becomes surprising and interesting.

But it's almost too little, too late. The film predominantly coasts along a slacker student, doing only just enough to get by.

Of course, kids aren't going to mind. This will probably serve as their introduction to the college movie, and in years to come they may realise what Monsters University was riffing on, but in the meantime, it's likely most of it will fly over their heads.

Pixar have played with pre-established genres before, whether it be subverting the superhero ideal (the brilliant The Incredibles) or going weird on the spy movie (the misfire Cars 2).

But this dabble with the college romp feels stale and lazy, and only gets across the line thanks to nostalgic goodwill and some decent gags.