Posts Tagged ‘Clark Kent’

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Man of Steel

March 1, 2014

I am a fan of Superman. I do enjoy watching the many versions of the character in live action and in animated form. So far though, I think the animated version Superman portrays him the best, with the television versions following very closely. I enjoy their takes on the character, making him unique to the series mythos and staying true to the origin story and other key points that make the character.

The films however have received a bad rap. While the actors portraying Clark Kent and his alter ego do not seem miscast, they do encounter terrible storytelling. It is hard to top Christopher Reeve and his portrayal of the Last Son of Krypton in the first two Superman movies. While the sequels to the movies suffered much in the same way as Batman did before Christopher Nolan bought in real worldliness to the films, Superman almost had a new start with “Superman Returns.” However, there were many missteps in the story that made the movie fall flat. While an enjoyable yarn, it rehashes some of the too familiar schemes of Lex Luthor and tried to tie it to the original Christopher Reeve movies.

This time around, Christopher Nolan lent his help with producing another attempt with reinvigorating interest in Superman and his cast of characters. Zach Snyder was chosen to direct, with a resume that has comic book movies “Watchmen” and “300,” he seemed an ideal choice to take on the character. In this version, he takes Superman on a personal odyssey of self discovery and given many of the background characters some depth and more story.

“Man of Steel” is more the story of a god that walks among men and this same god looking for his place in the world. It hints at the growing pains the young Clark spent as his alien physiology adapted to the world around him, and how it alienated him from others. It also gives the classic origin story more levity by giving Superman’s birth parents Jor-El and Lara more than being simple exposition.

The story is told in a non-linear fashion, with snippets of Clark’s life, past and present intertwining with events unfolding in his present. It can be a little disorienting and seem a little jumbled, but, it is done rather tastefully to match the tones of the scenes. They tell the origin story as if we haven’t seen it before.

The planet of Krypton is a terraformed world that is dying from its own devices. Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and his wife Lara (Antje Traue) plan to save their son using the meager resources he has to create and craft a ship to carry his son to Earth, a scouted planet that may be home to the next Krypton. Shortly after Kal-El’s birth, General Zod (Michael Shannon) stages a military coup to overthrow the current government. Jor-El manages to steal and encode into his son the codex of the Kryptonian species, a database of genetic information that someday would be used to revive the Kryptonian race via their process of reproduction through artificial means. General Zod catches up with Jor-El and kills him before he could stop the launch of the capsule with infant Kal-El.

General Zod and his followers are banished to the Phantom Zone, where they would be indefinitely incarcerated for their war crimes. Shortly afterwards, the planet Krypton explodes.

The ship crash lands in the town of Smallville, Kansas, near the family farm of Jonathan and Martha Kent (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane) who found the infant Kal-El and adopted him as their son.  His growth in our world was difficult, as his physiology took time to adapt to Earth’s atmosphere.  These changes isolate the young Clark from the rest of his classmates and childhood friends. Concealing his abilities proved difficult, as he saves his friends and classmates from a near fatal bus crash. Clark learns that he is not from the planet Earth, but in fact a survivor from another world that is alien to him.

Fast forward to the present, and you see Clark (Henry Cavill) wandering around doing odd jobs and traveling, helping others as it allows him. He save an oil rig crew from a fiery explosion, but in turn has to move on from his job as a fisherman on a trawler. He is making his way north.

Meanwhile, Lois Lane (Amy Adams) has been granted permission to see a mysterious alien structure that the military is trying to investigate. Clark has also managed to sneak onto the work site as a civilian member of the exploration team. The structure turns out to be a Kryptonian scout ship that had landed on Earth a long time ago, and was one of the scout ships that alerted Jor-El of Earth’s potential for colonization. Clark discovers his history through the avatar of his father Jor-El.

Due to the events at the alien ship, Lois decides to work on finding this mysterious person who has been performing superhuman feats to protect others. Her  investigation leads her back to Smallville, where she encounters him again.

Freed from the Phantom Zone incarceration, General Zod and his followers manage to cannibalize their prison into a ship. They searched for the remaining Kryptonian colonies that were scattered across  the galaxy, finding none that had survived. During this search, he learns of Earth and it being home to the last surviving Kryptonian, the infant son of Jor-El. Upon arriving at Earth, he threatens its citizenry unless Kal-El steps forward.

Clark surrenders to the US government, hoping that his surrender would help render a truce or as an act of peace between the surviving Kryptonians. Zod has ulterior motives that lead to a knock down drag out fight with the fate of Earth at stake, as Zod activates a terraforming world engine to start work on turning Earth into a new Krypton.

I found this movie to be a bit of fresh air to the Superman series of films and his 75 plus years. It takes many of the elements from the comics, a few bits of lore from the various TV, serials, and animation and mixes them together to make a very modern take of the hero we know and love. It does go over the origin story again, only giving the characters of Jor-El and Lara, not to mention the other Kryptonians, more depth and levity to their characters. This was a utopian society that was suddenly collapsing, giving rise to the military coup led by General Zod. He  did what he thought was best to help wrest control from the seemingly ignorant government.

While Clark’s story continued on Earth, it was less of a happy experience as depicted in comics and animation, rather it was the worst imaginable as his body changed and having little control of it. It is far off from many of his television depictions, as is more closely resembling his growth in the TV series “Smallville.”

His growth into the role of Superman was well conceived, following many plotlines from the recent comics. This gives the character of Superman more human flaws and makes for a much more relatable character.

Henry Cavill fills this role nicely with a nobility that slowly grows from his humble beginnings. Michael Shannon  makes for a good General Zod, making him more of a realistic soldier trying to save what he believes is right and important. His actions don’t necessarily make him a complete villain, more of a man trying to save what he can the best way he knows how. It is a very interesting role for him. Russell Crowe is a scene stealer, giving the very important role of Jor-El much more definition. Amy Adams seemed well cast as a bit world weary yet still curious Lois Lane. She lacks a bit of the fiery charm that makes the character interesting.

Overall I thought this was a nice updated take on the greatest hero created. It modernizes him to fit in with the times, it fits a lot of classic stories into the movie, and delivers a lot of action and character. While it falls flat in some areas, there are some that breathes new life into the characters and makes for a more rounded story.

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Superman/Shazam!: The Return of Black Adam

October 6, 2013

When I was a kid, there was a live action show called (I think) “The Power of Shazam!” It featured Billy Batson, a teenager travelling with an archeologist. He stumbles upon the cave of Shazam, a wizard who gives him powers to become the mightiest mortal. It was a nice Saturday Morning live action yarn that also appeared with other shows like “Isis,” “Jason of Star Command,” and “Space Academy.” These shows were simple, fun shows that were precursors to shows like “Power Rangers.”

I was reminded of this when I picked up a copy of “Superman/ Shazam!- The Return of Black Adam.” I was hoping for a more extensive story and background on Captain Marvel. Well, you can’t call him Captain Marvel anymore, Marvel Comics now own the rights to that name, as I recall.

I was disappointed that it was just a short feature. I hoped for a lengthier tale of Billy Batson’s life story of how he became an orphan, and how he managed to survive. He is still an optimistic teen, but instead of a more dramatic presentation, we get a snapshot view of Billy’s life before becoming Shazam.

In this feature, Billy is living alone in low income housing. Despite living in squalid conditions, he is almost cheerfully optimistic. He wakes in his studio apartment and heads out to meet Clark Kent, who is doing a profile on him. Billy helps a homeless man from three thugs who were shaking him down. Billy stands up to the bullies, but gets punched in the face for his troubles.

Meeting Clark for breakfast, they continue their conversation on his life story, glossing over Billy’s history.  Before Billy could finish his breakfast, they are suddenly attacked by Black Adam. He is out to kill Billy for no reason that Billy could understand. Clark steps in to try and protect him, but is knocked across the street. Billy escapes into the city.

Clark, stunned by the sudden appearance of Black Adam, changes into his alter ego of Superman. He pursues Black Adam and confronts him, protecting Billy from his relentless attacks. Billy ducks into the subway, but before he enters, he is stopped by the same homeless man that he helped earlier in the day.  He gives Billy the spare change matching the amount Billy gave him earlier. Before he could contest the issue, Billy spies Black Adam approaching.

Billy ducks into the subway, only to find no train. Black Adam pursues him still, cursing Billy’s existence. He corners Billy onto the train tracks with an oncoming train. Billy seemingly is hit by the train. Black Adam leaves to finish of a beaten Superman, whose vulnerability to magic has him at a disadvantage.

Billy is safe on the train. He is transported to meet Shazam. He has chosen him to become the next champion of the world due to his pure heart. Billy is taken aback by the strange turn of events, but is given the power of Shazam. All he needs to do is say his name to call upon his new power.

We also learn that Billy was not the first person to wield this power, and that Black Adam was chosen. However, he became mad with the powers he was given and betrayed his duties to be the protector of Earth and became a conqueror. He was banished from Earth, and has taken him 5,000 years to get back.

Billy was transported to where Superman was pinned down by a giant obelisk. Black Adam was once again ready to strike, when Captain Marvel steps into the fight. Billy uttered ‘Shazam’ and became Captain Marvel. Now the fight between the two wielders of the power of Shazam begins.

While the animation is quite good, the story and Shazam’s origin is presented in too short of a format. Had this been a longer animation, where we could see how Billy was raised and where he got his optimism, it would truly round out the character. Having Superman in the mix might not have been necessary. He is little more than a plot device here, providing convenient protection from Black Adam’s relentless assault.

If it had more to it, like “Superman/ Batman: Apocalypse” where it introduces Supergirl, it would have made it a more tantalizing story and watchable. This short needed to be much longer. This could have been an episode of “Justice League Unlimited.” If it was made to be a full length feature, it could have been something exciting. It would have breathed life into a classic hero.