NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

PortWatch

June 13, 2013

Film follows grim path first trod by the Dark Knight

Thanks, “Man of Steel.” Because of the scene where Superman battles two of his adversaries from the planet Krypton in downtown Smallville, wrecking most of an IHOP and a Sears store, I now associate pancakes and appliances with pain and suffering.

A sure hit, if only because of its 100 “global promotional partners” (according to Advertising Age) and an estimated $170 million in product placement and “collective promotional support,” “Man of Steel” has all the stuff it takes to compete in the modern blockbuster world. Director Zack Snyder’s granite-fisted 143-minute picture treats the Superman mythology with enough seriousness to satisfy scholars of the Bible or the Torah, let alone presold fans of the comic book hero introduced by writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster in 1938.

This time, no trace elements of camp intrude on the landscapes of Krypton, Metropolis or Smallville, Kan. We are a long, long way from “Superman II” (1981), my favorite of the Superman films to date, in which director Richard Lester, replacing Richard Donner, blended fantasy, humor and viciousness with surprising ease.

Well, forget the humor. Director Snyder is the man behind “300,” “Watchmen” and “Sucker Punch,” three decorative slabs of digital slaughter (enjoyed parts of the first; hated the other two). He also made the 2004 remake of “Dawn of the Dead,” by far Snyder’s best so far. Working from a story by producer Christopher Nolan, “Man of Steel” turns Superman into a close cousin of Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy.

The scale of the destruction borders on the grotesque. By the time Superman squares off against General Zod (a fiercely effective Michael Shannon, bringing the interstellar glare of doom) in a climactic, city-destroying melee that goes on for what feels like weeks, it’s no wonder the boy born Kal-El on Krypton eventually transforms into a bit of a prima donna. “I’m here to help, but it has to be on my own terms,” Superman scolds Harry Lennix’s Army general at one point.

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