Like Christopher Nolan’s Batman franchise reboot, Man of Steel (for which Nolan wrote the story and co-produced) strikes a decidedly mythic tone early with the Superman story’s grandiose legend of expiring planets and species regeneration. Clark Kent (real name Kal-El) was the last son of the planet Krypton, sent to earth by his father in hopes of preserving the Krypton race. In Man of Steel, which was directed by Zack Snyder (Watchmen, 300), the familiar backstory feels new if only because it is set in the rich trappings of a digitalized planet, and given energy through stoic performances by Russell Crowe (who plays Superman’s father Jor-El) and Michael Shannon (General Zod).
Zod is launching a coup to take over Krypton, but Kal-El is jetizened from the planet before it implodes. For is own part, Zod is captured and exiled, which ends up being fortuitous (he survives). Kal-El’s pod lands in Kansas where he grows up as Clark Kent, all-American boy. That said, the boy’s life has been fraught with the burden of his own burgeoning ability. A school bus accident that should have killed him revealed his incredible strength. A classroom freak-out that left him something of a social misfit was the result of the onset of super hearing and X-Ray vision. Grown and lost, Kent travels the world working odd jobs – bar keep, cold water fisherman – struggling to keep his anger and ability under wraps, but too often forced to move on when he fails.
Kent’s superpowers are first discovered when intrepid reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams) stumbles upon Kent while working on a story about a mysterious submarine-like structure buried under 20,000 years of ice. It turns out to be an ancient Kryptonian ship. And while Lane finds Kent, Kent finds his origins thanks to a nifty key chain, the holographic consciousness of his father, and some words of wisdom. Surprisingly, this is all a lot less hokey than it sounds on paper. The first hour of Synder’s movie is rich and engrossing, hampered only by some awkward cutting, but driven forward but the swelling sense of significance and an impending sense of an epic showdown.
The showdown, however, is where Man of Steel breaks apart. Zod returns, holding the Earth hostage until they return their fellow Kryptonian. Kent is forced to make his presence known to the world, and finds himself hunted by both human and Krypton armies. The result is a prolonged, often lagging, and absolutely visually cluttered climax. It’s a staggering, sometimes exciting thing to behold. Smashing and bashing is taken to ridiculous extremes, with more collateral damage to buildings, vehicles, and humans than perhaps any other summer blockbuster. But in its effort to super-size the usual summer expectations, something of Man of Steel’s grand, mythic quality is lost.