MAN OF STEEL
During the final third of director Zack Snyder's Superman reboot Man of Steel, Henry Cavill's caped crusader and Michael Shannon's villainous General Zod take turns pummeling each other into Smallville storefronts and Metropolis skyscrapers, and the combined force of their Kryptonian blows routinely causes the edifices to tumble to the ground. For most of the length of this relentlessly noisy and dour superhero outing, it felt as though they were tumbling directly on my head.
God knows I've seen worse comic-book movies than this latest take on Superman's origin tale, and it's not as though Snyder's blockbuster doesn't feature quite a bit that's deserving of praise. The Smallville detours, with a just-right Kevin Costner and Diane Lane as our hero's foster parents, are low-key and lovely and sometimes really clever; a particularly satisfying scene finds a grade-school Clark Kent panicking when he's unable to effectively harness his x-ray vision. And every time our flying champion of truth, justice, and the American way breaks the sound barrier, the exceptional visual and sound effects provide a giddy rush. (Enjoy the moment in which Superman performs this miraculous feat for the first time, because you won't be getting many more opportunities to see Cavill smile.)
But taken overall, I can't think of a more glum, heavy-spirited, or oppressive superhero entertainment than Man of Steel, a movie that takes itself and its stilted, prosaic dialogue so strenuously seriously that I, for one, had little choice but to chuckle at it. From the endless, catastrophic preamble on Krypton, with Russell Crowe typically morose as Superdad Jor-El, to the tiresome, unimaginatively staged demolition of the final sequences, the film sags from the weight of its presentation and pretensions - cue Snyder's relentless Second Coming imagery - and even worse, it's criminally short on jokes. (Remember Gene Hackman's and Ned Beatty's goofy monkeyshines in Richard Donner's 1978 Superman and its first sequel? Man, those were the days. You can count this new work's lighthearted moments on the fingers of one hand.) Superman hasn't gone dark in Man of Steel so much as he's gone incredibly uninteresting, and considering how over-stuffed the movie is with impressively rendered but sadly generic feats of derring-do - our poor world-beater can't walk four paces without running into an oil-rig explosion or school-bus calamity or unexpected twister - the sameness of it all finally proves exhausting. (Even normally alert performers such as Amy Adams, Christopher Meloni, and Michael Kelly look tired from the effort of showing up and reading lines.) At the moment of Krypton's ultimate destruction, Superman's mom Lara (Ayelet Zurer) mutters, "This is the end," and the moment might have been touching for me had I not been actively wishing that I was instead at another screening of ...
THIS IS THE END
Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Craig Robinson, and numerous other comic talents, all playing lightly satiric versions of themselves, face the apocalypse in the verbal- and visual-gag-laden slapstick This Is the End ... although a more accurate title might well have been It's the End of the World as We Know It, and I Feel High. Directed and co-written by Rogen and Evan Goldberg, who previously collaborated on the script for Superbad, the movie finds a group of Hollywood's privileged few spending Earth's final days smoking weed and battling human and biblical intruders over at James Franco's place. For the vast majority of the film's 100 minutes, I rarely felt the desire to be any other place.
Every once in a while, as when our secluded stoners enjoy a Day-Glo trip-out or enact The Exorcism of Jonah Hill, the movie feels a bit like a raucous party that you're not invited to, with the cast members clearly entertaining themselves but not really bothering to ensure that we're equally entertained. Yet the momentary dead spots are handily outweighed by dozens upon dozens of cackle-worthy lines and clever fringe touches - our heroes participate in frequent "video diary" confessions in which they talk into the same camcorder, we're told, that Franco stole from the set of 127 Hours - and against all odds, the film finally proves as touching as it is hysterical. (Or at least as touching as any movie that climaxes with Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You" and a Backstreet Boys reunion can be.) Connoisseurs of celebrity cameos, meanwhile, will have an absolute field day. It would already be more than enough for This Is the End to give us Rogen's and Baruchel's spiky bromance, Franco's brilliantly meta deconstruction, Hill's riotously arrogant attempts at prayer ("It's me ... Jonah Hill ... from Moneyball ... "), and a Danny McBride who's more howlingly hilarious here than he's ever before been on-screen. But also included among the astonishing lineup of the soon-to-be-departed are Jason Segel, Paul Rudd, Mindy Kaling, Aziz Ansari, Rihanna, Kevin Hart, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, David Krumholtz, and an ax-wielding Emma Watson. Oh yeah, and a coked-up Michael Cera. And Channing Tatum in gimp gear. I'd describe more, but I'm running late for another screening of this thing.