I had my apprehensions when I planned on watching the newest instalment of the Superman franchise. One could only look back at the previous attempt to harbour this skepticism. Superman Returns, which came out in 2006 did pretty good in the box office, but the storyline was a little mediocre… and just plain wrong. I didn’t find it cool that they introduced, well, a spawn. Then Superman had to be involved in a court hearing and his absence acquitted Lex Luthor… I mean really? Brandon Routh tried, but the guy couldn’t act to save his life. The only saving grace was not even Kevin Spacey, but Parker Posey who played the funny and feisty Kitty Kowalski. In fact, in the end I’d say she was the one who defeated Lex Luthor.
When I learned however that the new movie will be produced by Christopher Nolan, the same genius who brought us the Dark Knight trilogy, I had a feeling this was going to be different. And then big names became associated with the film - Amy Adams who is adorable, Kevin Costner, Russel Crowe who is THE GLADIATOR GODDAMMIT, Laurence Fishburne who is FROM THE MATRIX GODDAMMIT and Zack Snyder who brought us the graphic wonder 300. Apparently another ‘relative’ unknown was going to don the cape, but that’s pretty much expected and I think a requirement. By then I was excited as a schoolgirl, I couldn’t wait for the movie to come out.
When it finally landed on the shores of Sydney I went to watch it on the first night it started playing. Two days earlier there was an advanced screening and the cast flew in, but I didn’t know about it until much later - imagine my disappointment. I watched the movie all by myself at my neighbourhood cinema, and I had to decline a dinner invite as well to catch it. My excuse was that I made a prior arrangement with some other friends. I didn’t mention that these friends were Henry Cavill and Amy Adams.
Man of Steel is pretty much a reboot, which is okay because a) it introduced us to the story of what happened in Krypton, and b) the younglings of today do need the background information. However, this is an original story and it’s pretty liberal in its version of the events that transpired before the destruction of Krypton. Spoilers commence here.
The story begins with the imminent doomsday in Superman’s home planet. We are given a view of this world that is very advanced but has started to deteriorate because it had used up its own natural resources, which made the planet’s core very unstable. Further, in an attempt to control population growth, natural birth has been banned for about a century. Offsprings are a product of selective artificial development in baby incubators called Genesis Chamber. Each child is carefully designed to serve a purpose, and all of the unborn’s genetic makeup (and their function in society, effectively) is stored in an artefact called the Codex. We learn that Jor-El, Superman’s father, has another ideal - what if a child aspires for something different than what society has intended for him? What if he aspires for something greater? And so it is revealed that Kal-El, the Kryptonian name of Superman, was secretly born outside of the Codex’ principles, the first natural-born in Krypton in almost a century. To give him a chance at life and escape the impending doom of the planet, the baby Kal-El is shipped off to a habitable planet, which turned out to be Earth. In the process, Jor-El also infuses the genetic Codex of the entire Kryptonian race into every cell in Kal-El’s body. General Zod, who had just mutinied against the planet’s council of leaders for their inaction, battles Jor-El and seeks to retrieve the Codex which he believed was inside the capsule that served as the infant’s transport. But he is subdued in time to allow the little Kal-El to escape. However he manages the kill Jor-El.
The destruction of Krypton was amazing to behold. It was both poignant, with Kal-El’s mother accepting the fate of her world and tearfully wishing her soon well in his voyage to the unknown, and spectacular, with all the chaos and meltdown occurring up to the eventual explosion of the planet. General Zod, who had been banished to the Phantom Zone in space and therefore had escaped the fate of Krypton, breaks free from imprisonment as result of the explosion. We see him and his sub-commander break down when they see their planet destroyed, and we get to see that Zod is not an altogether unreasonable villain, but an extremist who wants to ensure the survival of his people by any means possible. It is, in fact, what he has been designed to be according to the Codex - a warrior who will protect the planet at all costs.
From here we are introduced to Clark Kent who has grown up to be a very lonely and isolated man. He takes on odd jobs and assumes false names to hide his identity for fear of exposing himself and being rejected by people, as his very existence will shake humanity’s beliefs and religions. He is not Clark Kent the news reporter from Daily Planet, but a wanderer who is conflicted with his identity and purpose. He is dirty, poor and unshaven. He is not socially awkward, rather, he is a complete nobody who secretly saves people but at the same time afraid to trust them for fear of rejection. It is this that endears him to viewers. Here is an outcast like so many of us, a ghost who never fit in. He has so much to hide and so much weight on his shoulders to carry. As his adopted father who loved and raised him as his own put it: ‘You’re not just anyone. One day, you’re going to have to make a choice. You have to decide what kind of man you want to grow up to be. Whoever that man is, good character or bad, it’s going to change the world.’ When his superpowers start manifesting, it is not a happy experience, rather it is scary and confusing, and Clark is further buried in self doubt and loneliness. This is not the Superman we are used to. And here Henry Cavill shines in depicting this confused man who cannot form relationships with other people, who remains grounded despite his powers, and who struggles with the loss of his adoptive father who had given up his life to protect his son’s secret. I really think he is the best Superman yet.
Interestingly, I read somewhere that Henry had worked so hard to land the part. This guy had a series of rejections and bad timings before ultimately being cast as the father of all super heroes, and it seemed he was hell bent on playing a high profile movie character. See, our boy lost out to Daniel Craig in the casting for James Bond and to Ryan Reynolds for The Green Lantern. He was hand picked by Stephanie Meyer to play the vampire Edward Cullen but lost out to Robert Pattinson due to his age - although if you asked me that was the greatest thing that could happen to him, not being cast in that movie. He was actually supposed to play Superman in an earlier movie to be directed by McG (of Charlie’s Angels), but that project was eventually shelved in favour of an altogether different story when the director was replaced - that story eventually became Superman Returns which starred Brendon Routh. How tough and cruel was that? But the guy didn’t give up though and many years later auditioned for the second time to play Superman, and he got it this time around. Talk about sweet redemption, and his experience teaches us to never let go of what we aspire for. Henry is also British, which is somewhat weird as Superman is supposed to be the embodiment of truth, justice and - altogether now - the American way. He was born in the island of Jersey in the Channel Islands, and a friend and former classmate of mine, Zenie, who now resides in Jersey had the opportunity to see the entire cast when they were there to show off the movie in the main man’s hometown. Spell jealous.
I’m sure guys have been madly checking online to find out what sort of physical preparation Henry Cavill went through to get the Superman-worthy physique. Based on what I’ve read, this took about 6 months of intense workout and massive calorie consumption to bulk up - definitely not for the regular Joe. You can read all about the programme here.
And then there’s Amy Adams. I’ve always been a fan of Amy, with movies like Junebug, Julie & Julia and Doubt. In this movie she gave much justice to Lois Lane who appeared to be feisty but not overpowering, and inquisitive but at the same time understanding. Her take on the character is so different from Teri Hatcher in the TV series or Kate Bosworth in Superman Returns, or even Margot Kidder from the Superman of the ancient times. Perhaps the best thing about this new version of Lois is her intelligence - she is not depicted as someone who for crying out loud can’t tell Clark Kent from Superman, which is how all other Superman movies portrayed her. That has always been mind boggling for me. She is supposed to be a Pulitzer Prize winner and yet put a pair of spectacles on Superman and she conveniently fails to recognise the guy. That’s not smart at all.
In this version we also see a pivotal moment in Lois’ humanity - when she decides to protect Clark Kent instead of exposing him when she learns who he really is, to give him a chance to fulfil his purpose. In the movie, Lois covers a story that was triggered by the discovery of an unidentified object hidden under layers of ice in the Arctic. When she visits the site for closer inspection, she notices Clark - who had actually joined the crew as a hired help when he learned of the discovery - doing his own investigation, and she decides to snoop around and follow him. Eventually, she is led through the ice and comes upon an alien spaceship. Her curiosity however gets her into trouble when she snaps a photo of an artificial intelligence system which lashes out at her and cuts her. Clark swoops in and saves her through his laser vision. When she recovers, Clark has by then disappeared along with the ship. Here she realises that Clark is in fact not from this world, and that the questions surrounding his identity were too frightening to contemplate.
It’s a real reboot of the myth of Superman, and this is leaving some die-hard fans either alienated and confused, or downright excited. Some people have started calling the movie blasphemous, some say it’s redundant and unnecessary, and even more saying it’s too dark and violent. Some are also just plain nitpicking. Me, well I belong to the group of people who appreciate and welcome the changes, because I like how they introduced twists and injected more emotion into the story. The Dark Knight trilogy paved the way, and here is a Superman unlike any other before him, one who is desolate, who shows us a more truistic version of events, who makes us feel for the alienated. The story is not without some loose ends, but Snyder’s vision of how the movie is supposed to feel like is clear. It is not light and fun, rather it is brooding. And beautiful.