With Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Diane Lane, Russell Crowe. Written by David S. Goyer. Directed by Zack Snyder. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence, action and destruction, and for some language. 143 minutes.
“Batman Begins,” “Casino Royale,” “Star Trek.” We may as well face it. We are in the era of the “reboot” where filmmakers take classic pop culture characters and say, in effect, “Let’s start again.” In the case of MAN OF STEEL, the name “Superman” is not fully uttered until nearly two hours into the movie, and those wedded to the lore of the comic books (itself many times revised) or previous movies and TV shows need to set all that aside. It’s not that it is ignored so much that it is no longer binding. The canon has been fired.
It’s hard to believe anyone will come into this origin story not knowing that, as an infant, Kal-El is sent from the dying planet of Krypton by his father Jor-El (Russell Crowe). Raised by Jonathan and Martha Kent (Kevin Costner, Diane Lane) on a farm in Smallville, Kansas, young Clark (Henry Cavill) as he is known, is overwhelmed by the powers he has including flight, heat vision, and super strength which his father insists he keep secret.
Although the story proceeds in a fragmented fashion with numerous flashbacks, the main plot involves Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams) being rescued by a mysterious stranger. She then tracks down his story to that Kansas farm. Meanwhile, Clark has set off a signal summoning Kryptonian warlord General Zod (Michael Shannon), newly freed from the other-dimensional “Phantom Zone,” and he plans to destroy all life on Earth and rebuild Krypton there. The bulk of the story is the battle between Zod and the now-costumed Superman.
It’s no secret that this is Warner Brothers’ attempt to salvage the Superman franchise after the failure of “Superman Returns” (2006). Rival Marvel Comics is having so much success with movies like “Iron Man 3” and “The Avengers,” so why can’t any DC Comics character besides Batman succeed on the big screen? So in answer to that question, “Man of Steel” works. It’s exciting, it’s intelligent and it has a stellar cast. Henry Cavill, perhaps best known from the cable series “The Tudors,” plays Superman not as an icon but as a conflicted character trying to figure out his place in the world. Amy Adams threads the needle of being the endless damsel in distress–Superman rescues her falling to Earth twice–while also being credible as the intrepid reporter who falls in love with him. Michael Shannon is harsh and chilling as the single-minded Zod who is not so much evil as so dedicated to his purpose that he doesn’t care how it might impact others.
For those dedicated to the long-established history–such as this reviewer–there is much that is in sync with it as well as stuff that is revised or ignored. The appearance of flying lizards on Krypton (Jor-El flies around on one) is bizarre and mistaken. As is well-known, there were no such creatures on Krypton. On the other hand there is a moment late in the film that should cause Superman enthusiasts to gasp. The filmmakers (director Zach Snyder, writer Davis S. Goyer, and producer Christopher Nolan, who shares story credit with Goyer) painted themselves into a corner and took the only way out. It works but, more important, the characters react appropriately to this major breach with the legend.
“Man of Steel” does not achieve greatness (as Nolan’s “Batman Begins” did) but it is very good and worth seeing. Warners has its Superman franchise back. What they do with it now remains to be seen.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His first novel, Shh! It’s A Secret: A Novel About Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide has just been released. He teaches at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.
WATCH SUPERMAN AND BATMAN TEAM UP IN THIS FAN-MADE TRAILER: