I have something of a tenuous relationship with the Superman franchise. That is to say, I like the Richard Donner original and I even liked 2006’s “Superman Returns,” but these aren’t movies I pull out on a regular basis like I do “The Dark Knight” or “Spider-man.”
One thing I always found attractive about the character was the good old-fashioned feel of classic Americana. “Truth, Justice, and The American Way,” and all that. The character of Superman was an outsider, but one that identified with his adoptive planet and sought to defend its people with a strong sense of American-centric values and morals.
That’s not what this movie is about.
“Man of Steel” is a unique interpretation of the franchise, arguably one that it needed. “Batman Begins” was a necessary reboot of the its franchise, grounding the character of Batman in a somewhat more realistic world while avoiding the campiness that had plagued the more recent films. Superman hasn’t really had that problem, but at the same time, “good old-fashioned Americana” doesn’t sell quite the same way it used to.
And thus, we get a reboot of Superman. This time, we get an extended look at what was happening on Krypton at the time of its destruction, when Kal-El was shipped off by his parents to find refuge on Earth. Through a series of flashbacks, we see key moments of Kal-El’s upbringing as Clark Kent. Unlike the previous movies (though this has been explored in other media, especially “Smallville“), it was nice to see the influence of Clark’s fathers on him throughout the film. Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner) both hoped for the future of their son, yet each represented different (yet converging) paths.
Henry Cavill’s Superman was also different than earlier films. Brandon Routh essentially copied Christopher Reeve’s version, but Cavill differentiates himself with a bit more emotion and more of a longing for a place in this world. Again, I see the influence of later Superman properties in Cavill’s interpretation, while Routh and Reeve both veered toward the “Americana” vision pre-1980s. Personally, I think Cavill did a pretty great job for his first time in the suit. And dude, that guy is ripped.
Really, the first half of the movie was pretty good. And in some ways, the second half was “good,” too. But the second half is a different movie from the first half. See, in the first half, there was a back story for Superman, how he was born, raised, and eventually put on the suit. The second half involves the utter obliteration of Metropolis as Superman battles General Zod (Michael Shannon), who wants to recreate Krypton on Earth. Seriously, while I was watching that portion of the movie, I kept thinking it was reminiscent of a “Godzilla” flick, with building after building just being knocked over. The effects were great and the action was fun, but there wasn’t much story once we got to that point. Heck, they got Laurence Fishburne to play Perry White and the man was barely in the movie.
It didn’t help that I didn’t care for Shannon’s portrayal of Zod, either. I don’t think I disliked the character, per se. I simply wasn’t in to Shannon’s acting. He just didn’t give me the feeling that he was a cold hardened military badass from another planet. It took me a few minutes, but after the movie was over, I decided Stephen Lang should have played that role, as he was the military-bred bad guy from “Avatar.” I believed that Lang had a mission to complete and that nothing would stop him from doing it. I didn’t get the same feeling out of Shannon. Maybe that was just me…I dunno…
There is also a controversial ending to this movie, centering on the final confrontation between Superman and Zod. Personally, I didn’t mind it, but it definitely put the final nail in the coffin of the “Christopher Reeve-era” Superman portrayal.
Generally, I felt this movie was “middling.” There were definitely some cool parts, some chuckle moments, some great back story that hadn’t been outlined previously (at least in the movies). At the same time, I was still left wanting. Some glimmer of the Superman character that made him popular in the first place.
Just a little more “Truth, Justice and The American Way” would have been great.