Epic (2013) is an animated film directed by Chris Wedge. The film focuses on the ongoing battle of good vs. evil among a race of tiny beings in a forest. On the good side are Leafmen, sworn to protect Queen Tara (Beyoncé Knowles), a Mother Nature figure who breathes life into the forest. On the evil side is Mandrake (Christoph Waltz), a Boggan who can bring rot and death to any living creature.

While predictable and straight-forward, the story thrives when fleshing out characters’ backstories. The star of the story, M.K. (Amanda Seyfried) and her father (Jason Sudeikis) are dealing with the recent passing of her mother/his ex-wife. Never blatantly elaborated on, this unfolding mystery adds another layer of interest in what could have been a lackluster father-daughter dynamic. Similarly, Queen Tara and Ronin (Colin Farrell) have history — an unspoken history. Another enigmatic backstory deals with Nod’s (Josh Hutcherson) father, a comrade of Ronin who passed a while ago, making Nod hesitant to follow in his footsteps. All of these backstories make the story much more interesting.

The film dazzles visually. Epic takes the audience to a spectacular world of colorful flowers, hummingbird war-horses, and stunning tree-palaces. Similar to the resplendent world of AvatarEpic makes leaps and bounds with its incredible graphics. Absolutely everything on screen is remarkable, from the flower-people’s floral headdresses to the black depths of the Boggans’ lair. The film rightfully earns its namesake from its epic world-building.

Another success of the film is Danny Elfman’s beautiful score. This soundtrack creates tonal landscapes that match perfectly with the visuals on the screen. The score harks back to soundtracks like Harry Gregson-Williams’ for The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which create soundscapes that beautifully parallel their respective films.

Epic is a lovely film with an all-star cast. While not exactly memorable, the characters’ backstories and relationships are what make the story affective. Accompanied by breathtaking visuals and a beautiful score, this film succeeds as a darling summer film, for both kids and adults.

Man of Steel

Man of Steel (2013) is the latest reboot of the Superman franchise, directed by Zack Snyder. The Superman film prior to Man of Steel was Superman Returns (2006) directed by Bryan Singer.

The film takes a different approach to a familiar and often-told story. The origin story of Planet Krypton is told in greater detail, illustrating an Avatar-like world that combines advanced technology and weaponry with savage structures and flying beasts. In the final moments before the planet explodes, Jor-El (Russell Crowe) sends his babe son into space, heading for Earth in order to preserve the race, against General Zod’s (Michael Shannon) wishes, who aims to preserve the race himself.

The film, after that point, takes a thoughtful approach to Superman’s upbringing. The next hour of the film has no linear plot. The film progresses through various flashbacks to Clark Kent’s (Henry Cavill) childhood, which allow the viewer to understand Clark’s present-day morality. They present the trials and tribulations that a young Clark faced, which molded his nomadic adulthood. Cavill’s portrayal of Superman is sensitive, expressing subtle changes in his voice and eyes. He fully utilizes his rugged features to exhibit Clark Kent’s wholesome, small-town America vibe.

The flashbacks continue as Lois Lane (Amy Adams) begins chasing down leads to write a story about Clark Kent. She delivers a strong portrayal of Lois Lane without risking vulnerability and compassion. Adams creates a driven female journalist with a hint of her signature sweetness.

Man of Steel expresses some religious imagery throughout the film, almost as if Superman is the ‘Man of God’. The way Superman is shown floating in the air is almost Christ-like, which comes as no surprise since his father describes him as a savior of mankind. These depictions are stunning yet curious — is he one of the human race or is he akin to a god? On a similar note, the scenes that showed Superman overcoming a considerable challenge were inspiring. The look on his face, the determination, the struggle, it all drew in focus and inspired. Superman becomes a stirring figure, comparable to a deity.

The film thrives on a thoughtful pace of meaningful memories, mirrored by calm and reflective music by Hans Zimmer, but the film unfortunately takes a turn from that introspective tone. In fact, the film makes such a stark change that it feels like Michael Bay came in and directed the second half of the film. As a concrete plot line is established, the tone and the story feel aggressive and somewhat false. This film tried to capitalize from previous superhero movies, particularly Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, that presented superheroes and villains in an authentic way. That worked incredibly well for Nolan’s Batman films, because his villains were human, albeit crazed and extremely flawed. They worked in a real-world scenario because real life has shown eccentric and despicable beings. It did not work in this film for two reasons: 1) Superman’s world involves aliens and 2) the movie becomes action-centric. Aliens are always challenging to make realistic, and the entire encounter and communication with the human race is not believable.

The movie tries to be exciting and action-packed, like J.J. Abrams’ 2009 Star Trek is, but it overshoots the mark. The amount of destruction is laughable. There is a point in all the action when the viewer shuts down and waits for it all to stop. And when that stop finally arrives, the action just picks right back up and bombards the viewer with more. The writing, the one-liners, and the story all took a blow in the second half — where it feels like an entirely different film.

The reboot has tremendous potential, and if the movie gets a sequel, one can only hope that Snyder focuses on the thoughtful and unique storytelling from the first half. That is where the film shined.