BY AMBER KELLY-ANDERSON
One of the core issues with Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns was that in electing to pick up where 1980’s Superman II left off, it failed to address what had occurred in the Superman universe (comics and television) during the twenty-six year gap between films. In Man of Steel, the latest in the superhero reboot trend, Zack Snyder remedies that oversight, creating a wiser, darker Nolan-esque narrative, but loses something in the attempt.
Superman’s origins are well-known; he is in many ways the ultimate immigrant. Man of Steel opens on the doomed Krypton, CGI-ed in grand Snyder-style with muted tones, large-scale structures, and Art Deco inspired armour. With the planet’s destruction inevitable and the menacing General Zod (Michael Shannon) leading a military coup, Jor-El (Russell Crowe in full Maximus mode) and his lovely wife Lara (Ayelet Zurer, all flowing hair) send their only son, Kal, to Earth, ensuring his survival. What happens after Kal is found in a field in Kansas by the Kents and renamed Clark is told through flashbacks, as we watch adult Clark (Henry Cavill) grapple with the challenges of inherent heroism that have made him a nomadic outcast. Thanks to an origin-altering twist involving hard-nosed journalist Lois Lane (Amy Adams), Clark soon steps into the role of Superman, just in time to face off with General Zod in a battle for the future of both Earth and Krypton.
Snyder and writer David S. Goyer shrewdly look at the complicated matter of becoming Superman. Some of the movie’s most impactful scenes are those with Jonathan and Martha Kent (a wonderful Kevin Costner and Diane Lane) who understand the importance of their adopted son’s powers as much as they fear how the world will react to them. When a young Clark finds himself hiding in a school closet, ridiculed because his powers are too much for him, Martha’s guidance in making the world controllable demonstrates the importance of his Earth parents: Jor-El and Lara give him life, Martha and Jonathan his moral compass. The four of them create the hero.
The flashback sequences and interactions with the projected consciousness of Jor-El provide the needed emotional core that grounds the rest of the film, much of which consists of overblown action sequences. The fights drag on a touch too long, particularly one on the streets of Smallville which feels like a video game played by an overly-caffeinated teenage boy. Shannon as Zod utilizes the actor’s ability to project masculine rage. The supporting cast, including Laurence Fishburne, Richard Schiff and Christopher Meloni, is strong without pulling focus.
Cavill is thankfully more dynamic than Brandon Routh (and does not bear such a disquieting resemblance to Christopher Reeve). Unfortunately, although he and Adams are both good in their roles, their chemistry falls flat. It, like much of the film, lacks the joy that comes with Superman. Gloom works for Batman; Superman needs just a kick of fun. It’s the missing piece that makes the movie good instead of great.