Reuniting much of the team behind Warner Bros' three incredible Batman films (including director Christopher Nolan, this time installed as a producer and co-writer, and writer David Goyer, who handles scripting duties) and directed by "Watchmen" and "300" helmer Zack Snyder, this is a very different Superman indeed.
With a starry cast that includes Russell Crowe, Amy Adams, Lawrence Fishburne, and Henry Cavill in the title role, this is as big a return as Superman could ask for. But it remains to be seen whether audiences, who have been weaned on the brooding saga of the Dark Knight, will respond to such an aw-shucks embodiment of American idealism (complete with a vaguely biblical past).
Read on to find out ten things you should know about Superman, the "Man of Steel!"
1. The Prologue Features Russell Crowe Riding a Dragon
Just so we're perfectly clear, the prologue to "Man of Steel," set on the dying planet Krypton as an intergalactic war rages on, features Russell Crowe riding a dragon. This is the kind of movie "Man of Steel" is and it lets you know in the first few minutes. Not that this is a bad thing. In fact, this might have been my favorite section of the movie; it's wondrous and beautiful and absurd in a dazzling, "Avatar"-ian way -- and it totally gets you pumped about the rest of the movie.
2. The Prologue Is Probably the Subtlest Part of the Film
What makes the prologue even more wonderfully insane is that it's probably the subtlest section in all of "Man of Steel." The movie was directed by Zack Snyder, who isn't exactly the most nuanced filmmaker, having helmed the "Dawn of the Dead" remake, "300," and "Watchmen." But everything in "Man of Steel" seems to be 15 stories tall, moving at 200 miles an hour, and on fire. This might be a slight exaggeration but not by much. "Man of Steel" is quite literally unstoppable. Its hugeness feels somehow more than epic -- it's positively superhuman.
3. This Is a Very Different Movie Than 'Superman Returns'
When we last saw the Man of Steel, it was in Bryan Singer's 2006 feature "Superman Returns," when Superman was reduced to hovering around, lifting huge things, and stalking Lois Lane. This new Superman is less burdened by existential dread, and instead likes punching people (like, a lot). He also flies at almost supersonic speeds and destroys whole buildings (during a particularly chaotic finale). If you wanted less mope and more action from your deity-like superhero, then this is the movie for you.
4. This Is a Very Different Movie Than 'Superman: The Movie'
While the new emphasis is on action -- and that is greatly preferred to the ponderous 2006 movie -- "Man of Steel" is also very different from Richard Donner's original 1978 feature, which was lighthearted and whimsical. "Man of Steel" is virtually humorless, which feels nearly crippling. This is a guy who wears red white and blue underwear and flies around the world saving cats. But everything here is so straight-laced, with a grave importance on even the silliest plot point or piece of dialogue. It's kind of a drag.
5. Henry Cavill Seems Genetically Programmed to Play Superman
Cavill seems almost genetically engineered to play the titular character, with a jaw line that could cut glass, a perfectly Superman-ish hair swoop, and a body that seems to have been sculpted by a single piece of marble, long ago, by very gifted artisans. While he doesn't get to play the klutzy reporter stuff in this film, he has a good guy earnestness that is totally endearing. It doesn't matter what gender or sexual persuasion you are, it's hard not to swoon for Cavill.
6. There Are a Ton Of Flashbacks
One of the more baffling decisions in "Man of Steel," which is made up of an unusual number of good decisions (in regards to the character and the franchise), is the decision to break up the film with a series of flashbacks. Not only does this put a cramp in the forward momentum of the narrative, but they don't add a whole lot to the story. We don't get all that much information about the character or his situation. Audiences know where Superman came from and why he feels alienated. We don't need to see it again, and especially not in choppy flashbacks.
7. The 3D Is Pretty Unnecessary
Save the three dollars. It's just as epic and huge and impressive in 2D. I promise.
8. Michael Shannon Chews Up Scenery, Then Gulps It Down
Michael Shannon literally explodes onto the screen during the aforementioned dragon-filled sequence, where he immediately starts screaming and yelling and trying to save Krypton even as it's on the brink of destruction. Almost everything that comes out of his mouth is a guttural yell, like one of the new Kanye West songs, and if he had a mustache he would undoubtedly twirl it (instead he has a bowl cut and an iffy goatee). At a certain point his needless destruction starts to make sense, and Shannon's efforts to shade and give some dimension to the character play off. He's a super great bad guy: one you love to hate and, more importantly, one that you can kind of understand. Shannon also gets props for registering at all; in a movie this huge he easily could have gotten lost in the shuffle. Instead, he stands out, head and shoulders above most of the cast.
9. The Score Is A-Ma-Zing
Like Nolan's Batman movies, "Man of Steel" comes furnished with a score by the prolific and incredibly talented Hans Zimmer, and the results sound nothing like his Bat-scores or the original John Williams music. Instead, it's a drum-heavy affair, with an almost militaristic march to it (some of the drums were supplied by super genius producer Pharrell). If the movie wasn't intense enough, Zimmer makes sure that it is after he was done with it. What's more -- there are wonderful little flourishes, like some twinkly synth stuff when Superman is out in space, that hints at the cheery optimism of the Donner "Superman" movies, along with Superman's other moniker: The Man of Tomorrow.
10. You'll Be Ready for Another One
Earlier this week, Warner Bros announced that work had actively begun on a sequel to "Man of Steel," with all of the creative principles expected to return. This is enough to give anyone a creeping sensation of dread. Although after watching "Man of Steel," you'll be happy to go along with the further adventures of Clark Kent and the rest of the gang (the supporting cast, we've failed to mention, is totally spectacular), as orchestrated by Snyder, Nolan, and Goyer. Bring it on.