There few movies that have been as anticipated as Warner Brothers’ reboot of the Superman movie franchise. A lot is riding on “Man of Steel,” especially after the somewhat disappointing 2006 “Superman Returns,” including the future of a “Justice League” movie that could rival Marvel’s “The Avengers.” In short, “Man of Steel” is an exciting, yet thoughtful movie that succeeds both as a summer popcorn movie and a treatment of one of the most venerable figures in American popular culture.
Warning: Some spoilers follow after the jump.
I have to admit to a great deal of bias here; I have been a Superman fan for most of my life. I’ve read almost every incarnation of the Last Son of Krypton, from the rather cheesy Silver Age comics to the current—and in my opinion, fairly awful—version of Superman. I’ve seen the Richard Donner movies countless times, and, for a time, I tried to defend “Superman Returns” as an excellent vision of Superman. But even after watching “Returns,” I felt that there was something missing.
That movie has nothing on Man of Steel. Zack Snyder’s vision of Krypton is as fully realized a version of Krypton as we’ve ever seen, either in the comics or on screen. The animosity between General Zod (Michael Shannon) and the house of El actually makes sense, given the explanation that Kryptonians are bred for particular purposes—Zod’s only reason for being is the protection of Krypton, which leads him to maniacal and genocidal actions. Jor-El (Russell Crowe) rejects the sterile, apathetic Kryptonian culture and physically fathers a child with Lara (Ayelet Zurer). This is sacrilege to Zod, who has initiated a civil war. In response to this threat and the imminent destruction of Krypton, Jor-El sends his newborn son to Earth where, as most everyone knows, he is raised by a kindly Midwestern couple.
This movie doesn’t linger over Clark Kent’s (Henry Cavill) time in Smallville—rather, we see major events in his life mostly in the form of flashbacks. This has the effect of creating parallels—most notably, a parallel of Clark being bullied not only by humans, but also by a megalomaniacal Kryptonian. The bulk of the movie deals with Clark coming to terms with his extraordinary abilities, the pressure to keep those abilities under wraps, and knowing when, where, and how to use his powers.
Of course, he can’t remain hidden forever, and this is where Lois Lane (Amy Adams) comes in. This movie presents a refreshing take on the Lois/Clark dynamic. Finally, we have a relationship in which Clark isn’t hiding his Superman identity from Lois—she knows from the jump, primarily because she’s been hunting this guy with extraordinary abilities for years. After all, she IS an investigative reporter, not a damsel in distress (though there are plenty of times in which Superman has to save her).
No sooner does Kryptonian boy meet human girl than Zod and company, who’ve been imprisoned in the Phantom Zone, show up, demanding Clark be handed over to them. Naturally, this sets up about 80% of the movie’s action pieces. All of the action in this movie is done very well. I won’t reveal too much of the movie, but suffice it to say that the action in this movie is basically a logical extension of what would happen when gods collide. There’s a LOT of destruction in this movie, and it’s all very big and loud, but none of it is dumb.
The actors acquit themselves quite well. Henry Cavill wears the cape and bodysuit VERY well—he IS Superman. Don’t expect him to channel Christopher Reeve. Fortunately, Zack Snyder had no interest in recreating those movies, so what we get is a guy who is trying to figure out who he is in this universe, and becomes Superman. And yes, he is HOT. Amy Adams gives us a Lois Lane who is far more believable than Kate Bosworth’s lackluster portrayal. Michael Shannon’s Zod is like Ricardo Montalban’s Khan in “Star Trek II”—so driven by his one-sided view of the world that it leads to death and ruin.
If I have any criticism of “Man of Steel,” it’s how Clark is going to keep others from figuring out that he’s Superman. At one point, he flat out tells General Swanwick (Harry Lennix) that he’s from Kansas. Fortunately, only Lois knows all the details and hopefully the U.S. military won’t have an interest in knowing more about his past. Nevertheless, it was a pretty big plot hole in an otherwise fairly tightly plotted movie.
I had hoped that this would be a good Superman movie. I had hoped that this would be a good summer movie. I am happy to say that this is the Superman movie we’ve been waiting for.