Man of Steel

Our new emo Superman finds a Christ-pose to be his natural attitude. Director Zak Snyder, working from the script by Dark Knight team David S. Goyer & Christopher Nolan, doesn’t shy away from the religious overtones of the story of an only-begotten son sent to Earth by a benevolent father. Then again, neither did the original Jewish creators of the character, Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster.

The movie opens with a sequence made possible by Avatar, a swooping battle on the planet Krypton between high-tech weapons and fantastical biology. Russell Crowe plays Jor-El (Hebrew for “God will uplift”), a scientist who has defied the laws of his society to have a natural birth with his wife Lara Lor-Van (Ayelet Zurer). He is opposed by General Zod (Michael Shannon), who can’t quite manage to stop the Lor-Van-Els from launching their baby into space. It’s one of many stand-out sequences in this franchise reboot, which does a great job of wiping out the memory of the aborted Superman Returns.

I loved the idea that Superman’s powers would appear in the guise of autism, and that Lois Lane (Amy Adams) is a feisty liberal who is nonetheless susceptible to Kent’s square-jawed conservatism.

Things I didn’t like: 1) Giving one of the secondary villains a pro-evolution speech. The Kryptonian military villains defend a society based on the opposite of evolution: designer babies. 2) Superman (Henry Cavill) is rather evenly matched (if anything over-matched) by the villains, yet never seems to try out-smarting them or switching tactics. 3) Early on, Superman steals a pair of clothes and wrecks a bar thug’s big rig. Very un-Superman.

A lot of the rest is meh. I felt the filmmakers missed an opportunity to make us care about the staff of the Daily Planet before putting them into 9/11-like jeopardy. I liked a shot of Superman being punched so hard he passed through multiple skyscrapers, but the overall climactic fight was too long and repetitive.

Still, I can easily recommend this film as one likely to please hardcore Superman fans as well as casual moviegoers. Superman’s struggle with his hidden identity is given Dark Knight-level gravitas, but avoids verging into ponderous.

And now we move on to another Christian allegory created by Jewish Canadians…

This Is The End

I believe the writing/directing/producing team of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg when they say they learned their lesson on Green Hornet. Don’t let the studio give you too much money, or they’ll water everything down.

Nothing about the Armageddon comedy This Is the End is watered down, and not just because the characters, barricaded in James Franco’s house during the end times, run out of water. The comedy comes fast and furious, like Danny McBride with a girly mag.

The set-up, which has all the actors (except Brian Huskey) playing caricatures of themselves, is not as self-referential as I expected. You don’t need to know that Seth Rogen has an iconic laugh or James Franco is an artistic over-achiever to get the jokes about Seth Rogen’s laugh and James Franco’s pretensions.

Shooting in Louisiana and obviously calling in favors with all the movie/t.v./pop star cameos, the budget was reportedly kept at $32M. Having most of the movie take place in one large house must’ve helped, but still we are treated to some epic special effects.

Rogen and Goldberg did not write or direct Your Highness, but this film is nonetheless its spiritual cousin. Jokes about monster genitalia, drug use and sexual assault abound. This Is The End is a bit more convincing in its heart, and it made me laugh much more, despite seeing it mid-week in a sparsely-populated theater.

The message from these two culturally Jewish filmmakers is orthodox Christian: love thy neighbor… and even the pompous assholes of Hollywood can be saved.