*To my generation, Superman was just “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“ in “a never-ending battle for truth, justice, and the American way.” But in this age of information, audiences want to know a lot more about a superhero’s backstory.
Furthermore, what passed for special f/x on the original TV show were cheesy flying sequences in which support wires were plainly visible to the naked eye. And the underwhelming 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 intervening 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 a gender-bent Jenny, not Jimmy, Olsen.
Director Zack Snyder (Dawn of the Dead) has ostensibly envisioned Man of Steel as a reboot of the storied franchise, given that plans are already in the works for the character to reappear in an adaptation of DC Comics’ Justice League slated for 2015. Thus, like a lot of other origins tales, this episode devotes considerable attention to an explanation of Superman’s roots.
The picture’s point of departure is Krypton where we find the parents (Crowe and Ayelet Zurer) of the planet’s first naturally-conceived child in centuries secretly sending their newborn on an otherwise 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 renegade’s 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 with annihilation in mind. Not surprisingly, they’re led by none other than the diabolical Zod, who commandeers the mass media, spouting typical invasion malarkey warning the “People of Earth” that resistance is futile. Not if Superman has something to say about it.
At this juncture, the action the kids have been waiting for finally kicks into high gear, with a spectacular battle royal replete with dizzying technical wizardry and acrobatic dexterity mercifully replacing the pretentious dialogue laced with lots of pseudo-scientific babble. Ultimately, good triumphs over evil, ala the American way, and Superman survives to defend truth and justice in upcoming sequels and spinoffs.
A righteous, riveting relaunch leaving no doubt that, even after 80 years, you still don’t tug on Superman’s cape!
Very Good (3 stars)
Rated PG-13 for profanity, sci-fi violence and intense action sequences
Running time: 143 minutes
Distributor: Warner Brothers