You have to feel sorry for DC comics. After all, they started it all off with Batman and Superman, leading to a veritable plethora of super heroes, including genuine legends like The Flash, Green Lantern and Wonder Woman. Of all their characters, though, only Batman has had any longevity at the cinema, and even that was nearly killed off by the evil genius Joel Schumaker (who is Stan lee with a rubber mask on). Oh, sure, Superman 1 and 2 were good enough, but they were followed by the absolute guff that was 3 and 4, and the godawful reboot in 2006. What ties all of the previous Superman films together is the baffling continued presence of Lex Luthor, a power mad rich bloke. Why? Fuck knows, with all the good baddies they could have brought in. Anyway, the best news about “Man Of Steel” is that Lex is not in it. Hurrah!
What we do have is Krypton. Not just a little bit, either. We get Krypton in abundance, an actual history of the people with flying dragon type things, volcanoes, politics and lasers going “pew pew pew”. Central to all this is, of course, Jor-El, and we get thrown at us an actual reason for him bunging his baby off to Earth instead of “Oh noes - the planet’s exploding” of the past. Okay, so the planet IS going to explode, but there’s much more to it. We also get a decent backstory to General Zod, as well as a more convincing explanation of how he gets to Earth. All in all, this is a totally brilliant retelling of the origin story, with Russell Crowe (Neighbours) simply digging out his “Gladiator” persona and beard to play Jor-El.
So little Kal-El comes to Earth and is raised by the Kents, Martha and Jonathan. Even this is handled in an original way, as when we first meet Clark he is fully grown and powered up, with his early years being told using flashbacks. This is, again, very effective, with one moment that will bring a tear to many an eye. The Kents are very well played by Diane Lane (Cattle Annie & Little Britches) and Kevin Costner (Malibu Hot Summer), and they definitely give the viewer a glimpse into the love they have for their adopted alien child, as well as the need to instil firm morals into the man he will one day become.
And so to Henry Cavill (Midomer Murders), the first Brit to take on the role of Superman. To be honest, it’s very hard to fault his performance here, as he fits perfectly into the blue and red suit physically and emotionally. Until he becomes a bumbling reporter (not yet, wait for the sequel), Clark Kent is not the most interesting character, to be honest, yet Cavill plays him with a deep melancholy, the weight of the world on his shoulders. His polar opposite is General Zod, played by Michael Shannon (Kangaroo Jack). Zod is the warrior to Superman’s peacekeeper, a man bred for war, not raised on a farm. It’s a sharp contrast, played out very well by the two actors.
Some have felt that “Man Of Steel” is a little flabby at the end, but I didn’t feel that myself. Whilst watching the, quite frankly, massive amounts of property damage, I was thoroughly entertained. The effects are perfect, as you would expect from director Zack Snyder , with Zod and his henchpeople a genuine threat to both Superman and the entire planet. We don’t actually see innocent civilians die, but that’s what they’re certainly doing out of shot. What you have here is, basically, a serious Superman film. There’s barely any levity, and this is a good thing. Superman is not a comedy character, he’s an alien burdened with having to look after this clusterfuck of a planet because humans can’t be trusted to do it right. On the other hand, he’s a Kansas farmboy who loves his parents. The clash between these two sides is what makes the character the legend he is, and David Goyer, Christopher Nolan and Zack Snyder have the honor of being the first writers and director to actually realize this, so well done them.
“The Avengers” was a big, tent pole movie that was, really, tons of fun, a true comic book movie in every sense of the word. “Man Of Steel” is a more introspective film, although no less entertaining for it. Sure, smaller kids may get a bit bored waiting for the big smackdown, but who cares what little kids think? “Man Of Steel” is up there with the best comic book adaptations, and I am already looking forward to the sequel. As long as it doesn’t have Lex fiucking Luthor as the main villain, anyway…