Seriously thrills and exhausts
Loud and long, the new Superman re-boot “Man of Steel” is ambitious and tries hard to distance itself from the lighthearted and beloved 1979 classic “Superman” that starred Christopher Reeve. Zack Snyder (“300”) may have directed “Man of Steel,” but producer Christopher Nolan’s gray and gritty palette imprint clearly influences this interestingly-structured version that offers its share of thrills but may be too somber overall to appease the typical summer blockbuster fan.
That said, “Man of Steel” may end up being like Nolan’s “Batman Begins” re-boot—a flawed but promising initial installment that was a precursor to a great film (“The Dark Knight”) and in retrospect has aged rather nicely.
“Man of Steel” begins with an impressive and obviously expensive set piece on the planet Krypton. Parents Jor-El and Lara (Russell Crowe and Ayelet Zurer) decide to save the newborn Kal-El from their war-torn and imploding planet by jettisoning him light years away to Earth, where his physical powers will be god-like. Jor-El’s onetime ally turned combative enemy, General Zod (Michael Shannon), is exiled then inadvertently freed. Upon his release, he becomes deviously destined to find Kal-El, who may contain the genetic code that could be the key to the survival of the Kryptonian race.
Using an unconventional approach, “Man of Steel” depicts the grown Kal-El (Henry Cavill) – not yet revealed as you-know-who—as an itinerant drifter on a journey of self-discovery, reluctant to demonstrate his powers. Compelling flashbacks reveal the humble and occasionally heroic events of his childhood on a Midwest farm with earthly parents (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane). These quieter, even reverent moments offer a nice contrast to the chaotic destruction to come.
Cavill was Stephanie Meyer’s first choice to play Edward Cullen, but was deemed too old – he just turned 30. He’s perfect here as the strong, genuine, silent-bordering-on-brooding type, with biceps as large as a Kansas cornfield, and just as conflicted about his purpose. Amy Adams is just right as Lois Lane, here more than just an ambitious reporter for the Daily Planet and who of course begins a special friendship with the big guy. But little time is spent on their relationship—that seems to be saved for the next film. In fact, most of the characters feel rather stock here as the film exerts an inordinate amount of energy on the dazzling, if very apparent, CGI-created visuals and a final battle sequence that exhausts as much as it impresses.
Those searching for the quaint humor of the previous Superman films, or the dry self-aware wit of “The Avengers” and the “Iron Man” films might be put off by “Man of Steel’s” serious tone. But this latest addition to Superman’s celluloid legacy will stick with you upon reflection, and portends, perhaps, to something bigger in its future. The 3D treatment is excellent but not required.
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi, violence, action and destruction and some language.