Resurrecting “Superman” in the post ironic, “Iron Man” and “Batman” era is no easy task.
A man with superpowers who hides in plain sight, is morally true and frugal of tastes and lifestyle. Driving Audi R8 convertibles and living in clifftop mansions is really not his style.
After the lukewarm reception for “Superman Returns” it almost proved the only thing that could really kill Superman, was poor box office. However director Zack Snyder and uber producer Christopher Nolan of Batman fame, had other ideas.
The story is an origin tale, charting how, why and where “Kal EL” originally was born and raised. The film plays fast and loose with a timeline that neatly introduces all of the disparate elements.
This is obviously a project that has attracted “A-List” talent. Russell Crowe as Krypton based father “Jor El”, Kevin Costner as his earth bound father, rising star Michael Shannon as “Zod”, Amy Adams “Lois Lane” and “Laurence Fishburne” as the Daily Planet editor.
The story is well known by most movie audiences over a certain age. Mother and Father decide to send their only son away from Krypton as it implodes due to the overuse of it’s resources, in the hope of a better life.
Reaching Earth, the boy is brought up by salt of the earth Mr and Mrs Kent in Smallville, Kansas USA. Loving, caring folk, who are all too aware their adopted son is special and how that might be perceived by the cynical, wider world.
Young Clark Kent is discouraged from using his obvious powers but cannot help himself when his assistance is required. The film carefully builds a delicate construct where the quiet sections, father and son experiences are brought to the fore. There are numerous scenes where it is clear, that care has been taken to not only preserve the myth but update and make it acceptable to a modern audience.
The swirl of a cape on snow, the loss of a father he could have saved, old cine-reel type footage of a young boy running around striking classic Superman poses are definite Nolanesque touches that mark this out as a very different film from the crassness of Tony Stark and his metal suit.
There is something pure about “Superman”, whose best known nickname is barely mentioned in the film. Somehow the team have managed to put enough special effects, fighting and skyscrapers falling to satisfy the 14 year in us all but leave enough time to invest the characters with real feelings and emotions.
Of course the film will not work without a believable central character, relative newcomer British actor Henry Cavill does a fine job walking the tightrope of portraying square jawed, personable and yet other worldly. Cavill has also not taken any hits with the ugly stick, which will also endear him to many. He receives great support from Adams who pulls an unbelievable role just this side of plausible, even slyly noting that Clark with glasses still looks a hell of a lot like, you know who.
The final fight scenes are state of the art but arguably go on far too long, with the final reel teetering on Transformer style action. Yet another film where completely indestructible beings are repeatedly dragged though immovable objects to create devastation with no discernible effect on their well being.
Superman was always more fun when he completes small tasks like breaking handcuffs without even trying or putting a trucker bully in his place. No matter, this is a blockbuster so rule books must be followed. Director and producer have managed to sneak in perhaps the most “real” screen superhero for some time, an environmental message with ‘Superman as messiah’ hints, the film is all the better for it.
An intelligent blockbuster that does not skimp on the spectacle but manages to add father son dynamics and depth between the set pieces.
Not perfect but certainly far better than we might have expected, a fun albeit slightly serious take on an iconic character for the modern world.