A superhero story where the main character is practically invincible immediately leads to a conundrum – how can he lose? The answer, of course, is to put him in a situation where he (or she, this is the 21st century after all) is vulnerable.
It seems as if 2013 is the year Hollywood have realised this with Iron Man 3 in the recent past taking it back to his roots and The Wolverine on the horizon promising that when he’s most vulnerable…he’s most dangerous…
In between we have Superman, the original superhero, the all-American all star who stands for truth and justice and The American Way. Of course ‘The American Way’ is something quite different than what it was when the last Christopher Reeve donned the tights, and so the hero has changed as a result.
And so we have our reboot, grittier, more down-to-Earth and more relatable than ever before. If something like that sounds familiar, it’s because it happened a few years ago with DC Comics’ other killer franchise – Batman.
The plot follows Superman’s origins as he struggles through childhood into adulthood (led by Rusell Crowe as Jor-El and Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent), but this time around he barely gets into the grove before peril strikes.
Being smart business people, DC decided that the now legendary Christopher Nolan should be involved in kick-starting their other over-tired icon.
Nolan wasn’t keen to jump fully in bed with another potential trilogy so soon after The Dark Night though, and herein lies the first stumbling block of the film.
Despite being written by Nolan with oft-collaborator David S. Goyer, the film was, in the end, directed by Zack Snyder.
Snyder’s track record is troubled at best, from the heights of Watchmen and 300 to the unfocused mess of Sucker Punch, and in this – only his sixth film – the result is just as inconsistent.
In the action scenes, Snyder is in his element, and the plot takes a backseat as Supes tackles antagonist General Zod (Michael Shannon) at high speed and high CGI. In the slower moments, the film fights against the shakey cam and action scenes to stay grounded enough (literally) to connect with its audience.
One stand out scene sees Jonathan Kent sacrifice himself for his family, and its these rare moments which justify the films existence overall.
The action and drama are not un-inspiring, and the cast do a fantastic job of hanging everything together, but there are more than a few moments where the film tries to hard, and has a feeling of desperation to prove itself.
With an IP as widespread as Superman, it’s inevitable that there are comparisons. Is newcomer Henry Cavill better than 2006’s Brandon Roth? Or even the legendary Mr Reeve? Does Shannon match up to Terence Stamp’s Zod?
Quickly you find it doesn’t matter – this is a very different world. Although 2006’s Superman Returns was hardly a camp 80s affair, filming began before Batman Begins, and Batman Begins changed how people look at superhero films forever.
So, like Spider-man before it, Superman had a makeover and a harsh dose of reality, and it does him the world of good. Despite looking like a slightly more square-jawed Hugh Jackman when first introduced, Cavill does well to make the role his own and step out from the shadow of Reeve, something Routh chose not to do, and equally the rest of the principle cast follow suit to great effect.
The unexpected aspect of the film is that it isn’t really an origin story for Superman at all, in fact it’s the origin story for Clark Kent, beginning his journey as a reporter at The Daily Planet.
In the end, the film breaks through its shortcomings to exceed expectations and delivers an experience which is better than it had to be, but not quite as good as it could be.
James Michael Parry