American film (2013). Warner Brothers/Legendary Pictures/Syncopy. Directed by Zack Snyder, starring Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Russell Crowe, Diane Lane, Kevin Costner, Laurence Fishburne, Antje Traue, Ayelet Zurer. Written by David S Goyer, based on a story by Goyer and Christopher Nolan using characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. 143 minutes. Colour.
In this version of the Superman story, the eponymous hero comes from a decadent Krypton that has abandoned natural childbirth and an ambitious space programme to reside on a planet doomed to explode due to an unwise decision to tap the energy of its core. Scientist Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and his wife Lara (Ayelet Zurer) defiantly give birth to their son Kal-El naturally and rocket him to safety on Earth, bearing within his body the material that could re-create all Kryptonians, though Jor-El must battle against his former friend, General Zod (Michael Shannon), who has attempted a coup against Krypton's ruling authorities. On Earth, Superman (Henry Cavill) comes of age as Clark Kent, guided by foster parents Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner) and Martha Kent (Diane Lane), striving to conceal his super powers though periodically driven to rescue people in danger. As an adult, he becomes a drifter, holding various jobs but always leaving before a super-feat might arouse suspicion. Reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams) begins to investigate Kent at the same time that a chance encounter with a buried Kryptonian spaceship enlightens him about his Alien heritage; then, Zod and his colleagues emerge from the Phantom Zone where they had been exiled, hoping to seize Superman and use his body to populate Earth with Kryptonians who will live on an Earth made Krypton-like by Terraforming after its human population is wiped out. But Superman manages to kill Zod and foil his plans; as Kent, he then takes a job as a reporter at Lane's Daily Planet, determined to keep protecting his adopted planet from danger.
In a sense, the problem with this film is signalled by its opening sequence, in which the traditional gravitas of Krypton's impending doom is disrupted by inane action sequences involving Zod's conflicts with Jor-El; for rather than respecting the history of the character, Man of Steel shoehorns Superman into a standard Hollywood blockbuster, full of sound and fury but bearing little relationship to the standard story of the socially inept superhero who wishes to save the world without having any meaningful contact with it. As many commentators noted, the real, unfailingly altruistic Superman would never engage in destructive brawls within populated areas, causing many needless deaths, or slaughter an opponent without giving the matter much thought; yet this is precisely the sort of mindless violence that, producers believe, contemporary audiences crave. Director Zack Snyder also declines to tell his story in chronological order, seemingly shifting back and forth solely to ensure that there are periodic doses of colorful mayhem. Still, Cavill and Adams are unusually effective as Superman and Lois Lane, leaving one to wish that they had been featured in a better Superman movie. An announced sequel with Cavill will also feature another DC Comics Superhero, Batman. [GW]