Every generation seems to have their own versions of popular superheroes. Some people associate George Reeves with the iconic all-American role of Superman. I will always think of Christopher Reeve as the man of steel, whereas others may think longingly of Dean Cain or Tom Welling. (I don’t think anyone gets misty-eyed over Brandon Routh.)
Because pop culture seems to have shorter and shorter memories (but bigger and bigger box office takes for superheroes), we now get another re-imagining, this time starring Henry Cavill. Now, I loved Henry in The Tudors—so handsome and tortured as Charles Brandon, aka the only nice person in the whole series. He seemed like a good choice to step into the blue and red tights. Then for director, why not Zack Snyder, who knows how to occasionally made a good movie (Watchmen), and for sure a good-looking movie (300)? But there is something kind of silly when a filmmaker takes source material of a comic book so… seriously. Man of Steel is very earnest—with swelling, trumpety, triumphant music and god-rays—that it sucks all the fun out of Superman.
I guess re-imagining Krypton (which will always be stuck in my mind as being an icy, pointy, crystal palace) would be a fun task for anyone with an imagination. However, I never imagined Krypton as an outcast set combining Spock’s volcanic Vulcan with a bit of Avatar and a lot of How to Train Your Dragon thrown in. Oh, and everyone communicates through the same silvery, floating walkie-talkies that look a lot like talking vaginas (whaaaaaat?). Krypton also shows us that the classic Superman onesie also works as a kind of sexy wetsuit, as shown by Russell Crowe, aka Jor-El, Supe’s dad.
We all know the mythology of Superman. Baby Kal-El is jettisoned from his dying planet to Earth, where he is raised by the corn-fed Kents (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane). He grows up trying to hide his powers, but once he discovers his talents can be used for good, he dons tights and a cape, and sets out to be a superhero for humanity.
The first half (sans Krypton weirdness) of Man of Steel works the best, where Clark is a loner in Alaska (early on we are rewarded with a shirtless scene) up until when he first starts playing with his talents after the discovery of the mothership under the ice in Antarctica. Flashbacks to him as a lonely child are sad, moving, and magical… and dammit if Keven Costner didn’t make me cry! But when angry General Zod (Michael Shannon) shows up, the film goes on auto-pilot, blinding us with special effects instead of emotional involvement. And oh, yeah, there is Lois Lane (Amy Adams) who plays a plucky investigator, aka instant love interest since she is cute and Clark is hot. Alas, Cute + Hot do not necessarily equal chemistry.
Some of the special effects are indeed impressive. General Zod sets up some huge magnets over Metropolis because of his bad intentions (not worth going into), that would test the sound on anyone’s home theater. These magnets are so powerful, that they make a sort of “waahhhhh… BOOM!” sound as they suck up everything metal on the ground (think: cars) in order to drop them unceremoniously over and over. Cool. But as Metropolis is being attacked, it becomes weirdly distracting that the only people in town in peril seem to be Lois Lane’s Daily Planet co-workers (including Lawrence Fishburne) hiding behind some wreckage. Where is everybody? In the meantime, Superman battles Zod seemingly forever, as the filmmakers go wayyyy over the top, showing how two men of steel can rip up concrete, glass, and other architectural adornments just by hurling each other around. Long before then, I didn’t give a hoot. It is not a good sign when the last half or so of a movie has you looking at your watch.
There is plenty of opportunity to hear Zack Snyder and others wax poetic about their glorious interpretation of the American icon. There is some history of the character of Superman (which is much better explored in PBS series Superheroes: A Never-ending Battle), plus a look at the brutal physical training of the actors, a featurette about the destruction of Vulcan… I mean Krypton sequence, and a short bit celebrating Superman’s 75th anniversary. Much of the bonus content is actually part of the second disc where it is integrated with another copy of the film itself, if you are really that into it. Plus there is a History Channel piece about what if Planet Krypton was real, and finally an extended ad for The Hobbit (huh?) and New Zealand.