Sunday, June 16, 2013

Man of Steel

Director Zack Snyder’s approach to the Superman saga in “Man of Steel” is probably the smartest: to pretend none of the other movies had been made.
This new picture spends the first half of its runtime – the not-bad half – on Superman’s backstory: the environmental degradation that dooms Krypton to implosion, his (Kal-El’s) status as the first naturally conceived child in centuries, the too-late attempted coup by General Zod (Michael Shannon), with whose ill-defined but vaguely supremacist views conflict with those of Kal’s father Jor-El (Russell Crowe), the selfless decision by Jor and his wife to send Kal to Earth, where his pod (inevitably) lands on a farm in Iowa and Mr. and Mrs. Kent (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane) raise him as their own. As a young man, Kal, who doesn’t exist in any government information database, moves from place to place, rescuing kids from drowning school buses and protecting waitresses from unwanted touching. This stuff is watchable if not enthralling. 

But there’s a whole second movie still to come, and that’s where “Man of Steel” falls off the rails. The last hour – at least; it felt longer – consists of endless mano-a-mano fights between Kal, Zod, and Zod’s right-hand woman, Faora-Ul (Antje Traue). Eventually – after half of Metropolis comes crashing down – the FBI (represented by a wasted Laurence Fishburne and Richard Schiff) get involved in the fighting; I guess things tend not to go well when a dude from outer space infiltrates the power grid, interrupts all television programming, and opens with, “I’m General Zod.” The CGI effects in this last half of the two-and-a-half-hour “Man of Steel” are unspeakably generic and boring. It quickly gets to the point, you don’t care who wins (enough people have already died to make 9/11 look like a fly brushed off a horse’s ass) just so long as it ends.

As Kal, Henry Cavill (from last year’s one-star “The Cold Light of Day”) runs the gamut of emotions from A to B. He’s so plastic you almost wish they were still making “Hollywood Squares” so Snyder could have plucked Brandon Routh out of the bottom left square. Michael Shannon, meanwhile, is a bizarre choice for Zod – he spends 90% of the time looking down, like he’s trying to flick a nettlesome piece of lint off his spacesuit – but somehow almost works. As for poor Russell Crowe, I don’t think anyone had the heart to tell him they wrapped filming on “Gladiator” thirteen years ago. He delivers more vapid profundities while dead in this movie than most people do alive. The picture only really comes to life when Amy Adams enters as Lois Lane; Adams hasn’t been this likable since she sang “Happy Working Song” in “Enchanted” half a decade ago. She figures out the truth about Kal in nothing flat, and has the best line in the movie when interviewing him shortly after the feds first capture him (he lets them keep him handcuffed just to make them feel good). “What’s the ‘S’ stand for?” she asks. “On my planet,” he replies, “it’s not an ‘S,’ it’s a symbol of enduring hope.” “Yeah?” she says. “Well, down here, it’s an ‘S.’”

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