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"MAN OF STEEL"
(2013) (Henry Cavill, Amy Adams) (PG-13)

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QUICK TAKE:
Action: Having been sent to Earth as an infant and growing up with superhuman powers, a young man must contend with the arrival of others from his now extinct planet who want to repopulate their kind here at the expense of its current inhabitants.
PLOT:
On the distant planet of Krypton, scientist Jor-El (RUSSELL CROWE) and his wife have welcomed the arrival of their infant son, Kal-El, the first naturally born baby there in centuries. While he celebrates that, Jor-El worries about the physical stability of his planet, a sentiment shared with their military leader, General Zod (MICHAEL SHANNON), and his many minions, including Faora-Ul (ANTJE TRAUE).

As the latter attempt a coup, Jor-El and his wife send their infant on an interstellar journey toward Earth, a more primitive planet but one where Kal-El's denser molecular structure will make him near impervious to any harm. General Zod and his followers are ultimately captured and sent off into a frozen purgatory in space, but not before Jor-El is killed and Krypton explodes.

In the intervening years, Kal-El is raised on Earth by Smallville, Kansas farmers Martha (DIANE LANE) and Jonathan Kent (KEVIN COSTNER). The latter tries to impart his wisdom onto the boy, especially that he shouldn't ever reveal his superhuman powers to anyone. Years later, Clark Kent (HENRY CAVILL) is a strapping fellow who works odd jobs, all while trying to discover the truth behind his origins.

It's during that when he ends up saving newspaper reporter Lois Lane (AMY ADAMS) who works for the Daily Planet in the city of Metropolis. Her editor, Perry White (LAURENCE FISHBURNE), isn't foolish enough to publish her story about this mysterious stranger with super powers, so she sets out on her own to figure out who he is.

At the same time, and having been freed of their imprisonment by the destruction of Krypton, General Zod and his followers have traveled to Earth where they plan on repopulating their civilization on the planet, regardless of the effects of that on the indigenous people. But they must contend with Clark, now christened Superman, who's determined to stop them.

OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10
As a film critic, the one general rule of thumb everyone is supposed to follow -- at least in a perfect reviewing universe -- is to be impartial, give all films and those in front of and behind the screen the benefit of the doubt, and not let any personal matters influence one's view of any movie. That rarely happens. After all, a noisy and disruptive crowd can ruin any film experience and lessen one's enjoyment of the offering. And I have a particular distaste for so-called torture porn films, so trying to go into the latest one with an open mind is next to impossible.

For yours truly, I sometimes have issues with sequels (as they're usually about making money based on the fame of the earlier film rather than making art) and even more so with remakes or as the kids and studio heads call them, reboots. After all, why not make something new, fresh and original rather than capitalize on a past success or familiarity?

The answer, of course, goes back to the saying that Cuba Gooding, Jr. made famous, "Show me the money!" Hollywood's a business, and it follows cash like a bloodhound after an escaped convict. That explains the preponderance of sequels and remakes of old movies and TV shows. Yet, if a certain reboot doesn't meet or exceed expectations, what's a studio to do? Why, go back to the drawing board and do it all over again. All of which leads us to "Man of Steel."

Back in 2006, Warner Bros. attempted to resurrect the "Superman" franchise that had laid dormant since 1987's bomb, "Superman IV: The Quest for Peace," the last film in the Christopher Reeve starring series that started off with a bang in the original 1978 film. Despite a worldwide gross of nearly $400 million (half of that from the domestic box office) and a 76% critic approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, "Superman Returns" -- with Bryan Singer in the director's chair and Brandon Routh in the title role -- was deemed a disappointment.

As the old saying goes, if at first you don't succeed, try, try again. Taking heed of that cinematic advice, the studio tapped Zack Snyder whose box office returns for Warner have been dropping steadily since the success of "300" down through "Watchmen," "Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole" and "Sucker Punch." Methinks that trend will reverse significantly with his latest release, although I still have a problem with anyone trying to redo the first Richard Donner/Christopher Reeve movie.

Yes, 35 years have passed since then and movie special effects have come a long way from the obviously fake looking fly over Metropolis scenes in "Superman." Yet that film effortlessly captured the essence, magic, fun and excitement of the source comic book and created a compelling and entertaining tale of Superman's origins that then segued into the second half plot of dealing with Lex Luthor and his nefarious plan.

While punches have always been thrown in comic books, the trend in such movies of the past two decades has been to make the action increasingly violent. "Man of Steel" takes that to new levels (high or low depending on your view of such matters) as it's arguably the most violent, PG-13 rated superhero movie ever made. Not only are necks snapped and faces pummeled, but Metropolis itself takes a beating that would make the skyscraper damaging Transformers blush with embarrassment and will likely make some viewers uncomfortable with visual reminders of the 9/11 attack on New York City.

I'm assuming that's intentional, just like the Christ symbolism that runs through the flick, ranging from a priest telling Clark Kent that sometimes you have to take a leap of faith first and the trust comes after that to Superman nearly sacrificing himself for mankind to the visual of him floating, arms spread like Jesus on the cross. Action fans needn't worry, however, as such moments are few and far between. After all, Snyder apparently had a quota of buildings to damage or destroy during the various hard-hitting fight sequences.

As in the '78 film, this one starts on Krypton as Jor-El (Russell Crowe taking over for Marlon Brando but lacking the gravitas) shoots his infant son off toward Earth, knowing full well Krypton is about to end. That sequence also features Michael Shannon as General Zod (Terence Stamp played that part in the original), who later returns to the plot with his minions (that happened in "Superman 2" the first time around).

Yet, rather than continue telling the tale chronologically, Snyder and scribe David S. Goyer (who gets some story help from Christopher "I am Batman, um, the Dark Knight" Nolan) decided to jump around through time. As a result, we see flashbacks to young Clark trying to deal with his unusual abilities, all while his mom (Diane Lane) looks on and his dad (Kevin Costner, good, but also no match for Glenn Ford in the original) tries to impart the "with great power comes great responsibility" wisdom to the boy.

Those flashbacks occur as Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane (a winning Amy Adams taking over the Margot Kidder role) tries to figure out who this new mystery guy is after he previously saved her life (he's yet to have started working at the paper, a slight twist on the usual way the origin tale plays out).

Alas, there's no Gene Hackman perfectly playing Lex Luthor while yelling out "Miss Teschmacher!" and dealing with his bumbling assistant (a pitch perfect Ned Beatty). Instead, we get more of General Zod wanting to get his revenge on the late Jor-El (who appears in Obi-Wan Kenobi style via a computer hologram stemming from his stored consciousness) by beating up on Superman. The latter is played by British actor Henry Cavill, best known until now for playing Charles Brandon in the TV series "The Tudors." The 30-year-old actor certainly looks the part (and gives his director yet another opportunity to showcase his apparent fetish with male six-pack abs) and is decent in the role. Yet, he doesn't quite capture the comic book essence as did Reeve before him.

And part of that's due to Snyder and company believing in the "bigger is better" mantra of superhero moviemaking. All of which means that Cavil must put emoting in the backseat while the special effects drive the third act, with lots of fighting, smashing through buildings and such.

I'll admit that some of the action is effective (at least earlier on), but it's so effects dependent (Snyder loves to zoom in on his effects as if to make the viewer feel they're watching witness or news footage) and fast and furious that it loses much of its effectiveness. Throw in the apparent lack of enough budget to buy a Steadicam, crane or tripod (a great deal of the footage is unnecessarily bouncy and shaky) and the result is an action-filled conclusion that assaults the senses rather than engages the soul and/or mind.

When viewed on its own, it's an okay superhero flick and fits in with many of its recent rock 'em, sock 'em contemporaries. Yet, it pales considerably when compared to the 1978 film that may have featured more primitive effects, but certainly had a far greater cast, a much better and more interesting story, and still stands as the best, true to its origins comic book adaptation ever made. This "Man of Steel" rates as a 5.5 out of 10.




Reviewed June 10, 2013 / Posted June 14, 2013


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