“Man of Steel,” Warner Bros.' second attempt at a reboot of the Superman franchise, has little in common with the disappointing “Superman Returns” in 2006 — or with the tongue-in-cheek Christopher Reeve films of 1978-87, for that matter. No campiness. Almost no humor. No kryptonite. No red underpants or brilliant blue in the iconic Superman costume.
The blue has been tempered with a layer of grime, and the S on the chest is no longer red with yellow background. It's almost black. Even the cape is a darker red.
In short, director Zack Snyder's take on the all-American hero from another planet is intense and dark. Visually dark. Thematically dark. Psychologically dark. When we first glimpse him grown up, Superman is a 33-year-old bearded drifter with identity issues, struggling to come to terms with an outcast childhood glimpsed in flashbacks.
None of this is a surprise to comic-book fans. They know Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer, who penned the “Dark Knight” Batman trilogy, also wrote the story and screenplay for “Man of Steel.” And Snyder, whose checkered track record includes “300” and “Sucker Punch,” is all about dark intensity, violence and eye-popping digital effects.
The result is a movie that anchors the character in an identifiable reality, while also satisfying action fans with a prolonged climactic showdown between Superman and his archenemy from his home planet of Krypton, General Zod. The fight lays waste to Smallville, Kan., Superman's childhood hometown, and then to Metropolis, where skyscrapers topple in ways reminiscent of 9/11.
What's best are the segments in which British actor Henry Cavill gives Clark Kent a dose of humanity and imperfection that make him relatable as a loner.
His dad (Kevin Costner) has insisted that he keep his superpowers to himself, not trusting the world's reaction to an alien's presence in their midst, and challenging him to decide what kind of man he wants to be. His mom (Diane Lane) adds a sense of compassion and kindness. As a result, Clark is picked on for how different he is but tamps down the rage, refraining from using his powers to retaliate.
He reveals them only in extreme circumstances, like when a school bus full of kids careens off a bridge and sinks. Or, later, when he's working on a crab-fishing boat and men are trapped on a burning offshore oil rig.
This changes when ambitious reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams) checks out the discovery of an alien spacecraft (from Krypton) encased in Arctic ice and witnesses Clark's powers firsthand. In this version, Lois knows Kent and Superman are one and the same from the get-go.
Two parts of the two-hour, 24-minute movie go on too long. One is the opening sequence on rapidly dying planet Krypton, when Superman's birth father, Jor-El (Russell Crowe), faces off against a rebellious Zod (an intense Michael Shannon stands out) and ships his son off to Earth in a space-pod.
The other is the battle in Smallville/Metropolis, as Zod comes after something he thinks Jor-El sent to Earth with Superman that could save Krypton's people — but at the cost of Earth's people. You begin to ask, during this redundant slugfest, just how many buildings Zod and Superman can crash through and destroy before their epic battle ends and the military (Christopher Meloni) trusts our hero.
It's settled in an eyebrow-raising scene in which Superman does something he would not have morally done in the past.
Ah, well. Dark times, dark movie, compromised hero. The digital effects of Superman flying, of a tornado, of spaceships and X-ray vision are dazzling. Cavill looks good, in and out of the suit. “Man of Steel” should have superstrength at the box office.
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If you go...
Quality: Three stars (out of four)
Director: Zack Snyder
Stars: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Russell Crowe, Diane Lane, Kevin Costner, Christopher Meloni, Laurence Fishburne
Rating: PG-13 for intense sci-fi violence, action and destruction, language
Running time: 2 hours, 23 minutes
Theaters: Aksarben, Twin Creek, Bluffs 17, Midtown, Regal, Westroads, 20 Grand, Village Pointe, Oak View