Superman is so deeply embedded in popular culture that the possibility of reconfiguring its mythology is like rewriting the New Testament which would no doubt result to hordes of puritans sharpening pitckforks in Biblical proportions. Thus, consider it no less bold that in the latest reincarnation of the famous red-caped superhero Man of Steel, team Zack Snyder, David Goyer and Christopher Nolan have dropped many of the familiar aspects related to the iconography – the red underpants, the hokey romance, the kryptonite, Lex Luthor, phone booths and partly suspended the nerdy alter-ego. Not even a single extra utters that “It’s a bird, it’s a plane” horseshit. Team Snygolan (as what I would call Snyder, Goyer and Nolan collaboration hereupon) understand that Richard Donner’s original 1978 Superman take, while nonetheless a classic, belongs to another past era, and their version of the Siegel and Shuster comic-book creation is a far more serious affair. I know it’s hard to perceive a man in tight blue leotards who flies around with a red cape seriously, but Snygolan make you believe even for split-second the credibility of this guy. Consider it Superman Begins, rebooting and redefining an icon that proved effective in the Batman universe, a similar approach applied to Man of Steel. Gone are the wisecracks, the hijinks, the crap retro visual effects, the corn and the cheese – here is a Superman for the digital age.It’s an origin story made all the more compelling through an introspective interpretation of the character. Man of Steel‘s first half is so beautifully, superbly executed – all controlled storytelling, nicely layered flashback structure and a pulsating emotional undertow rarely felt in superhero movies. In Nietzsche’s words ‘übermensch is the meaning of the earth’, Snygolan might or might not have put this point into perspective when conceptualising this reboot, but it’s writ large across this film – most of all demonstrated loud and clear in one scene where Kal-El, the conflicted Last Born of Krypton, seeks understanding about the nature of humanity from a local priest, framed in the background a glass-stained depiction of Jesus. The parallel is none-too-subtle, with Snygolan drawing comparisons between the Christian messiah and the Kryptonian. Superman as Superjesus, if you will. As soon as Russell Crowe’s Jor-El says “You can save them all”, your eyes will start rolling. It’s a terrible tactic that makes Superman cartoonish, but thanks to the sensibility of the script and carefully drawn characters, that’s all pushed to the side. This film is less concerned with humanising Superman as Clark Kent, but rather interested in understanding Earthbound humanity and morality through someone who hails from the other corner of the cosmos. The battle of philosophies from two paternal figures take centre stage in Kal-El’s mind – first with his Kryptonian father teaching him that he’s powerful beyond measure and second, the lessons of humility and righteous moral compass from his foster Earthling father. The result is a grounded, even aching, intimate study of what it means to be an übermensch in a planet like Earth. There’s almost a no-nonsense determination in Snyder’s vision, as if a tinge of humour would crack the tautness. Very little levity is allowed, and if you’re looking for gags galore, you’d have to go back to Richard Donner’s lighter take. The charm and wit are still here, but it’s not the main agenda. Its also a Superman film that’s perfectly cast. Henry Cavill looks every inch, every pectoral and chiselled muscle Kal-El should be, and yet there’s also a convincingly restrained angst burning beneath that boulder-like frame. Amy Adams gives enough wit, pizazz and feistiness to her Lois Lane without being too neurotic, Diana Lane provides enough warmth to Martha Kent and Michael Shannon contributing his loony dramatics to his Kryptonian rebel, General Zod – but it’s the presence of Russell Crowe as Papa Jor-El and Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent that lend Man of Steel some inspired, stirring emotional beats. Crowe redeems himself from the atrocity that was Les Misérables and rectifies this with meaty gravitas shown in the film’s Kypton-set prologue, and Costner briefly reminds us how good an actor he is in a tornado scene that will break many hearts. Shame then that this emotional texture is all blowtorched when the action kicks in – without a doubt spectacular and impressively orchestrated – blowing shit up like no one’s business. But it somehow steers the film into a more conventional blockbuster trajectory in its last half-hour. It has the scale of action a Superman film demands, nonetheless (too many people complained about Brian Singer’s version having lesser action), this one annihilates New York, standing in for Metropolis, in a scope that could potentially obliterate any special-effects software in Hollywood. And you come out of the cinema dizzied and face-whipped with seemingly endless explosions – but when the dust settles, we’re left to realise how much heart and human touch Team Snygolan put into this version of Superman.
DIRECTOR: Zack Snyder | CAST : Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Russell Crowe, Michael Shannon, Laurence Fishburne | SCREENPLAY: David Goyer, Christopher Nolan | PRODUCER: Warner Bros. Pictures | RUNNING-TIME: 143 mins | GENRE: Sci-fi/Action | COUNTRY: USA *MAN OF STEEL Blu-ray and DVD are out on 2 December, courtesy of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.