“I hope we get a Superman movie by a director that actually likes the character again someday.”
Man of Steel (June 14th, Warner Bros), the Superman reboot written by David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan (the team that famously resurrected Bruce Wayne) and brought to life by Zack Snyder (300, The Watchmen) delivers a ton of action but at what cost? As Zod and Superman duke it out the destruction spills over from Metropolis into our preconceived notion of a pacifist Superman. Snyder does succeed in finally delivering a Lois Lane worthy of Pulitzer prize winning wit and journalistic toughness. The origin story is told in a fresh, yet disjointed manner worthy of the Goyer/Nolan trademark while avoiding a slip into the Dark Knight formula that brought the Batman franchise back to life. Overall, I loved many of the little pieces, but I can’t seem to convince myself that the pieces coalesced into a cohesive narrative consistent with the Superman persona. This might just be a franchise built to be incomplete without the whole (as suggested by Dan Moren on The Incomparable #146). I’ll definitely watch it again, although this time with a more critical, less midnight-tired eye.
Meanwhile, in 1968 New York, Don Draper finally faces a reckoning, both in the mirror and at the hands of the partners at SC&P. A lot happens in Mad Men’s sixth season, but no single episode seemed to progress toward a resolution as the season finale (June 23rd, AMC). As well as any show I’ve ever watched, Mad Men finales shove resolutions in front of you that stand on their own as an end, yet leave you wanting more without relying on dramatic cliffhangers.1 Three moments from the finale stood out to me most: Trudy’s gently brutal conversation with Pete, Don’s unraveling during the Hershey pitch, and finally the look of realization on Sally’s face outside of Don’s childhood home. Some, if not all, of these moments might be predictable, but the gradual build provides enough dramatic tension without carelessly yanking the string by jumping to the conclusion too forcefully. The historical context this season served as more than a backdrop, it was almost like its own character; interacting with and impacting characters in transformative ways.
Coincidentally, Man of Steel and Season 6 of Mad Men both break new ground for their respective heroes. Man of Steel explores a less consistent (though well portrayed) Clark Kent, while Season 6 of Mad Men presents us with a Don Draper who has seemingly hit rock bottom and finds that victories are fewer and harder to come by. These are entirely new and foreign insights into the respective protagonists and, through the lens of our established notions of them, the change is jarring and maybe a little bit uncomfortable. For Mad Men we have the promise of Season 7 to fuel 9-10 months of theorizing how thing swill play out for Don. With Man of Steel, we can almost certainly count on at least a sequel, if not a trilogy, to see if the filmmakers can bring together some of the great pieces they introduced with the opening salvo.