Jor-El (Russell Crowe) a leading citizen on the planet of Krypton, and he is warning the political council in Krypton that they have depleted all the planet’s natural resources, and that their continued mining of Kryton’s core will lead to continued instability on the planet and probable implosion of the planet. Jor-El has had a son Kal-El (Henry Cavill) through natural childbirth, a long discredited means of birth on Krypton, and he wants to get his son off the doomed planet before it implodes.
As the planet deteriorates, a power struggle ensues between himself and General Zod (Michael Shannon) Zod was bred to be a warrior, and he wants to dissolve the council and run Krypton as a quasi-emperor. Zod is also convinced that Jor-El is hiding a codex, that is, the genetic material of the babies of Krypton, Zod is convinced that Jor-El has the codex and is hiding the codex somewhere on the planet. Zod loses his power struggle and is sentenced to live his life in another dimension. Kal-El is sent safely to Earth as Krypton implodes.
Kal-El’s spaceship crashes into a farm in Kansas where the baby is raised by Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner) and his wife Martha. (Diane Lane) Kal-El, renamed Clark Kent by his adoptive parents, has a rough time adjusting to life on earth. His powers are so acute, that he sees people as skeletons and hears people’s thoughts. Only his mother’s soothing voice calms him. Clark is bullied as a boy and as much as he wants to retaliate, his father urges restraint, telling his son that his powers are meant for far greater things.
The young Clark drifts from job to job, one day working on an oil rig, the next day working as a waiter, but his first instinct is always to do good for the people of Earth. But still, he does not know who he is and where he came from. A young reporter from the Daily Planet named Lois Lane (Amy Adams) is tracking the elusive and mysterious Clark Kent around the country, and even writes a story about Clark that hints at his extraterrestrial origins. This story does not go over too well with Lois’ editor, Perry White,(Lawrence Fishburne) who suspends her for 3 weeks. But Clark has bigger problems to worry about, a threat so large that it threatens not only him, but the entire planet. Can Kal El, fight his demons and save a planet whose people are at best dubious of his motives and at worst antagonistic towards him?
Simply stated, Man of Steel is an outstanding movie. It is an outstanding movie, because it enhances the mythology around Superman. There is an entire backstory abut Krypton, its political makeup, its social strata, the fact that they abolished natural childbirth intrigues me to no end. The power struggle between Zod and Jor-El and the long running rivalry is also interesting. Then there’s the sense of inner turmoil going on within Clark Kent, he struggles with his superpowers as a child, he is bullied but can’t fight back, that is amazing storytelling. Finally, there is the confused public reaction to Superman. Who is he? Where did he come from? Is he really here to help us? All of these storylines layered together, sometimes told with superb use of flashback, are worth the price of a ticket alone.
But on top of the fantastic story, there is wonderful acting. Newcomer Henry Cavill gets off to a rocky start, and lets his British accent show early in the film, but then he literally finds his voice, and really finds the character, and does as superb job from that point forward. Cavil understands the angst of the character being an outcast, having one foot in one planet and one foot in another, and plays up the loner aspect of Clark with excellent results. Diane Lane is also excellent as Martha Kent, so gives a heartwarming and heart wrenching performance as Martha Kent. She is his emotional lifeline and she knows it. Michael Shannon gives a really complex performance as Zod. He’s a bad guy, but his motives are not evil, in fact they might even be credible. And that’s what makes his performance so well-rounded. Shannon plays Zod with a Caesar like zeal, which makes him charismatic and easy to follow. Russell Crowe gives his best performance since Gladiator or A Beautiful Mind. Jor-El is another complex character, his motives with the codex might not be completely selfless. Amy Adams gives another strong performance, an independent woman, who is also part damsel in distress, I would have preferred more of an independent woman, than damsel in distress, but that is a minor quibble Even Lawrence Fishburne in a relatively minor role is very good. Only Kevin Costner can’t be saved by this movie, he is just a bad actor, wooden as the day is long.
The direction is good, Zack Snyder has a tendency to over-indulge in special effects and that hurts some scenes, but he keeps the movie going at a good pace, and gets the most out of his actors. Kudus to Christopher Nolan, he is credited as a co-writer in this movie, but I can recognize his style throughout the movie, the attention to detail, the dark almost sinister backdrops, the overarching theme of the role of a superhero in society at large, and society’s reaction to the superhero in their midst. These are all themes he expounded on in the Batman trilogy, and revisits here.
One last thing, I am old enough to remember the original Superman series of movies. Only the first 2 movies of that series were any good, and by the time Richard Pryor was co-starring, the series was doomed. It was only Christopher Reeve that made those movies worth watching. Zod was two dimensional and boring, and much of Superman’s growing up which is a focal point of angst in Man of Steel is treated as comedy relief in the original superman movies. Russell Crowe eats Marlon Brando’s lunch as Jor-El, and Clark’s human parents were barely mentioned in the Chris Reeve version of Superman. So while it’s natural to be sentimental about the original Superman movies, Man of Steel is clearly a better film.
Man of Steel. Super. Man.