It seems an odd decision to reboot Superman so soon after 2006’s Superman Returns. However, it’s not a fruitless decision, as it allows a retelling of the Superman origin story, which I regard as the most interesting part of a superhero’s mythology. It also means Brandon Routh – who was sterile and unmemorable in Superman Returns – gets replaced by Henry Cavill, who isn’t great (and has some laughable facial expressions when attempting to look serious or concerned) but is at least an improvement. The other casting is quite good too, with talented performers such as Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner, Laurence Fishburne and Richard Schiff in key roles. I enjoyed the treatment of Superman as an alien; the people of Earth (and the authorities in particular) react to his presence and power much as they would any powerful extraterrestrial being suddenly discovered here, which is a refreshing change from the standard you’re-a-superhero-fighting-for-good-so-we-love-you response.
As for negatives… well, there are quite a few, and they’re biggies. Though he’s better than Routh, Cavill is no Christopher Reeve. Costner isn’t given a whole lot to do as Superman’s adoptive father Pa Kent and Shannon is regrettably one-note as the villainous Zod. Apart from the origins-of-Superman stuff, which is fine, the story is weak, consisting mostly of convoluted silliness involving conflict with Zod over the Kryptonian ‘codex’ (a MacGuffin if ever there was one). Many of the action scenes are Michael Bay Transformersish or akin to watching a video game unfold before our eyes (speaking of video games, the acting, dialogue and action in some of the early scenes on Krypton bring to mind the worst kind of video game cutscenes). In some cases, most notably the climactic sequence involving the ‘world engine’, it’s pretty hard to know or care what’s going on. A few scenes and devices are particularly preposterous, such as the preserved consciousness of Superman’s father Jor-El (Crowe) appearing on board the Kryptonian villains’ spaceship to guide Lois Lane (Adams) through a series of attacks. There are also quite a number of nits I couldn’t stop myself from picking and questions I couldn’t stop myself from asking even though I knew the answers were all ‘shut up and suspend your disbelief and logic, it’s a superhero movie!’, such as why the Kryptonians would rely on the least secure form of security I’ve ever seen (pegs that fit into holes!), why they speak English, why Superman’s parents don’t flee Krypton with him, etc. And lastly, a minor complaint: it’s a shame that John Williams’ iconic Superman theme isn’t used at all, even briefly as an homage.