'Man of Steel' an action-packed battle between Earth and Krypton

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Whether by coincidence or calculation, "Man of Steel" arrives Father's Day weekend and -- in a movie with layer upon layer of action -- it's the scenes with Kevin Costner and Henry Cavill or his younger counterparts that stay with you.

They are the heart, in every way, of this Superman reboot.

Mr. Cavill distinguishes himself as a worthy successor to Christopher Reeve although one charged with much more physically punishing scenes and almost no hint of Clark Kent as sweet bumbler. The Brit has the potential to be the best Superman in the character's 75-year history.

"Man of Steel" is big in every way, starting with the expansive sci-fi opening on Krypton when Kal-El is born and his mother and father, Jor-El (Russell Crowe), send him from their dying planet to what they hope will be Earth's safe embrace. The circumstances of the infant's arrival and Jor-El's actions enrage General Zod (Michael Shannon), setting the stage for a future apocalyptic showdown.

Through flashbacks, we learn that young Clark initially was overwhelmed on Earth, his super senses magnifying every noise inside and outside his classroom and his X-ray vision making his schoolmates appear as frightening fleshy skeletons.

But he is blessed to have a calming mother (Diane Lane) and a wise father (Mr. Costner), who counsels Clark on the need to keep his extraordinary powers secret because when the world learns what he can do, it will change everything.

"People are afraid of what they don't understand," the Kansas farmer tells Clark, adding, "You're the answer to, 'Are we alone in the universe?' "

That proves to be a knotty question and answer, though, as fearless Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and the rest of the world discover.

'Man of Steel'

3.5 stars = Very Good
Ratings explained

  • Starring:

    Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Kevin Costner, Russell Crowe.

  • Rating:

    PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence, action and destruction, and for some language.

Director Zack Snyder's movie, deserving of its PG-13 rating, is propelled by action, more action and then even more action for 2 hours and 23 minutes.

It's too much of a good or repetitive thing -- another fire, fight, explosion, act of destruction, buckling building or aliens furiously flying directly into each other -- at the expense of the quieter moments with precious little humor and romance. No one expects a lightning round of Iron Man quips, but lighten up, dude.

Boasting phenomenal effects, "Man of Steel" is closer to "Avengers" than any of the Reeve or Brandon Routh incarnations. The story, however, is rich with threads about free will, hope, fathers and sons, dual identities, bullying and the potential of every person to be a force for good.

Religious meaning long has been found in Superman's creation, death and resurrection and the relaunch is no exception. A 33-year-old Clark seeks out a priest in a church, a stained-glass window of a praying Christ aglow in the background as talk turns to taking a leap of faith.

"Man of Steel" taps into Mr. Shannon's much-documented intensity -- here twinned with rage -- and gives Mr. Costner his richest role in years, returns Mr. Crowe to his commanding "Gladiator" days, allows Ms. Lane to beautifully exude a steadying warmth and reflects today's times by casting Laurence Fishburne as editor Perry White. He has lost the cigar but gained an earring.

"Man of Steel," which pays homage to Smallville, Metropolis and even Lex Luthor, is 10 minutes and one smackdown too long. It sets the stage for a sequel although surprisingly there's no bonus scene at the end of the credits.

Next time, though, how about a little more man and a little less Super?

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Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632. Read her blog: www.post-gazette.com/madaboutmovies. First Published June 13, 2013 4:00 AM


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