Man of Steel packs enough ambition and imaginative touches to do its hero proud. It's a hero, by the way, that it never does name, and I will pay tribute to that restraint by playing along with that ultra-cool pretentiousness and refuse to name him here as well.
Here is a movie that dispenses with all the ample cheese that comes with the hero and his too-many decades of baggage. Gone are the red underwear and gaudy red boots worn on the outside of his tights. Instead is a navy blue catsuit that looks like it was designed by Under Armor or Nike. The cape is still there, but it sort of has to be. I like that the suit only makes an appearance when it absolutely has to, and that much of the film is about Clark Kent, rather than his alter ego. And I like even more that Kent is a scruffy-haired drifter. There is also some cool stuff about his time as a crazy and terrifying kid.
However, Batman Begins this is not. Instead of having the guts to focus on the development of the hero, it goes nutso by bringing in an alien invasion, the Phantom Zone, General Zod and all sorts of other crazy that should have long since been written out of DC continuity. Worse, the hero is very much a reckless idiot when it comes to the set-piece battles, thinking noting of toppling skyscrapers and slaughtering thousands of innocents as he chases down the bad guy.
I love this movie as much as I hate it, and I feel both emotions pretty equally. For every human moment that lends authenticity to such an otherworldly and ridiculous character, there's an equal measure of nonsensical bombast that plague just about every cinematic superhero yarn.
What I'm left with more than anything are questions. Why couldn't the hero have just rescued people, stopped crimes and asserted himself as a force for good and hope for us groundlings? Why did he have to slaughter so many of us and kill the rest of us? Why did we need to see the hero hang out in the Fortress of fricking Solitude talking with a computer program of his dead dad?
There are so many moments in the movie that absolutely work, though. Which is why this is such a tough film to digest and decide whether to hate or love. It ends on a perfect note that matches the finale of Batman Begins. The character stuff, except for an unnecessarily falsely heroic moment with Costner as Pa Kent, all hits hard, and gives the movie a fighting shot at developing into a bonafide franchise rather than another aborted reboot.
I like this movie in spite of itself, I guess. At the very least I have to hand it to the film that it's not as awful as its 2006 predecessor. I will look, up in the sky, with hope the next time a film in the series comes around. Rather than dread.
Starring Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Diane Lane, Russell Crowe and Kevin Costner. Written by David S. Goyer, based on a character created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. Directed by Zack Snyder. Rated PG-13. 143 minutes.