Movies: "Man of Steel" | Arts & Culture

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Movies: "Man of Steel"
Movies: "Man of Steel"

If you thought “The Avengers” was over the top, wait ‘till you get a load of the new Superman movie.  

Directed by Zack Snyder, who knows a thing or two about comic book movies, having made “Watchmen” and “300,” and scripted by David S. Goyer (“The Dark Knight Rises”) from a story by Goyer and Christopher Nolan (who wrote and directed the twisty flicks “Memento” and “Inception”), “Man of Steel” is an origin story combined with an enhanced remake of 1980’s “Superman II.”


It is also DC Comics’ high-stakes bid to take on the Marvel movie franchise, which has been spinning out one blockbuster after another.


It all begins, of course on the doomed planet Krypton, where Superman’s father Jor El (Russell Crowe) stuffs his newborn son Kal El into a spaceship and sends it off to Earth.  Crowe, in full battle armor gets to reprise some rather creaky “Gladiator” moves as he battles the rebellious General Zod (Michael Shannon, recently seen acting villainously in that delightfully low-key bicycle chase movie “Premium Rush”).


Next thing you know, we’re aboard a commercial fishing boat along with an amazingly ripped new crewman named Clark Kent (Henry Cavill of “The Tudors”).  In a series of flashbacks, Clark recalls his early childhood with the kindly Kansans who adopted him (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane), warning him not to reveal his super powers: “People are afraid of what they don’t understand.”  In typical Nolan fashion, this part of the story jumps forward and backward, leading up to the entrance of ace reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams) at a top secret military bivouac somewhere in the arctic.  Seems there’s a spaceship buried under 20,000 years’ worth of ice.  


Lois and Clark meet cute amid the ice floes, but when she tries to document the encounter back in Metropolis, her editor at the Daily Planet (Laurence Fishburne) doesn’t buy it.


He’ll change his mind when another spaceship enters the picture.  It’s our old pal Zod and his super-powered minions, looking to catch up with Kal El, to help them colonize Earth.  And here is where “Man of Steel” goes into overdrive, with a series of rock ‘em-sock ‘em battles that lay waste to a huge chunk of Metropolis, not to mention Main Street in Clark’s hometown of Smallville.


The devastation here is so realistically presented that it can’t help but recall the real-life damages of 9/11:  scores of buildings are penetrated by blasting fireballs and come crashing down on fleeing people.  We’ve seen this stuff in earlier movies, but never as powerfully staged.


The trouble is, the carnage goes on and on and on, with massive explosions, hurtling bodies and scorching eye beams.  It’s Superman on steroids.


There’s still much to like about this movie.  Henry Cavill may be British, but here he’s as American as apple pie, and even seems to suffer from the many blows he endures at the hands of the invading Kryptonians.  Amy Adams’ Lois is no shrinking violet, playing a key role in the counterattack over Metropolis.  And the supporting cast, even poor old Kevin Costner, has real humanity, including performances from our old “Law and Order” pal Christopher Meloni (still cocky) and Michael Kelly, so good in “House of Cards.”


There’s also a serviceable but hardly memorable score by the prolific Hans Zimmer and snappy cinematography by Amir Mokri (“Transformers: Dark of the Moon”).  The overweening production design is by Alex McDowell (“Fight Club,” “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”), but owes a heavy debt to the great Swiss movie designer H.R. Giger (“Alien”) for its anthropomorphic space vehicles -- they look like octopi.


“Man of Steel” is rated PG-13, with the non-stop violence much too intense for young children and even some shots of baby Kal El’s pee-pee.  


I give it a B.