In the 35 years since Christopher Reeve took flight as Superman, the iconic hero has been laid to rest in a best-selling DC Comics storyline, endured teen angst in the long-running TV series Smallville, and stumbled in the 2006 blockbuster Superman Returns.
Last year, Batman, another DC Comics stalwart, hung up his cowl in the conclusion to Christopher Nolan’s award-winning Dark Knight trilogy, so the time has come to resurrect Krypton’s prodigal son.
Nolan’s fingerprints as producer and storyline co-writer are evident on every digitally enhanced frame of Zack Snyder’s film. Man Of Steel is cast in the mould of Batman Begins, removing any traces of campness or charm that distinguished the 1970s and 1980s big screen incarnations.
What remains is a bombastic and bruising reboot, punctuated by overblown set pieces, which traces the central character’s journey from his war-ravaged home planet to the sun-kissed fields of Kansas. It’s a thrilling opening salvo that frequently quickens the pulse, but seldom touches the heart. In a protracted prologue, Kryptonian General Zod (Michael Shannon) and sadistic right-hand woman Faora-Ul (Antje Traue) stage a coup on their doomed world. Leading scientist Jor-El (Russell Crowe) escapes the melee and despatches his only son Kal-El to Earth with the help of wife Lara (Ayelet Zurer).
“He’ll be an outcast, a freak. They’ll kill him!” she weeps.
“He’ll be a god to them,” Jor-El assures her.
With the child safe, Zod and his accomplices are captured and banished to the Phantom Zone. Light years away, farmers Jonathan and Martha Kent (Kevin Costner, Diane Lane) raise the crash-landed infant and christen him Clark. From an early age, Clark (played by Cooper Timberline and Dylan Sprayberry) realises he is different from the other children in Smallville.
He leaves home to seek his destiny and many years later, Clark (now played by Henry Cavill) is tracked down by plucky Daily Planet reporter, Lois Lane (Amy Adams). She agrees to keep his secret until war-mongering General Zod escapes the Phantom Zone and hovers ominously above Earth, issuing a chilling ultimatum to Kal-El: “Surrender within 24 hours or this world will suffer the consequences!”
Man Of Steel spares no expense with the pyrotechnics, including a breathless final showdown lasting around 30 minutes which leaves us physically spent.
Cavill has the rugged good looks and impressive physique but his performance lacks emotion, alternating between chisel-jawed pensiveness and unbridled rage. Thankfully, co-stars Shannon, Adams and Costner are in fine form, particularly the latter as the moral compass for young Clark in his darkest hours.
And there are plenty more dark times ahead in a sequel and a film version of Justice League, which sees Superman fight alongside Batman and Wonder Woman. Halcyon days for the rubber, PVC and spandex industries.
:: NO SWEARING :: NO SEX :: VIOLENCE :: RATING: 7.5/10
Released: June 14 (UK & Ireland), 143 mins