Man of Steel poses a curious question: Is there a place for Superman in 21st-century entertainment? I don't mean a world of rampant technology and global terrorism; I mean a dark movie place in which the heroes of today all come equipped with severe doubts, anxiety and identity crises.
Man of Steel poses a curious question: Is there a place for Superman in 21st-century entertainment?
I donít mean a world of rampant technology and global terrorism; I mean a dark movie place in which the heroes of today all come equipped with severe doubts, anxiety and identity crises.
As the most venerable of his storied ilk, Superman has always stood out as the straightest arrow in the superhero quiver ó an invulnerable alien dedicated to justice, honor and down-home goodness.
As concocted by director Zack Snyder, writer David S. Goyer and co-producer Christopher Nolan, the hunk in the red cape becomes a troubled immigrant from a dead planet who suffers angst over his abilities and, should he reveal himself, fears the backlash of humans.
Some of that makes sense in the Superman myth for the first time, but Snyder (300, Watchmen) delivers his arguments with computer- animated bombast and so much relentless destruction that he seems gripped by a chronic case of Transformers envy.
The early scenes work hard to revise the familiar origin story, with wise father Jor-El (Russell Crowe) sending infant son Kal-El off in a ship before home planet Krypton blows apart. Freed in that apocalypse are nasty Gen. Zod (Michael Shannon) and his minions, who were imprisoned in the Phantom Zone for trying to overthrow the government.
Much plotting is required to bring Zodís forces into pitched battle with the adult Kal-El (Henry Cavill), finally donning a subdued version of the famous costume. Mixed in is dogged reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams), whose early rescue by a muscular stranger sets her off to discover his incredible back story.
The action comes early and often, with Jor-El himself racking up a sizable body count.
Everything potentially combustible seems to burst into fireballs ó or a tornado swoops in on the Kent family to wreak havoc. After much of Smallville is turned into rubble, the chaos switches to downtown Metropolis, where not one but two high-rise glass buildings tip over on the populace.
The mayhem becomes grotesque after a while, so that one more shot of bodies flying through concrete walls and tractor-trailers jackknifing through the air triggers mere shrugs instead of astonishment.
Absent from all the blood-free devastation is the sense of charming fun that made Superman (1978) a delight that still holds up. (I counted five audience laughs in Man of Steel ó one probably unintentional.)
When the landscape stops exploding from time to time, the actors deliver some heartfelt moments ó particularly Kevin Costner and Diane Lane as the Kents.
Cavill mixes strong emotions with his rock-jawed looks and gives no trace of his British roots.
Yet, after so much brain-numbing havoc, Man of Steel finally concludes less as a triumph and more as a relief.