Superman has been reborn, and from hereon shall be known as the Man of Steel – at least he will if Warner Bros. Pictures’ new CGI heavy extravaganza is to be believed. Forget anything you think you know about Clark Kent and his alien alter-ego, as this latest interpretation directed by Zack Snyder and starring Brit heartthrob Henry Cavill as Superman and the versatile Amy Adams as the spirited Lois Lane, turns everything that has gone before on its head.
Growing up in rural Kansas, Clark Kent knows there’s something different about him. It’s only after the death of Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner), the man he believed to be his father, that Clark begins to discover his true origins, and his role in the future of mankind.
Tastes in film, as with many art forms, go in and out of fashion, and none more so than those that fall within the genre of sci-fi and fantasy. In the late 1940’s and throughout the 1950’s mutant insects roamed the deserts of Middle America and giant prehistoric creatures terrorised the world as we lived in the threat of a new nuclear age. During the 1970’s and 1980’s when men were pushing the boundaries of space exploration, so too were filmmakers who travelled to galaxies far, far away and went where no man had gone before (or if we’re really honest is ever likely to).
With the 1990’s and as the new millennium dawned it seemed that mankind had entered a new period of secularism, having largely forgotten religion and all that goes with it. However try as man might to take god, in whichever form you want to believe in, out of the equation, there was no getting away from the fact that he still needed something or someone to believe in. Of course, the church which is Hollywood is never slow to pick up on a trend or, if needs be form one themselves. As a result they took it upon themselves to create not just one saviour for mankind but a plethora of new age demigods and superheroes who would rescue the world from every conceivable modern threat from natural disasters to power hungry megalomaniacs or alien invasion. However, though many of these were human beings who came by their super powers via some freak of nature or experimental accident, one man stood head and shoulders above the rest. Superman had something extra, possibly because he was quite simply not-of-this-world.
Which brings us to the crux around which Snyder’s vision is built. Namely if mankind wants to fight the threats, in whatever form, which will inevitably face it in the future, it could do worse than to look beyond the stars for help. From the opening scenes where the newborn Kal-El (later known as Superman / Man of Steel / Clark Kent – take your pick) is sent by his father Jor-El (a regal Russell Crowe) from his home on the planet Krypton to Earth, in order to save both his own race and that of mankind from possible extinction, the film drowns in a sea of quasi-religious imagery climaxing as the adult Superman floats through space arms outstretched messiah-like, heading towards Earth for what could be Armageddon. Which is where the film’s main weakness lies. There is never any real question that Superman will overcome the threat – in the form of the evil Kryptonian renegade General Zod (Michael Shannon) – to the future of civilisation as we know it. As a result the final confrontation between good and evil in the form of the two aliens from the planet Krypton, seems unnecessarily prolonged and for little other reason than to show the filmmakers’ special effects prowess.
Though obviously, by dint of its name, the film focuses on the person of Superman, he is in reality one of its least interesting characters. Cavill may look the part with his ripped physique appearing almost alien-like in all its pumped-up glory beneath his glistening, skin-tight suit, but he is required to do little more than smoulder (which he does frequently as he burns through anything and everything with his laser sight). The whole essence of the character’s new imagining is probably best summed up by a female soldier who, having been asked by her superior officer why she’s gawking at the recently departed Superman, apologises and says simply “He’s so…‘hot’!,” as though no further explanation is required.
Instead it’s Lois Lane, the feisty reporter and Superman’s possible ‘love interest’ for already rumoured future instalments, who comes across much stronger. Yes she may continually stick her nose in where it’s not wanted, getting herself into scrapes which require her to be rescued by her new godlike boyfriend just in the nick of time. However as a journalist this goes with the territory, and Adams brings Lane a zesty fearlessness that makes her an equal partner (in as far as any mere human could be) with the ‘Man of Steel’ and hence all the more appealing to him.
It may be visually arresting in places, with Krypton in particular re-envisioned as a Gigeresque Alien planet. However Man of Steel lacks the metal to make it stand out amongst the abundance of superhero movies flooding the market on a regular basis, and as such fails to reinvent Superman as the much needed hero for the next generation of film fans.
Cleaver Patterson is a film critic and writer based in London.
Read also Matthew Sorrento’s ‘Ten Mantras of Man of Steel’.