After the Avengers and the Dark Knight trilogy cleaning house in theatres over the last couple of years, DC have been very quick to make sure that they have other major characters being represented in more modern, serious films, contending with the onslaught of Marvel films coming out. Starting with Batman, DC’s next biggest hero is, of course, the original superhero himself, Superman. Not being a huge Superman fan, bar some of the animated feature-lengths and the Christopher Reeves films, I was a touch apprehensive going into this film. Can Christopher Nolan and Zack Snyder work their magic to make a hero like Superman relevant against The Dark Knight and The Avengers, and can they make a Superman film that shows a grittier side to the hero, without completely overhauling his character? The answer is yes… mostly.
The thing is with Superman, at least for me, is that he is essentially unbeatable. Created and written as this unflinching bastion of humanity and human decency, his flaws are a lot less noticeable than The Flash, or Batman. With that in mind, this film actually does a really good job of giving the Man of Steel a solid back story, and good reason for his unflinching sense of morality. Jar-El, Superman’s dad, played by Russel Crowe, is well cast in the role, and provides Kal-El with all the information he needs to realize his powers, while still respecting how much stronger he is compared to the humans on Earth. This is the biggest problem in depicting Superman on the big screen for me. It’s really hard to believe Superman ever being challenged by anyone on Earth. He would need to be caught at a moment of extreme weakness for any of us to have a fighting chance. Luckily, this first film took an easy way to showcase both Superman’s love for humanity, and what it would take to challenge him, in the mighty General Zod.
Comic book movie fans will recognize Zod from the classic Christopher Reeves Superman films. He’s back on the big screen, and more determined and terrifying than ever. Played superbly in the film by Michael Shannon, Zod is a man betrayed by his own kind as he hunts the Man of Steel down to Earth in an effort to get the knowledge necessary to restart the people of planet Krypton, at the cost of all human life. This is the main plot, a character-defining debate for our Superman, and a good foundation for the character’s dedication to our welfare. The only thing is, the film is very simple in terms of this plot. Bar the lead up to Clark Kent discovering his identity, complete with a well played and very nosey Lois Lane in Amy Adams, this a superhero film, a very true to the genre superhero film. This is not the Dark Knight trilogy, there is no really big mystery to any of the characters or layers to their motives, this is straight up Superman vs. General Zod explosions everywhere superhero action, and honestly, it works.
The action is very well choreographed, despite our hero and his enemies having obvious otherworldly powers. Zack Snyder keeps the action tight and focused, the viewer never loses focus of what’s going on and what’s happening to who. There is a very obvious groove in the film of talking, action, talking, action that does prove a touch predictable, but it works for the story, and none of the fights feel overly long. That said, there are times when Henry Cavill falls a little short in portraying drama as Superman, he’s almost too rigid in the character, and any extreme emotion almost comes across as comical, and a touch too forced.
As an overall package though, the film works, mostly. There are some failures, like the lack of a set-up for the already announced sequel, and Superman still isn’t at the level where he can be taken as seriously on the big screen as Batman or The Avengers, but he is getting there. The cast of this film is perfect, with Michael Shannen and Amy Adams being the highlights, and Diane Lane and Kevin Costner playing Clark’s Earth parents beautifully. Russel Crowe as a very believable Jar-El and the creepiest role in the film is definitely Antje Traue as Zod’s Sub-commander, Faora. This does what it needs to do in giving Superman a solid first entry in his modern reboot, just don’t expect to be thinking too much about the film afterwards.