*** (out of four)
Other than a major influx of action and Kal-El’s/Superman’s mom giving birth, “Man of Steel” opens much like 1978’s “Superman.” Kal-El’s father Jor-El (Russell Crowe) dismisses evil General Zod (Michael Shannon) and insists that newborn Kal-El depart for Earth before Krypton somewhat beautifully explodes. So a cute baby goes into an adult-sized pod that looks oddly like male genitalia and, elsewhere in the universe, a very special, human-looking alien arrives in Smallville, Kan.
Fortunately, this delayed take on the DC Comics superhero from director Zack Snyder (“Watchmen”) and writer David S. Goyer (the “Dark Knight” trilogy), who conceived the story with Christopher Nolan, brings excitement and weight in the wake of the overly hated 2006 reboot “Superman Returns.” In “Man of Steel,” Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams) meets 33-year-old Clark Kent (Henry Cavill of “Immortals”) when the buff mystery man, who looks like an extra from Snyder’s “300,” saves her life. She doesn’t know who he is exactly, but she wouldn’t be confused if he put on glasses.
That’s the appropriate way to handle their dynamic. Otherwise, the film would counteract Jor-El’s belief that Earth contains “a seemingly intelligent population.”
Cavill and Adams didn’t have much time to bond before shooting, but they nail it. He’s sturdy but tormented; she’s tough and feisty without really trying to hide her interest in Clark—I mean, in unraveling his story. Understandably wanting to go a different route than Terrence Stamp’s confident, classic turn as Zod, Shannon registers menace—particularly when his eyes bug as he screams, “I will find him!,” determined to track down Kal-El wherever and however long it takes—without asking anyone to kneel before him. Admittedly, though, the Oscar nominee (“Revolutionary Road”) was more memorable reading that epic sorority letter for “Funny or Die.”
At times, “Man of Steel” bogs down with blunt statements about what the world can and can’t handle. That’s pretty much all Clark’s adopted father (Kevin Costner) tells him before tangling with a tornado to ensure the town doesn’t know his son’s strength.
The film’s flying sequences do look awesome, but it goes overboard with its endless climactic sequence. I know some of “Steel” was shot in Chicago, Mr. Snyder, but you don’t have to compete with “Transformers: Dark of the Moon.” Superman and Zod don’t have to crash through every building in Metropolis.
The movie connects as an American story of heroism anyway. Humans buckle in and confront the worst. Superman embraces his role by searching for his identity, rather than grumbling about his paradoxical responsibilities: Save the public, but don’t let them know what you can do.
He’s one of the original selfless studs, the fallible but fearless protector. Even non-comic book fans can easily look at someone like that with awe.
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