Sunday, June 16, 2013

Storytelling and the Man of Steel

On Friday, I went to see Man of Steel. Just in the last year or two, I've been getting into superheroes and comics, though I'm still largely ignorant of the vast canonical body of story available. I'm also a sucker for a character who represents hope, and I loved the old Superman movie with Christopher Reeve, so I was looking forward to absorbing some more superhero knowledge and storytelling.

About halfway through the movie, my inner critic took off its suspenders of disbelief and started nagging at me. It wasn't that it was unbelievable -- you know, for a superhero movie -- but I had stopped enjoying it and wanted to assuage my disappointment by complaining.

There was a lot more angst than hope, and a lot more explosions than anything else. Like, literally half the movie. By the end, I was exhausted just from watching it. I complained about that for a good long while, but eventually I turned on other aspects of the movie. Superman didn't do much growing and changing over the film, and whenever they needed to hint at that growth they threw in a flashback that showed him dealing with those issues when he was younger. In a depressing, angry, tense way, of course. And it was weird how the whole first half of the movie felt like a beginning, or beginning stacked on top of beginnings, almost up until things started exploding.

I vented these kinds of complaints to my boyfriend for a while, but talking about it raised some questions for me about stories and movies in general. Were the things I didn't like really bad, or just different? Should I be looking at things differently, or is criticizing a movie with a writer's expectations legitimate? And is it fair to be angry at a movie for not meeting my character expectations? Is it bad for an adaptation to change a familiar character if they can make a good story? If it is, is it worse to stay true to a character and make a mediocre story?

It started me musing about storytelling conventions in general. On the whole, I like tropes. I like how they provide a framework our understanding knows how to use, as well as the potential for introducing different ideas through familiar channels. There's always the possibility for new ideas, but when channeled through what we already know, these differences make the stories exciting, dynamic, because our emotions are engaged but we are met with the unexpected.

But when presented with something really different, we often react negatively. Sometimes that different thing becomes popular. Sometimes that different thing was disliked for a legitimate reason. I was trying to explain why the latter half of the movie was bad accordingly. I explained to my boyfriend the scene-sequel concept.
Me: After scenes with a lot of action and intense stuff, you need a calmer scene. Then it can go back to action.
Boyfriend: Why?
Me: ......
It's a simple answer, but it threw me for a loop. I eventually answered it was so that we can absorb the information and consequences of a scene and so the characters can recover and get ready for what's next. I still think it's a good system. But is that the only way to go? After I thinking about it, I guess it doesn't have to be.

I didn't really like Man of Steel, but I think it was still good to watch it. They did pull off some neat stuff. They packed a ton of story into two and a half hours. Just watching how they did that was interesting. And it was good to find so many questions waiting for me. I still haven't come to many conclusions. Well, other than don't go to a movie the night before you have to wake up early for work, but that one should have been obvious.

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