In the good old days, Superman was the cheeriest, most clean-cut superhero out there. That, of course, was back when everyone believed that truth, justice, and the American way were really just synonymns. The world of today needs a new Superman, one that the 2013 film Man of Steel, directed by Zack Snyder and produced by Christopher Nolan, attempts to provide. The British actor Henry Cavill stars as an darker, anguished superhero, burdened by his immense responsibilities (the Dark Knight undertones should be obvious) and torn between his loyalty to Krypton and his sense of obligation towards the denizens of Earth. Though this franchise reboot may not be excellent, at least it manages to provide some fresh narrative elements.
The movie starts on the planet Krypton, a planet that is about to be destroyed because the Kryptonians have been mining the energy in its core. Top scientest Jor-El, played by Russell Crowe, places his newborn baby, Kal-El, inside a space ship and sends him to safety on Earth. The evil General Zod then kills Jor-El and is banished from Krypton, though both of these characters will reappear later in the film. The film makers' modification of the origin myth and their dedication of screen time to events on Krypton is certainly one of the most, for some the most, interesting part of Man of Steel.
We next see the baby Kal-El, now a bearded seaman named Clark Kent, rescuing workers on a burning oil rig. Clark is moving from disaster to disaster, disappearing after saving the situation so as to remain anonymous. Through flashbacks the audience learns that his adoptive Earth father, Jonathan Kent, fearing for his son's safety, had warned him to keep his superpowers secret. This proves to be one of the film's more interesting points, heightening the Christian parable of the Superman story as well as the narrative's realism. This possibility for conflict between Christ figure and those around him is illustrated when, as the infant Superman is being prepared for his voyage to Earth, his mother tearily claims that "they'll kill him", "he'll be a god to them" his father responds dryly. Presumably, if humanity were to learn of the existence of an alien in our midst the change to our perception of the universe would be fundamental. This whole concept underpins the film's more grounded first half.
However, in the end the ideological danger is disappointingly moot; when humanity does learn of Superman, everyone takes it in stride and accepts him as their saviour. Then the audience is battered by the movie's final (seemingly never-ending) hour: a battle on land, sea, and air that is all shallow flash without any of the expected tragedy. Though Man of Steel 225 million dollar budget provides a visually appealing spectacle of special affects and action, it fails to provide the moments of joy so characteristic of Superman. There is no romantic spark with Lois Lane, played by Amy Adams, and there is little everyday heroism: no crime fighting, no bullets bouncing off of chest, no easily lifted car. Instead there is only the grandeur of a cataclysmic battle which only serves to remove the viewer from the once beloved red-caped hero on the screen.
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