The nicest thing I can say about Michael Bay's humorless, charm-challenged Superman reboot "Man of Steel" might be, hey, terrific costumes, superb visual effects!
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"Man of Steel"★ ★
Starring: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Diane Lane, Kevin Costner, Laurence Fishburne
Directed by: Zack Snyder
Other: A Warner Bros. release. Rated PG-13 for language and violence. 148 minutes
Did I write "Michael Bay"?
Sorry. I meant Zack Snyder, director of the stylish, action-packed films "300," "Dawn of the Dead" and the misconceived graphic novel adaptation "Watchmen."
An honest mistake, considering that Snyder's "Man of Steel" follows Bay's formula of noisy, bash-and-crash action sequences heavy on the violence, but light on wit and the aforementioned charm and humor. Plus, Snyder's cinematographer Amir Mokri also shot Bay's "Transformers: Dark of the Moon." Coincidence? I think not.
"Man of Steel" marks an unexpectedly dour revisionist retelling of the Superman myth, a 2½-hour epic laden with emotionally misconnecting characters prone to uttering speeches in lieu of actual conversations.
The movie, written by David S. Goyer and producer Christopher "The Dark Knight" Nolan, flirts with the notion of Superman as a Christ metaphor (more fully accomplished in 2006's tepid "Superman Returns") while transforming Clark Kent into a philosophical, off-the-grid hot bod searching for his identity and purpose.
At least, "Man of Steel" faithfully follows the mythical comic book origin story on the doomed planet Krypton.
Scientist Jor-El (a non-singing Russell Crowe) witnesses the birth of his firstborn son, Kal-El, at the same time mad dog General Zod (Chicago's own Michael Shannon, boasting Greek bangs) tries to seize the Kryptonian government.
Against the clock, officials incarcerate Zod and his minions into the Phantom Zone, thus saving the villains when Krypton goes the way of the planet Alderaan in "Star Wars."
Meanwhile on Earth, where Jor-El has dispatched his only son to surrogate parents Jonathan and Martha Kent (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane), Kal-El takes the name Clark and has a tough time fitting in.
Not only must the poor lad bear the standard frustrations of growing up in Smallville (actually downtown Plano), he must conceal his true self.
Dad constantly warns him about the dangers of his existence threatening everything people assume to be true about God and the universe. Yet, when Clark finally emerges as Superman, these issues are quickly dropped.
Cavill, the first British actor to play the cinematic guardian of truth, justice and the American Way, plays Clark as a dark and burdened soul stuck inside Channing Tatum's body.
Clark first travels the globe doing menial jobs, keeping a low profile as his widowed mother sits back in Kansas. He crosses paths with Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams) in the Arctic where a NORAD outpost detects a Kryptonian ship under the ice.
There, Clark communes with the holographic essence of Jor-El, gains insight into his past and glimpses his destiny.
Meanwhile, General Zod escapes and tracks Kal-El to Earth. He threatens to destroy the planet if Kal doesn't fork over the "Codex," a device capable of recreating Krypton.
Despite its lofty dramatic ambitions, Snyder's "Man of Steel" never lets up on flash-edited, blurry action sequences and kazillion-decibel sound effects.
If Metropolis isn't being spectacularly destroyed like Chicago in Bay's "Dark of the Moon," the denizens of Smallville confront killer tornadoes, contrived school bus accidents and Zod's seemingly invincible henchpeople.
The Man of Steel's wary relationship with the U.S. military -- represented by Christopher Meloni's Colonel Hardy -- hints at being a love-hate arrangement. (In a rare moment of political commentary, a miffed Superman destroys a $12 million drone because he doesn't like to be spied upon.)
"Man of Steel" only crackles to life during its last five minutes, when Clark shows up to get a job as a Daily Planet reporter. Yes, Lois already knows his secret identity, but that's not the disturbing part.
Where's photographer Jimmy Olsen? He's missing in action, just like the entire photography staff at the Chicago Sun-Times.
Could "Man of Steel" have anticipated the demise of metropolitan photojournalists?
Note that Lois Lane shoots her own photos with a digital Nikon SLR in this movie. Will editor Perry White (Laurence Fishburne) order her to trade it in for an iPhone?
We'll have to wait for "Man of Steel II" to find out.