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Review: 'Man of Steel' thrills with action, engages with emotion

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The sky's the limit for "Man of Steel," a dark, complex and emotionally engaging take on the legendary DC Comics character. Expertly directed by Zack Snyder and co-written by Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer, the film stays true the Superman canon, yet boldly takes detours from the narrative that grew stale with underwhelming 2006 reboot of the franchise, "Superman Returns."

With "Man of Steel," we get a perfect balance of action, adventure and visceral thrills, in story filled with impenetrable heart and soul. With unmistakable allusions to Christ-like symbolism, the film is no doubt heavier than earlier Superman tales, yet it never takes itself too seriously. In fact, there are many well-placed laughs.

"Man of Steel" begins on the dying planet of Krypton where scientist Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and his wife, Lara Lor-Van (Ayelet Zurer) have the first natural birth in centuries. Named Kal-El, the child holds promise because he has the ability to forge his own destiny rather than have a pre-determined one, which awaits all the other unborn children of Krypton.

With the planet weeks away from destruction, Jor-El and Lara send their son rocketing toward Earth, since Jor-El's believes his son will be a force of good and give the people of his new home ideals to strive toward. Kal-El's escape couldn't have come any sooner, as General Zod (Michael Shannon) stages a military coup of the planet, seeking the key to the future of Krypton that only the infant child holds.

Fast-forwarding 33 years, we find Kal-El has grown into the angst-ridden Clark Kent (Henry Cavill), who's been adrift on an aimless path to make sure no one discovers his unearthly abilities. Taught his whole life by his adoptive parents, Jonathan and Martha Kent (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane), to hide his gifts, Clark is led to believe the discovery of his alien presence on Earth would forever alter all of the world's belief systems.

Clark's sheltered world cracks wide open when reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams) from Metropolis' Daily Planet discovers his secrets, which comes about the same time that Zod and his mercenaries locate his whereabouts. Suddenly, Clark must trust the people of Earth will embrace him before Zod wreaks havoc on his adoptive planet, and embrace the superhero he was destined to be.

See my review on "KARE 11 News at 11" with Bryan Piatt below.

After an awe-inspiring 20 minute opening sequence on Krypton, "Man of Steel" continues to soar thanks to the fortitude of Snyder, Nolan and Goyer, who were willing to take risks and shake up the formula a bit. Gone is the linear approach that we've seen in previous Superman tales, which typically begins on Krypton and follows through on Earth with Clark as a young boy and teen, as he grows into becoming Superman and a reporter at the Daily Planet.

Instead, the film establishes a series of well-timed flashbacks to tell Clark's story, which, thanks to some striking cinematography, takes on the same sort of gritty, "real-world" tone that made Nolan's "Dark Knight Trilogy" so engaging. Punctuating the tone of "Man of Steel" is Hans Zimmer's moving score, much in the same way the composer enhanced Nolan's Batman films.

"Man of Steel" no doubt maintains its fantasy aspirations with breathtaking flying scenes and loads of convincing visual effects, yet as an audience member, you can't help but feel you're even more a part of Clark's world. After all, his feelings of loneliness and confusion, and the struggle to find purpose, are emotions we've all experienced.

Of course, the filmmakers' work wouldn't be complete without the film's perfect cast, starting with the star-on-the-rise Cavill. The charismatic British actor not only has the charm, vulnerability and humility of a farm boy raised in Kansas, he embodies the physical aspects we've come to expect with the Man of Steel -- suit (sans the red underwear), cape and all.

Interview: "Man of Steel" star Henry Cavill

Interview: "Man of Steel" composer Hans Zimmer

While the title of the film is "Man of Steel," Snyder strikes a great balance in the story with his other lead and supporting characters. Many of the portrayals are pivotal to the success of the film, including Adams, who brings spark, guts and determination to Lois Lane; and Shannon, who is frightening as he literally commands the screen as the bloodthirsty Zod. German actress Antje Traue also steps up as Zod's first commander, Faora, bringing a wicked edge to her role.

Crowe, who is always terrific, excels again here as the ever-present Jor-El, as he manages encounters with his adult son and others thanks to cleverly plotted scenes where they can communicate with the essence of the late, great Kryptonian elder.

In smaller roles, Costner and Lane both bring soul to the Kents, as do the two younger versions of Clark -- Cooper Timberline and Dylan Sprayberry -- who don't break a sweat as they carry a huge amount of emotional weight in their key scenes. Laurence Fishburne also brings presence as Perry White, casting aside the newspaperman caricature that has become far too commonplace in the genre.

Ultimately, "Man of Steel" is a winner because despite it has the ability to appeal to a broad audience instead of just its large and loyal fan base. More than 75 years after his debut in Action Comics #1, "Man of Steel" still makes us believe that a man can fly -- and believe in all those ideals that Superman is continuing to strive toward.

"Man of Steel," rated PG-13, 4 stars out of 4.

See the trailer for "Man of Steel" below.

What other local critics are saying …

Chris Hewitt of the Pioneer Press gives the film 3 stars, saying it's not super, but "good," and says the movie "can't put its finger on what it wants Superman to signify."

Colin Covert doesn't rate the film in his mixed Star Tribune review, calling it "a second-rate take on a first-rate superhero."

BringMeTheNews film critic Tim Lammers is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association and annually votes on the Critics Choice Movie Awards. Locally, he reviews films on “KARE 11 News at 11” and WCCO Radio. As a feature writer, Tim has interviewed more than 1,000 major actors and filmmakers throughout his career and his work is syndicated nationwide.

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