This is not your father’s Superman, and those of you (like me) who grew up during the Christopher Reeve era, this isn’t your Superman either. When DC tried to bring back the world’s best known, beloved and most powerful hero with Superman Returns back in 2006, the world welcomed him back with, shall we say, a lukewarm response. Superman Returns, while not the return to form many a Supes fan was hoping for, still managed to capture the essence of the character itself if losing some of what made Superman, well…Superman in the process. Director Bryan Singer’s Superman was a bit emo and maybe even a little obsessive when it came to the lady of his life in Lois Lane. Many found Singer’s version soft and, let’s face it, a little creepy. What happened to the Superman with the boy scout attitude and all American Smile? As a consequence, Superman Returns, while still a modest financial hit, was a critical flop (though I have a respect for it and think it’s better than a lot of people give it credit for). The movie version of Superman winded up being shelved and all die-hard Supes fans had to tide them over was the television incarnation of him on the show Smallville.
Fast forward some years later, Smallville’s run is over, DC’s one critical and financial success in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight saga is finished. It’s other attempt to get a piece of the super hero pie, that has mainly belonged to Marvel, with the release of the panned (and rightly so) Green Lantern is a dismal failure. It’s time for the world’s Mightiest hero to return. DC makes a smart move by asking Nolan to help resurrect the once proud franchise and taps Zack Snyder as director. Add to that David S. Goyer, who had a hand in writing all the Dark Knight movies, and the stage was set for Superman to return to form. That brings us to the here and now with Man of Steel.
From the very beginning as a viewer you understand this isn’t going to be the Superman people know. Krypton is a truly alien world, not just a big giant snowball in space. Jor-El isn’t some nerdy scientist but a bit of a badass (it’s Russell Crowe, what were you expecting) who also happens to be a genius. Zod is a ruthless general hell bent on delivering his people to salvation, even at the cost of other worlds. This version of Superman and the world (universe he inhabits) is darker, and a lot more unforgiving. It’s here that you see Nolan’s hand in crafting this story. But the creative forces surrounding the Man of Steel also remember exactly WHO superman is. Unlike Bruce Wayne, who believes there are good people in a dark, and cruel world, Clark Kent, believes the world is good and that only some of the people in it are dark and cruel. It’s Clark’s hope for the world and humanity in general, his unfailing belief in the goodness of others that makes him Superman, what makes him the hero he is.
The world in Man of Steel is more real than any Superman film that’s come before it, so it’s going to have at least hints of some of that darkness that we’ve seen from Nolan’s films. There aren’t any cheesy one liners. No bumbling henchmen. No knowing winks at the camera letting the audience known the actors know their in a comic book movie. No, this is a new, “real” Superman. This Superman has doubts, and despite his willingness to save others from harm, doesn’t exactly leap at the chance to become that Man of Steel until it’s absolutely necessary. This Superman while far different from any that has been seen in recent memory, manages to capture the heart, essence, and humanity that the Donner films almost forty years ago had. There are bits and pieces of Reeves Superman imbedded in Henry Cavil’s portrayel, (who plays him wonderfully) but this Superman is all his own. As is Amy Adams’ Lois Lane who manages to add something fresh to a familiar character making her believable in the role. Kevin Costner and Diane Lane fill in nicely for Ma and Pa kent, though their screen time is so little there isn’t much you can say about their performances one way or another. Perhaps the biggest scene stealer in the movie isn’t Micheal Shannon as Zod, though he’s more than capable of taking up a scene and pretty much owns every scene he’s in, but Antje Traue who plays Zod’s right hand man, er, woman, Faora. Her character is more than a match for Superman and even outshines him in a couple of scenes, not to mention coming off being even more scary than Zod (and that’s saying something in this film).
This movie is good, probably one of the best of the summer and easily beating Iron Man for bragging rights as to who is the top super hero for the summer of 2013. Man of Steel is a new Superman for a new generation, and while I know some old-school, die hard fans will question what has become of the Superman they once knew as certain events unfold in this movie, I have to say this new Superman feels right. It feels like a perfect companion to line up next to Nolan’s Dark Knight saga. Fact is the world we live in has changed since Christopher Reeve donned the red cape way back when. The innocence of those times have long since vanished and unfortunately that Superman, while relevant to those of us who were lucky enough to experience that version of Superman during that era, had to vanish with it in order for him to be relevant again.This is a darker Superman for sure, but this Superman, like every single incarnation before, still has that one thing that separates him from all other heroes. Hope. He still holds within him the belief that there is good in all people, and that there is a light that shines even within the darkest soul. The hope that people can change for the better. His hope that he can help change the world for the better. The hope that he proudly displays in the form of the S on his chest.