The time is nine years from now, America in 2022. The “New Founders of America” have decreed that every year there will be a 12 hour period when all laws are suspended, including murder. The idea is for people to get rid of all their bad urges in this 12 hour period. As a result, according to the government, violent crime is way down the rest of the year.
The story germinated in the mind of writer/director James DeMonaco when he juxtaposed two incidents in his mind. The first was a road rage confrontation he had in the presence of his wife. The second occurred a few years later when he was living in Toronto and noticed that the Canadian TV news was far less violent than American news, which concentrates on violent acts. So he devised this story as a devastating indictment, not on American culture, but on the news that the mainstream media chooses to report, and how that affects American culture.
James Sandin (Ethan Hawke) has made a fortune building houses that can be turned into fortresses for wonderful security. After he and his wife, Mary (Lena Heady) and two children Charlie (Max Burkholder) and Zoey (Adelaide Kane) prepare for the night of purging, it begins. As a bloody stranger (Edwin Hodge) enters the picture, things quickly go from good to bad to horrible.
If you can suspend your incredulity, and accept the premise, this is a gripping thriller aided immeasurably by tension-enhancing music (Nathan Whitehead) and neo-Gothic cinematography (Jacques Jouffret), which keep this from descending into a camp horror film. It is produced by Michael Bay who knows his way around a thriller.
Hawke, Heady, Burkholder, Kane, and Hodge give fine performances, as does the main bad guy, Rhys Wakefield, who is unfailingly but frighteningly polite and well-dressed. This was on the cusp of being camp and laughable, but for me it held up, even through the violent, bloody ending.
This is a two hour twenty minute display of amazing special effects that is occasionally marred by a pretty good story and the appearance of A-List actors like Amy Adams, Russell Crowe, and Diane Lane that detract from the mind-numbing CGI.
The unfortunately compelling story (written by David S. Goyer from a story by Goyer and Producer Christopher Nolan) is an interesting, novel take on Superman’s creation that was never envisioned by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster when they came up with the idea of Superman in 1933 while they were in high school and sold to DC Comics in 1938 for $130, precipitating a lifelong battle between Siegel and Shuster and their heirs on the one hand and DC Comics (eventually Time Warner) on the other about who owned the multi-billion dollar rights and copyright, that Siegel and Shuster apparently signed away. The latest decision in the case occurred in January, 2013. It’s shameful that the creators of this amazing tale have been so mistreated all because of a contract they signed in their youth in 1938 that they probably didn’t even read. Maybe that’s what the strict reading of the law is, but as Dickens had Mr. Bumble say, the law is an ass (actually Dickens was purloining from George Chapman’s 1654 play Revenge for Honor.) But I digress as none of this has anything to do with this Superman.
Well-sculpted Henry Cavill makes an adequate Superman, and Amy Adams is a sexy Lois Lane. Russell Crowe admirably plays Superman’s real father. Diane Lane plays Superman’s foster mother and is made up to look her real age which dismally fails to hide her inherent beauty. Adding to the cast is Michael Shannon, fresh off his triumph in The Iceman, as General Zod the bad guy from Krypton. Also appearing in smaller roles that are little more than cameos are Kevin Costner as Superman’s foster father, Laurence Fishburne as Perry White, the editor of the Daily Planet, and Christopher Meloni as a cop.
As indicated above, intruding on director Zack Snyder’s more than 100 minutes of special effects is the story, which is a pretty good one for a comic book. But the story doesn’t really take one away from the almost interminable special effects. The constant brutal fights are nothing if not ridiculous since most of them are between Superman and Zod, both of whom are invulnerable, so what’s the point? It’s almost impossible for one to injure the other. But they go on and on and on. Because the movie had to come to an end, finally one succumbs, although it’s factually inconsistent with the premise of the movie.
Having an A-list cast in a movie whose star is the CGI-special effects seems like a waste. It reminds me of Susan Sarandon’s line that whenever an actress appears topless she is always upstaged by her boobs. All the actors are upstaged by the unending (but spectacular) special effects. Let’s face it; people who go to these films aren’t going for the acting or the story. They want to see violence and special effects, which they get here in spades.