Monday, June 17, 2013

Man Of Steel: The Blue Boy Scout Grows Up...and Kicks Ass!!!

I find it interesting that I grew up reading comic books yet didn't like the granddaddy of superheroes, Superman. Why?

I found him silly, unrealistic, buffoonish. The four films starring the late Chris Reeve cemented my viewpoint. Leave him to the non-fanboys, I thought. They can have and keep him, I thought. What changed my mind?

His appearance on his solo late 90s animated series, "Justice League: The Animated Series" and "Smallville". He has feelings, doubts, real internal conflicts. He's relatable! The bottle cap of that revelation happens to be the sixth film featuring Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster's iconic hero and the sixth film by madcap fanboy director Zack Snyder (the Dawn of the Dead remake, "300", "Watchmen", "Legend Of The Guardians", "Sucker Punch"). The less said about the 2006 misstep, the better...

The birth of the baby, named Kal-El, precedes the destruction of his home planet Krypton, forcing his parents, scientist Jor-El (impressive Russell Crowe of "American Gangster") and ex-astronaut Lara Lor-Van (elegant Ayelet Zurer of "Darling Companion") to send him to Earth via rocket ship with the genetic codes of many Kryptonians. Fanatical military leader General Zod (manic Michael Shannon of "Boardwalk Empire") tries to stop this during a coup d'etat, but fails and he and his loyalists are sentenced to the Phantom Zone.

Kal-El, meanwhile, is found and rechristened as Clark Joseph Kent by farmers Jonathan (Kevin Costner of "Silverado") and Martha Kent (Diane Lane of "Under The Tuscan Sun"), but his budding powers make him an outcast. So, as an adult (buff but noble Henry Cavill of "The Tudors" and "Whatever Works"), Clark leaves Smallville, Kansas, becoming a nomadic worker, until, as an Arctic expedition grunt, he discovers a Kryptonian spacecraft in the North Pole that reveals his heritage and destiny. It's a good thing too as Zod and his group are freed from the Zone by their planet's end, and they see Earth as a new home. Uh-oh...

If you try to compare "Man Of Steel" with the older films, you'll be disappointed. With a powerful yet down-to-earth, sometimes non-linear script by David S. Goyer and Chris Nolan (the Dark Knight trilogy) on his lap, Snyder throws away the camp and silliness of said films and, like the under-rated "Watchmen", matures the superhero archetype. Chris Reeve's Superman can't exist in the real, let alone post Sept. 11 world; he looks dumb, phony, anachronistic. If you're the only powerful alien on a planet whose populace could fear and hate you, you're far from sociable, but you try to make a difference anyway. Mr. Cavill plays that role to total competence.

He's lucky to surrounded by a strong supporting cast, composed of Oscar winners and nominees and Emmy winners and nominees. Crowe has an middle-aged Obi Wan Kenobi tone that outdoes Marlon Brando's Jor-El; Costner (hauntingly good) and Lane (warm & sweet) are baby boomers with Norman Rockwell hints; Laurence Fishburne (the Matrix saga) is dead-on caustic as Daily Planet chief editor Perry White and Chris Meloni (Law & Order: SVU) is valiant as an Air Force general.

Like Cavill, the next two actors have refashioned their characters. As Zod, Mr. Shannon gives an A-game performance, being a mad dog with an army unit, technology and a well-meaning but twisted goal to save his race, conflicting with Mr. Crowe's noble means. It's a Sam Peckinpah bromance on a galatical scale (the director was slated to direct the 1978 film but his rep went south).

The other thespian's button-cute Amy Adams ("Junebug", "Enchanted") as Daily Planet news hound Lois Lane, who befriends our hero. Sure, she's independent and gutsy, but, thanks to the lack of camp, she's also smart, likable, relatable and realistic, not the inane harpy who demeans milksops.

Someone to look out for is Antje Traue as Zod's icy, loyal right-hand lady, Faora-Ul. "For every life you save, we will kill a million more," she promises to Kal-El during a chaotic brawl in his hometown. Speaking of the battles, they are fast and destructive, echoing the "Dragon Ball" animated series. I think I lost a tooth or two...

Hans Zimmer's day-and-night score is Oscar worthy. D.P Amir Morki captures rural tranquilness and urban destruction capably. SFX wiz John Desjardin's work inspires, especially Krypton's magnetic nanotech.

Supposed fans will moan and bitch over this film, but maybe they really don't know Superman as they think they do as they dismiss his fellow heroes at DC Comics, let alone the whole comic book medium. The character's not Bugs Bunny, Mickey Mouse, Woody Woodpecker or Yogi Bear. Despite his powers, he's a person like the rest of us. That's what makes him a great hero, well deserving of a high quality summer blockbuster that's one of 2013's best.

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