In "Man of Steel," the sixth big-budget, full-color Superman movie, Clark Kent is charged with deciding his course in life, and so he grows a beard and goes away to brood.
Though it may seem that "Man of Steel" is full of "deep thoughts" — as were the two most recent Batman "Dark Knight" movies — that's not the case. What "Man of Steel" does have are several good ideas that never really pay off.
Written by David S. Goyer from a story by Christopher Nolan and starring Henry Cavill as Superman, the movie reboots the hero's origin story with a wrinkle borrowed from "Gattaca": While most babies on Krypton were genetically designed, the young Kal-El is naturally born and has free will.
Just as Clark discovers his true background and dons his costume and cape for the first time, Kryptonian bad guy General Zod (Michael Shannon) arrives, hoping to turn Earth into a new Krypton.
Early on, one of the film's best themes is how schoolboy Clark has a hard time controlling his super-hearing and X-ray vision, and how his senses are constantly overwhelmed. That could have been a powerful dramatic element, but director Zack Snyder ("300," "Watchmen") smooths it over in just one scene.
Sadly, Clark, the bespectacled, awkward reporter, isn't a primary part of the story, so viewers don't have an emotional entry point and can't identify with the character.
Equally puzzling is why the film ignores the issue of how Superman can stop a villain whose powers equal his own. No ingenuity or wit is involved, just force. Even the moral conundrum the use of brutality brings up is avoided.
Instead, Snyder spends 2 hours, 23 minutes on Superman and the villains smashing each other through buildings, a lot of them, repeatedly. It's a contrast to the 1978 film "Superman," in which Christopher Reeve as Superman simply drifted up into the sky. In "Man of Steel," Superman creates a sonic boom every time he takes off.
Amid all of the fighting, action and noise, the great cast — Amy Adams, Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner and Diane Lane — can't find moments to let their characters breathe.
While Cavill is unbelievably handsome, with big blue eyes, a pert nose and godlike muscles (he's shirtless for several minutes), he's completely uninteresting, and conveys no sense of the character's inner growth.
There are some moments of awe and exhilaration in "Man of Steel," and an image of an 80-year-old Superman carries enormous power. Yet those moments aren't enough. The Superman mythology is about more than just punching things.
REVIEWMan of Steel
two and a half stars
Starring Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Diane Lane, Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner
Written by David S. Goyer
Directed by Zack Snyder
Running time 2 hours, 23 minutes