Henry Cavill is the latest Superman in "Man of Steel."
Man of Steel
Superman first appeared in the pages of Action Comics in 1938, so it's fitting that action is the driving force behind the character's big-screen adventure 75 years later. "Man of Steel" should give DC Comics a much-needed boost as it desperately tries to keep pace with rival Marvel at the box office. Superman's latest revamp, courtesy of "300" director Zack Snyder, helps wash away memories of DC's cosmic misstep "Green Lantern" in 2011.
Though Superman's faster than a speeding bullet, "Man of Steel" lags behind Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, Joss Whedon's "The Avengers" (2012) and several others (Jon Favreau's "Iron Man" and Tim Burton's "Batman" come to mind) in the growing library of superhero cinema.
Even those who have never touched a comic book likely know Superman's origin by now. Kal-El, the last son of the dying planet Krypton, is shipped off to Earth where his spaceship crashes near the Kansas farm of Jonathan and Martha Kent (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane, smartly cast). The Kents name the boy Clark and raise him as their own, concerned about his powerful abilities but encouraged by his altruistic behavior. When Clark reaches adulthood, he dons the cape and costume of Superman, always striving to protect the citizens of his adopted home-world.
Ironically, British actor Henry Cavill ("Immortals," Showtime's "The Tudors") takes the reigns as the iconic American superhero. "Man of Steel" steers away from over-trod territory, focusing more on Superman's Kryptonian roots. A nomadic Clark Kent (Cavill) learns about his alien ancestry and discovers an avatar of his father (Russell Crowe as Jor-El) while working on a military project (don't ask). Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams) is along for the ride, but exiled Kryptonian soldier General Zod (Michael Shannon) and his violent cohorts are planning a full-blown attack on Earth, which might throw a wrench into Clark's whole genealogy thing.
Snyder and his filmmaking team present Superman's origin in periodic flashbacks, which break the flow but protect the audience from unnecessary backstory. Fans of "Superman" (1978) and "Superman II" (1980) will spot some plot similarities in "Man of Steel," though visual effects have improved by leaps and bounds since Christopher Reeve sported the red-and-blue unitard. In fact, the effects are stunning and finally offer filmgoers a chance to see Superman's powers in all their glory (don't bother shelling out for the lackluster 3D).
The design team deserves a wealth of credit for the excellent costuming and set pieces, which showcase Krypton beautifully. But the conflagration of action and visual effects, especially in the film's final act, lead to a sensory overload (Advil, anyone?). The wanton destruction that takes place during the picture's big-budget action scenes is dizzying even the Incredible Hulk would say "enough's enough" and the filmmakers may have been better served prioritizing story over visuals rather than vice versa.
Cavill holds his own in an uber-high-profile role, backed capably by veteran actors Costner, Crowe, Lane and Laurence Fishburne (as Daily Planet editor Perry White). Adams portrays Lois Lane with just the right balance of gumption and grit. Unfortunately, the chemistry with Cavill is less engaging.
Crowe is terrific as Jor-El, playing the part of a warrior-scientist hybrid; and while Shannon gives Zod an intimidating tenacity, his performance doesn't compare to the psychotic calm Terrence Stamp brought to the part in "Superman II."
DC still has much to learn from Marvel in the filmmaking realm (a post-credits scene or cameo by Christian Bale would have been nice additions), but "Man of Steel" at least offers hope. Hope, and a slight headache.
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence, action and destruction, and for some language. Two hours, 23 minutes.
- Tyler Hanley