It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a box office smash! And it’s here to fight for truth, justice and your allowance money! Released June 14 and collecting $113 million in its opening weekend, “Man of Steel” successfully reboots the film franchise of Superman, who turned 75 this year. The movie was directed by Zack Snyder (“300,” “Watchmen,” “Sucker Punch”), a man who loves his comic book adaptations. What he gives us in “Steel” is a visually dazzling and mature superhero movie. This piece of summer action has just enough destruction, product placement and Wilhelm screams to wipe Bryan Singer’s 2006 “Superman Returns” from the minds of disappointed fanboys everywhere.
Produced by the rebooted Batman trilogy’s Christopher Nolan, the movie is much more grounded and darker than any previous incarnations of the iconic crime fighter on the silver screen. It does away with kryptonite and the crystalized Fortress of Solitude while subtly maintaining the integrity and elements of Superman’s expansive universe. Nolan’s touch is apparent in the movie’s modern title, music, movie posters and trailers. In fact, this is the first movie about the man in blue pajamas and red booties that does not feature John Williams’ famous Superman theme music (which sounds like it could be in a “Super Smash Bros.” video game). Hans Zimmer was chosen to compose the “Steel” score, creating one that is delicate yet uplifting, something that mirrors his work on Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy and 2010’s “Inception.”
Following in the footsteps of Richard Donner’s 1978 original, Snyder opens on the planet Krypton just as Lara Lor-Van (Ayelet Zurer) gives birth to Kal-El, aka Clark Kent, aka Superman; the first natural birth in thousands of years. Lara’s husband, Jor-El, is perfectly played by a wise Russell Crowe whose brooding outdoes Marlon Brando. Krypton is a place beyond our wildest sci-fi fantasies, full of shape-shifting metals and tough-looking animals that would give “Avatar” a run for its money. It is a place that is human enough to be relatable but sci-fi enough to be awesome! However, it is plagued by a civil war and inevitable destruction, causing Kal’s parents to send him on the first escape pod to Earth.
Written by David S. Goyer (“Blade” series), the movie’s screenplay is full of smart and sometimes funny dialogue, and clever storytelling. Kal lands in Smallville, Kan., where he is discovered and raised by Martha and Jonathan Kent, portrayed by Diane Lane and Kevin Costner. Clark’s childhood is told through a series of heartwarming flashbacks in which he hones his powers and learns “with great power comes great responsibility” lessons from his adoptive parents. The only disappointing moment involves Jonathan, a tornado and a dog. All the while, Snyder forwards back to present day as Clark roams the earth as a pariah, desperately searching for his origins. In another turn of impeccable casting, British and buff Henry Cavill (“Immortals,” “The Cold Light Of Day”) plays the title role with the quiet intensity of a guy who never really fit in. In other words, this is the role that will propel Cavill to superstardom and into the heart of stalkerish and swooning females.
Blending elements from the two original movies, the main antagonist of “Steel” is General Zod, Krypton’s military leader who is banished to the Phantom Zone for leading a coup. Michael Shannon is perfect as the maniacal general, saturating his performance with plenty of screaming and murderous rage, something he did in May’s “The Iceman.”
Other notable returning characters are Lois Lane (Amy Adams), the no-nonsense reporter from the Daily Planet, who doubles as the archetypal damsel in distress and Superman’s love interest. Still, the development of their relationship seems a bit fake, as it comes out of left field. Nevertheless, the beautiful Adams is as forceful and independent as Margot Kidder in the original. Laurence Fishburne plays her boss, Perry White, a man who will hopefully have a larger role in forthcoming sequels.
Clocking in at two and a half hours, “Steel” has been branded as just “OK” by the general public and critics alike. This is not surprising, as Snyder is known for getting mixed reviews on his films that deliver more on the eye candy aspect than anything else, but I say give it a chance. Like “Batman Begins,” it’s an origin story that needs to get all the exposition out of the way in order to get to the good stuff. Remember that “The Dark Knight” is a masterpiece compared to its predecessor. While exploiting cliches at times, Snyder reminds us why we love movies in the first place, even if “Steel” becomes a little too grandiose for its own good. Next to “Watchmen,” it’s Snyder’s most mature film to date. With its gritty cinematography and themes of identity, exclusion and fear of the unknown, “Man of Steel” makes Superman a hero who is no longer only accessible to young boys who run around in capes, pretending to fly. It does away with the whimsy of the original and puts the story into a more worldly scope than just an American one. Like the “S” on the Man of Steel’s costume, this movie is a symbol of hope for the future of caped crusaders in the clutches of Hollywood.