Man of Steel takes the familiar Superman legend and transforms it into an original, truly epic and personal story about identity, individual responsibility and what it means to be human. It is the rare superhero movie that manages to combine first- rate special effects and action with three dimensional characters that you care about and real heart and emotion.

The opening sequence on Krypton fully envisions this world in a way that it’s never been realized before. The depiction of Superman’s home planet is darkly imaginative and spectacularly sets  up one of the film’s main themes that of predestination over free will.

Russell Crowe is convincing and imposing as Jor-El, Krypton’s leading scientist who warns his people that Kyrpton is doomed. Aware that it’s too late to save his planet, he and his wife Lara jettison their son Kal-El, the product of the first natural birth on Krypton in hundreds of years, to Earth.

British actor Henry Cavill with his handsome chiseled face and piercing blue eyes is the embodiment of the iconic American superhero. He is a great Superman able to convey vulnerability, ambivalence, strength, and finally a man willing to accept the responsibility that comes with his extraordinary abilities. Cavill has real chemistry with Amy Adams as Lois Lane. Adams continues the tradition of the independent and gutsy reporter Lois who doesn’t exist just to be rescued by Superman.

Michael Shannon continues to prove his versatility with a commanding performance as rebel leader General Zod. His portrayal of Zod’s total and unflinching belief in his quest to ensure that his people survive no matter what the cost is a powerful counterpoint to Superman’s desire to bridge the two worlds. Zod’s intent to destroy an entire race of people is wrong but Shannon makes you admire his tenacity and singularity of purpose. German actress Antje Traue is quite simply one of the toughest female villains ever as Zod’s equally single-minded and relentless right hand woman Faora-Ul.

The story’s non-linear approach is seamlessly executed and helps to balance the pace and provide insight to the conflict Clark experiences between protecting himself and helping others. Hans Zimmer’s score is majestic and captures that feeling of rebirth and hope that is so much a part of Superman. It may be a minor point but Man of Steel also does away with the ridiculous premise that putting on a pair of glasses renders a person unrecognizable.

Man of Steel is not a perfect movie. It does perpetuate the superhero movie cliché of mortals miraculously surviving gravity defying danger. In this case, it’s the ubiquitous Lois Lane who emerges without a scratch time after time. The ship that serves as the equivalent to the Fortress of Solitude in this version has been on Earth for about 20,000 years but Kal-El has been on Earth for only a little over three decades. There is a convoluted plan to save Earth from genocide at the hands of Zod, which involves using the ship that brought Superman to Earth to create a black hole.  It doesn’t quite make sense unless you’re an astrophysicist.

Finally, one glaring issue that’s hard to overlook is the 9/11 imagery of buildings coming down in a Metropolis that very much resembles New York. Whether conscious or subconscious, it’s time filmmakers move on and stop blowing up New York skyscrapers.

Still, director Zack Snyder has done for Superman what Christopher Nolan did for Batman and in fact Nolan is credited with the story along with screenwriter David S. Goyer. He has taken a character that had become tired, one dimensional and predictable and has reimagined him as a contemporary hero with doubts and internal vulnerabilities and conflicts who still stands on the side of good. When you walk out of the theater after seeing Man of Steel you wish there were a man who is “Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.”

 

 

 

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