Movie review: 'Man of Steel' needs a sense of humor

For the News-DemocratJune 13, 2013 

What It's About

Lacking heart and humor, the noisy spectacle "Man of Steel" soars when its telling us the origins part of our beloved superhero's legend. Then it dissolves into too-long fight scenes with lots of flying debris, before setting up the sequel.

Starting on the doomed planet of Krypton, Superman's parents Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and Lara (Ayelet Zurer) send their baby into the universe to save him. A kindly farm couple (Diane Lane, Kevin Costner) in Kansas raise him as Clark Kent (Henry Cavill), and during his youth, discovers his powers.

As a young adult, he roams the earth, doing odd jobs, before fulfilling his destiny as a savior, fighting for truth, justice and the American way. Forced to battle General Zod (Michael Shannon), the rebel warrior of his home planet, his identity is revealed. With Metropolis nearly destroyed, what's next? ("Man of Steel II"!)

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The cast is uniformly excellent. Hunky Henry Cavill ("Immortals") looks mighty fine in a cape. He is breathtakingly handsome, showing off a muscular physique that emphasizes Superman's physical prowess. As for acting, he's sincere and charming as our mild-mannered do-gooder and tormented superhero, and will likely enjoy a nice bounce from this star-making performance. (Particularly after being rejected for James Bond, Batman and Edward Cullen).

Amy Adams is thankfully a smart Lois Lane but, truthfully, she and Superman are more like brother-and-sister than soulmates.

Both Kevin Costner and Diane Lane are strong as Clark's earth parents, and you want to see more of them in the flashbacks. Less fighting sequences and more Kansas cornpone would have imbued this movie with badly needed warmth to offset all the cold, steely, thingamabobs.

Russell Crowe is perfectly regal and noble as Jor-El, and the role is beefed-up here, which works well.

Michael Shannon ("Premium Rush") is gaining notoriety as a villain, but I like him better as quirky damaged souls. Not sure if being pure evil, as in aggravating General Zod, works best for him.

What Works

The majestic appeal of Superman is there, delivered with very cool camera shots. The visual effects are grandiose, as one would expect. There isn't a dud in the cast -- all high-caliber folks. When Superman soars through the skies, it's truly extraordinary.

The emphasis on Superman's dilemmas -- stranger in a strange land, with great power comes great responsibility -- works well, but it's just so serious! And we could have used more depth, fewer explosions.

What Doesn't Work

With a gorgeous leading man as the lynchpin, and a good cast in support, they could have done more to inject a sense of humor and tried to engage us with some real emotion (other than the Kansas backstory).

Director Zack Snyder ("Sucker Punch," "300") goes for over-the-top when it's not necessary, and loves that swirling camera. Apparently, he can't get enough of chunks of concrete on screen ad nauseum. Cutting 20 minutes from the movie would have been ideal. To have the grand finale fight scene go on and on was unnecessary -- and boring.

I know the legend must move beyong the Christopher Reeve movies of 35 years ago, but the reason we enjoyed those is because they had a sense of fun, and the characters were so well-written. When you take on legends, they shouldn't be computer-generated shells but fully dimensional people with heart and soul.

And man, is this movie loud!

2 1/2 stars out of 4

Director: Zack Snyder

Starring: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Russell Crowe, Diane Lane, Kevin Costner, Christopher Meloni, Laurence Fishburne,

Length: 2:23

Rated: PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence, action and destruction, and for some language

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