Article 25

Moses, but with a Cape

In Uncategorized on 07/28/2013 at 8:48 am

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Superman rebooted

By Chris M. Barkley

 

Superman was created by two teenagers from Cleveland, Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster, 75 years ago. Along with Mickey Mouse, Sherlock Holmes, Harry Potter, Miss Marple, Darth Vader and Peter Pan, he stands as one of the most iconic figures in world culture. As popular as they are, the casts of Downton Abbey or Game of Thrones will never achieve this status.

As a star of his own comic book series, movies and television shows, Superman has had more than his share of success, but not recently. The last reboot, Superman Returns (2006), while a middling financial success worldwide, was considered by all a critical failure due to its linkage to the first two films that starred the late Christopher Reeve, an actor revered by an entire generation as Superman. While Brandon Routh was excellent in the role, he could not escape the inevitable comparison to Reeve, which in turn doomed any other sequels with him.

So Warner Bothers turned to Christopher Nolan, who had masterminded the revival of Batman into a trilogy of successful films (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises). Nolan and his writing partner, David S. Goyer, came up with a newer, dynamic spin: What if Superman were injected into our world, just as Batman was?

The origin story in Man of Steel begins as we all remember it, albeit with a few more finely detailed science fiction renderings. Kryptonian scientist Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and his wife Lara Lor (Ayelet Zurer) are caught in a deadly civil war between General Zod (Michael Shannon) and the planet’s rather vain and shiftless leaders. All this is done in loving, science-fictional detail that harkens back to the telling in the 1978 film without being enslaved to it.

With their planet doomed due to a self-inflicted eco-disaster, the Els send their newborn son, Kal, to Earth, just escaping the clutches of Zod, who is then captured and imprisoned in orbit around Krypton.

Once on Earth, Kal is found by hardscrabble Kansan farmers Jonathan and Martha Kent (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane), who, vaguely aware of his extraterrestrial origins, raise Clark Kent to keep his powers and abilities secret, with some limited success.

Things are further complicated as the older Clark (Henry Cavill) encounters Lois Lane (Amy Adams), a nosy reporter from the Daily Planet, who is hot on the trail of a mysterious strongman who helps people in dire need.

As Clark begins to discover the limits of his powers, General Zod and his minions arrive on Earth, demanding he surrender to them and divulge the secrets to reviving the Kryptonian race. In revealing himself to the public at large, Clark finds that he has a difficult time gaining the trust of the people he has pledged to protect.

As Clark/Kal/Superman, Cavill has the unenviable task of having the whole movie (and the potential series of sequels and spin-offs) rest squarely with his performance. He brilliantly succeeds as an alien among humans, acting as a human. When he flies with abandon, you feel as though you are flying with him.

Director Zach Snyder (who also helmed the 2009 adaptation of the Alan Moore-Dave Gibbons graphic novel, Watchmen) deals out plenty of human moments along with all the spectacular and epic action sequences. His deft handling of the interactions between Perry White (Lawrence Fishburne) and his Daily Planet co-workers give the film a grounded urgency that’s needed to balance out all the more fantastical story elements.

One of the most common themes that critics have pointed out are the obvious parallel between the journeys of Clark and Christ. They are dead wrong. Clark should not be compared to Jesus; he should be seen as Moses, who was, as Clark was, set adrift to find a better place and destiny in the world.

Like Moses, Superman is set on a path of joy, pain, choice and discovery.

In the June 28 issue of Entertainment Weekly, staff writer Darren Franich criticized one of the more daring elements of the film. Late in the movie, Superman faces a dilemma, one that might haunt him for the rest of his life. No spoilers here, but he make a choice that none of his previous incarnations had to face.

What Franich fails to fully realize is that this is not the Superman he grew up with or any other version he has seen or read. What Nolan, Goyer and Snyder give us, perfectly envisioned by Cavill, is a Superman for the modern age. The choice he makes is hard and real. The remorse on Superman’s face is as raw and painful as anything  from anyone else playing Superman, including Reeve.

Is Henry Cavill the best Superman ever? The jury of film critics and the public is still out.

Man of Steel (***), directed by Zack Snyder; written by David S. Goyer; 2 hours, 24 minutes.

 

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