Before going to watch Man of Steel in the theaters on 15th I made it a must that I watch all the old Superman movies. Because I understood that some comparison is surely going to be there when anything old is rebooted with a new look and feel. And after the movie began, I understood that how right my decision was.
What I missed more than anything else in Man of Steel is the old-school humor and charm of the 1978 Superman film, starring Christopher Reeve. The new reboot, directed by Zack Snyder and produced by Christopher Nolan, is a mostly dingy affair – which shouldn’t really be surprising if you think about it, given that neither is known for his lightness of touch. So don’t expect a quick dash into the phone booth, or a cat that needs rescuing from a tree. No! Our hero doesn’t even put on the suit until well over an hour into the movie.
The film begins with an overlong prologue, which sees Superman’s father Jor-El (Russell Crowe) face off against General Zod (Michael Shannon) on Krypton. Their planet is on the verge of destruction at the time, and Jor-El dispatches his newborn son Kal-El to Earth, narrowly avoiding the clutches of Zod, who vows revenge even after takes Jor-El’s life. The film does not dazzle us with its Avatar like beasts and otherworldly production design. The early sequences of the film are weighed down by some disjointed jabber about a Kryptonian codex.On the next meeting we find our protagonist as a grown man. Clark Kent, played with admirable gravity by Henry Cavill, is first seen making a rescue from a flaming oil rig at sea. What follow are a handful of moving flashbacks to his troubled childhood and his adolescent years where he struggles to come to terms with his special powers, even as his adoptive father (Kevin Costner) advises him to keep a lid on them because he believes the world isn’t ready for it.
Back in the present day, Clark is a drifter whose powers prove hard to hide, because people invariably get themselves into trouble, and he can’t stop himself from helping them. It doesn’t take long for Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams) to discover his secret. But before she can go public with her story, along comes Zod with a cunning plan to turn Earth into the new Krypton. That’s the cue for a roughly 40-minute action finale in which Superman and Zod have a go at each other, virtually disintegrating an entire city, and turning you deaf in the process.
What anchors this noisy, humorless film are some terrific performances by its star cast. Russell Crowe plays Jor-El like the ghost of Hamlet’s father, showing up every now and then to dispense valuable life lessons to his grown-up son. Kevin Costner and Diane Lane as Clark’s Earth parents – Jonathan and Martha Kent, bring warmth and depth to the story. Meanwhile, Amy Adams is a very different Lois Lane to the Margot Kidder version. Her Lois is Superman’s emotional equivalent, and Adams brings both heart and smarts to the part.
As our antagonist, Michael Shannon makes a credible Zod, his motives rooted in the real and the relatable, rather than just being another villain with a plan to take over the world.
Playing Superman himself (although he’s never once referred to by that name in this film) Henry Cavill brings his chiseled good looks and an integral charisma to the role. Cavill isn’t required to flex his comic chops here (perhaps in the sequel?) but he doesn’t once trip as the brooding lost boy.
Man of Steel leans more towards Nolan’s angsty Dark Knight movies than Marvel’s playful Avengers. Yet it doesn’t have the great ideas of that Batman trilogy. What it does have – despite all its shortcomings – is genuine awe and wonder in the bits where Superman takes flight. For those portions, for the charming new leading man, and some solid special effects, it’s worth a watch.
I’m going with three out of five for Man of Steel. A little fun, a little lightness couldn’t have hurt.