Overwrought and overlong but thoroughly engrossing, “Man of Steel” is an experience akin to finding yourself standing next to an enormous turbo fan while trying to listen to a friend talk about his arduous Mount Everest expedition. On the one hand, you want to get out of the wind. It would be impolite to interrupt. I mean, what’s a little wind compared to what this guy had to go through? Still, that fan. It’s all you can do to keep shouting “What?” and hope for a happy ending.
Directed by Zack Snyder (“300,” “Sucker Punch”), “Man of Steel” is the latest reboot of the “Superman” franchise, and it’s an intriguing work that blends snazzed-out superhero antics with brooding superhero angst. In this, we see Superman (an excellent Henry Cavill) as an adopted kid in Kansas renamed Clark Kent, struggling with his Kryptonian lineage and incredible superpowers while at the same time wondering how to put them to use — a theme also visited in the hit TV series “Smallville.”
The young Clark’s adoptive parents (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane) encourage the boy to find his place on Earth and save mankind, which is pretty timely considering the evil General Zod (Michael Shannon) back on Krypton has been plotting a major attack on both Earth and Clark, whose real dad (Russell Crowe) Zod had previously left the worse for wear. Surrounded by a supportive family and clear about who the enemy is, Clark is in two minds: He wants to be accepted as a regular American guy but he also wants to live up to his superhero destiny as Kal-El, son of Jor-El of Krypton.
Superman has always sported a philosophical streak, but Cavill’s wades around in existential dilemmas for the full first half of the story, which kind of fools you into a false sense of security. When Clark takes up with journalist Lois Lane (Amy Adams, whose friskiness is a bit wasted here), it’s almost as if Snyder wants to let the whole package glide into a love story, albeit with a Superman suit of dark-gray mesh with the legendary “S” insignia emblazoned on his chest.
Anyway, Lois doesn’t quite connect with Clark. She has a tiff with her editor (Laurence Fishburne) about writing up the Superman story, and then kind of hovers around the super-stud like a ministering yet disinterested angel. Clark, too, treats her more like a therapist than a girlfriend. As all this is going on, Snyder lets rip with the apocalyptic, fire-and-brimstone action sequences and Superman’s adorable floundering becomes a distant memory.
Ultimately, “Man of Steel” unleashes unholy amounts of skyscraper wreckage; as the hero comes into his own, so does the story, which translates to destruction of monumental proportions.
Is that a good thing? Yes, if you’re willing to go along with the formula that in order for a superhero to save the world, he must break a sizable chunk of it, with much noise, dust and flamboyant flair. It works for “Man of Steel,” but it’s about time we get some dude who fixes droughts, punches frackers senseless and gathers all the smog over Asia and hurls it over to Mars. Well, we can always hope.