It has been a black eye to Hollywood that throughout this, the unending and increasingly repetitive age of the superhero blockbuster, the comics' most iconic son has eluded its grasp like a bird, or, if you will, a plane.
New hopes of box-office riches and franchise serials rest on Zac Snyder's 3-D "Man of Steel," the latest attempt to put Superman back into flight. But Snyder's joyless film has nothing soaring about it.
Flying men in capes is grave business in Snyder's solemn Superman. "Man of Steel," an origin tale of the DC Comics hero, goes more than two hours before the slightest joke or smirk.
This is not your Superman of red tights, phone booth changes or fortresses of solitude, but one of Christ imagery, Krypton politics and spaceships. Who wants to have fun at the movies when you can instead be taught a lesson about identity from a guy who can shoot laser beams out of his eyes?
Snyder brings to the film a sure hand for overly dramatic compositions that take after comic strip panels. He has a clearly sincere reverence for the source material (originally created in 1938 by writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster).
He's a filmmaker who, even with his last film, the abysmal "Sucker Punch," seems to precisely make the movie he intended.
Fans will likely thrall to many overlong action set pieces, as Superman battles with Zod and his minions. There's little creativity to the fight sequences, though, which plow across countless building facades.
But Snyder doesn't have the material or inclination to make "Man of Steel" as thought-provoking as Nolan's "Dark Knight" trilogy. Superman wrestles with his allegiance to humans or his home planet, but the quandaries of a superpowered man betwixt worlds doesn't have any real resonance. The gravity that cloaks "Man of Steel" is merely an en vogue costume.
While Snyder has succeeded in turning out a Superman that isn't silly (not a small feat) and will likely lay enough of a bedrock for further sequels, it's a missed opportunity for fun.
Henry Cavill's performance is less memorable for his introspective brooding than for his six-pack (a fetish for Snyder, the director of "300"). He's handsome and capable, but one can't help missing Christopher Reeve's twinkle. At least he smiled.
The awkward acrobatics to modernize the film are most evident with its explanation of Superman's shield.
The "S" is a Krypton glyph (an element first introduced in the original 1978 film) now defined as representing "hope."
But if "S" doesn't stand for "Superman," "Man of Steel" is the one with the identity issues. (By Jake Coyle/The Associated Press)
"Man of Steel," a Warner Bros. release, is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence, action and destruction, and for some language. Running time: 144 minutes. Two stars out of four.