Man of Steel, the Zack Snyder-directed reimagining of Superman, certainly didn't encounter kryptonite at the box office. But we'd venture to say that many of the people who helped propel it to a $116 million weekend haul left the theater scratching their heads. Was that dragon creature upon which Russell Crowe's Jor-El rode over Krypton from the same genus as the flying beasts in Avatar? Why did Harry Lennix and Chris Meloni's military men have more screentime than Laurence Fishburne's Perry White? Is everyone else as disappointed as I am that Michael Shannon didn't scream "Kneel before Zod"? So many questions. Here are eight which we feel we can more or less answer. But beware! Major SPOILERS ahead.
1. Is Man of Steel pretty much just the story of Jesus?Unbelievably, even more so than Superman Returns. Sure, the 2006 picture had Brandon Routh's Son of Krypton endure a kryptonite scourging that would have fit if the movie had been called The Passion of Kal-El. But Man of Steel goes further. It makes it very clear that Superman is 33 years old when he first chooses to don the cape and become a symbol of hope for humanity. His arms are outstretched, crucifix-style, when floating through space. He turns himself in, preparing to sacrifice himself to "save" humankind. And you could sub in God as easily as Jor-El when Kevin Costner's Jonathan Kent talks about the "other father" who sent Clark to Earth.
2. Has it ever been established before that one Kryptonian can kill another Kryptonian just by snapping his neck? And wait, I thought Superman had a code never to kill? In any of the main DC Comics universes, Superman has never killed a sentient being. However, in the 1988 comic Superman #22, with art by John Byrne, Superman does kill a General Zod from a "pocket universe" using Gold Kryptonite. The experience does leave him shattered, and he begins to question whether he himself is a dangerous being — moral uncertainty that Henry Cavill's self-righteous Zod-killing Superman in Man of Steel does not seem to possess. Moreover, it hasn't ever been established that a Kryptonian fighting a Kryptonian while on Earth could kill the other just by breaking his neck. You would need Kryptonite to do that or a molecular chamber like in Superman II — where it isn't clear if Zod and his companions actually are killed when they're rendered human. If just snapping Zod's neck could kill him, it makes sense Superman would kill him before he could kill those huddled people with his X-ray vision. But why didn't he kill Zod before the general destroyed much of Metropolis?
3. Have Kryptonians ever had difficulty adapting to Earth's atmosphere in previous Superman storytelling? Not really. This seems to be an invention of screenwriters Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer to make them seem less godlike. Zod and Faora can still fly and repel bullets, but they need to wear breathing masks so as not to be overwhelmed by the low-density atmosphere of Earth.
4. What does Zod’s symbol stand for? As we learn during his incarcerated conversation with reporter Lois Lane, Clark Kent's "S" is actually a Kryptonian symbol that signifies the idea of hope. On the chest of the nefarious General Zod, there lives another symbol (albeit a slightly S-like one in its own right). But if Clark's is hope, then what is Zod’s swirly insignia meant to stand for?
5. Where's Jimmy Olsen? And who the hell is this Steve a**hole? Although we might better remember bumbling photographer Jimmy Olsen from small screen Superman, Daily Planet reporter Steve Lombard (portrayed here by Michael Kelly) is also a character from DC Comics history, first appearing in a 1973 issue.
6. Krypton is a planet with rhino dragons and embryoceans, but people can still give birth vaginally?Essentially, the Kryptonian appears to be built exactly like the standard Earth human, right down to the reproductive organs. Sure, they generally create offspring via some weird kind of undersea embryo system, but there’s at least the option of the old fashioned way.
7. Who Did Superman Vote For?Man Of Steel takes place in the present day, making an adult American citizen Clark Kent eligible to vote in 2012. So who did he vote for? As a bona fide proud Kansan, we might assume he has Red State leanings. Then again, his "S" does stand for "hope," and that is Barack Obama's go-to branding device.
8. Is Jonathan Kent's death exactly the same as that of Helen Hunt's father at the beginning of Twister? Yes.
Answer: With a razor.
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In This Means War – a stylish action/rom-com hybrid from director McG – Tom Hardy (The Dark Knight Rises) and Chris Pine (Star Trek) star as CIA operatives whose close friendship is strained by the fires of romantic rivalry. Best pals FDR (Pine) and Tuck (Hardy) are equally accomplished at the spy game but their fortunes diverge dramatically in the dating realm: FDR (so nicknamed for his obvious resemblance to our 32nd president) is a smooth-talking player with an endless string of conquests while Tuck is a straight-laced introvert whose love life has stalled since his divorce. Enter Lauren (Reese Witherspoon) a pretty plucky consumer-products evaluator who piques both their interests in separate unrelated encounters. Tuck meets her via an online-dating site FDR at a video-rental store. (That Lauren is tech-savvy enough to date online but still rents movies in video stores is either a testament to her fascinating mix of contradictions or more likely an example of lazy screenwriting.)
When Tuck and FDR realize they’re pursuing the same girl it sparks their respective competitive natures and they decide to make a friendly game of it. But what begins as a good-natured rivalry swiftly devolves into romantic bloodsport with both men using the vast array of espionage tools at their disposal – from digital surveillance to poison darts – to gain an edge in the battle for Lauren’s affections. If her constitutional rights happen to be violated repeatedly in the process then so be it.
Lauren for her part remains oblivious to the clandestine machinations of her dueling suitors and happily basks in the sudden attention from two gorgeous men. Herein we find the Reese Witherspoon Dilemma: While certainly desirable Lauren is far from the irresistible Helen of Troy type that would inspire the likes of Tuck and FDR to risk their friendship their careers and potential incarceration for. At several points in This Means War I found myself wondering if there were no other peppy blondes in Los Angeles (where the film is primarily set) for these men to pursue. Then again this is a film that wishes us to believe that Tom Hardy would have trouble finding a date so perhaps plausibility is not its strong point.
When Lauren needs advice she looks to her boozy foul-mouthed best friend Trish (Chelsea Handler). Essentially an extension of Handler’s talk-show persona – an acquired taste if there ever was one – Trish’s dialogue consists almost exclusively of filthy one-liners delivered in rapid-fire succession. Handler does have some choice lines – indeed they’re practically the centerpiece of This Means War’s ad campaign – but the film derives the bulk of its humor from the outrageous lengths Tuck and FDR go to sabotage each others’ efforts a raucous game of spy-versus-spy that carries the film long after Handler’s shtick has grown stale.
Business occasionally intrudes upon matters in the guise of Heinrich (Til Schweiger) a Teutonic arms dealer bent on revenge for the death of his brother. The subplot is largely an afterthought existing primarily as a means to provide third-act fireworks – and to allow McGenius an outlet for his ADD-inspired aesthetic proclivities. The film’s action scenes are edited in such a manic quick-cut fashion that they become almost laughably incoherent. In fairness to McG he does stage a rather marvelous sequence in the middle of the film in which Tuck and FDR surreptitiously skulk about Lauren's apartment unaware of each other's presence carefully avoiding detection by Lauren who grooves absentmindedly to Montel Jordan's "This Is How We Do It." The whole scene unfolds in one continuous take – or is at least craftily constructed to appear as such – captured by one very agile steadicam operator.
Whatever his flaws as a director McG is at least smart enough to know how much a witty script and appealing leads can compensate for a film’s structural and logical deficiencies. He proved as much with Charlie’s Angels a film that enjoys a permanent spot on many a critic’s Guilty Pleasures list and does so again with This Means War. The film coasts on the chemistry of its three co-stars and only runs into trouble when the time comes to resolve its romantic competition which by the end has driven its male protagonists to engage in all manner of underhanded and duplicitous activities. This Means War being a commercial film – and likely an expensive one at that – Witherspoon's heroine is mandated to make a choice and McG all but sidesteps the whole thorny matter of Tuck and FDR’s unwavering dishonesty not to mention their craven disregard for her privacy. (They regularly eavesdrop on her activities.) For all their obvious charms the truth is that neither deserves Lauren – or anything other than a lengthy jail sentence for that matter.
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