by Coop Cooper
As the doomed alien planet Krypton self-destructs due to the arrogance of its inhabitants, the military attempts to take over the parliament through a bloody coup led by General Zod (Michael Shannon) who believes he can save the people by seizing control. Jor-El (Russell Crowe) is a scientist who understands the gravity of this disaster and evacuates his infant son and an item called the ‘codex’ before Zod can reach him. Years later, Jor-El’s son Kal-El (Henry Cavill), now relocated on Earth and named Clark Kent, wanders the planet, hiding his immense power from humans as he is constantly put in the position of saving them. After discovering his origins, he inadvertently alerts Zod who has been wandering the galaxy aimlessly with his army looking for him. Zod arrives and threatens the entire world with destruction if Clark does not surrender himself and the codex. Now Clark must reveal himself to the world in order to save his adopted home.
It’s difficult to write a synopsis of this film without revealing what makes it so unique to previous Superman films. It’s darker, more ambitious, more destructive and dispenses with the hokum. It spends a great deal of time in the middle exploring Clark’s angst at knowing he is different and can help others, but only at great expense to his happiness and chance at a normal life. Unlike the previous films he doesn’t put on a pair of tights and one day starts saving people. He begins as an urban legend, an unknown, unassuming-looking guy who pulls off impossible feats of strength to save people, then disappears without a trace. It’s only a worldwide crisis caused by his presence that prompts him to put on an old Kryptonian uniform and reveal himself to the world. Think “Batman Begins” applied to Superman and this is pretty much the movie you get.
Nearly a fourth of the film takes place entirely on Krypton and the aliens get a great deal of exposure over the course of the story. Despite looking like humans, they are ruthless, superior and they constantly show it by killing any who get in their way. While Zod and his minions were hammy in “Superman 2,” they are fairly terrifying in this film. When they attack, the film becomes an alien invasion disaster film more so than a Superman flick. Zod’s second-in-command Faora (Antje Traue) is intimidating all by herself and the armor she and the alien army wears are some of the best costume designs I’ve ever seen. The filmmakers even came up with an interesting weakness for the Kryptonians in absence of ‘kryptonite’ which always seemed like a corny plot device.
Henry Cavill plays a fine Superman, possibly my favorite yet. He actually gets to be a human being in this film as his identity actually is Clark Kent and not some goody-two-shoes demigod masquerading as a human. Some of the scenes with his parents, particularly his father (Kevin Costner) didn’t always ring true but seeing his anguish as he struggles with his burdens were satisfying… until near the end when the drama takes a back seat to the action.
Amy Adams is completely miscast as Lois Lane and she is given some very strange things to do in this story. At one point she becomes a commando, firing alien weapons on board Zod’s ship, a plot device which didn’t work at all. Adams is a fine dramatic actress but she had almost no chemistry with Cavill and even though she didn’t ruin it for me, I wish she had been written out.
Michael Shannon is increasingly becoming one of my favorite actors. As Zod, he’s a bundle of rage and a bit scary, but you also see where he is coming from. He’s a genetically-bred warrior and he’s only doing what he knows. When he loses Krypton, he loses all semblance of a conscience and will resort to genocide of another species in order to preserve his own. Under different circumstances, he might have been one of the good guys and Shannon’s dark plunge into madness makes him interesting to watch.
The action at the end gets out of hand and results in more destruction I’ve ever seen in superhero film. It appears director Zack Snyder watched the alien horde destroy New York in “The Avengers” and decided he should probably try to top that. By the end, Metropolis might have been better off getting hit by a nuclear bomb, but it’s a satisfying fight even though it suffers from some typical jittery CGI effects.
One thing that could turn people off are the numerous, blatant visual references comparing Superman to Jesus Christ. Snyder doesn’t even bother being subtle about it and while I can look past it, some might see it as insulting or blasphemous… or possibly inspired by it. I don’t know but it’s there. Still, it’s easily one of the best summer movies and I have a feeling I’ll be seeing it again in the theater before it’s gone.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars