Just seven years after the last attempt at a Superman reboot, Man of Steel flies into our cinemas, this time with the intention of reinventing the superhero for a 21st century audience. This Clark Kent boldly opts to wear his red underpants underneath his costume in a film that actively shies away from the word ‘Superman’. For Man of Steel is first and foremost the exploration of a man; the superhero part comes second.
The planet Krypton is on the brink of destruction as scientist Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and his wife, Lara (Ayelet Zurer) are forced to make the sacrifice of sending their newborn son to another world to save his life. The origin story is, at times, too convoluted for easy consumption and, as a result, the film takes a while to find its stride. However, once the baby Kal-El crash-lands in Kansas and is raised as ‘Clark Kent’ by Jonathan and Martha (touching performances from Kevin Costner and Diane Lane), we delve into a more familiar tale.
Our ability to accompany Clark (Henry Cavill) throughout his journey and watch his transition from boy to superhero is the film’s greatest asset. Not only do we see him don the suit, take flight and save the world for the first time, we also witness his stumbles. With the strength of a god but the heart of a man, Superman can inspire the best within us all, but not before he accepts himself, and Man of Steel does an exceptional job of depicting Clark’s struggles under the weight of two worlds and the responsibility of balancing his integrity with his power.
Unfortunately, Clark is not the only survivor of the Kryptonian apocalypse: tyrannical General Zod (a suitably deranged Michael Shannon) and his crew have decided upon Earth as the site to create Krypton 2.0, meaning that Superman’s first battle may prove to be his greatest. As the conclusion to the action proves, this is a film that doesn’t shy away from uncomfortable questions, and there is no black and white morality in this cinematic post-9/11 universe.
Henry Cavill (The Tudors) not only proves that Brits make the best superheroes, but also that he is a lot more than a pretty (very pretty) face. Cavill gets his role spot on, bringing a humanity and vulnerability to the role of Clark Kent, without ever sacrificing his magnificence.
Meanwhile, his counterpart Amy Adams manages to achieve arguably the best cinematic portrayal of Lois Lane to date. Adams’ Lois is a protagonist in her own right; a proactive and intelligent journalist who is an integral part of the story she pens and far from a damsel in distress; Lois rescues Clark just as much as he rescues her.
Surprisingly, for director Zack Snyder (300), it is the action sequences that prove to be the movie’s Kryptonite. Whilst the quality of CGI is indisputable, the fight scenes reach an unnecessary length that may begin to alienate audiences. The overloaded action does not detract from the emotion of the piece, but a certain amount of charm is lost amongst the rubble of countless fallen skyscrapers.
Deemed ‘humourless’ by some – perhaps because it fails to match the easy humour of the Marvel cinematic universe – Man of Steel is certainly not devoid of wit. In fact, much of the joy of the piece comes in the form of Lois and Clark’s budding relationship. There is a definite, if understated, chemistry between Cavill and Adams as they tentatively delve into the playful banter their two characters are renowned for, and the film’s final scene sets up an enjoyably fresh dynamic for the pair. The film’s conclusion is pitch-perfect, teasing a sequel (already green lit by Warner Bros.) that holds the promise of a more universally appealing venture.
A weighty blockbuster with its fair share of spine tingling moments, Man of Steel delivers on its promise to reinvent a modern and relatable Superman, one who still inspires hope. What it lacks in accessibility it makes up for in heart, and its great performances, excellent characterisation and stunning aesthetics mean that, even if just for a little while, you’ll genuinely believe a man can fly.