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Whatever happened to the Man of Tomorrow?

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Man of Steel' a sadly unsatisfying misfire

We live in an entertainment age where everything old is new again. Iconic worlds and characters are constantly being revisited. Current trends often lead to reboots that attempt grittiness or edginess. Of course, those attempts have become ubiquitous, hence losing the very edge that they're searching for. And worst of all, sometimes you get edginess for the sake of edginess.

Sometimes you get 'Man of Steel.'

We all know the story; on the distant planet of Krypton, the apocalypse long anticipated by scientist extraordinaire Jor-El (Russell Crowe, 'Broken City') is coming to pass. Military leader General Zod (Michael Shannon, 'The Iceman') attempts a coup, but fails. Said failure results in his banishment to the extradimensional prison known as the Phantom Zone.

Jor-El, meanwhile, has sent his infant son along with the codex containing the genetic template for all Kryptonians to Earth. Young Kal-El is found by the Kents, Jonathan (Kevin Costner, TV's 'Hatfields & McCoys') and Martha (Diane Lane, 'Secretariat') and raised to keep his incredible abilities a secret.

The newly-named Clark (Henry Cavill, 'The Cold Light of Day') grows up to become a drifter, working odd jobs right up until circumstances force him to use his powers to save someone, then disappearing to the next spot down the road. However, enterprising newspaper reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams, 'The Master') tracks him down and discovers his secret.

And then General Zod shows up, demanding that Kal-El reveal himself, which leads to humanity learning that they aren't alone and everyone getting all het up about whether they can trust this alien who has walked among them. Turns out Zod wants to recreate Krypton by terraforming Earth; Kal-El/Clark/Superman (they eventually get around to calling him that) isn't down with it and wants to protect his adopted home.

Cue the super-punching.

My expectations for 'Man of Steel' were high too high. In retrospect, I should have known better. Superman's world can be darker and grittier; that could work well. But the character himself can't be; a gritty Superman isn't Superman at all. He's the big blue Boy Scout; heck, in the film, he even talks about how the 'S' on his chest is actually a Kryptonian character meaning 'hope.' That's what Superman is supposed to represent hope.

Instead, we get a Superman whose adopted parents filled him with such paranoia that he lives in constant fear of being discovered. A Superman who has spent most of his life trying to hide who he is and punishing himself anytime he reveals his true nature. A Superman who is expected to have empathy for the human condition while doing everything possible to remove himself from it.

But hey, at least we got some lengthy flight sequences. And some cars and crap get thrown around. Oh, and the aforementioned punching.

However, while the story left much to be desired, the way it was told especially in the first hour or so was actually quite nice. The film bounced back and forth from past to present, allowing us to see snapshots of Superman's childhood interspersed among his present-day journey. It was a nice way to establish his origins without spending half the movie telling us a story we already know.

In terms of performance, Cavill is actually quite good; he plays the part as the plot defines it for him. Adams left me a little cold as Lois Lane; she's a wonderful actress, but she never quite clicked for me. Michael Shannon felt a little one-note as Zod. It would have been nice to see that character given a little bit of nuance; Shannon certainly has the chops to handle it. The rest of the cast Crowe, Costner, Lane and the like are good enough; not great, but their performances rarely get in the way. That said, Crowe and Costner both disappointed me a little.

There are those who will break 'Man of Steel' down into even smaller components, espousing the various ways in which director Zack Snyder, screenwriter David S. Goyer and producer Christopher Nolan went wrong. And they'll have valid points. The protagonist of 'Man of Steel' bears a strong resemblance to Superman, but is he truly Superman?

Sadly, I think the answer is no.

2 out of 5

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