By no means is this a bad movie. But by no means is this a great movie. America’s most recognizable superhero is brought to the big screen once again, this time portrayed by Henry Cavill, continuing the trend of non-American actors portraying iconic American characters. That isn’t meant to be a slander, Cavill dons the cape and suit admirably. He’s got the muscles, he’s got the smooth, chiseled face, and the quiet charisma of Clark Kent. The last time Superman was on the big screen, it was a disaster for fans and the studio, 2006’s “Superman Returns.” Before that, it was the Reeves movies of the 70’s and 80’s, which the 2006 version tried to emulate. Ever since then, DC, under Warner Bros. has been playing catch up, far behind their rivals at Marvel. The only comic property for them that has been stable and consistent is Nolan’s Batman trilogy, which is exactly why he was brought on board to oversee “Man of Steel’s” production. It is a smart move, and they’ve used it perfectly in the movie’s elaborate marketing. Heck, I wanted to watch this movie just because Nolan’s name was attached. It’s safe to assume I’m not the only one with that frame of mind. Throw in the Superman devotees, and you have a recipe for success. Warner is hoping this picture could finally be the start of the long delayed, nightmarish journey of the Justice League, DC’s answer to Marvel’s The Avengers (who as mentioned earlier, are light years ahead as Phase 2 of their universe has kicked off already, with Phase 3 already in the planning stages). It has already been stated that this Superman movie’s universe has other existing superheroes to get the Justice League ball rolling (Easter eggs throughout). And this weekend’s gross of 125 million domestically alone is a good start. The sequel has already been greenlit, and scribe David S Goyer is under contract to do it, along with Snyder and Nolan returning. Nolan, though, in a much lesser fashion, as he begins production on his next project “Interstellar.”
To begin, we’re on Krypton, brought to life by great amounts of CGI and lavish sets. The planet is dying, and its best scientist, Jor-El, played by Russell Crowe, engages with the intergalactic board. In comes General Zod, Krypton’s military leader, who is leading a rebellion against the people who have doomed the planet. Portrayed by Michael Shannon, another Chicago made actor, Zod is more of an anti-hero than a full blown villain. He was bred to fight for and defend his people, whatever the cost. He will stop at nothing to do his job, and Shannon plays to this. Shannon has come to the limelight as of late, though he’s always had good resume. He has that look that just screams madman, which probably aided in his casting. As Jor-El disagrees with Zod’s doings, the former friends are now at odds. Jor-El flees back to his shelter, where he and wife Lara prepare to send their son Kal-El to Earth. With him is a codex that holds the ability to create Kryptonians and extend their existence. When Zod arrives, he can’t prevent the pod carrying Kal from departing. He kills Jor-El in rage, but is captured. He and his army are then sentenced to a spaced out version of cryogenic freezing.
Thirty years later, Clark Kent is a vagabond. He travels frequently and holds odd jobs to hide his identity, leaving whenever suspicion arises. Amongst all this, we’re treated to his childhood through flashbacks. Pa and Ma Kent, played by Kevin Costner and Diane Lane respectively, are seen guiding their lost son at various points of adolescence. Clark struggles with his superhuman abilities as he adapts to Earth. What this new iteration seems to strive for is the morally torn Superman. He fights himself as to whether or not use his powers to help people, since it will expose him. Papa Kent explains that he has to contain himself, that the world will reject him for being so different. This leads to a direct revelation that Clark is in fact an alien. Papa Kent shows him the pod he arrived in years ago. Costner uses his screen time and fatherly dialogue very effectively. Eventually, we see Clark do his best to restrain himself, with the exception of near death scenarios he comes across. When in present time, Lois Lane, this time played by Amy Adams, is sent to investigate an odd discovery of some wreck. It turns out to be a ship from Krypton, and Clark makes off with it eventually, which seems to be a nod to the Fortress of Solitude. Here, he discovers Jor-El, his real father, in some sort of hologram form. This plays off as if he was never even dead though in my opinion. He continues to pop up throughout, and can speak and see as if he is in fact still alive. A bit wacky. But it is explained to Kal who he is, where he comes from, and what his purpose is. Meanwhile, Lois Lane reports her story of encountering this otherworldly figure, and tracks him down. It leads her to Kansas, where she eventually finds Clark. She agrees not to expose him. But when Clark returns home to Ma Kent, something happens. Out of nowhere, UFO’s arrive, and every single airwave in the world is invaded by a mysterious voice. It’s Zod. He and his army escaped their punishment when Krypton exploded, and they’ve tracked down Kal-El to Earth. He gives him 24 hours to surrender himself or he will destroy Earth. Again, we see our hero morally torn. Does he reveal himself as the alien sought after? Does he surrender to Zod? Can he trust Zod or even the Earth people? Well, of course he decides to surrender and protect Earth, at the same time plotting how to deal with Zod.
Now the chaos begins. Continuous action and fight scenes await. Lois Lane is forced aboard along with Kal-El. It is revealed here why Zod has come to Earth. He wants the codex sent off with Kal, to repopulate his people and recreate their world on Earth. Of course, this means the extinction of mankind. Superman won’t have this. When Zod goes to Kansas to find the pod Kal-El came in, he attacks Ma Kent. The fight begins. I will say this. All the fight scenes between Superman and Zod’s army are a marvel to watch. Millions upon millions of dollars pay their dues. Zod’s right hand woman is like watching a video game character. She has this Johnny Cage like ability where she just shifts to a spot in the blink on an eye when she strikes. Our hero and villain beat the hell out of one another, destroying an entire city in the process. Good prevails of course, because the not so ghost of Jor-El taught Lois Lane how to defeat Zod and the army, and she relays this information to Superman. When it then comes down to Superman vs Zod alone, the Man of Steel’s hand is forced, and he kills him. He shrieks that it came to this. And in the end, he takes a job at the Daily Bugle, as Clark Kent. Hip hip hooray. The flaw in this is of course, the supposed anonymity. He takes this job to be hidden, but around the news. We know that from the comics. But when he is introduced at the office by Laurence Fishburne, who by the way, just watched him confront Zod in the middle of a battlefield, he’s clueless? He seems to be, or is he covering for him? Didn’t an entire city and army just witness his exploits? No one knows it’s him? We know Lois is covering for him when she shakes his hand…or is she? Of course she is. But given the way the events in the film unfold, it just seems like this ending was forced given the character’s history.
So, it is a decent movie. Decent direction by Snyder and a questionable script by Goyer. Cavill fits the bill of newfound hero who finally finds his place. Shannon played Zod just fine. Amy Adams didn’t perform poorly, but it’s is as if she was just thrust into the picture, again, because of the comic’s history. There really never is any burgeoning love between her and Clark. They just happen to find each other and kiss at the end. Costner and Lane filled the shoes of Superman’s adoptive parents efficiently. As for Russell Crowe as Jor-El, Superman’s real father, it isn’t his performance that is goofy. It’s his story arc. Like I said earlier, he is killed at the beginning. Then he is resurrected through a ship, and interacts with all the present characters like nothing ever happened. It is fun to watch halfway through, but I don’t know if this is the answer Warner Bros. has been looking for. It made its money, it is getting a sequel, but does it deserve more? Maybe the Justice League isn’t meant for the big screen. 2009’s Green Lantern suggests that. And the fact that they can’t quite nail Superman suggests even more so. If you can’t drill America’s most popular hero, how could you get The Flash, Aquaman, Wonder Woman, etc? Do we even want to see those just mentioned on the silver screen? It doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, it is all about money. “Man of Steel” made just that, and a lot of it. Here’s to hoping that they just leave Nolan and Bale’s Batman world out of it all. Then again, that means another Batman intro project. It wouldn’t be a surprise. Spiderman was relaunched in a 5 year period. The comic movie era is upon us, and it’s not going anywhere anytime soon.
RATING: 2.5 stars