The humanity of the ‘Man of Steel’

'Man of Steel' reminds us what makes Superman a compelling hero

HOPE FOR MANKIND. Superhero he may be but Clark Kent faces the same weakness as any human. All images from the 'Man of Steel' Facebook page

MANILA, Philippines – “Man of Steel,” the latest addition to the mythology of Superman, is a supermovie all its own: marvelous effects, hefty running time (more than 3 hours) and many additions and twists to the original Superman storyline. 

Directed by Zack Snyder, produced by Christopher Nolan and starring British actor Henry Cavill (from “Immortals” and “Stardust”) as the iconic hero, “Man of Steel” is a reboot of the “Superman” film series telling the story from Superman’s beginnings. 

Before you continue reading however, be warned that people not familiar with “Superman” origins plotlines may be in for a spoiler.

‘Man of Steel’: Superman movie on steroids

The world of Krypton

The movie begins on planet Krypton, about to face destruction because of uncontrolled expansion and development by Kryptonians that have made the planet’s core unstable.

Jor-El, a Kryptonian scientist, assists in the birth of his son Kal-El, destined to be Superman. Russell Crowe, who is no stranger to playing epic fathers (see “Gladiator”), takes on the god-like role of Jor-El and lends his distinctly rough yet calm voice as pseudo-narrator and moral compass of the film. 

FATHER OF SUPERMAN. Russell Crowe plays Jor-El, a Kryptonian scientist and father of Superman

A lot of time is devoted to exploring the world of Krypton. The depiction of their metal-centric technology is mind-boggling in detail. Everything from the topography of the planet to the social and political system  of its people are explained visually, making their world every bit as real as ours.

This was an enlightened decision on the part of the filmmakers as it allows the viewer — especially the uninitiated — to fully appreciate how alien and superhuman Superman really is. Beginning with the end of Krypton also weaves that thread of tragedy into Superman, portrayed so often as the “perfect” hero, almost comical and one-dimensional.

With the destruction of Krypton and most of the Kryptonians, Superman begins his story as the outcast, the last of an endangered race instead of the “golden boy” who always saves the day. 

In fact, this “golden boy” doesn’t make an appearance until the middle of the movie. The baby Kal-El grows up to be an awkward Clark Kent, struggling with his powers as a little boy and bullied as a teen.

But viewers are first introduced to an unshaven and sinister-looking adult Clark aboard a ship rocked by angry waves, a fitting metaphor for the sense of driftlessness and lack of purpose a pre-Superman Clark must have felt.

This is a new side of Superman, one who doesn’t quite have it all together, angsty and full of self-doubt.  

Here are interviews with Cavill and the rest of the cast of ‘Man of Steel’:

Throughout Clark’s journey to becoming Superman, dream-like flashbacks explain his childhood and add more tension and depth to his character. An example is the death of Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner), Clark’s earthly father, depicted as a sacrifice to protect his son from a world that would likely abuse his superpowers. 

Lois Lane walks into Clark’s world even before he becomes Superman. Amy Adams (“The Fighter,” “Enchanted”) plays the tenacious journalist with vim and spunk, contributing some of the lighter moments in the film (there aren’t a lot). The character enjoys more importance in this reboot because she “discovers” Superman almost at the same time Clark does.

THE JOURNALISTS. Laurence Fishburne plays Daily Planet editor-in-chief Perry White while Amy Adams plays journalist Lois Lane  

But right at the moment Clark finds his purpose, trouble brews.     

It turns out that he isn’t the only surviving Kryptonian. Mutineers led by a former Kryptonian general named Zod (Michael Shannon) survive after being banished into space. They track down Clark and threaten to destroy Earth if he doesn’t turn himself in.

After that, it’s an endless roar of action scenes with skyscrapers falling to the ground left and right, explosions and interplanetary fight scenes between the “bad” Kryptonians and the good. Of course, the US military get in the fray, adding tension by questioning where Superman’s loyalties lie. 

The Nolan touch 

One reason why so many people anticipate “Man of Steel” is Christopher Nolan’s blessing of the film. The producer so important to the film that his name appeared on the teaser posters directed the much-praised and Oscar-nominated “Dark Knight” trilogy, a magnificent reboot of the Batman films. 

Much of Nolan’s influence can be discerned in “Man of Steel,” from the heart-thumping ominous soundtrack to the darker and more human portrayal of Superman. What he did for Batman, he did for Superman: mining original storylines for innate vulnerabilities, character flaws and unexplored themes to produce rounder, more developed heroes. 

LOYALTIES. Can Superman prove that he is an ally, not a threat, to the human race?

That said, the villains in “Man of Steel” are not nearly as compelling as the villains in “The Dark Knight” trilogy. Heath Ledger’s Joker deserves an entire film while General Zod’s motivations are explained away through genetic programming. 

Hopefully, a more interesting Lex Luthor will appear in the “Man of Steel” sequel (it was officially announced on June 10 that there would be a second movie), to be directed again by Snyder and produced by Christopher Nolan. 

New man in a red cape

Henry Cavill dons the red cape with aplomb, matching Christopher Reeve of the first “Superman” movies in the late ’70s and outstripping Brandon Routh from “Superman Returns,” the 2006 film that was a box-office disappointment. 

He is definitely good-looking enough, supplying the character with every requirement: cleft chin, strong jaw, suavely wavy dark hair and piercing blue eyes. His body is so buff as to be unreal and will leave female viewers ogling and male viewers vowing to hit the gym right after the credits.

Cavill told Total Film magazine that he ate almost 5,000 calories and trained more than two hours daily just to achieve a body fit to wear the “S” suit.  

Despite his poster-boy looks, something about his face is human enough to be likable, something not apparent in the unreal handsomeness of Brandon Routh. Cavill smoothly transitions from unkempt, vagabond Clark to the “cleaner” Superman complete with hair and suit that stay immaculately clean and in place despite crashing into a dozen buildings and traveling from space station to North Pole to engaging in hand-to-hand combat with an armored Kryptonian.  


Watch the trailer here:

But the film went overboard in involving Jor-El. Superman’s father was everywhere. Though he dies on Krypton, his “consciousness” is activated whenever a USB-like device is inserted in a Kryptonian ship. From God-like (because Superman has been associated with Jesus Christ in other retellings), Jor-El becomes a kind of deus ex machina always appearing in the nick of time to save the day.

Perhaps the filmmakers wanted to make the most of Crowe. Maybe they wanted to underline Kal-El’s debt to his father and the persistent theme of family in all “Superman” stories.

But the film’s plot suffered in terms of depth and creativity. It seemed as if Superman supplied the brawn but none of the brains. Lois Lane seemed to do more of the thinking with Superman more on execution and beating up the bullies. 

But these flaws don’t make the sequel any less exciting. What will Snyder, Nolan and their team do with the substantial foundation they have laid for Superman? Now that he has found his purpose and declared his allegiance to the human race, what lies ahead of him? What conflicts will he face?

This does not only pertain to conflicts with villains (because they will come in swarms). More interesting are the internal conflicts that must plague superheroes if they are to be more than heavy muscle beating up the bad guys.

Let’s hope that this latest reincarnation of Superman is also the most human because, in the end, its his human side we root for. –

‘Man of Steel’ is showing in Philippine theaters.

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