By Dan Metcalf
Clipper Film Correspondent
Man of Steel (Warner Bros.)
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence, action and destruction, and for some language.
Starring Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Diane Lane, Russell Crowe, Antje Traue, Harry Lennix, Richard Schiff, Christopher Meloni, Kevin Costner, Ayelet Zurer, Laurence Fishburne.
Written by David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan, based on the comic books by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.
Directed by Zack Snyder.
As a kid, I had two favorite comic book heroes: Batman and Superman. As an adult, I have evolved into more of a Marvel guy, with all the abounding, awesome Avengers-linked movies available. Rather than fall into the DC versus Marvel debate, I have decided that I like characters from both sources, even though it seems Marvel figured out how to make great movies before DC did. Of course, DC (and Warner Bros.) did one thing right: They hired a visionary man to take over the Batman franchise. Christopher Nolan is one of the few filmmakers working today who is capable of original thought. He also understands how to tell a story in a way that keeps audiences engaged in the personal struggles of heroes who are flawed, just like the rest of us. I was concerned when I heard of yet another Superman movie in the works, until I heard that Nolan would be involved. Man of Steel is a new “origin” story of Superman, told from Nolan and David S. Goyer's script, directed by Zack Snyder.
The story begins on Krypton, where Jor-El (Russell Crowe) battles with the plantary council over what to do about the reality that the planet will soon explode. In secret, Jor-El and his wife Lara (Ayelet Zurer) have conceived a child on their own (contrary to Krypton law), in which they plan to hide their people's genetic code. They also plan to launch their baby off into space toward Earth, where they hope he will survive and preserve their race. Jor-El must also deal with the treasonous General Zod (Michael Shannon), who intends to use the same genetic code to invade Earth and repopulate the planet with a new Kryptonian super race.
Before the planet explodes, Jor-El and Lara's baby Kal-El is launched into space, while Zod and his followers are captured and sentenced to 300 years in some sort of space freezer. Incidentally, the eventual explosion of Krypton cuts Zod's sentence short, but more on that later.
The rest of the story is told via several flashbacks between Kal-El's (Henry Cavill) wanderings as a young adult and his childhood with his adoptive Earth parents Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner) and Martha Kent (Diane Lane), who name him Clark. Kal-El struggles with his powers and the decisions he must make to save the people in peril around him.
Clark eventually discovers an ancient ship sent from his home planet as a probe, searching for environments suitable for sustaining Kryptonian life. To gain access to the ship's location deep in the arctic ice, he poses as a U.S. government worker, and saves a reporter named Lois Lane (Amy Adams) who encounters some of the ship's deadly security countermeasures. While inside the ship, Kent inserts a key that Jonathan Kent saved from when he was found as a baby. The key produces a holographic image of Jor-El, who instructs him on how to harness his super powers.
Remember Zod? During the 30 years or so since the destruction of Krypton, he was traveling through the universe gathering up weapons and terra-forming equipment to take to Earth. He arrives at Earth at about the same time Clark Kent has discovered how to harness his powers, don his blue suit and begin his mission to protect humankind. Zod sends out a doomsday warning to all Earth's inhabitants, threatening to destroy the planet unless they give up Kal-El, or he surrenders. Kal-El decides to surrender, rather than subject the humankind to Zod's rage. He soon discovers that Zod doesn't plan to leave Earth alone, and he must fight Zod and his forces to save Earth from complete destruction.
Man of Steel is many things, but it is not a remake of the Christopher Reeve films from the late 1970s and early 80s. That's a good thing, and something that should have been taken into account before Warner Bros. decided to produce the awful Superman Returns in 2006. Man of Steel is a new story that throws out a lot of Superman convention, while creating a fresh perspective on a hero who is nearly indestructible. Hanry Cavill's portrayal of Superman is a little more understated that others, and conveys the conflict one might have between using their powers to save people around them - or to sometimes allow nature to take its course. While Cavill's Superman is altruistic, he is not the perfect boy scout seen in other characterizations, like Reeves'. I hear that the ladies find Cavill somewhat attractive as well, which should not hurt box office.
Man of Steel is a perfect adaptation of a graphic novel (code for “long, dark, comic book”), something director Zack Snyder and Christopher Nolan know a little about. In Man of Steel, Superman doesn't save every person, and many die during the battle with Zod in and around Metropolis. There also more going on than a cool vehicle to display Superman's awesome powers. Man of Steel offers a little more, especially concerning the morality of saving one's own kind at the expense of others.
The special effects in Man of Steel are incredible, and rarely seem like computer-generated cartoons seen in many science fiction movies. The movie's casting was also spot-on, starting with Cavill. Amy Adams' Lois Lane is smart and helpful, rather than simply providing a damsel in distress for Superman. Diane Lane and Kevin Costner are perfect as the sage Kansas farmers who guide the young Clark into becoming a man of great stature, even without using his powers.
So, go out and see Man of Steel as soon and as often as possible. It's a super film, and the summer blockbuster you've been waiting for.