A young woman (Mia Wasikowska) gets an unexpected visit from her uncle (Matthew Goode) soon after her father passes away in this Fox Searchlight production from acclaimed director Park Chan-wook (Oldboy). Nicole Kidman, Dermot Mulroney, Jacki Weaver, and Lucas Till co-star. ~ Jeremy Wheeler, Rovi
Tormented Nell Sweetzer (Ashley Bell) discovers her infernal nightmare is far from over while waging a desperate struggle against the forces of darkness. Shortly after the events of the first film, Nell is discovered deeply traumatized in rural Louisiana. Her recent past is a blur, but the one thing Nell knows is that her entire family has perished. Later, just as Nell tries to start a new life in New Orleans, the evil force that laid claim to her body returns with a hellish vengeance, and a diabolical agenda. ~ Jason Buchanan, Rovi
An all-star team of directors including Peter Farrelly, Brett Ratner, Rusty Cundieff, James Gunn, and Steve Carr pilot a powerhouse cast featuring Hugh Jackman, Naomi Watts, Gerard Butler, Kate Winslet, Johnny Knoxville, Seann William Scott, Chloë Grace Moretz, Liev Schreiber, Terrence Howard, and Richard Gere in this anarchic, anything-goes comedy that shatters the boundaries of good taste. ~ Jason Buchanan, Rovi
An opera company filled with retired performers reunite once a year to stage a fund-raiser for their theater in Dustin Hoffman's directorial debut. Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon, and Billy Connolly star. ~ Jeremy Wheeler, Rovi
College seniors and lifelong friends Miller (Miles Teller), a fast-talking hedonist, and Casey (Skyler Astin), a nice guy and soon to be stockbroker, arrive at the college where their third BFF Jeff (Justin Chon) is a medical student. It's Jeff's 21st birthday and Miller is desperate to get his buddy blindingly drunk, and enjoy one last amazing night before they all start their adult lives. Jeff protests because his demanding father has orchestrated and important job interview in the morning, but soon enough the birthday boy relents and eventually gets so thoroughly hammered he can barely speak, which presents a problem when Miller and Casey can't remember where there buddy lives. The trio sets off ona wild adventure to find anyone on campus who can tell them where Jeff lives so that they can get him ready for his big appointment. 21 and Over was written and directed by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, who wrote the screenplay for The Hangover. ~ Perry Seibert, Rovi
A diverse group of concerned animals unite to defend their jungle home from a scheming real-estate developer who's destroying a national park to build a sprawling new subdivision. When proud papa leopard Sultan loses his life defending his family home from an invading army of machines, the frightened animal inhabitants of a national park convene to discuss their future. Although most agree that the best response is to flee, mischievous monkey Bajrang insists that the animals should strike back at the humans, while thoughtful bear Bagga suggests talking it out with the destructive intruders. In order to communicate with the humans, the animals attempt to recruit an eloquent talking parrot named Alex. Though at first reluctant to speak out against the humans he loves so much, Alex eventually agrees to join the group on a journey from Mumbai to Delhi, where they plan to present their concerns to the parliament. Along the way, the determined animals discover they're not the only ones concerned with the recent construction projects, and make some new friends they'll never forget. ~ Jason Buchanan, Rovi
1. "Big News Forges Its Own Path." By David Carr, for The New York Times. About how so many major news stories these days find their way into national conversation by way of "asymmetrical journalism."
"Any number of big stories have started out as untouchable in suspect news outlets like The National Enquirer, but eventually broke into the mainstream. But now information increasingly finds its own digital path, and if the news is big enough, it will be seen by all, regardless of who first puts it out in the world. It is the supply side of an equation that my colleague Brian Stelter first touched on five years ago, citing a student who said, “If the news is that important, it will find me.' [...] The business disruption in the media world caused by the Internet has been well-documented. But a monopoly on scoops, long a cherished franchise for established and muscular news organizations, is disappearing. Big news will now carve its own route to the ocean, and no one feels the need to work with the traditional power players to make it happen.”
2. "On The Bling Ring, by Sofia Coppola." Excellent piece by Jake Mulligan of the film blog Rushmore Kite Flying Society, about how Coppola's latest feature documents the overwhelming and now-ingrained narcissism of the social media era.
"The saddest scene Sofia Coppola has ever filmed - worse than Scarlett’s Tokyo struggles, worse than the tragedy of Marie Antoinette - comes about 15 minutes into The Bling Ring. Marc, a sexually ambiguous loner type, and Rebecca, the type-A klepto to whom he’s attached himself as admired-follower-supporter, show up to a Hollywood nightclub. They find their friends, wannabe supermodels Nicki (Emma Watson,) Chloe, and Sam; and post up on a not-quite-exclusive couch, where they’re forced to wait an exceptionally long time for their bottle service to arrive. Marc starts singling out celebrities. Nicki texts with Jude Law. Sam and Chloe turn their phones on themselves for pictures. Rebecca sizes up the room. It goes on forever, cutting back and forth, as if words were flowing along with the edits. But there’s no conversation, no trade of ideas, and never once an exchange of affection. For them, for us, now, this is normal. Life lived as a never-ending selfie."
3. "Inside the Actors Studio Host James Lipton on His Favorite Interview, and Pimping in Paris." By Dotson Rader, for Parade. Apparently Lipton once ran a Parisian bordello, which explains why he speaks such good French. Also, he's 86 years old. Eighty-six!
“It was only a few years after the war. Paris was different then, still poor. Men couldn’t get jobs and, in the male chauvinist Paris of that time, the women couldn’t get work at all. It was perfectly respectable for them to go into le milieu ... Young women desperately needed money for various reasons. They were beautiful and young and extraordinary. There was no opprobrium because it was completely regulated. Every week they had to be inspected medically. The great bordellos were still flourishing in those days before the sheriff of Paris, a woman, closed them down. It was a different time.”
4. "Actresses Needn't Apply for Roles in Egypt's New All-Male Sitcom." By Summer Said, for The Wall Street Journal. Egyptian Islamists have come up with a more radical solution to the issue of how to censor programs involving scantily-clad women or titillating scenes. Coffee Shop, a TV sitcom to be screened this summer, won’t involve any women actresses at all.
"'Everything is about supply and demand and currently there is a demand for this type of cleaner art in our society,' says Taqieddin Abdel Rashid, the deputy head of Al-Hafez television, the Islamist channel which is planning to broadcast the all-male soap. Some may think it a challenge to produce a 15-episode TV comedy show with no female roles. Family life is off mostly off-limits, scenes set in offices, schools or universities would be tricky, and anything to do with courtship or marriage will clearly be impossible. The promoters of Coffee Shop have side-stepped some of the problem by – as the title implies – setting their new drama in one of Egypt’s traditional cafés, which tend to be all-male hangouts."
5. Seattle's Egyptian Movie Theater in Capitol Hill, operated since 1989 by Landmark Theaters, is scheduled to close soon. Details at Capitol Hill Seattle blog, here. "Like the Egyptian itself, the Mark Cuban-backed Landmark chain has seen better days. In 2011, the investor put the company on the block in an effort to recoup massive investment in the theater chain. No buyer came forward. Meanwhile, the further erosion of the movie theater business coupled with new, more nimble, better financed competition has put the chain in an even more precarious place. Upgrades at The Egyptian and its sister Landmark venue The Harvard Exit as well as the other Landmarks Seattle locations have been mostly limited to changes like the addition of latte bars at the Capitol Hill outlets a few years back.”
IMAGE OF THE DAY
"Lower Manhattan was Truly Terrifying in 1888." The photo, recently reproduced on Gothamist, sure makes it seem that way. It's taken from Jacob Riis's 1890 classic "How the Other Half Lives," "an early publication...documenting squalid living conditions in New York City slums in the 1880s." You can download the book as a PDF here.
"It's easy to romanticize Old New York—but it wasn't always filled with cuddly subway graffiti, goofy beefsteak dinner traditions, and adorable billy club-wielding vigilantes. Back in the late 19th century, parts of Lower Manhattan were crime-ridden cesspools filled with tough looking b'hoys in intimidating bowler hats."
VIDEO OF THE DAY
"I think we can relate this back to education." -- Miss Utah. As a YouTube commenter noted, "I think the idiocy of her answer is somewhat lessened by the fact that the question was asked? by someone from The Real Housewives."
1. "A Rising Tide Lifts All Yachts." The Atlantic's Ta-Nehisi Coates on why class-based social programs don't address African-Americans' problems.
"White-supremacist policy is older than this country. It begins with the slave codes in mid-17th-century colonial Virginia. It proceeds through the the 18th century, inscribing itself into our Constitution. It moves into the 19th century with such force that slaves alone were worth more than all the productive capacity of the country put together. War was waged to assure slavery's continuance. The war was lost. We had a chance to do the right thing. We didn't. So white supremacist policy endured. Even American liberalism's proudest moment -- the New Deal -- would be unimaginable without its aid. This era of policy did not close until the late 1960s, well within the living memory of many Americans.In the face of this, liberals today are arguing that 300 years of immoral policy can be undone by changing the subject."
2. "Five Myths About Privacy." For The Washington Post, Daniel J. Solove defines what is or is not a "threat."
Myth #2: Surveillance must be secret to protect us.
"Secrecy at the level of an individual suspect is different from keeping the very existence of massive surveillance programs secret. The public must know about the general outlines of surveillance activities in order to evaluate whether the government is achieving the appropriate balance between privacy and security. What kind of information is gathered? How is it used? How securely is it kept? What kind of oversight is there? Are these activities even legal? These questions can’t be answered, and the government can’t be held accountable, if surveillance programs are completely classified. With the phone and Internet programs, it isn’t clear that sufficient protective measures are in place. The president and security officials assure us there are, but without transparency, we can’t really know." (Note: the graphic accompanying this item is a thumbnail of Igor Serazetdinov's "Red and Black Poster with Keyhole and Eye," which you can buy by clicking here.)
3."The Journalist Diplomat: The sad fact for Samantha Power is that you can be a media intellectual or a government official, not both." By Jason Zengerle, for New York magazine. "Now that Power has returned to the administration as (pending Senate confirmation) the U.N. ambassador, it’s her role as a former journalist that explains much of the excitement that has greeted her appointment in the press," Zengerle writes.
"Although America’s man (or woman) in Turtle Bay has often been an intellectual—from Arthur Goldberg to Daniel Patrick Moynihan to Jeane Kirkpatrick—we’ve never had an intellectual quite like Power, one whose dazzling first career was as a crusading, bearing-witness writer determined to make America live up to its ideals. From the moment in 1993, when, fresh from Yale, she arrived in the Balkans to cover the conflict as a stringer for the Boston Globe, Power has been a sui generis figure in journalism. [...] More than anything, it was the 'fierce moral indignation' of Power’s war coverage that brought her acclaim."
4. "The Hollywood Princess who Keeps Snoop Blazed: Meet Dr. Dina, Queen of Medical Marijuana in L.A." By Vanessa Grigoriadis, for Rolling Stone.
"In the annals of weird things that happened in childhood, there are few odder experiences than smoking pot for one's first time with Snoop Dogg. That's what happened to Dr. Dina, the Jewish daughter of a psychologist and a mortgage broker (her sister is a golf pro), who grew up in the San Fernando Valley in the 1980s. 'I was a total goody-two-shoes and a tattletale – I literally got the 'Biggest Brown-Noser Award' my senior year,' she says. One night, she went over to a friend's house, whose dad happened to be David Kenner, Snoop's lawyer during his murder trial in the 1990s (he was acquitted). 'Snoop was in the backyard smoking a joint, and the kids said, 'Oooh, you better be careful around Deeny Weeny, she's going to rat you out,'' she says. 'And he was like, 'Oh, yeah? Come on over here, girl. You hit this.' I said, 'No way.' He's like, 'You hit this right now.' So I did. He made me hit it so I wouldn't tattle on him."
5. "Hollywood's Completely Broken." For Salon, Lynda Obst outlines the economic forces that have made almost every sector of the entertainment industry less profitable.
"This was, literally, a Great Contraction. Something drastic had happened to our industry, and this was it. Surely there were other factors: Young males were disappearing into video games; there were hundreds of home entertainment choices available for nesting families; the Net. But slicing a huge chunk of reliable profits right out of the bottom line forever? This was mind-boggling to me, and I’ve been in the business for thirty years. Peter continued as I absorbed the depths and roots of what I was starting to think of as the Great Contraction. “Which means if nothing else changed, they would all be losing money. That’s how serious the DVD downturn is. At best, it could cut their profit in half for new movies.”
IMAGE OF THE DAY
A Google "Internet balloon." "The Internet giant has launched 30 balloons 12 miles into the stratosphere in a bid to test out a system that could provide Internet access to remote, poor or disaster-stricken areas," writes Daniel Politi at Slate.
VIDEO OF THE DAY
A lovely slow dance from Charles Burnett's 1977 classic Killer of Sheep, about an African-American family battling poverty in a Los Angeles neighborhood. To read Roger Ebert's 2007 appreciation of the film, click here.
I cried yesterday at a retreat while listening to Michael Buble's rendition of "Smile." The tears came from out of nowhere. I was in a stretch class, on the floor stretching before my next exercise class. The instructor was playing mellow ballads and suddenly the words came wafting through: "Smile, even when you're aching, smile though your heart is breaking..." and the tears flowed; not only tears but sobs, paralyzing sobs that left me balled up on the exercise mat. A fellow guest whose compassion and empathy were at the ready led me out of the class. She understood what I was going through because she has experienced it. Music has a way of cutting through all of your defenses. It goes straight to the heart and just zings you. Roger and I loved those sappy romantic ballads and danced to them when no one was around.
I have been on the go continuously for the last two months since Roger passed. There were the wakes, and the funeral and the public tributes and private memorials and awards shows and film festivals, and so forth. And I have been smiling through it all, remaining stoic, having my private moments but standing straight and steadfast. I have been so grateful for all the accolades to Roger and tasks to keep me busy. But I began to recognize how tired I am, how run-down. So I took myself to a retreat so I could be fed healthy foods, taken on nature hikes in the mountains, led in meditation and inner reflection, and provided an atmosphere where I could get a good night's sleep. As the days pass, I am feeling healthier, more rested, so these tears came as a shock to me. But, oh, what a welcome relief.
These, of course, were neither the first tears I’ve cried nor will they be the last. But these tears were cathartic in a way that opened me up to sharing these very personal feelings. It helps me so much to read books and articles by others who have suffered loss. I marvel at how open and honest they can be by showing the rawness of their feelings. I know what it feels like to clench my fists at the sky in anger, but I can't describe it like Joan Didion in "The Year of Magical Thinking." I have on my nightstand Joyce Carol Oates' memoir, "A Widow's Story," and have been afraid to open it up, staring at the word "widow" in defiance. Yes, I've become a member of that club that I never wanted to join — the Widow's Club. Fortunately, I have good friends who can help me navigate that terrain. I also have all of the letters and cards from friends, family and strangers who have given me advice on how to get through the first days and months after suffering such a great, personal loss. When I leave the retreat I will sit down and read through every single one of those. Knowing how others handle grief will be important for me, although I know it can be highly subjective and individual.
But I also have to tell you that my smiles were not fake; they were genuine. I have felt so in touch with Roger that sometimes it feels like he hasn't gone at all. And I don't think that some of you would be surprised if I told you that Roger, the great communicator, has found a way to stay in touch with us "from the other side." Next Tuesday, June 18, is his birthday, and we are planning a series of articles by and about Roger on RogerEbert.com. I miss his blogs and his reviews and his wisdom, his compassion and kindness, his wit and humor. But he would be pleased to know that we are carrying on. He always said, "Don't let my death be your death."
I have so much more to tell you. But for now I want you to enjoy the articles that our editors and contributors have posted on the website. Read a take on “Man of Steel” that you won't find anywhere else. Decide for yourself whether Sofia Coppola’s detractors are being sexist? Find out what's opening at theaters this weekend from contributors like Sheila O'Malley on "The Internship," Susan Wloszcyna on "Fill the Void," Steven Boone on "Dirty Wars," and Odie Henderson on "This Is The End." Take time to leisurely search through our archives. The new search functions are pretty awesome.
In the meantime, I’m going to take advantage of all of the rest and relaxation I am getting and, yes, I’m going to smile.
The title "Man of Steel" tells you what you're in for when you buy a ticket to this immense summer blockbuster: a radical break from the past. The absence of the word "Superman" tips us off that this new picture is less a standard reboot than a top-to-bottom re-imagining. Whether you approve of the result will depend on what you think Superman is, or should be. Either way, this is a 2013 version of the story: big, dark, convoluted and violent, chock full of 9/11 style imagery of collapsing skyscrapers and dust-choked disaster survivors. It's goodhearted and sincere but not particularly funny or sweet. It's Superman all butched-up, alienated and frustrated, chiseled and hunky but not inclined toward courtly romance, defending a planet so terrified by conspiratorial evil and apocalypse threats that it figures anyone who presents himself as good guy must have ulterior motives. Steel is what you need to have in your spine if you're going to be super in this world.
Directed by Zack Snyder ("Watchmen," "Sucker Punch") and overseen by producer-filmmaker Christopher Nolan (the Dark Knight trilogy, "Inception"), the movie delivers on the promise of its title and then some. "Man of Steel" largely abandons the sunny spirit, sly charm and kooky humor of the Christopher Reeve-starred '70s and '80s films (as well as Bryan Singer's dutiful homage to them, 2006's reviled "Superman Returns"). It brings the character in line with the recent fashion for gritty, brutal, rather morose tales of superhuman or super-talented loners struggling to defend a world that doesn't appreciate their pain or their sacrifices. (This time out, the big guy's suit isn't Dick Tracy red, blue and yellow, and it's made of what looks like high-tech chain mail that's described as battle armor as opposed to a uniform or costume, and he wears his underwear on the inside, thank you very much.) All in all, the movie's as serious as a heart attack. When humor bubbles up, welcome though it is, it feels odd, like a tonal mistake. Scene-for-scene, it's a first-rate example of a Hollywood fantasy released in the early 21st century, a state-of-the-art, latest-model, new-car-smell summer blockbuster. It has wobbly handheld camerawork that signifies "authenticity," a glum color palette, high-tech hardware whose designs crib from "Alien," "Dune", "Independence Day" and Spielberg's "War of the Worlds," skyline-shattering super-fights, and a detailed mythology that's meant to carry the story through a Dark Knight or Marvel-style series with motifs, Easter eggs and interlocking subplots.
"Man of Steel" also breaks with past "Superman" films in how it tells its story. The script, which is credited to David S. Goyer of the "Blade" films, begins with a prologue on Krypton, envisioned here as a John Carter-style, fantasy-inflected, heavily CGI'd land of towering hyper-structures, slate-dark "Matrix"-looking hovercraft, and winged beasts. Superman's father Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and mother Lara (Ayelet Zurer) are fighting two battles at once: to convince the planet's government that its environmental recklessness is causing the planet's core to melt, and to contain a rebellion led by General Zod (Michael Shannon), who's outraged that Jor-El dared to violate Krypton's biological breeding protocol and conceive a son, the future Superman, the old-fashioned way. Zod and his followers are exiled into the Phantom Zone in ships that look mortifyingly like the hero's spacecraft in the 1970s porn spoof "Flesh Gordon" (the film's design is a riot of phallic and vaginal imagery, as most post-"Alien" sci-fi films are). Krypton explodes. Kal-El zips off to earth and is raised by Ma and Pa Kent (Diane Lane and Kevin Costner), in idyllic prairie surroundings that call for an Aaron Copland score (though Hans Zimmer does just fine). After the very Christ-like timespan of 33 years, we pick up Kal-El/Clark's story just in time for him to unlock the destiny that his father and mother insisted on keeping a secret. Their motives were good: they predicted the suspicion and hostility he would encounter once he put on his tights -- sorry, armor! -- to fight Zod and prevent Earth from being flattened to re-create Krypton. (The plot to create a resurrected or zombified Krypton is but one of many echoes of "Superman Returns," though given that film's poor reception, I'm sure the filmmakers would prefer that nobody pointed them out.)
Henry Cavill plays the adult Clark as...well, the hero. Cavill's not bad; in fact he's quite likable, and spectacularly handsome, natch. But there's no Reeve-like radiant comfort in his acting, because the character as imagined here is even more of a blank screen for our projections than most movie superheroes. Like Christopher Nolan's Batman series, the Goyer-scripted "Man of Steel" reveals key moments in the hero's development through flashbacks triggered by present-day traumas, and it sprinkles them throughout the story in an offhand way that makes sections of the film play like a trailer for itself. A few parts almost seem to be unfolding along simultaneous timelines. This is not just defensible but appropriate, considering that so much of the story is about having to function day-to-day while carrying around the crushing weight of your own past, as well that of a long-extinct motherworld whose inhabitants you never got to know.
The most striking scenes show the young Superman struggling to make sense of the powers that his adoptive parents know he can't display for fear of being labeled a freak or a monster. One astonishing early sequence shows young Clark zoning out during a school lesson because he's overwhelmed by all the data Hoovered into his brain by his super-senses. When he looks at his classmates and teachers, he sees their bones and veins and organs through their skin, and because he hasn't mastered the art of filtering sound, he hears a cacophony of voices in his ears, like the burbling of a crowd at a ball game. There's a touch of "The Incredibles" in the scenes of Jonathan Kent explaining why Clark can't reveal the full extent of his specialness. Costner is superb in these moments, projecting an unforced, Old Movie-style decency that may remind fans of his performance in "Field of Dreams." (It's as if Ray Kinsella, the adult son in "Dreams", has become the father in this one -- an icon of kindness, yet sad-eyed and mysterious; "worn down by life," as Ray described his own pop.) When Clark, who's passed the years on a fishing boat while rocking a "Perfect Storm" beard, finally heads north and gets his own pad, the Fortress of Solitude, he acquires a second father, his biological daddy Kal-El. Supes the elder becomes a present-tense spirit guide or Obi-Wan figure, advising and arguing with Clark (and later, Zod!).
This is all good stuff -- though it was done less ostentatiously in the TV series "Smallville" -- but it's all a setup for the film's second and third acts, which juxtapose Clark's transformation into Superman with Zod's return to earth on a mission of vengeance and world-building. And it's here that the film loses something, I think. It's not that what's onscreen isn't involving: for the most part it's splendidly realized, even though the muted color palette, shaky camerawork and mostly secondhand design concepts won't win any prizes for originality. I like how Snyder, Goyer and Nolan bring together Superman's embrace of his destiny and Zod's arriving on Earth and assuming the mantle of visionary warrior-leader that Jor-El denied him back on Krypton.
The notion that politics is personal gets a workout here. Zod isn't as amusingly effete and sadistic in "Man of Steel" as he was in "Superman II", but he's not without humor, sometimes inadvertent. Shannon, an expert in projecting self-defeating macho rage, makes Zod less of a straightforward evildoer than a tragically misguided antihero. There are times when his rivalry with Clark/Superman recalls the tension between Hawkeye and Magua in Michael Mann's "The Last of the Mohicans," in that the villain is only a villain if you're looking at him through the eyes of the people he's steamrolling. You don't condone his actions, but you understand his motivations. In his own twisted way, he's trying to preserve and continue the legacy of a vanished world, and something in Cavill's beefy Boy Scout performance suggests that Superman gets this -- that he understands Zod even though he knows that he has to destroy him. The hero's struggle not to give into rage and pettiness against bullies like Zod, to use his power to heal and save rather than destroy, is explored with more finesse than you might expect.
And what of Lois, played here by Amy Adams? Well, here's where things become really unfortunate: she's portrayed as a capable reporter, much more so than in previous screen incarnations, but I didn't detect much chemistry between her and Clark, even when you factor in the ungodly pressure they're both under. While Clark is dealing with his demons and the world's, she's uncovering a government conspiracy to hide evidence of a buried Kryptonian spacecraft, then struggling against her Daily Planet editor Perry White (Laurence Fishburne) for the right to publish the truth she can feel in her bones, even though she doesn't have all the facts to prove it. There are flirtatious moments between her and Clark, but they're few and far between, and I'm not convinced that the apocalyptic events surrounding the couple are the only reason for this.
The most striking and curious aspect of "Man of Steel" is the way it minimizes and even shuts out women. Lois is an important character, but only for how she furthers Clark/Superman's attempts to understand himself and claim his destiny; she's ultimately much less of a fully-realized, freestanding human being than the kooky, narcissistic Lois Lane played by Margot Kidder in the Reeve films, or even Kate Bosworth's Lois in "Superman Returns," a melancholy figure defined by her capacity to move on after the hero's abrupt departure from Earth. Adams' Lois is tough and smart but has no personality, only drive, and she's not as integral to the action as she seems to be on first glance; it's telling that this film gives equal or greater weight to the story of an understandably distrustful general (Chris Meloni) whose relationship with Superman lets him become the stand-in for a doubting Earth, a role filled by Lois in the 1978 film. "Man of Steel" is driven almost entirely by machismo. Ma Kent is endearing, but she's simply not as powerful a presence in the story as the doomed Jonathan. The hero's birth mother vanishes from the picture after the prologue, her absence explained in a throwaway line that Crowe seems embarrassed to have to deliver. The uncharitable might notice than when a stupid question has to be asked, or a trivial remark made, it's often delivered by one of a handful of women in a room full of burly guys; they may also note that while every significant male figure in "Man of Steel" is given an option to be physically brave under horrible circumstances -- even grey-haired Pa Kent and Perry White have their moments -- females exist, for the most part, to be saved, or to have things explained to them.
Considering that every previous "Superman" movie put the courtship dance between men and women at the heart of its action -- particularly "Superman: the Movie", "Superman II" and "Superman Returns" -- the fact that "Man of Steel" has a No Girls Allowed sensibility seems like a deliberate creative choice, a way to reassure young male viewers accustomed to the glib swagger of "Iron Man" and the dire self-pity of Nolan's Batman that this hero is very much in the same wheelhouse. There's no possible way anyone can mistake this new movie for a Chick Flick. (Zod's right-hand woman Fajora-Ul, Antje Traue, is a powerful presence, but she's even more desexualized than Lois; her character's main trait is a pathological hatred of men.)
Again, that's state-of-the-art, very much in line with the way superhero movies are done now. But this modernization feels retro because it comes at the expense of an important and under-acknowledged part of Superman's appeal: virtually alone among big-name superheroes, he's a romantically and sexually mature man who seems to truly like and be comfortable around women. If you're wondering why I could say so many positive things about "Man of Steel" and only give it three stars, the preceding two paragraphs are your answer. In some ways this movie represents a step forward for Superman on film, but in this one significant respect, it takes the series at least two huge steps back. Viewers who predicted that Warner Bros. and DC Comics were trying to turn Batman into Superman were right, sort of. "Man of Steel" is in many ways an astonishing movie, but it won't do anything to quell complaints that the big-budget superhero genre is basically adolescent, that its creative development has been arrested for decades and might not budge anytime soon.