Review: The laden 'Man of Steel' doesn't soar

Henry Cavill as Superman in “Man of Steel.”

Photo by Warner Bros. Pictures

Henry Cavill as Superman in “Man of Steel.”

Laurence Fishburne as Perry White, left, and Amy Adams as Lois Lane in “Man of Steel.”

Photo by Warner Bros. Pictures

Laurence Fishburne as Perry White, left, and Amy Adams as Lois Lane in “Man of Steel.”

A young boy learns that he has extraordinary powers and is not of this Earth. As a young man, he journeys to discover where he ...

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

Length: 143 minutes

Released: June 14, 2013 Nationwide

Cast: Henry Cavill, Diane Lane, Amy Adams, Russell Crowe, Michael Shannon

Director: Zack Snyder

Writer: David S. Goyer

More info and showtimes »

Michael Shannon as General Zod in “Man of Steel.”

Photo by Warner Bros. Pictures

Michael Shannon as General Zod in “Man of Steel.”

Russell Crowe as Joe-El in “Man of Steel.”

Photo by Warner Bros. Pictures

Russell Crowe as Joe-El in “Man of Steel.”

It has been a black eye to Hollywood that throughout this, the unending and increasingly repetitive age of the superhero blockbuster, the comics’ most iconic son has eluded its grasp like a bird or, if you will, a plane.

New hopes of box-office riches and franchise serials rests on Zac Snyder’s 3-D “Man of Steel,” the latest attempt to put Superman back into flight. But Snyder’s joyless film, laden as if composed of the stuff of its hero’s metallic nickname, has nothing soaring about it.

Flying men in capes is grave business in Snyder’s solemn Superman. “Man of Steel,” an origin tale of the DC Comics hero, goes more than two hours before the slightest joke or smirk.

This is not your Superman of red tights, phone booth changes, or fortresses of solitude, but one of Christ imagery, Krypton politics and spaceships. Who would want to have fun at the movies anyway, when you could instead be taught a lesson about identity from a guy who can shoot laser beams out of his eyes?

“Man of Steel” opens with the pains of childbirth, as Lara Lor-Van (Ayelet Zurer) and husband Jor-El (Russell Crowe) see the birth of Kal-El, the first naturally born child in years on Krypton. The planet — a giant bronze ball of pewter, as far as I can tell — is in apocalyptic tumult (the disaster film has gone intergalactic), and General Zod (Michael Shannon) attempts to take over power, fighting in bulky costumes with Jor-El.

His coup is thwarted (though not before killing Jor-El, who continues on in the film in an Obi-Wan-like presence), and he and his followers are locked away, frozen until Krypton’s implosion frees them. Baby Kal-El has been rocketed away with Krypton’s precious Codex, an energy-radiating skull.

Kal-El rockets to Earth, setting up not a Midwest reprieve to the lengthy Krypton fallout, but a flash-forward to more explosions. Our next glimpse of Kal-El is as a young adult Clark Kent (the beefy Brit Henry Cavill) aboard a fishing vessel on stormy seas, where he — shirtless and aflame — saves the crew of a burning oil rig.

We’re meanwhile introduced to Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Lois Lane (Amy Adams), fresh off a stint embedded with the military for the Daily Planet. Adams, as she usually does, helps animate the film, as she plunges into a bulldog investigating of Clark and spars with her editor (Laurence Fishburne).

Snyder brings to the film a sure hand for overly dramatic compositions that take after comic strip panels. He has a clearly sincere reverence for the source material. He’s a filmmaker who, even with his last film, the abysmal “Sucker Punch,” seems to precisely make the movie he intended.

Eager fans will likely thrall to the film’s many overlong action set pieces, as Superman battles with Zod and his minions. There’s little creativity to the fight sequences, though, which plow across countless building facades.

But Snyder doesn’t have the material or the inclination to make “Man of Steel” as thought-provoking as the “Dark Knight” trilogy. Superman wrestles with his allegiance to humans or his home planet, but the quandaries of a superpowered man between worlds doesn’t have any real resonance.

While Snyder has succeeded in turning out a Superman that isn’t silly (not a small feat) and will likely lay enough of a bedrock for further sequels, it’s a missed opportunity — particularly with a bright cast of Shannon, Adams and Lane — for a more fun-loving spirit.

Cavill’s performance is less memorable for his introspective brooding than for his six-pack . He’s handsome and capable, but one can’t help missing Christopher Reeve’s twinkle. At least he smiled.

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