Director: Zack Snyder
Cast: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Diane Lane, Kevin Costner
Running Time: 143 minutes
Release Date: June 14
Considered by many the father of the modern superhero—though having debuted in 1938, grandfather is probably more apt—the fact that Superman stories have consistently depended on a father/son relationship for their emotional core has always made for a particularly neat fit.
It proved a contentious point in Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns, as the perennial son became a first time father. Contentious, but not without merit, considering Returns’ reverence for the themes of Richard Donner’s 1978 Superman, wherein the role of father and son were defined in iconic fashion by Christopher Reeve and Marlon Brando as Clark Kent and the wise and guiding Jor-El respectively.
When Zach Snyder’s Man of Steel embraces the themes handed down by its forefathers, it really soars. A visceral opening prologue set on Krypton immediately sets to rewriting the Superman mythology. As his home-world literally crumbles around him, Jor-El (Russell Crowe) must contend with the ill timed insurgency of General Zod (Michael Shannon) while rushing to spirit his son off planet.
33 years later we discover Jor-El—aka Clark Kent, aka Henry Cavill, who nails the notoriously tricky role—on Earth, a David Banner style wandering soul, drifting between names and jobs, helping those in need with his superhuman powers and comic book accurate physique. Dispensing with the predictable A to B to Cape plotting of your typical origin story, Man of Steel dynamically leaps between past and present, at least for the first hour.
Through flashback’s we explore Clark’s relationship with his Earth father Jonathan. Costner is stirring as the protective Pa Kent, and his shocking assertation that ‘maybe’ Clark should have let a bus of children die to protect his secret is a sentiment that is repeated ad infinitum throughout the movie. Should Kal-El become a beacon of hope for humanity as his Kryptonian father wanted, or is the risk too great? It’s a dichotomy that’s taken to ridiculous extremes, though it’s effective nonetheless.
Despite Shannon’s delightful and surprisingly sympathetic turn as Zod, his reemergence in the film signals a turn for the worse. What was a heartfelt portrayal of a man who doesn’t fit in, and a father trying to protect his only son, tumbles into something akin to lesser Roland Emmerich fare, sometimes exhilarating, regularly confounding, and frequently boring and directionless; an endless series of chaotic skirmishes between Superman and Zod’s posse.
If your main grievance with Superman Returns was the lack of him punching things, then fret not; Man of Steel excels at this, with things getting punched into other things being its speciality. Saddened by the Watchmen director’s decision to amputate that film’s space-squid finale? Well kneel before Snyder cause he’s only gone and transplanted it—or something similar—into this movie, as a tired addendum to the endless brawling. All that said, the final confrontation between Krypton’s last son and Zod is extravagant and emotional, if not quite enough to pull you all the way back on board.
This is all broken up by the plights of a series of background characters, contending with the destructive ramifications of Zod’s genocidal plotting. Few of these secondary characters add up to anything worth caring about, with the exception of Martha Kent (Diane Lane) and of course Lois Lane (Amy Adams). Lane is less feisty though more useful than fans might expect, however she has too little screen time with Supes to make for a believable love interest.
Inconsistent effects work aside, Man of Steel is a great looking film. Snyder forfeits his trademark speed ramping for a style more akin to JJ Abrams, lens flare and faux handheld in tow. Hans Zimmer’s thunderous score makes for a phenomenal work in its own right, though one that at times just exacerbates the exhausting activity on screen.
Man of Steel flies high when examining the inner life and relationships of a Superman, but tends to get a little muddled when he tries to do anything too super. Despite this, Snyder and co have built a world that it’s hard not to want to explore further. And considering how David Goyer has supposedly already begun work on scripts for Man of Steel 2 and Justice League, you won’t have to wait too long.