Man of Steel

“Man of Steel,” the revisionist reboot of the legendary comic strip “Superman,” is clearly set to impress with its large scale and muscular size. Every element in it is big, thunderous, and rousing, from the action set-pieces to the production design to Hans Zimmer’s score to the CGI effects.

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The new architects behind this origin story, director Zack Snyder, scripter David S. Goyer, and producer Christopher Nolan, have done everything and anything possible to dissociate themselves from the previous effort, “Superman Returns,” Bryan Singer’s 2006 version, which was both an artistic and commercial disappointment.

It’s doubtful that there was urgent need to revisit the turf of “Superman” with yet another birth story so soon after the former one–only seven years. But, considering their goals, the filmmakers have almost succeeded in making an entertaining spectacle, whose best feature is its charismatic lead man, British-born Henry Cavill, bound to become a major Hollywood player.

Warner, which will release the picture June 14, has done a remarkable job of marketing, beginning the film’s campaign long before the its bow with various trailers, promotion of its star in talk shows and magazines, behind the scenes stories, and so forth.

The filmmakers, especially director Snyder, are aware that pop culture has been saturated with “Superman” films and products over the past seven decades, and so they go out of their way to justify their rendition with what they claim a more “realistic” version.
Unlike previous films, in which Superman was a god-like figure, scribe Goyer tries to ground him by making the character more relatable to audiences, a man who faces issues of divided loyalties, family angst, father issues, love, and honor.

End result is a gloomy and humorless Superman movie, one in which it takes a whole hour for Clark to wear the trademark “S” suit. Somber to a fault, Snyder chooses not to resurrect familiar theme tune, and he does not even allow the word Superman to be spoken, instead it’s either Kal-El or Clark.

For those who need a reminder: Created by writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster, Superman first appeared in the comic book Action Comics #1, published on April 18, 1938. It quickly became a cultural phenom winning fans in every mass medium of entertainment: live-action feature films, animations, TV shows, radio, video games, social media, even literature.

In Krypton, the scientist Jor-El (Russell Crowe) plans to save his newborn son Kal-El away from the dying planet, as a military coup is being staged by General Zod (Michael Shannon). Kal-El’s scheme succeeds and Zod and his team are captured, frozen and banished.

Cut to three decades later, with Clark (Henry Cavill) working on a fishing trawler, suspecting but not yet fully aware of his other identity and the powers that come along with it.

Even so, when a nearby oil rig is hit by a blaze, he rescues the crew and then quickly vanishes from the scene. Over the next several years, Clark/Kal moves from one place to another and from one job to the next.

Like previous versions, the narrative relies on flashbacks, which reveal crucial episodes of Clark’s childhood as the adopted son of Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner) and his wife Martha (Diane Lane), quiet Illinois farmers, who make sure to give their son a solid education. The tale brings out timely issues by depicting Clark as an outcast-outsider bullied by his schoolmates and growing with a chip on his shoulders.

Some semi-thrilling sequences are interspersed here, such as an accident in which a school bus plunges Clark and his mates into a ravine, or a threatening twister which strands the Kent family on the highway.

Clark follows news reports to a NORAD outpost in the Arctic and, and via a little Kryptonian communicates with the holographic consciousness of his birth father.

In this version, Lois Lane (the lovely Amy Adams) is a Pulitzer Prize-winning hard-news reporter who uses her skills to unveil Superman’s secret identity.

The makers of this comic-book would like to believe that they offer more realistic and psychologically rooted tale, especially in the father-son angst. But does the public want such a movie? And how “real” can a story be, if it’s based on the mythology of a genetically-modified baby launched to Earth from a planet called Krypton?

Walking a fine line, this “Man of Steel” feels both post-modern and traditional, technically inventive but narratively conventional, too verbose in some sections, while too muscular and actionful in others. The final reel, for example, is dominated by big explosions and fights. This lack of balance may be a result of the clashing sensibilities of producer and co-writer Nolan, who’s a more subtle filmmaker, and the baroque helmer Snyder, who had previously directed the grotesque “300” and “Sucker Punch” and believes that more is more.

The best thing about this “Man of Steel” is Henry Cavill, who looks creditable in an out of the legendary uniform, and delivers a solid and sturdy performance that holds the episodic picture together. With some luck (and good agents and managers), Cavill should become a star; he certainly possesses the necessary stature and charisma.

Reflecting the times, Amy Adams’s character is different from the one Margot Kidder had played in Richard Donner’s version: She is a tougher and smarter investigator, not easily impressed by heroes or fooled by gear and glasses.

Credits

MPAA Rating: PG-13.
Running time: 143 Minutes.

Warner release of Legendary Pictures presentation of Syncopy production.
Produced by Charles Roven, Christopher Nolan, Emma Thomas, Deborah Snyder.
Executive producers, Thomas Tull, Lloyd Phillips, Jon Peters. Co-producer, Wesley Coller.
Directed by Zack Snyder.
Screenplay, David S. Goyer; story, Goyer, Christopher Nolan, based upon “Superman” created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.
Camera, Amir Mokri.
Editor, David Brenner.
Music, Hans Zimmer.
Production designer, Alex McDowell; supervising art director, Kim Sinclair; art director, Chris Farmer; set decorator, Anne Kuljian; set designers, Aric Cheng, Scott Herbertson, Tammy S. Lee, Thomas Machan, Richard F. Mays, David Moreau, Patrick M. Sullivan Jr.
Costume designers, James Acheson, Michael Wilkinson.
Sound, Michael McGee; sound design/supervision, Scott Hecker, Eric A. Norris
Visual effects supervisor, John “DJ” Desjardin; visual effects producer, Josh R. Jaggars.