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Friday, June 14, 2013

'Man of Steel' a letdown

Two scenes from "Superman" and "Superman II" still resonate with me more than 30 years later.

The first is from the 1978 original directed by Richard Donner when Superman (Christopher Reeve) flies into action for the first time, saving Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) from falling to her death in a helicopter. I still get goosebumps watching it.

The sequel two years later has an equally hair-raising scene in which Superman returns to Metropolis after giving up his powers to be with Lois. The city is under siege by General Zod (Terrence Stamp), who's taken over The Daily Planet's building. Superman flies up beside the Planet, where he asks, "General Zod, would you care to step outside?" Zod replies, "Come to me son of Jor-El, kneel before Zod!"

Those scenes are classic. Unfortunately, there's nothing like that in "Man of Steel," released Friday. The magic of the first two Superman motion pictures was Reeve, whose charm, nobility and humor brought the most popular superhero of all time to life. Henry Cavill, who plays Kal-El/Clark Kent, doesn't have Reeve's chops in "Man of Steel," but it's no fault of the actor. There's not much in the screenplay, written by David Goyer. I found myself not caring about the main character, and when that happens in any movie, there are problems.

Not all was lost. Russell Crowe (Kal-El) and Kevin Costner (Jonathan Kent) are superb, and I had high hopes for the film in the first hour, but it limps to the end. It's as if Christopher Nolan (the Dark Knight trilogy) directed the first hour (when the origin story on Krypton and Smallville is told), and Michael Bay the second (when the film takes on a Transformers-like tone. Explosions and destruction? You haven't seen anything yet).

In the second half of the film, Cavill, Amy Adams and Michael Shannon carry the film, but it doesn't work.

- Lois Lane (Adams) looks good on screen, but she literally appears out of nowhere looking for the mystery man Kal-El, who's spent most of his adult life up to this point not as Superman (by the way, the name is used just once in the film) but only as Clark Kent. Adams portrays Lane as a driven journalist, but the attraction she feels for Clark/Man of Steel? It's not there. If their chemistry level was graded on a 1 to 10 scale, I'd give it a negative 1. Lois and Clark kiss near the end of the film, but it feels forced, like someone telling Goyer in pre-production, "You know, we better have them kiss."

- Michael Shannon (Zod) looked good in trailers, but his performance is nothing more than shouting long and hard about saving Krypton. Stamp's performance as the stoic Zod in "Superman II" easily outshines Shannon.

- Cavill's physique is impressive, and he looks better than any actor before him in the red and blue suit, but there's not much else here either. As Clark/Man of Steel, he's humorless and has zero charm. This is the darkest Superman portrayal ever, and that's not a good thing. Save that for the Dark Knight.

The film's conclusion also left me shaking my head. Superman (no spoilers here) does something Batman vowed never to do, and it should have made me gasp. Instead, I didn't feel much of anything, mostly because I didn't care much for Cavill's character.

I wanted so much to love "Man of Steel." The creators should be applauded for taking chances on a Superman film unlike any other you've seen, but it misses the mark.

Hey, there's always hope for the sequel, which is undoubtedly on its way.

- Mark Podolski | @mpodo


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