I have an idea: How about nothing but tent-pole icons for five years?
As in: every U.S. movie devoted to a different franchise figure every summer. Like, say, an all-James Bond season, with Christopher Nolan making his big-ass version for one studio, and Steven Spielberg pushing out his take on the other side of town. Joss Whedon and J.J. Abrams would each cast their own super-spies, with an indie or two thrown in from, like, the Duplass brothers. (I'm ready to spend a tidy 90 minutes with a Nicole Holofcener 007.)
Exhausting? Sure. But if we insisted that certain filmmakers got a few things out of their systems, and did them in a more cutthroat marketplace while wringing out every last drop of our enthusiasm for a given copyright-protected hero, maybe Hollywood could adjust its franchise-driven GDP and make fewer pictures requiring everyone to wear a helmet or a skintight bodysuit.
The best part: no more reboots. No more having to say the word reboot.
If such a remedy were already in place, we wouldn't now be forced to consider Zack Snyder's Man of Steel, which reboots way hard, kicking you in the face again and again. (So literal is Snyder that his origin story opens with baby Kal-El's home birth, with Jor-El delivering as mother Lara yelps and lightly perspires.)
That's not just a product of the 3-D (the only way Warner Bros. screened the movie locally; it's dim and View-Master-y), which makes goggled Clark Kents of us so that we can super-experience the inevitable destructo-porn falling debris of yet another ravaged urban area (with nary a dead body in sight). It's also because Snyder, as though reading my mind, has bolted together Man of Steel out of other directors' tics and trademarks, pre-empting the need for his fellows to blueprint their own Superman visions.
Some things are borrowed fair and square. Christopher Nolan, architect of the Dark Knight trilogy, helped come up with the story here and, with his wife, produced the thing. (Nolan's name on the poster seemed designed to ease the anxiety that Supermaniacs felt when Warner hired the maker of 300 and The Watchmen to tend a 75-year-old American trust. By the time you see it again, as the endless final credits begin unspooling, your faith in the Nolan brand is pretty much gone.) So we knew to expect the grandiosity (this time not for good), the frowny psychological boilerplate (ditto) and the absurdly martial Hans Zimmer score (dude, please).
Other familiar-feeling aspects have predictable sources: Amir Mokri, who shot the most recent Transformers sequel (and is working on the next), photographed Man of Steel. Costume designer James Acheson also made the Spider-Man outfits for Sam Raimi's trilogy, and Kal-El's gear is similarly tactile.
The vulcanized and velvety update of the blue unitard and the red cape is the best thing about Man of Steel, even if it's also emblematic of the film's breakdown: the satisfaction that Snyder takes in his magpie approach and the haphazard tone it yields. There's Armageddon-era Michael Bay slow-mo Americana here, George Lucas CGI there (Krypton may as well be part of the Star Wars prequels), and a big helping of 9/11 by way of Spielberg's War of the Worlds. Sets and costumes lift freely from H.R. Giger and the Matrix movies (with unfortunate and likely unintentional echoes of David Lynch's Dune). Action sequences pull from Whedon's The Avengers (not the witty parts, just the crashes) and further amplify Abrams' more egregious habits (lens flares, focus-pulling jump zooms).
There's even a little Mel Gibson in the mix. The myth has always had biblical roots, with little Kal-El shipped off, Moses-style, to lead an assimilated life in a predominantly Christian nation where he can turn into, you know, Jesus. (Superman's two Jewish creators sent him to fight fascism and Depression street crime, and the late 1930s remain the best place for him. He's morally upright and indestructible; he's ideal for the three-color page, a 2-D hero rather than a multiplex locus.) But in Snyder's telling, Kal-El at one point looks for guidance in a church. As a shaggy-haired cleric asks Superman what his gut tells him, Snyder keeps a stained-glass Christ in the frame behind star Henry Cavill, in a pose we're about to see the hero replicate. There's prominent mention that Kal-El is 33, and an arms-out "Here I am, boys, crucify me" sequence, in which he remands himself to the U.S. military, which will take a turn strafing him before learning to worship appropriately.
Apart from the Passion of the Kal-El, Supes and Lois Lane still make X-ray eyes at each other, though Cavill and Amy Adams share a glumly terrestrial chemistry. It's a courtship without much humor (or even shared screen time), and Cavill's shallow, inert performance doesn't help. He looks right but projects little intelligence or wit; mainly he is called on to furrow his granite brow and let out howls of frustration or grief or exertion. (There's plenty of flying, but it's frequently distant or blurry or purposely too fast to take in.)
The rest of the actors seem content to do their own light shoplifting. Kevin Costner's Jonathan Kent walked out of Field of Dreams. Russell Crowe's Jor-El retrofits the actor's Gladiator moves. Michael Shannon's General Zod loads up a shopping cart with every generic variety of evil in the store. So much shouting: "Ready the laser hair removal! Pick up my cleaning! I will destroy your puppies!" All from a guy sent to the Phantom Zone in a little cock-looking spaceship and, once freed, ready to grow an exile goatee.
But then, Zod is from a Krypton with ridable dinosaurs, quacking laser guns, a kind of hot-lead-imaging version of FaceTime, and leaders who wear Cher-style headdresses. This society died for a reason. And Snyder isn't doing its last son any favors, either.