Saturday, June 29, 2013

Has Pixar Lost its Magic? A letter to the Straits Times Life! Mailbox

Last week, the Straits Times Life! ran an article by Boon Chan looking at Pixar's track record and what the poor (or middling) reception of films like Cars, Cars 2 and most recently Monsters University means. The studio is regarded by many as a shining beacon of innovative storytelling. So, has Pixar lost their magic? Several readers wrote in and I was one of 'em.


I refer to Has Pixar Lost Its Magic? by Boon Chan (Life!, June 22). Even given some of their recent let-downs, the studio has created a legacy of well-told stories, films made by people who take “kids’ flicks” seriously and broke barriers in terms of technology and storytelling in making these films.

The best of Pixar's movies are built upon a high-concept premise that is strengthened with memorable characters and set in world audiences can readily buy into and get lost in. Ratatouille was about a rat who wanted to become a chef in a prestigious Paris restaurant – an amusing spin on the formula of children who decide to march to the beat of a different drummer than their parents. WALL-E delivered a character whom most everyone could instantly fall in love with in those poetic, dialogue-free opening twenty minutes.
The thing about the “worst 3” Pixar films selected by Chan is that they are largely unoriginal and clearly geared towards marketing and kid appeal. Cars is just Doc Hollywood with cars; to that end Cars 2 is The Man Who Knew Too Little with cars and Monsters University is a chaste Revenge of the Nerds with Monsters, Inc. characters.

Taking a look at the studio’s slate of upcoming films however, there’s definitely still potential for imagination and wonder: The Good Dinosaur has dinosaurs and humans co-existing in the present day, Inside Out takes place within a little girl’s mind and there’s also a project set in the world of Dia de Los Muertos (the Mexican Day of the Dead.) So I guess moviegoers shouldn’t give up on Pixar just yet, and hope that story wins out over what makes for colourful toys and backpacks. 

-Jedd Jong 

This is the article it was written in response to: 

Friday, June 28, 2013

White House Down

For F*** Magazine


Director: Roland Emmerich
Cast: Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Joey King, Rachelle Lefevre, James Woods, Richard Jenkins, Jason Clarke, Jake Weber, Garcelle Beauvais, Michael Murphy
Genre: Action, Thriller
Run Time: 132 mins
Opens: 27 June 2013
Rating: PG13 (Some Coarse Language and Violence)

After taking a short detour into the realm of speculative costume drama with 2011’s Anonymous, director Roland Emmerich is back to doing what he does best: dealing out copious amounts of punishment to 1600 Penn. After all, he blew it to smithereens with an alien death ray in Independence Day and smashed an aircraft carrier into its south portico in 2012. It seems inevitable that the maven of large-scale cinematic destruction would eventually make a film centering on the D.C. Landmark.

U.S. Capitol Police Officer John Cale (Tatum), with his daughter Emily (King) in tow, heads to the White House for a job interview, hoping to become a Secret Service Agent. Carol Finnerty (Gyllenhaal), herself a Secret Service Agent and John’s former schoolmate, deems him unworthy. While taking a tour of the place after his rejection, John and Emily suddenly find themselves, along with other tourists and staffers, held hostage. A paramilitary group, comprising various dangerous miscreants and led by hardened mercenary Emil Stenz (Clarke), begins a hostile takeover of the White House. John finds himself having to protect President James Sawyer (Foxx), his daughter and the various others caught in the fray as a national crisis swiftly and violently unfolds.

A summer blockbuster best described as “Air Force One meets Die Hard, with Magic Mike teaming up with President Django” just has to be entertaining – no two ways about it. And by gosh, White House Down is all kinds of entertaining. Sure, its PG-13 rating might disappoint fans of hardcore action and it’s not going to start a renaissance of ‘80s-style action extravaganzas anytime soon, but this is the kind of movie which has the Presidential limousine drifting across the White House lawn with the baddies in pursuit. We can tell you there’s an audience for that. James Vanderbilt’s screenplay seems to have been written with just the right amount of self-awareness: the movie revels in its relative absurdity like a toddler in a ball pit and has a lot of fun with the premise, while stopping a safe distance short of mocking its audience.

Duelling movies aren’t new; moviegoers have borne witness to such battles as Dante’s Peak vs. Volcano, A Bug’s Life vs. Antz and Deep Impact vs. Armageddon. It’s only fair that White House Down be compared to Olympus Has Fallen, 2013’s other movie about a terrorist attack on the Executive Mansion. While it doesn’t have the cooler title, White House Down does have more lavish production values and being a Roland Emmerich picture, has lots of stuff going boom. White House Down also doesn’t take itself as seriously; at times, it’s almost a buddy movie but with the Prez as the buddy.

White House Down makes better use of its setting and the film features some very realistic facsimiles of the rooms, halls and other areas of 1600 Penn. However, the afore-mentioned PG-13 rating means the violence in this one is of a less visceral variety and while the computer-generated imagery is done better here, it’s still noticeable - particularly during the aerial sequences.

Roland Emmerich’s films are known as much for their “casts of thousands” as for their big-budget spectacle. While there aren’t as many characters here as in, say, 2012, there still are a good number of players to juggle. Tatum’s protagonist is idealistic rather than world-weary and he seems to be having more fun playing the action hero here than he did in the first G.I. JOE movie. Foxx and Tatum make for a decent action flick double act, even if Foxx just doesn’t come off as presidential enough, though he makes up for his lack of a dignified air with cheesy/enjoyable moments like handling a rocket launcher and yelling at terrorists not to touch his precious Air Jordans.

While this isn’t a realistic movie by any stretch, the villains in this one somehow come off as more credible than the North Korean terrorists in Olympus Has Fallen. Jason Clarke is believable, scary even, as a tough, scruffy former Delta Force soldier-turned cold-blooded gun for hire. Jimmi Simpson is a hoot as a campy, bespectacled “evil hacker” stereotype who declares “Skip Tyler is in!” and seizes control of the nation’s defense systems. King gets to be more than just the “kidnapped daughter” and is something of an important supporting character. While Gyllenhaal doesn’t get lots to do standing around in the Pentagon’s situation room, at least she isn’t relegated to the role of disposable love interest. Veteran actors James Woods and Richard Jenkins are also on hand to lend the actioner some gravitas, and Nicolas Wright as the comic relief tour guide is, refreshingly enough, not annoying.

Emmerich has never been a critic’s darling, but his films usually possess some sort of mass appeal and that’s in full force here. Many of his films are set in multiple locations across the world, but the focus on the titular location actually prevents the story from feeling scattershot, and outlandish, exciting action sequences are not in short supply. In this era of action thrillers being too self-serious, it’s good that this strikes an adequate balance between intense moments and levity so that it doesn't come off as a downer, but as a good popcorn-munchin’ time.

SUMMARY: As can be expected of a Roland Emmerich flick, White House Down isn’t nuanced or layered, but it’s blisteringly entertaining and serves up enjoyable summer blockbuster thrills by the spoonful.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 STARS

Jedd Jong

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Blind Date: Andy Lau and Sammi Cheng in Singapore



By Jedd Jong 

Filmmakers and moviegoers know just when they’ve struck gold with an onscreen pairing, and the double act of Andy Lau and Sammi Cheng is one of those that really seems to work. Together with director Johnnie To, the three have become known as the “Iron Trio”: Their first collaboration, 2000’s Needing You, was a smash hit at a time when the Hong Kong film industry was at a low ebb.

Lau and Cheng were in town to promote their latest film with director To, the comedy-crime thriller Blind Detective. The pair fielded questions at a press conference at the Equarius Hotel, before meeting a 3000-strong throng of delighted fans at Plaza Singapura shopping mall and attending a red-carpet premiere of the movie at the Festive Grand Theatre in Resorts World Sentosa.

Both stars had an easy chemistry, both dab hands at working the crowd and clearly enjoying each other’s company. Lau and Cheng joked about how they would deal with the criticism should film reviewers dislike the movie and in a somber moment, Lau paid his respects to a recently-deceased friend and mentor. For the most part though, spirits were high. As we try to get that catchy theme song “Love Is Blind” out of our heads, here are the highlights from yesterday’s press conference and interviews. 

Q: Movie fans have been anticipating this reunion for a while! Andy, why did it take you and Sammi ten years to reunite onscreen?

Andy: I think it’s closer to eight years, right? After Yesterday Once More, we were hoping to find a unique screenplay to work on together.

Q: Sammi, why did you pick the script for Blind Detective to act in?

Sammi: I felt the time was right, and because Andy Lau was in the film, it became a priority for me. At the same time, Johnnie To was directing.

Q: And Andy, was it a priority to you that Johnnie To was directing?

Andy: It always is. The thing is, he didn’t expect that the presentation of this film was going to be something quite different, even though there were some familiar elements in the script.

Q: Andy, when you found out you were going to play a blind detective, did you think it was going to be difficult for you acting-wise?

Andy: I didn’t overthink it, I trusted that when the director brought me on board, he knew that there was something I could contribute.

Q: Sammi, you play a very bold and energetic policewoman. Did you have to put in your 200% to inhabit the character?

Sammi: I found that the script was very interesting, there were many opportunities for Andy and I to explore different character interactions and I hope the audience sees we are improving as actors.

Q: Andy, did you find there was anything different about working with Sammi for the first time in eight years?

Andy: I don’t think there’s anything very physically different about Sammi; I think that although she might have gone through a rough patch, she has come out of it and is okay now. Eight years ago, we were already very good colleagues, but now, we’re like family.

Q: How about you, Sammi?

Sammi: I truly think that earlier on, I appreciated Andy as a very accomplished actor but as the years went by, I discovered more and more that he’s a very kind person and I feel very fortunate to be able to work with someone of his caliber and character.

Q: Andy, that’s some high praise!

Andy: I believe that deep down, everyone is a good person, everyone is kind. I just want to bring out the best in myself to work with people I enjoy.

Q: Since the both of you and director Johnnie To are close friends, was it an easygoing experience making this movie, like you were having fun on set everyday?

Andy: Nope! (Laughs) 

Sammi: There’s a misconception that it’s easier to make a comedy, but I think there’s a level of skill and energy required of an actor in a comedy, no less than in any other film genre. Also, I had to tackle scenes in this film that were quite different from what I’m used to, so I wouldn’t say this past year was a walk in the park.

Q: In this film, your portrayal of the blind detective seems different from what we’re used to seeing in movies when an actor plays a blind character. It’s almost as if he can still see. Was this a conscious choice in your interpretation?

Andy: When I studied and hung out with the sight-impaired (at a training center), I decided I didn’t want to play the character superficially, I tried to understand the psychology and the feelings of a blind person. A good piece of advice from a visually-impaired person was that as a blind person, he wanted every action to make those around him feel he can see, that he wasn’t disabled. So because of that, I tried to emulate that aspiration. I can’t say if I did it right or wrong, but when I watched the playback, I felt that it was pretty close to what I saw when working with them.

Q: Which was your favourite scene in the film? I thought the scene in the casino when you were aggravating the murder suspect was very exciting.

Sammi: I agree about the scene in the casino, I think that eight to ten years ago I wouldn’t have had the bravery to play that scene because I had to open up a deeper part of myself, I think the same goes for the scene in which my character actually kills someone.

Q: Oh, it turns out you have a hidden fierce side! How about you, Andy? Which was your favourite scene to play?

Andy: The scene has actually been edited and lots of it has been cut out, but there’s a scene where I’m in the taxi with the murder suspect and I have to take pictures of my surroundings so Goldie (Sammi’s character) can get to me. I like that scene a lot, I think I acted pretty well in that scene if I may say so myself!

Q: It seems that the partnership of Andy Lau, Sammi Cheng and Johnnie To is a guarantee for box office success. So, is this expectation a source of encouragement or pressure?

Andy: This never crossed my mind. Different audiences will have different opinions about the movie; we just tried to give it our best shot.

Sammi: I think it’s encouraging that audiences have this expectation of the three of us teaming up again.

Q: When the film was screened at Cannes, you said in an interview that the conditions under which you made this film were ideal. What did you mean by “conditions”, was it that you’re in a good place in your personal life and you had enough capacity to make this movie?

Andy: I think that the “conditions” refer to both psychological and physical conditions. I had just finished doing a concert tour and Sammi was in preparations to do a concert of her own. We both went through our personal highs and lows and Johnnie had weathered some criticism for some movies he did, so all three of us have come to a place of calmness. And I think the conditions were right because everyone’s stable now.

Q: Sammi, you missed out on the Golden Horse award this past year. How do you feel about it?

Sammi: I feel that I let Johnnie To down, because he’s my mentor and I hope I can do better next time.

Q: What is your attitude towards awards, particularly movie awards?

Sammi: I don’t know why everyone thinks I’m anxious to get awards. To me, it’s more important that I get to work on some quality movies and I feel very blessed doing that. You’ve got to go with the flow.

Q: How about you, Andy?

Andy: Like Sammi, I don’t give it much thought. We all love movies and we want to give the best for the audience in the hope that they enjoy the movies we make. I think then whenever you see someone close to you lose out on an award, you’ll feel a bit of sadness for them, that’s how Johnnie feels and sometimes he thinks it’s not fair for us.

Q: Is it fair to say that since you consider Johnnie To to be family, you won’t turn down a movie offer from him?

Andy: You always have to take your schedule into account. I think a Johnnie To movie requires the very best of an actor so you have to be in the right frame, he’ll always want to see a different side of you as an actor.

Q: How do you feel when the media rates a film that you’ve done poorly? For example, if a movie critic were to award Blind Detective a “two out of five stars” rating, would you be affected?

Sammi: It’s like a dish, everyone has different tastes. So if someone were to rate it “two stars”, I’d just have to swallow it.
Q: Will it hurt your feelings?

Sammi: To be honest, kinda, yes. Please don’t give it two stars, it’ll make me sad! (Laughs)

Q: How many stars would you rate the movie?

Sammi: Maybe 4? (Laughs)

Q: How would you feel about it Andy?

Andy: Two stars? I’m actually pretty used to getting two star ratings. (Laughs)

Q: You’re being modest!

Andy: Even if it’s a two-star or a one-star rating, I value honest comments and opinion and I’ll bear it in mind. If I get a five-star rating now, I’ll get arrogant! So give it four and half! (Laughs)

Q: What do you hope the media and the audience will see in this film?

Sammi: I hope they’ll see that we’ve worked hard and appreciate some of the different aspects compared to my other films. Working so many years as an actress, I hope moviegoers will see a large improvement in my acting.
Andy: I hope that whether it’s Johnnie To’s direction, the screenplay or both of us acting, people will see that we’ve done something different and enjoy that.

Q: Andy, your character has very drastic changes in mood, where did that come from?

Andy: I think that in real life, it’s hard to find someone who has such big mood swings the way my character Johnston does, but I think Johnnie To is actually like that! He can be shouting expletives across the room one minute, then very kind the next. I tried to incorporate some of that into the character.

Q: Sammi, was your partner (Andy Hui) surprised upon seeing the fierce side you showed in the film?

Sammi: Maybe I gave him a bit of a shock and he has to take a good look at me again! (Laughs)

Q: The film has a very unusual tone. How did director Johnnie To balance the comedy and crime thriller aspects of it?

Andy: As a director, he has experience with handling many different genres. There’s a very serious topic at the heart of the film, whether or not one should hang on tightly to something with an obsession. At the same time, he hopes that the movie will be able to cause the audience to reflect.

Q: This film has been called a “Chinese Sherlock Holmes”, with Andy playing the Sherlock equivalent and Sammi’s character like Watson. What do you think about this comparison?

Andy: I’ve heard this comparison and can understand that it looks that way from the marketing and the posters, but it’s actually a very different story content-wise. I appreciate this comment and hope that audiences will find there’s more to it after watching the movie.

Q: This is the seventh time the both of you have acted together. What makes your partnership different from when you each act with other actors?

Sammi: We’re very familiar with how the other works, it’s kind of like a rhythm and as actors it’s easy for us to get in sync with each other. With time, I appreciate when actors are able to accept one another. We’re all human beings, and I felt that if we can inspire one another and help another it’s very helpful and precious.

Andy: Different actors have different energies and evoke different emotions from me when I act opposite them. We all march to the beats of different drummers, but when it comes to comedies, I think she’s the best partner to work with. Together, we’re able to help audiences see the value of life.

Q: Andy, how were you affected after the recent passing of action choreographer and director Lau Kar-Leung?

He was a very good teacher and I’ve known him for a very long time. When I was acting opposite Adam Cheng (in Drunken Master III), I felt very small because he was bigger than me and a skilled swordfighter. Lau Kar-Leung gave me a confidence boost by telling me that even if my opponent is physically bigger than I am, I should concentrate on conveying the emotion and the depth of the fight scene, so this was a very helpful direction in terms of action and movement. I hope everyone will remember his legacy.

Q: Do you have plans to hold concerts in Singapore?

Sammi: Not at the present time.

Andy: We’re in the early stages of discussing and planning a concert and will see if it comes to fruition. 

Blind Detective opens in theatres 4 July. 

Photos by Jedd Jong; Movie Stills courtesy of Clover Films

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

World War Z

Written for F*** Magazine, Singapore


Director: Marc Forster
Cast: Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, Daniella Kertesz, James Badge Dale, Fana Mokoena
Genre: Action, Horror
Run Time: 116 mins
Opens: 20 June 2013
Rating: PG13 (Violence and Some Intense Sequences)

Hollywood, and by extension the film-going public, has long been fascinated with ways the world could come to an end. A giant meteor, a nuclear winter, a simian uprising – all fair game. In World War Z, it’s a sudden outbreak of a virus that turns perfectly healthy human beings into the rabid walking – no, sprinting dead that does the world in.

Brad Pitt stars as Gerry Lane, a former U.N. investigator who has become a stay-at-home dad to his two daughters (Sterling Jerins and Abigail Hargrove). After an ordinary Philadelphia morning unspools into utter chaos, Lane has to get his wife Karen (Enos) and his daughters to safety, and is called upon by his old boss, U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Thierry Umutoni (Mokoena). Lane embarks on a globe-trotting mission to track down the origin of the zombie virus outbreak, a mission that takes him to an Air Force base in South Korea, Jerusalem and Cardiff as he must survive the ruthless onslaught of the undead hordes to eventually be reunited with his kin.

The film has been rather infamously plagued by production troubles, going over-budget and over-schedule and requiring an emergency rewrite of its ending during filming. Author Max Brooks, whose book World War Z is the movie’s basis, has said that this is just the novel in name only. Adapting the book was apparently a challenge, seeing as it is presented as a faux-official documentation of the aftermath of the zombie apocalypse, consisting of reports filed by a nameless investigator.

This has been re-jigged by screenwriters Matthew Michael Carnahan, Drew Goddard and Damon Lindelof (as well as J. Michael Straczynski, whose draft was unused) to focus on a central protagonist, Brad Pitt’s Gerry Lane. Pitt is, as usual, a confident and competent leading man who guides the audience through the mayhem, unwaveringly calm, not quite superhuman, but still possessing incredible luck. The film can be viewed as a road trip picture of sorts, with each new destination introducing new allies and new zombie-related obstacles for Gerry to overcome. For example, in Jerusalem, Gerry meets Segen (Kerstesz), a plucky female Israeli soldier who accompanies him for the next leg of his mission.

Director Marc Forster, known for helming the Bond outing Quantum of Solace, goes for a dusty, lived-in realism, such that this is closer to Contagion than, say, Resident Evil on the sliding scale of viral outbreak movies. It almost feels like a war film, with Gerry akin to the journalist who tags along for the ride into the battlefield. The first half also has shades of War of the Worlds (Spielberg’s 2005 version) with the hero having to protect his loved ones caught in the crossfire.

To Forster’s credit, he’s managed to make the threat feel relatively credible and intense. An early scene in which panicked New Jersey citizens loot a supermarket is well-staged, and scenes of mass hysteria do get across the sense of a major global crisis. The zombies are attracted to noise, so there’s the occasional moment where someone steps on broken glass or drops something, and then everyone freezes for a moment. In such moments, Forster is able to generate sufficient tension. However, he is over-reliant on jump scares – this being a PG-13 horror action film though, that’s pretty much the only way to go in lieu of copious amounts of blood and guts.

Are the zombies scary? They aren’t portrayed with missing limbs or half their entrails hanging out and are closer to feral, diseased human beings than the undead. One scene has a zombie chattering its teeth, which could come off as unintentionally comedic. Still, they seem like a legitimate threat on the whole, even if they come off as a little artificial during the big, computer-enhanced set pieces. The 3D post-conversion is mostly unnecessary and you probably won’t miss much seeing it flat.

Fans of the book may ultimately feel that it has been watered down for the masses, but for what it is and given its troubled production, World War Z is not bad at all. It’s not a particularly fresh take on the “all hell breaks loose” apocalyptic thriller, but on the whole, it doesn’t feel slipshod or hastily patched-together. The ending leaves the door open for a sequel but doesn’t leave the audience completely hanging. It’s a relatively thrilling action-horror film, with Brad Pitt doing a decent amount of globe-trotting and zombie-slaying.

SUMMARY: Director Marc Forster and star/producer Brad Pitt have prevented World War Z  from becoming an utter disaster, managing to scare and thrill with this summer flick.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 STARS

Jedd Jong

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Man of Steel

For F*** Magazine, Singapore


Director: Zack Snyder
Cast: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Laurence Fishburne, Diane Lane, Kevin Costner, Michael Shannon, Antje Traue, Ayelet Zurer, Russell Crowe
Genre: Superhero, Action
Run Time: 143 mins
Opens: 13 June 2013
Rating: PG13 (Some Violence)

Truth, justice and the American way – it never gets old. When Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s creation first lifted a car off the ground on the cover of Action Comics #1 in 1938, it was a very different time. Yet, Superman has endured as a pop culture icon for 75 years and counting; it’s even been said that the “S” crest is the second most recognizable symbol in the world, just behind the Christian cross. The Last Son of Krypton swoops back onto movie screens in Zack Snyder’s long-awaited reboot. So, has this Man of Steel proven his mettle? 

It’s a familiar tale that has deservedly become modern myth: Kryptonian scientist Jor-El (Crowe) and his wife Lara (Ayelet Zurer) decide to send their newborn son Kal-El away from their dying world to ours, Earth. Krypton’s military leader, the ruthless General Zod, has staged a coup but is eventually imprisoned with his cohorts, as he vows to find Kal-El and enact his revenge.

On Earth, this space-age Moses in his “basket” is found by Jonathan (Costner) and Martha (Lane) Kent, who raise him on a farm in Smallville, Kansas as their son Clark. As a child, Clark struggles to come to terms with the truth of his alien origins as he tries to fit in with his peers. An adult Clark (Cavill) goes off to “find himself”, coming to the attention of intrepid reporter Lois Lane (Adams). Meanwhile, General Zod and his cohorts arrive on earth, demanding that Kal-El be handed to him. Clark/Kal-El takes on the mantle of Superman and defends his adopted homeworld from the treachery of the Kryptonian warlord.

Is Man of Steel a better film than the earlier reboot attempt Superman Returns? Thankfully, it is. Superman Returns suffered from a slavish worshipfulness of the earlier film series, with director Bryan Singer being so caught up in homages and iconography that the franchise wasn’t moved forward. Chief of the complaints levelled against Superman Returns was that there was little to no actual action in it. Rest assured that that’s been rectified – Man of Steel’s action sequences involve earth-shattering melees between superpowered beings, including the obligatory climactic sequence in which a metropolis (well, the Metropolis) is laid to waste.

Director Zack Snyder, by now somewhat infamous for his penchant for dramatic and highly stylized slow-motion sequences, attempts to rein his style in. Man of Steel has a desaturated colour palette and doesn’t look as slick or artificially polished as some of his other work – this is most likely an effort to evoke the style of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. Snyder’s fingerprint is most evident in scenes like the one in which a “reconstruction” of Jor-El gives his son a crash course in Kryptonian history by way of an animated sequence. On the whole, while it might look a little drab, it doesn’t feel like the “dark and depressing” formula has been forced on the Superman character. The sometimes-jerky camera movements aren’t helped by the 3D, so see this flat.

This reviewer’s favourite parts of the film weren’t the big fight scenes but rather the flashbacks to Clark’s childhood. Cooper Timberline portrays Clark Kent at age 9, and there is a very powerful scene which conveys how Superman’s special abilities are a double-edged sword and how he had to slowly master control over things like his super hearing. Dylan Sprayberry plays the 13 year-old Clark, and we see how Clark’s innate desire to do good takes precedence over protecting his secret. Both Kevin Costner and Diane Lane bring a humanity to their portrayals of Ma and Pa Kent, characters who have generally been perceived as good-hearted, kindly folk and not much more. This film shows just how important they were to Clark in his formative years; it’s comparable to Martin Sheen and Sally Field’s turns as Ben and May Parker respectively in last year’s The Amazing Spider-Man.

The film opens on Krypton, which is no longer a crystalline world populated by shimmering, white-clad senior citizens. This is a Krypton that looks majestic and alien, as well as lived-in. The audience is dropped right into the middle of a civil war on a planet on the brink of annihilation, and Russell Crowe even gets some action beats in scenes with Jor-El outrunning General Zod’s troops. The design elements are fascinating, from baby Kal-El’s rocket ship to the helmets worn by Zod and his underlings to the redesign of that iconic blue suit. Yes, this one doesn’t have the underwear on the outside (which was apparently meant to be reminiscent of Victorian strongmen), so we can all stop with the jokes.

It is good to see Henry Cavill get his big break after having been passed over for roles such as James Bond, Edward Cullen, Batman and yes, Superman before. In addition to looking the part, the actor is able to convey Superman’s inherent nobility, chivalry and moral compunction without coming off as a corny goody-two-shoes. The military is understandably wary of Superman when he first shows up, and scenes in which Superman communicates with them, attempting to allay their fears and establish that he’s one of the good guys are all played very well.

General Zod was portrayed by Terence Stamp in Superman II as an over-the-top tyrant who liked to yell “KNEEL!” Michael Shannon has proven he can play a scary villain before and is at it again with this compelling portrayal. Yes, he gives in to hysterics every so often, but he also comes off as a capable and truly dangerous military leader. Zod’s evil scheme is well-defined and logical, his motivations easy to accept and he and his troops (including Antje Traue’s Commander Faora) do make for formidable opponents. Sure is better than another round against Lex Luthor.

It’s been accepted that Lois Lane’s main purpose seems to getting into trouble so Superman can save her, the “Woman of Kleenex”. What’s great about Amy Adams’ portrayal of the character is yes, she is the damsel in a degree of distress, but she’s proactive and plays a very important role in the plot, doing her part to set events in motion. She’s definitely a step or more up from Kate Bosworth’s younger, blander Lois.

Man of Steel is a return to form for one of pop culture’s most significant icons. Yes, it does stray into run of the mill wham-bam territory, particularly during the final battle in which a mostly digital Metropolis bears the brunt of Zod and Superman’s tussle. On the whole though, it is a more than satisfying revamp that hopefully will pave the way to a fully-fledged DC cinematic universe.

Summary: You don’t have to be a comic book aficionado to enjoy this new, mostly very good take on Superman. Things get a little too noisy and a little overblown towards the end, but it’s better than no action at all and there are some moments of sincere emotion that do justice to the character. 

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong