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With: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Diane Lane, Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner, Antje Traue, Harry Lennix, Richard Schiff, Christopher Meloni, Ayelet Zurer, Laurence Fishburne
Written by: David S. Goyer, based on a story by David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan
Directed by: Zack Snyder
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence, action and destruction, and for some language
Running Time: 143
Date: 06/14/2013

Man of Steel (2013)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

It's a Bird, It's a Strain

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

In the sixth big-budget full-color Superman movie, Man of Steel, Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) is charged with deciding his course in life, and so he grows a beard and goes away to brood. It may appear, then, that Man of Steel is full of Deep Thoughts, just as the two most recent Batman movies -- The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises -- were. Not really, but what it does have are several good ideas that never really pay off.

Written by David S. Goyer from a story by Christopher Nolan, Man of Steel reboots the hero's origin story, with a new wrinkle borrowed from Gattaca. Whereas most babies on Krypton were genetically designed, the young Kal-El was natural born, with his own free will. But, just as Clark discovers his true origin and dons his costume and cape for the first time, Kryptonian bad guy General Zod (Michael Shannon) arrives, hoping to turn Earth into a new Krypton.

The movie's best, early idea is that schoolboy Clark has a hard time controlling his super-hearing and X-ray vision, and that his senses are constantly overwhelmed. This could have been a powerful dramatic element, but director Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen) smoothes it over in the space of one scene. Likewise, the issue of how Superman can stop an equally super-powered villain is ignored. No ingenuity or wit is involved, just brute force. And even the moral conundrum this brings up is simply avoided.

So what does Snyder spend his two hours and 23 minutes on? Mostly Superman and the villains smashing each other through buildings -- a lot of them -- over and over again.

Moreover, in the original, 1978 Superman movie, Superman could simply drift up into the sky. In this movie, he creates a sonic boom every time he takes off. Indeed, Snyder spends so much time on fighting, action and noise that the great cast -- Amy Adams, Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner, and Diane Lane -- can't seem to find moments to let their characters breathe. Cavill is another story. He's unbelievably handsome, with big blue eyes, a pert nose, and godlike muscles -- Snyder shows him shirtless for several minutes -- but he's completely uninteresting, and can't convey any kind of inner growth.

To be sure, the 80 year-old image of Superman still carries enormous power, and the movie still provides many moments of sheer awe and exhilaration. For a truly successful movie, though, these moments needed more. The Superman mythology is about more than just punching things.

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