‘Man of Steel’ soars to mediocrity

By Frank Ruggiero (frank@mountaintimes.com)

Article Published: Jul. 11, 2013 | Modified: Jul. 11, 2013
‘Man of Steel’ soars to mediocrity

Henry Cavill stars in 'Man of Steel.'

In super-terminology, “Man of Steel” is up, up and OK.

Well made from a technical standpoint, but devoid of the joy that makes Superman super, the film winds up soaring to mediocrity.

In “Man of Steel,” director Zack Snyder (“Watchmen”) essentially reboots the “Superman” series, attempting — to his credit — a fresh spin on a story that’s been told in nearly countless incarnations.
But that spin doesn’t involve narrative, character, emotion or any of those other pesky storytelling devices. Snyder plays his usual strong suits — mood and atmosphere, both of which are unsuitably dark and brooding for the material.

The special effects are top shelf, and the action sequences are explosive (to say the least), but “Man of Steel” lacks the joy, wonder and levity that make Superman something special. And with a bloated running time, its faults become ever more apparent.

In “Man of Steel,” Snyder focuses primarily on Superman’s backstory as an alien, while not-so-casually slipping in some blunt political statements and a heaping helping of Christ imagery.

Planet Krypton is facing its doom, due to the overconsumption of natural resources by its once noble people. Once a race of space-faring thinkers, the Kryptonians have damaged their planet beyond repair, and their identities with it. By controlling the population through genetic engineering, they have created a caste system, in which every newborn must grow to fulfill its predetermined destiny — be it a scientist, soldier, worker, etc. Basically, they’ve eliminated choice from the equation.

Realizing this series of awful decisions has brought about their people’s imminent doom, super-scientist Jor-El (Russell Crowe, “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World”) and wife Lara (Ayelet Zurer, “Angels & Demons”) have secretly — and naturally — had their own child through natural birth, Kal-El.

With him, they plan to stash Krypton’s genetic codes and spirit them away to a distant planet, where he might grow to make his own choices in life and someday start Krypton anew. The plan almost proceeds smoothly, until military commander General Zod (Michael Shannon, HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire”) stages a coup that only makes matters worse.

Long story short, Kal-El escapes, Krypton implodes, and Zod, having escaped the planetary destruction, swears revenge.

Fast-forward 30-something years, and Kal-El is now Clark Kent (Henry Cavill, “Immortals”), having been raised on Earth by goodhearted Kansas farmers Jonathan (Kevin Costner, “Dances with Wolves”) and Martha Kent (Diane Lane, “Secretariat”).

Struggling with his identity — and super powers, due to abundant radiation from Earth’s “young” sun — Clark travels the country, secretly performing heroic deeds when needed and not-so-secretly brooding when not.

After discovering an ancient Krpytonian spacecraft in the arctic, he learns his family and planetary history, while also triggering a homing beacon that alerts Zod to his whereabouts. Meanwhile, Clark encounters Daily Planet star reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams, “The Fighter”), who learns his true identity, and just in time for Zod to arrive and hold the planet hostage.

Zod vows to spare the Earth should Kal-El turn himself in. He eventually reveals his true and much more sinister plan to terraform Earth and use Kal-El’s secret genetic stash to recreate the Krypton of old — at Earth’s expense.

Needless to say, only Superman can save the day. During the ensuing battle, though, he and Zod obliterate a small-town main street, level entire city blocks, tear down skyscrapers, incinerate a train and practically let all hell break loose in a climax that seems like the destructive lovechild of Michael Bay and Roland Emmerich.

It’s decidedly un-Supermanly, in keeping with most of Snyder’s creative choices. For a film supposedly about choice, Clark’s decisions are all pretty clear cut. While he struggles with his identity at first, all uncertainties promptly vanish once he discovers his past. And contrary to the theme of choice, it’s as if he never had one from the get-go.

Emotionally, “Man of Steel” works best when exploring Clark’s awkward childhood on Earth, thanks mostly to a solid performance from Costner. But in all other aspects, “Man of Steel” seems as bland as the film’s muted color palette.

As such, it’s hardly a bright film, as Snyder opts for the dark, gritty and “realistic” take on the comicbook movie, which worked brilliantly in Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy, but comes across as trendy and convoluted in “Man of Steel.” Synder makes it clear that this Superman is no laughing matter, which, considering the sheer carnage and resulting death toll, is grimly understandable — despite a couple thematically out-of-place winks to the audience.

As Superman, Cavill undoubtedly looks the part, keeping Clark’s emotion teeming just below the surface, but his dialogue is kept to the barest of minimums — right along with his character development. The film’s most compelling character, not surprisingly, is General Zod, who Shannon plays with unhinged zeal.

But at nearly two and a half hours, it all becomes somewhat exhausting, leaving audiences waiting for the setup to the inevitable super-sequel.

“Man of Steel,” rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence, action and destruction, and for some language, is playing at Regal Cinema 7 in Boone. For show times, visit http://www.mounatintimes.com/movies.

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