Director Zack Snyder's Man of Steel starts at Superman's beginning. On Krypton, Jor-El (Russell Crowe) is comforting his wife, Lara Lor-Van as she gives birth to their son, Kal-El. Kal-El is the first natural birth on Krypton in centuries and, thus, isn't tied to the horrible fate of the planet like the rest of his species. It's quickly revealed that things on Krypton have reached a tipping point as General Zod (Michael Shannon) stages a coup to claim the planet as his own. Jor-El defies Zod and the rebel forces to send his son out into space as the savior of their people. Zod kills him in the process.
Kal-El lands on Earth, where he's discovered by Jonathan and Martha Kent. He's raised as a normal, Midwestern adolescent named Clark. But, Clark Kent soon realizes that he's not like the other kids at school. The first half of Man of Steel is told through a series of flashbacks to Kent's childhood and his struggle to discover himself on a planet full of strangers.
Back in the present, Kent has been fighting to keep his obvious differences and abilities a secret while drifting from odd job to odd job searching for answers about his origin. When U.S. military forces converge on a massive structure embedded in a 20,000-year-old block of ice, Clark Kent, The Daily Planet's Lois Lane (Amy Adams), and Colonel Nathan Hardy (Christopher Meloni aka Detective Stabler) stumble upon a ship from Krypton that provides some answers for Kent, but also signals General Zod and his cronies.
Zod shows up to Earth, demanding that Kal-El come forward. Eventually, Superman and U.S. military forces wind up working cooperatively in an effort to save humanity. Things are about to jump off.
Sitting through the action sequences felt a lot like watching someone else play Tekken 4. At Man of Steel, you've got to sit back and wait while Zack Snyder button-mashes his ass off. Flying super punch. Topple building. Throw something heavy. Close-up of Cavill screaming. Don't get hurt by bullets. Another super punch. Another toppled building. ANOTHER SUPER PUNCH! TOPPLE ALL THE BUILDINGS!
It felt like Snyder took the crappy parts of the Tranformers films and traded Shia LaBeouf for that jacked guy from The Tudors. About two-thirds of the way through, I found myself wishing that Cavill would fly into outer space and reverse the rotation of the Earth on its axis so that Snyder and company could go back and replace the action sequences with clips of General Zod doing dramatic readings of angry sorority emails.
NEWSFLASH: You should probably do something more than just topple buildings during the action scenes.
DOUBLE F***ING NEWSFLASH: That "something else" should include more than just close-ups of Henry Cavill screaming.
Man of Steel lacks the moral ambiguity and ominous optimism of the Dark Knight films. It's missing the edge and self-reflection of the Ironman trilogy. Even "HULK SMASH!" offers some poetic simplicity. Man of Steel paints Clark Kent as this tortured soul meandering through a conficted existence in search of his own identity, but doesn't quite resonate before the sky starts to fall.
Amy Adams turns in an adequate performance as Lois Lane, but the dialogue had her patting herself on the back with tired clichés like Lane was constantly spouting off her own credentials. It's actually her last line of the film that finds the right balance between shtick and authenticity. Unsurprisingly, Michael Shannon delivers a convincing performance as the vengeful, driven antagonist, Zod. Russell Crowe Russell Crowe's the hell out of his role (meh) and doesn't sing, so that's a plus.
Henry Cavill is tepid as Kal-El/Clark Kent/Superman and seems more like a pretty prop than a man carrying the weight of two worlds (and a superhero film franchise) on his shoulders (and his conscience). Walmart sponsored a special early screening of Man of Steel, which is fitting because the film is an equally generic behemoth.
On a scale of Daredevil to The Dark Knight, Man of Steel is a 5.5. It's an ordinary, summer superhero flick. But, ordinary's just not good enough today.