Friday, August 04, 2006

Blockbusters and wannabes: Pirates and Superman

OK. So I finally saw these two. And my reactions are not quite what I anticipated.

I don't remember much about the first Pirates... only that I didn't really love it, even though Johnny Depp was hilarious. And that was basically the same reaction I had to this one. The first film was better, as everyone knows, but I'd have to see it again to cement my feelings as to why. This one just seemed too long and hard to get emotionally involved in; the utter ridiculousness of it all, while amusing at times, mostly just kept me from caring about the film. Any time Depp wasn't onscreen, I found myself just wondering what the point was, and why I was watching.

It seemed, basically, like no one much cared about the film. They just went with a basic premise - pirates - and tried to make it funny and visually spectacular. And while it was both of those things, it wasn't exactly... well... good. I got a lot of laughs out of Johnny's slapstick and other amusing antics, but those were only barely worth the long stretches of boredom I had to endure to get there. Also, any time we weren't on an island or aboard a scary pirate ship, I just couldn't buy the film's world/surroundings. What exactly were they going for here? Period? Fantasy? Anything? Or was no one paying attention? It certainly didn't seem like 18th century Europe, or whenever this would've been.

The third film looks like it'll be decent, though. At least Geoffrey Rush is back. As I recall, he provided a lot of the laughs in the first one. I wonder whether public sentiment is still with the franchise enough to make the third film another giant collossal hit, or if it'll be something of a Matrix: Revolutions situation. All in all, I'm a little mad that Dead Man's Chest has turned out to be the biggest hit of the summer and the year... especially since that ruined the box office life of...

...THIS film. Now, with all due respect to Pirates, whose action sequences I'm sure were logistically hellish and quite challenging to pull off, Superman Returns was artful, while Pirates felt cheap and commercial.

I should make something clear right now: I am not now, nor have I ever been, a Superman devotee. I'm an X-Men guy. I always thought Superman to be the blandest and most dated of superheroes. But as soon as I walked into that (big screen IMAX/3D) theater (a few minutes late) and heard the old John Williams theme playing over the credits, I was in heaven. Something about that musical mythos just whisked me away, despite all my reservations. Singer was smart to stick with the old score. In fact, he was smart about a lot of things.

I now have to officially apologize to Bryan Singer, whom I'd been hating on for abandoning the X-Men franchise for what I'd assumed were financial reasons, i.e. a Superman movie could make him lots more money. But he put his heart and soul into this. And that wonderful Singer touch (*cough* GAY *cough*) suited the Man of Steel perfectly. And no I don't mean because he sexualized Brandon Routh's finely muscled body, because he didn't (which disappointed me a bit, actually). I just mean that Singer expertly showcased the emotion and romance in the piece, and also played up Superman's perspective as an outsider.

I also have to officially apologize to Kate Bosworth who I used to refer to as "that girl you get when no one else will do it"; she didn't annoy me one bit here. In fact, I thought she was quite good. The part also would've been well played by the esteemed Rachel McAdams (to whom Kate bears a striking resemblance, I just realized) but Bosworth did quite well. I actually don't get the comments by Nathaniel and others about Lois being "reimagined", cause I thought she was basically her same old self. Somewhat tamed and domesticated, sure, after years without Superman and with a little boy to care for, but she was still feisty and defiant, always getting into trouble, always wanting to do her own story and ignore Superman's magnetic pull on the press.

Speaking of Superman, Brandon Routh was very good for a newbie, bringing a welcome "aw, shucks" forthrightness to his character, and veterans Kevin Spacey and Parker Posey were delicious as the campy villains. I generally hate Kevin Spacey now cause he's so smarmy and full of himself, so I thought casting him as Luthor was genius.

The story was more complex and interesting than I was expecting, though it's still traditional as can be. Superman aka Clark Kent returns from a 5-or-so-year sojourn searching for his home world of Krypton, resuming his duties as newsman and secret superhero (both Clark and Superman mysteriously return at the same time, after having disappeared at the same time, but of course, no one is the wiser). He, surprisingly, finds his old flame Lois Lane engaged and with child, and a messy love triangle/quadrilateral ensues. Old nemesis Lex Luther is of course planning to destroy the world (along with Superman), so the man of steel must deal with this new crisis along with sorting out his troubled love life. The result of this setup is a gorgeous film, replete with thrilling setpieces and beautiful silences, and stunning imagery all around.

People are no doubt comparing it to The Hulk, which took a similarly highbrow approach to a standard comic book character. Both films were not loved, and arguably misunderstood, by audiences, and both fared disappointingly at the box office. I didn't see The Hulk, so I can't really make a comparison. But I will say that I loved the highbrow sensibility given Superman. It didn't feel stale at all, but rather, it took a character and story I've never much cared for and suddenly made me care for him. I do think part of the reason it hasn't done better business is the lack of big stars in the lead roles. Routh was an unknown before this, and Bosworth is no Julia Roberts. Even Spacey and Posey, loved as they are by some film buffs, don't have the wide appeal of a Tom Cruise, or even a Christian Bale, for that matter. So all the film really had to sell was the Superman name, and if the grosses are any indication, maybe the public is a bit sick of Superman. That's unfortunate, because the film actually made a believer out of me, one who once thought Superman was stupid.

I used to think it fitting that Singer's abandoned child X-Men: The Last Stand outdid Superman at the box office despite being an inferior film; now, it just makes me angry. This movie deserved better. Maybe I was influenced by the 3D and the IMAX, but I thought Superman Returns was spectacular. It takes a little while to find its footing, sure... but once it does, it takes off like a speeding bullet. Despite its inherent flaws as a cheesy genre film, it succeeded for me as an intimate epic with heroism, humor, and heart. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that it's the best film I've seen yet this year.

Dead Man's Chest:
"You're seeing it anyway, so who cares what I think?"

Superman Returns:
"Underrated... and really good."


Blogger Glenn Dunks said...

A-? Jesus Christ.

I mean, er, what? lol, I gave it a C+ coz I didn't care about anything that was happening, but it sure did look pretty and Posey was a hoot. Bosworth wasn't BAD per se, but she wasn't good either. She was very meh in my eyes. I didn't believe for a second that she could be a 24 year old pulitzer prize winning single mother. I don't believe she has child-birthing hips to be honest, judging from that exo-skeleton she calls a body.

3:17 AM  
Blogger adam k. said...

Whoa, a little harsh on Kate Bosworth there. Skinny women have played mothers at the movies many times before. Been mothers, even.

I dunno, I was shocked at how much I liked it, maybe the IMAXnes of it blinded me to its flaws or something. It WAS very pretty, an in appropriate ways, which helped me to love it. I thought Superman's ride through the sky with Lois was pure cinema.

I dunno, for whatever reason, I totally fell for it. I loved Lois' kid. I liked Kate Bosworth. I liked all the actors. I thought this was totally in the same league as the X-Men and Spiderman movies (though Spiderman 2 still rules all).

12:26 PM  
Blogger Yaseen Ali said...

I'll agree with you it's a shame that both X3 and Dead Man's Chest (both woefully disappointing films) have outgrossed Superman Returns... but the fact is that the Singer film isn't that much superior to either of them.

I'm glad that you enjoyed the film, but didn't you think the love triangle was a lame thread to centre on? There was no sense of dread or legitimate fear; Spacey's villain was about as scary as Pirates's Davy Jones.

What I will agree with you on is that Kate Bosworth (who I normally detest) gave the best performance in the film. She has less-than-spectacular material to work with, but I was impressed by her focus and the buried sense of resentment she brings to the character.

2:17 PM  
Blogger adam k. said...

I probably overshot with the grade. Maybe I should see it again. But I maintain that this film was essentially "good" while X3 and Pirates were not.

I didn't find the love triangle lame. I didn't think it was really about "who will she choose?" cause obviously she cared more for Superman, but more about seeing the situation play out.

I didn't think "scary" was the point for Spacey's Luthor. I found him effectively bitter and grating, and the interactions between him and Posey were totally amusing. Maybe this was a weird reimagining of the characters from the comics, but I wouldn't know... I thought the villains worked on their own terms.

Basically I trust my reaction to this more because I was never a fan of Superman, so there is no fanboy in me to bias it. That was a problem with me on X3, which I now realize was even worse than I thought.

I just think I "got" what Singer was going for with this and I grooved on it. I was onboard. It was just so well mounted and so lyrical at times and so effectively emotional (for me). I thought Superman as savior/Christ figure was an effective hook, and that made the romance between human and more-than-human compelling as a sort of metaphor for humanity at large. That's why the love triangle worked for me. I dunno, I'd have to see it again to fully articulate why I liked it so much.

And I was SO pleasantly surprised by Kate Bosworth. I usually hate her too. With the brunette hair, she's like a different person.

8:18 PM  

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