Lair of the Geek

Bringing you all the geek stuff

Directed by Zack Snyder
Certificate 12A Out now

There has always been a fundamental problem with bringing Superman to the screen and, unfortunately it’s an issue inherent in the hero himself. Basically, Superman is just far too powerful a figure to build satisfying stories around. There are only two plots to choose from. Option 1 is to take his powers away, which rather undermines the point of him having them in the first place, and was the reason that Superman Returns was such a wallowing yawn-fest; while Option 2, the route chosen here by producer Chris Nolan, is to square our hero up against villains who are just as powerful as he is. What we get here is essentially a re-run of Superman 2 fuelled with every ounce of eye-popping CGI magic 21st Century film-making can provide.

We all know the origin plot. The planet Krypton is dying. Jor-El packs his son Kal, the only natural born Kryptonian, into an escape pod, along with the genetic codec of their whole race, and blasts him off into space to save him. Young Kal arrives on Earth as a baby where he is found and brought up as a human child by the wise and gentle Kents. After that Goyer and Nolan start rewriting the mythology. When the grown-up Clark goes looking for answers he awakes some ancient Kryptonian technology, and unwittingly draws the attention of his father’s arch-enemy, General Zod, and his cronies, who have just escaped from their prison in the Phantom Zone. Meanwhile, tenacious Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams, on top form), on the trail of a mysterious man whose impossible deeds have saved hundreds of lives, is closing in on Smallville and a meeting that will change her life forever.

The Krypton opening section is breathtaking. The visual flair showcased in Zack Snyder’s 300, Watchmen and Sucker Punch, vividly brings to life the doomed alien world. The prologue is a mini adventure in its own right with Russell Crowe’s Jor-El riding dragons, fighting rebels as well as getting his baby son to safety.

Once events switch to Earth David S Goyer’s screenplay cleverly avoids getting bogged down in the extended origin story by intercutting flashback’s of Clark’s life into the unfolding main plot. It works very well, providing insight into Superman’s childhood at appropriate moments, and is all grounded in the kindness and moral strength of his human foster parents, played by the inspired pairing of Kevin Costner and Diane Lane.

Of course, none of this would be worth the effort if the actor in the cape wasn’t up to the task. Fortunately, Henry Cavill is so perfect a piece of casting that, within minutes, you forget that anyone else has ever been Superman. Cavill’s interpretation is emotionally human but also, in places, filled with an almost angelic serenity that doesn’t let you forget that he is most definitely not a human being, no matter how much he looks like one.
Kal’s journey to being Superman takes up most of the first half of the movie and the memory shard given him by his father gives Jor-El a much larger presence than you might expect. This is a good thing as Russell Crowe’s guardian angel holds it all together while Kal-El works out his place in the world. Beyond-the-grave Jor-El also gets some great scenes with Lois Lane who, in this version, knows the truth about Clark right from the start.

The arrival of Zod and his strike team starts a war for the fate of the Earth. Michael Shannon’s Zod is a steely-eyed nutcase who can’t be bargained with because his mission was genetically coded into him before he was born. Snyder holds nothing back in showing what happens when virtually indestructible super-beings start laying into each other. The scale and energy in the battle scenes is breath-taking but, despite all the visual excess Snyder never loses touch of his characters.

Good as it is, there are issues that keep Man of Steel a step or two below the high peak of Chris Nolan’s Batman trilogy. The epic mythology feels a bit over-earnest at times. Even The Dark Knight had its lighter moments but there are precious few of them here. There are a lot of spaceships and future-weapons that feel more sci-fi than comic book, and, spectacular as it is, the utter carnage of the finale doesn’t sit very comfortably with the idea of Superman as mankind’s protector. It’s hard to imagine, given the collateral damage wreaked, that the people of Metropolis will feel much fondness and gratitude for him when all the dust settles. They’re more likely to want him to pack up his tights and go back to where he came from.

However, despite the deserved respect for Christopher Reeve’s first two outings, this is the best Superman movie to date. Hopefully we’ll see Henry Cavill done the cape a few more times. What’s the betting he loses his powers in Man of Steel 2?

It will be a few years yet before Nolan and Goyer have to invent an Option 3 plotline. Let’s just hope it doesn’t involve a super-computer or, God help us, Nuclear Man. There are some things even Superman can’t come back from.


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