Since Time Warner owns both DC Comics and Warner Brothers Pictures, it makes complete corporate business sense to produce a retelling of the Superman saga every few years.
When baby boomers think of “Superman,” they think of the 1950s TV series that starred George Reeves and the late ’70s and early ’80s films that had Christopher Reeve in the blue bodysuit and red cape. While it was always good versus evil, it was done with a wink of the eye.
If you are expecting a chuckle from “Man of Steel,” you’ve come to the wrong movie. Save for a rare droll one-liner from Superman (Henry Cavill), there is little to smile about. Chief villain General Zod (Michael Shannon) is a grump who growls in a very throaty voice. I quickly became nostalgic for Gene Hackman’s witty and somewhat campy Lex Luthor.
Director Zack Snyder seems as interested in constructing a film about Superman’s native planet, Krypton, than he is about the iconic superhero. That could have been a worthwhile flick in its own right.
“Man of Steel” opens with the chaotic final days of Krypton which its ruling class knows is a doomed planet because of a fiery core that could explode at any moment. General Zod and his cohorts attempt a violent coup over the current regime in the hopes of using military weapons to take over another planet in the hopes of ensuring survival.
One of the depressing aspects of life on Krypton is that every one of its citizens is programmed from birth to perform a certain function in society. Zod was brought up to be an unfeeling warrior. Free choice does not exist there.
The only man who stands up to him is Jor-El (Russell Crowe), who rightfully worries that the despotic Zod will destroy the universe. He and his wife Lara, realizing the imminent danger to Krypton, send their infant son Kal-El off in a spaceship bound for Earth. It is Jor-El’s hope that Kal will be fortunate enough to be adopted by an ideal family.
His prayers would be answered posthumously as he is adopted by a very understanding Kansas farming family, the Kents, Jonathan (Kevin Costner) and Martha (Diane Lane), who name the foundling Clark. Keenly aware of his other-worldly powers, they impress upon him from childhood the importance of restraint even when he is being mercilessly teased.
This is a far darker Superman presentation than we’ve ever seen. Clark always wonders about his place in the world from the time that he is a kid right through to adulthood. He is not even sure where he stands with the United States government even as he is performing heroic deeds for mankind.
Only Daily Planet investigative reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams) sees him without question as a force for truth, justice, and the American way although that phrase is not used in the film. My guess is that the filmmakers thought that it might offend the overseas market.
In a rather unconventional but welcomed plot twist, the identity of Superman is not a secret. In this internet era very little about identities seems to be a mystery as recent headline stories have shown.
The key to any Superman is whether the lead actor is credible. In this case the spotlight is a bit stronger because Henry Cavill is a native of the United Kingdom. No reasons to worry because the handsome Cavill has perfected a Midwestern accent and he has a strong presence. Michael Shannon is fine as Cavill’s cinematic adversary although it would have been fun if the screenwriters let him get off a few wisecracks every now and then. Amy Adams is a natural to play Lois Lane as is Laurence Fishburne as her cantankerous editor, Perry White. Kevin Costner and Diane Lane are superb in their supporting roles.
With so much going for it, this film should have been a lot better than it is. Hans Zimmer’s bombastic Wagnerian-like score makes you want to put your fingers in your ears. The drawn-out battles scenes coupled with incessant explosions are headache-inducing. I regret that I did not have aspirin available.
It takes well over two hours for Superman and Zod to finally go mano-a-mano and their brawl seems as if it goes for another two hours. There is no doubt that Zack Snyder could easily have trimmed at least 30 minutes, and probably more, and the audience would not have lost a thing.
“Man of Steel” is not so super.