MOVIES

Not So Super

Themes of morality, compassion and love suffer 
in the wake of relentless slam-bang action

The release of “Man of Steel, starring Henry Cavill, marks the 75th anniversary of Superman’s debut in "Action Comics #1" in 1938.
Warner Bros. Pictures
Characters like Lois Lane (Amy Adams, left) and Faora-Ul (Antje Traue) aren't developed and end up being surplus in "Man of Steel," directed by Zack Snyder.
Warner Bros. Pictures
General Zod (Michael Shannon) is hunting for Superman in “Man of Steel."
Warner Bros. Pictures
Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner) and a young Clark Kent (Dylan Sprayberry) discuss important topics in “Man of Steel.”
Warner Bros. Pictures
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Starring: Henry Cavill, Russell Crowe, Michael Shannon, Amy Adams, Laurence Fishburne, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, Antje Traue

Directed by: Zack Snyder

Stars: 2 out of 4

Rating: PG-13

It was cause for excitement when it was announced Christopher Nolan ("The Dark Knight" trilogy) would be involved in the development of the Superman reboot "Man of Steel." Conversely, it was cause for dread when Zack Snyder came on as the director, specifically because Snyder, though masterful with action sequences ("300," "Watchmen"), often struggles to tell a cohesive story. Unfortunately, Snyder still hasn't figured it out.

Though Nolan retained a producer credit and his "Dark Knight" scribe David S. Goyer wrote "Man of Steel," Snyder's film is a loud, relentless assault on the eyes and ears. Aspiring to only slam-bang action when themes of morality, compassion and love are in play but not developed is an injustice to both the story's comic book origins and the moviegoer who deserves more.

Although the costumes, production design and visual effects are strong, the picture has far too much surplus for its own good. What could have been essential character development with a young Clark Kent (Cooper Tymberline (age 9) and Dylan Sprayberry (age 13) and his parents (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane) plays like an ill-fitted, forced excuse for action set in Kansas. "Daily Planet" editor Perry White (Laurence Fishburne) serves no function, and Lois Lane (Amy Adams) is nothing more than an unnecessary accessory. They're here because they're supposed to be here, not because they need to be here, and there's a huge difference between the two.

Worse, these extra characters bloat the movie to 143 minutes. The core story is Clark/Superman (Henry Cavill), after being sent to Earth by his father (Russell Crowe) prior to the destruction of their home planet of Krypton, discovers that surviving Kryptonian Gen. Zod (Michael Shannon) is planning to wipe out mankind and restart Krypton. Clark, having lived with humans for 33 years and believing in their capacity for good, must stop Zod.

To his credit, Snyder apparently used every cent of the $225 million budget, as the action scenes are fast and effective. Highlights include saving Lois from a fall (of course), a knock-down, drag-out fight with Zod and Faora-Ul (Antje Traue) in a small town, and the conclusion, which almost completely destroys Metropolis.

If you're hoping this will pay respectful homage to prior "Superman" movies, think again. This is a total reboot, and although you'll see signs for "Smallville" and note that a truck has a "LexCorp" logo, don't expect much else taken directly from the Christopher Reeve movies or Bryan Singer's 2006 misfire, "Superman Returns." Also, John Williams' memorable score has been replaced by Hans Zimmer's overbearing orchestrations, and for those who care, I'm told the story strays pretty far from its comic book origins. And no, there's no "kneel before Zod" either. "Man of Steel" didn't have to include these elements, but its overall ineffectiveness leads us to think of what it could have done to be better.

One more thing: Don't stay for the end credits. Though it's long been speculated that "Man of Steel" is Warner Bros. and DC Comics' first step toward a "Justice League" movie (which would include Batman, Green Lantern and Wonder Woman), a la Marvel's "The Avengers," there is no indication of it here. 

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