When the credits rolled on Man of Steel, three words went through my mind.
By DAVID FRESE
The Kansas City Star
The cleaned-up version: Gosh darn it.
Zack Snyders Superman reboot looks great and adds some interesting twists to the mythos of DC Comics flagship character. But the convoluted structure, tortured hero and overly sincere tone overwhelm what might have been a good story.
Note to Hollywood: When you take the fun out of a big, dumb, fun summer movie, what remains is merely big and dumb.
The Superman narrative is probably as well-known as the Nativity. Its been told, retold, repackaged and resold innumerable times in the characters 75-year history. With five movies since 1978 and the 10-season run of TVs Smallville ending just two years ago, writers David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan (the Dark Knight writing/directing team) work around the familiar elements.
We spend half an hour on the dying planet Krypton as Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and Lara (Ayelet Zurer) birth their son, Kal, and then make the heartbreaking decision to strap him in a rocket and shoot him into space.
We then skip to Clark Kents lost years, as he travels the world, hiding out and keeping his distance while working odd jobs in his quest for clues to his secret origin.
Unfortunately for our hero, trouble comes a-knocking as soon as he discovers his roots. Kal-El/Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) wasnt the only Kryptonian to survive his planets destruction, and his fellow emigres are bent on using the son of Jor-El to resurrect their doomed society on Planet Earth, at the expense of all humanity.
That all seems fairly straightforward. Except its not.
While Clark is on his walkabout, we whipsaw back and forth to the most miserable moments in his young life in Smallville, Kansas.
Then reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams) enters, providing voiceover of a story shes writing about a mystery man she suspects is an alien from outer space.
Thats four separate points-of-view in the first hour. Any one or two would have been enough.
Snyder had similar structural hiccups in his icky revenge fantasy Sucker Punch, which was a dream inside a flashback inside a memory (I think). In much the same way, Nolan left some viewers cold with his dream-within-a-dream thriller Inception. The back-and-forth doesnt succeed any more here.
Which is unfortunate, because the Smallville scenes and the heart-to-heart discussions between 13-year-old Clark (Dylan Sprayberry) and adoptive father Jonathan (Kevin Costner) are among the best in the film and could have better served as setup. At one point Jonathan chides his son for saving a busload of drowning children and revealing his abilities.
What was I supposed to do, let them die? Clark asks.
Clearly anguished about what people will think once they discover what Clark can do, Jonathan is silent, and then says, Maybe.
The moment plays perfectly.
But there is not one scene from this period showing that it might be pretty cool to be a teenager who can crush a metal fencepost and jump to the top of a grain elevator. So youre really strong, can see through walls and fly? That must really suck for you, kid.
The joy is supposed to come when Clark discovers a Kryptonian ship in the Arctic, where the consciousness of Jor-El explains to Clark his heritage, his abilities and his purpose to inspire the Earthlings to become a better people. For Jor-El so loved the Earth that he gave his only begotten son.
(OK, there is one funny moment, though unintentional: In the secret Kryptonian ship, Jor-El opens a closet to reveal Kals colorful super suit and essentially urges Kal to let go of his small-town upbringing, come out to the world and be who he always was meant to be. Symbolism, anyone?)
Turning Superman into the ultimate outsider is a smart move. Kids with ADHD can identify with the boy who cant turn off the noise. Immigrants can empathize with the desire to assimilate. Any human being can identify with feeling just a little different. But failing to show any moments of humor or lightness keeps us at arms length.
It is fun to see Snyders re-imagined Krypton. He eschews the white, glowing disco suits and jagged, icy environments of the 1978 Superman movie. Instead, his Kryptonians wear buglike exoskeletons, and the chambers are brown and rounded, almost like beehives.
The effects are mostly flawless; theres just so much of it. If youre hoping Man of Steel is the movie where Hollywood discovers 15 skyscrapers falling is not better than one, youll be disappointed. Superman and Zod crash and fly and throw each other through so many buildings, you wonder if Metropolis is a ghost town.
At least the big battles are fought in daylight, unlike in Iron Man 3. And Iron Man 2. And Iron Man.
Amid all of this crashing glass and thunderous punching are some pretty good performances. Costner is great. If you saw muscle-bound Henry Cavill walking down the street, youd probably think, Hey, thats Superman. Cavill (Immortals) looks nothing like Christopher Reeve, and yet he makes the role his own.
I could watch Michael Shannon threaten people with violence all day, and yet you can understand his zealous Kryptonian soldier General Zod, who only wants what he believes is best for his people, Earth be damned.
At the same time, Amy Adams is here only because Superman needs a Lois Lane. Diane Lane seems a bit of a stretch as his kindly Kansas momma. And after seeing last years Les Miserables, it will be a very long time before I see Crowe and not fear he will break into Now, bring me Prisoner Two-Four-Six-Oh-Ooooooone.
Man of Steel has admirable components, but it never comes together. When the team was announced, fanboys hoped Snyders visual sense, Goyers storytelling and Nolans oversight would cancel out the others flaws. Unfortunately, the opposite happened. Man of Steel is visually spectacular but, for the most part, emotionally distant. Its just another $200 million superhero movie and another wasted opportunity.
Gosh darn it.
To reach entertainment editor David Frese, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @DavidFrese.