For my generation, Superman was “a strange visitor from another planet” who was “faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound“ who was engaged in “a never-ending battle for truth, justice, and the American way.” However, in this age of information, audiences want to know a lot more about a superhero’s history.
Also, what passed for special effects on the original TV show were cheesy flying sequences in which support wires were plainly visible. And the fight scenes generally ended when the bumbling villain with little imagination ran out of bullets and threw his pistol at the Man of Steel’s chest in sheer frustration.
Over the years, Superman has been revived twice on television (Lois & Clark and Smallville) and five times on the big screen. This sixth film version stars Henry Cavill in the title role opposite Amy Adams as Lois Lane, Russell Crowe as Jor-El, Laurence Fishburne as a black Perry White, and Rebecca Buller as Jenny (not Jimmy) Olsen.
Director Zack Snyder (Dawn of the Dead) undertook Man of Steel as a remake of the series, because plans are already in the works for the character to reappear in an adaptation of DC Comics’ Justice League scheduled for 2015. Thus, this movie devotes considerable attention to an explanation of Superman’s roots.
The picture opens on the planet Krypton where we find the parents (Crowe and Ayelet Zurer) of the planet’s first naturally-conceived child in centuries, secretly sending their newborn in an unmanned spaceship headed to Earth. This development doesn’t sit well with genetic engineer General Zod (Michael Shannon), a megalomaniac in charge of deciding which of Krypton’s bloodlines are allowed to continue, and this baby’s family definitely isn’t one of them.
The rocket crash-lands in the cornfields of Jonathan (Kevin Costner) and Martha Kent (Diane Lane), a kindly couple who proceed to raise the baby as their own. Of course, Clark isn’t like other boys, and he does his best to harness and hide his superpowers, although they occasionally come in handy like when he rescues a school bus full of students that’s sinking in a river.
The plot thickens when aliens arrive from Krypton in order to eliminate Superman. Not surprisingly, they’re led by the diabolical Zod, who proceeds to commandeer the mass media, spouting typical invasion threats warning the “People of Earth” that resistance is futile. But, he hasn’t taken into account Superman.
At this juncture, the action the kids have been waiting for finally kicks into high gear, with a spectacular battle replete with dizzying technical wizardry and acrobatic dexterity that mercifully reduces the pretentious dialogue that is laced with pseudo-scientific babble. Ultimately, good, and the American way, triumph over evil, and Superman is left alive to defend truth and justice in upcoming sequels and spinoffs.
Very Good (***). Rated PG-13 for profanity, violence, and intense action sequences. Running time: 143 minutes. Distributor: Warner Brothers.