It’s a bird, it’s a plane … It’s another film reboot of the classic 1930s comic book “Superman.” While Bryan Singer’s “Superman Returns” failed to wow audiences back in 2006, director Zach Synder’s highly anticipated “Man of Steel” lays a solid foundation for the future of the franchise. Conceived by Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer and written by the latter, the film uncovers the origins of everyone’s favorite Kansas-based alien, Kal-El (Henry Cavill). As Kryton’s core collapses, scientist Jor-El (Russell Crowe) decides that the only way to save his newborn son and the entire Kryptonian race is to send the baby to Earth, where he will be welcomed as a god. Moments before the entire planet implodes, a failed military coup by General Zod (Michael Shannon) and his followers leads to the entire group being frozen in pods (we’ve seen that already this summer in “Into Darkness”) and banished to prison in the Phantom Zone. When Zod escapes, he vows to find Kal-El and create a new Krypton on Earth.
After setting up the conflict, the film diverts its attention to focus on the man behind the myth: Clark Kent. Like Nolan did in “Batman Begins,” “Man of Steel” looks closely at Kent’s early life and his progression from outcast to superhero. We see him as a young boy, ostracized by his peers and tormented by his inability to understand and control his developing powers. Later on, we watch as he rescues a school bus full of children from drowning and saves the entire crew of an exploding oil rig. As Kent discovers the secrets of his past and the power of his own capabilities, the film delves deeper into the Superman mythology. For example, we learn that the symbol on his infamous blue and red suit is not an S but rather a Kryptonian symbol of hope.
Henry Cavill is wonderfully suited for the role of Superman. His understated intensity and emotional vulnerability transform Superman from a two-dimensional comic book character into a believable and confidence-inspiring hero. Cavill brings a distinctly human element to Kent without ever losing touch with the fact that he is, after all, an alien. Unfortunately, the film only examines the most basic elements of Kent’s personality before throwing him into his suit and cape and sending out to save the Earth. This lack of depth bleeds into Kent’s unconvincing relationship with Lois Lane (Amy Adams), which fails to do much beside guarantee a pretext for a potential sequel.
Furthermore, the film spends far too much time on the wrong set of parents. As crucial as it is to the story, the opening scene on dreary Krypton fails to establish a believable familial bond between Kal-El and his parents, Jor-El and Lara Lor-Van (Ayelet Zurer). “Man of Steel” does succeed, however, in its brief portrayal of Kent’s earthly family life. Scenes between the young hero and the Kents, played by Diane Lane and Kevin Costner, are the strongest in the film in terms of establishing the character of Superman.
“Man of Steel” falters most significantly in its lack of a believable villain. Although physically undefeatable and lacking in all morality, General Zod is just not scary enough to inspire any real fear. From his overly dramatic style of speaking to his I-eat-paste-in-the-back-of-the-classroom hairdo, Zod is decidedly more laughable than menacing. However, the fight scenes between Zod and Superman explode off the screen and add a confidence and excitement, which temporarily distracts viewers from the lack of perceived peril.
Despite its faults, however, “Man of Steel” offers a fresh take on an iconic hero and delves deeper into the mythos of Clark Kent than any previous “Superman” films. The film ends on the perfect note for a sequel, meaning it may not be long until “Smallville’s” golden boy comes flying across movie screens again.