“Man of Steel,” written by David S. Goyer, Christopher Nolan (story), Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster (Superman character), directed by Zack Snyder, 143 minutes, rated PG-13.
Unlike Batman or any number of Marvel Comic properties, I’m just not sure there’s room for a modern Superman franchise. From a financial standpoint, it may seem logical to bring back this cultural icon because of Hollywood’s new found love affair with capes, spandex and profits, but with “Smallville” and “Superman Returns” still fresh on audiences’ minds, perhaps a break would do the Man of Steel some good.
Of course, that’s not going to happen when there’s money to be made.
“Man of Steel,” directed by Zack Snyder (“300,” “Watchmen”), is the latest effort to revitalize Supes on film, with Henry Cavill (“Immortals”) donning the red and blue in an edgier attempt to match what Christopher Nolan created with his Batman franchise.
This time, the origin story begins on Krypton, where Kal El/Clark Kent’s biological father, Jor El (Russell Crowe), is pleading with Krypton’s ruling council for one last-ditch effort to save the fate of his people, as the planet faces certain destruction. Cue General Zod (Michael Shannon), who takes a different approach with the council and forcefully tries to overthrow the government for the betterment of his people, only to be captured and imprisoned just before the end of Krypton.
Kal El, as we all know, is shipped off to Earth, where, as Clark Kent, he grows up to find himself a drifter, a stranger and an outcast on his new home. He wanders from odd job to odd job, searching for his true identity while reluctantly using his powers to save lives, uncertain what the repercussions might be if his existence becomes known. His life as a nomad comes to an end when General Zod and a small group of surviving Kryoptonian rebels find Kal El, and threaten to demolish our world and end the human race unless he turns himself in to them, leaving Superman no choice but to out himself to all mankind and defend his adopted planet.
The final act isn’t much of an act at all, but a never-ending and somewhat boring series of action scenes that, at times, makes you feel as though you’re in some sort of weird cinematic vortex. Really, this final third gets to the heart of what’s wrong with “Man of Steel” in that it confuses the word “epic” with bloated, humorless, and emotionless, as it tries to go big with battle sequences that are nothing more than mass amounts of CGI destruction and bloodless deaths.
That’s not to say that “Man of Steel” is a total loss, as it creates some key elements that could become building blocks for future films. For example, Henry Cavill is well cast as Clark Kent/Superman, though the screenwriters could have thrown a little more dialogue his way. This interpretation of Superman as a wanderer on Earth in the first two-thirds is probably the film’s strongest element, trading in the story that we all know so well for something a little different. Something with some depth. For the most part, it works.
Sure, there may be disastrous moments here, but “Man of Steel” isn’t an utter disaster. It’s a starting point for rebuilding, and though it’s not very successful, there are some pieces here that do work. Though it’s a far cry from “Batman Begins,” we can only hope that the inevitable sequel is stronger.
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