CHRISTOPHER Nolan, director of the Dark Knight trilogy, sits in the producers's chair on the Zack Snyder's Superman movie Man of Steel. But his influence is felt.
In reinventing Batman, Nolan's approach was to mostly scrub all memories of the ironic TV Batman of the '60s and the unglued Gothic awfulness of the later movie franchise under Joel Schumacher's dubious creative control. Nolan's esthetic strategy was to remove the winking humour and the cartoony villains, reasoning: If superhero stories are the mythology of our age, let the myth be a myth.
That approach works equally well on Superman, a character who sorely needed a reboot to the butt, especially after Superman Returns (2006), Bryan Singer's insipid, inexplicably slavish homage to Richard Donner's Superman franchise.
Curiously, the reinvention incorporates the origin story elements of Donner's Superman (1978) and the General Zod plotline of Richard Lester's Superman II (1980), retooled by Dark Knight scribes Nolan and David S. Goyer.
On the dying planet of Krypton, noble visionary Jor-El (Russell Crowe) plans the salvation of the Krypton race by sending his own infant son to the hospitable planet, Earth. General Zod (an intense Michael Shannon) seeks to intervene in his bid to take over the planet in a bloody coup.
Some year later, on Earth, a young wanderer (Henry Cavill) pulls off amazing feats of anonymous heroism in the Far North, activities that attract the attention of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Lois Lane (Amy Adams). Their dual quests eventually lead to the same place, the Arctic site of a top-secret extraterrestrial crash.
Superman's back story as the foundling Clark Kent is told in flashback, with Diane Lane and Kevin Costner bringing surprising dignity to those Kansas farm folk Ma and Pa Kent. (For his trouble, Costner is awarded an excellent sendoff.)
Just as Superman discovers the truth of his heritage, General Zod and his small army of superpowered underlings come to Earth with an unpleasant scheme of Kryptonian imperialism.
Director Snyder, who took a highly stylized approach in previous adaptations of the graphic novels Watchmen and 300, puts his creative energy to more practical use here, mostly in addressing the question: If humanoids possessed super-strength and super-speed, how would their battles take shape here in the real world?
The answer is, of course, apocalyptic.
Man of Steel does not represent a more "realistic" approach to the Superman myth. It simply forgoes the more cornball mythology -- the red-and-blue Superman suit, the secret identity silliness involving mild-mannered Clark Kent, etc. -- favouring a more grounded rendition of Smallville's favourite son.
In that, the performances uniformly avoid the campy trappings of past Superman incarnations. Shannon brings particular gravitas to the fascistic General Zod. Cavill conveys a hitherto untapped melancholy to the solitary Kal-El/Clark Kent. And Adams doesn't feel obliged to treat Lois Lane's ambitious reporter as a freak of feminine nature.
As with Batman Begins, we leave Man of Steel with our interest piqued to see where the franchise goes from here. Indeed, one can't help empathizing with this movie's beleaguered military as they fall under the crushing impact of a relentless superpower.
You win this round, Warner Brothers.
Thoughtfully crafted and occasionally breathtaking; what it isn't, unfortunately, is much fun.
-- Moira MacDonald, Seattle Times
Even though some of the attempts at gravitas don't work, the movie does make you believe that a flying man in tights is a thing of scary awe.
-- Glenn Kenny, MSN Movies
The action is plentiful and thumping; Marvel-size thrills await you and the generations of kids who still believe in Superman.
-- Richard Corliss, Time
It's a measure of Cavill's intelligence that you can feel him resisting Goyer and Snyder's most egregious errors of judgment as Man of Steel shakes itself apart.
-- Norman Wilner, Now Magazine