"Man of Steel" hits many of the major points in the Superman saga: He was born on Krypton, raised by Kansas parents, falls for spunky Lois Lane and fights a threat that could wipe out Earth.
These same points were touched on with far more energy and passion with the Christopher Reeve movies of the late '70s and early '80s, or through the more sensitive take in the 2006 relaunch, "Superman Returns," with Brandon Routh playing the DC Comics hero.
This familiar transformation of the comic book character to the big screen is the film's biggest piece of kryptonite. Since the movie travels very little new ground except for an expanding stay on Krypton and a darker tone it's a competent retelling of the tale. There's just nothing super about it.
Because the story offers few surprises Clark Kent can grow a beard and Lois Lane's no longer a damsel in distress it's up to the actors and director Zack Snyder to give this effort some muscle.
Henry Cavill does a passable job filling the suit to take on the role of Superman. The problem is that he's rather emotionless as Superman and there's very little Clark Kent. The biggest plus of the Reeve movies was making Kent as complicated and full a character as Superman. The Kent in "Man of Steel" is a mere afterthought and doesn't allow for that wonderful duality.
The best supporting work comes from Russell Crowe, who plays Superman's birth father, Jor-El. But their time together is too short and disjointed.
Amy Adams plays Lois less as a victim, but there's not enough chemistry between her and Cavill to power a single Christmas tree light.
The acting is solid but nothing heroic. The same goes for Snyder's direction.
Just as he did with "Watchmen" and "Sucker Punch," Snyder takes the comic book-inspired material and gives it a grungy edge. From the muted colors of Superman's iconic suit to the endless Earth tones on Krypton, this is a film that treats color like an enemy of the state. This darker side proves counterproductive in the 3D form, a process that already drains the light from a film.
The action sequences generally offer nothing new. But Snyder earns some redemption with the final battle sequence that dwarfs the destruction of New York in "The Avengers."
"Man of Steel" offers no surprises. Snyder would have done better to delve more into new elements, but he instead floats back to tried-and-true elements, such as Perry White (Laurence Fishburne) and General Zod (Michael Shannon). The early scenes on Krypton are the most engaging because they expand on what's gone before.
David Goyer's script plods along, filling the down time between major stunts with uninspired moments. The biggest failing is the scene where Superman's Earthly father (Kevin Costner) teaches his son the ultimate lesson of protecting the secret of his powers. The scene should have been deeply emotional, but it fails because it requires a complete dismissal of the heart and power Superman has shown in so many past efforts.
"Man of Steel" isn't a flop. Nor does it go up, up and away. As far as movie relaunches go, this one's OK.
"Man of Steel," rated PG-13 for comic-book violence. Stars Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Russell Crowe, Laurence Fishburne, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane. Directed by Zack Snyder. Running time: 143 minutes. Grade: B- Movie theaters and times
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at (559) 441-6355 or on Twitter @RickBentley1