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REVIEW: 'Man of Steel,' the latest Superman movie, is without heart

By Bill Radford Published: June 14, 2013 0

Some say the comic book world is divided between two camps: Batman fans and Superman fans.

Either you gravitate toward the down-to-earth Caped Crusader, waging a war on crime with a gritty resolve, a finely honed physique and gadgets that only billionaire Bruce Wayne could afford, or you prefer the powerful, high-flying Man of Steel from another world.

In truth, both have plenty of mutual fans, myself included. Yes, Batman is more relatable: You could be Batman if only you were willing to push yourself hard enough - and inherited those Wayne billions. (In the old days, it was only millions.) But there are elements of Superman one can relate to as well. The idea that, just as Clark Kent can strip off his glasses and rip open his shirt to reveal his super identity, all of us have a hero inside. And the isolation he must feel, an alien raised as human.

Which is why I'm psyched about the new Superman movie, "Man of Steel," which is being released Friday. Judging from trailers and interviews with director Zack Snyder and producer Christopher Nolan (the director of the "Dark Knight" trilogy), some psychological elements drive the story, which follows a Superman torn between his Krypton and Earth fathers as he struggles to find his place in the world.

"Man of Steel" comes seven years after Bryan Singer's disappointing "Superman Returns." For the most part I found it to be a unwieldy mix of homage to, and sequel to, the Christopher Reeve "Superman" movies.

The question is whether Superman, who has been a star on radio, the big and small screens and even stage ("It's a Bird .. It's a Plane ... It's Superman" in 1966) will thrill moviegoers this time. It has to be frustrating for DC Comics, the publisher behind Superman and Batman: These superheroes' movies were successes decades ago, while early movies featuring rival Marvel Comics characters were largely an embarrassment. Now the tables have turned: Marvel Studios is churning out smash after smash - most recently "The Avengers" and "Iron Man 3" - while DC has struggled outside of the "Dark Knight" movies. And it's not just that Marvel's characters are more down to earth than many of DC's. "Thor," after all, was a hit and it featured a demi-god - though one who spent much of the movie stripped of his powers.

But, for the most part, Marvel's heroes are more flawed and thus, more human. Heck, after battling aliens and the threat of world destruction in "The Avengers," Tony "Iron Man" Stark even suffered from PTSD in "Iron Man 3." after battling aliens and the threat of world destruction in "The Avengers." And Marvel Studios has hit on just the right mix of popcorn spectacle, humor and characters.

On the DC side, it's natural for Batman to resonate with readers - and moviegoers - more than some other characters. Batman, again, has no powers - no magic ring handed to him, no super speed bestowed upon him in a freak lab accident. And he's ... well, badass, while Superman is sometimes derided as an overgrown Boy Scout. Which is why trailers for "Man of Steel" have caused raised eyebrows - or even gasps from fans - when Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner) seems to suggest to a young Clark Kent that perhaps he should not have rescued a school bus full of kids.

Trailers also have shown Superman screaming. A scream of anger? Frustration? Effort? Can't tell, but any of those could reflect an effort to make a more relatable Superman.

I don't expect "Man of Steel" to rise to "Iron Man 3" box office levels. But, hopefully, Snyder and Nolan do the iconic hero - celebrating his 75th anniversary this year - justice.

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Find Bill Radford's Comics Fan blog at blogs.gazette.com/comicsfan.

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