The first trailer of this new Superman movie did not cause me to get too excited. After watching the next two trailers however I set about building a time machine in order to save me having to wait the next six months for the release date, the tantalizing snippets of awesome CGI creating within me a burning desire to see the film asap. But alas, my project failed. So I was forced to wait six tortuous months until this movie was finally released.
Just prior to watching the movie I had been somewhat alarmed by the mixed reviews. Having the very competent Christopher Nolan at the helm there seemed no way this film was destined for anything less than greatness (this is they guy who achieved the seemingly impossible task of making something as inherently absurd as a man flying around in a bat costume calling himself Batman seem quite sensible). So why all the negative reviews? Are they just nit picking or have they got a point?
The movie is basically given the same Nolan treatment as Batman – dark, reflective, brooding, introspective – basically a sombre interpretation of the DC comic superhero. Does it work? Well yes, sort of. At least for the first half of the movie. And this is in no short measure due to the mighty fine performance from Henry Cavill, the new kid on the superhero block. This chap was undoubtedly the right choice for the part, a thespian through and through, and more than capable of rising to the challenge of playing this Snyder/Nolan reinvention of Superman.
Things go slightly awry during the second half of the film however, when it starts to look more like a Transformers movie scaled up to crazy crazy levels. This is not a direct criticism of the epic spectacle that unfolds before your eyes. It’s just that it doesn’t quite square with the serious vibe created in the first half of the movie. It almost seems to flip genres halfway through the film, going from the characteristic brooding and dark Nolan style of directing to a Michael Bay all out maximum possible carnage and mayhem mode of directing, as Zac unleashes all the CGI driven urban destruction sequences he can possibly conjure up within the space of a single movie. And as visually impressive as all this is, it is frankly hard to take seriously.
Christopher Nolan’s directing style could not be more different from Zac Snyder’s. Nolan seems to loath CGI (or the very least excessive CGI). But he has learned to compensate for this aversion by becoming a master of practical effects. Dark Knight Rises is a good case in point. The impressive sequences involving the flying ‘Bat’ vehicle were achieved merely by dangling a physically built ‘Bat’ model from a helicopter via industrial strength cable, and then photoshopping the cable out of the picture. But the end result is surely more impressive than any CGI rendered ‘Bat’ vehicle Zac Snyder would have envisioned for the movie had he been the one directing it. Nolan seems able to create a sense of realism in his films using practical effects (enhanced slightly by a few bits of CGI here or there) that are virtually impossible to rival with even the most photorealistic CGI. The other difference is one of scale. Mr. Snyder’s huge and apocalyptic set pieces make Mr. Nolan’s action set pieces seem like minor localized disturbances in comparison. But this somewhat restrained style of action works well with the serious and grounded nature of Nolan’s approach to film making. But Snyder’s ‘Transformers style’ approach to film making does not work so well with it.
Having said all this there is more good to Zac Snyder’s reinvention of Superman than there is bad (as in my opinion is the case with Watchmen) and I feel the negative reviews are not doing justice to all that is good about this film. Very few, if any films are perfect, and the fact that this movie does not work perfectly should not prevent cinema audiences from acknowledging the tremendous merits of Zac Snyder’s work. Although the photorealism of Mr. Snyder’s effects are variable pretty much all of the CGI is visually impressive. And there is so much energy to the action scenes it is hard not to feel a sense of exhilaration at watching them. Mr. Snyder has all the fellows from planet Krypton whipping around at totally berserk speeds whilst they are on Earth battling one other, and if this hadn’t been so masterfully executed it would have looked just plain silly. But as it is Snyder is on top form with this aspect of the action sequences, the fast motion technique greatly enhancing the effectiveness of the action scenes.
This movie is worth watching for sheer spectacle alone. There is one epic set piece after another, some of these scenes featuring some staggering visual effects. I would really love to see this movie in IMAX Digital 3D but since the nearest IMAX movie theatre to me is several hundred miles away it would not make a very cost effective trip. However I might walk there to save money.