Screen adaptations of the Caped Crusader, with the possible exception of the super-camp 1978 Christopher Reeve one, have been pretty terrible. What do you do with a character who can’t be killed, who doesn’t have a super power but all the super powers: super-human strength, laser eyes, X-ray vision, ice breath, flight, etcetera, etcetera.
Man of Steel director Zack Snyder is at pains to distance his movie from the previous iterations. The very mention of the S-word is forbidden (see: the film’s title). When Lois Lane, played like an irritating student politician by Amy Adams, is about to suggest maybe Clark Kent should call himself Sup… An alarm goes off.
Snyder focuses on a young Clark Kent who spends his days moping between grim fishing villages. For someone who’s both ridiculously handsome and the most powerful being on the planet, Henry Cavill’s Superman is one miserable guy. It gets off to a brisk start, with Superman’s home world in the midst of an ecological crisis that is about to destroy the entire solar system. Superman’s dad (Russell Crowe) manages to blast his infant son off to earth just before it all goes completely pear-shaped. It’s a nice change from the “alien baby crashes in Kansas” origin story that usually precedes Superman yarns. We’re also introduced to Michael Shannon’s General Zod, the alien military leader who is the single best thing about the movie: his confrontations with a grown-up Superman are gripping, and the CGI fight sequences feel satisfyingly weighty.
The problem is, it’s all too damn serious. Even Christian Bale gives an occasional knowing wink to camera when he’s putting on his bat costume. Cavill never does: after 143 minutes I just wanted someone to tell a joke.
First published in City A.M.