Superman was created by Jerry Siegel (writer) and Joe Shuster (artist) in 1933 in Cleveland. He first appeared in Action Comics #1 in 1938. He was the very personification of “truth, justice, and the American way” when he began, but then became embraced as a world-wide symbol of hope.
He was born Kal-El to Jor and Lara El on the planet Krypton. Jor-El was a great scientist, and knew their planet was doomed. He sent his infant son in a ship to earth, to be raised among humans, where he could grow into a protector and hero, given great powers by Earth’s yellow son. Crash-landing in Smallville, Kansas, he was adopted by Jonathan and Martha Kent, simple people who raised him as their son Clark, and instilled in him all the values he would need to make him a great man, and a better hero. As Clark grew up, he moved to the big city – Metropolis, where he got a job working as a report for the newspaper, the Daily Planet.Richard Donner directed Superman and Superman II simultaneously. Superman was released in 1978, and he had finished about 80% of the sequel, but was fired. Richard Lester was hired to finish it (if you rent it, rent the Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut). The movie starred Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder and Gene Hackman, and John Williams’s incredible score.
The second one was even better, featuring the fantastic villain General Zod, played by Terrance Stamp.
There were two further sequels, Superman 3, and Superman 4: The Quest for Peace, both of which were not good. There was one SuperGirl movie in 1984, which wasn’t terrible, but also wasn’t great and starred Helen Slater.
In 2001, WB started a TV show that would focus on Clark Kent’s life on the way to becoming Superman, called Smallville.
The show ran for 10 years, finishing its run on the CW in 2011, with Clark finally becoming Superman in the very last episode. The showrunners had purposefully kept a “no tights, no flights” rule in place, instead choosing to focus on the Clark side of the story, and keeping him as human as possible for as long as possible. Throughout the course of the 10 years, Clark struggled with finding out who he was, where he came from, who his real parents were, and the conflicting messages from his two fathers (help people quietly, keeping his powers secret – or, stepping into the light, and leading the people of earth by being a symbol). Eventually he settled on a combination of the two. Smallville remained its own version of Superman, while still paying homage to everything that had come before it. Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder guested on the show, as well as Helen Slater, Terrence Stamp, and both Dean Cain and Terri Hatcher from the new adventures of Lois and Clark. Annette O’Toole had played Lana Lang in the movies, and starred on the TV show as Martha Kent. The show even made use of William’s score.
In 2006 Bryan Singer released Superman Returns – a direct sequel to Donner’s Superman II. It was way too long, way too pretentious, and way too full of itself, with none of the sense of fun that the originals had. But it was Singer’s love letter to the Donner films, and made sense in that aspect.
The film was so poorly received, it seemed that everyone was done with Superman for a while. Once Smallville ended its run in 2011, many fans of the show thought that cast should do the next movie (I was one of those fans). However, while Christopher Nolan was working with David Goyer on the Dark Knight, they discussed a Superman movie. They put together a script, envisioned it as a total and complete reboot – even doing away with the Williams score – and hired Zach Snyder as the director - and Man of Steel was born.
Snyder had previously done 300 (pretty amazing), Watchmen (terrible), The Legend of the Guardians: the Owls of Ga’hoole (better than I expected), and Suckerpunch (one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen); so his track record wasn’t overwhelming. Combine that with the fact that the teaser trailer that first started showing up last summer showed new Supes Henry Cavill (british!?! How dare they!!!?!); working on a fishing boat and sporting a serious beard. Reaction was mixed to say the least.
The movie begins with a more extensive look at Krypton than we’ve had in movies up to this point. Jor-El is begging the council to listen to him; that Krypton is on the verge of self-destruction, when General Zod, the military leader, stages a coup. Jor and Lara send their naturally born son (apparently there hasn’t been a natural birth on Krypton in centuries) to earth to survive the destruction of the planet. Zod arrives too late to stop them, but not too late to kill Jor, but too late to not be arrested by the council. They try him and his followers and banish them to the phantom zone – which is a little confusing in this movie, as it is not a clear glass pane, but apparently a ship that goes into a black hole? That doesn’t matter because shortly thereafter, Krypton explodes – freeing Zod and his people, and conveniently leaving them on board a fully functioning ship. That is the first half hour of the movie.
Little Kal-El lands on earth and is adopted by the Kents. Jonathan is way more ‘hide your powers!’ in this version than in any version, but they still manage to raise him. He then takes off to ‘find himself’, working odd jobs here and there until he uses his powers, then moves on. Meanwhile, intrepid reporter Lois Lane is on a story that involves an anomaly in ice. Clark finds it too – and it turns out to be an ancient Kryptonian scout ship that has been frozen in ice for thousands of years. By plugging in a key that was with him in his baby ship, Clark gets to talk to a holographic recording of Jor-El’s consciousness, and learn who and what he is, and what he should be doing. Jor-El’s consciousness opens a door in this ship and there is the suit (we have to assume that the consciousness made the suit right then and there, because why else would it have been in this ship that had been frozen in ice for thousands of years, right?). After this one conversation with the holograph that used to be his father, he embraces his destiny and puts on the suit and works on flying. Meanwhile, Zod and his people arrive looking for Kal-El, and threaten violence, unless the people of earth give him up.
Superman surrenders to them, Zod explains that he’s looking for a codex that carries inside of it the genetic blueprint of Krypton, so that he can terraform earth into a new Krypton. Apparently the codex is in Kal’s blood (good move Jor-El), so Zod needs him. Clark realizes he can’t let Zod destroy earth, and so he tries to stop him. This involves about an hour of destruction, battle scenes, humans in jeopardy, terraforming, more battle scenes, Lois in danger, Perry White in danger, Superman struggling to adapt to the Kryptonian environment on Zod’s ship (what?) and one last battle scene between Superman and Zod.
Snyder’s directing is Snyder’s directing. It’s not nearly as clean or as stylized as it was in 300 – but it shouldn’t be. His choices for this film fit this film well, and it looks good. Like other movies touched by Christopher Nolan; it’s non-linear (not as bad as Memento, but more like Batman Begins), but that fits the story. The colors seemed dull the whole way through, but maybe that was a stylistic choice? Hans Zimmer’s new score is fine – but didn’t seem to add too much to the movie. All the actors did a fine job:
· Henry Cavill, who was probably best known for the Tudors and Immortals prior to this – but was also good in Cold Light Of Day, does a great job as the new Superman. That is tough to say, because he is very much not an American, but he does pull it off. He looks amazing, and while his version of Clark/Kal is one-note, that is what this movie requires. The bumbling reporter disguise of Clark does not come into play until he starts working at the Daily Planet – and this movie ends at that point, so we never get to see Cavill’s skill at playing both versions of Clark; not yet, anyway.
· Amy Adams plays Lois, but why is she redheaded? In 75 years of the character, she’s always been a brunette. Whatever, let’s look past that. This version of Lois does the legwork to figure out Superman’s secret identity, and I actually liked that aspect. It makes sense, because she is a good reporter, and she simply follows the story. She was capable, but honestly, did not have that much to do. The beginnings of romance between her and Superman felt awkward and forced, but maybe that was the point.
· Russell Crowe – who has proudly stated he’s never seen any other version of a Superman movie – is fine as Jor-El. The most interesting pieces of his role are the introduction of the suit as Kryptonian armor, and his insistence on saving his son. He and Michael Shannon do get a great fight sequence.
· Ayelet Zurer plays Lara, and again – she’s fine, but much less to do than anyone. She basically stands around looking sad and regretful as she sends away her son and watches her planet implode.
· Diane Lane and Kevin Costner play the Kents, and again – while they are both good, I think my issue with them is the way they were written for this movie. Lane actually has more to do, and does a good job in establishing herself as Clark’s refuge from the world. Costner keeps telling Clark to keep things under wraps, to the point of sacrificing himself to a tornado to protect Clark’s secret from about 10 people under a bridge. I had a problem with that, but it fits his character in this movie.
· Michael Shannon does a fanstastic job with Zod. He’s menacing and evil – but driven by what he believes is the greater purpose of saving Krypton. He is a legitimate threat for Superman, and I particularly loved the scene where he explained that he’s been training his entire life as a warrior, and after all – Clark’s been on a farm. At no point does he tell anyone to kneel, which is a bit of a disappointment.
· Antje Traue plays Faora, and actually steals a couple of scenes. She’s Zod’s number one, and has some amazing action sequences and battles.
· Harry Lennix appears as General Swanwick, the head of the military on earth. He goes from anti-Superman to working with Superman pretty quickly. Christopher Meloni’s Colonel Hardy actually has the same arc, but has some amazing scenes with Faora.
· Laurence Fishburne plays Perry White – and does not say “Great Ceaser’s Ghost!” once. He has maybe three scenes, I can only imagine he’s there to expand his role in potential sequels.
· Richard Schiff plays Dr. Emil Hamilton, a character who has been associated with STAR Labs in DC comics since 1987. He helps figure out what Zod is planning in this movie, and helps Superman figure out how to stop it. He does have a couple of scenes with Alessandro Juliani playing Officer Sekowsky – but who played Dr. Emil Hamilton on Smallville. I doubt that will confuse anyone but me and other rabid Smallville fans. That being said – between Juliani, Tahmoh Penikett, Mackenzie Gray, and Amy Adams – that’s at least four people in this movie who were on Smallville at one point or another. And those are just the ones I caught.
All in all – you should see it, and you should see it on the big screen. It’s worth it; but not necessarily in 3D, I don’t think that added anything. It is way too long, and I did completely check out during the battle at the end. Spoilers from this point (seriously, I’m about to tell you the end) – the reason I checked out, and got angry, was that there’s this 20 minute fight sequence between Zod and Superman, after Zod has started terraforming, which destroyed at least a dozen skyscrapers in Metropolis. Their hand to hand fight destroys a dozen more – each of which is filled with hundreds and hundreds of people, but then, Zod is directly threatening 4 people with his heat vision, and Superman can’t take anymore? What about all those buildings full of people the two of you just destroyed? Superman snaps Zod’s neck, killing him to protect those four people – who could have just ran away from the heat vision. Superman never kills anyone – EVER (okay, almost never). It’s why Lex Luthor is a problem, because Superman constantly puts him back in jail. It was off-putting and upsetting. And it made no sense following the sequence of events prior to it. However, a friend did point out to me that this is a complete re-boot, and a very young Superman, who maybe isn’t mature enough to make a ‘no-killing’ rule. My brother went to a midnight showing and said there was a father there with his children. Just before the end, the father took the kids out, and could be overheard saying to them, “let’s go – this isn’t the Superman I grew up with, and I don’t want you to see this.” Interesting, and valid. This is absolutely a reboot, and it is NOT the same Superman. That may either be why you like it, or why you hate it. There is no sense of fun to this movie whatsoever. A lot of the fun in the previous movies came from the bumbling Clark and his partners at the Planet, which is where this movie ends, so maybe it will have more fun in the sequel? It is somber and monochromatic. It does have more action, which saves it from the morose outing that was Superman Returns. It is good, and I liked it, but I sure didn’t love it.
5 out of 10: Lost points for the color-less ness of it. Gained points for Faora, possibly the best part. Lost points for Clark being one note – but again, we’ll get to the Planet in the next movie, hopefully. Gained points for Shannon, a good Zod. Lost points for Zod not telling anyone to kneel – I know it’s a reboot, and you’re acting like none of the other movies happened, but really? Not even once for the fans? Gained points for Superman throwing his first serious punch after Zod threatens his mom. Lost points for missing an opportunity at the end. There’s no post-credit sequence, and I know – Marvel does that, not DC…but really, I wanted one 30 second scene where we see Clark at his desk in the Planet, and people walking by dumping piles of papers on his desk as he sighs. Someone then slides one piece of paper in front of him with the Wayne Enterprises Logo on the top. “What’s this?” he says as he looks up to Christian Bale standing there. “That’s a bill, Mr. Kent. That satellite you crashed through cost a couple of million dollars. I’ll be in touch.” He walks away as Clark’s mouth falls open. That’s what I wanted…you don’t even have to roll it into a Justice League movie (they are years away from that), and Bale never has to be Batman again…I just wanted that little bit – for the fans, to tie it together. Oh well.
Bonus Video 1: Amy Adams on Smallville:
Bonus Video 2: Much like I think Batman the Animated Series is the best representation of Batman in existence, the Superman Animated series is pretty great too. These and Justice League/Justice League Unlimited are all streaming on Netflix now - check them out.
Bonue Video 3: Cast Interviews: