Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Drive-In Double Feature: Man of Steel & World War Z

I'm a big fan of the drive-in, probably because some of my earliest memories are of watching classics like Flash Gordon, Conan the Barbarian, and The Deep at the drive-in with my parents when I was a tiny little guy.  Now, I have my own tiny little people to care for, and fortunately for my wife and I, we live in Ridgeway.  That means we're only twenty minutes from Eden, North Carolina and the Eden Drive-In, which is definitely one of my favorite places.

This weekend, they were showing Man of Steel and World War Z, and there was no way that we were going to miss out on that.  So, we packed a cooler full of goodies, loaded the kids in the van, hit up Cook-Out for some great food, and made our way to the drive-in.  How were the movies?  Well, here are my thoughts:

Man of Steel

The Good: The cast was awesome.  Henry Cavill is no Christopher Reeve, but he was a great fit for the part.  Russell Crowe nearly stole the show in a limited role, and Kevin Costner was equally potent in an even smaller part.  Diane Lane never misses, and Amy Adams was okay as Lois Lane.  I dig Michael Shannon, and he did a nice job as the heavy, General Zod.  However, Terence Stamp was far superior in that role, though I'm not sure that the screenwriters gave Shannon the type of material he needed to surpass Stamp's more flamboyant and dastardly Zod.  Seriously, Shannon didn't even get to command Supes to kneel before him.  Also, lost amidst all these fine performances was Christopher Meloni, who did a stellar job with a fairly badass soldier who was rather heroic despite the lack of any super-powers. 
The effects were top-notch, the action scenes were exciting, and the future is bright for DC's top gun.

The Bad:  I didn't necessarily like the way the story was plotted.  We opened with Superman's birth on Krypton, but once he is sent to earth, we jumped forward to his adult years and saw his upbringing with Ma and Pa Kent via a series of flashbacks.  It worked to a certain extent, but it also relegated his origin to something of a highlight reel.  Additionally, it seemed a bit unrealistic, as the filmmakers were so intent on delivering one action scene after another that it felt as if young Clark Kent spent his life jumping from one earth-shattering life-or-death episode to the next.  From school buses plunging into rivers, to tornadoes, to monumental explosions on oil rigs in the sea, everywhere Clark went quickly became the setting for a disaster of some sort.  Finally, the last third of the picture was so packed with action that it lacked the emotion that gave the first two-thirds a serious lift.

The Verdict: Unlike the woeful Superman Returns, this was a solid relaunch for one of America's most cherished heroes.  It wasn't as good as Superman or Superman II, both of which I consider classics, but that was probably to be expected.  It definitely provides a great foundation for future films and Cavill is a great choice to take the character forward.  It's not as good as most of Marvel's comic book films have been, nor is it in the same league as Christopher Nolan's work with Batman, but Zack Snyder has scored a hit and could be poised to take Superman even further. 

World War Z

The Good: Brad Pitt was superb, and the movie was placed firmly upon his shoulders.  Additionally, the picture was intense, ditching the blood and gore most zombie films are known for and emphasizing the action and suspense.  In truth, World War Z played out like a thriller boasting a few scares, and while many won't like this direction, I thought it made for one hell of a ride.  The action sequences grew bigger and bigger before a quiet and utterly gripping conclusion that sealed the deal for me.  I think World War Z is a real winner!

The Bad: If it were up to me, I would ditch the PG-13 rating and crank up the gore, but it's not up to me and the lack of gore didn't bother me as much as I thought it would.  By the time I had gotten accustomed to the tone of the film, it wasn't really bothering me at all.  Also, I haven't read the book, but I understand that this is far from a strict adaptation.  Most seem to think it isn't really an adaptation at all, and many of them might have stood a better chance of enjoying the picture if it had been called something else.  Lastly, there were a few too many quick cuts in the first act.  I was groaning twenty minutes in and thinking that the shaky cam was going to ruin this one for me, but things settled down after the initial carnage and I wasn't bothered by this throughout the second and third acts. 

The Verdict: World War Z is a kickass motion picture boasting some of the best action sequences ever seen in a zombie film.  It is cemented by a subdued but stellar performance courtesy of star Brad Pitt and a tense closing reel that ratchets up the tension to superb effect.

So, there you have it.  I had high hopes for Man of Steel, but I was a little worried about World War Z.  In true drive-in fashion, I wound up enjoying Man of Steel despite some reservations, and World War Z rocked me.  Having said that, both films were very, very good, and I strongly recommend each of them.  Also, if you live in the vicinity, make sure and visit Eden Drive-In.  It's a great place to enjoy a good movie, and the prices are terrific.  If you have kids, they'll have a great time at the playground and they'll also have a blast with the drive-in experience.

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