6/20/2013 - Henry Cavill suits up in Man of Steel, a big, loud, overly serious reboot of the Superman movie franchise from Zack Snyder.
You will remember Zack Snyder from total cheeseball fun movies like 300 and complete CGI messes like Sucker Punch. He will never answer the question “Hey, whatcha doing?” with the phrase “Quietly thinking about nuance.”
Foremost scientist and all around awesome dude Jor-El (Russell Crowe) tries to warn the leaders of Krypton that their planet is about to explode but they just won’t listen. So he puts his baby son Kal-El plus the secret rock that carries all the planet’s secrets plus some other stuff in a spaceship that looks vaguely like a penis and sends it off to a planet whose young yellow sun will give baby Kal super strength and abilities. But first, General Zod (Michael Shannon), a rogue military leader, has to get in his face about it. Later, the Krypton Council sentences Zod to centuries of stasis in the Phantom Zone, apparently not understanding that if the planet blows up, all that will be left of Krypton is Phantom Zone. So while Baby Kal’s sad mother Lara (Ayelet Zurer) has to stand around waiting for the planet to explode, thinking sad thoughts about the soon-to-be-orphaned Kal, Zod gets to get zapped into a light-covered thingy that can bring him back later in the movie.
Think this stuff through better, Krypton council.
Later, a scruffy guy working on a ship — we’ll eventually call him Clark (Cavill), so let’s start with that now — is trying to keep his head down and stay out of trouble. But when danger arises, Clark can’t help but break out his six-pack and exceptionally buff arms to help guys, for example, escape a fire on an oil rig in the middle of the ocean. He saves lives and then splits town, changing his name and finding another job that doesn’t require a long résumé. While working as a bartender he hears two military types talking about some mysterious ship under the ice and then heads up north to get a job working to unearth what he hopes will be something that gives him more clues about his existence. See, back in Kansas, Clark’s dad (Kevin Costner) told the teenage Clark (Dylan Sprayberry) that he wasn’t from around here and then showed him the small spaceship that Jonathan and Martha (Diane Lane) Kent found baby Clark in.
While working on the ice excavation project, Clark sneaks into the craft — followed by a feisty reporter who showed up that very day, Lois Lane (Amy Adams). Allowed to visit a secret military site for totally nonsensical reasons, Lois follows Clark into the ship and is wounded, leaving him to heal her with his heat vision and also his piercing blue eyes. He and the ship fly away, leaving Lois with clues but no evidence about what she saw.
Sometime after all the “who is that hunky alien,” General Zod and his ship of fellow outcasts show up and make the existence of extraterrestrial life and, specifically, the suit- and cape-wearing Kal-El known to the world.
All that plot and we didn’t even get to Perry White (Laurence Fishburne).
There’s a whole lot of everything in Man of Steel — you name a major Superman thing and it appears here somewhere, including the miniscule Lana Lang appearance and the LexCorp oil tanks spotted in the climactic battle. And, with so much plot and character and emotional baggage to choose from, you’re bound to find some of it you like. This movie highlights the alienness of Superman. He’s not just a costumed do-gooder like Spider-man or Batman, he’s proof of life on other planets. His existence could upend the way people think about themselves, cause chaos. And, as such, while Clark wants to be part of the world, he’s also afraid to let people see who he really is. That’s all a nice way to come at this character.
Generally speaking, I like many of the other characters too. The Kents are really just conduits for exposition, but perhaps because it’s Costner and Lane, they are able to bring more to their parts than the platitudes that make up most of their dialogue. Amy Adams was an OK Lois Lane — it’s been a while since I’ve seen a Lois Lane character who wasn’t insufferable and also a little idiotic (glasses? really? glasses and you don’t recognize the guy with the ham-sized biceps?). Adams’ Lane was a step in the right direction.
This is no Batman Begins, though. For every detail that makes you think this might be a promising way to reintroduce us to the world’s most goody-goody of superheroes, there are at least two elements of crazy that come along. For example: A Superman questioning his place in the world is interesting. A Superman who is questioning his place in the world as well as his need to sacrifice himself to save humanity while sitting in a church, talking to a priest, with a stained glass Jesus behind him is laugh-out-loud funny, and I don’t think my derisive laughter was where Snyder was going. Why just have a cupcake when you can have a cupcake topped with ribs, a Snickers bar and a martini, wobblily balancing, Dr. Seuss-style, while the world’s most enormous score spreads its demand that you Feel This Now. Superman might be all about truth, justice and the American way, but Snyder is all about hackery, bigness and the Michael Bay way.
What saves this from being one of the Hulk movies (or from being the too cartoony Superman Returns) is Cavill. He is a solid Superman — he has the look, both in terms of general handsomeness (with accentuated blue eyes and whatever they did to his physique, he is indeed super, man) and in affecting the correct Superman expressions of “come, now, fellows” indulgent disapproval at, say, the military officials who send drones out in search of his hideout. I believe that he is both hopelessly good and genuinely likeable, someone Lois Lane might want to hang around with. (Christopher Reeve was a perfect-looking Superman and a believable Boy Scout, but his Clark didn’t seem like a barrel of monkeys to hang out with.)
If this movie spawns sequels (and its opening weekend take suggests it likely will), Snyder or whoever would be well served to trust in Cavill and cut the craziness by half. B-
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of science fiction violence, action and destruction, and for some language. Directed by Zack Snyder with a screenplay by David S. Goyer and a story by Goyer and Christopher Nolan, Man of Steel is two hours and 23 minutes long and is distributed by Warner Bros.