‘Man of Steel’ beset by Kryptonite
“Ah, so THAT’S where Superman comes from!”
— Something nobody will say after watching “Man of Steel.”
Can we just PLEASE hit the ground running with the next superhero reboot instead of going back to the origins story and a familiar villain?
The problems with Zack Snyder’s “Man of Steel” begin even before we see the first images, as we hear the sounds of Lara Lor-Van giving birth to the boy who will be known as Kal-El on Krypton and Clark Kent/Superman on Earth.
Here we go again, back to the beginning. Though this beginning is lengthier and richer in detail than most of the Krypton-set scenarios in previous “Superman” endeavors, that’s not necessarily a good thing.
A decade into the superhero movie renaissance, the most all-American, iconic figure of them all finally gets his moment in “Man of Steel.”
Based on the talented Snyder’s track record (“300,” “The Watchmen”) and the trailers, “Man of Steel” held the promise of being the richest, darkest, most grown-up version of the Superman story ever put on film. And there are moments, even complete scenes, when we see glimpses of what might have been a great Superman movie.
But then we’re plunged back into a mostly underwhelming film, with underdeveloped characters and supercharged fight scenes that drag on and offer nothing new in the way of special-effects creativity.
It all begins on Krypton, where, shortly after Kal-El’s birth, a ponderous Jor-El (Russell Crowe) dukes it out with the insane General Zod (Michael Shannon) while the entire planet of Krypton begins to crumble and explode because its people had recklessly tapped into and sapped the planet’s very energy core.
Kal-El, we’re told, is the first natural-born child on Krypton in generations. In the last days of the planet, a whole lot of Shakespearean tragedy unfolds before baby Kal-El is rocketed away. Also on board: the Codex, a skull that radiates boundless energy and life. Something like that.
Cut to the Big Blue Marble. Henry Cavill looks the part as the adult Clark/Superman, but he’s a bit of a stiff on screen, and it doesn’t help that his main move while wearing the cape is to roar like a lion and ball up his fists.
Actually the flashbacks to Clark’s childhood are the most intriguing elements of the whole story. Imagine being a boy with the ability to see right through the human skin — so that your teacher and your classmates look like talking skulls. Imagine having super-hearing, which means every voice, every whisper and every blade of grass bending in the wind sounds like a symphony in your head — not to mention the ability to lift a school bus.
Clark wonders if he’s crazy, but he gets through it all thanks to his loving parents (played by Diane Lane and Kevin Costner in wonderful performances).
Amy Adams never gives a bad performance, and she’s fine here playing the ever-plucky Lois Lane, who uncovers the truth behind the urban legends about some mysterious drifter who performs acts of superhuman heroics. (For once, Lois isn’t an idiot chasing Superman all over the place while never realizing he’s the guy behind the glasses sitting next to her at the Daily Planet.)
Clark wants to continue living on the fringes as we’re constantly pounded with the message that humans might not be ready for someone of his greatness.
But Superman has to emerge and don the red cape when General Zod arrives on Earth, intent on taking over the planet.
Snyder seems obsessed with showing us that when two super-creatures throw each other around, they’re going to plow right through buildings and completely rip up the streets until they finally skid to a halt. OK, good point. But after the first couple of times, we get it, and then we want to see something different.
Amid the battles, there’s a lot of speechifying from just about everyone about the nature of man, with Jor-El offering Obi-Wan Kenobi-type advice from the fringes of consciousness. The Armed Forces do their usual futile thing of firing their useless weapons at Zod and his hench-folk, who just smirk as the bullets and missiles bounce off them. Meanwhile, Lois and Clark and a team of scientists concoct some sort of elaborate counter-defense involving the creation of a wormhole. I kid you not.
Of course the special effects are eons ahead of anything dreamed up in previous “Superman” movies and TV shows. But there’s very little humor or joy in this Superman story, and not enough character development for us really to care once the big-budget pyrotechnics are under way.
“Man of Steel” is the most ambitious and occasionally the most impressive take on the Superman myth we’ve ever seen, but it falls far short of the bar set by the “Dark Knight” trilogy or even the “Iron Man” troika.
Someday they’ll get it right. Maybe they can even do it without taking us to Krypton and showing us again how Superman became Superman.