In Man of Steel, There's Greatness in the Superman Origin Story

You'll believe a man can fly -- and is mostly worth watching

And Man of Steel is plenty serious. The MacGuffin here is a precious thingamabob holding the DNA codes for an entire race. How can anyone watching Man of Steel keep a straight face when a character asks solemnly, “Where is the Codex?” I wanted to yell out, “Aisle 9, right next to the Stay-Free.”

It’s a relief just to watch the actors act once in a while, and thankfully, Snyder is astute enough to punch some breathing holes in this steel-clad colossus. Adams is a fine, no-nonsense Lois Lane; she makes nosiness sultry. And Costner and Lane, in their depiction of heartland parents, defy the idea of homespun coziness, taking corn-pone dialogue and turning it golden. Lane has an extraordinary moment when she’s called to the school to calm down the preadolescent Clark, who’s had a meltdown after realizing he can see through his classmates’ and teacher’s skin. (You would, too.) She talks to him through the closet he’s locked himself into. “The world is too big, Mom,” he says, an instance of kid overstatement that in this case is perfectly justified. “Then make it small,” she tells him. “Focus on my voice.” If you were a young Superman in training, Lane’s sturdy brand of reassurance is just what you’d want to hear.

No wonder this pensive, angst-ridden kid grows up to be Henry Cavill, so cautiously grounded he at first seems inexpressive. It took me a scene or two to warm to him, maybe because I still miss Christopher Reeve and his far-less-tricked-out pecs. But Cavill grounds the movie. His Superman is more a listener than a talker. That’s probably what happens when you have X-ray vision, and you can see Cavill soaking it all in.

Photo by Clay Enos – © 2013 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Legendary Pictures Funding
Photo by Clay Enos – © 2013 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Legendary Pictures Funding

Details

Man of Steel
Directed by Zack Snyder
Warner Brothers
Opens June 14



See Also:
- Superman Movies Matter More Than the Comics: A Film-by-Film Breakdown

That quality serves him well even when he’s flying. In the movie’s finest scene, where he’s just learning the ropes of taking off, he’s more bird than plane, reading the signals around him as a Canada goose or a barn swallow might. Superman gets his wings in the Arctic. It’s a fine and desolate setting for human flight, and a smashing one for his particular uniform: His cape is light and lofty, with a fine velvety texture—it ripples in the wind like an alert flag. And no sooner have his red boots touched down in the soft, crunchy snow than they’re off again. This is costuming that allows an actor to defy gravity, if only in the make-believe way.

Much later, Clark Kent, tired of blurring his identity on fishing boats and Arctic explorations, will mount a truly impossible feat: a career as a journalist. And yet Cavill looks just as human in his Superman suit as he does in his newspaperman’s uniform, with his laptop bag and nerd glasses. This Man of Steel is still faster than a speeding bullet and more powerful than a locomotive. But even more miraculously, he humanizes the gargantuan movie around him. It’s his Kryptonite, and still, he defies it.

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