'Man Of Steel' not super, but not bad

Posted: June 14, 2013

SORRY, Zack Snyder, but you're not going to make me call him Hopeman.

In "Man of Steel," the famously humorless director has invented a new backstory for his scowling reinvention of the DC comics hero, and it allows him to get two hours into the movie without actually using the word Superman.

You wonder if Snyder thought the name too Christopher Reeve-y, too upbeat, too optimistic.

So he's called his movie "Man of Steel" and in his new origins story, the "S" on the character's chest is not an "S," but a symbol that on the planet Krypton means "hope."

Even that is a concession for dour Mr. Snyder, who's made movies about doomed Spartans, doomed superheroes, doomed women in psych wards who dream about being doomed hookers. He once made an animated movie about owls in which the owls try to kill one another.

So, yes, his new "Superman" (nyah, nyah) is dark. But despite its fun-stomping approach, it has an inventory of good stuff. First off, it looks cool (I'd say supercool, but for fear of offending the director). "Man of Steel" is a live-action movie, but only in the foreground, and the 3-D animation that often forms the background is beautifully designed and technically good.

Snyder's prologue gives us a gripping vision of decaying planet Krypton. And he's put much creative energy into small things - the floating computers with swarming molecules that reform into different configurations as needed (later, Superman's chainmail-ish suit emerges as a nifty object).

It's on Krypton that the story's foundation is built - Russell Crowe plays a sort of priest/scientist who sends his son to distant Earth moments before the planet implodes.

On Earth, Clark Kent grows up strong and confused on a Kansas farm (with Kevin Costner and Diane Lane), taught to conceal his alien status and his superpowers, until such time as the world is ready to understand them - a plot thread that works well.

The movie is a nifty feat of editing - managing to coherently roll out Clark's story while splicing it with Krypton's history and the looming threat posed by mad General Zod (Michael Shannon), who is pursuing Clark across the universe.

Why? Well, this is a little goofy. Clark is presumed to have Krypton's Rolodex, or something like that. It contains all of their racial DNA, which Zod would like to reconstitute on Earth, once he kills all of us humans.

It makes more sense than it did in "Prometheus," but it's still on the puh-leaze side. Snyder is entitled to his super-dark point of view, but don't tell me not to laugh when, in the midst of all of this apocalyptic posturing, Amy Adams keep popping up as Lois Lane, inexplicably invited by the military to examine alien spacecraft. And, if you think the word "Superman" is too corny for words, try saying Daily Planet with a straight face.

Snyder, it needs to be said, does one thing exactly right. He's cast the extremely likable Henry Cavill to be his Superman. Cavill's big robin's-egg eyes are the movie's best effect, as genial and hopeful as the movie is dirge-like and self-serious.

Cavill (and young actors Dylan Sprayberry and Cooper Timberline) makes Clark's journey from bullied pacifist/alienated alien to savior worth investing in.

Cavill's really the only reason to watch the clanging finale, in which Snyder loses his way a bit, trading juicy little digital details for the usual ear-splitting giganticism - collapsing buidings, crashing spacecraft, etc.

Right now it seems as if no one can devise a super ending for one of these blockbusters.

But there's always . . . hope.

Blog: philly.com/KeepItReel

Online: ph.ly/Movies

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