STARRING: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams,
Michael Shannon, Diane Lane, Russell Crowe, Antje Traue, Kevin Costner, Laurence
2013, 143 Minutes, Directed by:
Begins, Casino Royale, Star Trek.
We may as well face it. We’re in the era of the reboot where filmmakers take
classic pop culture characters and say, in effect, "Let’s start again." In the
Man of Steel the name "Superman" is not fully uttered until nearly two hours
into the movie, and those wedded to the lore of the comic books (itself many
times revised) or previous movies and TV shows need to set that aside. It’s not
that it is ignored so much that it is no longer binding.
It’s hard to believe anyone
will come into this origin story not knowing that, as an infant, Kal-El is sent
from the dying planet of Krypton by his father Jor-El (Russell Crowe). Raised by
Jonathan and Martha Kent (Kevin Costner, Diane Lane) on a farm in Smallville,
Kansas, young Clark (Henry Cavill) as he is known, is overwhelmed by the powers
he has including flight, heat vision, and super strength which his father
insists he keep secret.
Although the story proceeds in
a fragmented fashion with numerous flashbacks, the main plot involves Pulitzer
Prize winning reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams) being rescued by a mysterious
stranger. She then tracks down his story to that Kansas farm. Meanwhile Clark
has set off a signal summoning Kryptonian warlord General Zod (Michael Shannon),
newly freed from the Phantom Zone, who plans to destroy all life on Earth and
rebuild Krypton there. The bulk of the story is the battle between Zod and the
now costumed Superman.
"It’s exciting, it’s intelligent and it has a stellar cast."
It’s no secret that this is
Warner Bros. attempting to salvage the Superman franchise after the
failure of Superman Returns in 2006. Rival
Marvel Comics is having so much success with movies like
Iron Man 3 and The Avengers, why can’t any DC
Comics character besides Batman succeed on the big screen?
So in answer to that question,
Man of Steel works. It’s exciting, it’s intelligent and it has a stellar
cast. Henry Cavill, perhaps best known from the cable series The Tudors,
plays Superman not as an icon but as a conflicted character trying to figure out
his place in the world. Amy Adams threads the needle of being the endless damsel
in distress – Superman rescues her falling to Earth twice – while also being
credible as the intrepid reporter who falls in love with him. Michael Shannon is
harsh and chilling as the single-minded Zod who is not so much evil as so
dedicated to his purpose that he doesn’t care how it might impact others.
For those dedicated to the
long-established history – such as this reviewer – there is much that is in sync
with it as well as stuff that is revised or ignored. The appearance of flying
lizards on Krypton (Jor-El flies around on one) is bizarre and mistaken. As is
well known, there were no such creatures on Krypton. On the other hand, there is
a moment late in the film that should cause Superman enthusiasts to gasp. The
filmmakers (director Zach Snyder, writer Davis S. Goyer, and producer
Christopher Nolan, who shares story credit with Goyer) painted themselves into a
corner and took the only way out. It works but, more important, the characters
react appropriately to this major breach with the legend.
Man of Steel does not achieve greatness (as Nolan’s Batman Begins
did) but it is very good and worth seeing. Warners has its Superman franchise
back. What they do with it now remains to be seen.
Daniel M. Kimmel is a
veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His first
novel, Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s
Guide has just been released. He teaches film at Suffolk University and
lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.