Superman is the only superhero I like. He looks and acts most of the time like a human, not a reptile or a bug or a flying rodent. He has a fascinating alien history and he loves his adoptive parents. He’s very hot. And, oh yes, let’s come out and say it, he’s so durn American.
I thought Christopher Reeve was the quintessential Superman and anyone else would pale by comparison. But after a while, the shy, lonely, secretive hunk played by English actor Henry Cavill grew on me. The casting of the movie turned out to be perfect for his role and all the others.
As I always say, a hero is only as good as his villain is bad. General Zod, played by the powerful Michael Shannon, is a complex archenemy worthy of Superman — a Kryptonite warrior who sees himself as a hero, programmed by his DNA to save his people, no matter what the cost. It also made my feminist heart happy to see a full-fledged nasty female villain, played with evil relish by Antje Traue from Germany, who wipes the scenery with Superman when she gets riled.
Two other women play substantial supporting roles, making Man of Steel notable for the number of female roles (about time, super-hero producers!). Amy Adams makes reporter Lois Lane a self-confident yet youthful Pulitzer Prize winning journalist. Diane Lane plays Superman’s adoptive Mom as a wise Earthmother, who lives uncomplaining in a weather-beaten farmhouse even though her grown son could repaint the entire place in 15 minutes.
Under all its special effects (which are truly spectacular), the super-heroics, the fish-out-of-water conundrums, the rampant mass destruction, the usual adolescent search for identity and a surprising number of scenes of self-sacrifice (always the strongest memory in any tale), Man of Steel is really the story of a son and his two fathers. As the planet of Krypton is destroyed, Jor-El (Russell Crowe), a scientist/statesman, sends his infant son, Kal-El; off into the universe in order to keep him and the future Kryptonites he’s implanted in his capsule alive.
On Krypton, though the civilization is highly advanced (with stunning costumes and sets), every child is born with his future already in his DNA. But, “what if a child dreamed of becoming something other than what society had intended?” Jor-El asks. “What if a child aspired to something greater?”
The best part of Man of Steel is the breathtaking opening on Krypton. The second best part is that Jor-El doesn’t disappear when Krypton explodes — he comes back via hologram throughout the film, a comforting Zeus-like presence.
On Earth, Kevin Costner, his youthful good looks weathered by the sun of working his Smallville farm, is the loving father who fears how the world will respond when it discovers his son. “You just have to decide what kind of man you want to grow up to be, Clark,” he tells him. “Whoever that man is, he’s going to change the world.”
And indeed that’s what happens when General Zod escapes his galactic prison and comes looking for our hero. Umasked by Lois Lane, he must enter into lethal hand-to-hand combat with General Zod and his minions in order to save the race with which he has come to identify. Will Kal-El turn out to be, as his father Jor-El, had hoped, a bridge between humans and Kryptonites, or will he be destroyed by humans out of their fear of the unknown?
Co-writer Christopher Nolan brings to the script the dark brooding menace he created as director of The Dark Knight. Sticking to the script, director Zack Snyder (300) gives the Superman reboot the humanity it didn’t always have, the mythology it need to soar above the super-hero crowd, and the gravitas that makes it more than a comic book translation. Do see it.