Monday, June 17, 2013


Valiant cast battles loud, ugly action for the soul of Man of Steel

Early in Man of Steel, fourth-grader Clark Kent, the boy who will be Superman, is cowering in a broom closet at school, eyes screwed shut, hands clapped over his ears. He can't control his super powers: his X-ray vision shows him the skulls and skeletons under everyone's flesh; unfiltered noise—dogs, traffic, heartbeats—assault him from all sides.

Rushing to school, his mom kneels outside the door and asks what's wrong.

"The world is too big!" he tells her.

Then focus, she urges him. "Make it smaller."

If only somebody had given director Zack Snyder the same advice.

When Snyder keeps his focus small—the boyhood and young manhood of Clark Kent (played as an adult by supernaturally handsome and chiseled Henry Cavill), told in beautifully integrated flashbacks as he drifts though a series of itinerant odd jobs searching for his destiny—the movie is persuasive and rewarding.

But when the supervillains from Krypton, led by bug-eyed General Zod (Michael Shannon), start laying waste to Earth in a series of demolition derby grudge matches against prodigal son Kal-El (aka Clark), the movie loses its credibility and its heart.
The action sequences in Man of Steel are remarkable for their aggressive ugliness. After one CGI orgy in which Clark's home town of Smallville is devastated, I was ready to crawl into a broom closet.

Given these bludgeoning effects, it's easy to forget the good things in the movie. But here's what they are:

Superman. All three actors play him effectively, including Cooper Timberline and Dylan Sprayberry as the child and adolescent Clark.

Henry Cavill (left) gives the movies its best moments as scruffy young drifter Clark, trying to find himself.

Russell Crowe. As Superman's natural father, Jor-El, Crowe is the voice of reason, wisdom, and restraint amid the chaos.

The Moms. Israeli actress Ayelet Zurer is wonderful as Kal-El's birth mother; her tender scenes with Crowe at the beginning (that's the two of them, with infant Kal-El, right), and her quiet maternal ferocity are quite lovely.

And Diane Lane is fun as a spirited, if careworn, Martha Kent, standing up for her foster son against all comers. (Read more)

Btw, diehard comics fans are enraged by the climactic moment in this film; no spoilers here, but it alters a fundamental character trait in Superman's personality.

I have to say I agree. With one careless decision, this movie turns one of pop culture's most mythic heroes into just another vigilante.

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