Man of Steel is a mighty, massive relaunch for Superman. It fits the bill for a summer blockbuster and then some.
There’s a lot of good stuff in Man of Steel. A lot of over-the-top, extra stuff, too. Maybe in their efforts to please moviegoers searching for summertime action and spectacle, the filmmakers overloaded their movie with earthshaking, loud, long fights and action sequences. An enormous amount of real estate, for instance, gets obliterated.
Man of Steel plays like two movies in one. One film is the familiar story of Earth’s invasion by merciless aliens. This is the film that contains scenes of massive destruction and battles between vastly out-matched humans and vastly powerful aliens in full conquest mode. The other, better film, is about a young man discovering who he is and what his purpose is.
Man of Steel being the first of an expected new series of Superman films, it takes Superman back to his birth on the dying planet of Krypton. Part of the film’s updating includes the environmental reasons behind the planet’s doom. Krypton’s shortsighted leaders exhaust their planet’s natural resources, harvesting resources even from their planet’s core. Consequently, the surface of Krypton is about to collapse.
The wise parents of the infant Kal-El, later known as Superman and Clark Kent, have made arrangements to propel their child to Earth. The plan devised and executed by Jor-El and Faora-Ul, played by the earnest Russell Crowe and Antje Trauwe, works. Their son survives his journey to Earth and is adopted by a childless, good-hearted farm couple in Kansas.
The latter quieter, thoughtful, serious part of Man of Steel echoes co-writer Christopher Nolan’s recently wrapped up Batman trilogy. Even under normal circumstances, childhood and youth can be difficult for a child who’s unusual. Young Clark, however, truly is a kid from another planet.
It’s easy to assume that the serial bullying the pre-Superman Clark endures in Man of Steel was inspired by the national news stories about bullying that have appeared in recent years. Clark, thanks to his Earthly adoptive parents, whose wisdom reflects that of his Kryptonian biological parents, help him become a kind, compassionate being rather than a twisted, vengeful, not to mention enormously powerful, monster.
In an example of thoughtful casting extending to supporting roles, Kevin Costner and Diane Lane co-star as Clark’s salt-of-the-earth parents. The scenes they share with Clark as an adult and a child (Dylan Sprayberry and Cooper Timberline) are among the movie’s best moments.
Henry Cavill, donning the Superman cape for his first turn as the dean of American superheroes, sports handsome, chiseled looks and a calmly brave demeanor. As written by Nolan and David S. Goyer, Cavill is also an unusually cerebral Superman.
Where there’s a Superman and Clark Kent, there must be a Lois Lane. Amy Adams, usually great in whatever she does, plays Lois as an aggressive, Pulitzer Prize-winner working for, of course, The Daily Planet. But amidst the thunderously huge movie that Man of Steel is, Adams’ Lois is almost inconsequential.
Superman’s really big scenes are with his bent-on-destroying-humanity enemy from Krypton, General Zod (a grim Michael Shannon). The overly serious Man of Steel hits overdrive so often that their mammoth battles grow exhausting.
The best movie of the two movies within Man of Steel scores some impressive points, but it’s difficult for those scenes to be heard alongside the film’s other half, in which a world comes under attack, accompanied by all the noise and cataclysmic activity such enormity entails. Man of Steel decides in favor of cinematic bombast.