After the disappointment of Bryan Singer’s 2004 “Superman Returns,” the triumphant return of the iconic comic book superhero, Superman, has been greatly anticipated. Marketing materials, behind-the-scenes interviews, and trailers released in the weeks before the film’s general release on June 14, 2013, promise a Superman unlike any that previously has been brought to film. This is not the Clark Kent of “Smallville” or the mild-mannered reporter made famous by Christopher Reeve. This is a hero tailored for a new generation, but also true to the very core that has made the character an enduring icon for 75 years. Warner Bros. is keen to celebrate this milestone with a successful launch of “Man of Steel” (Read review here).
Warner Bros. seems to have placed its hope for a franchise reboot in good hands with the team of Zack Snyder (“Watchmen” and “300”) as director, Christopher Nolan (“The Dark Knight” and “Inception”) as writer and co-producer, and David S. Goyer (“Batman Begins” and “Da Vinci’s Demons”) as the main writer. The goal seems to be about presenting a more relatable Superman, one that could exist in today’s world. This has been a sound tactic for superhero movies over the past decade; it was used in films such as “Spiderman” and the X-Men movie franchise.
Viewers of the film trailers most likely have made note of a marked costume change for the big blue wonder. All aspects of the character were scrutinized, and the team decided that his red “underwear” had to go. The spandex of the past is now gone, and a new fashion iconography will take its place. The “S” that is emblazoned on Superman’s chest also is given its own origin story, one that is out of this world. “It’s not an S,” the hero explains; it is a glyph, the symbol of Kal-El’s family, much like the heraldry crests or sigils of ancient times. This idea sure beats explaining why an alien has a letter of the English alphabet stitched onto his chest.
The mythology of Superman explores a concept that has been used in countless movies and television shows: the tug felt from existing in two worlds. In “Star Trek,” for example, Spock had difficulty in balancing both his Vulcan and human sides. Peter Bishop from “Fringe” always felt that he did not belong in his world, and it was revealed that he actually was a stolen doppelganger son from a parallel world. Of course, ancient mythology is also filled with tales following a similar theme, but Superman is probably the best modern example. At first Clark Kent does not know he is also Kal-El from the planet Krypton. He is raised on Earth by Jonathan (Kevin Costner) and Martha Kent (Diane Lane) as their child. For all intents and purposes, they are his parents, as they instill good values and character in the adopted boy. But secrets have a way of coming out, and, eventually, Superman is given the choice between saving humanity and Earth from annihilation and spawning new hope for his Kryptonian heritage.
The selection of Henry Cavill for the starring role wasn’t a surprise to anyone except for Cavill; he didn’t even know he was up for the part until he was told he was going to be the next Superman. Cavill may be the center of attention, but other characters appear to hold their own. Amy Adams’ Lois Lane looks to be more resourceful and just plain more interesting than the character has ever been. The villain, a somewhat familiar General Zod (Michael Shannon), is multi-dimensional and shown to be a character bound to his purpose of keeping the memory of Krypton alive.
If the trailers are any indication, Superman’s powers serve two purposes. Of course, they are meant to be used as a means of exploring the inherent heroism found in humans, but the superhuman powers also are used for cinematic effect and truly make for jaw-dropping action sequences. Any fan of the franchise knows the laundry list of the character’s extraordinary powers, such as “faster than a speeding bullet” and “more powerful than a locomotive.” In “Man of Steel,” Superman’s full arsenal is put to use against a well-matched foe. As a complete package, this reimagining of a modern hero is a welcome addition to the decades-old franchise, and this movie is recommended as the must-see film of the summer.