Superman is back in the fight. He's been around for 75 years in comic books, tv series, and many films. The 1978 SUPERMAN with Christopher Reeve seemed to be the iconic version. The first film of a 4 part series was an expensive, often beautiful evocation of the super hero and his back story. The opening sequence envisions the end of the planet Krypton and Jor-El's sending his infant son Kal-El to Earth with spectacular visuals and John Williams' magnificent score. For the first 40 minutes of the film director Richard Donner creates Superman's two worlds, one fantastic and the other sweeping Americana. After Superman takes on his Clark Kent persona, the film loses its sense of gravitas and replaces it with romance and comedy as well as action.
In the current invocation MAN OF STEEL, director Zach Snyder takes a unique approach. Through flashbacks and flashforwards we see the Krypton destruction, Clark's upbringing on a humble farm, his rebellious search for his identity as a young man, and his confrontation with the wraith of his father who spells out his son's duty to his human world. We also meet Lois Lane (a natural and delightful Amy Adams), who is no longer a cub reporter but a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist. And where's our action? Well, remember those nasty traitors General Zod and his gang from the 1978 films? They're back and they want the codex that Jor-El sent with his son to Earth. It holds the only hope for resurrection of the Kryptonian race. One of the strengths of the film is its dependence on science fiction and fantasy clashing with American reality with spectacular results.
Naturally Superman must stop Zod in a battle that goes on for a least 30 minutes and is the least interesting part of the film. The antagonists manage to destroy half of Metropolis and its people, but...no spoiler...Superman prevails.
MAN OF STEEL should be the start of a successful franchise of a strong super hero franchise primarily because of its star Henry Cavil. He's sympathetic, genuine, and looks like he's made of steel. As a female military officer says at the end of the film, "He's hot!" Russell Crowe, who often overacts, gives a low key and sensitive performance as Jor-El, as do Kevin Costner and Diane Lane as Clark's earthbound parents. The film may flail a bit at the end, but MAN OF STEEL soars most of the way.