The idea of Superman — powerful protector and adopted son — becomes realized in the best Superman movie to date. Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel is an action-packed and emotional American epic that delves deep into current hot-button topics with tact and aplomb, provoking thought and understanding. Beginning with an intro that shows how detailed and large the film’s universe is, Man of Steel opens with Jor-El (Russell Crowe), world-renowned scientist of the planet Krypton, placing the future of his people into his natural-born son, Kal-El. Ignored by his government, Jor-El takes it upon himself to steal the Codex, the genetic code that births all Kryptonians who are born and bred for specific functions in society, embedding it into his son’s DNA before sending him off to a distant galaxy. A military coup led by General Zod (Michael Shannon), who also happens to be the only one who believes Jor-El’s warnings, fails to persuade Jor-El to join his side, and Zod’s botched takeover ends with his crew being sent away to the Phantom Zone.
Jor-El’s warnings unheeded, Krypton crumbles and explodes. On Earth, Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) explores the world looking for any sign of his birth world. Kent, an adoptee instilled with the values and perspective of America’s heartland, struggles with being clearly different from everyone else as his powers develop. Foster-parents Jonathan (Kevin Costner) and Martha Kent (Diane Lane) — two well-meaning farmers who do their best to raise an alien child who can pick up buses — worry about raising Clark to be an exceptional man worthy of his abilities while keeping him under cover to keep him hidden in plain sight. The lessons Clark learns makes him an urban legend during his journeys around the world, and when he finds an ancient Kryptonian ship in the Arctic, the signal attracts the dangerous Zod who comes to Earth to restart Kryptonian civilization, neverminding the collateral damage.
Man of Steel is a violent and thought-provoking film that eschews the camp and romanticism of the original 1978 Richard Donner film for a more realistic depiction of an alien lifeform who can bend steel, shoot beams from his eyes, and fly through space. The battles between Superman and the rogue Kryptonians are staged on a grand scale with skyscrapers being pierced by bodies thrown as projectiles, and spaceships turned terraformers use the planet’s gravity to destroy cities and ecosystems. Somehow, the fights never cross the line into the superfluous thanks to great execution that explores how beings, suddenly gifted with superhuman abilities, can use their newfound powers to either help or harm. As an origin film, Man of Steel lays excellent groundwork for a character from two different worlds. Thoughtful and profound scenes explore war, adoption, and isolation. Themes pertaining to birthright, hope, faith, and love in the midst of genocide and murder may be too much for children, but adults familiar with Superman lore will see this is no low-reaching stuffed summer flick shucking story for a low-effort montage of hyper-realized fight scenes. Cavill plays an excellent Superman and Clark Kent who discovers he’s not above making difficult choices, especially with the fate of two worlds hanging in the decisions he makes. Documenting his story is Lois Lane (Amy Adams), the investigative journalist who makes her own significant impact on the world around her and who also serves a bigger function than just the damsel in distress. Shannon’s Zod reveals he is a product of his function — a militaristic being who will go to great lengths to save his people, even if it means performing acts of great evil. A Kryptonian of conscience, Zod admits the death of Jor-El weighs heavily on his mind, though he declares he would kill again if necessity dictated it. Man of Steel goes to great lengths to place Superman on the other side of that coin, and the finale deals with the loss of innocence and the deliberate acts of violence one must commit to save others.