Review: ‘Man of Steel’ Flies With Brute Force

Henry Cavill in 'Man of Steel' (Warner Bros.)
Henry Cavill in ‘Man of Steel’ (Warner Bros.)
You will believe a blockbuster can fly.

Man of Steel is a movie that earns its title the old-fashioned way — by the brute force of its titular character, an alien whose physical strength is matched by his spiritual mettle and emotional discipline. Eight years ago, David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan collaborated on the screenplay for Batman Begins, redefining Bruce Wayne and his crime-fighting alter ego for the 21st century, and their accomplishment here — Goyer and Nolan are credited with the story, and Goyer with the screenplay, while Nolan serves as one of the producers — is similar. This is a Man of Steel who exists in the same universe as the Dark Knight.

Borrowing selected story beats from Richard Donner’s Superman (1978) and Superman II (1980), while bearing no relationship to Bryan Singer’s quasi-sequel Superman Returns (2006), Man of Steel dispenses with the more frivolous elements of those films. The character known variously as Kal-El, Clark Kent, and Superman struggles mightily with his superiority. His earthly parents Jonathan and Martha Kent (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane) have impressed upon him the importance of keeping his powers secret, for fear that mankind will not be able to deal with the far-reaching consequences of the knowledge that we are not alone.

At the same time, they instilled in him a becoming modesty, as well as a depth of compassion and empathy rarely seen among lowly humans. Therein lies his moral dilemma: He has a tremendous capacity to help individuals, but feels compelled to restrain himself to avoid doing greater damage to mankind at large.

Emotional conflicts arise even before Kal-El arrives on Earth, as a heated debate erupts on the distant planet Krypton between man of science Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and man of war Zod (Michael Shannon). The debate — What price the future? Who decides it? — eventually poses a threat to planet Earth that Kal-El cannot ignore, one that involves enterprising reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams), her editor Perry White (Laurence Fishburne), a scientist (Richard Schiff), and key members of the military (Harry Lennix, Christopher Meloni, and Michael Kelly).

The resolution requires many, many action scenes, and prompts my one major caveat about the film, one that keeps it from being an unqualified success.

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Man of Steel opens wide in theatres across the Metroplex on Friday, June 14.

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