Reel Reviews

‘Man of Steel’

Audience:
A-III – adults

 

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Many times told tale fails

“Man of Steel” (Warner Bros.), director Zack Snyder’s take on the familiar narrative of Superman, has the makings of an engaging drama and features thematic elements that viewers of faith in particular can appreciate.

But this 3-D adventure’s positive potential winds up being squandered in favor of endless scenes of high-powered brawling and the pyrotechnics of innumerable explosions.

We all know the basic outlines of the tale: Born on distant Krypton, as an infant the iconic comic book hero (Henry Cavill) is sent to Earth by his parents (Russell Crowe and Ayelet Zurer) so that he can escape his home planet’s imminent destruction. Landing in the American heartland, he’s adopted by the Kents (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane) who instill positive values and try to protect his secret.

This screen version weaves back and forth in time to fill us in on these facts even as investigative reporter – and future love interest – Lois Lane (Amy Adams) is hot on the trail of the adult Superman’s true identity. Though she’s ultimately ambivalent about the consequences of unmasking the mild-mannered drifter –
his career as Lois’ colleague still lies in the future – intergalactic events overtake her.

General Zod (Michael Shannon), an old enemy of Superman’s father Jor-El, arrives from space and threatens humanity with annihilation unless Superman surrenders to him. Flashbacks have already shown us Zod’s fascist tendencies and his failed coup against the lawful government of Krypton. Ironically, the sentence of exile Zod and his confederates received as punishment following their defeat saved them from perishing in Krypton’s apocalypse.

Zod’s ultimatum brings the obvious parallels between Superman and Jesus to the fore, and neither Goyer nor Snyder shows any reluctance to highlight them. As he ponders whether to sacrifice himself to save the human race, Superman visits a church and seeks the advice of a clergyman. During their conversation, he stands against the backdrop of a stained-glass window showing Jesus at prayer in the garden of Gethsemane.

Dialogue reveals in passing that Superman has reached the symbolically significant age of 33. And, as he launches himself into flight at one point, the superhero extends his arms in the manner of Christ on the cross.

Along with these theological flourishes, “Man of Steel” also includes plot details that touch on real-life moral issues. Thus Zod is committed to a form of eugenics that arose on Krypton in the lead-up to its disintegration. Under this scheme, children were bred to fulfill a predetermined social role and their lives before birth were spent not in their mother’s womb, but in an artificial atmosphere within which they were nurtured en masse.

Superman’s parents were completely opposed to this system, and saw to it that Superman became the first child on Krypton in many years born in the natural way. Their clashing views on this subject constituted one of the sources of conflict between Zod and Jor-El.

Flash forward, and Zod’s motivation in tracking Superman down is shown to be connected to his efforts to perpetuate the race of their vanished planet by a return to his favored method of social and genetic engineering. All of this might have been explored at some length had there not been a huge budget for special effects to expend. Or perhaps there was the lurking fear that adolescent boys would be bored by such subtleties.

Whatever the cause, all human interest the picture initially contains yields, in the end, to pure chaotic spectacle. Superman and his adversaries hurl each other about; skyscrapers are leveled and oil trucks ignited. Then it’s on to more of the same in a different locale.

Oh, well, as they say on Krypton, it was nice while it lasted.

The film contains much intense but bloodless violence, a fleeting sexual advance and occasional crude and crass language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III – adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 – parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

(By John Mulderig, Catholic News Service)

‘Epic’

Audience:
A-I — general patronage

 

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Nice animated film for kids

Though some perilous interludes and the onscreen — albeit mild — demise of at least one prominent character might make it too scary for the littlest members of the family, director Chris Wedge's pleasant 3-D animated fantasy "Epic" (Fox) provides appropriate viewing for just about everyone else.

The collaborative script magically transports its heroine, 17-year-old Mary Katherine (voice of Amanda Seyfried) — M.K. for short — to a miniature, previously unobserved, world within nature, a Lilliputian cosmos teeming with anthropomorphized animals and plants.

There, M.K. soon discovers that things are as unsettled at this level of existence as they are in the more familiar surroundings that tower over it. The armed champions of growth and life in the forest, known as Leafmen, are locked in battle with the dark forces of decay, the Boggans.

M.K. finds herself drawn into the conflict when the Leafmen’ s sovereign, Queen Tara (voice of Beyonce Knowles), entrusts her with a mission that could determine its ultimate outcome. In her quest to fulfill this vital charge, M.K. gains the protection of the Leafmen’ s gallant leader Ronin (voiced by Colin Farrell) but likewise the enmity of the Boggans’ hateful commander Mandrake (voiced by Christoph Waltz).

Another newfound companions is Ronin’ s protege, youthful warrior Nod (voice of Josh Hutcherson). Though Nod’ s freewheeling ways make him initially an unreliable ally for his fellow Leafmen, they don’ t prevent M.K. from falling for him.

With some of its characters drawn from William Joyce’ s book The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs — Joyce is also credited as one of the film’ s five scriptwriters — this cheerful journey into the undergrowth sends innocuous messages about environmental stewardship, teamwork and responsibility. There’ s also some familial bonding via M.K.’ s ultimately appreciative interaction with her stereotypically absent-minded dad, Professor Bomba (voiced by Jason Sudeikis).

Details of the plot might hint at some pantheistic overtones; Queen Tara, for example, is portrayed not only as the Leafmen’ s liege lady but as the source of their life-giving, and life-restoring, power. Still, she’ s really more Mother Nature than goddess Gaia. As a whole, the personification of natural elements seems intended to excite children’ s interest and sympathy rather than to impart any non-scriptural belief.

Though the impact of Wedge’ s picture falls well short of the promise contained in its overly ambitious — perhaps ill-advised — title, it does have its strengths as well as flaws. In particular, some lovely imagery compensates for various hit-or-miss attempts at humor.

The film contains potentially frightening clashes and themes involving death. The Catholic News Service classification is A-I — general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

By John Mulderig, Catholic News Service  

Monthly List of Recent Film Ratings (June)

A
Across the Divide, A-II (no rating)
Admission, L (PG-13)
After Earth, A-III (PG-13)
Amour, L (PG-13)
The Awakening, A-III (R)
B
The Big Wedding, O (R)
Bullet to the Head, O (R)
Bully, A-III (PG-13)
C
The Call, O (R)
The Croods, A-I (PG)
D
Dead Man Down, O (R)
Dream House, L (PG-13)
E
Epic, A-I (PG)
Evil Dead, O (R)
F
Fast & Furious 6, L (PG-13)
42, A-III (PG-13)
G
G.I. Joe: Retaliation, A-III (PG-13)
A Good Day to Die Hard, L (R)
The Great Gatsby, A-III (PG-13)
H
The Hangover Part III, L (R)
Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, O (R)
The Host, A-III (PG-13)
I
Identity Thief, L (R)
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, L (PG-13)
Iron Man 3, A-III (PG-13)
J
Jack the Giant Slayer, A-II (PG-13)
K
Killer Elite, A-III (R)
L
The Last Exorcism Part II, L (PG-13)
M
Movie 43, O (R)
Mud, A-III (PG-13)
O
Oblivion, A-III (PG-13)
Olympus Has Fallen, L (R)
The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure, A-I (G)
Oz the Great and Powerful, A-II (PG)
P
Pain and Gain, O (R)
Peeples, O (PG-13)
Phantom, A-III (R)
The Place Beyond the Pines, L (R)
Q
Quartet, A-III (PG-13)
R
The Reluctant Fundamentalist, A-III (R)
Restless Heart, A-II (no rating)
S
Scary Movie 5, O (PG-13)
Skyfall, A-III (PG-13)
Something Borrowed, L (PG-13)
Star Trek Into Darkness, A-III (PG-13)
T
21 and Over, O (R)
Tyler Perry's Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor, A-III (PG-13)
W
Warm Bodies, A-III (PG-13)