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Man of Steel (2013)
Rated R

Starring: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, and Russell Crowe

Rating:
*** 1/2
out of
*****

When I heard about an updated version of Superman, directed by Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen) and produced by Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight Rises, The Prestige), I thought, "This is going to be awesome!"

Sadly, the end product is not awesome. It's entertaining to be sure but I wouldn't count it as one of the best superhero movies ever made. Or even the best Superman movie ever made. (That title still goes to Richard Donner's 1978 classic, Superman.)

First, I'll list the good things.

Henry Cavill was a good choice to play Superman. He physically looks the part and he bridges the many generations of Superman in his appearance. He recalls Christopher Reeve as often as he does Tom Welling while still being an improvement over Brandon Routh. (Who really wasn't that bad in 2006's Superman Returns.)

Russell Crowe surprised me as Jor-El. I had no idea what to expect from him and he turned in a great turn as Superman's biological father. He was kind of what I would have expected Maximus from Gladiator to be as a dad: wisened but ready to spring into action if the need were to arise.

The origin story is updated in a way that I actually thought was very clever. It didn't follow the lead of either the comics or the earlier films at all and provided a nice breath of fresh air. There are elements of the story that I found problematic (which I'll discuss in a moment) but, overall, I thought that David S. Goyer's script answered most of the questions I had going in and even as I thought of them during the film. Not all of them but most of them.

And now for the bad things:

Michael Shannon is a great actor but I found his take on General Zod to be that of a man who was all bark and little bite. He lacked the elegant confidence of Terence Stamp. It's probably unfair to compare the two but Stamp's performance made Zod one of my favorite movie villains. Shannon's version of Zod came across as shrill and whiny. And, again, I think Michael Shannon has done some great work. I don't think the problem is with him. That issue is the script's.

The fight scenes between Zod and Kal-El accomplished nothing aside from a tremendous amount of property damage. Both characters are super strong in the Earth's atmosphere and, while the battles are visually impressive, they go nowhere...slowly. I was reminded of the fights between Wolverine and Sabretooth in X-Men Origins: Wolverine in which the two similarly capable characters endlessly charged at one another with neither holding any advantage over the other. It got tiresome in that movie and it's also tiresome here.

Hans Zimmer's score is pretty similar to his work for Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy. In fact, it's too similar.

The end is a suspense-less, CGI-infested, look-what-millions-of-dollars-can-buy waste of time. I won't spoil anything but the climax is a big disappointment.

After reading this review, you might think I didn't like Man of Steel but I did. I like this version of Superman. I think he has a lot of potential. I didn't mind that the script added some psychological weight to his character. I just wasn't floored. I wanted to be. I really did. It just did not happen. As it stands, Man of Steel is a solid superhero movie but not an exceptional one.

Trivia: The majority of the action scenes use a CGI cape for Superman. (Source: The Internet Movie Database)

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