The man in tights becomes the latest superhero to get a 21st century makeover in this flashy, grand scale adventure from producer Christopher Nolan (Batman Begins) and director Zack Snyder (300).
As you’d expect from the director of war movie 300, this is packed with fistfights, impressive special effects and general destruction. But at its heart is Kal-El (Cavill), the baby from Krypton who grows up on earth with special powers, unusual strength and an impressive chiselled jaw.
Beginning with a terrific prologue on Krypton (complete with funky space ships, grumpy elders and flying dragon thingies) showing us Kal’s birth, his parents’ decision to jettison him into space because the planet is crumbling, and his dad Jor-El’s (Crowe) demise at the hands of mean old General Zod (Shannon), the film then dumps us in present day middle-of-nowhere USA. Kal – raised by kindly Jonathan (Costner) and Martha Kent (Diane Lane) – is now all grown up and travels from town to town doing odd jobs, moving on when his kindly deeds and super strength draw any attention.
Of course, that all changes when General Zod and his followers — exiled to the Phantom Zone but released and sent to earth when our hero presses the wrong button inside a Kryptonian space ship – come to town, and reporter Lois Lane (Adams) starts investigating Clark’s past. Cue lots of smashed buildings (Metropolis gets so badly smashed up we have to assume half of its inhabitants were squashed in the cross-fire), useless Army guys looking shiftily at Clark even though he’s trying to help (well, he is an illegal alien), and cool flying scenes… and not much else.
For while this looks amazing, there are only moments when Superman’s story truly engages with the audience. The Kryptonian prologue works, as does a heart-rending scene with Costner, but otherwise there’s not much depth to the movie, just a series of crashes and smashes. Cavill – in a role that’s pretty tricky as Superman doesn’t have the meaty dark side of Batman or the geeky awkwardness of Spider-Man – is terrific with the deadpan material he’s got, and Costner and Crowe are adorably fatherly, but the rest of the cast are underused, from Laurence Fishburne’s Perry White to Adams’ forgettable Lois Lane, who doesn’t even get to be annoyingly perky or persistent here.
Because Superman has always been the sillier superhero – he wears pants over his tights, for chrissakes (although here, Cavill has a less bright, far more butch ensemble) – it was probably sensible for the screenwriter David Goyer to stay away from the sarcastic asides and knowing winks of Avengers Assemble and the Iron Man movies, but the movie nonetheless lacks a sense of fun or humour. Zod is a very serious baddie with a seriously evil haircut (if you can have such a thing) who has no time for smart one-liners, but at times you do yearn for a smart alec sidekick or someone just to say ‘what the hell?!’ as he and Superman punch whole neighbourhoods into oblivion.
That said, boys (and men) of all ages will love it – this is one for Transformers fans who like seeing things blown up – while mums will swoon over Cavill. So it’s not bad at all, then…
Is Man Of Steel suitable for kids? Here are our parents’ notes...
Younger kids (under 8) may find the birth of Kal a bit upsetting – it’s not graphic but Kal’s mother looks in obvious pain.
Young children may not like a scene in which Clark/Kal gets sucked into a field of skulls.
If you like this, why not try: