Man of Steel

“Superman Returns” (2006) was awful. Brandon Routh as Clark Kent was pretty but bland, Kate Bosworth was boring, and Kevin Spacey chewed more scenery than Al Pacino has in his entire career. The action was forgettable and the plot drove itself into the most mind-boggling places.

If any comic-book character deserves a modern-day reboot, it’s Superman. But that film was not it.

It left such a bad taste in my mouth that when word started to spread about yet another reboot, I was skeptical. I was even more skeptical when Russell Crowe was cast as Jor-El. It could be good, I thought, or it could be an overwrought later-day Marlon Brando-style mess. The trailers looked promising, if not moody and dark.

“Man of Steel” is moody and dark, but in the best way possible. At least for the first half. The look and tone of Man of Steel is gritty and thoughtful. In a darker, more mature reboot, less is more.

Minor spoilers ahead!

Fortunately, no time is wasted in this movie. We spend very little time watching Clark Kent grow up. We are told of his powers in one short flashback. When we meet Clark as an adult (played by Henry Cavill of Stardust)m he is hiding out and probably hasn’t saved any lives in years. This Clark is just as confused as Bruce Wayne in The Dark Knight, and he’s compelling.

We are introduced to Amy Adams’ Lois Lane early, and there’s very little meet-cute here. General Zod (the brilliant Michael Shannon from The Runaways, Take Shelter) comes on the scene right away. It’s going so well.

Then it gets sloppy.

It appears as if director Zack Snyder realized how big his budget was halfway through filming and got the urge to spend it all at once. The second half of the film is just a little too much. Too many things blowing up, too many fights, and about a half hour too much movie. While I understand Snyder’s urge to go all-out, I feel his approach was too heavy-handed.

Michael Shannon remains the best part of the movie, but everything else just falls apart. In the middle twenty minutes of the film, a few minor characters drag out some meaningless jargon and start referring to objects that have nothing to do with the plot. We watch a pivotal scene with someone who works with Lois Lane, to whom we have barely been introduced, and we are suddenly expect to believe that her survival is of great importance, despite not really knowing who she was five seconds before.

Ultimately, there’s the expected final battle royale in Smallville, trashing a conspicuously positioned IHOP, and then a Sears. Like the last act of “Star Trek Into Darkness,” untold devastation is wrought with nary a moment’s hesitation. And the culmination of the battle, the leverage that forces Superman to make his final move, is baffling considering the few minutes that came before.

The film’s denouement is an even bigger head-scratcher, but also an interesting twist to the long-established canon of Superman’s civilian life.

The spectacle is distracting and somewhat disappointing, but ultimately not enough to detract from the good parts of the film. The photography is beautiful, starting with how the actors are lit. Everyone looks beautiful, especially Kal-El’s mother Lara, played by Ayelet Zurer. Vancouver is always a great locale for beautiful, bleak scenery, and the American heartland has never looked lovelier than under the hands of director of photography Amir Mokri. And Crowe hasn’t been this charismatic in years.

The most pleasant surprise was Hans Zimmer’s score. I have never enjoyed a Zimmer score until now.

“Man of Steel” is not my favorite blockbuster of the summer so far, but it was surprisingly enjoyable. A little too much, but really, that’s what summer blockbusters are for.