Hollywood seems to be understandably enamored with re-creations of so many of the superheroes that have graced the pages of comic books for all those years.
Comes now a new production detailing the life and times of the granddaddy of them all, Superman. But the baby from the planet Krypton who arrives on Earth and grows to supermanhood in the latest rendering, “Man of Steel,” isn’t your father’s Superman.
Even the artistic “S” on his chest turns out not to be an “S” at all, but rather a Kryptonian symbol sort of emblematic of all he will become. And in my childhood memories, Smallville, where he is found and reared by the Kents, was believed to be located in Florida; in “Man of Steel” it’s in Iowa.
Previous superhero movies traditionally have been done in a lighter vein. But “Man of Steel” is serious business. So serious it makes the events of 9/11 seem almost cosmetic by comparison as young Kal-El’s Kryptonian nemesis General Zod, in his pursuit of the Man of Steel, lays waste to the mighty metropolis of Metropolis.
Even stranger is the irony of the two biggest names in the cast sharing paternal responsibilities for young Kal-El, who rockets from Russell Crowe to Kevin Costner. And both fathers, Jor-El (Crowe) and Jonathan Kent (Costner) outlast the grave in the inevitable triumph of good over evil. Yet through all the coming of age trappings and battles with inner demons, the audience is left wondering if even Superman is enough to save Earth from a fate similar to Krypton.
“Man of Steel” gets into background traditionally glossed over in previous Superman productions. We are several minutes into the movie before baby Kal-El is launched toward Earth from the dying planet whose sustenance would give him superpowers at his final destination.
General Zod (Michael Shannon), a scientifically-bred supersoldier permanently exiled from Krypton for a variety of treasonable offenses, is freed by the planet’s demise and vows to track down the son of Jor-El wherever he wound up in the universe. Traditional Superman nemesis Lex Luthor pales by comparison.
Martha Kent (Diane Lane) is left with the task of guiding young Clark (Henry Cavill) when Jonathan meets an untimely death. The appearance of a superhero on the scene draws the attention of newspaper reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams), who strikes up a bond with Kent only somehow to have memories of the whole shebang somehow erased when Clark eventually winds up at the Daily Planet. No Jimmy Olson comes immediately on the scene, but Lois’ boss, Perry White, is – uh – played by Lawrence Fishburne.
We are left with a production, maybe an overproduction, that sets the stage for what previous generations have reveled in about Superman. But those bygone generations might well be wondering exactly what has been produced in the name of the longtime DC Comics hero.
Jim Bailey’s column appears on Wednesday. He can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.