Reviewed by Kevin Finnerty
“He’ll be an outcast, they’ll kill him,” says Lara (Ayelet Zurer). “How? He’ll be a God to them,” replies Jor-El (Russell Crowe), chief scientist of the doomed planet Krypton as he sends his only son (Kal-El) into space and on a voyage to Earth in the re-telling of the origin story of Superman in the action film Man of Steel.
As an infant, Kal-El is taken in by the Kent family and raised as their son. His earth father, Jonathan (Kevin Costner), is convinced the world is not ready to know the truth about his adopted son and keeps teaching Clark as a young boy to hide all his special powers and try to stay under everyone’s radar. One day, however, when the school bus carrying Clark and his classmates crashes into the river and it looks as if everyone is going to drown, Clark goes out the back door and uses his mighty strength to push the bus and all aboard to safety. Later that same day Jonathan talks to Clark and reveals to him the truth about how he came to live with him and his earth mom, Martha (Diane Lane). He tells Clark no matter how long it takes, he owes it to himself to find the truth about where he came from and why he’s here on earth.
When Clark becomes a young man he leaves the family farm and working all kinds of odd jobs, travels north, somehow knowing the answers he’s searching for will be there in the ice and snow. There, he’s met by a hologram of his long-deceased father Jor-El and finally gets the answers he’s been yearning for. He also receives a new red and blue outfit. Knowing his purpose on earth is to provide hope and protect those in danger, Clark dons his new outfit emblazoned with an S for hope and looks up to the sun – a main source of energy and reason for his extraordinary powers – and for the first time soars up into the sky and becomes Superman.
His timing couldn’t be better because General Zod (Michael Shannon), the former head of Krypton’s defenses who became a traitor and was banished into outer space to be held in a prison called the Phantom Zone, has made his way to earth. He’s looking to take it over and rebuild his lost beloved planet with himself in complete command.
Overlong and heavy-handed, Man of Steel is an action, superhero, fantasy film which has a few decent performances and two memorable super-feat scenes but is nowhere near an improvement over the 1978 Richard Donner film Superman – The Movie starring Gene Hackman and Christopher Reeve. Henry Cavill delivers a solid performance as Clark Kent, a young man doing his best to help people when he can but still hide his powers from the world until he has the opportunity to discover what his true path is. The scene where he stops a creepy truck driver from hitting on and pawing at a cute waitress but then has to let the jerk hit him with drinks and cans so not to let everyone in the diner see his powers is effective. Not to mention the next scene where the truck driver discovers that his truck…well…you’ll see. As Superman, Cavill is effective but doesn’t seem to really own the role the way Christopher Reeve did in the 1978 Superman movie. Russell Crowe and Kevin Costner horribly overact as Jor-El and Jonathan Kent. Honestly this might be Costner’s worst performance since Robin Hood.
Amy Adams is terribly miscast as the leggy, tough, and determined Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane. She never captures the tenacity of the character and in half of her scenes with Cavill as Superman she looks at him like a star-struck high school girl. Michael Shannon is wasted in the role of General Zod, a one-note villain who doesn’t do much more than scream at Jor-El and Superman when he’s not actually fighting them.
The action scenes and CGI special effects in the film are not impressive, especially during scenes in which Superman and General Zod are going back and forth fighting and tackling each other at great speed. It’s a blur and whoosh of blue, red and black light. The 1940’s Max Fleischer Superman cartoons had better looking super-feats than this film.
Diehard fans of Superman are sure to be more than upset with all the changes in the film involving some of the characters, backstory and sub-plots. Big fans of the Donner film (like this critic) are sure to leave the theater respecting and appreciating Christopher Reeve’s Superman and just how great a movie that was even more. But for anyone who’s looking for just under a two and a half hour escape from the real world, and are interested in a new take on Superman’s beginnings, Man of Steel might be the summer movie to see – but only at bargain price.
Man of Steel opens in theaters on June 14, 2013 and is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence, action and destruction, and for some language.
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