Man of Steel
What It Is
You know the story: a scientist named Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and his doting wife Lara (Ayelet Zurer) realize that their planet, named Krypton, is about to explode, and so they send their infant child Kal-El in a space pod to earth. Here the baby will be found, renamed Clark, and raised by a farmer in Smallville, Kansas, Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner), and his wife Martha (Diane Lane). He will grow up to be a sturdy fellow (played by Henry Cavill, with super-defined abs and, for a period of time, a super-manly beard), devoted to his human parents but also suspecting that he’s not like other kids.
This suspicion turns into something like trauma when nine-year-old Clark (Cooper Timberline) starts hearing every sound in his elementary school classroom and hides in a closet while his classmates taunt him for being “weird.” Martha comforts him and draws him out of the closet, but the scene sets up a pattern for poor Clark, that without an explanation for his difference, he will only feel alone and afraid. This despite the fact that he is, of course, super-strong, and as a 13-year-old (Dylan Sprayberry) saves a schoolbus full of kids from drowning, including the bully (Jack Foley) who is tormenting him just before the bus goes off a bridge. The bully appreciates this, and becomes a supporter of Clark going forward, during subsequent bouts with other bullies (apparently Smallville is full of bullies). Here we see a bit of a lesson, that being nice to mean humans is one way of assuaging their ignorance and fears of difference.
It takes some time for Clark to be able to act on this lesson, as Jonathan tells him again and again that earth’s population is to “ready” to see him as he is. And so Clark hides his super-self identity, in this version of the story working a series of heavy-labor jobs, on fishing boats and at Arctic research stations, occasionally saving humans from exploding oil rigs or other disasters. His father is so adamant about hiding Clark’s identity that he sacrifices himself in order to do it, another lesson revealed by a close-up of Clark’s face as he observes rather than saves Jonathan, at dad’s instruction: he’s horrified, terrified, confused, angry, and lost.
Still, he keeps in mind that Jonathan also told him that some day he would know the fate his first father had in mind for him (“He sent you here for a reason”). That reason becomes slightly clearer when a villain from Krypton, General Zod (Michael Shannon) shows up on earth with a team- of lack-outfitted warriors, determined to terraform earth for Kryptonian use — a process that make the atmosphere and resources good for Kryptonians but oh by the way, kills all the humans. Clark, for all the meanness he’s suffered at the hands of fearful humans, means to save them rather than take up with the bully Zod, a course of action encouraged by both his mom and his new friend, intrepid Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams).
While Clark’s male role models (his two fathers) talk vaguely and grandly about his destiny (Jor-El says he’ll be seen “as a god” by earthlings), the women around him are more inclined to look at particular instances, people in trouble who need help, and also, no small point, to look out for himself emotionally. That Lois and Martha keep focused on the hero’s moral and psychological health as a means to his mission helps to make him able to complete it, at least for this first installment of a planned franchise. It’s predictable that he must achieve this mission by inflicting all manner of trauma and pain on the extra-terrestrial enemies, the ignorant but also super-powered Zod crew. It’s also predictable that Clark must forgive the human enemies who come his way, from the US military who shoot at him incessantly as much as the hard-drinking working-man bully in the bar who throws beer on him.
Clark’s journey to his sense of a secure identity and a sense of community with whom to identify is long. It is also fragmented by the several storylines and multiple locations, a few encounters with Jor-El as a kind of holographic digital memory, several flashbacks to his childhood in Kansas, and too many fight scenes. The journey lands him where you know it must, in his most famous alternative identity, as a reporter at the Daily Planet. And so the franchise begins. Again.
Why It’s Fun
The action is loud and rambunctious, a way to punch up a familiar story. That said, it is also repetitive: the battle scenes go on and then go on some more. The human military attacks are ponderous. The flight scenes (Superman learns to fly in scene that recall Spidey, in a few films now, learning how to use his Spidey webs).
Diane Lane is the most convincing performer on screen, as great Martha and a great mom.
Who’s Going To Love It
Fans of Zack Snyder’s 300 may appreciate the deeply shadowed imagery he brings to this famously brightly colored saga. Even Superman’s outfit is a darker blue and looks a little scaley, more like the recent Spider Man’s than the previous Supermans’.
Fans of the traditional Superman story might like seeing it repeated here.
What To Be Aware Of
A birth scene at film’s start shows the mother in pain, screaming. The room is dark, the camera is swooping, and when the child is born into the father’s arms, dad looks proud and mom looks like an afterthought. The naked baby appears a few more times in the film, as a flashback figure, and his penis is visible.
The violent scenes are frequent and cartoonish, though also more hard-hitting than those in many PG-13 films. They feature many explosions and vehicle crashes, as well as hand-to hand fights, as well as visual references to reports on terrorist attacks that young viewers might have seen on television. People in Metropolis run through the streets and buildings collapse and burn behind them, space ships crash into skyscrapers, and people are trapped beneath rubble, crying out to be saved.
A couple of scenes feature characters drinking, including Lois Lane, so that you know she’s a “tough” reporter.
Language includes “dumb ass” and “dick splash” (used by high school kids on a school bus to taunt young Clark), as well as “hell,” “asshole,” “damn,” and “ass.” Lois declares her toughness by asking a couple of men if they are “done measuring dicks.”
4 out of 10
Man of Steel
Director: Zack Snyder
Cast: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, Antje Traue, Laurence Fishburne
Studio: Warner Bros.
US General Release: June 14, 2013
UK General Release: June 14, 2013