Late in Man of Steel, director Zack Snyder's reboot of the Superman franchise for Warner Bros., a female army captain articulates what the audience has been thinking for more than two hours when she gazes longingly at the hulking, caped dreamboat embodied by Henry Cavill and shyly admits, "I think he's kinda hot."
That's an understatement. At 6'1," Cavill, who has played supporting roles and the lead in the indifferent Greek mythology blockbuster The Immortals last year, is certainly tall and toned enough to fill the red boots and form-fitting costume. Hot, hot, hot, Cavill is. But then so was Klinton Spilsbury in The Legend of the Lone Ranger and Miles O'Keeffe in Tarzan the Ape Mannot to mention Brandon Routh in 2006's Superman Returns, Warner's last try at starting the series over.
Whether or not Cavill's super-hot body and super-cute looks are enough to ensure further outings in the iconic role or send him to movie history oblivion like those other unfortunate he-men, they certainly provide an apt metaphor for Snyder's much more muscular, grittier take on the material. Devoid of charm and subtlety to the point where the inevitable romance between Superman and ace reporter Lois Lane (played by Amy Adams) incites titters as opposed to swoons, Man of Steel is a perfect calculation of the modern-day Hollywood juggernaut.
This calculated approach has its merits and the movie skillfully combines the first two of the Christopher Reeve late 1970s Superman movies into one. It eschews any reference to archcriminal Lex Luthor and his daffy sidekicks and jumps right to General Zod, Superman's one worthy adversary, a fellow Kryptonian who also survived the extinction of their home planet of Krypton. Zod (played with typical terse effect by Michael Shannon) and his cohorts have followed Superman/Kal-El to earth in search of something called the "codex" that Kal's father (Russell Crowe) sent with him to Earth before Krypton was destroyed.
The codex is a device that could bring back the inhabitants of Krypton but would extinguish humanity in the process, which is Zod's mission. But Kal has taken a fancy to his adopted planet and the lessons imparted by his adoptive parents (Diane Lane and Kevin Costner) as he grew up on their Kansas farm. And though he's a loner, forced to blend in because of his extraordinary abilities and has for years been subjected to taunts and beatings by humans (talk about a victim of bullying), Kal still believes in the inherent goodness of earthlings and is determined to thwart Zod and his minionsall of which Lois Lane becomes privy to through her ace sleuthing (leap of faith required there).
Scripted by David S. Goyer from a story conceived by he and Christopher Nolan, Goyer's collaborator on the Batman trilogy reboot, the movie has a much darker, more melancholy tone (and look) than the Christopher Reeve pictures and Nolan's fatalistic, Fascist artistic sensibilities combined with his gut-busting action sequences are obvious reference points. John Williams' famous Superman theme and his lovely melody for the romance between Lois and Superman ("Can You Read My Mind") are gone, replaced by yet another Nolan signaturea Hans Zimmer music score that pummels rather than exhilarates the audience. Although Snyder brings his own preference for long takes and his awareness of the importance of Cavill's physique to the proceedings (he is shirtless when introduced), Nolan's presence from the sidelines is overwhelming.
At the center of the cacophony is Cavill, with his cute rather than handsome face sitting atop his massive, football blocker body. His acting, though, isn't exactly anything to get hot under the collar abouthe often seems dazed or puzzled, and even when angered not much registers on his face. He's Superman as a lunkhead who wants to use his fists cause he ain't too smart (this Superman flies with hands clenched, rather than palms out, another signal, apparently, of his hypermasculinity). There's not a smidgen of the personality that Reeve brought to the role but then this isn't a Superman movie that would have had any use for Reeveor Margot Kidder or the rest of the actors who helped make the 1978 version so endearingand gay director Bryan Singer's 2006 reboot as well (although the miscasting of Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane was a big misstep).
But let's give credit where credit is duethough I genuinely loved Reeve and Routh in the role and those director's visions of the material, Snyder has certainly delivered a picture that adheres to the current movie zeitgeistwhich says that blockbusters must be interchangeable, bigger, faster, pumped up on adrenaline with an approximation of emotion rather than the true expression of it. Man of Steel is certainly all thata robotic exercise in moviemaking that will no doubt satisfy the requirements of millions of distracted moviegoers who no longer require absolute engagement to be entertainedand who might, in fact, prefer exactly that.
Celebrating Diversity, the free LGBT film series the Chicago Public Library and the Queer Film Society are co-sponsoring, continues Tuesday, June 18, at the Logan Square branch, 3030 W. Fullerton Ave., with a 6 p.m. screening of Chicago-based filmmaker Tadeo Garcia's 2004's On the Downlow, the story of the potentially dangerous consequences of a secret affair between two male gang members. Garcia and his co-writer, Roger B. Domian, will be present for a post-screening discussion and DVD copies will be on sale.
The series ends Wed., June 19, with a book reading/signing event at the Sulzer branch, 4455 N. Lincoln Ave. Author Rob Christopher (and secretary for the Queer Film Society) presents an overview of his 2012 book Queue Tips: Discovering Your Next Great Movie, a guide to help movie fans utilize the DVD selections from their local library in choosing a film. Performance monologuist David Kodeski will give a multimedia presentation of his contribution to the book, a chapter that delves into the homoerotic content in the 1961 film Back Street and other movies. Christopher will sign copies of the book (which will be for sale). www.queerfilmsociety.org
White Frog, from out director Quentin Lee (Ethan Mao, Flow, The People I've Slept With)the story of an Asian-American family reeling after the accidental death of their elder, closeted son (played by Glee's Harry Shum, Jr.)is out on VOD. (It will be out on DVD July 16 from Wolfe Video.) Joan Chen and out actor B.D. Wong play the bereft parents whose high expectations are transferred to his surviving siblings, especially his younger brother who also struggles with Asperger's Syndrome. Yes, there is more than a dash of Ordinary People in that plot outline and although it's a tad clichéd, this is a very satisfying, heartfelt drama.