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Review: 'Man of Steel' soars on its own bravado

By Michelle Solomon, Contributing writer
Published On: Jun 14 2013 09:07:41 AM CDT
Updated On: Jun 14 2013 11:07:28 AM CDT
Henry Cavill as Superman in Man of Steel

Warner Bros. Pictures

Let's face it. How many Superman movies do you really need? Superman's story has been told and retold; it's been done to death, so to take on such an iconic character takes, well, you know. . . guts. So if you're going to take on the Man of Steel, you better have something big to offer.

With every frame of "Man of Steel," director Zack Snyder ("Watchmen") and screenwriters Christopher Nolan and David Goyer (the "Dark Knight" film trilogy) make no excuses for their movie. They have created a film that has all the ingredients of an epic summer blockbuster, including a 143-minute running time. While there may be many critics of this darker, broodier "Superman," Synder and the co-writers never stray from their intentions, whether you agree with them or not.

Henry Cavill ("Tudors") stars in the role of Clark Kent/Kal-El, a coming-of-age story about a man trying to discover his true identity. In flashbacks, we see Clark as a young boy who saves a school bus full of his schoolmates after it's submerged in water. With super-human strength, he lifts the bus out of the water. His classmates are in awe, yet he's embarrassed about being different. His parents (Diane Lane and Kevin Costner) have prepared for this since they discovered him in an odd contraption in a Kansas field. His father has taught the lad temperance, telling him that he mustn't reveal his powers for fear of retaliation.

As he gets older, Clark Kent becomes more determined to discover his purpose. He's wracked with age-old questions: "Where did I come from and what is my purpose on Earth?" The audience already has a clue. We've witnessed the birth of Superman, followed by the impending decision by Jor-El (a bland, phone-it-in Russell Crowe) and his wife, Lara Lor-Van (Ayelet Zurer) to get their son, the planet's first natural-born baby in whatever Krypton years are (babies on Krypton are not naturally born) off the planet before the end of its civilization, which is coming sooner rather than later. They rocket the baby through the stratosphere to Earth in a protective pod. There wouldn't be a drama if there wasn't a sinister element looming. General Zod (Michael Shannon) and his brood of thugs have been frozen for ... whatever Krypton years are . . . and, now unfrozen, will do whatever it takes to find the last survivor of Krypton. They want a codex that was sent with the baby, which will help to recreate and repopulate Krypton.

The planet's demise and Zod's descent into Earth are apocalyptic spectacles, a small particle of a barrage of over-the-top effects. The filmmakers leave little time for storytelling in this sci-fi, action adventure. Even a cast of Hollywood heavy-hitters, no doubt planted here in an effort to give credence to the tale, can make it seem like an equal balance of story and action. Amy Adams as Lois Lane is given the most opportunities to show acting chops as do Lane and Costner. Pity poor Costner — after all these years he is still the master of the low-key delivery, so much so in this role, that he appears as if he's doing ads for Ambien.

In between the relentless barrage of Krypton drones tearing up streets and terrorizing towns, Cavill emotes, reacts and broods to give drama to Kent's story. With his chiseled face and perfect body, he's a good choice for Superman. My only complaint? Was the English-born Cavill the only actor who could fill the cape of an iconic American superhero?

Despite being so over lacquered with special effects, the latest Superman is a worthy reboot, its grandeur and bravado giving it plenty of character despite its thin story. This "Man of Steel" soars as a superhero movie that reveals its true identity, with its focus squarely on completing its mission: To be a summer megahit of epic proportions. Oh, and to make sure moviegoers are left wanting more; the sequel is already in production.