Cast: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Diane Lane, Kevin Costner, Russell Crowe
Director: Zack Snyder
What I missed more than anything else in 'Man of Steel' is the old-school humour and charm of the 1978 Superman film, starring Christopher Reeve, that many of us grew up watching. The new reboot, directed by Zack Snyder and produced by Christopher Nolan, is a mostly somber affair - which shouldn't really be surprising if you think about it, given that neither is known for his lightness of touch. Both, in fact, take their comic book culture very seriously. So don't expect a quick dash into the phone booth, or a cat that needs rescuing from a tree. No! Our hero doesn't even put on the suit until well over an hour into the movie.
The film's overlong prologue sees Superman's father Jor-El (Russell Crowe) face off against General Zod (Michael Shannon) on Krypton. Their planet is on the verge of destruction, and Jor-El dispatches his infant son Kal-El to Earth, narrowly avoiding the clutches of Zod, who vows revenge even as he takes Jor-El's life. Far from dazzling us with its Avatar like beasts and otherworldly production design, this early sequence is weighed down by some incoherent babble about a Kryptonian codex.
The next time we meet our protagonist, he's a grown man. Clark Kent, played with admirable earnestness by Henry Cavill, is first seen making a rescue from a flaming oil rig at sea. What follow are a handful of moving flashbacks to his troubled childhood and his adolescent years where he struggles to come to terms with his special powers, even as his adoptive father (Kevin Costner) advises him to keep a lid on them because he believes the world isn't ready for it.
Back in the present day, Clark is a drifter whose powers prove hard to hide, because people invariably get themselves into trouble, and he can't stop himself from helping them. It doesn't take long for Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams) to discover his secret. But before she can go public with her story, along comes Zod with a cunning plan to turn Earth into the new Krypton. That's the cue for a roughly 40-minute action finale in which Superman and Zod have a go at each other, virtually crumbling an entire city, and turning you deaf in the process.
What anchors this noisy, humourless film are some terrific performances by its cast. Russell Crowe plays Jor-El like the ghost of Hamlet's father, showing up every now and then to dispense valuable life lessons to his grown-up son. Kevin Costner and Diane Lane as Clark's Earth parents, Jonathan and Martha Kent, bring warmth and depth to the story. Meanwhile, Amy Adams is a very different Lois Lane to the Margot Kidder version, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist who can hardly be fooled by thick-rimmed glasses and a side parting. Her Lois is Superman's emotional equivalent, and Adams brings both heart and smarts to the part.
As Superman's nemesis, Michael Shannon makes a credible Zod, his motives rooted in the real and the relatable, rather than just being another villain with a plan to take over the world. Playing Superman himself, although he's never once referred to by that name in this film, Henry Cavill brings his chiseled good looks and an inherent charisma to the role. Cavill isn't required to flex his comic chops here (perhaps in the sequel?) but he doesn't once trip as the brooding lost boy.
'Man of Steel' leans more towards Nolan's angsty 'Dark Knight' movies than Marvel's playful 'Avengers'. Yet it doesn't have the great ideas of that Batman trilogy. What it does have - despite all its shortcomings - is genuine awe and wonder in the bits where Superman takes flight. For those portions, for the charming new leading man, and some solid special effects, it's worth a watch.
I'm going with three out of five for 'Man of Steel'. A little fun, a little lightness couldn't have hurt.