Any re-boot or re-make of a film franchise, no matter how well done, will inevitably draw comparisons to original or earlier productions (see “Batman Begins” or “The Amazing Spider-Man“). This is especially true of Zach Snyder’s (“300″) efforts to turn the “Superman” story on its ear by updating it through a series of multi-million dollar effects and computer-generated, often mind-blowing cinematechnics. These are amazing visuals and the sound technology is certainly not far behind, but while Man of Steel is light years better than the last attempt to revamp the series (2005’s “Superman Returns“), it cannot replace the heart, humor and general overall wholesome corniness of the first two feature films, “Superman” and “Superman 2,” from 1978 and 1981, respectively. Of course, these are almost vastly different movies, but the legend of the super hero remains basically the same.
Replacing the late Christopher Reeve is difficult enough, but add Marlon Brando (Jor-El), Gene Hackman (as Lex Luther), Ned Beatty (Otis), Margot Kidder (Lois Lane), Jackie Cooper (Perry White), Glenn Ford (Jonathan Kent), Susannah York (Lara), and Valerie Perrine (Miss Teschmacher) to the mix and it’s nearly impossible. That cast was wonderful, as the fun was balanced with the hero’s righteous indignation and the plethora of action. True, the special effects from then seems woefully outdated when viewed today, but audiences at the time really dug it (I ought to know, I sat in those theaters and watched those pictures).
Now, we get an almost entirely new take on the tale thanks in part to writers David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan (who knows a little about revamps). Forget about the planet Krypton colliding with a nearby star (its doom is caused by overproduction of its internal core), and here General Zod (Michael Shannon, “The Iceman“) was a friend of Jor-El (Russell Crowe, “Les Misérables“) and actually succeeds in his takeover of that world — for a while, at least. Escaping from the planet’s doom, the baby Kal-El (various young boys and then Henry Cavill, “Immortals“), lands in Smallville, Kansas, and is adopted by the Kents, Kevin Costner (“The Company Men“) and Diane Lane (“Secretariat“). Papa, wise beyond his paygrade, continues to tell the alien lad that his powers, while special indeed, should not be used lest people begin to fear and loathe him (kids already pick on him because he’s “weird”).
Clark is allowed to brood a bit more on his situation, but soon journeys to his “Fortress of Solitude,” which in Man Of Steel is now a large spaceship buried beneath tons of Arctic ice, before coming face to face with Zod and his equally-super minions. Meanwhile, the flashbacks kick in and we go from the present time, to Clark’s childhood to his adolescent years and back again, causing no end to the movie’s confusing overtones.
And amazingly this actually gets worse when another incredible plot reveals itself. Now, because he is ticked off at Jor-El, Zod wants Superman and — for some reason — Lois Lane (Amy Adams, “The Master“) to surrender themselves to him aboard his massive spacecraft so he can pontificate and put into motion his very own “Genesis Project.”
With no desire to see Zod’s plans come to fruition, Clark battles it out with him and his right hand woman Faora-Ul (Antje Traue, “Pandorum”) — first in Smallville (how such a tiny berg could withstand such destruction is beyond me) and then in New York. Here, the very well done special effects go into hyper-drive, but the almost unending sequences of Superman and Zod bludgeoning each other (while destroying hundreds of high rise structures) are, at the very least, headache generating and, at the worst, seizure-inducing.
The hundreds of millions spent on these impressive graphics will no doubt lure the young and uninitiated to the box office and, perhaps, break records. But for those who remember the original films, Man Of Steel will leave one with mouth agape in earnest admiration, yet they will no doubt sadly miss the fun and innocence and soul of those earlier, less costly, efforts.