April 21, 2024

Superpower 2023 Movie Review

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Superpower 2023 Movie Review

Chaos and hecticness dominate the first images of “ Superpower ”. TV presenters talk over each other, people run through corridors, the camera can barely stick to their backs. It is February 24, 2022, the beginning of the war, Russia is attacking Ukraine. The sky glows menacingly on the horizon and impacts can be heard in the distance. Sean Penn and Aaron Kaufman are in the middle. Their joint film “Superpower” is a contemporary document of global upheaval. Everything was planned completely differently.

“Superpower” first has to find a framework for a project that has been overturned by current political events. A film about Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyj was originally supposed to be made in 2021. A comedian, actor and star who rises to become a politician and head of state – that is material for the big screen. Penn and Kaufman assemble Selenskyj’s bizarre earlier appearances in TV shows, series and films. It’s about the intertwining of fiction and reality: politics as entertainment. Penn and Kaufman also know this from the USA. But with the start of the war, both Zelenskyj now meet under completely different circumstances.

It is definitely a merit of this two-hour documentary how hard it initially tries to bring order to its material. Of course, the historical process of coming to terms with the past few years in Ukraine can only happen in fast motion. Individual highlights must suffice: the annexation of Crimea, Zelensky’s election campaign or the Ukraine affair surrounding Donald Trump are touched upon. But at least! “Superpower” is careful to show connections and contexts and not simply understand the war as a sudden onset.

But he loses his cool head all too quickly and world events seem too confusing. You can clearly see this in Sean Penn’s drawn body, who sets a stage for himself as the film’s protagonist. He is repeatedly seen smoking, drinking, thinking and listening: strained looks, exhausted expression. You can imagine how it rattles and works in the brain. He wants to report from Ukraine as a representative for everyone who has no idea. Experience it up close instead of just following the news from afar. But was the trip to the crisis area really worth it?

Sean Penn gets expert opinions as a war tourist. In between, he forces himself into a military uniform or goes into bunkers himself. What stands out in this very superficial film are the heroic images of the researching star. Meanwhile, the conversations that Penn has with Selenskyj could hardly be more insubstantial for the audience. In any case, you only see parts of them. Penn remains someone who can wonder about everything on his own. Over and over again he speaks into the camera about how inspiring this encounter with the Ukrainians was for him, either euphorically or deeply moved with tears in his eyes.

That’s all well and good, but “Superpower” doesn’t take a differentiated look at its own mediality and observer position at all. He assembles images and videos from TV and the Internet in found footage style to create a glaring, overwhelming effect. Hardly a scene can do without driving, dramatic musical accompaniment. Everything is constantly striving towards tension, effect and great emotion. War as a media attraction. A Hollywood star who puts himself in danger for research. “Superpower” remains one thing above all: sensational.

Ultimately, it is not a work like “Mariupolis” or “Mariupolis 2” by the murdered director Mantas Kvedaravičius, who actually managed to take an original, calm and yet unadorned look at everyday life during the war in Ukraine. “Superpower” fails to ever change its naive perspective or to convey an impression of war that reveals its misery beyond hurray patriotism and heroism.

Instead, he simply repeats what is familiar, reproducing prevailing myths that are omnipresent anyway: the Ukrainian population as a large unit in which everyone seems ready to die a sacrificial death. This film doesn’t go any further than that. He underlines how young people are trained for war with cheerful sounds, as if it were a child’s game.

Zelensky says in this interview that the USA will have to fight itself if Ukraine loses. With this threat, Sean Penn returns home. The tourist and activist raves about the foreign nation he encountered as if it were a place of longing. Social unity as a role model for the USA. As if there was anything appealing about the Ukrainian emergency and defense situation! This is delusion, a Hollywood spectacle that does not do justice to the horror of the conflict situation, which still seems hopeless.

Consequently, the weirdest scene in “Superpower” leads to a cinema: of all places, “ Top Gun: Maverick ”. Here the intertwining of fiction and reality continues and reveals something profound: the celebration of the military, united against a common enemy. The USA looks to its imagined ideal. Outside the hall, a Ukrainian pilot in a video call with actor Miles Teller suggests that the next “Top Gun” could simply be filmed in Ukraine! The film leaves such a cynical remark uncommented and casual.

The images of “Superpower” enter into an uneasy dialogue with those of a pop culture product like “Top Gun.” Here, too, you go armed into the sunset, looking resolutely and victoriously into the distance. When “Superpower” strings together such pompous, glorified tableaux and portrait shots, any clear structure has already dissolved. The film doesn’t raise any eyebrows about its own production anyway. You just repeat yourself with due respect, without critically examining your role as a filmmaker and the power of your own recordings. What remains is a single confused stream of thoughts in the midst of the fast pace of the present.

Superpower 2023 Movie Review