Henry Cavill as Superman/Clark Kent
Amy Adams as Lois Lane
Michael Shannon as General Zod
Russell Crowe as Jor-El
Laurence Fishburne as Perry White
Diane Lane as Martha Kent
Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent
Antje Traue as Faora-Ul
Superman is a character that many doubted the popularity of for some time. Popularized by an era of escapism (the Great Depression, World War II, and the early Cold War) when a break from either how much life sucked or the fear of nuclear war was all people asked for in their entertainment. By the 1960s, people were happier and wanted more depth, for lack of a kinder term. Since then, the Man Of Steel hasn’t been the same. He got boosts from the 1978 movie and his death and revival in the comics, but neither lasted. Batman, Spider-man, and the X-men soon prevailed as the new giants of the superhero genre. The final proof came when Superman Returns fell inches short of the double the budget needed to break even.
In short, Smallville, a teen drama about young Clark Kent, remained the character’s only significant success for some time. That was until Man Of Steel became a hit in possibly one of the most disastrous years ever for cinema. It didn’t reach the billions of dollars worldwide or anything, but it more than justifies a new franchise.
Why did Man Of Steel succeed? A sustained economic crisis that left people primed for escapism no doubt played a part, but I think that the big thing is that this movie capitalized on the mythology behind Superman.
The first half of the film involves Clark from childhood to maturity trying to find his place in the world. We see that when his powers start kicking in, it’s not as easy as you might think. His visual and hearing powers are difficult to control like you imagine they might be. Eventually, he learns to cope and uses the equipment Jor-El left in the rocket he came to Earth in (as usual, his foster parents waited some time to tell him everything) to learn about himself and get an idea of what his role in the world ought to be. He is discovered by reporter Lois Lane who also gives him some much-needed advise.
Performances are strong, for the most part. Michael Shannon makes a weak Zod because of his inability to distinguish emotional control from lifelessness. But the other performances are quite good. I think that Henry Cavill makes every bit as good a Superman as Christopher Reeve did with the courage, morality, and determination he emotes. Meanwhile, Amy Adams is a perfect Lois Lane; bold, forceful, and determined to get to the truth. Supporting cast members also do their jobs well.
As for the mythology I was talking about earlier, we see a hero of unshakable morality and a willingness to risk all for what feels right. We also see how stubborn people can be in making mistakes, such as the ones that destroyed the Kryptonians.
The score is very fitting and catchy. As good as the John Williams score from ’78? Not quite, but close. In my opinion.
And then there’s the action. Much of the movie is drama, but once Zod and his band of Kryptonians enter the picture, we get a lot of superfights. And they’re great. Whereas the superfights in Superman II were limited by technology, we can marvel at special effects that have finally caught up to our fantasies.
There is some controversy over whether the filmmakers should have had Superman kill Zod in the end. I’m not inclined to protest this. In the first place, I could name more than one occasion on which he has killed in the comic book. In the second, anyone who’s actually seen the movie knows that it was an extreme emergency and that Superman felt really, really bad about it. Finally, Superman II is well-liked even though Superman kills Zod in that movie as well without regret. I’m not saying he should do it very often, but since Zod was threatening to kill and kill and kill in Man Of Steel, I think the circumstances were acceptable.
As a movie Man Of Steel works. As a franchise kick-start, it may be what Superman fans have been waiting for or just the latest in a series of false starts. Only time will tell.
Overall: 8 out of 10