MAN OF STEEL directed by Zack Snyder, written by David S. Goyer from a story by Goyer and Christopher Nolan, with Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon and Russell Crowe. A Warner Bros. release. 143 minutes. Opens Friday (June 14). Rating: NN
After the mixed reception of Superman Returns, which I loved but most everyone else didn't, it made sense for Warner to turn the character over to Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer, who rebooted another key DC hero so effectively in Batman Begins.
Tapping Zack Snyder to direct seemed a little odd - 300 and Watchmen don't exactly have the humanistic side one associates with Superman - but for the first hour of Man Of Steel, he's a good fit.
Snyder brings some edge to the early scenes on Krypton, where the noble Jor-El (Russell Crowe) defies the mad General Zod (Michael Shannon) to launch his son Kal-El to safe haven on Earth, where he's raised by the kindly Martha and Jonathan Kent (Diane Lane, Kevin Costner) and learns to master his strange abilities.
It's a clever reworking of Richard Donner's 1978 Superman, right down to the first sight of our hero in his super suit about an hour into the picture. And then the bad guys show up and the whole thing collapses into ugly, violent spectacle.
There are some things that Superman simply does not do - "leave innocents in peril" being a pretty big one - and that conflicts with Snyder's love of carnage. Though the carnage happens largely off-screen, the body count in Man Of Steel is in the tens of thousands; worse, there are stretches where Superman seems indifferent to the deaths of people around him.
This might be okay for Batman (that guy's psychotic), but it's not okay for Superman, especially since Snyder treats him as a Christ figure at other points. And certain further actions demonstrate a shocking disregard for 75 years of the character's history - though they're entirely in line with the might-makes-right ethic that seethes beneath much of Snyder's work.
Henry Cavill does a fine job as Superman, projecting a quiet confidence and awareness that echo Christopher Reeve's performance without being beholden to it. It's a measure of Cavill's intelligence that you can feel him resisting Goyer and Snyder's most egregious errors of judgment as Man Of Steel shakes itself apart.
Amy Adams tries really hard as Lois Lane, but she's not a patch on Margot Kidder. Maybe Rosemarie DeWitt just wasn't available.