I know way more about Batman than I do Superman. Batman was a character I identified with, a character that fit me, so I read all about him. He didn't always do the right thing. He was conflicted about that, but the end justified the means, and Batman was all about results. Whatever I read of Superman growing up didn't thrill me as much. Superman always did the right thing, the right way, the right time, because it was the right thing to do. Yes, he was an alien from another planet, but he was raised in the Heartland of America, in the middle of a farming community, and his adoptive parents raised him just like any other red-blooded America farm boy. My mother grew up on a farm, and the most excitement she ever had was when she got money for detassling corn.
We have been waiting for the opening of Man of Steel for years, ever since we heard that there was a script being floated around Hollywood. My husband and I, always big fans of the comic books, discussed who we thought would be the best Superman on several occasions. I thought that Tom Welling looked the most like the comic book rendering, but Larry felt that Welling's "no tights" rule would eliminate him from any contention. And he was right--what is Superman without his costume? We heard that Henry Cavill would be stepping into the shoes of the big guy, and we thought--and I quote--"Oh, fer cryin' out loud! ANOTHER British guy?" Larry and I took some time to get over our concern that some of the best American actors are actually British, but once we resolved that cognitive dissonance, we thought Cavill would be great, if he had a decent script.
Movie day came upon us, and the three of us hit the matinee with our popcorn and a small soda early enough to pick out optimal seating. (For parents of small children, optimal seating is on the end of a row, so that we don't have to crawl over everyone when the boy has to visit the facilities.) Finally the theater darkened, and the trailers began. They went on, and on, and on, and on, for 30 minutes. Trailers are supposed to be commercials for upcoming movies, and as such, they should only last as long as a commercial, which is about 30 seconds. By the time the actual movie began, I was ready to fall asleep in the popcorn bucket.
The story begins on Krypton, with a birth. It is Superman's birthday, and he is given the name of Kal-El, son of Jor-El. Russell Crowe plays Jor-El, and he does a much more convincing job as Superman's sire than Marlon Brando did in Superman: The Motion Picture. Jor-El looks like a man who can get things done, whether anyone tries to stand in his way or not. That is what he was bred to do. He doesn't rant and rave or try to stage a coup to take over the government like his colleague General Zod. Jor-El does what he thinks is right, and sends his son off to another planet. This is an extreme leap of faith, as far as I'm concerned. What if that ship ended up in Brooklyn? Or Florida? Would Kal-El have been the same person? Lucky for Superman, he ends up in Kansas or one of those states that are endless cornfields. He is found by good, loving parents who raise him as their own, naming him Clark.
We first meet Clark while he is wandering, and the back story of his childhood is told in flashbacks. Clark ends up having some issues when his powers start showing up,
sort of like the meltdown of a person with sensory processing disorder.
Completely understandable--what would any of us do if we could suddenly
hear EVERYTHING around us, for instance? I liked that they showed us
the downsides to being a superhuman. He is bullied, and he can't ever fight back. He is teased, and he can't ever respond the way he wants to. In other words, a pretty normal childhood. Except for the superpower thing. What bullied child hasn't imagined suddenly acquiring superpowers to fight back?
Anyway, Clark has a great deal of thinking to do, while he is wandering. Should he be who he is, even if that means people will see him as an outcast or a freak, or does he continue to hide, like Jonathan wanted? He travels the world, going from job to job, just seeing the world and saving random people as he goes, a mysterious good Samaritan. He even rescues Lois Lane, the intrepid reporter, then disappears. The final pieces of Clark's life fall into place, and as he finally makes a decision to be Superman. The rest of the film presents the initial consequences of that decision.
General Zod and his gang were sufficiently evil, but not over the top. After all, Zod is doing what he thinks is in the best interests of Krypton, too. I could have done without all the fight sequences. Because Superman and the villains were matched in skills, all they did was destroy most of Smallville and a large chunk of Metropolis. They could have made the point with a shorter sequence. Another quibble: Lois Lane showed up in places that no civilian would have been allowed, without an explanation for her access. She's a reporter--did the Army think that she was just going to keep everything secret? Christopher Meloni gets bonus points for a great quote delivered while looking exceptionally fierce; I won't spoil it by oversharing.
I liked this Superman, and not just because Henry Cavill looks like he was born to the red cape. This particular Superman is accessible. I can empathize with this hero, a stranger in a strange land, trying to balance what he has learned from one family with what he has learned about his biological beginnings. I could have a cup of coffee with this Superman and not feel awkward. This Superman is initially conflicted and unsure of himself. We've all been there, haven't we? Before he dons the cape, he has to steel himself for what is to come. But once he makes his decision, he is in it for the long haul, and the audience in our theater was right there with him.
Why don't the critics like this movie? I am not sure. One critic complained about the destruction of New York City and how terrible that was. Except that it wasn't New York City--in the Superman universe, it's always Metropolis. That may be part of the problem. Perhaps a person with absolutely zero knowledge of Superman's world has no business judging the merits of a movie about him? Ain't It Cool, a beloved geek website, loved the movie, and those guys know their Superman. Whatever. We liked the movie, my family and I.
Now, for the important part:
1. Would I pay money to see Man of Steel in a theater again? Yes.
2. Will we buy the blu ray when it comes out and watch it until we can recite the script? Yes.
3. Would we watch a sequel? Yes.