Continuing what’s been a fairly decent summer movie season so far, the year’s most anticipated movie arrives with high hopes of successfully furthering the adventures of the most iconic of all superheroes, Superman. Henry Cavill dons the cape as Kal-El, the only survivor of the doomed planet Krypton, sent to earth as a baby by his father Jor-El (Russell Crowe).
Part origin story and part continuation of the mythology, it’s a smartly structured blend of ‘Superman’ and ‘Superman II’ that flashes to Kal-El’s childhood, filling us in on adoptive parents, the Kents (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane) who bring him up as Clark. It’s this that gives the film a real emotional depth, as Clark struggles with who he is, coming to terms with his powers in a film about choices and decisions on a massive scale.
‘Man of Steel’, which was directed by ardent comic-book fan Zack Snyder. It treats Superman not just with a purist’s respect, but with old-school, Golden Age awe. There’s no anguish here, and little irony. (If you’re expecting corny gags about telephone booths, don’t.)
But then General Zod arrives. And suddenly it’s on. General Zod (Michael Shannon), who was banished from Krypton and has made it to earth with plans of resurrecting his planet at the expense of ours. A properly menacing Shannon facing off against the perfectly cast Cavill is the backbone of an exciting adventure, while Amy Adams adds strength and intelligence as Lois Lane.
The film sets out to explain what we loved about this character to begin with. True, it gets off to a slow and uncertain start, rehashing Superman’s Krypton origins. Every fan knows this story already, and it doesn’t add much; it would have been riskier, and more exciting, to skip Krypton, and even Smallville, and pick up with Superman as an adult.
The action is truly cataclysmic, fully recognizing the fact that these are near indestructible super-beings fighting, so when they hit each other, they stay hit, and entire cities crumble in their wake. It’s stunning stuff, with director Snyder gleefully taking advantage of the $200 million budget available to him as all memories of the disappointing ‘Superman Returns’ are wiped clean. ‘Man of Steel’ opens this Friday at the Beacon Theatre.