Here was this guy from another planet whose superpowers set him apart from Earthlings, yet the ingratiating thing was that he had to pretend to be ordinary -- even bumbling and a little geeky -- to fit in. That masquerade, combined with the sunny performance by newcomer Christopher Reeve, humanized the otherwise bland superhero.
Lots of comicbook, TV and movie variations have played around with the man from Krypton since then, and the makers of "Man of Steel" have definitively veered from that 25-year-old example. This Superman is dark and brooding, and the film around him barely cracks a smile.
So fine: Let's forget the previous versions and see what we've got here, as cooked up by screenwriter David Goyer ("Dark Knight" man Christopher Nolan worked on the story) and "300" director Zack Snyder. It starts strong, with a long prologue on the planet Krypton.
Here the wise Jor-El (Russell Crowe, easily out-acting everybody else) prepares his infant son Kal-El for escape from a disintegrating world. His political rival, General Zod (Michael Shannon, malevolent but monotonous), swears an oath to find the kid.
Krypton looks cool, all dark gold and heavy-metal curlicues, and it goes without saying that the digital effects of the world exploding (and back on Earth later, half of Metropolis getting torched) are stupendous.
The boy ends up on our Earth, raised by parents named Kent (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane) and compelled to discover the source of his unusual gifts. And even though the overall plot would seem to be solvable by everybody talking to each other and working out an equitable solution (I'm serious; this is not rocket science), Zod finds our planet and brings his mighty wrath to bear.
Mild-mannered Clark Kent is played by Henry Cavill, best known for "Immortals" and "The Tudors." He carries the Superman cleft chin and pumped-up physique that befits a man of steel.
What he doesn't carry into the role is much personality, although he tries his best to convey Supe's allegedly angst-ridden mood.
Cavill shares no chemistry with spunky Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams). She bumps into Superman when she investigates a story about UFOs; boss Perry White (Laurence Fishburne) is relegated to side duty.
Snyder and Goyer make some promising choices, including a winner of an epilogue. But what's cool about the film is seriously damaged by the dullness at the center. Superman doesn't need to be cuddly, and maybe Cavill's likability isn't an issue. But it would be nice if something magnetic were going on.
It all comes down to a giant computer-generated donnybrook that looks designed to out-do "The Avengers" for sheer noise: bodies slammed into pavements, buildings toppled, explosions aplenty.
The preview audience disagreed with me, but I found it more grueling than fun: a movie with steel in its heart and soul.
"Man of Steel" 2 and 1/2 stars
Director Zack Snyder tries out some interesting ideas during this (yet another) origin story for Superman, but none of the giant-scaled action can disguise the dullness of the main character (Henry Cavill). After an excellent opening section on Krypton (Russell Crowe out-acts everybody as Supe's father), the film fumbles Clark Kent's romance with Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and builds to the usual computer-generated mayhem to try to top "The Avengers."
Rated: PG-13 for violence.
Showing: Adlerwood Mall, Edmonds, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marsyville, Stanwood, Meridian, Woodinville, Blue Fox, Casdcade Mall, Oak Harbor.
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