Superman’s origin story is well-known and audiences seem to be unable to get enough of it. Many different movies and television shows detail the background and rise of this beloved alien superhero. Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel offers yet another take on Clark Kent’s beginnings with a slightly different portrayal of our hero’s home planet and history.
The film begins where Superman’s very life begins, on the planet Krypton. Russell Crowe plays a much more gruff-looking but paternal Jor-El, little Kal-El’s father, who largely has an expository role. Rather than just focusing on the destruction of the planet and the escape of the newborn superhero, there is backstory involving a failed coup on Krypton by a General Zod (Michael Shannon) and his subsequent exile. It is after this plot point that we see baby Kal-El being shuttled off to Earth as Krypton is obliterated and his father seeks to save his son and his race in a last ditch attempt.
The Ol’ Good Daily Planet
This version mostly skips over Clark Kent’s childhood and the audience soon meets him as a drifting adult without any journalism degree or job at the Daily Planet. The few flashbacks we get of his youth have Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent and Diane Lane as Martha Kent. They are seen encouraging him to hide his identity in order to protect humans from his own strength.
Clark, played by a handsome Henry Cavill, most known for his role on The Tudors, is aimless and unsure of where he belongs on this planet. He wants to save others with his abilities, but also save himself. Kent soon meets reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams) at the site of a Krypton aircraft enclosed in ice and as one might expect from Clark and Lois, he saves her and she becomes fascinated with him. Soon it is revealed that the exiled General Zod has been looking for Kal-El for years and publicly demands his surrender — or else. He has a planet destroying super weapon, and so our reluctant hero must step up.
The script is written by David S. Goyer, who also worked on Batman Begins, and Snyder has directed other popular movies such as Watchmen and 300. From this information the audience can then expect the same sort of well-written, stylistic and exciting display, and although the writing isn’t as nuanced as it should be considering the dark nature of the film, this is mostly what the audience gets.
There is hardly any joy or humor in this movie. The film is devoid of any of the campiness of previous Superman portrayals. The plot goes for a cutting display of human emotion and seriousness, which is interesting considering the backstory is really about the destruction of an alien world with an alien hero.
The action, with Clark Kent coming into his superhero identity, is exciting and intense. There’s a mix of martial art-style fighting and alien military gear laying low Metropolis in a visually stunning and stimulating display of destruction. The pace is quick and concise, the plot unraveling coherently amid the action. The final battle is an tense stand-off that feels surprisingly human — considering it’s between two aliens, and this is a delight, seeing that there was so much military gear and high-tech destruction for the majority of the film.
The question of whether you will enjoy this movie may come down to how you enjoy your superhero movies. Do you like them to be campy, with a guarded identity and traditional costumes, some humor to lighten the destruction the planet faces — or do you like them dark, Batman-style, with complex and cutting questions of morality? This iteration of Superman switches most definitely from the former to the latter. If you are a fan of the old format, then this bitter re-imagining may not sit right with you. There is a lot of angst, and Clark Kent questions himself far more than most fans are probably used to. If you want something different, however, then this is definitely an alternate approach.
With it’s new talented, impressive cast of actors, praised director and producer, and unique approach to the Superman lore, Man of Steel is worth a watch, even if you’re skeptical of the dark nature. For more photos of Henry Cavill click here.