Krypton is falling apart. Partly due to the harvesting of the core for an energy source. Partly from civil war. Jor-El (Russell Crowe) warned against the harvesting of the core, but the council would not listen to him. General Zod (Michael Shannon), upset at the council’s inability to protect the planet, has waged war on everyone who stands in his way. To protect his son, Kal-El (Henry Cavill), Jor-El steals the codex, which contains the DNA for all of Krypton’s unborn citizens, and sends them to a distant planet.
Martha (Diane Lane) and Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner) find the capsule Kal-El came to Earth in and adopt him as their own, naming him Clark. Once they realize Clark has special powers, Jonathan teaches Clark that he must keep them secret or the world will reject him. Even if it means people could die. People he could easily save. (This conversation provoked laughter from the majority of the audience for some reason. I saw it more of a deep moment, such as it is.) As Clark grows up, he struggles with the powers he is developing. Both how to handle them physically and how to use them responsibly.
General Zod and his army were sent to the Phantom Zone for their treason. They are freed after Krypton explodes. Fulfilling his inbred position as protector of Krypton and its people, Zod seeks out the codex so he can rebuild his planet. Knowing that the codex was sent with Kal-El, Zod seeks him out and tries to persuade him to help with the cause. Kal-El must decide between saving the future of his ancestors and saving the future of the people who now reject him.
I’m a little torn by this movie. I wanted it to be good, yet I was leery of a reboot of such a classic. It really is hard to beat the Christopher Reeve version. This could be in part because this is what I grew up with. Reeve made Superman what he is, in my eyes. After the last reboot, it was easy to write this off as another lame attempt at resurrecting an icon.
What I did enjoy about Man of Steel is the additional back story you get on Krypton. In the original, the planet was just falling apart. Zod was sentenced for some unknown acts of treason. This film filled in those gaps nicely. It gave you a glimpse of what life was like. That life is strikingly similar to A Brave New World in many aspects. (Except for the flying dragons. I’m not sure where those came from or what place they have on a planet so technologically advanced. They felt very out of place.)
Henry Cavill does well as Kal-El/Clark Kent/Superman. You can see some of the same innocence and naiveté in his eyes that Reeve did so well. And, frankly, the man is a beast. He has the physique you would expect from a super man. Although, he seems to quickly forget his 30+ years as a human rather quickly once he learns his true heritage.
I was hesitant about some of the casting choices. Namely, Russell Crowe and Kevin Costner. Crowe surprised me. I wasn’t expecting much from him. He did rather well, considering what he was given. Costner played the same stoic Kevin Costner character he always plays. It was ok, but a little flat. Amy Adams passes as Lois Lane, but not in a Margot Kidder way. Her character is a little savvier. And she shows up in too many convenient situations. Situations you wouldn’t expect a reporter to find themselves in. What I miss most about Lois Lane is the tension between her feelings for Clark and her obsession with Superman. And then her discovering Clark is Superman. That entire dynamic is written completely out of the movie.
The action in the movie is what you expect from a graphic novel on the big screen. Although, it gets a little cartoonish at times. It reminded me of The Incredible Hulk, where Ed Norton is fighting the “bad Hulk.” It looked a little too fake. I guess it was sort of necessary to capture the superhuman speed of the action. It put me off a little. And it got a little repetitive. And in Superman’s attempt to save humanity, he seems to do more damage to Metropolis than one would expect, likely causing as many casualties as he is trying to prevent. A bit of a paradox.
The story is told through a lot of flashbacks. Some of these are effective. Showing a young Clark not knowing how to deal with his differences was a nice touch. But after a while, I found myself looking at my watch.
I think this film is geared more towards the hardcore comic books aficionados, not the casual watcher. (Although, I hear that many hardcore fans are put off by how far the film varies from the comics.) It gets a little too detailed and dark in some places. This worked for Christopher Nolan in The Dark Knight series. It doesn’t translate as well for America’s favorite superhero. Man of Steel is completely devoid of any of the humor or levity that makes Reeve’s Superman work so well. We need a Gene Hackman type villain to add some comic relief.
DC is obviously trying to ramp things up to start work on a Justice League movie. Man of Steel could have been a good start. I think they just tried to do too much in this movie. The original waiting until the second installment to focus on the confrontation with Zod, leaving the first to focus on the back story. It should have been pared back a little. Marvel has a huge lead on them with The Avengers, and they’ve set the bar rather high. DC is going to have to step it up a little if they want to compete.