Monday, July 15, 2013

Man of Steel vs. Pacific Rim: Why Critics Like One And Not The Other

Why Critics Viewed the 2 Blockbusters Differently

Man of Steel Superman Henry CavillPacific Rim monster Kaiju

For this summer’s line up, Warner Bros. has contributed two mammoth box office pictures through ‘Man of Steel’ and ‘Pacific Rim’. Yet both pictures have not been received in a positive light by critics. Man of Steel has had the erudite movie scholars divided while
‘Pacific Rim’ has enjoyed more favorable reviews.

To start off we’ll need to compare the tomatometer for each movie on Rotten Tomatoes.

Man of Steel has a 56% approval rating whereas Pacific Rim has a 72% approval rating. This can be attributed to several reasons. Firstly, we must note that the Superman reboot was weighed down by the expectations of 70 years of fandom. The trailers promised much on the side of emotional connectivity in the origins story and critics thought that it simply wasn’t enough. The movie also had a benchmark to compete with, namely the initial series starring Christopher Reeves. The franchise had done brilliantly when it commenced in 1978 and for some profound reason critics felt the need to compare ‘Man of Steel’ with the Richard Donner movies.

This was a colossal mistake if used to judge the reboot as the reboot was never meant to be a carbon copy of the older films. The latest effort was to take a more modern approach in trying to fit Superman into the present world. It was also leaning more heavily on the origins aspect and perhaps focusing more on the words ‘darker’ and more ‘realistic’. I was surprised to see critics complain about the lack of romance or humor. This bemused me because I wasn’t awaiting a Lois and Clark love adventure. Nor was I expecting a repeat of goofy jokes. The movie was to be taken in a completely different direction and the critics should have known this. A point to remember is that most critics out there are ‘old’ and they were probably blown away by the Reeves movies when they were younger. This unfortunately meant that they refused to accept ‘Man of Steel’ and its differences from the Donner classics. It could be said to be denial.

There were complaints on the use of generic blockbuster material and the excessive use of CGI. This is something that Pacific Rim also indulges in yet the opinions of critics on the latter are different. On Rotten Tomatoes the general consensus is that there is more style than substance but there is a sense of fun and fantastical imagery. In simple terms, there is no plot but critics loved it despite the use of special effects and CGI, despite it being somewhat of a mash up between Transformers and Godzilla. The movie was also aided by the fact that it wasn’t a remake, so it didn’t have a heavy burden on its shoulders.

I’m not a hater of Pacific Rim. The movie is just used here as an example to illustrate the unfair basis on which ‘Man of Steel’ was judged. I also believe that movie critics and aficionados have their own prejudices and bias. Irrespective of the work put out, sometimes critics tend to bring down a certain director’s work because of that director’s technical habits. Zack Snyder is known for his use of CGI, from 300 to Watchmen. To many, it doesn’t speak like art or the work of an auteur so his efforts are ultimately ridiculed when people compare him to a kid with a camera. On the other hand, Guillermo Del Toro’s use of CGI is compare to “fantastical imagery”, probably because of his early success with Pan’s Labyrinth. Even his article for Empire had quite an intellectual touch, where he spoke of the influences for Pacific Rim, Mexican wrestling and the classic works of Japanese directors’ decades ago with monsters.  He put it in better words, of course. Del Toro could record a guy taking a crap on stage and critics could spin some wonderful yarn out of it. Had ‘Man of Steel’ been showcased in the exact same manner but with a different directorial credit, say Del Toro or Christopher Nolan, chances are that the critical reception would have been more encouraging.

My final thought is this. Critics have received the two films differently, and in my mind this is due to their prejudices and narrow-mindedness coupled with unrealistic and surreal expectations. Pacific Rim is being hailed a success while Man of Steel hasn’t been entirely. This is a tragedy because both films should be lauded for their own unique achievements.