Man of Steel offers plenty of appeal for summer moviegoers

Published 2:38 pm Friday, June 14, 2013

Much like the iconic emblem that adorns the chest of the last son of Krypton, “Man of Steel” is a symbol of hope for the DC cinematic universe.

And while the film isn’t as memorable as Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy or as accessible as Marvel’s “The Avengers,” “Man of Steel” is kept aloft for the better part of two and a half hours by strong characterization and spectacular action sequences.

Admittedly, accolades and critical acclaim have eluded director Zach Snyder, whose previous works include films like “300,” “Watchmen” and the dismal “Sucker Punch.”

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But as history has dictated, Snyder’s best films are adaptations of the works of others. “Man of Steel” proves no exception, giving Snyder a treasure trove of subject matter to pull from throughout the past 75 years.

Some inspirations are more obvious than others, including graphic novels “Superman:  Earth One” and “Superman:  Birthright” serving as the source material for the infamous broadcast to Earth and the deeper meaning of the Superman symbol respectively. But ultimately, it is a story that we are all familiar with — too familiar, even — requiring zero knowledge of Supes’ comic book history to fully enjoy.

As most Superman tales often do, things begin with Kal-El’s birth on the doomed world of Krypton.

And although the final moments of the dying planet mainly serve to highlight the motivations of the film’s antagonist, they do an equally great job of setting the stage for the grandiose action sequences to come.

Michael Shannon’s tragic and tortured General Zod and Russell Crowe’s Jor-El are two standout performances in a sea of otherwise mediocre Kryptonian presences.

But the film begins in earnest with a flash-forward to present-day Clark Kent, who has seemingly lost his way in the world. Continuing the trend of British actors taking over superhero roles (Christian Bale’s Batman, Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Man, etc.), Henry Cavill does a serviceable job in the role, and no one could argue that he certainly looks the part.

Clever visual cues throughout Clark’s travels trigger flashbacks that offer brief but important glimpses into the core of his character. More importantly, these flashbacks introduce Clark’s biggest influences, Martha and Jonathan Kent, portrayed wonderfully by Diane Lane and Kevin Costner.

It’s these moments — brief instances that touch on why Clark Kent is separate and yet indistinguishable from Superman — that make for some of the best scenes in “Man of Steel.”

Interestingly enough, Amy Adams’ portrayal of Lois Lane was perhaps the strongest of all. It’s a good thing, too, because she has her fair share of screen time in the film’s 143-minute run.

And although the hair color is off (something comic book fans have been quick to point out), she more than makes up for it with her accurate take on the feisty, ambitious, stubborn, and brilliant journalist that is the object of Clark’s affections.

But Snyder is perhaps best known for his over-the-top action, and “Man of Steel” easily delivers in that regard.

In fact, the last 45 minutes or so is liable to leave moviegoers’ jaws on the floor.

Most impressive of all is that fact that Snyder’s action sequences are crafted in a way that actually manages to make Superman feel like the all-powerful demigod that he is, and this can mostly be contributed to the decision to use Zod and his exiled Kryptonian followers as Superman’s antagonists.

It’s a decision that pays off in spades, as there are very few films in recent memory that manage to match the adrenaline-fueled highs that these scenes deliver.

These scenes, usually accompanied by some cringe-worthy dialogue, often do little to further the plot, and two scenes in particular feel a bit drawn out, but the sheer ambition of it all is worthy of praise.

While “Man of Steel” isn’t exactly a refreshing take on Clark’s origin, it is an interesting one that doesn’t lose sight of what makes the character resonate with fans three quarters of a century after his creation (with the possible exception of one end-game decision that is surely to be divisive among fans).

“Man of Steel” is an action-packed, visually arresting and often emotional summer blockbuster that should appeal to both comic book fans and casual moviegoers alike.