God In Our Midst

What defined ‘Man of Steel’ for you? What scene, sequence or dialogue summed up the movie and the character? For me it’s a sequence. General Zod has served his ultimatum to humans, and Clark Kent has decided to surrender. It’s a cold bright day. A small company of the Army has been deployed to bring him in. They’re waiting for him in the desert. It’s eerily calm. There’s no wind blowing, no dust. Superman is just levitating in front of the soldiers. Unlike many such cliched scenes from the past, this time his cape doesn’t flutter. He doesn’t float. He just remains fixed at that height. Unmoved. Immovable. As if he wants to let them know their firepower has no effect on him. The whole stillness in that scene is deliberate, enforced, yet subtle. It’s the calm before the storm. They walk him to the holding room in handcuffs. Louis Lane points out that he let them handcuff him. He calmly says it makes them comfortable. It’s the beginning of the history of things to come.

It’s been epic. It’s been hypnotically epic. Trust Nolan to pull out superheroes from the confines of cold storage, thanks to the efforts (or lack of) by lesser mortals. He did that for Batman and having satisfied himself that the Dark Knight has now been firmly embedded in our consciousness, he turned his attention to another superhero who deserved, and needed it. The Superman of the ’70s was well received. The beginning was true to the comic book origins and the movie character remained loyal to the creator’s vision. ‘Superman Returns’, the previous attempt to revive the last son of Krypton also didn’t quite hit the sweet spot. It was a financial success ($400 million) and also received positive reviews, but it wasn’t quite the Superman movie that they thought it would be.

But this time, DC got serious. They saw what Nolan did with the Batman story arc, and they saw what Zack Snyder was capable of with ‘300’. They also hired David Goyer, just for good measure, and also because he seemed to understand what direction DC was taking with The New 52. Like their previous tryst with the superhero genre, they went back to the drawing board and turned the Superman storyline on its head. The beauty is they still kept it true to itself.

They got the casting just right. Atleast where it mattered. Henry Cavill looks every bit the part. They’ve also given him a sexy makeover. The physique looks just perfect. The suit is slick and just plain awesome. There is a seriousness to him, a screen presence that is essential for any actor to play such a colossal superhero because let’s admit it, they don’t get any bigger than this. Russell Crowe is intense as Jor-El. Michael Shannon’s fanatic General Zod is the perfect foil and every bit as larger than life as Superman. Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent ably brings out the simple farmer who has this responsibility called Kal-El thrust upon him. His struggle to be a father to a child who has the potential to be his world’s saviour or its worst nightmare, his genuine efforts to make his son self-aware of his powers and abilities is beautifully captured by Costner.

And then there’s the story. Krypton’s dying hours. The clash of ideologies. The despair of hope. The non-linear storyline, switching between the past and the present. Clark Kent’s pursuit of anonymity and yet his inability to hold himself back in a crisis. His reluctant and unsure metamorphosis into the superhero the world needs him to be is stunning. The film has been criticized for the insane destruction at the end, but I believe it was necessary to show the sheer strength and level of the hero and villain and to firmly impress upon Earthlings that they’re witness to powers they cannot harness or control. It was important that an entire city be demolished as Superman and Zod ravage through it without so much as a hair ruffled or a scratch or bruise to tell humans how powerless they are, and how naive to think they’re the “superior” species on Earth.

I just love the direction the new wave of DC films are taking. Marvel is good entertainment but it cannot hope to match the cerebral, dark, gritty and serious nature of DC movie. Marvel doesn’t quite engage with its audience in the same way that a Dark Knight movie did, or Man of Steel did for that matter. While entertainment rules the box office, DC movies truly make me feel content yet longing for more cinematic brilliance.

Man of Steel was just an example of how would we react to a God in our midst.

There’s more to come.

DELTA1

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The Importance Of Being Nolan

That Christopher Nolan is a Genius needs no discussion. One simply has to look at his portfolio of movies to understand why he deserves this accolade, and many more. But more than that, he’s a magician. Because only a magician could have rescued an icon like the Batman from it’s lowest point in cinematic history and take it to stratospheric heights in the span of a trilogy. To understand how he accomplished this impossible feat, you need to look away from ‘The Dark Knight’ trilogy and at another one of his mind boggling movies, ‘The Prestige’.

‘The Prestige’ talks about the rivalry between two magicians but that is quite besides the point. During the very first scene, which sets up the tone of the movie, Michael Caine explains that every great magic trick consists of three parts or acts. ‘The Pledge’, ‘The Turn’, and ‘The Prestige’. That’s it. If you understand this, you understand it’s manifestation in ‘The Dark Knight’ trilogy.

‘Batman Begins’ was ‘The Pledge’. Nolan adopted an icon that was nothing but dead. After the disaster that was the George Clooney starrer ‘Batman and Robin’, the caped crusader was written off and no one dared go down the path of resurrecting and flashing the Bat Signal again. Nolan dared. He also made a solemn promise to the Batman faithful. He would keep the movie true to its character. Batman would be dark, gritty, brooding, and the criminals’ absolute worst nightmare. The first movie would do what ‘The First Year’ did. It would establish Batman as the giant bat in Gotham who struck fear in the criminal mind with so much of a flash of the Bat Signal. Nolan made sure Batman’s legendary status in superhero folklore as the greatest detective was also revived in the process. Nolan showed us the original Batman. The Batman movie that should always have been. He asked us to check if this was correct and that he was faithful to the comic character.  He kept things basic and concentrated on building the foundations. Simple things like the tumblr jumping from roof-tops, the ‘back-up’ in Arkham asylum. Nothing that was NOT in the comic. He kept things ordinary, simple till the last scene.

The last scene in ‘Batman Begins’ truly defined his pledge – that he will take it to the next level and bring back The Clown Prince of crime. Gordan handed over a playing card in a ziplock plastic packet to Batman. He turned it over to find it’s a joker. That one moment was enough to send shivers down the spine, with your mind already fantasizing over the countless possibilities that hell would break loose in the next part of the series.

Nolan kept his word. And how! Heath Ledger’s Joker exploded on the scene and made ‘The Dark Knight’ his own. He unleashed anarchy without pride or prejudice. He turned Gotham upside down. He created doubts in the minds of the bravest and strongest believers. He took a city with a fearless D.A. and turned him into a psychopath murderer who decided a man’s fate on the flip of a coin. He took away hope and replaced it with despair. He took away law and replaced it with chaos. He made Batman doubt himself and  almost give himself up to save people, such was the brilliance of his schemes. He pushed Batman to go to the extreme step of illegal surveillance of the entire city, all the while teasing him to break his one rule, safe in the knowledge that Batman will never break it. By the time he finished with the city, he almost blew up half the population, created a monster and forced Batman to become a fugitive wanted for Dent’s murder to save his identity. In the span of two and a half incredible hours, Nolan turned Batman from the one ally Gotham’s bravest could trust to the most wanted criminal, answerable for Dent’s murder. He turned Batman to a hero that Gotham deserved, but not the one it needed. Nolan had just executed the most brilliant Turn in the history of magic.

‘The Dark Knight Rises’ was always going to be ‘The Prestige’ in Nolan’s magical trilogy. Simply because the next antagonist to step into Heath Ledger’s Joker had to be more than any ordinary goon. It had to be someone who knew Batman more than Batman himself. Someone capable of turning the tables on the Bat and beating him to pulp. Enter Bane. While the Joker was Ledger’s creation, Bane was Nolan’s. Tom Hardy just played that part to perfection. Not only was the character well written, but Hardy’s expressive eyes (remember that most of his face was hidden behind his ominous mask) and his beefed up physique took Bane to a whole new dimension. And he broke the goddamn Batman’s back. He fucking broke his back! If you didn’t feel all hope deserting you when you watched a crippled Batman being dragged away, you were just watching moving images on a screen. You never connected with the magic. Nolan took everything to an epic level in this movie. In TDK, Gotham was held hostage. In TDKR, Gotham was under a siege counting down to it’s death. In TDK, Batman had to come to terms with people dying around him just because someone wanted him to show his true identity. In TDKR, Batman had to come to terms with not only death, but loneliness, betrayal, bankruptcy, and near complete mental and physical breakdown. Batman had to start from scratch, resurrect himself from the pit of hell and take the fight to Bane, no matter the cost. He did just that. In the most epic way possible. And then just you felt like you were in a vacuum created by a mushroom cloud on the horizon, Nolan played a masterstroke and restored everything back to normal. Despite the inevitability of the end of this trilogy, enough seeds were sown for another one to sprout, if someone cared to nurture them.

I believe ‘The Dark Knight’ trilogy was one the most spectacular things to happen to cinema in a long time. And in hindsight, I don’t think any other director could have done the caped crusader more justice than Nolan.

He became the magician Batman deserved, and needed.

DELTA1