Director Zack Snyder, producer Christopher Nolan, and writer David S. Goyer have delivered an adaptation of Superman that is parts familiar and foreign as they reboot the franchise after Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns. Man of Steel, which remakes Superman: The Movie and Superman II, is an amalgamation of ideas executed with varying degrees of success, as they focus on the man and create a superhero I don’t completely recognize.
The story, which takes non-linear turns during the first half, begins with the impending destruction of Krypton. The planet’s main scientist, Jor-El (Russell Crowe), and his wife have the first natural childbirth in centuries. He decides to save their child, Kal-El, and their species’ genetic codex by sending it on a spaceship to Earth. Jor-El’s eventual plan for the codex is never made clear. General Zod (Michael Shannon) attempts a failed coup, He and his soldiers are exiled to the Phantom Zone, which isn’t too bad of a punishment considering Krypton explodes soon after.
Jonathan (Kevin Costner) and Martha Kent (Diane Ladd) find Kal-El and raise him as their own son, naming him Clark. Being on Earth gives Clark super powers that he not only has to learn to control but also has to hide because Jonathan fears what people will do when they learn about them. This causes conflict between them, and there’s a very touching scene when Jonathan refuses Clark’s help while risking his life. However, when he’s older, Clark (Henry Cavill) repeatedly saves people, only to quickly leave afterwards before any questions can be asked. For those interested in such things, make sure you stick around for the scene when Clark steals clothes because his body looks amazing.
Somehow during this nomadic time as a drifter, he somehow gets a position working on a U.S. military evacuation in the Arctic. It is here he discovers an ancient Kryptonion ship as well as reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams), who in turn discovers his secret. On the ship, he encounters the consciousness of Jor-El and learns about Krypton. However, activating the ship draws the attention of Zod, who with his team, has escaped the Phantom Zone and seek the codex, though his plan for it isn’t clear either. Ultimately, Zod wants to terraform Earth so it will be in habitable for Kryptonians, even though nearby Mars seems like it would be just as suitable. Of course, this will make Earth inhabitable for humans. Will Clark, with the help of Jor-El, be able to stop Zod?
The story of Clark’s struggle in dealing with his powers is very interesting. However, the movie falters during the story of Clark executing his powers. In Smallville, he fights two of Zod’s soldiers, and in Metropolis, he fights Zod. Even though the combatants are after him, in neither instance does Clark think about the innocent people around and try to take the fight elsewhere.
In Smallville, he instinctively hurls one soldier miles away into a working train yard. In Metropolis, he and Zod tear through many buildings and skyscrapers like they were paper. The scenes look great, but all I could think about was the people who would have been working in those places. Fatalities had to have been involved yet Clark nor the filmmakers ever deal with the idea.
Another problem is the fights are repetitive. We see Kryptonians punching each other very hard in both scenes. Sure, they look cool, but after Clark fought two people in Smallville, fighting one, even if it’s Zod, is underwhelming, although the amount of destruction is certainly cranked up.
I was also disappointed that Clark never uses his mind and is just a physical force. Especially with Zod, I thought Clark would find a way to outsmart him, yet all he uses is brute strength in a way that was a little hard to swallow. Even though Clark’s hand was forced, Zod’s defeat made me realize this Superman is different than the one I have known casually for 40-odd years. Hours later, I am still a bit perplexed by him, but am not rejecting him out right.
The sequel to Man of Steel has already been announced with the same creative team at the helm. While I have mixed feelings about this movie, the filmmakers did enough to be allowed to return and continue this iteration. The main reason I am curious to see the next one is Henry Cavill, who gives a very good performance. This being Clark’s first time using his powers against supervillains, I want to see how he will develop as a superhero and as a reporter, which is teased in the closing.