143 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13
Henry Cavill, our newest Superman, certainly has the look down. He knows how to fill not only the red-and-blue suit but looks extremely hot in a Royals T-shirt.
He might even be able to act, although you won’t be able to tell from “Man of Steel.”
Zack Snyder’s reboot of the venerable superhero franchise is yet another piercingly loud, atavistically violent affair, albeit one that seems to have been assembled from spare parts left over from other big, noisy summer popcorn flicks.
Superhero origin stories usually benefit from a human dimension lacking in followup films. They’re about a superhero discovering who he is, establishing what his relationship is to the rest of us mere mortals.
Sequels, on the other hand, invariably deteriorate into long, numbing passages of shit being torn up (see “The Avengers,” any “Transformers” film, etc.).
Snyder (“300,” “Dawn of the Dead,” “Watchmen”) and screenwriter David S. Goyer (the Christopher Nolan “Batman” films, the “Blade” movies), want it both ways – and so they have given us a glum, joyless origin story and a whole lot of destruction.
In the process they inadvertently reconfirm that Christopher Reeve was/is the best movie Superman of all time, thanks to his disarming blend of sincere heroism and an intoxicatingly sly sense of humor.
“Man of Steel,” on the other hand, occupies an irony-free zone.
In a way-too-long prologue set on the dying planet Krypton, the scientist Jor-El (Russell Crowe, who throughout the movie pops up periodically in ghostly form) argues with the bug-eyed intense General Zod (Michael Shannon). Then he fires his infant son Kal-El into space.
Conventional versions of the Superman legend typically show the capsule landing in Kansas, where the infant is adopted by farmers Jonathan and Martha Kent (played here by Kevin Costner and Diane Lane). Goyer takes a different tack, leaping ahead 33 years to show the young Clark Kent leading a lonely nomadic existence. He works dangerous jobs (like on a trawler) while trying to keep secret his incredible powers. Of course he keeps saving people (as in the collapse of a North Sea oil rig), which draws attention, and then he has to disappear and start all over again.
But in flashbacks we do see his childhood. There’s bad stuff, like being able to see through people and hearing every sound within hundreds of miles – a prescription for madness. But there are nurturing moments, too, most delivered by Costner’s Jonathan Kent, who provides wise counsel and lessons in tough love that will ultimately result in his own death.
Back in the present crack reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams) is tracking down rumors of a mysterious young man with wondrous abilities. And just to prove that she’s more than a byline-hunting harpie, she agrees to kill her big story in order to give this Clark Kent fella an opportunity to get his head together.
That process is accelerated by the arrival on Earth of Zod and his cohorts, who had been imprisoned in the Phantom Zone (blah blah blah blah blah) but were released by the explosion of Krypton (blah blah blah blah blah). They’re here to kill Kal-El, extract his DNA, and build a new race of Kryptonians who will eliminate humans and repopulate the planet.
Time to smash shit.
There are plenty of opportunities for human moments in “Man of Steel,” most of which whiz by so quickly on the way to the action that they make no impression. Perhaps the closest thing to a real relationship is that between Clark and Jonathan.
God knows there’s zero heat between Clark and Lois. Adams, normally a hugely likeable actress, gives us nothing here.
In fact, this is a singularly chilly movie. There are maybe two laughs, tops. And it’s just about impossible to like any of these characters (among the supporting players are reliables like Richard Schiff, Christopher Meloni, Harry Lennix and Laurence Fishburne as editor Perry White…but they make no impression).
Cavil showed some range on cable’s “The Tudors,” but this is pretty much a one-note performance. He’s good-looking, stolid and…and that’s about it.
It doesn’t help that Snyder/Goyer register low on the originality meter. Clark’s youthful wanderings are a direct ripoff of Wolverine’s in the first “X-Men” film (as is the idea that his abilities make him a freak mistrusted by normal folk); a character’s death by tornado is right out of “Twister.” The brawl that levels little Smallville, Kansas, is lifted from “The Mighty Thor,” while the flattening of Metropolis is right out of the second “Transformers.”
Speaking of which, there’s something vaguely pornographic about watching these ectomorphs throw each other through buildings while conveniently ignoring that hundreds of thousands of noncombatants are dying in pain and terror.
Actually, the climactic, endless smackdown owes a huge debt to Scott McCloud’s hard-to-find, single issue comic “DESTROY!!” from the mid 1980s. It depicted the destruction of a perfectly-rendered lower Manhattan in a fight between two superheroes and carried the warning “PARENTS BEWARE! This Comic-Book is exactly what you think it is: 32 pages of meaningless, overblown violence, mayhem and destruction!”
Maybe the MPAA should adopt the same sort of truth in advertising.
| Robert W. Butler