For the most part it is a wham-bang action fest that successfully re-imagines Supes for a new generation and, more importantly, for potential movie teams up with Batman as DC Comics, who own both characters, look to emulate Marvel’s box-office slaying tag team triumphs. But first things first.
A far more sci-fi Superman movie than Richard Donner’s seminal 1976 Christopher Reeve starrer or Bryan Singer’s lacklustre and ultimately ignored 2006 run out Superman Returns, Man Of Steel opens on Krypton as the planet falls apart and Russell Crowe’s Jor-el (Superman’s Krypton father) goes to-to-toe with ultimate badass General Zod (an outstanding Michael Shannon). Their son is sent to earth, and it is here that the rest of the movie plays out in a grittier Kansas and Metropolis than Supes usually sees on screen.
It’s an alien angst tale, as Clark struggles to find his place in a world to which he can never reveal his true nature and abilities. He’s an outcast, living under the radar until his attempts to find out who he is and where he came from lands him in the sights of roving reporter Lois Lane (Adams) just as Zod lands on earth intent on all manner of misdeeds.
The opening hour is slow paced as Clark wrestles with his unknown past; Diane Lane and a superb Kevin Costner play his earthly parents as a youthful Clark battles growing pains, and it is here that the film’s emotional journey is to be found. There’s no Clark as bespectacled journo, but plenty of the scowling brooding loner, as he struggles with the who-am-I? demons that lurk beneath the surface.
If Batman was a character ripe with inner turmoil, Superman has always seemed the clean-cut, do-gooder, yet in Nolan and screenwriter David S Goyer’s hands, Clark too becomes troubled and conflicted, as he battles with his desires to let loose and show the bullies of the world what he can do. If this sounds all touchy-feely, then fear not – by the time act three crash lands on earth in the shape of Shannon’s fearsome, towering Zod, Man Of Steel wakes things up and delivers the pyrotechnics.
Once Zod touches down, the gloves come off as two alien superhuman beings duke it out, punching each other not just through walls but through entire buildings, often several at a time. Locomotives become weapons to be lobbed at one another, the ground buckles, acres are destroyed, and it’s truly an awesome visial spectacle to witness. A sensory-overloading set piece, for sure.
As stunning as it is, though, the film’s human heart is undersold in comparison. Lois and Clark’s relationship never quite gets going, and Lois is given too little by half to do. And new boy Henry Cavil while solid – and solidly-built – as the man with his pants on the outside never gets enough meat to to fully flesh out Clark’s anguish.
Occasional touches of humour (one bar room brawler gets a touch of his own medicine courtesy of a recalcitrant and still-in-hiding Clark) mean it is not all dour and serious, and as summer tentpole movies go, it delivers the fireworks in spades.
Hopefully the follow up, of which this neatly sets up, and which will be the next stage in the journey towards a DC Justice League movie, will add more of the heart to the superhuman heroics.
Staring: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon
Running time: 143 mins
Now read: myTNT blog – ‘We don’t need another hero – comic book films are a major yawn’