Noah with superhero edge

NOAH (NC16)

140 minutes/Opens today/****

The story: Noah (Russell Crowe) is told by The Creator to build an ark so that the world might be cleansed of wickedness, which takes place mainly in the industrial cities built by the descendants of Cain. Into the ark, the agrarian Noah takes wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly) and three sons (Logan Lerman, Douglas Booth, Leo Carroll) and adopted daughter (Emma Watson).

His ark-building draws the attention of King Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone), who demands ownership of the craft. Inspired by the story in Genesis, the first book of the Bible.

Who knew that the most interesting superhero movie so far this year would not come from the Marvel or DC comics universe, but from a much older source?

Here is Noah (Crowe) as the brooding caped hero of his time. Born into a noble house, he lives a nondescript life until he awakes to a higher calling.

He loses his real father to villains (sons of Cain, who reappear as antagonists later), but is bestowed powers by a supernatural father, who also sends down all-powerful helpers in the form of fallen angels.

He even has an arch-enemy - Tubal-cain, played by everyone's favourite Cockney heavy, Ray Winstone, sporting bondage leathers and a heavy-metal forked beard.

Bearing in mind that Superman's creators (Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster) took inspiration from the story of Moses, it should come as no surprise that director and co-writer Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan, 2010; The Wrestler, 2008) should return the favour by moulding Noah into a contemporary b**t-kicking tough guy, good with his fists and a friend to all, except if you are descended from the brother-killer Cain - then you had best purchase a pair of water wings, fast.

Old Testament literalists around the world have come out against the film which, among other things, proposes that Noah and his family were vegetarian peaceniks seeking truth through plant-based hallucinogens - ancient Rastafarians, in other words.

There are other liberties taken with the story, mostly to fuel the film's greenie thesis that every human must perish for the planet to live.

There is no mention of the word "God" - the being that moves Noah's spirit is given the less religiously divisive name of The Creator.

Crowe moves Noah gracefully through the character arc, first as a gentle dad, then seer and finally as head of a fractious family and a religious extremist prone to self-righteous posturing.

There are big action set-pieces galore and, yes, viewers will not be shortchanged of the sight of the world's animals gathering in vast herds, nor of the epic deluge that follows.

But Aronofsky is embarrassed to linger on the money shots. The animals appear as indistinct silhouettes, for example.

Instead, he lavishes love on the things he does best, such as illustrating the ecstatic experience (religious or otherwise) and by making his female characters the emotional centres of the story.

Adopted daughter Ila (Emma Watson in an exceptionally moving performance) and wife Naameh (Connelly, also giving a memorable portrayal) stand out as beings with enlightened, human-centred values in a time of inscrutable, immovable patriarchs, both human and divine.

This article was published on April 3 in The Straits Times.

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